The Limits Of Triangulation

Last week, I wrote a post noting that in order for the health bill to be even what its most ardent supporters claim it is, it would need to survive assaults on its provisions from Republicans. I argued that the structure of the law made it particularly vulnerable to Republican retrenchment and that the argument that it would become more popular and be harder to deconstruct over time was faulty because the law as structured did not create a powerful constituency. I then pointed to the fact that Republicans were already diagramming how to attack the progressive features of the bill. In purporting to disagree with my post, John Cole mischaracterized my point - which was that the health bill was not structured in a way to be transformatively progressive, as asserted by strong health bill supporters. For example, Matt Yglesias argued:

Due to the [health] bill’s almost comically delayed implementation, for several years we’re still going to have a lot of political tussling over it. And even once it’s in place, the system will continue to be debated and tweaked for years to come. But over time, I think American politics will come to look quite different and we’ll look back on this day as a turning point.

(Emphasis supplied.) I think that is wrong. More than that, I think the argument is dangerous to progressive governance, and indeed, to the health bill itself. Today, Atrios cited D-Day critiquing Yglesias' expansion on his argument. Atrios wrote:

A frustrating thing is that the administration doesn't say, "we'd like to do this but we got the best we can do," instead they say "what we did was awesome." The result is that they don't even come across as advocates for the more liberal (and quite often the more popular) position.

Atrios was riffing off of D-Day's post which said:

Matt Yglesias decides to chide liberals and tell them that they risk losing universal health care by not “cheerleading” for the Democrats enough. That’s the nub of the argument as near as I can tell. I thought Yglesias was the determinist who believes elections are a reflection of the state of the economy and the normal swings of a non-Presidential year, particularly when the current President relied on a voter base of just the people least likely to turn out in an off-year election. But I guess someone needed to take the blame. What this neglects is that more people in the country, and given the big numbers I assume not just liberals, don’t think the law that passed resembles universal health care[.

Beyond that, I think it was Atrios who wrote that the way issues are covered in the Beltway the position of a Democratic President or leader will always be deemed the hippie liberal position, no matter what. Thus, by trimming their sails in an attempt to look moderate, Democratic Presidents do more to move the Overton Window to the right than any Republican really can. It is self-defeating.

Which brings me full circle (pun intended) - the insistence on creating a "moderate" health bill while demanding that progressives clap loudly for the "most progressive achievement in 40 years" virtually insures that the "progressive" in the bill will be at risk to conservative retrenchment.

And indeed, the news reports I cited in my original piece drive home that point -- the point Cole did not address. In short, this was just my never ending refrain that Democrats need a Left Flank, both as a question of politics and policy.

Speaking for me only

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    Yes, yes - a thousand times yes (5.00 / 3) (#1)
    by MO Blue on Mon Sep 27, 2010 at 12:45:04 PM EST
    Thus, by trimming their sails in an attempt to look moderate, Democratic Presidents do more to move the Overton Window to the right than any Republican really can.

    Trimming his sails this close to the coast... (none / 0) (#26)
    by rhbrandon on Mon Sep 27, 2010 at 04:00:17 PM EST
    with winds coming from starboard is a great way to run around on the rocks. Which he's about to.

    And it's not like he hasn't enough competent navigators around who have told him how not to run aground.


    You understand this dynamic so well (5.00 / 5) (#3)
    by Militarytracy on Mon Sep 27, 2010 at 01:07:16 PM EST
    And truthfully, the first months of reading your take on it....I didn't want to believe that it was so or it would end up like this.  Now I'm down this road a ways, and it is so.  It is so and it is horrible, a grown woman with a disabled son has actually cried about it now.  I have no doubt I will cry more before any real relief exists.  I doubt I will be crying all by myself.

    If memory serves, the president opened (5.00 / 6) (#4)
    by Anne on Mon Sep 27, 2010 at 01:15:30 PM EST
    the discussion on health reform by acknowledging that the best system would be a single-payer one, and he then took it immediately out of consideration by declaring that it wouldn't be practical, or fit our American employer-based model.  Sometimes, it still amazes me that at a time when unemployment was rising, and more employers were dropping insurance plans or significantly reducing coverage, our president still insisted on clinging to the employer-based model; so much for change and courage and all that inspirational and aspirational talk.

