Monday, August 1, 2011

Worst Argument Ever

Robert Reich tweets:
Ds can no longer campaign on R's desire to Medicare and Soc Security, now that O has agreed it 
Just utter foolishness. I've already written a How To post, so let's try another way of thinking about it:

Suppose that Barack Obama and the Democrats succeed in getting Republicans to agree, as part of the second-stage process of the debt limit deal, to include revenues in a deficit reduction package. Does anyone think that as a result Republicans would refrain from running against Democrats on taxes? Of course not.

For that matter: does anyone think that Republicans who vote for the debt limit deal won't attack Democrats on Pentagon spending, if the polls show that it would work?

Indeed, we just finished a fight in which Republicans supported higher deficits than Democrats (or at least than Obama); does anyone think that Republicans will therefore not use claims that they will lower deficits as an issue in 2012? Of course not.

Is there currently a huge gap between what Democrats want on Medicare and Social Security and what Republicans want? Of course there is -- even if one credits (or blames) Democrats with actively preferring the cuts that they offered in response to GOP demands (for larger cuts), what Democrats offered was nothing remotely like what Republicans voted for in the budget Paul Ryan wrote for them.

Besides: recall that ACA already contained Medicare cuts, and that Republicans were apt to run against those cuts anyway, regardless of what Obama and the Democrats did during the current Congress, and of course despite the plain fact that virtually all Republicans voted for those cuts after first campaigning against them.

I'm sure Reich doesn't think of this kind of logic as defeatist, fatalist thinking, but that's of course what it is. Democrats should certainly hope that no one running actual campaigns follows that line of thinking next year. If attacking the GOP position on Medicare was a good idea back in the spring, it's still a good idea regardless of what happened in the debt limit negotiations and regardless of what happens in the next round of the budget fight.


  1. Jonathan, you've written how they could do it, but do you really expect them to? Even if they do, why won't the Republicans just do it to them? And why do you think the electorate will be able to decipher the difference?

  2. Jonathan, you’re exactly right about this. Another example is defense, where Obama is talking about cuts, while he’s meanwhile pursuing a war policy that’s no less interventionist than Bush’s. Of course, the Republicans won’t call him on this since, with some exceptions, they’re reflexively opposing any and all defense cuts. So yes, 2012 will feature much the same phoney dueling narratives that we’re used to. And the voters will be left without real choices.

  3. Couves: "the voters will be left without real choices" is EXACTLY what the Republicans want liberals to feel. That way, liberals will stay home in 2012, allowing Republicans to take both chambers and the presidency. Instead, they should think of how the USA would look like with just one more conservative Justice on the Supreme Court.

    Yes, they have real choices. The reason Obama's government hasn't been more progressive is that a lot of conservative Democrats decided to argue against Obama just like the Republicans - until the voters finally got the cue and decided to vote for the original Republicans instead of the fake ones.

  4. Ambi -- I blame Obama, not anyone else, for our defense policy.

  5. I'm interpreting all this as all the notable liberal commentators doing their part to ensure passage.

  6. Jonathon,

    You make a lot of good points in this post. However, I have one question. Was there ever a time in the last forty years when Democrats, using only one house of Congress, were able to force policy concessions that conservatives would consider "disastrous"? It seems that as long as there is one Republican in office, ANYWHERE in the federal government, Democrats will defer to that person on all matters of public policy.

  7. >Was there ever a time in the last forty years when Democrats, using only one house of Congress, were able to force policy concessions that conservatives would consider "disastrous"?

    Dems had the House without the Senate or presidency for six years under Reagan. There were quite a few deals during that time that upset conservatives.

  8. I like BrianTH's interpretation. Could be right!

    And I agree completely with Kylopod.

  9. In support of my hypothesis, I'd suggest that starting around the time the bill was passing the House, there has been a notable uptick in the "it's not so bad" commentary, and a decline in the "it's a sh!t sandwich" commentary.

  10. BrianTH: "Stockholm Syndrome."

    Of course this is the best possible deal in all possible worlds. The alternative doesn't bear contemplation.

