Everything Is On The Table?

by John Holbo on May 30, 2011

Via the Corner, a spot of TV talking head with Eric Cantor.

“Everything is on the table,” he said. “As Republicans, we’re not going to go for tax increases. I think the administration gets that. But we’ve also put everything on the table as far as cuts.”

Imagine what the response would be if this were flipped around. Imagine a Democrat emitting the following, as a bold deficit reduction plan: “Everything is on the table … we’re not going to go for spending cuts. I think the Republicans get that. But we’ve also put everything on the table as far as tax hikes.” No one would say such a Bizarro Norquist thing, of course, because no one on the Democratic side is as bizarre as Norquist. But if someone did, it would be perfectly obvious the person saying this thing wasn’t concerned with deficit reduction. The idea that someone unwilling to contemplate spending cuts – anywhere – was a deficit hawk would not pass the laugh test. As Cantor’s statement does not.

I think maybe it would be a good idea for the President, and Democrats in Congress, to say something like this: we think now is not the time, but if Republicans think otherwise, if they truly believe the overwhelmingly urgent issue we face today as a nation is immediate, radical deficit reduction, we have to be prepared, as a nation, to put secondary concerns, including not raising taxes, on a back-burner. If a problem is so urgent that we have to be willing to put everything on the table, then everything goes on the table. It’s that simple. Of course, this means radical spending cuts. But that’s not the end of it. Your taxes will have to go up. Of course everyone hates taxes. Of course raising taxes would risk sending us back into recession, just as we attempt to climb out of it. But the fact is: there is no way to reduce the deficit, radically, without doing things we hate, that would risk a plunge into deeper recession. If this thing is important enough, we have to risk it. But then everything goes on the table, and Republicans – just as much as any Democrats who choose to join with them – own the implications. If Republicans aren’t willing to put everything on the table, that just goes to show that they agree with Democrats about at least one thing: radical deficit reduction, at all costs, is not be the nation’s first priority.

A less speechifying way to think about it is as a ready-to-use frame. Republicans need slogans like ‘everything is on the table’. ‘We have to put deficit reduction first.’ Democrats take whatever slogan Republicans come up with and give it a twist by reading it straight. Treat potential tax increases as a fact on the ground, generated by Republicans’ own reasons. If Republicans protest, keep it simple: ‘tax increases are on the table. We didn’t put them there. You did. You said everything is on the table. You said deficit reduction comes first. If you don’t think it comes first, why are we here?’ Democrats should go so far as to propose conditional deficit reduction plans that involve serious, progressive tax reform, including tax hikes. ‘We don’t think this package is a good idea, right now, but if you think it’s so necessary, right now, we are willing to meet you halfway by proposing what we think is the least bad way to do it.’ If Republicans balk, fine. If Republicans try to hang it around their opponents’ necks, like so, ‘Democrats want to raise your taxes!’ the Democrat can reply: ‘Not true! This is simply the only practical way to reach a goal that Republicans themselves have mandated we reach.’

I think that works pretty well as a framing technique. What do you think?

What makes it work, if it does, is that the debate is doomed to dwell at the level of rhetoric. Republicans: not interested in deficit reduction. They want spending cuts to finance tax cuts. Democrats: sort of interested in deficit reduction, but not banging their desks for it today. There is no practical downside, then, to Democrats turning the deficit debate into a rhetorical wedge issue between deficit hawks and Norquistians. Just declare the hawks traitors to the Norquistians, and vice versa; which, if they all are who they say they all are, they all are. Just refuse to talk about it any other way, no-nonsense.

And if, by some unforeseeable, Fringe-type circumstance, the impossible were to start happening on a regular basis; if rhetoric opened a dimensional gate between some alternate reality and ours – if a grand bargain involving spending cuts and progressive tax reform were to invade our world from that other world – it wouldn’t mean the end of our world. No harm, then, in sketching, in the abstract, what this thing from another world might look like.

{ 225 comments }

1

Keith 05.30.11 at 4:57 am

“It’s all on the table” is bullshit. You think a Republican will allow cuts to Defense? How about we reduce aid to Israel? Fat chance. They want to cut social program spending and nothing else. A Democrat with a spine (a creature rare as unicorns) would point this out every time this fatuous lie comes out of a Republican’s mouth. Instead, we’ll get capitulation form the Obama Administration.

2

Martin Bento 05.30.11 at 6:05 am

What the Democrats need to scream now is: “The Republicans are trying to shutdown the government to force the elimination of Medicare!!” McConnell has made it explicit that he won’t extend the debt ceiling without Medicare cuts (and Republicans in Congress have made explicit that they want Medicare gone) and that this is a strategy to force Democratic buyin on Medicare cuts to neutralize it as an issue. Even if they are ultimately going to cave, Democrats need to yell very loudly that the Republicans are blackmailing the country into gutting Medicare. Since it has been pretty well established that the Republicans are attacking Medicare, and since almost all the Senate Republicans have officially signed on to that, the framework for this is already in place. If the Democrats yell loud enough, the Repubs will rightly take the blame, even if the Dems do eventually cave. But it will take yelling, not nuanced wonkery.

As for the topic of this post, I think you’re right, but would put it more succinctly: “I everything in on the table, tax increases for the rich are on the table”

3

Lee A. Arnold 05.30.11 at 6:28 am

Time to start a new tack. People want a positive understanding. We can all be happy that the Republicans have painted themselves into a corner, (your less than humble reporter has been predicting this turn of events for over a year), but now it must go a little further. Mere criticism of their idiocies will no longer suffice. Worms do turn, in other words all rhetorical emotions have a fatigue factor, and more purely negative stuff is going to start to undermine the Democratic position.

It will help to take everything down to a more fundamental level, to explain some basics, and to show how things can work better.

Most people do NOT know: A) that government debt can be rolled over for a long time without harm; B) that government spending doesn’t crowd out private investment in a particular economic environment; C) that money doesn’t have to be backed by gold as long as the growth of it matches the growth in real goods and services; D) that taking all taxes together, the effective U.S. tax rate is nearly flat and the rich are not paying a fair share; E) that government spending on the safety-net has more return to quality of life than the latest technological gadget; F) that the long-term deficit and the short term deficit are different things, with very different causes; G) that healthcare has anomalies in supply and demand that make it unsuitable for a market approach AND it is the total problem with the long-term deficit AND Obamacare takes steps in the right direction (by trying to reduce healthcare costs carefully, and almost curing the long-term deficits).

I repeat, YOU may know this, but most people do not know this.

Pointing out why the Republican approach is harmful and wrong is necessary, but it is no longer sufficient. So far so good, and the Republican implosion has been lots of fun, but playing a purely reactive game is going to start becoming counterproductive. In particular, it is time for pundits and academics to stop acting as if regular people should know better. They do NOT know better, and the correct information is NOT out there.

P.S. The basic position of the US public as a whole is fairness. People do not “hate taxes”. In fact they willingly pay them, IF they are for a good cause. US voters have acquiesced to a handful of tax increases over the last 30 years to keep Social Security “solvent”, for example. The current issues are the recession, making it hard for everybody, and remaining anger at the bailouts of Wall Street, a Tea Party emotion that also cuts to the Left of course. As soon as the recession is over and the anger subsides, slightly higher taxes won’t be an issue for most people.

4

Lee A. Arnold 05.30.11 at 6:41 am

For high-school economics: from Money to Supply & Demand, 5 shorties that play automatically:

5

Martin Bento 05.30.11 at 6:47 am

Anger at Wall Street is well-justified and to be encouraged, of course. The problem, Lee, I have with what you propose is that I don’t see how to communicate it succinctly and clearly through the mass media. People will listen to long economic speeches with charts and things, especially in bad times: Perot proved that. But the media will not put them on, and if they do, they will not be putting the forth the analysis you propose. Perhaps we can take advantage of the structure of the Internet to construct a real drill-down discourse. Videos hosted on YouTube giving the bottom line quickly and with punch, linked to blogposts that fill in some of the details, and those linked to or referencing authoritative sources. Structures like this emerge on the Net naturally anyway, but only as one of several possibilities, often co-existing. Maybe we should consciously think how to build a rhetoric that starts at the “pop” level, and drills directly and efficiently through clear linkages down to the expert. Then push the MSM to pay attention to it, perhaps starting with blogs that have MSM recognition like HuffPo and TPM.

6

Martin Bento 05.30.11 at 6:49 am

Your last slipped in. I look at those when I can.

7

Jim Nichols 05.30.11 at 6:54 am

“Republicans need slogans like ‘everything is on the table’. ‘We have to put deficit reduction first.’ Democrats take whatever slogan Republicans come up with and give it a twist by reading it straight. “

Actually I think a better way to frame it would be…. Human animals need slogans. Republicans are good at harnessing fear/tribalism and Democrats are bad at remembering a political slogan is not the place to hold a nuanced policy discussion.

8

Henri Vieuxtemps 05.30.11 at 7:16 am

But we’ve also put everything on the table as far as cuts.

I’m probably wrong, but it sounds like they’re signaling their willingness to cut military spending. I’d take it. You can certainly achieve some serious deficit reduction by cutting 3-400 billion/year from the Pentagon budget.

9

Myles 05.30.11 at 7:58 am

Anger at Wall Street is well-justified and to be encouraged, of course.

I think it should be pointed out, before people start forgetting it, that the post-war modus vivendi whereby high finance was deliberately kept in a fairly secondary position (as Yves Smith had described) is not, generally speaking, the historical norm, especially not the historical norm within the modern era. If you start from the wrong base and compare the Wall Street of today with the Wall Street of 1975 you are going to get a seriously warped picture, because the Wall Street of 1975, rather than the one of today, was a historical anomaly.

Which is a lead into saying that the people who are angry at Wall Street are probably the same who had been already unhappy about Wall Street reverting to historical norm, and would have been happy with more reining-in of Wall Street no matter the year. Others might be more ambivalent. People like things such as zero-down or negative-down mortgages, easy-finance cars, and the rest of it. And while the greater part of the blame lies with Wall Street, if you propose to seriously cut Wall Street down to size the zero-down mortgages will probably go with it. Which, for the currently ambivalent, is probably more irritating than Goldman Sachs handing out very large bonuses.

It doesn’t to me the case that Americans as a society (indeed, this probably applies to all the advanced English-speaking countries), are seriously ready to take the step that many people, including very competent journalists like Matt Taibbi, believe that Americans are aching to take, that involves getting angry at Wall Street in a serious way. Why did it seem like the anger was more acute and coherent toward the Detroit bailouts than toward that of Wall Street? Because Detroit auto-making was a part of Americans’ lives that they’ve largely shed, while the easy ministrations of Wall Street are not one they’re yet willing to give up.

10

StevenAttewell 05.30.11 at 8:33 am

I’m with Jim Nichols and Martin Bento – framing is about simplicity in defining the issue. Trying to get fancy by “you did it, not us” just won’t work – “Republicans are trying to shut down the government to kill Medicare” will, especially because the two themes reinforce each other. Republicans are anti-government extremists, thus they want to kill Medicare.

11

Colin Reid 05.30.11 at 9:05 am

‘“It’s all on the table” is bullshit. You think a Republican will allow cuts to Defense?’

I find it interesting that right-wingers in the US harp on about the tyranny of government, and favour gun ownership because ‘the state should fear the people’, but their spending priorities are exactly those things which harden a tyrannical state against dissent: military, police and prisons.

12

Brett Bellmore 05.30.11 at 10:57 am

In order to properly flip the situation around, of course, you’d require the surrounding circumstances to be inverted, such as having spending levels far below, not above, historical norms. Oh, wait, then we wouldn’t have the huge deficit…. Well, maybe balancing the budget with taxes instead would just return tax rates to historical norms.. Oh, wait, nope, it would require tax rates higher than the public has ever had to face…

Indeed, I’d try taking them seriously, and demand that cuts in military spending be a part of the mix. But, really, we’re running a huge deficit right now because of ‘stimulus’ spending. You know, spending which, theoretically speaking, wasn’t supposed to be anything but temporary? Why the heck wouldn’t spending cuts to pre-stimulus levels be the default position?

Colin: I’d note that, in that vein, it’s the Democrats in the US who are constantly proposing political censorship, (Calling it ‘campaign reform’, but who’s fooled?) and who insist on having state run media. (NPR…) And who’s proposing an “Internet kill switch”, the first resort of despots everywhere who are being twittered out of power?

Neither party is very good from this perspective. I mean, listen to the outrage from Democrats about the militarization of police… A decent like this country is taking pretty much DOES have to be bipartisan, you know, unless you’re a one party state.

13

rm 05.30.11 at 11:34 am

We’ve just heard from an alternate reality, but not the one we hoped for.

14

John Holbo 05.30.11 at 12:27 pm

“In order to properly flip the situation around, of course, you’d require the surrounding circumstances to be inverted, such as having spending levels far below, not above, historical norms.”

The situation, as it stands, is historically high spending and historically low taxation. I’m not sure why anything needs to be flipped, Brett.

15

MPAVictoria 05.30.11 at 12:50 pm

“who insist on having state run media. (NPR…)”

Ah yes NPR… Basically the same as Pravda don’t ya know.

16

Steve LaBonne 05.30.11 at 12:54 pm

MPAVictoria- and these are the same people who get their “information” from Fox News, which really does bear a close resemblance to Pravda. Conservative projection never ceases to fascinate me.

17

John Holbo 05.30.11 at 1:13 pm

“Ah yes NPR… Basically the same as Pravda don’t ya know.”

Click and Clack. They always remind me of Worker and Parasite!

18

Andrew 05.30.11 at 1:14 pm

Lee @3 and Martin @5: I don’t think you can count on the public becoming more educated about economics. I agree that it’s a worthwhile endeavor; however to win elections and the right policies, I we need a sound plan that takes the public as they are.

John Holbo, agreed in every respect but this: the Democrats should not frame their attack as a conditional. It must not be if Republicans think otherwise, or if a problem is so urgent. To succeed, imho, a positive political narrative must be constructed primarily of declarative sentences.

The weakness of the Republican approach is that it is unrealistic, and fundamentally clashes with the desires and values of Americans. Americans do not want drastic cuts to Social Security or Medicare. Americans want to protect these programs more than they want to protect the highest tax brackets from a tax increase.

The Republicans have already tipped their hand with the Ryan plan. They would use the desire of Americans for fiscal sustainability to scare Americans into cutting programs for the elderly and the poor, for the sick and the disabled, for the unemployed and the vulnerable, when Americans would far prefer to make small changes to these programs while raising taxes on those most able to bear the burden.

That is why the GOP must have tax increases off the table. If it is on the table, if budget cuts and tax increases are linked issues, the GOP loses the debate. They know it.

The line of attack for Democrats should be simple, and focused. It should be premised on the two fixed beliefs of Americans: America is a great nation of immense capability and promise; and America is in trouble and must be fixed.

That is, the attacking narrative must be one of responsibility and progress. If we are responsible, then, with all our power and resources, we will succeed. Responsibility means that those who have benefited the most, who are most secure and most able to help, should do so. Responsibility means not giving the weakest members of the family a heavier pack to carry. Responsibility means that we consider all options. Responsibility means that everything is on the table.

I also think it would be a mistake to cut defense spending. The Democrats have an opportunity to wrest competence on national security matters from the Republicans. Rather than urging defense cuts, the Democrats should argue the need to continue to invest in our military. To do this, of course, we must keep responsible tax options on the table. This is not only the smart political move; it is also the correct move for the country. History has not stopped, and we have not seen the last conventional war between great powers. Investment in our military is as important to preserving lives as is investment in Medicare and Social Security. Today, in the U.S., we honor those who fell in the service of their country. If we invest less now, we will have the misfortune to honor more in the decades to come.

