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I Told You So

Thursday, December 17, 2009
Now they're going after abortion rights and medicaid expansion. Gee, who could have predicted that?
Posted by Arbitrista @ 8:43 PM

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My Thoughts On The Health "Reform" Bill

Tuesday, December 15, 2009
I'm trying to decide whether I'm more depressed or angry. The Senate Democrats are giving into Lieberman's demands, even though he apparently isn't done making them. Then they will have to meet Ben Nelson's demands on abortion. And I'm sure Blanche Lincoln and Mary Landrieu have some fun new issues to consider. For those who are claiming that we should accept the current idea of a bill as better than nothing, I have to say - let's wait and see what it looks like in the end, shall we? Because I'm pretty sure it's not finished being crapified yet.

The arguments made in the bill's defense (not that there is a bill yet) is that we have to save the lives of all those people without health insurance. This reminds me very much of my reaction to the story of Sophie's choice (I haven't read the book). From what I can tell Sophie made the mistake of taking responsibility for the evil choice made on her rather than refusing to play the game. I'm not the one preventing health insurance for millions of people - Joe Lieberman and his Republican buddies are. If the health fill bails because I refuse to respond to blackmail, I'm not the murderer - they are. Negotiating with terrorists only encourages them. Yes, yes, I'm sure there are good things remaining in the bill, but what needs to be understood by the wonks willing to take this bill at any price is that politics is not about policy, but about power. And we're giving up all of ours.

What this series of events does decide is the fate of the Obama presidency. It will be a failure. Even if Obama gets re-elected, even if he passes a few more laws and the Democrats keep Congress, he is a failure. Barack Obama campaigned on platform of change, in particular a change in the direction of the country - of the terrible trajectory we've been on for the last generation. To make that change would have required making fundamental alterations to our country's political and economic life and its relationship with the rest of the world. But Obama has quite clearly rejected doing any of those things. We have yet another Democratic President whose historic role is not to reverse the damage of the previous Republican administration, but to clean up their messes and tinker at the margins when they are not consolidating conservative accomplishments. And the rightward drift of America continues, with more militarism, less liberty, greater inequality, and a more impoverished cultural life.

I'm also pretty convinced that the Democratic Party is as failed an institution as the Senate. They lack leadership, or courage, or discipline. They're more concerned with holding office than governing. Sure, I'll vote in the next election, but beyond helping a friend of mine get re-elected, the rest of the party can go jump in a lake for all I care. I won't shift a finger to help them.

I'm going to mull things over, to see if I can see past this latest disappointment (there are just so many), and try to decide if remaining engaged in politics is even worth the effort. 2009 was the best opportunity for liberalism that I was likely to see in my lifetime, you see. One can only persevere in the face of futility so so long.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 1:05 PM

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Here We Go Again

Monday, December 14, 2009
Politico (yes, take with a grain of salt) is reporting that the White House has asked Harry Reid to capitula...I mean, reach an agreement with Lieberman. Which means that medicare buy-in would go. So we can expect yet another moving of the goalposts in 3,2,1.....

And if I'm wrong, and Lieberman is happy to kill the bill? I think Bernie Sanders will probably go into opposition. And if he doesn't, and there's nothing like a public option at all, the progressives in the House will either have to torpedo the legislation or get rolled. In public. Again.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 2:18 PM

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A Moment of Clarity

Joe Lieberman is going to filibuster his own compromise. This means that the only way to get health care reform is to use reconciliation (or even better, kill the filibuster entirely). All I can say is: I told you so.

This is another episode of the continuing series, The DFH's Are Right About Everything.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 6:23 AM

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Why Liberals Shouldn't Compromise Away the Public Option

Friday, December 11, 2009
One word: credibility.

The liberal leadership is pragmatic, sometimes too much so. We knew we couldn't get what we really wanted - single payer. So we put together a piece of compromise legislation that preserved the role of private insurers. We accepted the deal Obama cut with the pharmaceutical companies. But we put down a marker on one thing - the existence of a workable public alternative to private insurance. That is what we asked for. We said that we were willing to compromise further on an already compromise bill, but that there was a bottom line below which we would not cross, that if there was no public option, there would be no bill.

Now the so-called "moderates" in the party are engaged in a game of chicken with us. They aren't particularly interested in health care reform. They were elected as Democrats, but they aren't particularly loyal to liberal policy objectives. They are under the belief that our desire for a health care reform bill - any bill - is so great that we will compromise on anything to get it. If they are right - if we change our minds and going along, if we dump the public option for the medicare buy-in, then guess what? The medicare buy-in will suddenly become unacceptable. If we give in on that, they'll want to revisit medicaid expansion. And further weaken the exchanges. And permit lifetime limits on health care. And so on , and so on.

