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And there's no center there

I don’t think I ever actually posted a response to My Gracious Host’s note Okay if we do it, awful if they do it, in which he decries the use of double standards in political argument, saying Sometimes each party uses argument X to support the things they like, and says that argument X is ridiculous when the other party uses it to support the things they like. The comment may seem straightforwardly reasonable, but it made me feel all defensive, and I half-wrote two or three different responses to it. I think I deleted them all without finishing them, as none of them were particularly scintillating.

My point, in all of them, is that the situation he describes is much more frequently only the appearance of that situation than the reality. For one thing, each party has several people in it, and often the process-focused people within the party will not touch argument X even when it is in their favor, and will hock on about the ridiculousness of argument X when it is being used by the other party, and then different people within the party will happily use argument X when it works and leave it alone when it doesn’t. This gives an impression of hypocrisy, since it’s often hard to remember which party spokesman made which arguments at which times, but I don’t think that it holds up on examination. And again, seeming symmetry is very rarely actual symmetry when it comes to politics. Republicans in the Senate, f’r’ex, were willing to support using the reconciliation process when they had a majority but not sixty votes, and are appalled by the suggestion of the Democrats doing so now. On the other hand, the Senate was at the time passing a budget, which is (more or less) what the reconciliation process was designed for, as opposed to a health care finance reform, which is a massive and entirely new legislation effort. I don’t hold the position myself, but it’s neither dishonest nor a double standard to posit that reconciliation in the Senate is OK for certain kinds of bills and not others. In other words, the arguments have the same structure but different content, and the content does matter.

None of which is to say that Jed is wrong in his point. Sometimes the situation really does happen, and even more than that, it’s fair to suggest that if it appears to be happening, particularly if the Good Guys are doing it, well, it’s worth looking into with a skeptical eye. Yes? While keeping in mind that appearances are proverbial.

So why am I writing about it now, after all this time? Your Humble Blogger complained, a lot, about the high-handed way the Republicans ran the Senate (and the House, but more so the Senate) when they were in charge under Our Previous President. There were two aspects that I found particularly galling—well, three, one of which was the bit where the Senate Leadership would negotiate and then the White House would come in at the last minute and tear up the deal. That isn’t happening so much now, but the other two are worth looking at. One was the majority-of-the-majority rule, where the Party leadership would not allow a vote unless the Majority Caucus supported it, even if there were enough in his Party that would join the Opposition on a specific matter to make a majority in favor of the thing in question. And the other was the 50%+1 rule, that if you had a majority that was bigger than that, you could push the bill further to the Right (as they were on that side) until you lost a few more supporters.

And, of course, on the face of it, that’s what My Party is doing, now that we are in power. Or, and this is more so the case, when My Party failed to stop the Stupak Amendment (a vicious hunk of shit) from coming to a vote, it went against the majority-of-the-majority rule, and I would have preferred that the leaders of My Party keep to that rule in stopping the damned thing. And then, with the Bill itself, we crafted a Bill that would pass by the narrowest of margins.

Is this a symmetrical situation? Not entirely, of course, because the fundamental asymmetry is that we are right and they are wrong, and so nothing will ever really be the same on either side. There is also the passing of time: when the Republicans took over in 1994, there were still the leftover bits and pieces of the Old Way, with conservative Democrats in the South, liberal Republicans in New England (and New York, a bit), and a variety of regional and industrial coalitions possible. The Republicans, in part through the governing in the way I’ve talked about, accelerated the sweeping away of those coalitions in favor of true national Party structures. Now, there are no more than a handful of Republicans in the Senate or House worth being bipartisan with, and the remaining moderate Democrats stand out by themselves far more.

There’s also a fundamental asymmetry to the Party structures, in that the Republican Party tends to pick leaders that are to the right of the median for their party, whilst the Democratic Party tends to pick leaders that are to the right of the median for their party. (Note, by the way, that the how-people-vote-on-bills ranking does not work for people in leadership positions, who will vote with the Party as leaders more often than they otherwise might—the fact is that Harry Reid is right-of-the-middle, Dick Durbin to the right of him, and in the House, Nancy Pelosi is just-to-the-left, Steny Hoyer just to the right, Jim Clyburn a bit on the left) (the point being that I’m exaggerating, but not much; Democrats tend to pick leaders in the middle of the caucus, rather than to the left) (which is not to say that the more liberal members do not gain tremendous amounts of power through committee chairmanships and so on, just that they don’t get to be Leader or Whip that often) (I’m comparing them to Mitch McConnell amd John Kyl and John Boehner and Eric Cantor and Mike Pence on the other side, btw) (I’ve forgotten where I was or what punctuation to use, so I’m delaying closing this preposterous series of parentheses). A bill that gets the support of Harry Reid is not going to be the symmetrical opposite of one supported by Mitch McConnell or Bill Frist, is the point, however many votes it winds up getting.

And then there’s the fact that the Health Care Finance Reform Bill is still to the right of the country in many ways. The legislation that the Republicans passed earlier in the decade was way outside the mainstream. So there’s that asymmetry as well.

But then, the real asymmetry is this: it’s OK when we do it, it’s awful when they do it.

I mean, seriously. I’m sure there are people on the other side who have lots of reasons why it works in the other direction, and when our side is pushing partisan legislation through driven by the left of the left it demolishes the whole procedural whatsit. But they are wrong, you see. And I am not.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,
-Vardibidian

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