19

Steve LaBonne 05.30.11 at 1:20 pm

Rather than urging defense cuts, the Democrats should argue the need to continue to invest in our military.

Because we can’t possibly be secure without spending almost as much on our military as the next 10 countries put together. Fail.

20

praisegod barebones 05.30.11 at 1:20 pm

Of course, Holbo’s rhetorical trick is a neat one and might be effective. But that assumes that the Democrats actaully want to win this argument, rather than simply persuade their base that they’ve tried hard enough to do so without actually winning (cf the Republicans treatment of the religious right over the years). If that’s what you want, then bold reframings of the issue are the last thing you should try.

21

MPAVictoria 05.30.11 at 1:24 pm

“Click and Clack. They always remind me of Worker and Parasite!”

This Socialist American Life?

All Capitalist Pigs Considered?

Wait, Wait… Don’t Preach Counterrevolutionary Ideology To Me?

/ I really hope someone can do better…

22

MPAVictoria 05.30.11 at 1:27 pm

This is a quote from a commenter at RedState:

“Democrats only come into power when they are successful at persuading people through tools of anger, envy, jealousy, bitterness, and the GOP doesn’t fight back because they are afraid to and won’t stand and fight for what they believe in. These tactics are exploitative of course but only serve to keep them in power and in the ultimate end, make our country something it was never intended to be: A Marxist state.” (Source Alicublog)

This is the kind of thinking we have to deal with. I am not sure that this person and I inhabit the same reality. The trick is how do we get the average voter to see this kind of thinking for the insanity it is?

23

Kieran Healy 05.30.11 at 1:32 pm

24

Ed 05.30.11 at 1:34 pm

““It’s all on the table” is bullshit. You think a Republican will allow cuts to Defense”

Yes they will. These links came from two seconds of googling on the subject:

http://militarytimes.com/blogs/outside-the-wire/2011/04/06/2113/

http://www.federalnewsradio.com/?nid=150&sid=2267085

http://thehill.com/homenews/administration/143957-gates-criticizes-gop-for-proposed-cuts-to-defense-spending

Gates has proposed his own cuts. The quote from Cantor in fact is most likely Washington-speak for “the defense budget will be cut”, with other DC Republicans as the intended audience.

25

Steve LaBonne 05.30.11 at 1:39 pm

Gates has proposed his own cuts.

Or rather, his own sham “cuts”. If the Republicans really want to force the Democrats to do better (I am highly skeptical about that), more power to them.

26

bob mcmanus 05.30.11 at 1:44 pm

The situation, as it stands, is historically high spending and historically low taxation.

This is not true and very misleading. Discretionary spending is not high, but the stabilizers like unemployment insurance are eating much of the budget. It is the economy.

I am blocked by the NYT paywall, but Paul Krugman has been discussing this for months and a good post is on May 1st, 2011 “Origins of the Deficit” There are others.

This post, Holbo, seems, in some way too subtle for me, to want to put Medicare “on the table.” This is not necessary or wise, and “we will twick them with our rhetoric” will fail. The deal was hinted at in the “Catfood Commission”, drastic social safety net cuts in exchange for a reduction in “tax expenditures” and probably a VAT. We should simply not take a chance on Republicans agreeing to this, because they are patient and will get their chance again, and at this time will accept a minimum of shifting the rhetoric.

Only tax increases should be on the table for Democrats. Otherwise, walk away and let Wall Street discipline their lackeys.

27

Andrew 05.30.11 at 1:56 pm

Because we can’t possibly be secure without spending almost as much on our military as the next 10 countries put together. Fail.

Most of US defense spending isn’t investment in future capabilities. The US military is stationed throughout the world, and that costs vast sums of money. But those sums do not all translate into greater military capability in any given conflict. The American technological edge is a product of the very large sums invested over the last several decades. That edge is not a static advantage. It can be lost quickly. And once lost, given the economic growth of China, it will not likely be regained.

Nor is security a binary variable. Ideally you do not want simply the capability to win a war; you want the capability to deter any other nation from seriously considering such a war; and better than that, you want to deter any other nation from attempting to build a force that could attempt such a war. Overwhelming technological superiority is the means to accomplish this.

28

David Kaib 05.30.11 at 2:03 pm

@27 –

You may want to have a military so large that other can “deter any other nation from attempting to build a force that could attempt such a war,” but I’m pretty sure most Americans wouldn’t consider that an important goal, and more to the point, aren’t willing to accept the continuation of the Great Recession and more austerity in order to protect that goal.

29

bob mcmanus 05.30.11 at 2:07 pm

Here is a link to Ezra Klein “What if Congress Goes Home” with internal links to Brad DeLong and “The Do-Nothing Budget Plan”

We do not have a Federal spending problem in any way, shape, or form, unless like Krugman, Thoma, DeLong, and most decent progressive economists, you think we are not spending enough if we want to reduce unemployment and close the output gap.

The words “spending cuts” should never pass a Democrat’s or progressive’s lips.

30

P O'Neill 05.30.11 at 2:09 pm

It might also be a good idea if there was more attention nationally on how budget balancer and possible Presidential candidate Rick Perry’s latest round of cuts are going to work out for Texas. It seems to be drop any pretense in terms of aiming to destroy public education and healthcare provision.

31

Steve LaBonne 05.30.11 at 2:16 pm

Andrew, that’s simply ridiculous. I prefer the naked cynicism of those who feed at the military-industrial trough to rationalizations that wouldn’t convince a bright 10-year-old.

Also, what bob mcmanus said.

32

christian_h 05.30.11 at 2:19 pm

Is this opposite day? Even if the US had no army, no other nation on earth would have the capability to attack it. It’s that simple. Our neighbours are too small, and any potential attacker of any size is too far away. And this assumes that a nation like China is even interested in invading anyone, in itself an absurd proposition that has no basis in fact. The claim that we need anything approaching even 10% of our current level of military spending for self-defence is pure paranoia.

As for the subject of the original post, I agree with Martin Bento. From now until 11/2012, the democrats should do nothing but say every day “the Republicans want to take your medicare away”. And as far as the debt ceiling is concerned, call their bluff. Do nothing, and they will vote for raising it anyway.

33

MPAVictoria 05.30.11 at 2:39 pm

“Most of US defense spending isn’t investment in future capabilities. The US military is stationed throughout the world, and that costs vast sums of money. But those sums do not all translate into greater military capability in any given conflict. The American technological edge is a product of the very large sums invested over the last several decades. That edge is not a static advantage. It can be lost quickly. And once lost, given the economic growth of China, it will not likely be regained.

Nor is security a binary variable. Ideally you do not want simply the capability to win a war; you want the capability to deter any other nation from seriously considering such a war; and better than that, you want to deter any other nation from attempting to build a force that could attempt such a war. Overwhelming technological superiority is the means to accomplish this”

This kind of argument could be used to justify ANY amount of military spending. Should we all be wearing rags and living in boxes so that the pentagon can have one more high tech wonder weapon?

34

Anderson 05.30.11 at 2:42 pm

“This is the kind of thinking we have to deal with.”

I don’t think so. RedStaters are not people one “deals” with. They are, by definition, uncooperative. We on the internet are probably too aware of those types, because they are noisy and because we are much more informed than the average voter.

But most independents, and even a fair number of registered Republicans, are not really that ideological. They’re prejudiced against the Democrats, but they like their Medicare, their Social Security, etc., and they’re making well under $250K/year.

THOSE people are the ones Obama and the Dems should be explaining things to. A commercial pointing out that Reagan and Dubya both raised the debt ceiling would say something genuinely surprising to most of those voters. A speech explaining how Ryancare screws upcoming seniors could do a lot of good.

35

bob mcmanus 05.30.11 at 2:42 pm

And as far as the debt ceiling is concerned, call their bluff. Do nothing, and they will vote for raising it anyway.

I am not so sure. “Shock Capitalism” is a deadly serious business, with incredible payoffs to the winners. Tens of trillions of dollars are in play here, and temporary losses and collateral damage probably will be acceptable. Millions of lives will be used as hostages.

It may require global depression and violent revolution to avoid permanent debt peonage. The rich play for keeps.

36

Consumatopia 05.30.11 at 3:23 pm

Most of US defense spending isn’t investment in future capabilities. The US military is stationed throughout the world, and that costs vast sums of money. But those sums do not all translate into greater military capability in any given conflict. The American technological edge is a product of the very large sums invested over the last several decades the relative size and strength of our domestic economy. That edge is not a static advantage. It can be lost quickly. And once lost, given the economic growth of China, it will not likely be regained.

Now that I’ve fixed this paragraph, it’s actually rather insightful. Most military spending goes to projecting power today. It’s not an investment in future capabilities–if you want to invest in future capabilities, invest in the domestic economy. The actual technology of the weapons we put in the field is not a static advantage–it is lost quickly as both sides field the newer generations of weapons. Thus, there is a tradeoff: we can spend more on current conflicts and deployments, or we can build our economy so we have a fighting chance against China and other powers in the coming century.

It’s simply not possible to deter a rival with comparable GDP to our own from attempting to build a force that could match our own, if it is determined to do so.

37

Thomas Jørgensen 05.30.11 at 4:57 pm

..okay, I hear this argument constantly, now, please, someone explain to me how any number of arbritiarily fancily equipped and well trained grunts, planes and veichles are going to be a threat to the US, regardless of the size of the US army. No, seriously. Imagine you are the supreme commander of the PLA, and the US goes right ahead and abolishes the standing army altogether, and just to make things easy, mothballs all of the fleet apart from the coastguard and the boomer subs. Now come up with a warplan that does not end up with -at best – your invasion fleet being radioactive hulks at the bottom of the pacific and at worst glass plains where your cities used to be.

Conventional weapons are utterly meaningless to the security of the great powers, because ultimately, they are all masters of the curve of binding energies, and no number of tanks nor any number of infantry matter an iota compared to that.

38

Ben Alpers 05.30.11 at 5:03 pm

I think maybe it would be a good idea for the President, and Democrats in Congress, to say something like this: we think now is not the time…

Of course, it would help if the President and Democrats in Congress in fact thought that now was not the time for radical measures designed to balance the budget. Fortunately or unfortunately, the Democrats are much more serious fiscal conservatives than the Republicans are.

As for the GOP’s putting defense cuts–even serious ones–on the table, so long as neither major party is at all interested in making such cuts, this is a pretty empty gesture.

39

DivGuy 05.30.11 at 5:16 pm

I think that’s a massively overcomplicated frame. No successful frame has a subordinate clause. And it requires arguing for raising taxes.

I don’t see why this is complicated. We already know how to win this fight. Just shout “they want to destroy Medicare” over and over again. Occasionally mention that they want to destroy Medicare in order to finance tax cuts for the wealthy. No need for anything more complicated. It’s both entirely true and can be summed up in a bumper sticker. “Save Medicare: Obama 2012”.

98% of the country isn’t following the debt ceiling debate. Getting into the weeds of that debate won’t win any votes. Playing by the deficit-is-our-priority rules won’t win the political game. You have to play the game on your field, and our field is Medicare.

40

Steve LaBonne 05.30.11 at 5:33 pm

Playing by the deficit-is-our-priority rules won’t win the political game.

Too bad that’s been the Obama Administration’s main message for like 18 months now.
Made even more toxic by caving on extension of the Bush tax cuts.

41

Ben Alpers 05.30.11 at 5:34 pm

What DivGuy said.

The frame is: “They’re taking away the Medicare you’ve paid for!”

If you want to add another sentence (though the Dems don’t have to): “And they’re giving the money you paid into the system to their rich cronies.”

But really “Save Medicare. Vote For the Democrats” is the winning bumpersticker.

Sorry for basically repeating DivGuy’s post. But, as DivGuy also says, the key here isn’t refining the message, but rather repeating it.

42

Steve LaBonne 05.30.11 at 5:37 pm

But really “Save Medicare. Vote For the Democrats” is the winning bumpersticker.

Which is why the Republicans are desperate to rope the Democrats into agreeing to something, anything, that can be described as a Medicare cut so they can muddy the waters. I don’t know what your level of confidence is that they won’t fall right into the trap, but mine is pretty much zero.

43

Henri Vieuxtemps 05.30.11 at 5:40 pm

@37, they are not doing it to fight off an invasion, they fancy themselves on a mission, white man’s burden mission. Without all those military bases and aircraft carriers around the world, savages would all go crazy and kill each other.

44

geo 05.30.11 at 6:03 pm

39: I think that’s a massively overcomplicated frame. No successful frame has a subordinate clause

The premise of virtually all comments on this thread so far is that the level of public information and understanding in the contemporary United States is sickeningly, lethally low. Unfortunately, that premise is largely true, and so all the above arguments about “framing” are depressingly necessary. But shouldn’t we also be discussing, however wistfully, how to raise the reasoning capacity of the public and the intellectual level of public discussion, even if only in the long run?

No, I don’t have any ideas. But somebody here must.

45

Sebastian 05.30.11 at 6:07 pm

Republicans appear to have signalled that getting rid of gaping maw tax loopholes (and even farm tax subsidies, can that really be right???) doesn’t count as a tax increase. That represents a HUGE amount of money in increased tax receipts that appears to be on the table, and which Democrats should certainly snatch up.

46

Steve LaBonne 05.30.11 at 6:12 pm

For once, I agree with Sebastian. (Though if there really is an offer, I rather doubt it’s sincere.)

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MPAVictoria 05.30.11 at 6:35 pm

“The premise of virtually all comments on this thread so far is that the level of public information and understanding in the contemporary United States is sickeningly, lethally low. Unfortunately, that premise is largely true, and so all the above arguments about “framing” are depressingly necessary. But shouldn’t we also be discussing, however wistfully, how to raise the reasoning capacity of the public and the intellectual level of public discussion, even if only in the long run?

No, I don’t have any ideas. But somebody here must.”

The problem as I see it geo is that most people are not like your average Crooked Timber Reader/Commenter. Politics and public policy are either our jobs or an important hobby for most of us here. This is distinctly abnormal. The average person doesn’t work in a job that involves discussing and writing about politics and public policy. The average person is also likely to have other hobbies, such as taxidermy or model ship building. They don’t have the time left in their lives to devote to understanding these large and complex issues in great detail and we shouldn’t expect them to.

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mpowell 05.30.11 at 6:52 pm

I agree with DivGuy. Eventually we will have a Democratic Congress and President again and we can introduce additional cost control measures to Medicare. Eventually we need to limit medicare coverage to actually useful for the dollar procedures. This probably needs to happen by 2020 or so. Until then rising costs should be manageable through deficit spending. It will cost Democrats the next election for sure because Republicans will cynically complain about it, but I doubt the consequences will be any worse than the 2010 cycle. Ideally you do this during the next economic downturn which will get the ruling party kicked out of Congress regardless. The Republicans will not overturn the changes as long as it really is excessive deficit spending that is forcing the Dem’s hand on the issue. They like to give money to their industry pals, but actual doctors are not high enough on the list to really matter.

The real coup will be when we extend medicare to the entire US population, but that will be very difficult to do because all of the blue dogs will want to protect the incomes of health insurance company CEO’s.