  11. Meanwhile, I'm confused by Jonathan's post. We've already had an election in which the Republicans ran against Dems for cutting Medicare, and it was an all-time landslide. So we've proven that the GOP is absolutely fearless about using any pretext offered by the Dems to destroy the trust that (old) people have in them as guarantors of SSI and Medicare, and we've proven that it works. And now we have Obama begging to be allowed to cut SSI and Medicare, and Jonathan thinks this somehow proves that the GOP can't run against Dems for wanting to cut these programs?

    The best case is that Dems scream "Ryan Plan" and "vouchers" while the GOP screams "Death Panels" and "benefit cuts"*, and the public decides that both parties suck.

    * or whatever insidiously clever phrase they come up with to describe the very real and very painful cuts Obama so desperately wanted

  12. JRoth,

    First of all, the important disclaimer that I didn't include in this version of it is that all of the electioneering stuff doesn't matter that much. But to the extent it does: I didn't say that Republicans can't run on Medicare cuts. That's a different question entirely.

    What I hear in Reich's comment (and I've heard the same kind of claims from other liberals) is: Republicans will ruthlessly exploit every issue; Democrats may not attempt to exploit an issue, even if the facts are in their favor, unless it's a picture-perfect case. And that's bunk at best, and pre-emptive surrender at worst.

  13. You don't need to be a Pangloss (or a Leibniz) to think this deal really isn't as bad as some have suggested, particularly when it comes to the issue of how it constrains future political discourse.

    Moreover, I think most people who think this deal isn't that bad are actually starting with the premise that this is anything but a perfect world: the context is that we have highly imperfect institutions being abused by reckless (or simply not very bright) extremists, and regrettably legislative results have to be judged in light of that context.

    In contrast, I think there is a lot of wishful thinking amongst some of the most heated critics of the deal (basically of the sort that if only the President was saying or doing things the critic in question would find more emotionally satisfying, then surely the results would end up better).

  14. By the way, haven't we already been testing all this out a bit in the recent special elections? As I understand it the Democrat has been running on the Republicans wanting to adopt the Ryan Plan and destroy Medicare, and the Republican has been responding that the Democrats actually want to destroy Medicare through a combination of Obamacare and not doing anything to reform Medicare further.

    I guess there may be a little more the Republican can now say, but it strikes me as incremental at best. In fact, part of the problem with the Republican message is that it is already confusing and potentially internally inconsistent, and trying to draw more material out of the debt ceiling debate may just make that problem worse.

    And in fact my sense is that the Republicans have not really been faring well in this exchange--maybe it is because people can actually see through the false equivalency, or maybe this is just one of those issues on which Republicans face an automatic disadvantage (sort of like Democrats on defense or budgetary issues).

    In any event, I know most people don't like to overinterpret special elections and such, but this certainly seems like support for the view that Democrats should ignore the Reichian hypothesis and engage in this debate anyway.

  15. Obama is a very influential actor in politics, but so is Reich, albeit less so. Reich could make a case for progressive principles, or he could make a case that the President is bad at making a case for progressive principles. He chooses to curse the darkness rather than light a candle.

    It would be so wonderful if Obama were the only thing standing in the way of a liberal paradise. If he were standing athwart progressivism yelling "Stop" instead of standing athwart a radical conservative onslaught yelling "Slow down," all we'd have to do is nominate a real liberal in 2012 and our problems would melt away.

    One thing I can't understand is how someone who's been alive for the last forty years, or, for that matter, someone who's studied American history pretends not to realize that progressive governance is very, very hard. Our last great hero declined to seek the Dem nomination in 1968, and the hero before that died in office almost 70 years ago. If nothing else, this indicates that it's damn hard to be a liberal president. And speaking as someone who voted for History's Greatest Monster - twice! - and then went 12 years voting for losing candidates, I can't help but feel that whenever we get a window of opportunity, we have to take it and make the best of it, rather than mewling and bawling about how badly our leaders have let us down.


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