Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

The Enemy of the Good

A few months ago, I moved to a part of the county that has several lakes. There are three lakes within a quarter-mile of the house. The whole area is beautiful. The lakes have abundant fish and waterfowl and the woods and fields are full of wildlife. It is a photographer’s paradise.

Two of the lakes, which are separated by nothing more than a two-lane road, are home to a pair of beautiful trumpeter swans. These birds are the largest flying birds in the world. The males can weigh over thirty pounds and have a wingspan of seven feet. They were nearly wiped out in the Lower Forty-eight states by the middle of the 20th Century. Seeing a wild pair in Michigan is still a thrill for someone who loves wildlife.

The beauty of this area seems to have given a boost to my creative urges. Since I’ve moved here, I have been taking more photographs, working on some drawings, and creating concepts for paintings. It was only natural that I would want to photograph these majestic birds.

Photography has been a passion of mine since before I reached puberty. I long ago passed the point of taking pictures for the sake of taking them. If the light or weather aren’t right then I don’t even bother picking up my camera. That held true for the swans, as well.

Once I decided to take a picture of the swans, I kept waiting for the perfect moment. Some days I would wait too long and the light would be gone. Other days, the wind was blowing too strong or the sky was too bland and gray. This went on for awhile until I realized how close we were to winter weather. The swans would be gone if I waited any longer, so I made a serious effort to be in the right place at the right time.

The effort was complicated by the fact that my camera tripod had gotten misplaced during our recent move. This forced me to try for a picture earlier in the day then I would have preferred. In order to get the shot I wanted it would have to be at long telephoto range and in the early evening. The days kept going by without the perfect conditions I desired. Then one day it all came together.

The sky was partly-cloudy with lots of blue showing. The wind died in the afternoon and the lakes were still as glass. The sunset should be beautiful. If the swans were where I usually saw them then I would be able to get a perfect backlit shot. I grabbed my camera about an hour before sunset and headed out with great hope. If the swans were in their usual place, I would finally get the shot I had been picturing in my mind for so long.

The swans were there. The light was nearly right and would be even better in another twenty minutes or so. The wind and water were calm. Everything looked right until I noticed that the smaller of the two swans was not moving. When I first looked at them I thought the smaller bird was feeding. After a few minutes I realized that it hadn’t lifted its head or moved since I started watching them. I kept watching, but it never lifted its head. Apparently, the female had died, probably shot by an inept hunter who mistook it for a snow goose. The light that I had thought was perfect only moments before now seemed gloomy. Any thoughts of taking a beautiful picture were gone. The world was a lesser place.

The loss of a photo-op wasn’t the sad part here. There would be other days, other swans, and other opportunities. Any sadness I felt was because we would no longer see the swans floating serenely on our small lakes. In the future, each time I look out over the water will be a reminder of what is missing and the opportunity I let slip away.

Voltaire wrote, “Le mieux est l’ennemi du bien.” This has been translated as, “The better is the enemy of the good.” It has morphed into the saying, “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” Barack Obama used this phrase in a speech about climate control. This policy is wise and it applies equally well to every other endeavor the administration undertakes, like health care reform or gay rights. This is something too many of us forget.

One day soon, we hope to have a health care reform bill signed by the President. The progressive community also hopes to see more action on civil rights and on climate change. None of these bills will be perfect.

There are already parts of the health care bills that I disagree with strongly. The Stupak-Pitts abortion amendment is only one of those. There will be parts of the climate bill that I won’t like once that begins to move through Congress. One thing I think I can guarantee is that every bill signed into law by the President will have bits and pieces that I would rather not see in the bill. If I demand perfection then I should oppose all of those efforts. That’s not going to happen.

Progressives have been fighting for universal health care since the time of Teddy Roosevelt. Medicare and Medicaid were the first steps towards that objective. Now we have a chance to get even closer to the goal. Whether we get there or not depends, in part, on the progressive community holding together and mounting a concerted effort. Disunity on our part will cripple the effort.

When something happens that doesn’t please the progressive crowd there are calls to let the effort die. The argument is that something flawed is worse than nothing. What is flawed there isn’t the effort. It is the thinking. If we followed that advice,  we would be left with the same empty feeling that I had when I realized one of the swans had died.

Please don’t let this swan die.


  1. Hollede

    Thank you for that tragic and poignant metaphor. We humans so often reject what is right there in front of us, waiting for something better that never comes. Only later to woefully realize the moment has passed. Perhaps it is easier for us to accept a flawed plan, as we have lived long enough to know that once in place, it can be improved.

    People will need to see that the world will not fall apart with a public options for health care, just as it held together after social security and medicare were implemented. And these programs have been tweaked and tuned to a point where they are far better than they were when initially put into place. But even these programs can be improved in the future. That is the way of progress.

    Swans die and human do as well, however let us not let this moment pass us by again.

  2. creamer

    You always bring such passion to your arguments, I thought you might not be able to accept less than the full loaf.

    My apologys.


    However, I can’t give up the public option.  We’ve all accepted the idea that a single payer system is too much change to get all at once.  My walk-away-from-the-table bottom line would be the incremental change of a public option, even with a (shudder) trigger if necessary.  

    The rest of the legislation is nice, it reins in some of the worst insurance industry practices, but it doesn’t get us any closer to universal single payer health care.  We must get a toe (even a toenail) in the door this time or we’ll go on as we are for another generation.

  4. HappyinVT

    I think more people are upset with the process than the product.  We have majorities in the House and Senate and can’t seem to get a decent bill.  The president should be acting like LBJ and forcing votes.  Reid and Pelosi should be able to get their Democratic colleagues in line.  We’re going to be sold a shit sandwich and told to eat it.  We’ve been sold out to big pharma and the insurance companies.

    I don’t know how many of those arguments are right, if any.  I know it is frustrating because we’ve worked so hard to get to the point where we could control Congress and the White House and that doesn’t seem to be panning out quite the way folks planned.  Myself included to a large degree.

    I don’t know what the end result will be on any of the big ticket legislative items but I suspect John is right that there will be many parts of each we don’t like.  But they will, hopefully, all advance the progressive cause to some meaningful degree, and give us something to build on.

Comments are closed.