49

P O'Neill 05.30.11 at 6:55 pm

Tax breaks for oil companies are not on the table, which makes me doubt that other things that could be packaged as reduction in breaks rather than increase in taxes are.

50

StevenAttewell 05.30.11 at 6:58 pm

I don’t agree with geo – simple framing and deliberative democracy can and do co-exist; indeed, they always have. “I pledge a New Deal for the Forgotten Man” is a simplistic frame; so is “New Frontier of which I speak is not a set of promises. It is a set of challenges.” But they stood for and embodied a much larger and more complex argument, allowing people to synthesize and structure a national debate.

I tend to follow Geertz’s argument about ideology here; the reason for political frames is that people, no matter how sophisticated they believe themselves to be, need a mental blueprint for understanding the universe to deal with political questions.

So while the argument “Republicans are trying to kill Medicare to give tax cuts to the rich” is simple, it also reflects the essential truth of the debate.

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ajay 05.30.11 at 7:15 pm

“But, really, we’re running a huge deficit right now because of ‘stimulus’ spending.”

“Really” is used here in the little-known secondary sense of “only an idiot would believe that”.

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StevenAttewell 05.30.11 at 7:20 pm

mpowell – not sure what you mean by “limit medicare coverage to actually useful for the dollar procedures”.

Regarding the future of health care reform, my read of where we’re going to end up going is that we’re going to see Medicaid merged into Medicare, state-level single payer programs expanding and merging, and the Federal exchanges/Medicare being gradually shaped into something that can do a national-level single payer system with a strong outcomes focus.

53

matthias 05.30.11 at 7:38 pm

I don’t agree with geo – simple framing and deliberative democracy can and do co-exist; indeed, they always have. “I pledge a New Deal for the Forgotten Man” is a simplistic frame; so is “New Frontier of which I speak is not a set of promises. It is a set of challenges.” But they stood for and embodied a much larger and more complex argument, allowing people to synthesize and structure a national debate.

Is there any evidence that framing – or, heck, policy preferences among the electorate in general – had anything to do with getting Roosevelt into office? Roosevelt himself certainly didn’t have any idea what his policy vision was – he campaigned on a platform any educated liberal of our day would recognize as pure insanity. The economy crashed under Hoover’s watch so they voted him out. And the 1930s were probably the high point of the politicization of the American deme.

In other words, I’m somewhat skeptical of the notion that there has been deliberative democracy in the first place. One can defend Actually Existing Democracy on the grounds that (any given clique within) the top political elite is held accountable for gross economic mismanagement, but that’s probably true of any system.

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Andrew 05.30.11 at 7:53 pm

This kind of argument could be used to justify ANY amount of military spending. Should we all be wearing rags and living in boxes so that the pentagon can have one more high tech wonder weapon?

I agree with your general criticism. My point was directed at those who believe that the US military should be calibrated at the minimum strength necessary to win a war. As to the point at which the opportunity-cost of an additional dollar spent on defense becomes too great, I don’t want to derail the thread with a lengthy discussion about the specifics of the defense budget. I’ll simply say that, imho, the US should not be cutting advanced weapons systems like the F-22, F-35, and other programs. No one is asking that we live in boxes.

Consum @36: I disagree. Advances in technology build on previous advances. If a nation’s state of knowledge is far behind, it cannot quickly catch up unless the newer technology can be acquired by purchase or theft. So the US advantage is not merely a function of greater GDP. It is a function of years and years of investment, of patiently developing knowledge and experience. High GDP doesn’t automatically bring with it the knowledge required to produce the most advanced weaponry.

Jorgenson @37: It’d be nice if all security didn’t depend on an act almost certain to result in the deaths of hundreds of millions of people, no? The US wants to defend things that aren’t worth a nuclear war.

I fully agree with Anderson’s comment at 34.

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DivGuy 05.30.11 at 8:08 pm

The premise of virtually all comments on this thread so far is that the level of public information and understanding in the contemporary United States is sickeningly, lethally low.

Certainly, folks like us who waste useful time that could be spent organizing the masses instead arguing about ideas on the internet are unusual. Certainly most people don’t take the time to understand the texture of every debate in Washington.

But I think people aren’t all that bad at prioritizing.

Take the two issues discussed here. John is talking about how to win a debate about closing the deficit using tax cuts and spending cuts. This is not really a very important debate – the deficit is not going to make much difference one way or the other, not for quite a while. Medical costs project to get too high about a decade from now, and something needs to be done in the next decade, but there are lots of ways to fix the problem.

I’m talking about the Republican plan to destroy Medicare and reneg on America’s promise to its people that their medical care will be covered in retirement. This is a really important debate – whether America will grow and strengthen our welfare state or attempt to claw back its greatest achievements matters. And it turns out that this latter issue is the one that actually moves votes and that people actually pay attention to. That speaks well of the people, I think.

I think democratic politics work without a citizenry of wonks.

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StevenAttewell 05.30.11 at 8:29 pm

matthias –

Given that modern public opinion polling didn’t exist in 1932, there’s no statistical evidence either way. However, there’s an enormous amount of circumstantial evidence, especially in the form of letters written to the newly-elected President which picked up on the New Deal’s connection to them as individuals.

In terms of Roosevelt’s policy vision, I really do have to argue against that canard that “Roosevelt had no platform in 1932.” Roosevelt ran on three main things that distinguished himself from Hoover – Federal direct relief, Federal public works, and economic planning. People really over-emphasize the Philadelphia speech, especially when you realize that Ickes, Perkins, and Hopkins had basically locked down the New Deal’s agenda in 1933.

57

geo 05.30.11 at 8:33 pm

Steve @50: Not sure we do disagree, really. Of course slogans aren’t necessarily anti-democratic, as long as they’re not misleading. “Simplistic” does not mean “simple”; it means “oversimplified.” “I pledge a New Deal for the Forgotten Man” is not a simplistic frame; it’s a simple and effective one. Likewise, “Republicans are trying to kill Medicare to give tax cuts to the rich” is simple, but not simplistic. As a slogan, I think it’s great.

I was addressing DivGuy’s point @39 that “no successful frame has a subordinate clause”; ie, you can’t get the electorate to make even elementary distinctions. If that’s unalterably true, then there’s no hope, even in the long run, of defeating clever ruling-class demagoguery and achieving genuine democracy (what matthias @53 calls “deliberative democracy”). Which is a pretty depressing prospect.

58

Consumatopia 05.30.11 at 8:58 pm

Advances in technology build on previous advances. If a nation’s state of knowledge is far behind, it cannot quickly catch up unless the newer technology can be acquired by purchase or theft. So the US advantage is not merely a function of greater GDP. It is a function of years and years of investment, of patiently developing knowledge and experience. High GDP doesn’t automatically bring with it the knowledge required to produce the most advanced weaponry.

I find this puzzling. The United States is not going have high GDP without also having advanced technology.

I guess when you say technology, you mean military-specific technology. Where I would invest in better robots generally, you would invest in better drone aircraft narrowly. That is the tradeoff–general purpose civilian tech or special purpose military tech.

On the one hand, you worry that if we’ve fallen behind in the special purpose military tech–if someone fields a better fighter jet than we do–that it would take too long for us to catch up. Apparently this is a danger even if we have greater technology overall.

On the other hand, you also worry that China could quickly catch up and surpass us, apparently on the strength of its GDP alone. This without us even noticing–for if we had noticed that they suddenly reach parity with us, we could certainly boost spending then.

So it’s a strange situation–one in which it’s very easy for a China that is currently far behind us to catch up without us noticing, but very difficult for us to catch back up to them afterwards.

I happen to think that military catch up would be relatively easy if you have high GDP and advanced (civilian) technology. Thus, spending more money on the F-22 and F-35 rather than spending that money in the civilian sector will mean America will be weaker overall in coming decades.

But if I’m wrong about that, then that’s even less reason to worry about China–because they’re the ones who have to do the catching up today.

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StevenAttewell 05.30.11 at 9:06 pm

geo –

Ok, I think we’re narrowing down our disagreement here. I see a distinction between making distinctions and including subordinate clauses in frames – for me, the subordinate clause, the deliberative aspect of democracy, comes after the frame. The frame is there to provide, well, a framework on which a larger and more complex political argument is constructed. Hence, there’s a space to say that revenue increases are necessary and a space to say that the defense budget could be cut – but that should come in a context where everyone’s bought into the premise that cutting Medicare benefits is unacceptable. Once you have the premise established, it makes the more complex arguments easier to get across.

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christian_h 05.30.11 at 9:08 pm

MPAVictoria is right that for many of us here analyzing political questions is either a profession or a hobby. That’s exactly right – a hobby. It’s a hobby because what we believe, or what the vast majority of the population thinks, makes very little difference in outcomes. In a situation when people feel that they actually impact political decisions – as for example a revolutionary situation – many very quickly become politicized and try to make informed decisions. But in our current polity where the choice is between Tweedledum and Tweedledee every 2 years, why spend valuable time on knowing more than the one or two issues necessary to make that choice (eg, positions of abortion, gun control, or indeed the continuation of medicare as we know it) – unless it’s your hobby?

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Henri Vieuxtemps 05.30.11 at 9:32 pm

En Folkefiende.

62

Consumatopia 05.30.11 at 10:21 pm

But in our current polity where the choice is between Tweedledum and Tweedledee every 2 years, why spend valuable time on knowing more than the one or two issues necessary to make that choice (eg, positions of abortion, gun control, or indeed the continuation of medicare as we know it) – unless it’s your hobby?

To reach the level of level of knowledge required to make this judgment (which issues matter to you, what your opinion on those issues is, and how much of a difference can you make on them) itself requires a significant amount of study. Especially if it turns out that you care most about something non-simple like the general well-being of your country or your world.

Posting blog comments on other people’s blogs is, for the vast majority of us, a hobby, of course. But I’m not sure the level of engagement required to make an educated guess about how engaged you should be is much lower than the level required to engage in political discussion as a hobby.

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MPAVictoria 05.30.11 at 10:55 pm

“But in our current polity where the choice is between Tweedledum and Tweedledee every 2 years”

I would just like to point out that the difference between the republicans and the democrats is much more profound than that analogy illustrates. I would say the choice is between a bad cold and the bubonic plague. One is unpleasant, the other deadly.

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MPAVictoria 05.30.11 at 10:58 pm

“To reach the level of level of knowledge required to make this judgment (which issues matter to you, what your opinion on those issues is, and how much of a difference can you make on them) itself requires a significant amount of study. Especially if it turns out that you care most about something non-simple like the general well-being of your country or your world.”

Exactly. Which is why people tend to vote based on slogans and bumper stickers. The democrats need to get much better at framing issues in short easily understood sound-bites. In fact I would argue they should be shorter than the ones proposed by Dr. Holbo. Someone up-thread proposed something like “Republicans want to destroy medicare.”
That is perfect.

65

Tim Wilkinson 05.30.11 at 11:02 pm

Deficit my arse. yanks arew nutters. even th esupposed leties (HV exluided) fuck these idiot s – sorry I’m pissed iout of my tinyn mind buit ‘kinell, waht is fgoing on? Taht ‘market therad was bad and that wab;t even Shermans,. Bollocks tfri9=== the lots iof youse. soiufefwsdfhgl;fyhALFGlf;eay]f NO HOPE

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Tim Wilkinson 05.30.11 at 11:04 pm

Deficit my arse. yanks arew nutters. even th esupposed leties (HV, about 3 others exluided) fuck these idiot s – sorry I’m pissed iout of my tinyn mind buit ‘kinell, waht is fgoing on? Taht ‘market therad was bad and that wab;t even Shermans,. Bollocks t he lot iof youse. soiufefwsdfhgl;fyhALFGlf;eay]f NO HOPE

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Tim Wilkinson 05.30.11 at 11:05 pm

sorry off to bed

68

Substance McGravitas 05.30.11 at 11:25 pm

You see? It’s not just a hobby it’s a passion.

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StevenAttewell 05.30.11 at 11:41 pm

Or possibly a vice.

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Timothy Scriven 05.31.11 at 12:07 am

The dude’s name is cantor, there’s got to be a joke in here somewhere about infinity or hotels, but I can’t see it for the life of me.

71

Gene O'Grady 05.31.11 at 12:58 am

Can I just say that I find the whole “on the table” metaphor repugnant? It makes out as if our lives were a game of cards, or a stunt for some hot shot negotiator to be a bully.

Once upon a time I worked for a large corporation where I admired most of the officers and liked some. Then when we got a new CEO who PR guys put out a thing in the big business magazines about how he was “a tough negotiator who was known to pound tables.” Ugh. And, while he did well for himself, that company is long gone.

72

Thomas Jørgensen 05.31.11 at 1:05 am

The point is that the relative sizes of the conventional arsenals of the great powers is completely *irrelevant* It does not matter whether China, India, the US, Russia or the French have the scariest expeditionary forces, because they cannot, ever, be used against other members of the nuclear club. Because the territorial integrity of all of them is, in the final calculus backed up by the fire of the stars themselves. So when people worry that “China will overtake US in military might” they are making a fundamental error. China is already immune to the military might of the US, and the US to any possible future version of the PLA. So how much money the chinese are going to spend on toys for their generals is of zero importance to the spending priorities of the US military, because countering China, or any other great power is not what conventional weapons are for the only actual use for conventional weaponry is not security. It is the enforcement of the will of the great powers on particularily annoying third world hellholes. In some cases this is just, moral and nessesary. Others it is anything but. It is never. Ever. A question of security. Particularily for the US, which has oceans seperating it from any refugee streams. Which means the right and proper debate to have is not “how much should we spend on security” but “how much money are we willing to spend on what is effectively extraterritorial lawenforcement”?

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Consumatopia 05.31.11 at 1:15 am

TJ, you’re mostly right. The chief complication is when two great powers have different ideas about which laws they’d like to extraterritorially enforce.

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Thomas Jørgensen 05.31.11 at 1:25 am

Having a bigger conventional army doesnt get you more votes in the UN security council, so it still doesnt matter for budgetary purposes. – Note that the security council is mostly a formalization of an underlying reality – Conflicting opinions on in the area of “which obnoxtious regime are we going to bomb today” either go the way of the power that cares the most (usually because it is closest. Geography still matters) or more usually everyone stays the heck out and the local tinpot dictator gets to keep on tinpotting.

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Glen Tomkins 05.31.11 at 3:45 am

It seems to me that this thing has gone beyond the stage at which their is much weight to the battle of rhetoric and framing of the question of whether or not we have a debt crisis. The other side won that battle back when they might have been countered by our rhetoric and framing, and that’s why we are having a great national pseudo-debate on a thoroughly phony debt “crisis”.

Now, if this were going to stay at the level of a great national pseudo-debate on the existence of a debt crisis, yes, our side would counter-attack, reframe, and so0n have them on the ropes, because their side charged the machine-guns on this one, they went after SocSec and Medicare. But they don’t mean to stay in the rhetorical kill-zone. The whole point of their attack, their Ryan Plan in particular, and the whole idea that we have a debt crisis in general, was to create a climate of opinion that would get their “moderates” in the House to go along with refusing to raise the debt ceiling. They mean to force the US into a totally unneccesary bankruptcy. That will create a new reality that will leave the rhetorical battle over whether we should have a social safety net back in the quaint past when we actually could afford to have such “luxuries”. That won’t be true in the post-bankruptcy US.

