Recently President Obama and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel each did the right thing on different issues. They adopted two policies that I support, because I believe they are better for society and advance progressive goals. Last week Obama used his executive power to further the DREAM Act policy regarding undocumented children, and Emanuel came out in support of a city ordinance to decriminalize minor marijuana possession in Chicago.

I have often and will likely soon again criticized these two politicians for doing things I believe are wrong, but I should also acknowledge when they do things that are positive.

It is possible they adopted these new policies for the “wrong” reasons. Given Emanuel’s history towards marijuana reform it is almost guaranteed he did it for the “wrong” reason.  But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t deserve credit for actually doing something good. If I got all the reforms I want but only as a result of political leaders adopting my preferences for cynical reasons instead of moral convictions, I would still be extremely happy I was living in a better world.

Regardless of the “why” they did what they did, it is important to properly acknowledge when a positive change is made to encourage other politicians to follow suit. The idea that credit should always be given where credit is due doesn’t mean that the reason is unimportant. Understanding why politicians do the right thing is critical for deciding whom to vote for and coming up with an activist strategy for pressuring them into making more positive changes.

It seems Obama has moved now on this immigration issue in part because he faced direct protests from activists whose support he wanted and whose opposition protests threatened his public image. Similar direct protests seems to have played a role in Obama’s more positive moves on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the change in Bradley Manning’s confinement and efforts to delay the Keystone XL pipeline. That is a critical lesson.

You should always acknowledge when politicians do something positive, but then you need to find out why they did it so you know how to pressure them to do the right thing again.