Monday, December 14, 2009

Better progressive politicians, please

Everyone seems to be talking about Joe Lieberman and healthcare these days, but I want to make an orthogonal point about progressives. Here's Nate Silver:
"But of course, politics isn't purely objective: it's a people business, and now you have some people (liberals) who are going to lose a lot more face than they would have by making the same capitulation a week ago, and moreover will have to lose it to Joe Lieberman, a person whom they singularly detest. So, while I know what I think should happen here, I just don't know that it will."
I've long been skeptical about progressives' focus on the public option as The. Most. Important. Part. of the bill. But the reason that liberals are going to lose face here is that, for whatever reason, they miscalculated strategically. Threatening to torpedo health care if it lacks a public option was, in my opinion, an error. In order to be effective, threats must be credible. You can bluff, but people have to believe that you might be crazy enough to follow through. The notion that liberals would torpedo health care reform over the public option wasn't ever really credible. It is a bargaining position and everyone knows it. Would Russ Feingold really want to take questions on why he decided to let 30 million people go without insurance because he didn't want to lose face on the public option? I think not. Furthermore, such a defeat would undoubtedly lead to a complete collapse in public confidence in the Democrats as a governing party, would energize the GOP and make short work of the Democrats' agenda. There is no universe in which health care failing--even in a compromised state--is good news for liberals. I suppose one could argue that allowing the current system completely collapse would make single payer quite a bit more palatable to the public, but this would entail a great deal more suffering for many people than would be necessary if one were to try to prop up the current system while setting the groundwork for a Swiss-style system in the future. This is the only way in which the progressive strategy is defensible, but the arguments along that score aren't exactly the sorts of points that would make people more inclined to vote for you. Throwing some fire around might increase your name recognition and energize the base, but if you can't deliver it just pisses people off. This is to some extent what happened with the right, and why you're seeing Tea Party types ousting establishment Republicans in many districts. It would have been better to just level with people, I suspect.

All of this is to say that quite a few of the progressives in Congress simply don't understand how this thing called "politics" works. They should have taken a page from the president, who has been clear in his priorities--covering the uninsured, cutting costs, eliminating the worst excesses of the current system--instead of trying to play a power game in which they were much weaker than they thought (polling of the public option aside).

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.