Yes, of course, the Rs are never going to let the US default on the least jot or tittle of it obligations to actual creditors. But they believe that the US can fail to meet enough other of its many obligations that it won’t have to default on actual debt to stay under the current debt ceiling. They thus believe in a risk-free national bankruptcy, one that won’t hurt our credit rating, or create downstream havoc as creditors of the US can’t meet their obligations to their creditors in the wake of the US not being able to pay them. Well, risk-free except to the beneficiaries of the social safety net, whom the Rs are confident would be the folks the US would choose to pay last if it came to a crunch, and the US couldn’t meet all of its obligations.

Pawlenty and Cantor have talked about this risk-free national bankruptcy recently. More significantly, to my mind, about a month ago Robt Rubin took pains to argue publically against the idea of the risk-free naitional bankruptcy, against the idea that the US could fail to meet some of its obligations without creating havoc across the whole spectrum of such obligations and their counter-parties. Who was Rubin trying to convince, if not the R leadership? Why bother refuting it unless Rubin thought they believed it?

The rhetorical battle we need to be waging now is over defining who gets paid first if the US cannot meet all of its obligations. Our side needs to maintain that actual creditors get stiffed first, that all other obligations, such as those to the payroll, to the social safety net, etc., are sacred, not to be touched. Individual creditors get means-tested, and the wealthy take a haircut. Institutional creditors get taken over under resolution authority in order to prevent the downstream havoc that would otherwise result if the govt’s inability to pay them would cause them to default in turn, and set off a chain reaction.

Let the other side come up with their plan on who gets stiffed first if they persist in refusing to raise the debt ceiling, thus forcing the US to not be able to meet all of its obligations.

76

mpowell 05.31.11 at 4:35 am

StevenAttewel @ 52: I’m not being too specific here. It just appears to me that medical costs are going to continue to grow even if we cut insurance companies out of the loop because the available treatments will simply grow more exotic and expensive. But that doesn’t mean they are offering significant increases in quality life years. At some point single-payer care will have to attack this problem by picking and choosing which procedures are actually reasonably effective for their cost.

77

John Holbo 05.31.11 at 5:30 am

I just noticed that Eric Erickson Moe Lane (updated!) doesn’t believe in my Fringe theory. “Not a chance on this world, or any other.”

http://www.redstate.com/moe_lane/2011/05/30/eric-cantor-on-deficit-progress-and-no-tax-hikes/

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Substance McGravitas 05.31.11 at 6:27 am

That’s Moe Lane, who takes up the nastiness slack now that Erick has a good job to lose.

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StevenAttewell 05.31.11 at 6:31 am

mpowell – I got what you meant after I posted; wasn’t reading clearly.

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Thomas Jørgensen 05.31.11 at 9:12 am

76: That is another very common argument that makes no sense whatsoever when you stop and think about it. The march of technological progress in every single other field of human endeavor has had the inevitable consequence of making things cheaper. Yet somehow, everyone seems to expect medicine to the be magically diffrent, and that ever better understanding of the mechanics of the human body and the advance of biological and dataprocessing science will somehow continue to produce ever more expensive treatments in defiance of logic, economics and all human experience. Which is not going to happen- medicine is going to get automated and commodified just like every other service and product we provide on a massive scale has, and suddenly that medicare post on the budget is going to look a lot smaller.
The only way the projections for medical costs everyone uses could possibly have any relation to reality at all is if the vast bulk of those projections of “20-30% of gdp goes to medicine” ends up being elective interventions as we rush down a transhumanist path of doing things like curing old age and blatantly upgrading our bodies and minds, in which case, the knockon effects of that on the rest of the economy are going to make all our estimates of what the budget looks like a joke.

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Thomas Jørgensen 05.31.11 at 9:16 am

TLDR version: Things that cannot continue will not continue – consider what the economy would actually look like if the projections of future medical costs came true. 20-30% of gdp going to medicine means *at least one fifth of all workers being employed in the medical sector* That is not going to happen, at least as long as medicine is still defined as “curing ailments”.

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Harald Korneliussen 05.31.11 at 10:27 am

Thomas: The reason healthcare is different is that we will always want more of it – for completely understandable reasons. If you’re dying of cancer, and there’s a new cure that can save you for $100000, that’s a potential expense of $100000 that your healthcare provider (whether private or public) has to consider.

We tolerate inequalities in access to most commodities, but we (reasonably) don’t tolerate much inequality when it comes to being allowed to go on living.

We also have limited desire for most commodities. Once you’ve got a lot of something, you tend to be less obsessed about getting more. Not so with life itself: Most of us want to live as long as possible, cost what it may, and the older we get, the more work it is to keep us alive.

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Thomas Jørgensen 05.31.11 at 11:08 am

We desire to be healthy. This is a finite desire. If you are sick, and then you are cured, you do not, in fact, have any desire whatsoever to be cured twice as much. And with a more sophisticated understanding of the human body, and with expert systems assisting and in some cases replacing esoteric and expensive expertise, effecting those cures for all the things we currently treat is going to become cheaper, faster, and more effective.
Now, if someone were to devise an actual cure for old age, – a set of interventions that reset the bodyclock back to 22 – it is highly likely that we would, in fact, be willing to devote an absurdly high proportion of all economic activity to bringing that to everyone. But ever more money spent on living one more day, or one more week in pain at the end? Would you really pay 5-10% of your lifetime income to live a brief additional period doped out of your mind on painkillers? And if you would not do so for yourself, why would you expect society as a whole to make that choice? The projections simply do not make sense.

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Andrew 05.31.11 at 11:47 am

Consum @58:

So it’s a strange situation—one in which it’s very easy for a China that is currently far behind us to catch up without us noticing, but very difficult for us to catch back up to them afterwards. I happen to think that military catch up would be relatively easy if you have high GDP and advanced (civilian) technology.

I think you may be conflating two separate issues. First is the technological edge of the US military. For that to be lost, another nation simply must develop sufficient countermeasures to render that edge useless. For the US to lose the edge provided by stealth technology, for example, another nation need not develop better stealth technology; it simply must develop sensory equipment able to detect it. Second is our disagreement as to whether high relative GDP is enough to provide a technological edge, or whether it requires years of cumulative investment and development. This could turn into a long and interesting discussion, but I don’t want to derail.

Jorgensen @72:

Because the territorial integrity of all of them is, in the final calculus backed up by the fire of the stars themselves.

A lot can happen in East Asia that doesn’t involve the territorial integrity of the US, but that would involve war.

MPAVictoria @62:

Exactly. Which is why people tend to vote based on slogans and bumper stickers. The democrats need to get much better at framing issues in short easily understood sound-bites. In fact I would argue they should be shorter than the ones proposed by Dr. Holbo. Someone up-thread proposed something like “Republicans want to destroy medicare.”
That is perfect.

I may be in the minority, but I think the Democrats are doing just fine. Interest group politics will always make certain policies harder to pass or preserve than they should be. That won’t be altered by better soundbites.

85

roger 05.31.11 at 1:01 pm

Actually, I think the Dems should slogan, 75/25 or fight! That is, raising tax cuts on the wealthy, lowering them on the middle class. As the top 20 percent owns 75 percent of the wealth, they should pay 75 percent of the taxes, which would combine doubling marginal rates and hiking capital gain taxes 150 percent along with the 25 percent – lowering taxes on those with median incomes. After getting the revenues straightened out, we could go into checklist government: what do we want our government to do for us? – single payer health care? Unemployment insurance? Cheap higher education? Green tech? The U.S. is a rich country and can pay for pretty much anything it wants to put on the tab.

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roger 05.31.11 at 1:03 pm

ps – I should have said, this is how the Dems should frame the issue of the deficit and taxes, re John Holbo’s suggestion.

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Consumatopia 05.31.11 at 1:14 pm

First is the technological edge of the US military. For that to be lost, another nation simply must develop sufficient countermeasures to render that edge useless. For the US to lose the edge provided by stealth technology, for example, another nation need not develop better stealth technology; it simply must develop sensory equipment able to detect it.

Oh. Yeah, I misread you @27 as saying that we would actually fall behind China–that China would gain the same edge over us that we have now have over them.

For the kind of technological edge you’re talking about, though, I don’t see how that could be avoided. If China really wanted to, it could set it’s military research budget close to our own. They could likely do this even if we greatly increased ours. If their chief desire is building countermeasures to our advantages, then I don’t see how they could fail to accomplish that. This might even be profitable to them–they could sell the countermeasures to other countries that feared us.

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chris 05.31.11 at 1:41 pm

Republicans are good at harnessing fear/tribalism and Democrats are bad at remembering a political slogan is not the place to hold a nuanced policy discussion.

ISTM that you might as well just replace “a political slogan” with “a representative democracy” and start looking for philosopher-kings, if you’re going to be that fatalistic about it. If you give up on nuanced policy discussions you will end up with un-nuanced policy, which is not an effective way to deal with a complex universe.

On the other hand, if you can get the public to realize that fear and tribalism are a dumb way to run a country, then the Republicans will have to find another trick by which to defend the interests of a rich minority. *That’s* the ball game. Don’t concede it before you start and aspire to become a more effective huckster in a white hat.

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Salient 05.31.11 at 3:10 pm

It does not matter whether China, India, the US, Russia or the French have the scariest expeditionary forces, because they cannot, ever, be used against other members of the nuclear club.

…not even indirectly, in, say, Korea? …or Vietnam?

Republicans appear to have signalled that getting rid of gaping maw tax loopholes (and even farm tax subsidies, can that really be right???) doesn’t count as a tax increase.

Uh, the Republican leadership have given up any attempt at consistency. They say things that aren’t true because they sound good. Then they’ll say something utterly the contradictory opposite (to the point of it also not being true) because that sounds good. It’s all meaningless content-free emotive puffery. Turn 1: up or down vote! Turn 2: put Senate holds on thousands of uncontroversial Obama nominees!

When Eric Cantor said “it’s all on the table” so that the news shows would have a quip to quote twenty times per hour, he was lying. When he attempted to revise his remark five seconds later in a way that directly contradicted the intended spirit of his original remark, he was also lying. That sentence is for the news shows that have a panel on to discuss in ‘detail’ the news item, so that people who attempt to take his original remark at face value can be argued against with some boilerplate about Republican solidarity.

But shouldn’t we also be discussing, however wistfully, how to raise the reasoning capacity of the public and the intellectual level of public discussion, even if only in the long run?

Sure, it’s not even hard or particularly wistful.

The basic trick is to fight for national education standards that mirror those of the rest of the world, requiring a minimum set of core content that each school must teach in order to receive federal funding, with the core content administered by an executive board, like the EPA. “A world-class education for our kids” makes for a great boilerplate slogan, and it brings on board all those parents who don’t care if half the children in the country are screwed so long as their kids get ahead.

We can cynically exploit the ignorance of the current generation by making broad-brush emotive appeals to them about preparing their kid for the 21st century. (Seriously, who the hell knows what their kid needs to know?) They don’t know whether we’re falling behind or holding steady or what, and they’re inclined to believe everything is getting increasingly fucked up. We can talk about “holding schools accountable” and then follow up with “accountable to what? To a set of world-class standards.” Hell, we can even work in a crass unsubtle appeal to racism. “What can kids in China do that your kid can’t? Why do you want your kid to fall behind all those kids in Singapore?” That this elides a ton of compromising detail isn’t important because the purpose of the statements and rhetorical questions — just like the purpose of Cantor’s “everything is on the table” — is purely emotive.

Establishing, enforcing, and defending a national curriculum that is sympathetic to democratic socialism. That’s the ball game. The rest is skirmish details and defense.

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matthias 05.31.11 at 3:25 pm

Steve @56

Given that modern public opinion polling didn’t exist in 1932, there’s no statistical evidence either way. However, there’s an enormous amount of circumstantial evidence, especially in the form of letters written to the newly-elected President which picked up on the New Deal’s connection to them as individuals.

In terms of Roosevelt’s policy vision, I really do have to argue against that canard that “Roosevelt had no platform in 1932.” Roosevelt ran on three main things that distinguished himself from Hoover – Federal direct relief, Federal public works, and economic planning. People really over-emphasize the Philadelphia speech, especially when you realize that Ickes, Perkins, and Hopkins had basically locked down the New Deal’s agenda in 1933.

Those are fair points. But I still find it very hard to believe that 1) public opinion polls, if available, would have revealed mass policy preferences that were greatly more coherent than those which exist after the dawn of public opinion polling, or that 2) a hypothetical Roosevelt with very different (or: as different as possible while remaining inside the acceptable range of elite opinion) policy preferences could have lost an election against an incumbent with the employment rate being what it was.

I’m aware, of course, that I’m only offering an argument from incredulity – if there’s any reading that you think would be good for demonstrating that the above is actually much more plausible than I feel it is, feel free to suggest it.

Gene @71

Can I just say that I find the whole “on the table” metaphor repugnant? It makes out as if our lives were a game of cards, or a stunt for some hot shot negotiator to be a bully.

It’s okay to find it repugnant, if you like, but it’s accurate, and I can’t conceive any alternative to some form or another of what it’s a metaphor of. When and where politics transcends soap opera, it just is a negotiation over who lives and who dies, who has a right to or from what, &c. Sometimes politics is a pareto-efficient agreement among those with the capability to enforce it and sometimes it is pursued through other means.

Or as some washed-up unappealing authoritarian or another said: who? whom?

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Sebastian 05.31.11 at 4:10 pm

“The basic trick is to fight for national education standards that mirror those of the rest of the world, requiring a minimum set of core content that each school must teach in order to receive federal funding, with the core content administered by an executive board, like the EPA.”

Why are you trying to pick a fight with the teacher’s union?

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geo 05.31.11 at 5:12 pm

Salient @89: Establishing, enforcing, and defending a national curriculum that is sympathetic to democratic socialism. That’s the ball game. The rest is skirmish details and defense.

This, you say, is “not even hard”? You’ve proposed some excellent slogans. But don’t forget: slogans have to be publicized if they’re to have any effect. And publicity requires colossal amounts of money (or volunteer energy). That’s why the Right has won power over the last several decades. It’s not that conservatives have had “good new ideas,” or any ideas at all. They’ve simply bought up the media and a large share of academia, and also increased their public-relations budgets exponentially. And the evangelicals have supplied the foot soldiers, getting out the conservative vote, intimidating local school boards, newspapers, and radio/TV stations, etc.

And on top of that, the entertainment industry has made us stupid. No subordinate clauses (as DivGuy pointed out), no complex ideas or emotions, allowed. Advertisers/financial backers mistrust complexity, and eventually viewers/listeners/readers just lose the hang of it.

And then there’s the built environment, and the American diet, and … Well, what isn’t coarsening and dumbing down contemporary American culture and society? If you (and the estimable John Q, who professed “optimism” on a recent thread) want a sense of just how hard it’s going to be to win this “ball game,” look at a couple of brilliant, profoundly depressing books by Morris Berman: The Twilight of American Culture and Dark Age America.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 05.31.11 at 5:36 pm

…a sense of just how hard it’s going to be to win this “ball game,”…

You don’t “win” it; I don’t think this is how it happens. In every society there is a dominant ideology that justifies the socioeconomic order. Dominant ideology works – well, until it doesn’t. Things start falling apart, propaganda stops working, the king is beheaded, the president exiled, the chairman deposed. But I don’t think it’s achieved by vanguardism. It just happens.

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geo 05.31.11 at 6:10 pm

I don’t think it’s achieved by vanguardism. It just happens.

Wasn’t thinking of a vanguard, Henri. Why can’t we the people bestir ourselves and make it happen?

