Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Well Isn't This Interesting...

I hadn't thought about this, but Jake McIntyre makes an excellent point:
Has anyone else noticed that the split in the progressive blogosphere between those who are saying "it's a good bill in spite of everything" (Kevin Drum, Matt Yglesias, Ezra Klein, Josh Marshall, to name a few) and those who just can't bring themselves to support Liebercare (Markos and Digby come to mind, among bloggers who have been at it since 2003*) is eerily similar to the split between those who grudgingly backed the invasion of Iraq and those who fought against the war seven years ago?

To a large degree, it's the same cast of characters, with the same tone to the arguments. It's the policy wonks versus the activists. On the wonky side, there is (and was, in 2003) a resigned sense that this isn't an ideal action, but that we don't live in an ideal world, and that consequently we should suck it up and support an imperfect initative. On the other, there is (and was, in 2003) a resistance born of an awareness that Congressional Democrats will more often then not -- and often unintentionally -- screw themselves and the country, out of a misguided belief that powerful forces with agendas very different from that of the Democratic Party can be managed and trusted.

It's been long enough since the invasion of Iraq that the two camps - the credulous wonks and dirty fucking hippies - have reconciled (and even interbred), but the dynamic that separated us in 2003 is the same. The fundamental difference in approach is still there. When all is said and done, the wonks trust Democratic politicians to protect our interests. The activists don't. That doesn't mean that we don't like certain Democratic politicians, or that we don't cherish our wonky brethren. It just means that we're not willing to get fooled again.

*I imagine that Jane Hamsher and most of the other bloggers calling for opposition to Liebercare also opposed the Iraq invasion, but Jane et al weren't blogging way back then, at least as far as I know.

I've been around since 2002, Jake. I remember. I'll never forget. I remember, for example, that the "policy wonks" were not basing their arguments on policy per se. They were basing it on a particularly innocent and none-too-successful kind of politics: the kind that says that you can always take progressives for granted, and should therefore do whatever you can to ingratiate yourself to conservatives. That isn't precisely what's going on here, but what is going on here is motivated by much the same thing: adherence to the groupthink of "experts" and "leaders" and "wisemen" whole bunches of other fatuous gasbags who richly deserve scare quotes.

What they didn't get then, and don't get now, is that while the perfect may be the enemy of the good, the terrible is the enemy of both. That a policy isn't perfect doesn't make it good. It may include so many horrible things that they wipe out any and all good that might have been done. It may also leave doors open for terrible things to be done in the future that do much the same thing.

That was the case with Iraq. Getting rid of Saddam was a moral argument, since Saddam was a terrible man. But the people responsible were terrible enough, the plan was vacuous enough, and the consequences terrible enough that it was transparently going to do more harm than good. That is exactly what happened: the side effects were horrible, and the execution worse.

That is also the case with the Senate HCR proposal. Expanding Medicaid, regulating insurers, and getting everybody health care are laudable goals. But it is transparently obvious that these things will come at the cost of forcing people to buy terrible insurance, and taxing away even the possibility of decent insurance. Anything even remotely moral, like the subsidies for the impoverished, will almost certainly be removed by a future Republican administration, leaving nothing but the terrible parts behind.

The only difference is that both parties got to wear the Iraq debacle. The Dems, however, will be forced to stand alone on HCR. That's why Ezra et al are dangerously wrongheaded. They think that passing this bill will help the Dems next year and in 2012. But the polls are very, very clear. It won't. They may have traded foreign policy groupthink for more general Washington groupthink, but that groupthink is wrong.

(I will refrain from discussing how being wrong on Iraq was a smart career move, and question what sort of career moves are involved in being wrong on this one. After all, I still feel somewhat responsible for Ezra. That's probably why I'm not even angry at him. Just somewhat disappointed.)

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