    Once single-payer was eliminated, it seemed to me that every time it looked like there might be a reasonably progressive idea or alternative, it was got watered down or once again eliminated as not being possible as soon as there was squawking from Republicans, deficit hysterics and/or the insurance lobby.

    No one gets points or medals or awards just for showing up, and that seems to be what the president and much of the party leadership and far too many bloggers want: Michael Phelps didn't get all those Olympic medals just for putting on the Speedos and dipping his toe in the pool, and he didn't get them by convincing race officials that while he couldn't swim all 800 meters, he might be able to manage 400, no, wait - 200, uh, how about 100 - oh, hey - he thinks he can ace the entry dive - so, where's his medal, and why isn't everyone cheering?

    I think if the Dems had wanted truly progressive legislation, they should not have depended on increasingly conservative members of Congress, or elected a closet Republican to the presidency, to do it for them.  Am I saying that things would be different or better had Hillary been elected?  No, I'm really not, much as others will accuse me of saying exactly that.  What I'm saying is that Dems always allow themselves to be bullied and threatened and scared into voting for pretty much anyone with a (D) after his or her name, and distracted from the candidates' actual, documented positions, because the world as we know it will end if we don't.  

    I don't believe the Dems - the ones with the actual power, that is - ever had any intention of aiming for anything more than slightly moderate; looking at the people in charge on health whatever, this was obvious from the get-go - which was why they were okay with watering things down even more: they'd rather go right than go left, no matter what.

    Clap for them?  I don't think so.

    I find myself torn many times (none / 0) (#10)
    by Militarytracy on Mon Sep 27, 2010 at 01:56:56 PM EST
    after communing with Anne's memory bank.  Is our President incompetent or is he a closet Republican?

    Closet incompetent? (5.00 / 1) (#13)
    by observed on Mon Sep 27, 2010 at 02:01:17 PM EST
    Think legislation such as the health (5.00 / 3) (#15)
    by MO Blue on Mon Sep 27, 2010 at 02:25:39 PM EST
    insurance bill is basically the legislation that Obama wanted. Republican or Democrat, final legislation is basically geared to benefit corporations over people since both parties are after the same corporate funds.

    I agree, MO Blue (5.00 / 4) (#17)
    by Zorba on Mon Sep 27, 2010 at 02:38:45 PM EST
    I think that, despite all his rhetoric, this is what Obama wanted.  Anyone who thought that he was a progressive, or god-forbid, a liberal, was in denial.  I never deluded myself that Obama was any kind of liberal or leftist.  I voted for him in the general election because McCain/Palin were simply too much to stomach, but I had hoped that, at least, he would be a somewhat left-leaning centrist (although, I'm a DFH, so a whole lot of Dems are not nearly left enough for me).  He's a corporatist-leaning centrist.  (I'll give him the  "centrist," since the Overton Window has moved everything to the right as far as the MSM and way too many politicians are concerned; by my own lights, he's quite a bit to the right.  But then, as I said, I'm a way-leftist DFH.)  

    At one time, I thought I was a pragmatist (5.00 / 4) (#19)
    by MO Blue on Mon Sep 27, 2010 at 03:34:51 PM EST
    (i.e. an approach that assesses the truth of meaning of theories or beliefs in terms of the success of their practical application).

    Unfortunately in politics things evidently have absolutely no need to work to be considered pragmatic.

    Now looking for workable solutions to real problems makes you an idealist and the left of the left of DFH to boot.



    Question: (5.00 / 2) (#20)
    by lentinel on Mon Sep 27, 2010 at 03:43:56 PM EST
    Is our President incompetent or is he a closet Republican?



    Define 'Republican" in that question (5.00 / 1) (#33)
    by cymro on Mon Sep 27, 2010 at 05:29:39 PM EST
    I think the problem is that the labels "Democrat" and "Republican" cannot be relied on to stand for anything other than party membership.

    I know that (5.00 / 5) (#23)
    by lentinel on Mon Sep 27, 2010 at 03:53:57 PM EST
    everyone has seen this, but it still is alarming to me to re-read it and realize how low we have fallen.

    "I happen to be a proponent of a single payer universal health care program." (applause) "I see no reason why the United States of America, the wealthiest country in the history of the world, spending 14 percent of its Gross National Product on health care cannot provide basic health insurance to everybody. And that's what Jim is talking about when he says everybody in, nobody out. A single payer health care plan, a universal health care plan. And that's what I'd like to see. But as all of you know, we may not get there immediately. Because first we have to take back the White House, we have to take back the Senate, and we have to take back the House."