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StevenAttewell 05.31.11 at 6:18 pm

I think people are making the mistake here of seeing electoral politics as the only form of democratic politics; there’s more choices than electoral politics or philosopher kings. The place where deliberative democracy really happens is party politics, and that’s been the case from the beginning. When Jefferson and Hamilton were working out the big ideas of American politics back in the 1790s, this co-existed with a popular politics that revolved around whether Jefferson was an atheist Jacobin or Hamilton was a secret monarchist.

What’s changed, and what I think is a really hopeful thing, is that you no longer have to be a plantation owner or a rich merchant to take part in the party politics – ordinary people can partake in it if they get organized. I’d argue that the problem we have isn’t education, it’s organization – that the atomization of our political culture has lead to a situation in which only the broadest top-down message can get from the campaign to the vote. This has changed a little in the last ten years, the internet does allow a section of society to partake in the kind of deliberative politics that used to be the sole province of parties, but it’s far from what we saw in the 19th century, when virtually every voter (albeit an electorate of white men only for the most part) read a party newspaper or was a member of their local ward committee.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 05.31.11 at 6:47 pm

Why can’t we the people bestir ourselves and make it happen?

Yes, in a small way, by influencing our children, for example. But on a massive scale, it’s a different sort of phenomena, imo.

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matthias 05.31.11 at 7:20 pm

Wasn’t thinking of a vanguard, Henri. Why can’t we the people bestir ourselves and make it happen?

Because “we the people” is a rhetorical abstraction that can’t do anything separately from particular, antagonistic groups, cliques, subsets, movements doing things and acting on each other. I assume you don’t just expect each citizen to bestir herself. Bestirment is hard work, what should we call people engaged in it?

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geo 05.31.11 at 7:24 pm

I assume you don’t just expect each citizen to bestir herself.

Yes, I confess I did have something like that in mind. Isn’t that the definition of a healthy democracy?

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StevenAttewell 05.31.11 at 7:51 pm

No, it’s not, geo. Democracy is a collective, not an individual act. Indeed, one of the worst ekgacies of liberalism in the political process is the idea that democracy/voting is an act of individual expression – it’s not supposed to be, and pretending it is actually disempowers people. It leads them to believe that joining a political party labels them or robs them of autonomy, or that because “one vote doesn’t make a difference,” they should stay home on election day.

Bestirring takes work. You need to have a group of people who agree that they want X to happen and that they will only support candidates who are pro-X, you need lists of voters who might be potentially pro-X, you need people to go out and knock on every door in the ward/precinct to spread the message, identify supporters, and convince the undecided, and you need flyers and media sources, and come election day, you need a gotv operation and slate cards.

This requires organizations, and those organizations used to be known as political parties and mass civil society organizations. As Gary Nash (and De Toqueville) points out, Americans used to be very good at organizing. We’ve lost some of that, and if education is needed anywhere, it’s in teaching applied political organizing.

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bob mcmanus 05.31.11 at 7:51 pm

Parties are where politics goes to die. The Japanese in the 1st half of the 20th, with the benefit of European experience, especially German, made an extra-special effort to get their citizenry involved in several grass-roots organizations at every political level, environmental, feminist, neighborhood etc with the specific goal of diffusing and disarming dissent and unrest. People have an angry meeting, sign a petition handed to a middling bureaucrat, they can be satisfied and stalled for years. Watch Wisconsin.

Totalitarianism has become much more scientific than back in the old days. It can even be made to look like freedom.

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StevenAttewell 05.31.11 at 7:51 pm

* legacies.

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bob mcmanus 05.31.11 at 7:53 pm

We don’t need no stinking organization.

What we need is riots.

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bianca steele 05.31.11 at 8:10 pm

Steven @ 99
Not sure I agree with all of what you wrote, but in particular re. your second paragraph: why couldn’t people do all those things without an organization? Seems that would answer geo’s question in part too?

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bob mcmanus 05.31.11 at 8:12 pm

Attewell, what, you gonna have memberships, agendas, elections of officers, takin the minutes, Robert’s Rules…and use that to get your revolution? What you will get is a deeply instilled deference to structures and processes that will be the mirror of what appears one step above you. And then Obama some politician above you will say they feel you pain, are worried too about unemployment and global warming, these things take time, we have obstacles and enemies, have patience and some sympathy. And then the people behind you will tar and feather the guy? No, they will say she really really cares and go home.

Burn it down and take their stuff. There’s a slogan.

PS:Thanks for mentioning Berman, geo, I went immediately and read his blog. I needed someone now that IOZ has retired.

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Bruce Wilder 05.31.11 at 8:30 pm

The trick is to get the rioters to attack Versailles, not the Bastille, and certainly not their own neighborhood. If we could have the riot in East Hampton or Greenwich or Chevy Chase, we might have hope.

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wes 05.31.11 at 8:35 pm

To Bob, #26: someone told me that if you turn off “accept cookies” in your browser, it defeats the NYT paywall. If that were true, it would imply that the formerly greatest media institution on earth had become effete and impotent as the Democratic party it is accused with representing. So it can’t be true.

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StevenAttewell 05.31.11 at 8:41 pm

Bob’s post at 104, 102, and 100 is honestly the worst legacy of the New Left (and ultimately the Romantic movement before it) – the idea that all action has to be spontaneous, all organization is oppressive, and that a tactic is a substitute for strategy is pure bunkum. It does not, never has, and never will work. Whether we’re talking about reform or revolution, any collective action ultimately requires organization to work; hell, I’ll go one step beyond that – organization is inherent to society and cannot be undone.

bianca steele – because there has to be some mechanism by which agreement is reached, work is assigned and carried out, and decisions are made. That mechanism becomes organization. Look behind the curtain of any political movement/group, no matter how anti-organization its ideology, and you will find organization emerging. Even anarchist collectives eventually develop rules.

And the desire for total spontaneity – a quasi-spiritual desire whose roots I respect – is ultimately problematic because it obscures de-facto organization and prevents democratic accountability. Take late-period SDS, for example, back in its height of “participatory democracy” – while the meeting looks totally open and consensus-driven, behind the scenes you’ve got Maoist and Trotskyist caucuses arranging how to control the mike and manufacture the illusion of unanimity, the women find themselves stuck making the coffee, sandwiches, and mimeographs, and at the end of the day, if Albie Hoffman doesn’t like what you’re saying, you might just get punched in the face.

I think that a transparent and honest organization, where everyone knows how decisions get made and who’s accountable for them, is ultimately more democratic than something that feels like liberation and works like brute force.

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bianca steele 05.31.11 at 9:02 pm

Steven @ 107:
Right, I think you’re setting up a false dichotomy between Romantic/spontaneous/no-thought and organization/rational-behavior, but okay, you’re kind of admitting that there are organizations that don’t work the way the ones you prefer do. For one, those Maoists and Trotskyists who you say were distorting the way the New Left meetings worked. For another, the unthoughtful relapse into prerevolutionary sex roles and whatever social dynamic let (if true) Hoffman metaphorically get away with murder. I’d add things like crowdsourcing, the anti-WTO protests, Anonymous, and so forth. It isn’t obvious why the last two couldn’t be easily leveraged in combination.

Also, aren’t you casting out anybody who doesn’t fall well on the “reason” side of your dichotomy? I think one might be forgiven jumping to the conclusion that the “organization” you say you need has to do more with ensuring people fall on the right side of the dichotomy, in the first place, than with micromanaging what they do afterwards.

I’m not sure I understand, anyway, what your political organizations do. Do they deliberate, or what?

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Salient 05.31.11 at 9:32 pm

This, you say, is “not even hard”?

Sorry, I think my intended ‘not hard to begin discussing’ (which I think is true in many ways, certainly not just the one approach I suggested) came across instead as ‘not hard to implement’ (which is obviously bogus)

And on top of that, the entertainment industry has made us stupid.

I might normally launch into some kind of boilerplate rant in response to this, but.. you’re George Scialabba, not some random trollish schmuck. So instead I’ll say: to attest decline is not to indulge in nostalgia, remember? I value your insight elsewhere much too much to attribute any more weight to your blog comment response to me than I’d want attributed to some of my less careful, more flippant moments.

Also. Oprah Winfrey is amazing, and I hope you admire and value her as much as you ought to from the point of view you’re expressing here.

The Twilight of American Culture

Morris Berman, huh? Shucks. Next thing I know you’ll be recommending Neil Postman to me. Although come to think of it, maybe it should be me recommending his The End of Education to you. (Without commenting on my valuation of its content, I’ll note you’d probably enjoy that book quite a lot.)

Yes, in a small way, by influencing our children, for example. But on a massive scale, it’s a different sort of phenomena, imo.

And thank goodness for that! In an ideal universe that would be true for everybody, and nobody would be able to achieve influence in more than a small way. It would be weird to on the one hand protest “a small number of people have disproportionate wealth! which means they have too much power and influence relative to everyone else! which is unjust!” and on the other hand lament how little power each of us has.

I think everybody makes so much fun of Bush’s “dictatorship wouldn’t be so bad if I get to be the dictator” quip because in our more exasperated moments we all know what it feels like (to want to dam the Atchafalaya, to reconfigure its gates, or even to blow up the dam). And we know how dangerous it is to yield to that feeling and give it expression. The thinking person’s working definition of evil (injustice, if you prefer) is synonymous with the exploitation of excess agency, and justice, a distribution of agency which allows for only minimal and neutered excess. The ideal end state of any campaign of political reform is shared and enforced universal powerlessness and interdependence.

I think geo understands this particularly well — the price, which they have accepted in all seriousness, will be exacted: Their writings will not live. But their example will. Well hey, that last sentence is rather more aspirational than self-evident, but it’s the right trajectory; those of us who are reform-minded could wish for nothing better for ourselves.

We don’t need no stinking organization.

What we need is riots.

Anyone who’s actually been in a riot knows you need rather a lot of organization to make anything come of it, else you just end up burning down the stores and restaurants in your own neighborhood that happen to be Chinese-owned while the elite whose property you really ought to be targeting watch from the televisions in the living rooms of their homes, comfortably bewildered, the riot footage that is made available to them by news station helicopter and digested for them by news station personnel.

I think there’s far less distance between Steven Attewell and bob mcmanus than bob (and maybe Steven) would ever care to admit. Any tactic available to intimidate the exploiters of unjust power differentials is a priori amenable to me. I’ll take your in-party agitation, and your riots too.

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sg 05.31.11 at 11:39 pm

bob mcmanus, I really think that everything I’ve ever read by you about Japan is just flat out, completely wrong.

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bob mcmanus 06.01.11 at 12:34 am

110:That passes for an argument on the internet. And is ignored.

I do have slightly different standards than many people for measuring political progress, in that I look at actual outcomes and try to ignore process. Attewell gets 100 people to a meeting and congratulates himself.

Liberals value process for and in itself. But the purpose of managed democracy is exactly to allow, even encourage the forms while completely denying the substance. Morris Berman is wrong about the people, in that he underestimates how sophisticated the tools of the oligarchs are now. It would be like blaming the Russian people for Stalin.

Recalls passed the courts in Wisconsin?

Let me know when the Walker Union bill is 100% reversed, with new additional privileges and compensation for state workers, and I will say something has been accomplished.

We are back to the wealth inequality of the Gilded Age. IOW, 125+ years of absolute failure. Everything done by liberals since 1880 was resting on laurels and mortgaging the future. The job is not to get some R & R or medals, the point is to win. And since we lost, we were doing it wrong.

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geo 06.01.11 at 1:08 am

Thank you, Salient, it’s quite intoxicating to have my prose quoted back to me. And I’ve never received a more deftly turned compliment than you’re … not some random trollish schmuck, at least on the Internet.

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MPAVictoria 06.01.11 at 1:17 am

“Liberals value process for and in itself. But the purpose of managed democracy is exactly to allow, even encourage the forms while completely denying the substance.”

While getting actual policy goals accomplished is obviously important, I would argue that the “form” one of the main strengths of democracy. In a dictatorship if Oscar get mad at the government he rounds up a few dozen friends, a score of rifles and couple hundred bullets and then heads into the hills to start a revolution. In a democracy he goes to a meeting, writes a letter to the editor or, if Oscar is really worked up, runs for a local political office. One potential troublemaker diffused and maybe even some positive change being implemented as a result. Not bad in my estimation.

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bjk 06.01.11 at 1:25 am

If I were an intelligent liberal (or one or both), would I be so rah-rah for higher rates? Why would I be committed to 25% of GDP or 40% or 50%? Is it really the case that the last dollar of federal spending is so critically important that it can never, ever be cut on fear of introducing Donner party consequences? Is the last press attache in the commerce department really so critical? These are the questions that get me to sleep at night.

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sg 06.01.11 at 1:39 am

well then Bob, how’s this… are you seriously arguing that Japan in the first half of the 20th century had a democracy that was participative at the grassroots level? This is a democracy that essentially was taken over by the military in 1932 and was a fascist dictatorship by 1937. During that time the only participation granted to the citizenry was membership of fascist organizations. I don’t think you’ll find many serious scholars arguing that the problem Japan faced in the first quarter of the 20th century (before it became a dictatorship) was that the citizenry were pummelled into submission by constant attendance at civic meetings, given Japanese democracy was modeled on a 19th century German constitution that saw the ruling elite very much as, well, as an elite. i.e. disconnected and unresponsive to the masses. As for the idea that early-20th century Japanese civic society encouraged membership of feminist organizations… women weren’t even allowed to attend political meetings until 1921.

Now, you might have a point about modern Japanese political engagement having been stifled by too much civic engagement [if you ignored 30 years of zaibatsus and industrial struggle – but we’ll get to that…] However, the types of civic engagement present in Japan now are largely apolitical – memberships of local community groups, shrine committees, festival organization groups or sports/cultural groups. Yet, modern Japan is much more socialist than modern America, and Japanese are very strongly engaged with their community in my experience, compared to say Australia or the UK. So that argument would be a tad self-defeating.

Now, it is true that Japan had a history of riots and political terorism in the 70s [this is what we need right?] e.g. in the labour movement, the fascist revisionists [Mishima Yuko being the famous example] and the anti-Narita movement. But they were crushed by the state, and now Japan is largely quiescent. So are you sure, really sure, that riots are what we need? Using Japan as your teaching example, the lesson seems to be more that quiet civic engagement in apolitical local groups will build a socialist and cooperative society, and that the government will then be largely irrelevant to the ordinary goings-on of everyday life.

This isn’t quite the story you wanted to tell though, is it?

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bob mcmanus 06.01.11 at 2:07 am

“well then Bob, how’s this… are you seriously arguing that Japan in the first half of the 20th century had a democracy that was participative at the grassroots level?”

Cambridge History v 6 pg 589 and that section on the development of the nohonshugi movements after WWI. (Hey, grass roots don’t have to be liberal) The oligarchs also used land policies at the start of Meiji, and agricultural aid, well, back in the 18th but especially in the 20s and 30s. The oligarchs always understood that it was better to co-opt local and rural and dissenting movements than to violently repress them, altho they did their share of that too.

They didn’t shut down their parliaments or parties even during the war:they absorbed them and the War gov’t remained a mass of conflicting interests. Yet it still managed an Empire.

Now I don’t think the consensus-building is that cultural, or god forbid racial. I think the Japanese developed a science of soft totalitarianism during the shogunate. And since I think this the way the West is going, I study Meiji and Taisho Japan.

the lesson seems to be more that quiet civic engagement in apolitical local groups will build a socialist and cooperative society, and that the government will then be largely irrelevant to the ordinary goings-on of everyday life.

