Friday, September 18, 2009

Frustration and Baucus

I've talked before about two types of democratic frustration. Type one is when you lose, even though it sure seems like you have lots of people on your side. Type two is when, despite winning elections, you don't always get what you want. That can happen even in majoritarian systems, but it is particularly common in the US anti-majoritarian, Madisonian system.

Well, type one was on display on the Mall last weekend, but type two is all over the place right now. Everyone is upset with Max Baucus. John Dickerson, in Slate, says that people should be upset with the president, not with Baucus.

But the truth is that efforts to pinpoint blame on someone miss the real point, which is that the rules of the game are that any major legislation is going to be subject to a filibuster, that it takes sixty votes to beat that, and that the 60th most liberal Senator is Ben Nelson. And that on specific provisions, the 60th most liberal Senator might be Kent Conrad, or Evan Bayh, or one of seven or eight other Democrats -- most of whom come from states that voted for John McCain. And there are enough of that last group that a 50 vote reconciliation path to a pure liberal bill isn't available, either.

Now, it's fair game to attack individuals for the inconsistency of their centrist positions, but those positions, however illogical, are what Obama (and Baucus) have to work with.

It's just going to be hard going. I'm not saying that Baucus, or Obama, is necessarily following the best strategy, but any winning path has to take account of the reality of people such as Nelson, Conrad, and Bayh, none of whom is the fault of the committee system, the chair of any particular committee, the Senate Majority Leader, or the president.

In other words, most of what we're hearing is type two democratic frustration, not analysis. Just as most the implausibly desperate attempts to inflate the numbers of the Beck march were type one democratic frustration.

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