There is one thing I am careful never to pray for: patience. I am afraid, you see, that God will teach it to me. Patience is something that everyone says they want, but very few demonstrate consistently. I am patient about some things, but I-want-it-yesterday about others. In other words, I'm pretty normal.
Anyone who hopes to be successful in politics must develop patience. If politics is the art of the possible, then it is also a dance: knowing when to wait, when to give in, when to move ahead. I think the greatest politicians are born to it the way great musicians or dancers must be; they have a sixth sense that tells them when to hold back and when to press forward. Bill Clinton, Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan -- all truly great politicians.
The last election has placed us in a position to do some ruminating on these very things. We'll have a majority in the House of Representatives. All of the races are not yet finalized, but as of right now there will be 189 Democrats and 240 Republicans in the upcoming Congress (there are currently 255 Dems, 178 Repubs, and two seats are vacant). We've picked up six seats in the Senate, but at 47 we do not have a majority. (In the Senate, we would need 51 seats for a majority because if we had fifty seats the Vice President would cast a tie-breaking vote. Also, you really need sixty votes in the Senate in order to invoke cloture and make a bill filibuster proof. To be veto-proof requires 67 votes.) And lest we forget, the White House will be Democratic for another two years (see how optimistic I am?).
We have reason for great joy and optimism, but let us not forget that we are still a minority party. And that the agenda is set by the chief executive.
We must hold our elected representatives to the promises they made when they were campaigning, but we must not expect them to walk on water or to feed 5,000 with a few loaves and fishes. Legislation is like an aircraft carrier; it takes a long time to get it to change directions. Some of the things that we most want will no doubt need to wait until after the 2012 election. Patience, patience.
Another phrase often bandied about in political circles is "we must not let the perfect be the enemy of the good." I am a very pragmatic person when it comes to politics. I think principles are important, of course (the current White House seems to poll all the big special interest groups before it negotiates trade settlements, for example, because they do not have a set of ingrained principles to guide them). But sometimes we simply cannot get everything we want. I believe it is better to have something than nothing and I will never fault a politician who gets the most that he can even if it's not all that one might wish.
This argument was very much in evidence during the primary season, when some candidates widely considered to be unelectable won the Republican primaries in their states. Christine O'Donnell in Delaware and Sharron Angle in Nevada, for instance. They both had challenges during the primary process from candidates who were not as far to the right as they were and the argument was made that they were not going to be able to win in a general election. That was certainly proven on November 2. I would rather have had a moderate Republican in those seats than "the bearded socialist" and Harry Reid. Others argue for standing fast to principle; I believe they are very misguided. Politics is not religion where it makes (eternal) sense to be dogmatic. But this argument will not end any time soon; it's been going on ever since free men have nominated candidates to office.
My point is that we must all learn to dance for the next two years. Or if we cannot learn ourselves, we must be wise enough to watch the other dancers. Draw lines in the sand when they make sense. Don't try to fight every war on every front. Realize that some things are not possible -- yet. Pray for patience. ;)