    Obama speaking to the Illinois AFL-CIO, June 30, 2003

    The quote that balances out the above and sets the tone for the current morass is also from Obama during the campaign:

    "I never said that we should try to go ahead and get single-payer.

    He's a proponent of single-payer, but never said that we should go ahead and try to get it.
    My kind of leader. Where do I sign?

    It's called (5.00 / 1) (#25)
    by jbindc on Mon Sep 27, 2010 at 03:58:25 PM EST
    "Speaking to what your audience wants to hear."

    They all do it, but for someone who was successful in truly harnessing the power of electronic communication tools such as YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, etc., they seem to pretty dumb in realizing that his words are also still floating around the inter-tubes - to be used against him.

    But I'm sure what we'll get is, "Obviously, what I meant was....."


    He just didn't tell the whole story (5.00 / 2) (#28)
    by ruffian on Mon Sep 27, 2010 at 04:09:25 PM EST
    Because first we have to take back the White House, we have to take back the Senate, and we have to take back the House."

    ...and then we have to lose the House, and lose the Senate..maybe lose the WH...and then take it all back again after the health care system collapses...


    WORM (none / 0) (#37)
    by gyrfalcon on Tue Sep 28, 2010 at 12:54:13 AM EST
    Biden: Stop Whining (5.00 / 2) (#31)
    by BTAL on Mon Sep 27, 2010 at 05:01:18 PM EST
    Here is today's memo:

    Biden tells liberal base: 'Stop whining'

    Vice President Joe Biden on Monday urged Democrats to overcome their differences and support their candidates at the polls by telling them to "stop whining."

    During a fundraiser for New Hampshire Democratic candidates for the House and Senate, Biden said that Democrats should "remind our base constituency to stop whining and get out there and look at the alternatives. This president has done an incredible job. He's kept his promises," according to a pool report.

    Remainder at TheHill

    I find it incredible how this administration is acting this close to an election.  Not that my party are saints, but geez, this is pure political ineptness.

    Shorter Joe Biden: (5.00 / 1) (#34)
    by Anne on Mon Sep 27, 2010 at 05:37:49 PM EST
    "The other guy is worse!"

    What's next, "if you don't stop crying, I'll give you something to really cry about?"

    I think the only entitlement program that needs serious reform is the US Congress, where its members continue to feel entitled to their jobs, regardless of how badly they represent their constituents.


    Oh, he addressed that part too (none / 0) (#35)
    by BTAL on Mon Sep 27, 2010 at 06:17:26 PM EST
    From the same article:

    Biden said he understands the frustration among the electorate over the struggling economy, but Republican majorities in Congress would make matters even worse.

    And he backed that up with the Don't us accountable card:

    "They should be able to be angry with us," he said. "If we make this a referendum on the current state of affairs, we lose, and so that's why we've got to make this a choice."

    John Cole (none / 0) (#2)
    by lilburro on Mon Sep 27, 2010 at 12:53:52 PM EST
    sees things in black and white, recovered Republican that he is (you either cheer for what Democrats do or you are against them) thus he would obviously take from your post this disingenuous nugget - "his attempts to spin this as a reason to not vote for Democrats."  Anyway...

    Digby posted an interesting poll yesterday:

    Overall, would you describe the views and policies of each of the following as too extreme, or as generally mainstream?

    The Republican Party

    Too extreme 36%

    Generally mainstream 58%

    Mixed/Neither (vol.) 4%

    No opinion 3%

    The Democratic Party

    Too extreme 42%

    Generally mainstream 53%

    Mixed/Neither (vol.) 3%

    No opinion 2%

    The Tea Party Movement

    Too extreme 43%

    Generally mainstream 41%

    Mixed/Neither (vol.) 6%

    No opinion 10%

    We are exactly 1 point less extreme than the Tea Party.

    Yglesias wants to sh*t on the left for not standing up and saying "encore, encore!" when Obama touts his healthcare bill.  But how are we even supposed to fight the actual enemy - the Republicans - when we're not allowed to call a spade a spade, in other words, "the American Taliban" or "Republicans want your kids to die."  That's too impolite.  Those insinuations will be saved for those on our own side.

    Not one Repub vote (none / 0) (#8)
    by Abdul Abulbul Amir on Mon Sep 27, 2010 at 01:45:10 PM EST

    "Republicans want your kids to die."  That's too impolite.  Those insinuations will be saved for those on our own side.

