Single Payer, The Tyranny of the -Isms and the Genius of the New Deal

The continuing faux-negotiations of our Lefty wonks with Libertarians is an interesting exercise but it does suffer from a fatal flaw in my view - our Lefty wonks are attributing ideological rigidity to liberal policy prescriptions that simply does not and has never existed. To be a liberal DOES NOT mean being for big government programs, state intervention and single payer healthcare as a matter of ideology. Rather to be a liberal is to to have a set of values and objectives for which good policies to achieve those values and objectives are sought. The policies need not involve state intervention - they need only work. Here is an example of what I believe is this flawed thinking. Ezra writes:

Ryan Sager writes:
Democrats gained with libertarian voters in 2006, without alienating other major voting blocs. This at least puts a dent in the idea that no one can offer anything to libertarians without sending the rest of the electorate screaming from the room like a call girl from Milton Berle.
This seems...wrong. Did Democrats actually offer anything in 2006? I mean, sure, a minimum wage increase and governmental power to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies, but is that really the sort of concessions Sager is hoping for? Or did 2006 prove that offering an end, or at least a check, to a buffoonish war attracts voters of all stripes?

Actually Democrats DID offer a different set of values and priorities to the country. They did contrast what values and objectives are important to them as compared to the values and objectives of the Republicans. Some called it Populism. Some called it the Common Good. But it was an important message sent and really, while wonks and the Beltway Elite like to act as if specific policy proposals are the basis of voter choices (this is especially true during Presidential primaries, when the Media and wonks pore over in great detail competing tax plans and the like as if these can ever mean more than a statement of a candidate's values and priorities). Indeed, it is a flaw seen in much Democratic political thinking.

Our Lefty wonks have turned an interesting political exercise into yet another battle of the plans. To me the politics, not the policies, remains the more interesting part of this discussion. More on the flip.

I have touched on this subject before:

I'll talk more about Meyerson's cans and can'ts, but if I may, it seems to me that what Markos is attempting is a packaging of New Deal policies in attractive garb for those who consider themselves libertarian in outlook. In that sense, I think Markos' exercise is a valuable one. And to consider it an academic discussion of libertarianism is to miss the point. . . . Let me say that I think Meyerson's last line is overstating a great deal. And he misses what was, indeed IS, at the heart of liberalism - pragmatism. Yes, pragmatism. For what defines a liberal is not the program or policy that is implemented, but rather the result reached. Indeed, it becomes, in some cases, a fatal flaw. Consider the romance with left wing totalitarian regimes like the former Soviet Union prior to 1950 and the continuing romance with Castro's Cuba. We lliberal love our goals - equality, egalitarianism, economic and racial justice and where our goals our mouthed by an ideology, we are more tolerant. We should not be.

To me liberalism can and does embrace economic libertararianism where it meets the goals of liberalism. We are pragmatic. If social justice and economic equality could be reached be cuts in the estate tax, we liberals would support it. We oppose it because it does exactly the opposite.

Thus when Meyerson writes:

[T]he need for a state that takes the burden of economic and health security off employers who won't pick it up and employees who can't pick it up is increasingly urgent. It's hard to predict what exactly the tipping point will be as our private-sector welfare state continues to contract. But at some point, the Democrats will embrace a decisively larger role for the state in these matters because the public will demand it--not because the public will suddenly identify itself as liberal, but because there will be nowhere else to turn.

I can agree with him because I believe that, pragmatically speaking, the best policy to achieve the liberal result will likely embrace what he describes. But that does not mean that the state will or should intervene in a sweeping fashion in our economy. There are lessons history has taught us, and one of them is the less government intervention in the economy, the better the economic performance. Liberals seek to strike a balance between the efficiency of the market and the important objectives of social and economic justice - not just because these goals are "good," but because they are essential to the well being of the country.

And in the end, Meyerson understands the important role of pragmatism for liberals:

Ultimately, the Democrats aren't going to proceed very far down the libertarian road, for one simple reason that's far more pragmatic than philosophic: It doesn't lead anywhere.

And it will be this pragmatism that leads liberals to not seek a statist solution to all of our ills. Because the statist road also does not lead anywhere.

