In the wake of the historic congressional health care reform vote, I’ve been thinking a lot about how much I identify with Rep. Jim Cooper.
I’m no Jim Cooper, I realize. I’m not well-bred. I lack an Oxford education. Budget summaries give me a headache. And I don’t know the first thing about investment banking.
Politically, we don’t much line up either. Point of fact: Few are politically parallel with Nashville’s congressman.
Cooper may be a member of the Blue Dog Coalition, but he’s not really an average Blue Dog. He’s conservative on fiscal issues but not by any means a cultural conservative. While loyal to his word and principles, he’s not really a partisan.
He is, to use a clichéd political definition, a maverick.
Before this recent health care vote, Cooper was the subject of a barrage of negative attacks from the left. Opponents created an anti-Cooper Web site and a PAC to gin up funding for a primary challenge.
As intellectually honest as Cooper’s policy reform proposals may have been, his failure to genuflect at the altar of the “public option” got him nothing but bile from progressives.
But after all that wailing and gnashing of teeth about Cooper’s closet Republican corporatism, he ultimately voted the “right way.” And what did he get for his trouble?
A new round of attacks — this time from the right.
All of sudden, the man who wasn’t progressive enough for Nashville was being assailed as a socialist by the right-wing tea party crowd, and few of his progressive critics stood up to set the record straight.
While this may be a bit self-indulgent even to express, I feel a certain kinship with Cooper.
Since I’ve been a professional blogger, I’ve been called every name in the book — and have been accused of being a Republican, a Democrat, a left-winger, a right-winger, a racist and a traitor. Republicans talk to me about “our” cause, and a Democratic politico once tried to lure me to the “dark side” of political consulting.
I have had my writing rebuked publicly by conservative radio talker Steve Gill for questioning our civilian leadership’s use of the military and by liberal attorney and politico David Briley for “crossing the line” in a discussion about race. I have been told privately and publicly by people of various political persuasions that they know deep down that I am really on their “side.”
So when the proverbial poop hits the fan on the Internet, things can get dicey. There is no built-in constituency to back me on political or ideological grounds. When you self-identify with an ideology or party, you have protection; people have your back without question. When you don’t join a cause, group, ideology or party, you can rely only on the kindness of friends and strangers who have no knee-jerk reason to defend you.
Cooper is similarly a political loner. He can be counted on — but only to do what he thinks is right. He is loyal — but only to what he believes is the truth. That has cost him politically because no one group supports him without question.
In politics (and on the Internet), it’s much more comfortable simply to pick a side. And really, there’s no shame in it because only through collective action is there hope to exert change in politics.
Perhaps I flatter myself to self-compare with Cooper. But it’s not all flattery, because in the end, Cooper didn’t stand alone or contrary on this health care debate. He didn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. He put away cynicism and embraced something imperfect.
In that way, I wouldn’t even pretend to be like the congressman. Because I often retreat into cynicism. I frequently lack faith in the system and in the possibility of true reform. I stay apart from the crowd sometimes because it is easier to stay away from the messiness of compromise.
Contrarianism like that, for it’s own sake, is no better than blind allegiance to ideology.
I admire Cooper because he walks the thin line between principled individualism and collective idealism, which is a place I’ve never been.