You have to be kidding. Tell that to the people of Miyagi.

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bob mcmanus 06.01.11 at 2:29 am

the citizenry were pummelled into submission by constant attendance at civic meetings

The villages always had local participatory politics, and one of the first things Meiji did was to encourage agricultural cooperatives, not very well funded at the national level. The urban cosmopolitans never had a chance against the rurals, and the oligarchs had another strategy for the metropolis (concentration and pseudo-meritocracy, etc).

Satsuma and Choshu won the war, but Tosa economics won the peace.

Where we at now, 30 years of recession, crashing again? Japan is a pit of oligarchic inequality.

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StevenAttewell 06.01.11 at 2:59 am

bianca –

The “organizations that don’t work the way the ones you prefer do” are still organizations, which kind of answers your question about “couldn’t people do all those things without an organization.” Even in the least organized groups, organization was created, but a kind of organization that was unaccountable, not transparent, and totally vulnerable to infiltration/disruption from Maoists, Trotskyists, Yippies, Black Panthers, the FBI, etc. and ultimately collapsed.

I don’t get what you mean by “reason” side of your dichotomy. I didn’t really mention anything about that.

My political organizations both deliberate and act in ways that are transparent and accountable. We see the deliberation in debates over platforms, manifestos, campaigns, legislation, messaging, etc. – good examples of this would be the long discursive project, from the People’s Party through to the New Deal on how to reconcile Jeffersonian ideology with the need for the state to intervene against corporations, taking place in conventions, party newspapers, primary campaigns, etc. The action part is the process that begins at the level of ward and precinct captains turning out the vote to party whips ensuring that elected delegates vote the way the platform pledged to vote – by which process the results of discourse are realized in state action.

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StevenAttewell 06.01.11 at 3:05 am

Salient – ok, I’ll bite. How is there “far less distance between Steven Attewell and bob mcmanus than bob (and maybe Steven) would ever care to admit” that doesn’t include you as well?

bob at 111 – “everything done by liberals since 1880 was resting on laurels and mortgaging the future” shows a disturbing ignorance of actual power relations and political economy in the 20th century. Things changed from 1900 to 1970 in manifest physical ways; those who disparage the reformist position might not like that they did, but denying that they did is a non-starter.

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Salient 06.01.11 at 3:34 am

How is there “far less distance between Steven Attewell and bob mcmanus than bob (and maybe Steven) would ever care to admit” that doesn’t include you as well?

…shucks I’d be very happy to include myself in there, I think? The grammar of your question might be confusing me more than it should. I hope I didn’t come off as dismissive as that would be the exact opposite of what I intended (pretty much everything you’ve ever said about social insurance makes perfect sense to me, for example, and your comments on the need for constructing emotionally appealing cognitive shortcuts to build policy around, e.g. “we all tend towards certain shortcuts in thinking about the government and politics in general, and that it would be a good thing if we compensated for that in our politics,” are about as sharp as offhanded blog comments can be).

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StevenAttewell 06.01.11 at 3:37 am

Ah, I see. I gotcha.

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Martin Bento 06.01.11 at 8:13 am

One thing the Democrats had right was pushing for a “clean” raising of the debt ceiling, which is exactly right. So thye House Republicans held a votte, similar to the symbolic doomed vote the Senate had for the Ryan plan. Almost half the House Democrats voted against sanity and their own talking point. Steney Hoyer welcomed this. Why? Explicitly because they were afraid the Republicans would use it against them. There is no hope for these people.

1) “The Democrats voted to raise the debt ceiling without cutting spending” is a lousy frame because it needs to he explained. Especially swing voters, the most superficial, will not swing on that. So the Dems were afraid of a bogeyman.

2) Now the Democrats have to switch from “We should just raise the debt ceiling and negotiate over spending without holding the nation’s economy hostage”, a really sensible and understandable position that (correctly) makes the Republicans look fanatical and irresponsible, to “our stupid cuts are better than their stupid cuts”. Fail.

They have just told the public that they are profoundly unserious and complete cowards.

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Tim Wilkinson 06.01.11 at 10:38 am

I don’t have anything much to add to (subtract from, yes) previous comments, for which I blame Chris Tremlett.

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chris 06.01.11 at 1:28 pm

1) “The Democrats voted to raise the debt ceiling without cutting spending” is a lousy frame because it needs to he explained. Especially swing voters, the most superficial, will not swing on that. So the Dems were afraid of a bogeyman.

“Debt” and “spending” are effective fear-inducing buzzwords without any explanation whatsoever. In fact, it works better if the targets don’t understand (because if they really understood the issue they’d realize that Democrats had the more reasonable position).

our stupid cuts are better than their stupid cuts

With the way political sentiment is going right now, you can either be on the stupid cuts bus or under it. As the old saying goes, it’s not enough for the Democrats to have the vote of every thinking person, they need a majority. (Or they need to get more people to think, but AFAIK no democracy has ever successfully solved that problem.)

As long as that’s true, the least harmful plate of stupid cuts is the best achievable outcome and therefore should be supported by people who understand that. In theory there are better options, but in practice you can only choose from options that can actually be put into practice.

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passer-by 06.01.11 at 1:52 pm

Andrew@27:

“Ideally you do not want simply the capability to win a war; you want the capability to deter any other nation from seriously considering such a war; and better than that, you want to deter any other nation from attempting to build a force that could attempt such a war. Overwhelming technological superiority is the means to accomplish this.”

actually, no. being liked by other countries also works. so does being interdependently interwoven in the communities around you. taking a viable leadership role, through mutually beneficial intervention. there are others.

the key matter is whether you’re a shit [1] or not which that will largely determine how much aggression you can expect. if you’re a shit, overwhelming technological superiority is not a deterrent, it’s an incentive to others to try harder and cleverer. (the Chinese for example, have decided to purchase the US, rather than go to war with it. that’s ‘cleverer’.) furthermore, an existing technologically superior arsenal is prone to being abused, which abuse makes you hated. being hated isn’t an aid to deterrence either, because being hated and/or feared is the precursor to being eventually purchased.

in fact, the only plausible circumstances that give “technological superiority” any meaning at all are if you’re (a) already at war, or (b) planning to do things that cause you to be at war. if you’re referring to the former, then your claim to deterrence has already failed. if you’re referring to the latter, see “being hated”, above.

you’re describing the view from inside the little bubble universe, that says “fear and domination stops people attacking us” without considering why people might want to. there’s no analysis of causes in that bubble. however, as the main theme of the Sun Tze – a text studied extensively by the US military – makes clear, “war is a consequence – the effective strategist removes the cause”.

all of which means you can argue for the need to to stockpile an endless array of technologically superior weaponry and point it at all and sundry as much as you like. you just can’t argue that it’s a deterrent, or that it leads to a good life. if you want to argue that it’s necessary to have such a stockpile to complement the economic pressure necessitated by the current program of exploitation and coercion, then you’re definitely onto something. but that’s an admission i’m not sure you’re making since it clashes so much with the pop-ideology of heroism that is so inappropriately attached to American foreign policy.

if you hadn’t come across this idea before, then i’m sorry to be the one who breaks it to you, but the truth is that you’ll have to come out of the bunker and put down the guns some day.

all solutions start with that. the rest is fantasy.

[1] ‘shit’ here simply means someone who interferes coercively in other nations affairs, for his own good, to their detriment. you’ll find if you don’t do that, you’re pretty much safe from threat of aggression, except for unforced aggression from megalomaniac expansionist regimes whose borders you share. there aren’t that many of the latter, and in those rare cases (Hitler, Mao), they’re not deterred by your arsenal anyway, and your mutual interdependence with others is your best defense.

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Substance McGravitas 06.01.11 at 1:54 pm

With the way political sentiment is going right now, you can either be on the stupid cuts bus or under it.

Nonsense. You don’t need to capitulate to every talking point if you have large and useful clubs like Medicare and Social Security.

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chris 06.01.11 at 2:26 pm

@125: You don’t have to cut Medicare and Social Security, maybe, but you still have to cut *something* because people are scared of deficits and debts and big numbers.

Of course, if McConnell is serious about blocking any plan to not blow up the world economy that doesn’t involve cutting Medicare, then you have to either cut Medicare, or get other Republicans to deal behind his back. Hostage taking isn’t as much fun for the people who care about the life of the hostage.

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Substance McGravitas 06.01.11 at 2:30 pm

You don’t have to cut Medicare and Social Security, maybe, but you still have to cut something because people are scared of deficits and debts and big numbers.

No they’re not.

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sg 06.01.11 at 3:20 pm

Bob, you said

The Japanese in the 1st half of the 20th … made an extra-special effort to get their citizenry involved in several grass-roots organizations at every political level, environmental, feminist, neighborhood etc with the specific goal of diffusing and disarming dissent and unrest

You had a specific argument that grass-roots organizations kill dissent. This is a pretty radical claim, and it goes against 30 years of New Left Praxis. So now, when I point out to you that your teaching example (Japan) is wrong in all its particulars, you have shifted to

one of the first things Meiji did was to encourage agricultural cooperatives, not very well funded at the national level

which seems to be (as best I can tell from your loose prose) a completely different argument. Are we talking about participatory grassroots level politics, or national movements set up by governments? These things are completely different. You mention the nihonshugi (日本主義), a Meiji Era movement in opposition to westernization, but you should be careful about interpreting those movements in strictly political terms. And in any case, you seem to be vacillating between an argument about participatory grassroots politics and one about peak bodies.

So what is your actual point? Does membership of political parties funnel dissent away from its object, or is it membership of local grassroots organizations?

And how the fuck do get away with claiming that Japan is a “pit of inequality”? You are aware, right, that Japan is the least unequal country in the OECD? Whatever country you’re writing your “theories” from is much, much less equitable than Japan. I’m guessing you’re american – how’s that universal healthcare and government funded maternity leave working for you? Japan has both.

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Sev 06.01.11 at 4:13 pm

#88 “On the other hand, if you can get the public to realize that fear and tribalism are a dumb way to run a country, then the Republicans will have to find another trick by which to defend the interests of a rich minority. That’s the ball game. Don’t concede it before you start and aspire to become a more effective huckster in a white hat.”

I think this is far from the mark. You cannot get started on a more nuanced discussion until you counterpunch. Pithy slogans are important for getting people’s attention and making your argument in a nutshell. For example, how about “Jobs now, deficits later!” as a rallying cry? After that, you can go on to explain the rationales.

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geo 06.01.11 at 4:30 pm

chris @124: they need to get more people to think, but AFAIK no democracy has ever successfully solved that problem

No democracy — certainly not the United States — has ever made a serious effort. In any case, what’s the alternative? A permanently dysfunctional polity?

Come on, comrades. With all the brainpower and zeal available to the Crooked Timber community, we ought to be able to at least sketch out a plan to get more of our fellow citizens to think, and then find some way (perhaps a few enlightened super-rich people?) to bankroll it.

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Substance McGravitas 06.01.11 at 4:48 pm

a plan to get more of our fellow citizens to think

Via LG&M this is interesting.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 06.01.11 at 5:01 pm

With all the brainpower and zeal available to the Crooked Timber community, we ought to be able to at least sketch out a plan to get more of our fellow citizens to think…

Well, your Morris Berman guy says: no.
http://morrisberman.blogspot.com/2011/04/no-exit.html

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bob mcmanus 06.01.11 at 5:14 pm

129:Should we be doing this here? Moderator can step in.

You had a specific argument that grass-roots organizations kill dissent.

I said “disarm and diffuse.” Or channel. I also think it is a mistake to see grassroots and ruling elites as always in opposition, dichotomous, and contradicting. This is kinda my point, that smart elites manage to channel popular discontent into activities that weaken or distract unrest and are useful to the elites.

The agricultural coops are an example. What Japan did was to send, or find locally, people with expertise in infrastructure, agronomics, agriculture to villages to help design irrigation, dams, etc. Projects and coop equipment would be funded with local taxes, some loans, tax breaks. The point was to have rurals create a small org with the appearance of autonomy but “infiltrated” (not spies, just respected voices) near the top ideologically. I actually think this was more important in the teens thru thirties when competing agencies, liberal and nationalistic, each tried to wrest ideological control of influence over the farmers. They smartly focused on second sons for these purposes. There are many other examples, youth organizations.

the nihonshugi (日本主義), a Meiji Era movement in opposition to westernization

nohonshugi not nihonshugi, although they interacted. Agrarianism, not quite nationalism, the idealization of the yeoman peasant-soldier and farming as the soul of Japan, solidarity of the village against the “state”, which blamed capitalistic, commercial-industrial interests for poverty. Etc. “State” in quotes because Japan never became monolithic, and there were always competing groups of oligarchs trying to find forces to direct toward their ideological or personal goals.

Speaking of feminism, you could look at the rise of conservative women’s organizations and policies in Japan in Late Meiji (also Britain and Germany in the 20s).

And how the fuck do get away with claiming that Japan is a “pit of inequality”?

Political power on a national level?

Japan has been moving since the 80s, slowly but steadily toward this distribution: 1-5% with vast wealth; 15-20% aspirational well-educated UMC; 60% struggling and stressed middle class; 15% hopeless in poverty. The second and bottom classes very slowly increasing. Does this look familiar? It makes a vanguard very difficult, as we can see.

Does membership of political parties funnel dissent away from its object, or is it membership of local grassroots organizations?

The goal of elites would be to eliminate the difference. “Top-down” vs “bottom-up” only exists when leadership isn’t paying attention (watch Egypt) I can use America here, the grassroots orgs Obama used for the caucuses and then moved beyond after the convention getting corporate money and then shut down after election day. The issue-advocacy groups Obama moved into the “veal pen.” Another example is the Tea Party, which is a lot more complicated than merely a Koch-controlled tool.

Politics, as we have mostly known it, only really works when elites can channel popular sentiment toward self-serving purposes. Pure democracy is barely politics at all.

Why “Burn it down and take their stuff?” I want something elites can’t control, that Wilder can’t direct toward his enemy neighborhoods. Because I think they have achieved a technology, a sociology, that can control everything that isn’t a riot.
They got NARAL to sign onto Stupak.

This is enough. I have reading to do.

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bob mcmanus 06.01.11 at 5:25 pm

13: Berman is too optimistic.

It will be rubble, ashes and graveyards until the ten percent that survive establish something that looks like Huxley or Orwell and lasts forever. My guess in the next generation or two.

That future annoys me enough to take it all down trying for an alternative. Just a Romantic, I guess.

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geo 06.01.11 at 5:53 pm

Yes, Henri, Berman makes a very strong case. I just thought maybe someone reading this thread could prove him wrong.

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StevenAttewell 06.01.11 at 5:55 pm

Martin Bento – man did you misread the debt ceiling vote. The vote you’re talking about was a trap set by Republican leadership – a “clean” vote that would have required 2/3rds to pass, which contained language blaming Obama’s budget for the debt problem. That’s why Democrats voted against it (most of them) – because it was designed to put Democrats on the record attacking Obama and raising debt, without actually raising the ceiling.

geo – if we want deliberative democracy, looking for a Medici patron is not a good way to go about it. The answer is simple – reinvigorate political parties and other institutions that plug people into discursive politics. Organization first, education second.

bob – ok, next to the fetishization of spontaneity, ivory-tower-defeatism has got to be up there in the top 5 on my list of Annoying New Left Tendencies. How convenient that the elite so control anything that you’ll never have to exercise power and be responsible for outcomes; I guess you’ll just have to sit back, call for riots, and sneer at social democrats. What a wonderful formula for attaining purity through powerlessness!

