Tuesday, December 22, 2009

2000 forever?

Coates, on health care reform: "I think we're having visions of Ralph Nader."

Well said. I have been having the same feeling. I don't know what about the activist left that makes them so self-defeating, but it seems to exist to an extent that simply isn't present on the right. And I'm hard-pressed to think of a strategy more likely to lead to marginalization and irrelevance than the "kill bill" strategy that Kos and Hamsher have begun. It's not so much that all their points are wrong, though most are fatuous, but rather that its advocates would abandon a process that is only inches away from the endzone to begin an entirely new process--reconciliation--which is unprecedented in an initiative of this size, only lasts five years, and would entail unpredictable and likely damaging changes to the policy in question. It would be one thing if the bill killers were lining up former Senate parliamentarians and getting them on the record admitting that they had a case. Short of that, I'll stick with the people who know what they're talking about who say that it wouldn't work. But this strategy makes no sense whatsoever. It cannot be taken seriously because there is no way to know how it would turn out or how the bill would look like. I do believe it would have been smart for Democrats to draft a health care bill under reconciliation rules and move it along with the regular plan, as a back-up in case things got sticky, but that didn't happen and there's no reason to think reconciliation would indeed produce a better bill. The arrogance of these folks, not just in terms of procedure but in terms of policy points (suddenly they know more on the subject than their oracle, Krugman!), has been shocking. Like 2000, we're dealing with people who are sabotaging their own interests mostly out of a perceived loss of face. Left out of these conversations are the expansion of coverage and subsidies, which I always figured were very much the point of this process.

Additionally, the timing of this onslaught--i.e. coming so late in the game, and right after Lieberman extracted his necessary concessions--coupled with the contradictory nature of the complaints, can only leave one with the conclusion that most of this outrage is simply an emotional rather than a logical reaction, and one that casts serious doubt on the utility of the blogger-activist model. To be frank, the rapidity and emotionality that blogging encourages can be the enemy of smart strategy and longsightedness.

What is clear to me is that much of the leaders of the activist left are mediocrities who lack real vision and leadership. There are any number of ways the bill could have been improved, but making the fight over the public option--by far the most contentious part of the bill, as well as a minor provision--into a proxy over the entire bill, progressive activists were putting themselves at much greater risk of being disappointed. By lashing out as they did when they did, they sent a message that they couldn't be reasoned with, even by people who fundamentally agree with their argument but disagree with the particulars in this case, and by threatening to try to kill universal health care, they are effectively saying that they are willing to jeopardize the Democrats' signature issue if they don't get their way. Presumably they are trying to signal that they are not to be taken for granted, which is fair enough, but the way in which this has been executed is silly, sloppy, and likely to hurt them in the long run.

The difference here isn't between the progressive and the pragmatic left, or between progressives and moderates. It's between the ideological left (for lack of a better term, as I don't believe we're dealing with Maoists and Trotskyites here) and everyone else to the left of center. Personally, it's unclear to me what they gain from this whole debacle, though I'm sure they don't either. One halfway suspects that this is just an identity politics squabble.

The Man, The Myth, The Bio

East Bay, California, United States
Problem: I have lots of opinions on politics and culture that I need to vent. If I do not do this I will wind up muttering to myself, and that's only like one or two steps away from being a hobo. Solution: I write two blogs. A political blog that has some evident sympathies (pro-Obama, mostly liberal though I dissent on some issues, like guns and trade) and a culture blog that does, well, cultural essays in a more long-form manner. My particular thing is taking overrated things (movies, mostly, but other things too) down a peg and putting underrated things up a peg. I'm sort of the court of last resort, and I tend to focus on more obscure cultural phenomena.