Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Actually, Your Side Isn't Losing

Just as Washingtonians are starting to realize that a few crazy people shouting really loudly wasn't particularly helpful to Republican efforts, and that perhaps Obama's strategy on health care is sound after all, even if it doesn't win every single ten-minute-long news cycle...here comes Robert Reich with a timely piece of early August wisdom:
What we learned in August is something we've long known but keep forgetting: The most important difference between America's Democratic left and Republican right is that the left has ideas and the right has discipline. Obama and progressive supporters of health care were outmaneuvered in August -- not because the right had any better idea for solving the health-care mess but because the right's attack on the Democrats' idea was far more disciplined than was the Democrats' ability to sell it (his emphasis).
First things first: all political groups believe that they have better ideas, but that their opponents are better organized (and more vicious, and more clever in their use of political tactics). The Obama people thought it of the Clinton people last year, and the Clinton people thought it of the Obama campaign -- and of course both general election campaigns believed it of each other.

If one looks beyond that sort of normal "we wuz robbed" stuff, Reich does have one small point, but it doesn't cut the way he wants it to. Yes, conservatives have a very well organized means of amplifying whatever noise is being made (liberals are not nearly as bad at this as Reich thinks, as anyone who can manage to sit through the Olbermann show knows, but I'll grant that conservatives do that particular job better). However, it is pretty clear that conservatives have much less ability to control over what gets amplified. Did devious GOP strategists really want to use their big guns to defend...bringing guns to town hall meetings and presidential appearances? How exactly does that win the argument about health care? Even when they managed to stay on target, it's not at all clear to me that slaying mythical beasts (death panels) was the best line of attack. But devious GOP strategists don't get to control these things; instead, a bunch of self-interested hucksters and buffoons drive the message, and everyone is too cowed by them to do much about it. This, of course, is consistent with recent election results; Republicans have wound up with a party that too often is unsafe for sanity, and that sort of thing doesn't usually produce candidates who get rewarded by voters.

Granted, we don't know what will happen with health care reform this fall, but now that the sideshow is ending and the real game is resuming, it sure looks to me as if the Democrats are about as well-positioned as is possible given how difficult the challenge of legislating Big Things tends to be. Reich has confused the sideshow with the main event, and he hasn't even got the sideshow right.

[Update: Oops! Grammar correction]

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