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Is It Time For A Purge?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009
In considering the Stupak amendment and one's response to it, it is vital to understand that the Democratic Party is above all a coalition. It is not a unified ideological movement with a coherent leadership and a motivated, cohesive activist base. It is therefore a very tricky thing to craft policy, because sometimes varying interests of the coalition members must all be appeased. It is also extremely frustrating for the numerically larger progressive wing of the party to make concessions to the tiny but majority-making "moderates" in the party, but such concessions are probably inevitable - as inevitable as the fact that moderates aren't going to be able to dictate policymaking either. The two sides have to get along.

All of which makes the Stupak amendment the political equivalent of a mugging. Ha! You thought I was going the other way, didn't you? No, there are a few issues that define the Democratic Party - issues that are supposed to transcend ideological division and interest-group loyalties. Health care is one of those. For decades Democrats have been trying to put forward national health insurance, and time and time again the liberals in the party have set aside their own preference for a single-payer system in an effort to get moderates on board. And every time we are told it is just not enough. Well, I understand, I suppose, however unhappy it makes me.

But what is entirely unacceptable, what is in fact an act of gross political sabotage, what I am frankly not going to forget, ever, is the effort to introduce a piece of legislation that divides the party to block health care reform. Stupak and his pro-life (and quisling) allies decided to use the chance at health care reform as an opportunity to shove a pro-life policy down the throats of an overwhelmingly pro-choice party. In a coalition one avoids putting issues that divides you on the agenda in favor of focusing on what unites you. You do not sidetrack things onto divisive issues, and you most certainly do not crassly manipulate your coalition partners' desire to pursue the common agenda. It is just. not. done.

Since the beginning of Obama's presidency, every significant piece of progressive reform has been undermined by a group of self-serving "centrists" whose chief loyalty is neither to their constituencies nor their party but instead to their contributors and their own egos. What precisely have liberals gotten out of the last year, anyway? Card check legislation? Health care reform? Winding down our foreign adventures? Protection of civil liberties? Pro-choice laws? The end of don't ask/don't tell? A climate change bill? Can you please point to me one area where the "mods" have not either badly weakened or outright blocked everything that the majority of the party wants?

And after that year of frustration, they attempt to impose the most regressive, anti-woman legislation in a decade on us? What, so we can have a hopelessly compromised health care law with no public option, no cost controls, and huge subsidies to insurance and drug companies?

I'm sorry, but these are not the actions of a political ally - but of an enemy. No, the "mods" are not as bad as the Republicans. But if their demands are conceded to, then progressive will be permanently blocked from any of their agenda. Our politics will continue to be an alternating cycle of conservative policy under Republicans and the consolidation of conservatism under Democrats. Thanks, but no thanks.

But you know what? Those mods are destroying themselves anyway. If they succeed, they'll be washed away in the next election, and the Palinists will come to power. And they will have earned every bit of it.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 12:40 PM

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Reflections on a Disturbing Election Night

Friday, November 06, 2009
I've spent a few days mulling over the results of the elections on Tuesday. There weren't any in my state, for which I was profoundly grateful - which suggested the first clue as to what happened. I suspect a lot of folks are still a little burned out from the last race, and there wasn't much happening to excite us. Obama has been a bit of a disappointment: incremental change in time of crisis isn't what I would call strong leadership. As many commenters have noted, off-year and mid-term elections are far more dependent on turning out one's base than Presidential elections are. Since the overall turnout is so much lower (often dramatically so), enthused minorities can have a much greater effect on the outcome.

But even should the Democrats manage to push through national health care, and even a climate change bill, before the middle of next year, they're still looking at big losses in 2010. As all of us political scientists have noted for decades (killing whole forests in the process) economic conditions are the single strongest determinant of aggregate electoral performance. In other words, if the economy is bad, the incumbent president's party loses. Period. The economy doesn't have to be fully recovered in 2010, but people have to start seeing real progress or the Democrats are risking another 1994. The Democrats' unwillingness to really grapple with the underlying causes of our economic difficulties virtually guarantees that we'll putter along in a jobless recovery for the next few years. You'd think that "moderate" Democrats would know this and act accordingly, but they're either a) terrified of big contributions from corporations going to their opponents, b) listening to David Broder too much, or c) suffering from extreme cognitive capture. Probably all three. As usual, the Blue Dogs have learned nothing, and they'll once more be wiped out and blame liberals for their defeat.

Could the tea-baggeres bail out the Democrats? Are the Republicans so nutty that they'll destroy their chances by nominating a bunch of wingnuts? Maybe that would save a few seats, but I don't think it would in the end make much difference. I'm sure at some point a party becomes so insane that voters would refuse to support it even against an unpopular incumbent, but it's unclear whether we've reached that point yet. I doubt it. People's ability to make excuses for lunacy, particularly by Republicans (thanks media!) is near-infinite. The Democrats will probably use that as their chief strategy, running viciously negative campaigns against their opponents. I don't think it'll work any more than it did for Corzine in New Jersey, but what else will they have?

Or maybe the Democrats in Washington will wake up on Monday morning, realize they're in deep doo-doo, and start passing a bunch of legislation: going after Wall Street, another stimulus, tax reform to end corporate welfare, national health care with a strong public option and national exchange anybody can enter, and campaign finance reform. And maybe my boss will suddenly decide to double my salary.

On a related note, I find it deeply saddening that the gay rights movement have lost their 31st straight referendum. But I have to say that this is what we can expect from the use of referenda, an institution totally inappropriate to civil rights legislation. It's absurd that we put civil rights up to a popular vote - if we'd done that on ending segregation or giving women the right to vote, I really doubt they would have passed. You don't give the majority the right to decide the rights of the minority - that's what the courts are for. Hell, I have major misgivings about the use of referenda at all. I mean, look how wonderfully it's worked for California!

And on that note, I'm going to start my little vacation. BH and I are headed to NYC for our 20th "anniversary" (since we met, not since we got married). Ciao!
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:49 AM

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Quote of the Day

Monday, November 02, 2009
Another Halberstam quote:

"… he had come away with one impression above all, which was that the government of the United States was not what he had thought it was; it as if there were an inner U.S. government, what he called “a centralized state, far more powerful than anything else, for whom the enemy is not simply the Communists but everything else, its own press, its own judiciary, its own Congress, foreign and friendly governments – all of these are potentially antagonistic. It had survived and perpetuated itself,” Sheehan continued, “often using the issue of anti-Communism as a weapon against the other branches of government and the press, and finally, it does not function necessarily for the benefit of the Republic, but rather for its own ends, its own perpetuation; it has its own codes which are quite different from public codes. Secrecy was a way of protecting itself, not so much from threats by foreign governments, but from detection from its own population on charges of its own competence or wisdom.” Each succeeding administration, Sheehan noted, was careful, once in office, not to expose the weaknesses of its predecessor. After all, essentially the same people were running the governments, they had continuity to each other, and each succeeding Administration found itself faced with virtually the same enemies. Thus the national security apparatus kept its continuity, and every outgoing President tended to rally to the side of each incumbent President.”
Posted by Arbitrista @ 2:36 PM

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