Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Best Lack All Conviction

If you want a pristine example of why people view Democrats as feckless wimps, here's Obama's statement from yesterday on what the Dems should do about health care reform following Brown's Massachusetts victory:

"Here's one thing I know and I just want to make sure that this is off the table. The Senate certainly shouldn't try to jam anything through until Scott Brown is seated. People in Massachusetts spoke. He's got to be part of that process."


"It's not enough that the rules make it difficult to pass legislation. We're also going to make sure we don't take full advantage of the rules. In fact, we're going to make up nonexistent rules, like having to delay a vote until a new guy gets seated, and impose those nonexistent rules on ourselves. We wouldn't want anyone to think we don't fight fair; accordingly, we're going to tie one arm behind our back and fight that way."

Can you imagine Republicans doing this under like circumstances? Of course not. GOP leverage of the filibuster is the very reason Brown's election has stymied the Dems. I don't like the way the GOP has used the filibuster (I think the rule should be eliminated regardless of which party has a majority), and I don't think the rule is good for the country or that it's been used in good faith, but hey, Republicans are just exploiting the rules to what they see as their advantage. Something Democrats are obviously themselves afraid to do.

But neither the surface maneuvering, nor the substance of the underlying argument, is what matters politically. What matters politically is this: voters sense Republicans are effective; Democrats, fearful. Republicans, unafraid of what people think of their tactics and focused on results; Democrats, obsessed with being liked. The comparison is not flattering to Democrats.

I just finished reading Rory Miller's new book on violence, tentatively entitled "Seven" (I'm writing the foreword). Rory talks about how criminals don't see their victims as humans, but rather as resources, and how difficult it is for a normal person to understand this criminal perspective. We're deeply invested in believing in our common humanity, in the power of reason and the presence of empathy... and it's hard for us to accept that, with certain people, we can negotiate as effectively as we could with a hyena.

The Democrats are in a similar state. Despite all evidence to the contrary, they remain in denial -- still clinging to the belief that with enough compromise, enough compassion, they can placate their Republican enemies and negotiate the passage of some sort of compromise. They don't understand that Republicans don't want something passed. They don't want anything passed. They want to "break" Obama and the Democrats and inherit the ruins after.

Yes, a political strategy aimed primarily at breaking a party rather than at building the country is irresponsible, reprehensible, disgraceful, etc. But until Democrats start acting like they understand the nature of the fight they're in, voters will continue to look at them and wonder, with reason, "Jeez, if they can't handle a bunch of bully politicians, how can they handle Ahmadinejad (or any other officially designated boogeyman)? What will they do, complain to Ahmadinejad that he's not being fair?"

It's one thing to show your belly if there's a reasonable chance submission will result in mercy. But when submission repeatedly results in your opponent attempting to disembowel you, you might want to consider another strategy.

Unless, of course, you just really like submitting. With the Democrats, you have to wonder.

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Indeed. One party is harmful and knows exactly what it's doing; the other is innocuous and doesn't have a clue. One party's inept; the other, insane. Welcome to America.


Brian R. Sheridan said...

With health care, I had hoped Obama was letting both sides slug it out so he could step forward and say "I told you what I wanted and you were too busy name calling and fear mongering. Now we are GOING TO DO IT MY WAY!"

But he never stepped forward.

Now he is talking tough about the banks. At this point, why telegraph your punches? Unless you really don't plan on throwing any.

Keep up the great work Barry.

Annette Gallagher said...

I love it!!! Brilliant synopsis of the morass we are in.

David Odeen said...

The house can pass the exact bill the Senate passed and its a done deal. Get over it.

Unknown said...

The Teabaggers certainly do have a certain Scorched Earth attitude, don't they? And with the Democrats sitting on the sidelines wringing their hands in despair over. . .everything. . .it's a sad and scary state of affairs.

Anonymous said...

The House doesn't like the Senate bill and Nancy doesn't have the votes to pass the Senate bill as someone suggested above. The more liberal House members want the public option which the House bill includes and the Senate bill does not.

The Democratic Party may be filled with wimps but I don't feel sorry for President Obama. He is not this innocent little lamb that has laid down and exposed his underbelly to the bad, bad Republicans.

He is from Chicago and meek isn't how the game is played in the Windy City. He is shrewd and intent on accomplishing his personal agenda...problem is...what is his agenda? It remains a mystery based on his actions during the first year of his term.

Anonymous said...

If the Dems can jam it through before Brown takes his seat, they can jam it through afterwards as well. If so, why wait? An enhancement of image via a show of magnanimity and graciousness, a greater impact from the display of strength after an appearance of weakness and caving in, and an emotional boost to fuel support for the next item to be brought forward and to demoralize potential opposition to it. As Quick Draw McGraw used to say, "First we'll give 'em a fair trial, then we'll hang 'em." Is this what is happening? While I've no idea if it is, and hope that it isn't, the potential for it is noticeable.

PBI said...


Agreed 100%, although I think there is one more possibility on the table: Namely, that this utter cluelessness with regard to trying to get compromise from those who will never compromise is all an act, and that the Dems are pretty much just as happy with the current status quo as the GOP.

I also love the idea that anybody is "jamming through" health care reform. With Scott Brown's election, the Democrats have gone from the largest legislative majority since the 1970s to... the second largest legislative majority since the 1970s. Spine and the willingness to play hardball are all that is required.

