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Betrayed again! Curse you, moderation!

Your Humble Blogger feels it somehow incumbent on him to comment on The Deal. Because everybody else is commenting, and because nobody that I read is saying the stuff that I would say. Which, alas, is the same stuff I always say in this situation.

What I’ve been seeing falls into two categories. First, there are a bunch of people who feel (rightly) that this deal is terrible for the country and terrible for progressives, and also feel (wrongly, imao) that Our Only President is to blame for this terrible deal. Second, there are a bunch of people who feel (rightly) that Our Only President got pretty much the best terrible deal he could get at this time, and that there are lots of other people who should shoulder far more of the blame, including (a) Senate Democrats, (ii) House Democrats, and (3) the American People, who persist in electing a bunch of people from the Other Party (and a handful from Our Party as well) who persist in sacrificing just about everything to the Grail of minimizing taxes on the wealthy.

But here’s the thing—a pretty fair number of pixels have been spilled in the latter group of posts on correcting the first group of posts. I think this is wrong.

That is, I think the first group—the Obama-blamers—are wrong in their analysis, but the second group—the Obama-defenders—are wrong to say they got it wrong. That’s largely because I don’t think the first group are engaging in analysis, so much as activism. And while blaming Our Only President is wrong as analysis, it ain’t wrong as activism.

It’s actually really, really important for people on the Left to cry out that we have been betrayed! betrayed by moderation! Again!

There’s been some interesting discussion lately (at Jon Bernstein’s Plain Blog, among others) about policy negotiations and party politics. Mr. Bernstein suggests that many constituencies within my Party’s broader coalition have specific policy goals that they want met, which means that you can’t buy them off with symbolic votes. That is, for many of the people in the Other Party who give time and money in support of their candidates, it is enough that their officials vote the right way, even in a losing cause. For those of us who care about Labor, we want (f’r’ex) card check passed, not just voted on. For those of us who care about GLBT rights, we wanted the military to accept gay recruits; we aren’t going to be happy with a symbolic vote. We want Cap and Trade—well, we’re not real excited about Cap and Trade, but we’re certainly furious that two years of Our Party in charge of two branches didn’t give us any serious policy, just symbolic votes. And we didn’t just want health care passed, we wanted it to cover everyone and provide a check on private insurance; we had actual policy preferences. Because of those actual policy preferences, are Representatives are likely to accept 80% of what we want, because after all, that is 80% of what we want.

I don’t know if that’s true, or if that’s a real difference between the Parties. I don’t know that, in the end, we are more likely to withhold votes or donations or energy from incumbents who nobly fail than the other Party’s incumbents. But I do think that there has been, over the last three decades or more, a substantial difference in how loud we squeal when we don’t get what we want. And I think we should squeal louder.

Look—Our Only President did a cost-benefit analysis of some kind, and decided that this was the point he wanted to be at. And I trust his judgment on that, honestly. He’s certainly in a better position to judge it than I am. But what I can do, what you can do, what Left Blogovia can do, is to increase the cost of giving up what we want. We can holler like stuck pigs when we get only 30% of what we want. We can make it clear that part of making that deal is listening to us scream our heads off. And we can make it clear to everybody that we will give our incumbents hell if they make deals that stink, even if it’s a smart deal to make. Even if our analysis is that it was the right deal for our people to make. We are going to stay unhappy and we’re going to make a lot of noise, and sooner or later we need to be bought off with some real policy, if only to shut us the hell up.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


I'm a little confused: when the President puts forward and pushes for a deal that is terrible for the country, how is blaming the President a wrong analysis? Sure, it's wrong to blame only the President, for all the reasons that you point out, but since he could have walked away from the deal, which would have been better for the country, I don't see how he can't be blamed for that. Is it your position that a terrible deal, while terrible, is better than no deal?

Also, I think that progressive anger is not that we got symbolic votes instead of serious policy, it's that we didn't even get symbolic votes of the kind that would have made the Republicans pay any political cost for being the party of "No" for two years while the planet burned.

From what I have seen of the Deal, yes, it's better than walking away. It depends on some of the details, but we are getting a few things that otherwise wouldn't have been passed. My impression is that the legislators, or at least enough of the legislators to matter, asked that the deal be put off until after the mid-terms, and Our Only President was fine with that—which was a mistake, but mostly not his mistake. Given that mistake, however, this deal seems OK for what it is, and when it is. Given that there will be a majority in the House and probably a majority in the Senate come January that would vote for making the tax cuts permanent, which would put Our Only President in the position of vetoing one of his campaign promises…

And we did get a symbolic vote on Cap and Trade, remember? We just didn't get any legislation. We didn't get as many symbolic votes as we ought to have, in my opinion, given that there isn't all that much cost to them, but it's also true that many of us don't really give a fuck about the symbolic votes—and my Party lacks the infrastructure to really make the other Party pay for symbolic votes at the ballot box, anyway. Particularly given that their base seems to love it when their Party makes symbolic votes as the Party of No, anyway.


If Mary f'ing Landrieu is now on the record that extending the lower tax rates on the super-rich is immoral, I would think that there are the votes in the Senate to keep any permanent extension of the Bush fiscal madness from reaching the President's desk. The Senate has managed not to vote on any number of things that should have been voted on during the last two years because of Republican obstruction. Surely with the Democrats still in the majority, they can manage to obstruct legislation they don't want? And it will be easier for them to say no, because they'll be getting legislation from the Republican-controlled House, which is going to be worse than the current "compromise," unless the Republicans suddenly feel they have to get tax cuts passed, in which case they might actually compromise for the first time in 16 years? Democrats may actually have more leverage in the legislature when they have less control.

We make the other Party pay with symbolic votes primarily by energizing voters inclined to vote Democratic but who don't turn out when they are disheartened.

I'd be happy to be wrong about a Senate majority for the permanent upper-class tax cut. Clearly it's all the Republicans—that seems to be all they really want out of policy—as well as my soon-to-be-senior Senator and probably two or three from our caucus. And I am pessimistic, I'm afraid, about forty Democratic Senators having the wherewithal to filibuster such a bill. I wish I weren't, but I am, and that is not Our Only President's fault.

Still, that's all speculative. What isn't (it seems to me) is that with this Deal, we can extend unemployment benefits and we can't without it. Given my speculation on the fate of tax policy next year, and given that there is a short-term economic hit from just letting all the legislated tax hikes take effect (yes, a long-term benefit, probably, but a short-term hit at a vulnerable moment) and a massive short-term hit from letting unemployment benefits expire, we are looking at the only stimulus package legislatively available to us in the next two months. Or, well, the only save-the-women-and-children-first package, frankly.

But then, I'm doing the analysis thing, which is not my strong suit. I do think the Deal is better than No Deal, but I certainly respect the idea that it isn't. It's definitely not a progressive deal. I will make the outrageous analogy to the Great Compromise that led to our Upper House—it was a terrible deal with terrible long-term consequences, but I still think that it was the right deal at the time, and that not making the deal would have led to worse. This isn't on that scale, and the principle doesn't necessarily apply, but what's going on is Ben Franklin thinking.

Again, what makes Ben Franklin thinking work is that everybody squeals, both before and after shaking hands. What makes Ben Franklin thinking not work is some sense that everybody got the better part of the deal, and everybody saying what a wonderful deal it is. That's the kind of thinking that leads to people still thinking that the Senate is the World's Greatest Deliberative Body.


plus the tax cuts spur investment that's critical to future chinese prosperity

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