Thursday, September 3, 2009

Leverage, Liberal Tactics, and DC Statehood

Ezra Klein and Matt Yglesias today move to the subject of Chris Bowers's suggested brinkmanship strategy for progressives (threaten to sink any health care bill without a public option), which Matt summarizes as "tactical extremism." Should liberals threaten to torpedo a bill if they don't get what they want? Is it sensible for liberals to try to maximize their influence even if the stakes are fairly low this time around, because they want to maximize their long-term influence?

It seems to me that Ezra makes several good points about the slim chances of liberals really getting very much out of this strategy. Points on the extremes just have less leverage than points near the middle; the numbers are what they are, at least for this Congress. He's absolutely correct as well that conservatives wound up disappointed with Republican Congresses, and they could do little about it. On the other hand, Matt has the sensible point that even if it's a losing game, liberals would be worse off if they don't play at all -- it makes no sense for liberals to look at the numbers and fold early in the hand, rather than playing it out and getting what they can. Bottom line: it makes sense for liberals to bluff, but not to carry out their bluff.

What liberals really should be doing, however, is to figure out exactly what they can extract for their eventual cooperation with a bill they'll like, but that is far from their real preference. To me, the answer is simple: DC Statehood. DC Statehood should unite liberal Democrats (who would get two more liberals in the Senate) and marginal Democrats (who would get two more Democrats in the Senate). If there's a downside, it's small and ephemeral, while two votes in the Senate are real and tangible.

2 comments:

  1. Nate Silver wonders today whether the progressives are hurting their cause by digging in their heels on the public option, thereby making it "liberal" and giving the Blue Dogs something to reflexively oppose so they can seem moderate.
    If he's right, then the mistake was made months ago in not insisting on single-payer. If THAT was the alternative, then the Blue Dogs could take the public option home as the "compromise."

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  2. The problem with that is that single-payer candidates were soundly thrashed in the Democratic primaries last year; had Obama taken that position after campaigning and winning on what he's pushing now, then reporters and Washingtonians in general would have been far more receptive to GOP accusations of a sharp turn to the left.

    That, and instead of buying off most of the key interest groups, he would have had them seriously against him (how much would the insurance industry spend to defeat single payer?).

    Single payer lost in 2008. It wasn't a viable position, even as a bluff, this year.

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