My hope is that the Coakley defeat will be a wake-up call for the Obama Adminstration. Unfortunately, while it seems to have gotten the White House's attention, to date, the wrong lesson seems to be being drawn from the loss of the Massachusetts Senate seat. The idea that people are upset with Obama because he is "too far left" is pretty hard to support. The left of the Democratic Party has gotten precisely nothing it has wanted to date, Obama was elected on a pretty progressive agenda on which he has failed to follow through, and even a majority of Democratic Brown voters have stated that they believe the Senate version of health care reform doesn go far enough. (See here.)

Sensen No Sen

Anonymous said...

Neither party is doing what is necessary to rebuild the country.

Senator Max Baucus had a former Wellpoint executive author the health reform plan - What’s Up With the Baucus Bill?

Healthcare Lobbyist Complex

The Secretary of State went to China to encourage more of the same behavior that put the U.S. in a vulnerable position - money leaves the U.S. via buying exports from China and the U.S. borrows the money back (referred to as Chimerica).

President Obama wants the guy who was asleep at the switch while the financial crisis was developing to have another term as Fed chairman.

aaron said...

Which party is innocuous? I must have missed them in the last four elections.

Barry Eisler said...

Innocuous is a relative term. But, hypothetically, if there were a party that ran up a trillion dollar deficit and a ten trillion dollar debt, crushed the economy so thoroughly that after eight years in office they had to launch a trillion-dollar bank bailout to stave off a second Great Depression, launched two disastrously managed wars one of which they assured the public would be a cakewalk, violated the Constitution and broke the law in implementing a regime of warrantless surveillance and torture, and through their embrace of torture created the greatest jihadist recruitment bonanza al Qaeda could ever reasonably have asked for, I'd feel comfortable identifying that party as the harmful one, and the other, by comparison, as innocuous.

Just hypothetically.

aaron said...

I can see a point or two in there.

I wouldn't characterize the Dems as being innocents in their involvement in either war. And I definitely think that at this point they've done as much or more to worsen the debt.

I think that being weasel-like in your participation in such things is no better or worse than being bullish. And I lay the blame for all of the above pretty evenly on both parties. I disagree with your assessment that there must be some difference between the two, and further disagree with your assessment that therefore one must be better than the other.

To me, it's like a food allergy. I'm allergic to both peanuts and pecans. They're different, and yet I dislike the taste and odor of both, and each cause equal damage to me when I ingest them.

A plague on both their houses.

Unknown said...

As far as waiting for the Scott Brown, I think that's a moot point. There were several conservative Dems (and not to mention Lieberman who I don't think was ever on board and knew that he could play along until it fell apart) that were barely on board with the health care bill as it is. After the election, it just scared them completely off, so even if they did have the vote before he was seated they wouldn't get the 60 votes needed.

The problem for the Dems is that if they really wanted to get this bill passed they could use reconciliation and just pass the damn thing, but they know that the truth of the matter is that if they did that, many of them would lose their seats in the upcoming midterm elections. Unfortunately for them, if they don't get something passed, they will probably still lose their jobs. So, they hang on and say, we are listening to the country who wants us to slow down, in hopes that they can find a way to pass something.

Bring in the Republicans now who say they want health care reform, but their hidden agenda is to not allow anything pass that could be credited to the Dems. As the blogger writes, " . . .Republicans don't want something passed. They don't want anything passed. They want to "break" Obama and the Democrats and inherit the ruins after." The Republicans have been hurting for a while now, and they now see an opportunity to strike. They play hard and dirty and you can see they have really found a weak spot in the Dems armor.

My read of the situation here, is that health care reform is screwed. The GOP will not allow anything to pass until after the midterm elections, so that they can say that the economy is failing and the Dems did nothing but waste all their time and efforts on a bad bill that they couldn't even push through. In other words, get ready because the elephants are going to take over soon.

Charlieopera said...

Barry, I think you’re sugar coating the Dems a bit too much as regards a lack of resolve (or maybe it was the sense I got from an allusion to them being fair minded—if that was you). The list you made of everything the Reps did for 8 years is accurate … but let us not forget it was with the Dems blessing, including both wars (the Reps didn’t have anything near Obama’s majority and in fact, were a minority the last two years under Bush and still managed to pass legislation). The claim that Obama is a socialist is the world turned upside down. If he’s a socialist, then I’m a very thin man. That said, he’s obviously in over his head as regards leadership/actual governing. He had as much political capital after the election as Bush did post 9-11. Maybe he needed another few years in the Senate to learn the ropes … who knows, but he should’ve been twisting arms a long time ago. He let others (Pelosi, Reed) take the lead and now they’ve backed his entire agenda into a corner.

Reps aren’t faultless, don’t get me wrong. They are, in fact, the party of NO WAY and I do believe they’re intent on breaking Obama (so maybe he can forget compromise?), but he’s made it very easy for them by jetting around the world his first year instead of thumb bending.

Frankly, his sudden “fight” for the middle class rhetoric and his sudden desire to tax banks (after “quietly” giving those we bailed out a $38 BILLION tax break less than 2 months ago) is nauseating. Once again, I don’t see enough of a difference between parties to get riled one way or the other. He hasn’t done much differently than Bush and his desire to keep Bernake in place even longer is more alarming than his sudden desire to go another step closer to the right with his federal spending freeze. I’m not sure what it will take for this country to quit going back and forth between these two parties, but it obviously has nothing to do with progress.

Anonymous said...

The Democrats are also up against politicians that believe they are on a mission from God.

Ensign's "C Street House" Owned By Group Touting Plans For Christian World Control

Salon: ... invisible fundamentalist group known as the Family
By Jeff Sharlet

Jeff Sharlet - The Christian Mafia - Real Time With Bill Maher