Pragmatism is what liberalism and the New Deal were about policy-wise. Here is DeLong describing Krugman's views:

Paul, I think, believes otherwise: The events of the past decade and a half have convinced him, I think, that people like me are hopelessly naive, and that the Democratic coalition is the only place where reality-based discourse is possible. Thus, in his view, the best road forward to (a) make the Democratic coalition politically dominant through aggressive populism, and then (b) to argue for pragmatic reality-based technocratic rather than idealistic fantasy-based ideological policies within the Democratic coalition.

As I state in that post, what Krugman is describing is FDR New Deal liberalism, both its policies and politics. I think that is what being a liberal means. It does not mean ideological purity or political ingenuousness. The opposite.

Thus, while the "negotiations" our Lefty wonks are carrying out with the Libertarians is interesting, it is beside the point. A Dem political appeal to Libertarians will highlight those aspects of Democratic values that appeal to libertarian leaners and stress our pragmatism on policy issues.

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    Our (none / 0) (#1)
    by aw on Thu Dec 21, 2006 at 10:16:17 AM EST
    infrastructures are crumbling, lots of people are out of work.  We need a new WPA.  If you look around you can see how much was accomplished the last time.  In my own area, there are roads and ballfields that were WPA projects.  In the Newark subway system, there are wonderful tile mosaics by WPA artists.  I do believe the justice statue that was considered so immodest by John Ashcroft was also created by WPA artists.

    Pragmatism vs. Philosophy? (none / 0) (#2)
    by SeeEmDee on Thu Dec 21, 2006 at 11:28:51 AM EST
    If the Dems want to demonstrate how classically 'liberal' they are (as opposed to the contemporary definition, which usually includes mammoth government spending on social welfare programs) then let them declare a bold new vision, an epiphany of sorts...and scrap the bloody-be-damned DrugWar!

    That one act will be the test of just how relevent (or attractive) the Dem Party is to those harboring libertarian sentiments.

    Think they will? I wouldn't wager the farm on it; the Dems have been a bunch of milquetoasty me-too's, tagging along on the coat-tails of the Reps in enabling the ratcheting-up of penalties associated with drug possession and use these past 25 years...which, in a form of brilliant political jiu jitsu on the Reps part has caused the Dem base to suffer losses during each election, notably since 2000, thanks to felony voter disenfranchisement from drug law offenses.

    No, I don't see this happening partly because the Reps will claim the moral high ground as being 'tough on drugs!' and accuse the Dems of being moral reprobates for even daring to contemplate changing the (completely ineffectual and demonstrably racist) laws. And the Dem leadership knows this and dares say nothing, while the Reps unctuously, silently smile at how they've 'gotten over' on the Dems.

    When the Dem Party finally grows some 'nads regarding this issue, then they can claim the mantle of being classic 'liberals', not before.

    Well, (none / 0) (#10)
    by aw on Thu Dec 21, 2006 at 09:25:08 PM EST
    maybe the people will begin to lead on this as they did with the Iraq war.  Maybe the repubs high-road talk is wearing thin the way their national security talk did.  Every knows we have no national security to speak of.

    sorry, i can't wholly agree (none / 0) (#3)
    by cpinva on Thu Dec 21, 2006 at 11:34:51 AM EST
    with your position. simply put, a politician, or a party, can have the greatest policy recommendations in the world, but if it isn't able to clearly, and simply, articulate those to the public, it will fail.

    as an example, i'll use social security, arguably one of best of the "new deal" programs, in its original form.

    to listen to mr. bush (who probably doesn't know any better) and many others (who should know better), once the SS trust fund empties, SS will stop making payments. this, of course, is simply not true, absent a vote by congress to discontinue the tax on earned income.

    the democrats failed to capitalize on this, by pointing out that the claims made by the bush administration, and its cohorts in congress and the media, were either lies, or reflected a complete lack of knowledge of SS. this was either because they themselves lacked that knowledge, or they just aren't adept at "real people speak".

    in either event, it cost them. because the average person has little working knowledge of SS, the dems came across not as looking out for them, but wanting to deny them the opportunity for huge profits in the stock market, for their retirement.

    and SS is a fairly simple program, compared with health care, defense, etc. if you can't explain that, how can you explain your policies on anything else?

    it really matters little who the dems cohabit with, or why, until they learn the art of communication, and strain themselves to learn the facts, so they can rebut the liars, they will have problems.

