“If you develop the absolute sense of certainty
that powerful beliefs provide, then you can get yourself
to accomplish virtually anything, including those things
that other people are certain are impossible.”
William Lyon Phelps
“For every powerfully believed idea that leads to new accomplishments, there are hundreds of powerfully held beliefs that aim to squash enlightenment and progress. Simply having a powerful belief is insufficient to overcome the inertia of the certainty of darkness.”
When I encountered the first quote, it brought to mind men of science like Edison, who invented hundreds of ways not to build a light bulb before he invented one that worked. I thought of men like Gandhi and Dr. King who were able to voice powerful ideas that did accomplish something even if those accomplishments remain works in progress. Those we revere as our founding fathers, must have acted with a sense of certainty in bringing forth their vision of a country built on the sovereignty of “We the People…”
Issues polling frequently show a majority in support of what is regarded as the “liberal” position. An example would be the support shown for background checks of those attempting to buy firearms. Yet legislation mandating background checks is likely to go down in defeat. Those to the political left of center bemoan the fact that in spite of majority support for the left side of many issues, the political center seems to keep moving to the right.
If we ask why is this, we need look no further than the first quote. The conservative movement manifested through the Republican Party exhibits an “absolute sense of certainty” in its core beliefs. The deficit hysteria is not really about fiscal prudence, it is about reducing the size of government. Privatization initiatives, be it medical care, retirement security, charter schools or for profit prisons all support a core principle of reducing the size of government. They hold these beliefs with an absolute sense of certainty that they are right.
The left, as represented by the Democratic Party, never demonstrates an absolute sense of certainty about anything. They operate only as the opposition to conservative ideas and initiatives and they really are not very good at it. There is never a line in the sand. There is nothing they are not willing to put on the table in the spirit of compromise. And those compromises never pull the center to the left but lead inevitably to more rightward slippage.
During the debate on the Affordable Care Act, the Democratic apologists took great pleasure in reminding us that we must not let “the perfect be the enemy of the good.” What we once thought of as the deeply held core principle of single payer Medicare for all was not even the starting position of negotiation, abandoned before the negotiation even began. When the Heritage Foundation plan finally passed, we were told it was just a start and we should learn to love it. Progressives hoped that it would be a step on the road to true universal health care but ask yourself which is more likely as things stand now: ACA morphing into Medicare for all or Medicare morphing into an expansion of the ACA subsidized voucher plan. In thirty years will ACA be seen as a victory for the left or the right?
There is no doubt that the right has some advantages that are hard to counter such as talk radio, cable news and corporate owned media in general. There are also many democratic stalwarts in office who are just as corporatist as any of their republican opponents. But the real deficit lies not in the arsenal of expression but in the inventory of ideas. The fractured opposition of political opportunists cannot reverse the rightward drift.
If the left is ever to accomplish anything it must find and articulate the powerful beliefs that incubate and grow the absolute sense of certainty so evident on the right. We must adopt a clear set of core values that will not be sacrificed on the altar of compromise. We must choose to stand for powerful beliefs with an absolute sense of certainty.