And in politics, it's nonsense as well. It is, however, a popular explanation, especially in the last few years from liberals. Their story goes like this: our policies are both correct and popular, and so the only explanation for defeat is that our leaders are gutless wonders. Alan Grayson, who taps into that feeling, is about to be very popular among the Olbermann crowd. Drum quotes Jon Stewart making basically the same point: "Why are Democrats so lame?" Here's Drum:
They have a huge majority in the Senate, the public is strongly in favor of a public option, and yet....for some reason they can't round up the votes to pass it. Hell, they can't even round up a normal majority to pass it out of the Finance Committee, let alone a supermajority to overcome an eventual filibuster...Well, I do think that the Democrats are going to pass a health care bill. But it's not because they have the guts to do it -- it's because they have the votes, thanks to victories by Franken and Shaheen and Hagan and Warner, all of whom won because they went out and ran good races. For some of them, however, running a good race meant taking moderate positions on issues. Yes, Democrats can produce polling evidence that a public option is popular...but that evidence can be easily contradicted by other polling results, because most people have no idea what "public option" means. Deciding what to do in the face of such mixed evidence is hard for Democrats representing Arkansas, Louisiana, Virginia, Indiana, Montana, or the Dakotas. It's hardly surprising that those Senators would be looking for something that would be widely seen as a responsible compromise.
If they don't pass a healthcare bill at all, they'll be viewed as terminally lame. If they pass a bill, but it doesn't contain popular features that people want — like the public option — they'll be viewed as terminally lame.
Meanwhile, the "no guts" Democrats dominated the 2006 elections, dominated the 2008 elections, passed several agenda items already, and are thisclose to finally, after sixty years of futility, passing (with or without the public option) a major health reform law.
Democrats of this type remind me, I guess, of Vietnam syndrome neoconservatives, who are convinced that America needs to demonstrate to the world that it can take casualties in a war and keep fighting...to the extent that proving a willingness to take casualties (which, of course, requires ever-increasing numbers of casualties) is more important than any other goal. Similarly, Democrats obsessed with "guts" seem to think being tough is more important than actually achieving any particular substantive goal.
Democrats could, of course, prove their toughness by taking a strong public option plan to the floor of the Senate and losing. Or, to really show guts, progressives could insist on a single-payer plan or nothing, and exile the Lincolns and Landrieus from the party when they oppose it. Then, when they get back to a nice comfortable minority, they can congratulate themselves for their ferocity.
(By the way: I didn't have similar problems with Grayson's original cheap shot on the House floor; I thought that was a perfectly fine cheap shot, and a normal part of debate. My problem isn't with those kinds of attacks; it's with those who believe that such attacks are rare coming from the Democratic side -- not true -- and who believe that toughness is all that's needed in politics).