And from there it will get worse. When we want to do climate change, they'll tell us that they want something. We'll say no, and they'll guess that we'll fold and demand their weakening amendments and exceptions or threaten a filibuster. And why wouldn't they expect us to roll over again? Didn't we just do it on health care, over and over and over again.

Look, it's quite simple. In politics other politicians have to believe that you'll follow through with your commitments. They have to know you are a serious person or they won't pay you any attention whatsoever. For better or worse Democrats have staked out a position on the public option. I don't care about the substance of it. At the end of the day the public option isn't the point. Health care reform isn't even the point. What's at stake is the credibility of the entire liberal movement.

Yes, maybe the worst will happen. Maybe Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman will filibuster, and maybe Harry Reid won't have the guts to break the filibuster and we won't have health care reform. Maybe the Democrats in the House will vote against the conference report and the whole thing will unravel, and health care gets put back another 10 years. But you know what? The next time we say that we'd rather blow the place up than give up on our principles, they'll believe us. When we cheer at them and send them F-U cards when they lose their seats in the Republican tidal wave, their successors will have learned that we are to be taken seriously.

To put it simply, the corrupt whores who call themselves centrists will only start doing what we want them to when they are more afraid of us than they are afraid of Republicans or their campaign contributors. If that means that in the short term we have to break a few eggs, so be it.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 1:42 PM

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Friday Miscellenia

1) Over the weekend BH was taking a bath and I was incredibly bored. I was trying to decide what book I wanted to read and looking at the many shelves realized how many books I'd acquired over the last few years and never read. I got out a notepad and the fancy pen that BH got me for my birthday and proceeded to make a list. The total got up to about 90 books. Nine-zero. Appalling. So I have a new project this year. Rather than buy any new books (except for series I've been collecting for a while), I'll just read from my old ones. This way I can a) narrow the list of books I have to choose from, b) save money, c) figure out if I want to keep some of them, and d) stop feeling ashamed. It's a big task and there's no way I can read them all this year, but I figure I can read at least half of them.

2) Driving to go pick up Chinese food for BH (who is sick), cursing the people in front of me, I developed a theory that cars make people more Republican. By this I don't mean the sociological argument that suburbanization leads to social isolation and conservatism, which is pretty well-plowed ground. No, I mean the very act of driving a car makes one more right-wing. Think about it. Here's this expensive device which promises to take you anywhere you like quickly and is entirely under your own power - a pretty heady experience. But then the practical reality is that, because of all the other cars out there, it takes forever and you're sitting there idling or going slow. You get angry. You get selfish. You get filled with righteous indignation and decide everyone else in the world is an idiot. You just want everyone to GET OUT OF YOUR WAY. I can imagine that for people who are already predisposed to do so there would be a strong temptation to turn on Rush Limbaugh and have a good 10 minutes of hate. Lucky for me my anger is directed at rich people, but I find that most angry white males direct it at minorities or immigrants or something. Just a theory.

3) I read this article by Matt Taibbi. Made me sick to my stomach.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 9:25 AM

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Thursday, December 10, 2009
I realized this morning that I've become an outright critic of the Obama Administration, which perhaps explains why I'm been blogging more lately. It's easier to have something to write about when you're pissed off, I suppose.

I supported Obama in the primaries, but if you recall I became deeply frustrated with him following his vote on FISA. Civil liberties and the rule of law are profoundly important to me (they should be important to everyone, but sadly aren't), but beyond the specifics Obama's vote on that issue signaled an unwillingness to take chances for the sake of important principles. Obama's behavior on Afghanistan, financial regulations, health care, the environment, and any number of other areas has only confirmed that old suspicion - that Obama is excessively risk-adverse, and will always bargain with existing institutional forces rather than challenge them.

Let's take health care reform, the preeminent issue of the day. There are a lot of bloggers whom I respect - Klein, Yglesias, Kleiman, and even Bowers - who think that the Senate health care reform bill is worth supporting even in its present, highly attenuated form. Their calculation - and it's a reasonable one I suppose - is that even an incremental advance is an improvement over the status quo, and a failure would not lead to a stronger bill in the future but a weaker one. They are predicting that this will be a first step that will open the way to further reforms in the future. But what I fear is that a mangled health care bill will discredit reform as its every failure will be heaped on the head of liberals who foolishly championed such weak tea. What if the mandate is enforced while costs continue to rise, health care benefits are delayed, and future conservative congresses slash subsidies? The result will be a massive tax on the working class, a tax that will be laid at the doorstep of Democrats. This strikes me as least as likely as the scenario in which we pursue another round of reforms in five years.