    Well there was not one Repub vote for the the bill with the easily foreseen consequence of insurance companies abandoning the child only health care market.  If anyone wants those kids to die, perhaps the blame should go to those that voted for that abomination, rather than those that voted against,


    Beause not doing (none / 0) (#9)
    by lilburro on Mon Sep 27, 2010 at 01:50:33 PM EST
    anything to prevent insurance companies from denying care to children with preexisting conditions is the better alternative.

    To whom was this outcome "easily (none / 0) (#11)
    by oculus on Mon Sep 27, 2010 at 01:57:21 PM EST
    foreseen"?  I do not recall reading or hearing about this possibility while the bill was beening hashed out.  

    Those with hindsight perhaps? (none / 0) (#12)
    by nycstray on Mon Sep 27, 2010 at 02:00:51 PM EST
    That has been the problem (none / 0) (#16)
    by Abdul Abulbul Amir on Mon Sep 27, 2010 at 02:29:42 PM EST

    That has been the problem with "guaranteed issue" everywhere its been mandated.  There is practically no reason to buy insurance until you get sick.  Remember, that is the reason for the mandate.

    Child only is a small market.  With regulated rates and unknowable risk it makes perfect sense to abandon that market segment.  

    BTW, there is nothing to stop others from entering that market segment, other than an aversion to bankruptcy.


    basic human well-being as a market (5.00 / 1) (#32)
    by Dadler on Mon Sep 27, 2010 at 05:17:24 PM EST
    ...is what disturbs me.

    MY transformation (none / 0) (#5)
    by waldenpond on Mon Sep 27, 2010 at 01:16:01 PM EST
    I figured MY's  neo-liberalism is simply because he's dating a conservative.

    No (none / 0) (#6)
    by lilburro on Mon Sep 27, 2010 at 01:17:34 PM EST
    he literally says that his writing's tone has changed due to "product differentiation."  (link)

    In case anyone cares, I despise (none / 0) (#7)
    by oculus on Mon Sep 27, 2010 at 01:18:52 PM EST
    links, to links, to links.  Yes, I know, it is blogging tradition.

    Hmmmm...the only voting constituency I can see (none / 0) (#14)
    by ruffian on Mon Sep 27, 2010 at 02:17:06 PM EST
    that was attempted to be created immediately was 20-somethings who want to go on their parents' insurance. Dems must be hoping they are not too sick to vote.

    that and the change (5.00 / 1) (#21)
    by CST on Mon Sep 27, 2010 at 03:48:37 PM EST
    to the student loan structure.

    That actually is a real benefit (none / 0) (#22)
    by ruffian on Mon Sep 27, 2010 at 03:51:37 PM EST
    IMO. They better be out there talking that up.

    Except that the Republicans (none / 0) (#36)
    by gyrfalcon on Tue Sep 28, 2010 at 12:52:56 AM EST
    are screaming that that's a "government takeover of student loans."  Idiotic as that is, it's one of the things that scares the wits out of our pantywaist so-called Democrats.

    I wonder how many parents are (none / 0) (#18)
    by oculus on Mon Sep 27, 2010 at 03:15:12 PM EST
    actually extending the 20-something on their insurance or re-adding the young adult.  COBRA coverage was tres expensive when I did it for awhile years ago re one of my kids.

    isn't COBRA (none / 0) (#27)
    by CST on Mon Sep 27, 2010 at 04:06:40 PM EST
    just for those who lose their jobs and want to keep their insurance?  That's generally much more expensive than adding someone to an employer provided plan.

    They can't be added back until (none / 0) (#29)
    by Joan in VA on Mon Sep 27, 2010 at 04:12:25 PM EST
    the insurer's open enrollment period, at least according to Anthem. My son was kicked off his dad's family plan at age 23 but they issued him a policy for $83/mo., which isn't bad imo. I asked his dad to inquire about adding him back on his  policy but he was told he can't until 1/2011.

    Yes, that is true (none / 0) (#30)
    by ruffian on Mon Sep 27, 2010 at 04:13:54 PM EST
    Still it is a lot more immediate benefit of HCR than anyone else is likely to see.

    Pretty (none / 0) (#24)
    by Ga6thDem on Mon Sep 27, 2010 at 03:54:05 PM EST
    much it seems. And that's the worst demographic when it comes to voting.