Friday, March 19, 2010

Digby on Walking Away

Take a look:
Contemplating Chris Bowers' interesting discussion of the progressive bloc(k) strategy, Matt Yglesias points out what should be evident to anyone who's ever done a negotiation: whoever can walk away always has more power. It's just the way things work. That doesn't mean that you can't win if you want something more than the person with whom you're negotiating. There are lots of strategies. You can ask for far more than you're willing to settle for, you can play others against each other, you can try for a "win-win." But in the final analysis, it's always going to be much tougher to walk away from something everyone knows you really want and much easier if it doesn't matter much to you. That's life.
True. But it's not that simple.

Everybody wants a lot of things. In fact, they want so much that they're often contradictory. You want lots of services and low taxes. You want to eat your cake and have it too. You want to save your money but buy nice things. That's life, too.

The real question is "what do you want more?" Do you want health care expansion, or do you want a good health care expansion? Do you want broader coverage, or do you want to reduce the power of insurance companies? Sure, you want to "raise the poor", as digby says later, but how do you want to do that, exactly?

You also have to compare personal vs. public or political goals. Do you want personal access and wealth? Do you want to be "at the table" as a reliable supporter, or do you want to be influential but, perhaps, somewhat untrusted? Are you willing to sacrifice your personal career goals for something you truly believe in, or are your beliefs flexible?

It's that latter problem that has motivated my opinions on this fight. Chris Bowers and Matthew Yglesias can write all they wish about how the "progressive bloc has been ineffective" because progressives aren't as willing to walk away as Conservatives are. But let's be honest: they've been part of the problem. They have access. They have notoriety. They have identities in the notorious "Village", and careers that depends on such things.

They also know that if they don't play ball with the White House, all that could go away. That suffuses every word of their arguments; particularly Yglesias. It's one of the main reasons I've been so disappointed with them of late. It's why I asked the question that, unanswered, still guides my beliefs to this day: Is there a Democratic bill that they wouldn't support, as long is it was labelled "Health Care Reform"?

That's what it comes down to, really. Are they willing to walk away? Not "the progressive movement". Obviously some progressives are, or Jane Hamsher and the rest of the anti-HCR progressive group wouldn't exist. I mean you personally. Are you willing to give up influence, notoriety and access in favor of something greater? Digby's right. That's where power comes from. It comes from the ability to walk away.

They didn't, though. Yglesias, Bowers, Moulitsas, Klein et al—they haven't provided a single reason to ever believe that they would walk away. Not one. They are as reliable as the sunrise and therefore completely ineffectual. Worse still, when people did make that decision, Yglesias et al carved them up: over, and over, and over again ad nauseum. They didn't just go along with the White House's agenda, they enforced it. They deny their own agency, but one of the major reasons why progressives didn't walk away was because they would endure withering attacks if they did. I mean, for the love of all that's holy, we had Kos saying he was going to try to primary Dennis Kucinich! This over a bill that Kos himself said was unsupportable, back before he stood the risk of actually taking some serious heat over it!

(And I'm not even going to get into Nate Silver's issues.)

Conservatives understand that the power of their movement comes from being able to walk away from the Republicans. They did it to George H. W. Bush, and they've certainly done it at lower levels. They don't attack those who disagree from the right: those people actually get catered to! They don't employ the opposition's framing during the debate, as the Dems' lackeys so often do, and they recognize those lines that they are not willing to cross.

Digby says that maybe they should take a stand on a different issue:
But as Yglesias says, there are plenty of issues where it can work. In fact we saw it with Grayson's audit the fed initiative and earlier in the year they gave Pelosi and Emmanuel big, big headaches over the first war supplemental. There's power in legislators working together across party lines and being willing to play hardball.
I don't believe there is actually precious little power in "working together across party lines" in this case. (One of the things I disagree quite severely with Hamsher about, by the way.) You will just end up supporting their arguments, and they'll judo-flip you to force legislators to move in their direction. I do agree that there is enormous power in being willing to play hardball, but that must come making it absolutely clear that you aren't going to pull a 180 and support the bill when the White House tells you to. You not only must accept that they might get egg on their faces; you have to be willing to hurl the thing yourself, or be willing to stand by those that would.

So far, they have not demonstrated that they are. I hope things change. I hate having this incredible disappointment and discouragement about people that I once respected so highly. I do hope that, when the next time rolls around, Yglesias, Kos et all are willing to say "no, Mr. Obama, this is too important and we will not compromise on it."

But, then again, I hoped that in 2003, too.

Edit: Here's Hamsher's position on it:
[I]t’s also worthy of note that it’s hard for them to withstand the assault of liberal “pundits” who sneeringly derided their efforts as naive, futile and “purist.” These thoughtful folks should be proudly taking credit for their role in delegitimizing progressive opposition to the bill in liberal intellectual circles, much the same role that the same people played during the Iraq war. After all, it’s TNR’s stock in trade.

I’ll leave it to others to analyze how corporate cash was laundered through foundations to underwrite the efforts of various “opinion leaders” in the health care debate, but it definitely deserves more scrutiny.

I had been wondering why Yglesias had been so obnoxious in this post, saying "they say they agree with me now so that proves I'm right! Hah!" Now it makes sense, though, since he really hates the Iraq analogy. Probably because it sort of hits home—a lot of the people who supported that war did it for the same political ends that causes them to support LieberCare now.

Re-Edit: Look at Kucinich here. This is not a man who enthusiastically agrees with Yglesias and the defenders. This is not a man who thinks that this is even a good bill. This is a man who has, for whatever reason, been given no other choice but to knuckle under.

To claim him as anything else is just perverse.

(Edited slightly for clarity)

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