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Henri Vieuxtemps 06.01.11 at 6:21 pm

StevenAttewell, reading the interwebs, I’m getting the impression that a lot of people now don’t believe that the US political system is capable of delivering anything useful anymore. Apparently, this has something to do with the performance of the Obama administration and heavily Democratic legislature in 2009/10.

I don’t see how this hypothesis can be characterized as ‘ivory-tower-defeatism’; after all, it can be observed or refuted empirically. If your car doesn’t start, that’s a fact, not someone’s annoying tendency.

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StevenAttewell 06.01.11 at 6:37 pm

138 – Maybe those people should have been paying attention to the makeup of the Democratic caucuses and the Senate rules? Or what Obama was actually campaigning on during the Democratic primaries? Or maybe not generalized from a two year period to a structural analysis?

Or…I know, maybe instead of just voting or joining a grassroots organization controlled by a political candidate, they could have mobilized to take over their local party committees, get in control of the nomination process, or in any way built up political power that could actually hold politicians accountable?

But let’s not forget – Bob’s position is that both politics and social movements are bourgeois bullsh*t. That is the defeatist part – the deliberate rejection of all means of change short of violent revolution, and just as insurance the NoTrueScotsman kind of change bob thinks of as the only real kind of revolution, combined with an attitude of superiority. It’s not designed to actually change things, but rather to justify why you’re still a rebel if you don’t try.

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bob mcmanus 06.01.11 at 7:05 pm

139: Why isn’t what you want already happening, or why hasn’t it already happened? Are you and I the only ones around that can do it? Does no one else understand political history and the theory of movements? You can’t convince me to use 1900-style methods when I believe that the assholes learned from the last century and you haven’t.

Berman does have an answer, a structural analysis:”the people suck.”
Hedges is trying your methods, with added radicalism, with little success.
I have another:”the technology of socio-political control has advanced since 1900″
Hedges is trying your methods, with added radicalism, with little success.
The Arab Spring and Gene Sharp have something newish to say, and I am watching them closely. Why are we different? Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Spain.
Germany is killing their nuclear program, which is apparently not even a possibility for us.

Attewell, if you or I are the ones needed to start the movement, we are in big fucking trouble. Why isn’t there someone charismatic for me to follow?

Look, Global carbon emissions hit an alltime high last year. Declining real-estate prices and a double-dip could bring down the big banks before the end of year. Democrats are negotiating budget cuts in a recession.

Good will toward your patient incrementalism, but I’m in a hurry. This isn’t defeatism, it is close to fucking panic.

141

Martin Bento 06.01.11 at 7:09 pm

chris, polls consistently show Americans are much more concerned about Medicare cuts than the deficit. If Dems keep cuts off the table, specifically as McConnell has specifically demanded them as the price of a debt ceiling hike and as almost every Republican in Congress has voted for Medicare elimination, Dems win. Medicare trumps deficit. Period. However, agreeing to cuts, as now seems inevitable as enough Dems have implicitly agreed with spending cuts, and those will not be major, and major is all that is being discussed, without Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security or the military on the block. And military will not go down much while we are in 3 wars. The notion that Repubs can get a better knee-jerk by saying “deficit boo!” than the Dems can by saying “Medicare boo!” is a myth. Polls show most Americans want the budget balanced on the backs of the rich.

Steven, if the issue was anti_obama language, the Dems should say so and loudly. That is not what is getting through the media, even sympathetic media like TPM. Hoyer also said he was afraid of Democrats being attached for voting for more debt: that is rank cowardice and politically stupid. Now, the Democrats can no longer demand a clean debt increase, which means their public position becomes some convoluted and transparently contrived thing. That fact that the vote was designed to fail is irrelevant: for the sake of political rhetoric, the Dems needed to be able to say “our position is that the debt ceiling should not be held hostage”, and the Dems can no longer say that.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 06.01.11 at 7:12 pm

Yes, the premise is exactly that there is no way, in the current, actually existing environment, to built up political power that could actually hold politicians accountable. Without riots, anyway. ‘Politician’ is just an apprentice lobbyist. And since it’s difficult to prove a negative, you’re welcome to provide a counterexample.

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Martin Bento 06.01.11 at 7:16 pm

BTW, did any Dem offer an amendment stripping the anti-Obama portions from the bill? If that was the issue, and they offered the amendment, they would be in a stronger position to say the anti_obama language was the issue, and that’s why they voted no. Were amendments prohibited? You’re the first one I’ve heard mention this, so I really suspect it’s a pure insider concern, which makes it irrelevant to the political debate. If it was the issue, Dems should have made that clear, and, if it was not, then it is merely an excuse and Dems have failed again.

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bianca steele 06.01.11 at 7:25 pm

Steven:
Part of the issue between us might be that I’m unsure how seriously to take your talk about framing and so on, things that seem to involve a realm of politics other than voting in elections and developing party platforms. On the one hand, those ideas strike a lot of people as non-obvious, and furthermore, though maybe inaccurately, as the special property of liberals and the left [1]. On the other hand, someone (not me[2]) who took those ideas seriously might conclude that framing is more important than the details of organization and managing (or, which to me is about the same thing, that managing can be done just by doing framing activities). Not that this is the only or the most important thing that needs to be done; for one thing, it doesn’t seem to have even a tenuous connection to things like organizing electoral politics on basic economic-justice issues, which I agree is probably best done using the methods you’re describing.

I’m absolutely not convinced that the concerns of people like Berman are of any importance except to themselves and the people who end up arguing with them.

[1] Though I wouldn’t agree either with someone who insisted that organization and managing were all that mattered.

[2] Okay, people who either’d never heard of large swathes of philosophy or assumed all philosophers, like all other college professors were “lefties” or “liberals” (or have some idiosyncratic definition of “left”), but still.

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bianca steele 06.01.11 at 7:32 pm

Hm, I think footnote [1] should have been at the end of the parenthetical, after “activities.” #$#@% trackpad.

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chris 06.01.11 at 8:09 pm

StevenAttewell, reading the interwebs, I’m getting the impression that a lot of people now don’t believe that the US political system is capable of delivering anything useful anymore. Apparently, this has something to do with the performance of the Obama administration and heavily Democratic legislature in 2009/10.

Not really. The 2009-10 Congress actually passed quite a lot of progressive legislation. It wasn’t everything a leftist could wish for, nor was all of it as purely leftist as a leftist could wish for. But relative to historical standards, it was quite active, and almost everything was more liberal than the status quo ante (not that that’s hard, coming off the Reagan-Bush with occasional Clinton decades).

And the House passed even more legislation, and what it passed was more liberal; none of which was vetoed by the White House, AFAIK. Anyone seriously looking for the reason why “not enough” got done in the last two years would have to arrive at the conclusion that it was the Senate. Systematically unrepresentative, with rules that favor obstructionism, where some of even the nominal Democrats are a long way from liberal — it really puzzles me why people look for reasons to blame the President for doing too little when the Senate’s fingerprints are all over a dozen progressive bills that never reached the President’s desk.

People who are eager to declare defeatism based on a track record that can objectively only be classified as a historic success are either viewing everything through a lens of extremely unrealistic expectations (such as refusing to acknowledge the existence of the Senate or believing that liberals controlled it), or they have some ulterior motive for promoting defeatism specifically in left-of-center circles.

…So what if your car *does* start, runs fine, maybe making a funny noise or two but getting you where you want to go, but your friend complains how horribly broken and useless it is because it doesn’t fly? It’s a fact that it doesn’t fly, certainly, but isn’t it at all relevant that only a fool would expect flight from a car?

Or, dropping the car analogy, if your standard of “anything useful” is set so high that the intersection of “possible” and “useful-according-to-you” is empty, then of course the intersection of “achieved” and “useful-according-to-you” will also be empty, but whose fault is that really?

There has to be a middle ground between lowering your standards until they’re already met and raising them until they’re unmeetable and you foreordain your own disappointment; for example, choosing between actually possible outcomes.

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chris 06.01.11 at 8:28 pm

chris, polls consistently show Americans are much more concerned about Medicare cuts than the deficit.

Yes, but unless you explain how those issues interact, they stick to the incoherent desire to balance the budget without raising taxes, cutting entitlements, cutting defense, or getting rid of pretty much any other program. They want to cut “spending”, generically, without cutting *any* particular item of spending (except, IIRC, foreign aid, which is already insignificantly tiny, although many voters massively overestimate its size as a fraction of the overall budget). There’s no way to explain that except as big-number-phobia.

Anyway, issue polls are of very limited relevance to election outcomes. (Although I suppose you could argue that therefore the Democrats wouldn’t really pay any price for failing to deliver cuts to unspecified generic spending, that sort of assumes that a genuine debt limit impasse will be averted.)

If Dems keep cuts off the table, specifically as McConnell has specifically demanded them as the price of a debt ceiling hike and as almost every Republican in Congress has voted for Medicare elimination, Dems win. Medicare trumps deficit. Period.

It seems about a year and a half too early to say this with any confidence. Particularly, you’re not taking into account what happens if the US actually does default, but even if that is averted, issue polling doesn’t predict election outcomes in any straightforward way. The Democrats have had more popular positions on issues for decades, through the whole Reagan Revolution. They lost most of those elections anyway. Voters are not position-distance-estimating machines.

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Substance McGravitas 06.01.11 at 8:34 pm

Anyway, issue polls are of very limited relevance to election outcomes.

Um, okay then, enough with the deficit nonsense. It’s an ongoing theme.

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geo 06.01.11 at 8:45 pm

chris: The 2009-10 Congress actually passed quite a lot of progressive legislation … relative to historical standards

Yes, compared to the 80s, 90s, and 00s; no, compared to the 50s, 60s, and 70s. The Republicans came to power in 1980 determined to roll back the New Deal, though this was not at all what the public wanted. And they did it, with patience and ingenuity (well, actually, with fanaticism and deceit). They hit the ground running, they never let up, and they went much further (in political economy and national security) than they had publicly committed themselves to. This wrecking job deserves to be called a “historic success,” though of course it was a historic disaster.

The Democrats came to power in 2008 supposedly committed — with the public’s backing — to reversing de-unionization, protecting the environment, rolling back encroachments on civil liberties, re-regulating the financial industry, fighting for serious health-care reform, helping the un- and underemployed, providing relief to stressed homeowners, and generally championing Main Street against Wall Street. They’ve done none of these things. They haven’t even tried hard. Obama’s appointments have been abysmal, his political strategy has been abysmal, his negotiating tactics have been abysmal. Congressional Democrats have been only marginally less abject. They’re trailing far behind public opinion, not to mention minimal decency.

We’re not left-wing purists, deluded by “unrealistic expectations” and “eager to declare defeat.” We’re just disgusted, and rightly.

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Martin Bento 06.01.11 at 8:53 pm

Ther4e are two possible outcomes to the debt ceiling fight:

1) The Republicans get spending cuts and vote to raise the ceilin g. McConnell has already signaled that this must include Medicare. At this point, both sides agreed to raise the debt deling. The difference is between those who wanted to do just that, and those who wanted the budget cuts too. All will have agreed to raising the debt limit, so that cannot be used to distinguish them. Only the budget cuts cans, and, once we are talking actual b cuts, rather4 than “budget cuts” in the abstract, that favors the dems, at least those who can say, “Hey, I wanted to just raise the thing without all these cuts”. In this scenario, the Repubs have to run on the cuts, not the debt ceiling itself, and the cuts they want are extremely unpopular.

2) The US defaults. In this case, we are talking a severe blow to the economy. Whatever everyone thought before, they will instantly become bitter enemies of default now, and pretend it was always so. At that point, you definitely want to be the guy who voted against default, no ifs, ands or buts, which is what this vote amounted to.

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Martin Bento 06.01.11 at 8:57 pm

Sorry, should have proofed the above (don’t have much time, so I’m typing fast). Here it is with typos corrected:

There are two possible outcomes to the debt ceiling fight:

1) The Republicans get spending cuts and vote to raise the ceiling. McConnell has already signaled that this must include Medicare. At this point, both sides agreed to raise the debt ceiling. The difference is between those who wanted to do just that, and those who wanted the budget cuts too. All will have agreed to raising the debt limit, so that cannot be used to distinguish them. Only the budget cuts can, and, once we are talking actual specific cuts, rather than “budget cuts” in the abstract, that favors the dems, at least those who can say, “Hey, I wanted to just raise the thing without all these cuts”. In this scenario, the Repubs have to run on the cuts, not the debt ceiling itself, and the cuts they want are extremely unpopular.

2) The US defaults. In this case, we are talking a severe blow to the economy. Whatever everyone thought before, they will instantly become bitter enemies of default now, and pretend it was always so. At that point, you definitely want to be the guy who voted against default, no ifs, ands or buts, which is what this vote amounted to.

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bob mcmanus 06.01.11 at 9:34 pm

151.2: The Republicans have already taken their position on this, and there is legislation pending. The US gov’t gets enough revenue from taxes to pay all bondholders, especially overseas bondholders, not including SS and the other trust funds. Even without raising the debt ceiling, there is, according to them, no reason that credit markets should suffer any losses. Makes sense.

And knowing Obama and Geithner, I think they will continue to do their best to protect finance. Geithner is already raiding pension funds.

IOW, they are already developing the narrative in which any problems from the debt ceiling not being raised are the responsibility of Obama and the Democrats and their refusal to cut spending. I think this will work much better, much longer than you do.

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Martin Bento 06.01.11 at 9:44 pm

Bob, where are the Democrats going to cut spending that is not extremely unpopular? Well, there is Medicaid. I feel it is doomed, because programs for the poor are no third rail. But it does not appear to be enough. Military cuts? Well, that’s seriously going to divide both parties, but especially the Repubs. A lot of their core support is from military towns. If they do this, then they have brought it down to cut Medicare or raise taxes, and taxes win in the fight even if they are not confined to the rich. Plus, the minute the Repubs privilege bondholders, the Dems can say the Repubs are putting the Chinese government ahead of Granma. It’s not a politically sustainable position, if the Dems are willing to fight. I think this vote is a signal that they are not. And, yes, Obama too. I don’t think this vote would have gone this way had he signaled support for the bill.

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bob mcmanus 06.01.11 at 9:48 pm

And of course, I have my own ideas about what is going on here, and “Republicans are totally crazy and will destroy the global economy” will be most effective if they actually get to cause some noticeable damage. “Ha ha ha Republicans have totally destroyed their political prospects for generations” keeps another part of the electorate satisfied and quiescent, and is what I was hearing around the time Clinton signed welfare reform, just before the Repubs took all branches of government.

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bob mcmanus 06.01.11 at 9:57 pm

Plus, the minute the Repubs privilege bondholders, the Dems can say the Repubs are putting the Chinese government ahead of Granma.

As I said, this is largely Obama’s and Geithner’s decision. The legislation mandating is not gonna pass.

There are billions still coming in every week. It will be a Democratic decision who gets paid and who suffers. It will be Obama’s choice to shaft Chinese bondholders, layoff Fed workers, not send SS or Medicare checks, not pay the military.

Only Obama can crash the credit markets.

Or he could force a Constitutional Crisis, and tell Geithner to just print, (the Constitution is unclear and interpretable) but that’s a whole other ballgame.

This is all academic. They’re gonna deal.

