Monday, April 12, 2010

Read Stuff...But Carefully

I couldn't decide whether to make Ryan Grim and Arthur Delaney's long piece on Raul Grijalva and the frustrations of the strongest liberals in the House my recommendation not to read in my tab dump earlier today, but eventually decided that that would be wrong.  It's a worthwhile topic, and I think that the reporting appears, at least to me, to be very strong.  So I will recommend it.  However, I can only recommend the reporting.  The analysis is...well, it's garbage.  Examples?  I'm not going to go through all of them, how about this obvious one: describing the final vote on health care reform in the House, they say, "The public option died so that Rick Boucher could vote no."

Well, no.  Actually, there are a couple of reasons why the public option died.  One is that Pelosi, learning the lessons of 1993, wanted a several vote margin for the bill, in order to prevent every single Member from being the one who put it over the top.  One can question whether that was the right lesson, correctly applied, but that's what was going on.  But it also didn't matter, because the real story was that the public option didn't have the votes in the Senate.  In fact, the Senate is oddly missing in Grim and Delaney's article, except for one paragraph in which they claim that while Rahm Emanuel has "retreated" by recruiting the most conservative Democrats possible, the Senate, thanks to Chuck Schumer, is where all the liberals are:
Schumer didn't need to depend on conservatives, even in swing states. Newcomers such as Sherrod Brown, Jeff Merkley, Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) and Al Franken (Minn.) have all championed progressives causes
Well, yes, but Oregon and Minnesota aren't really swing states, and somehow they miss the contributions of such moderate Democrats as Tester, Webb, Warner, and Begich.

Basically, there are two huge problems with this article as analysis. First, one could read the article and think that the House is the main obstacle to liberal legislation, when in fact almost the entire liberal agenda has passed the House, only to be blocked in many cases by the Senate (and there are no examples that I know of in the reverse, in which a liberal objective has passed the Senate and died in the House).  And, second, despite a lot of allegations that Democrats have supported moderates over liberals who could have won in many House seats, there's nothing resembling evidence of that proposition.  Of course, it could be true -- and it also could be true that the differences between moderate Democrats and more liberal Democrats could make a real difference in some cases, although given the more conservative (at this point) Senate, I'm not sure how often those small hypothetical differences in the House would actually affect what the final version of any law would look like.

So I like the article a lot in that I do think it effectively gets inside the heads of one subset of House liberals, but unfortunately they didn't step back from that interesting perspective in order to place it within the reality of politics in the House.

By the way, there's a great quotation here from Barney Frank which captures what's happened in this Congress perfectly, in my view.  I'll end with it:
Despite the much-ballyhooed efforts of New Dems and Blue Dogs to impede Democratic legislation, Barney Frank disagrees that moderates have more power within the Democratic caucus.
"They are able to put the brakes on to some extent, but we're driving the car," he says. Frank regards the agenda of House Democrats as essentially a progressive one, and in his view, to think of Blue Dogs and New Dems as more "effective" than progressives is to miss the point.
"The progressive caucus is behind these things coming up at all," he says. "You take that for granted. We have had basically liberal bills in health care, financial regulatory reform -- we got an independent consumer agency. ... Your definition of effectiveness is for people being able to modify the basics, but you forget about the people who got the basic thing through. Can you not see that? You start when the movie's four-fifths over."

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