Things I Don't Understand

>> Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Although I'm hardly a rational choice purist, I tend to think that political actors operate according to logics that are essentially intelligible, and that they more or less respond to obvious costs and benefits. I'm not, by and large, compelled by arguments that treat an entire subset of political actors as morons; if politicians are doing something that appears to me to be stupid, I'm very often inclined to think that I don't sufficiently understand the situation, and the costs and benefits involved.

And so now, here are two things that I don't understand. I don't understand how House Democrats think that a better outcome will result from scrapping the Senate bill and starting over. While much can be accomplished in reconciliation, passing the Senate bill doesn't preclude that strategy, and in any case reconciliation has procedural and substantive drawbacks as a method of passing legislation. I certainly don't understand the idea of "calling the Senate's bluff" by pushing reform through piecemeal; the Republicans aren't bluffing, and they have both the capacity and the will to prevent action. I do get the anger. The House bill itself already represented a substantial compromise from what progressives wanted and believed was possible, and after all there's only so much shit you're prepared to eat. Still, I don't see that it's going to get any better, especially since Senate Democrats have proceeded to go wobbly, and might not even manage 51 for the key parts of the bill.

And here's the other thing that I don't understand; I don't get how anyone in the White House thinks that something useful can be achieved through bipartisanship. This makes far less sense than what the House Democrats appear to believe. It's simply insane, at this point, to treat the Republican Party as an institution that's interested in policy. Even if you do manage to make sufficient concessions to flip one or two Senate Republicans, you're not going to get any movement from the House Republican caucus. Moreover, if the White House doesn't think that it can keep progressive House Democrats in line for the current Senate bill, then how in Jeebus' name can it possibly believe that progressives will go along with the much, much worse legislation that is likely to result from a bipartisan compromise?

And so I don't get it. I've always been pretty dismissive of the idea that the Democrats can lose my vote; for me, the difference between the lesser and greater evils is always relevant, and so I'll tend to support whichever candidate is more progressive, even if I find the substantive views repellent. But if the Democrats manage to fuck this up, I'm not sure I'm on the bus anymore. I'll have to stop paying attention to politics and (shudder) do some actual work.


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