Pre Post-Mortems On the Progressive Failure At Political Bargaining
Why did the progressives fail in the health bill negotiations? Chris Bowers has a theory (finally he acknowledges that progressives were "largely ineffective" in the health care debate.) Jon Walker has a better one. I have my own series on Madman Political Bargaining. MaryB has the best explanation:
I actually think the problem is that the Progressives never thought of themselves as being in a true negotiation with the Democrats as a whole and never acknowledged that the only TRUE negotiations were taking place among themselves - that the Republicans didn't matter.
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To use a non litigation example, it was like a party with capital joining an investor group and thinking that the true negotiations were with the target company when the target was going to get acquired one way or the other. What they should have been concerned with was negotiating their own positions within the buyer group. But for some very odd reason they were too afraid they would get kicked out of the group if they raised too many issues. They never realized that their contribution was essential to getting the deal done. That if they threatened to blow up the deal they could strike fear into the hearts of the other investors who needed to go back and report that this deal was DONE. Where the target could bluster all it wanted but every analysis showed the deal would get done one way or the other - easy or ugly, it was going to happen.
And now, after the deal is complete, our heroes congratulate themselves that a successful deal was done even though they will make less out of it than they could have if they had negotiated more strongly with their own side.
In an alliance or a coalition - and really, the Democratic Party is not really a political party, it is a coalition of diverse interests, bargaining must take place within the coalition. When the coalition has no chance of reaching outside of the coalition, as MaryB rightly describes was the case in the health care negotiations, then all the bargaining is inside the coalition.
Public insurance reform frameworks advocates has no kindred spirits in their coalition. The Blue Dogs were largely opposed. The Obama Administration was indifferent. And Village bloggers and Dems took their cues from the Obama Administration.
The question was how to bargain with the people who wanted a bill passed (the White House) to maximize your bargaining position. Unfortunately, that required being willing to do something progressives simply were not willing to do - create the real possibility that no bill would be passed because of their opposition. Without that commitment, the progressives were sure to be the first rolled. And they were. Bart Stupak took the "Madman" tack. As Jon Walker describes:
As much as I hate everything Bart Stupak (D-MI) is trying to do as it relates to abortion and health care reform–on policy, personal, and moral grounds–there is one, very small silver lining to his actions. He has made perfectly clear the difference between politely asking for something and fighting for something in Congress.
Bart Stupak put together a small coalition and decided to fight for his abortion restriction language. Fighting requires one to make use of every tool and hardball tactic at your disposal. Stupak’s gang became an immovable object, which gave Democrats only three choices: go around his group, accept being stopped cold by his group, or move heaven and earth to find a way to meet their demands.
In the House, the Democratic leadership seems to have been unable to find a way to get the votes they need without Stupak, so going around him is not an option. Equally, they refuse to let this health care bill be stopped by him, so they are working furiously to find a way to give in to his demands. Possibilities to appease Stupak include a third bill, a sidebar bill, and a special waiver of the Byrd rule.
The unremarked part of this is Stupak presents a much more difficult procedural problem for passage of the bill than did the progressive demand for reconciliation. And what also goes unremarked is that even if Scott Brown had not won in Massachusetts, Bart Stupak would be getting his way.
Progressives for a public insurance reform were in fact handed a second bite at the negotiating apple when Scott Brown lost. And yet again, they fumbled it away. As Jon Walker rightly describes:
With Democrats deciding they will use reconciliation, and with leadership whipping votes in the House to finally pass health care reform, progressives should be at the height of their negotiating power. If they formed a block, similar in size to Stupak’s, and refused to vote for health care reform without a public option–as many of them promised to do–the Democratic leadership would have no choice but to work tirelessly to meet their demands, just as they are working to appease Stupak’s gang. It does not matter if Obama thinks the public option might be a few votes shy of 51 in the Senate. If he actually thought it was the only way to pass reform, for the first time ever he might actually try to whip the votes for it. It is amazing how minds change if Obama actually whips for something. Instead, Woolsey preemptively throws away all negotiating power by saying she would vote for Senate bill regardless. This talk about “The day after the health care legislation is passed, I will introduce a bill calling for the public option,” sounds like stupid, childish nonsense that no one should take seriously, and for good reason. If you are unwilling to play hardball to get what you want at a moment of maximum leverage, there is no way this standalone bill is going overcome a filibuster in the Senate, or even reach the House floor.
Jane Hamsher does and say a lot of things that I strongly disagree with. But her analysis of Lynne Woolsey's failures as leader of the House Progressive Caucus seem irrefutable. Jon Chait is not being straight when he writes:
Yes, that is what it is time for! One day, when progressives study this moment in history, they will evaluate all of us by this single standard: What did they do to stop Lynn Woolsey?
Chait is playing the fool here. If Woolsey was leading a cause Chait was passionate about, he would be demanding Woolsey's ouster just as any sane person would. Woolsey is no leader. She is no bargainer. She is a fine reliable vote for progressive positions while also of course being a reliably bad bargainer with other forces in the Democratic coalition. No movement wants to be led by a bumbling stooge.
Those who have divergent priorities would of course love to have Woolsey and people of her caliber leading their bargaining opponents. Much easier to roll them then.
Which brings me to my last point - the unrecognized divergence between progressive activists and Democratic/Obama activists. I have written about Village Dems and Village bloggers enough so that the general point has been made before. But it goes a little deeper. 2010 is an election year and a lot of progressive activists, online and offline, are changing hats now. It is a difficult trick.
I think it requires honesty. Recognizing failures. Thinking through how to do better. Blind denial is simply not effective. Of course, livings can be made, but there are easier ways to make a better living. These folks are sincere. And they should consider how they can improve at trying to successfully advocate for the things they care about.
Because one thing is clear, what was done this past year did not work.
Speaking for me only
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