Similarly, there are those like James Vega who argue that outright opposition to the escalation in Afghanistan will only marginalize liberals and strengthen the hand of the hawks. But what is the alternative? To blindly support a policy one opposes and bear responsibility for it? It seems strange to argue that someone should feign support for something one doesn't support and expect that it will shift the balance towards one's position. Wouldn't it just shift the entire debate away from what one believes?

And this I suppose is where I break ranks with my fellow liberals. I do not trust Obama's judgment, because I have seen little reason for doing so thus far. At every stage in his young presidency, when he has been given a choice between doing what is easy and doing what is right, he has done the former. If this is because he doesn't agree with liberals on all of these issues - if he thinks that we are in the wrong on domestic and foreign policy, then he is no liberal. If on the other hand he does agree with us at least a large measure of the time, but does not believe that our positions are feasible, then I respectfully disagree with his analysis and would condemn him for excessive caution. If there was ever a time to pursue progressive aims, if we have ever been proved demonstrably right, that time is now. I'm realistic enough to accept that we cannot attack every problem, but thus far liberals have gotten precious little in return for our political efforts. If we can get nothing now, when will we ever get anything? How can we be optimistic about reforms in the future if large majorities in both houses nets us so little in the way of tangible benefits?

So no, I do not believe that this is the best we can get. I am not thankful for the few crumbs we've been permitted, or for the limp legislative posture of the administration. Trusting in Obama's good intentions has gotten us precisely nothing, so perhaps liberals should consider forthright opposition when we oppose.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 9:44 AM

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A Poo Sandwich with Mustard Is Still A Poo Sandwich

Wednesday, December 09, 2009
So the bill I am supposed to get excited about has a gutted exchange, weak subsidies, a conditional buy-in to Medicare for those 55 year old and older, a triggered co-op and an individual mandate. Whoop-de-fricking-doo. Um, maybe there's something I don't understand, but how is this sensible even from a strictly partisan perspective? Setting aside the question of cost controls, how does it make sense for a political party whose emerging base is 30-somethings to force young people to buy expensive private insurance? This "reform" is a piece of garbage whose sole purpose is to give Obama the opportunity to claim a "win." Tell me Barry, how big a win will it be when the Democrats lose Congress next year and the teabaggers take over?

Now there are good things in the bill, no question. If there weren't a mandate, perhaps I could be persuaded to support it. But if we're going to force people to buy insurance, I sure as hell want a guarantee that they'll have a cheap alternative to selling their souls to AETNA or whoever. By objection from the start to this kind of plan - back to its Massachusetts progenitor, was that the subsidies would never be enough to prevent a mandate from becoming a burden. And here we are.

What infuriates me most of all is how predictable this has all been. We knew ages ago that Republicans would filibuster and that Nelson, Landrieu, Lieberman, and Lincoln would never be willing to alienate insurance companies. But no, no reconciliation was off the table, and let's not even discuss the possibility of breaking the filibuster! Gosh no, it might be considered rude!

10% unemployment. An expanded war in Afghanistan. A weak health care bill. No action on climate change. Yeah, this is the change I was hoping for.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 3:25 PM

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Not Letting Obama Off Easy

Tuesday, December 08, 2009
Defenders of Obama's thus-far unimpressive list of accomplishments tend to point to the inherent difficulty of implementing reform in our political system. The U.S. possesses a host of checks that make make changes extraordinarily challenging. When I taught Political Science, I used to love going through every little step of the legislative process with my students, who became steadily more horrified every time I said "but we're still not finished!"

Compounding the structural obstacles to any significant change is the fact that the Congress is inherently biased against liberal change in particular. In the House, there are more Republican than Democratic leaning districts because of congressional districting rules that maximize minority representation: you have a bunch of 70-80% Democratic seats and even more 60% Republican seats, which means that whenever Democrats are in the majority they're going to have a lot of cross-pressured members. The Senate, well we all know what a mess the Senate is - malapportionment favoring (conservative) rural areas, the filibuster, holds, a tradition of "comity" etc. etc. etc.

So maybe Obama's defenders are correct. Maybe Obama and his minions are just getting the most they can out of the Congress and liberals should just accept that the most we can expect is a tenth of a loaf.

