Join, or Die.

Ralph Nader wants to challenge President Obama in the Democratic primary. Across the country, progressives are pondering voting for a third party. People are refusing to volunteer for Democratic campaigns, claiming that they’ve sold out.

Liberals, it would appear, are unfamiliar with the concept of a united front. And I understand. I grew up around liberals. Some of my best friends are liberal. I’m a liberal. So I understand. Liberals are good at grand visions and sweeping declarations because those are, to a large degree, what drive them. They think of themselves as people who strive for a better world, and when you dream of absolute good, realism can easily seem like an inferior alternative.

But realism gets things done. It’s time for liberals to introduce shades of gray into their world views, a place between what they want and what they loathe. That’s where the world of politics operates, doing the type of damage control that’s needed before there’s a public option and everyone drives an electric car. A lot of deals are made, each moving this country slightly closer to the ideal, but there are no grand bargains.

No matter how much we like to swathe our politicians in honor and morality, not every campaign promise will be fulfilled. A few will be broken outright. I can say with absolute certainty that every elected official, no matter how sound their policies will let down every supporter at least once, and usually much more often. And I can say with just as much certainty that it will be upsetting. But it’s time to consider the alternatives. And right now the liberal alternatives would suffer spectacular losses, but not before making a lot of toxic and not easily forgotten claims about their own party; and the conservative alternatives, especially the ones with a chance of winning, are, talking point for talking point, anathema to every liberal.

Thus, with regards to those who want to cast a protest vote for Nader and will be staying home when it comes time to canvass for Obama, I wonder if they would rather continue to have the small victories of the past few years or watch a conservative president eagerly sign bill after bill from a conservative congress. Are they really willing to allow their vision for America to collapse, pulling down millions of people’s lives with it, to send a message? Especially when the message would be that they care more about being in the right than making this country better?

Yes, things are looking a bit grimmer than they did in 2008. Some of the enthusiasm, some of the belief has left and been replaced with disappointment. And yes, this struggle will be much more difficult. But at every level of government, from city councils to the oval office, it’s not one that liberals can afford to abandon.

Abigail Burman is a two-year Senior from Silver Spring, MD.