    You didn't disagree with me (none / 0) (#4)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Thu Dec 21, 2006 at 11:50:38 AM EST
    WPA projects (none / 0) (#5)
    by sap on Thu Dec 21, 2006 at 11:51:11 AM EST
    @ 1st commenter -- I'm sorry I don't think projects on the scale of the WPA are what is needed. With our spiralling national debt and increasing inflation thanks to Greenspan's moves with the Fed which lead to the housing boom which will slowly fall, the last thing we need isfor our government to be printing billions more dollars to pay out to their own citizens. This would devalue the dollar of all the people who ... you know ... don't really need a WPA. what we need, like above poster pointed out, is to cut out unnec. programs such as the 'war on drugs.'

    SAP - Swiss Army Pipe - The multifunction political and social bludgeoning tool

    We need both (none / 0) (#11)
    by aw on Thu Dec 21, 2006 at 09:49:42 PM EST
    But in the meantime the infrastructure is still crumbling away.  Our national parks are being neglected.  In a penny-wise, pound-foolish example, NJ drivers spend six times more on auto repairs caused by bad roads than the state spends to fix those roads. If people knew that, wouldn't they think it made more sense to raise taxes a bit to fix the roads and save on car repairs?  If we don't have the money, when do these things get fixed?  And who would do a better job?  Some crony or big contributor with rigged contracts or a government program spending the money actually employing people who need work?  And the money earned would actually be put right to use in the economy.

    Tax increases for the wealthy cannot be so off-the-table that we have to print money to do it.


    We do need another WPA/New Deal... (none / 0) (#6)
    by Bill Arnett on Thu Dec 21, 2006 at 12:22:41 PM EST
    ...return to our democratic roots where government acts to the benefit of ALL citizens and not just the rich.

    Yes, the rich will still find a way to grow richer, but that shouldn't stop us from hitting the bush maladministration with a blizzard of bills clearly sculpted to the common good and which cannot be interpreted to redound only to the benefit of the wealthy.

    As aw says, and I strongly agree and have so stated myself, we have vital infrastructure falling apart, power grids that need restoring, we need a Manhattan Project to dramatically increase solar and alcohol production for our energy needs, geothermal, biomass, projects by the hundreds to put hundreds of thousands of citizens back to work for THIS country, and stop wasting our treasury for Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Iran.

    Behind ya all the way, aw. Mornin to all.

    I think the biggest mistake (none / 0) (#7)
    by HeadScratcher on Thu Dec 21, 2006 at 12:57:38 PM EST
    is interpreting the midterm elections as anything more than a rebuke of the current administration - especially the war in Iraq.

    People didn't vote Democratic because of a small increase in minimum wage. It was corruption, arrogance, normal 6 year term cycles, and the war.

    cpinva - more people pay into social security now than receive it. When it reverses then there will be a much larger strain on the resources. The question is how to change it without a major problem. It will probably happen with an increase in the retirement age, increase in payroll taxes, or some privitization. No one has said that payments will stop!

    Democrats need bold policy issues like ending the war on drugs, or making a living wage, free college tuition (or tax deductability - which is actually single people subsidizing families), universal health care (either single payer or mandatory as in Massachussetts). Run for something specific rather than generalities like "making the country safer", "Better schools", etc...Everyone wants that - it's how you get there that's the issue.

    Certainly a part of it (none / 0) (#9)
    by aw on Thu Dec 21, 2006 at 05:59:43 PM EST
    People didn't vote Democratic because of a small increase in minimum wage. It was corruption, arrogance, normal 6 year term cycles, and the war.

    I think people voted Democratic also because they took a look ahead and then they took a look back in time and decided there are a lot of people in trouble out here; we need that safety net and we won't get it from Republicans.


    not to mention (none / 0) (#8)
    by HeadScratcher on Thu Dec 21, 2006 at 12:58:32 PM EST
    repealing the Defense of Marriage Act (signed by Hillary's husband) which does not give rights to 10% of the population.