THE DEMOCRATS WHO STARE AT RIGHT-WINGERS
Iin the disagreement between Time's Amy Sullivan and LG&M's Scott Lemieux over the meaning of the Stupak amendment, I'd have to say that both are correct -- and that's a real problem for Democrats.
Despite the fact that anyone who has followed U.S. politics over the last thirty years could have told you that abortion would be a controversial aspect of health reform, no one tried to preemptively address the concerns of pro-life Democrats by sitting down with them early in the process. The White House didn't reach out to some of the more good-faith players on the pro-life side until early September. And Pelosi didn't sit down with Stupak until September 29....
I know many in the Democratic caucus tend to see their pro-life colleagues as a pesky but ultimately insignificant faction. But this sort of leadership strategy isn't just inexcusable, it's malpractice.
The most obvious lesson of Stupak is that ... broadening the Democratic coalition to include more anti-choicers carries real political risks, for the obvious reason that they generally want to use laws to restrict access to abortion rather than having Democratic leaders "acknowledge abortion as a moral issue" or some such....
You have to be optimistic bordering on delusional to think that Stupak would have surrendered his leverage if only the Democratic leadership had given him more access. It seems much more plausible that he and his followers would have kept pulling away the football until we ended up in the same place.
Yes and yes -- yes, it should have been obvious to the White House and Nancy Pelosi that this was an unexploded bomb that had to be defused early, and yes, there was always good reason to believe that anti-choice Democrats would dig in their heels and move goalposts, which means it probably couldn't have been defused early.
The problem is that there have always been huge hurdles like this to getting an even slightly progressive health care bill passed, and there's no evidence that the White House or the Democratic leadership anticipated just how hard it would be to get past many of the obstacles. There's no evidence that anyone did the level of planning to overcome those obstacles that, say, the average successful prison escapee would do in (it seems to me) a similar situation. (The combination of Republicans plus Blue Dogs plus corporate lobbyists adds up, even now, to a nearly inescapable Alcatraz for progressivism.)
And yet the president thought he was going to get this done by August, for heaven's sake. Here was the plan, as far as I can tell: preemptively rule out single payer, cut deals with selected fat cats, and then it'll be smooth sailing ... oh, except for the occasional compromise here and there. Piece of cake, right? After all, wasn't the conservative era declared over the day Obama was elected? Wasn't everyone now going to be cooperative and non-wingnutty and post-partisan, so we'd all have a jolly singalong and get bills passed quickly -- compromised bills, yes, but not all that compromised?
Meanwhile, out here on the Angry Left, we all think X number of Democrats in the House or Senate means X number of our kind of Democrats -- and if not, well, we think we can primary our way to one big coast-to-coast Upper West Side, the South excepted. Right? Can't we?
But it's just not that simple. The country isn't as progressive as we want it to be, and that's just a huge barrier to hope-n-change. I keep saying we have to make more progressives, but a lot of us thought we got to the mountaintop last November without doing that, and now we're shocked that the right and the Blue Dogs and the plutocrats aren't just rolling over and playing dead. Well, of course not -- there aren't enough voters like us for them to fear. And so, on health care, it's not working -- and thus the compromises necessary to salvage the whole enterprise make the game more and more seem not worth the candle.
Now, please, spare me the comments in which you mischaracterize the message of this post as "Give up." The message of this post is "Don't overpromise. Don't promise what you don't have the muscle or the cunning to deliver. Don't lead your supporters into battle when you've misjudged the strength of the opposition." There's a cockeyed, almost mind-over-matter, Men Who Stare at Goats optimism at work here. The opposition isn't dropping dead just because our side stared at it, and I'm not sure, apart from desperate compromises, that we ever had a Plan B, except maybe, on the White House's part, giving away the store.