I accept much of this analysis, but I still don't think it absolves Obama of responsibility. Obama was in the Senate, he saw how the legislative process works. He wrote about the obstacles to reform in his book, so I know he's not ignorant of the difficulties. Recognizing this fact, why had he treated the problems facing America as primarily a matter of personalities rather than of structure? If the political structure is the reason that it is so difficult to address our common problems, why not talk about it? Why not make renovating our political life part of your political agenda? Obama could have pushed to weaken the filibuster, to eliminate holds, to pass campaign finance reform. In short, he could have done things that would might at least temporarily lubricate the engines of reform. he could have used the power of his rhetoric and the bully pulpit to apply public pressure on obstructionists.

He did none of those things. Obama has become the worst kind of transactional leader, negotiating from a position of weakness, backing away when opposed, always taking the path of least resistance. All he has done is put the same old people in place to pursue the same old policies to achieve the same old results. Obama is playing the incremental, cautious, beltway game in a time of crisis - a veritable recipe for missed opportunities.

Fundamentally, I think Obama is weak. Either he doesn't have the will to pursue real change, or he doesn't have the power to make real change happen. Either scenario spells weakness, and if there is one thing a president can never be perceived to be, it is weak.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 1:23 PM

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Wednesday, December 02, 2009
I haven't spent much time thinking about Afghanistan, but apparently it's time I started. Everyone is probably aware that Obama has authorized an escalation in an effort to pacify the country. Whatever nice-sounding words you want to use, this is an attempt to 1) crush taliban resistance and 2) stabilize the Karzai regime. Ultimately, I have grave reservations that either element is possible.

I'm not remotely familiar with the specifics of Afghani politics or the current military operations, so I will not pretend to speak with any authority. But I will say this - Afghanistan is some of the most difficult campaigning country on earth. It took Alexander the Great two years to conquer the place, and he did so as much through political means (marrying into the local aristocracy) as through armed power. And now that Obama has defined our mission as central to U.S. security, how is the 2011 deadline believable? If we are, as I suspect we will be, in precisely the same situation in three years as we are today, will Obama be able to realistically pull out just before an election year? I understand that the fundamental concern isn't really Afghanistan, but Pakistan, but does escalating in the former truly improve stability in the latter?

What concerns me most is that the U.S. appears trapped in a cycle of gradually expanding military commitments in an open-ended drive for security. There's a line from somewhere, I can't quite remember where (David Kennedy, I believe), that absolute security for one nation can only come at the price of absolute insecurity for everyone else - in short, through empire. We are trying to fashion stable, friendly regimes in what we perceive to be economically, politically, or strategically important regions. How does this differ from creating an imperium? How do we persuade other nations that our motives are honest? How do we even convince ourselves of it?

I am no pacifist. I accept that the use of force is sometimes necessary. However, a democracy's military actions must be defensive, and any country's military and diplomatic posture must be sustainable, i.e. appropriate to its political will and financial resources. What we are doing right now is neither. These wars are only being waged because we are refusing to pay for them through taxes and drafts. The public doesn't really want to fight these conflicts, but is willing to go along if the price is invisible. Surely one day the price will have to be paid.

I fear that this is all going to end very badly.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 12:19 PM

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About The Future

Tuesday, December 01, 2009
I'm not really sure what to do with this blog lately. I don't have the heart to quit it, any more than I could find a way to drop my dissertation when it became clear that I didn't want to be an academic anymore. I suppose I'm a sucker for the sunk cost fallacy. At some level my itch to write is getting scratched by plugging away at my novel every morning. And my urge to bitch about politics is less than it was, not because I'm not paying attention (I wish I could just not pay attention), but because I'm so discouraged. Every concern I had about Obama during the 2008 campaign - and some things I didn't expect - have been fulfilled. I won't get into the details now - let's just say that he's been a massive disappointment, squandering a once-in-a-generation opportunity.

What do I blog about? I've done my best to keep my anonymity, but I'm hesitant to say too much about my work life. It's not like I'm in NYC anymore, safely anonymous among the millions. And while I'm still engaged in local politics, I have drawn back a bit from general burnout and wanting to focus on other things. And who wants to hear me talk about writing my book? Maybe I should, since Brazen Hussy is sick to death of hearing about it.

So yes, I'm in a funk. Maybe it's the weather, or the world, or wondering where I'm going to be in a year. Maybe it's the insomnia I've been struggling with, or my total exasperation with my job. Or maybe I'm just being whiny.

I suppose I'll do what one is supposed to do with writer's block, which I suppose this is a strange species of. One sits down at the computer, turns it on, opens the program, and starts to type. Whatever happens happens. I've never been very good and just letting life happen, so maybe this will be good practice.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 11:40 AM

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