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chris 06.01.11 at 9:59 pm

The Democrats came to power in 2008 supposedly committed—with the public’s backing—to reversing de-unionization, protecting the environment, rolling back encroachments on civil liberties, re-regulating the financial industry, fighting for serious health-care reform, helping the un- and underemployed, providing relief to stressed homeowners, and generally championing Main Street against Wall Street.

Er, no. A few of them were committed to that. Most were not committed to even half that stuff. Some ran against substantial parts of it in order to prove that they weren’t too liberal for places like Nebraska. “Democrats” are a large and heterogeneous group.

As for what the public supported, they’re an even more heterogeneous group than the Democrats. Mostly they were pissed off about Bush’s mismanagement of the country, the economy, several wars… you name it, Bush mismanaged it. Which is a fine thing to be pissed off about, but not much of a coherent agenda, let alone a commitment to issues that weren’t even on the radar.

They’ve done none of these things.

False. The financial industry has been re-regulated; the un- and underemployed and stressed homeowners have been helped. You may think that not *enough* was done on those fronts, and I may even agree that I would like to have seen more done (and that doing more would have been better for the economy); but to say that nothing was done is just plain false.

Cleverly, on the health care point you included a weasel word that allows you to semi-legitimately dismiss and deny the existence of one of the biggest liberal policy achievements in decades (yes, I know it was centrist in parts, but the subsidies to the poor alone would qualify it for that description, let alone guaranteed issue and the elimination of pre-existing condition exclusions). Describing health care reform as “nothing” or “not serious” is very strong evidence that you’re unwilling to settle for non-ideal outcomes.

“Championing Main Street against Wall Street” is a particularly misleading point, given that the administration’s (rather unpopular) actions were aimed specifically at putting out the fire on Wall Street before it could burn down any more of Main Street. To the extent that those terms mean anything at all, their interests weren’t even opposed; they were all in the same boat.

They haven’t even tried hard.

I’d like to know exactly what you would accept as evidence of “trying hard” short of the bills actually passing. Since, for example, seeing liberal bills pass the House only to be strangled in the Senate isn’t enough to convince you. “Trying hard” is generally a poor metaphor for any task more complex than lifting a heavy object, but for politics it’s particularly misleading. You can lead a Senator to legislation, but you can’t make him vote for it.

We’re not left-wing purists, deluded by “unrealistic expectations” and “eager to declare defeat.”

No, of course not! You’re just dissatisfied with every outcome that actually happens in reality. There’s nothing purist about that. Declaring defeat 100% of the time isn’t eager at all.

If you compare political outcomes *to other political outcomes that actually happen* the last Congress was the most liberal in decades, with the active assistance of the President, who would have liked it to be even more liberal than it was. The fact that you then say “eh, but it wasn’t as liberal as I wanted it to be so it doesn’t count”… well, that may sound convincing to someone somewhere, but that someone is not me.

I hope that the high water mark of American liberalism a few generations ago will not hold the record forever. But if you won’t accept any progress that doesn’t zoom immediately to the previous record and shatter it instantly (let alone if you denounce anything not-record-breaking as “nothing”, “not trying hard”, and betrayal of the cause), it’s going to be hard to continue the struggle to move politics toward a more liberal area of the political spectrum. At least, you’re not helping the cause, although you claim to sympathize with it.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 06.01.11 at 10:00 pm

Democrats will have to vote, however reluctantly, to cut Medicare, because this vote will represent the overlapping consensus. You don’t want your party to behave unreasonably, do you?

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StevenAttewell 06.01.11 at 10:18 pm

Bob at 140 –

“Why isn’t what you want already happening, or why hasn’t it already happened? Are you and I the only ones around that can do it? Does no one else understand political history and the theory of movements? You can’t convince me to use 1900-style methods when I believe that the assholes learned from the last century and you haven’t.”

Why what I want hasn’t happened is primarily due to disengagement with party politics, especially among left-leaning activists, which means that people like me don’t have the troops to prevail in a sustained national fight over the party. Not totally, which is why we saw things like the Dean campaign’s transition into the DNC, or the way superdelegates got rolled in 2008, but enough so that our influence doesn’t extend to 218 House Seats and 51 Senators.

Obviously, you and I aren’t the only ones who can do it – we’re standing in for approaches and archetypes. And what I’m saying is the folks like me need more numbers, and it’s hard to get them when the folks like you check out of the process entirely. It’s not about charismatic leaders, it’s about organization and mobilization.

And as I’ve said before, you and I draw fundamentally different lessons about the 20th century – I see a fifty year period where the social democratic strategy worked, and another fifty year period where the right gained power using the methods I talk about; you see no change at all.

Henri – my argument about that stance is that it’s a cop-out that allows people who want to think of themselves as leftists for romantic reasons rationalize why they don’t actually do any real work to make left policies happen.

Bianca – I see the two levels (framing and party politics) as inherently linked. Without a frame, you have no “elevator pitch” to get people into the party; without the party, you have no way to transmit the pressure you get from mobilizing people into action. Framing is absolutely necessary for social justice, because most people don’t start out with a full-fledged analysis and awareness ready to go – so you need some initial hook. Whether that hook is “don’t shop where you can’t work” or “Republicans are trying to kill Medicare,” the intended outcome should be the same – mobilizing the unmobilized into the movement as step one in a larger process.

geo – but isn’t the debate here about how we process disgust – do we check out or do we replace those who disgust us? Because it seems to me that your way means we leave bad actors in a position of power.

Martin Bento – rule didn’t allow for amendments.

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Substance McGravitas 06.01.11 at 10:30 pm

As for what the public supported, they’re an even more heterogeneous group than the Democrats. Mostly they were pissed off about Bush’s mismanagement of the country, the economy, several wars… you name it, Bush mismanaged it.

What mismanagement has stopped, which economy has gotten better, and how many wars are being fought now?

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sg 06.01.11 at 10:55 pm

Bob, Steven Attewell’s response to you is why we’re doing this here even though it looks a little OT. He has summarized your problem in one paragraph very nicely: it’s NoTrueScotsman elitism. The government organizes grassroots organizations to facilitate basic development and it’s co-opting a movement for change (Japan in the 20s); the government does nothing or refuses to support any form development (US under Bush) and it’s elitist and destructive; the government uses a grassroots movement to get into power and try and enact some significant change (US now) and it has funneled dissent.

All your roads lead to the same conclusion, which means that your analytical framework is empty, and/or you’ve constructed it to get to the same ends: riots.

Your framing of the Japanese experience is clearly, on the face of it, biased and ahistorical, though you claim to be familiar with the history. You have confused funneling, killing, harnessing and riding dissent [as is evident from your mention of conservative women’s groups], and your alternative explanation of events in the Meiji era is clearly a very specific way of looking at them – it’s neither the only nor the most plausible explanation. Your depiction of Japan today is also skewed. Yes, the least unequal of countries in the OECD has become slightly more unequal after 20 years of very low to zero economic growth. But there’s no project of neo-liberal dismantlement here, and no strong impetus towards this. There are still jobs for life and the corporate cradle-to-grave structure is still generally acceptable. There has been no 15 year wreckers project like in the US.

I think in short most American leftists would consider you very weird if you had a chance to move their social welfare system to the Japanese model, and said no. It would be another example of the weird purism you’re showing here.

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Martin Bento 06.01.11 at 11:02 pm

Steven, OK, but then why aren’t the Dems screaming about it, if that was the issue. They could certainly get it on Rachel Maddow, that is precisely the sort of thing she covers. Haven’t watched in the last couple of days, but if I see Dems saying we would have voted for it if it hadn’t blamed Obama on the sympathetic MSNBC shows, I’ll at least believe the Dems are behind that as an excuse. Now, you’re claiming an excuse that, AFAIK, isn’t even being generally claimed. The Dems better have an excuse.

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geo 06.01.11 at 11:19 pm

Chris, I think we’re kind of talking past each other. Every one of the things I listed is mentioned in the 2008 Democratic Party Platform and in Obama’s Audacity of Hope. If you want to argue that not all Democrats campaigned explicitly on those issues, well, OK. Every poll I saw in the NY Times indicated majority public support for a position to the left of the Democratic Party on most economic/national security/civil liberties issues. But if you want to claim that there were other polls, or that polls don’t tell us much, then once again, OK. The Democrats literally did nothing, or worse than nothing, on unionization, civil liberties, and restraining the executive branch. They’ve done next to nothing about mortgage relief. The financial re-regulation legislation is feeble. The health care bill is better than nothing, but only a little better. The troops came back from Iraq and many of them were then shipped back to Afghanistan.

I agreed with you, remember, that this shabby record was nonetheless a tiny improvement over the preceding three decades, though scarcely a baby step back toward the relatively robust liberalism of the three decades before that. But I think the glass is three-quarters empty. If you think it’s three-quarters full, well, OK. No point I can see in arguing about it.

I’d like to know exactly what you would accept as evidence of “trying hard” short of the bills actually passing

Fair question. But easy to answer. Obama’s appointments are the most obvious answer. His appointments immediately sent exactly the wrong signals on the economy, defense, and the environment. His chief of staff was an unprincipled hack (as is the hack’s successor). His approach to the stimulus/bailout was a preemptive capitulation, as was his negotiating strategy for the health care bill. His capitulation on the Bush tax cuts was shameful. His treatment of Elizabeth Warren likewise. His positions on Israel, arms control, executive secrecy, civil liberties, amnesty for torturers, offshore drilling — all these were unforced defeats. Of course he occasionally sounded marginally more enlightened than George Bush on most of these issues, but he committed no political capital — ie, gave few or no forceful, widely heralded speeches and twisted no arms on Capitol Hill. And there has been no pressure from the left wing of the Democratic Party, at least partly because there is no left wing of the Democratic Party.

I’m not quite sure what we’re arguing about. If you’re not as depressed as I am by the last two and a half years, I’m glad for you. Please send me medication recommendations off-thread.

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StevenAttewell 06.02.11 at 12:05 am

Martin Bento – no idea why. But even if they were, procedural complaints are the worst frames imaginable.

geo – “there is no left wing of the Democratic Party” – doesn’t this suggest its own alternative?

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bob mcmanus 06.02.11 at 12:16 am

He has summarized your problem in one paragraph very nicely: it’s NoTrueScotsman elitism. You have confused funneling, killing, harnessing and riding dissent

NoTrueScotsman populism?

I’m not confused, although I have merged most grassroots organizations. Capitalism absorbs and corrupt everything. So I have two kinds of grassroots orgs: a) corrupt tools of the power structure, and b) the ones the gov’t uses the full force of the state to completely destroy. I think many on the left would recognize this position. I could list illustrative examples, they are legion, but think about the IWW.

It was easy to recognize a True Scotsman by the death sentence England put on his head.

We Are on the Verge of a Great Great Depression …Naked Capitalism

We are going down, and this time the right will be in charge. The one thing I know for sure (although I can guess that liberals will work with the fascists, they always do) is that liberals will never regret not acting forcefully enough, early enough. They are always morally right. .

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Martin Bento 06.02.11 at 12:20 am

Steven, if the Dems didn’t vote against the debt ceiling because it blamed the economy on Obama, then we’re back to the merits, and you haven’t answered my claims there. Even worse than the “we voted against it because it blamed Obama unfairly” frame is the “we voted against it because we were afraid the Republicans would attack us if we didn’t” frame, which is something Steney Hoyer said.That frame says that the Democrats are cowards. It says that they do not believe the public would back their policies if honestly stated (which is also false in this case), It says that their loud and justified demands for a clean lifting of the ceiling were dishonest, because a sizable portion of the Democrats agree with the Republicans. It says to centrists, who look for the middle of the road and ignore the substance that holding the economy hostage to force budget cuts is the moderate, bipartisan, therefore, by definition for these voters, sensible position. It is a rhetorical disaster, and, since the bill had no chance of passing, rhetoric was the only real consideration.

Dems are always thinking how Repubs can attack them. They have never figured out the cliche that the best defense is a good offense. Stop looking over your shoulder.

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Salient 06.02.11 at 1:50 am

I’d like to know exactly what you would accept as evidence of “trying hard” short of the bills actually passing

I’ve given up on caring about whether so and so “tried hard” or “did the best they could” or whatnot. Obama doesn’t need my sympathy.

geo’s basically got this, but I’ll chime in as backup. I don’t feel like my willingness to exploit the Democratic party when opportunities to collaborate arise in any way compromises my commitment to politics which are to the left of their leftmost candidate for office. But celebrating the party, or speaking well of their accomplishments, is increasingly alien to me. I gave it an honest try, for a while, to the point of trying to see and speak of the good in vulnerable Senate incumbents who are frankly rather mediocre. (I’d promised to give it a try.) It left a metallic taste in my mouth, the kind you get from drone attack reports on NPR that nonchalantly celebrate routine extrajudicial mass killing because something-something-militants-something. Obama-ordered, Democrat-approved. You know what? Fuck those people, and fuck their party.

It’s not even that blah blah affordable health care act blah blah isn’t good enough for me (though it isn’t). It’s not even that I expected or demanded more progressive legislation (though I did). Those things are orders of magnitude less important than the fact that every goddamn thing I was in the streets screaming about, when Bush did things worth screaming about, were continued and enshrined by the guy who — I thought — promised us all an end to that insanity. The promise was actually kind of plausible. Two dozen executive orders on Day 1 and it’s done, let the bastards on cable news sort it out. Why not? Instead Obama expands every illegal unconstitutional immoral unacceptable policy of his predecessor. Unacceptable.

So hey, when you speak about how to appropriate the local party structure and organizational force of the Democratic party, I’m receptive and I’ve got your back (semi-literally, as you’re operating on one front while I’m largely operating on another). And for whatever infinitesimal it’s worth, Obama’s got my vote in 2012 (for reasons I’ve gone on about here before). However, you’ll find me — and quite a lot of people in my region of leftwingostan — completely unreceptive to arguments that the national Democratic party deserves more from me than spit. The national Democratic party is an institution which can potentially be appropriated for progressive ends. My head is open to that. But my heart is utterly and permanently cold to those people. And — literally no matter what you offer in their defense — that’s just how it’s going to be.

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Substance McGravitas 06.02.11 at 1:54 am

What mismanagement has stopped, which economy has gotten better, and how many wars are being fought now?

Just to add to this, I think what people might want from a progressive effort is something more than putting out the fire that the other guy started.

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geo 06.02.11 at 3:37 am

Steve: geo – “there is no left wing of the Democratic Party” – doesn’t this suggest its own alternative?

Believe me, I greatly admire anyone who goes out and tries to create a left wing of the Democratic Party — or, for that matter, anyone who (unlike me) goes out and tries to do anything. If it doesn’t work out, I promise never to say “I told you so.” But do yourself a favor and first read Ralph Nader’s Crashing the Party: Taking on the Corporate Government in an Age of Surrender (2002) and his campaign manager Theresa Amato’s Grand Illusion: The Myth of Voter Choice in a Two-Party Tyranny (2009), so you’ll know what you’re up against.

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StevenAttewell 06.02.11 at 5:34 am

Martin Bento – I’m arguing that they did vote against it because of the language and because the 2/3rds rule set it up to fail.

geo – it’s hard for the people who go out and try when our natural allies check out of the process. However, those books really aren’t relevant – they’re about building a third party, not internal reform.

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ScentOfViolets 06.02.11 at 5:48 am

I’d like to know exactly what you would accept as evidence of “trying hard” short of the bills actually passing

We’ve done this one before, right? And it does seem to be the consensus opinion that Chris isn’t offering an analysis, he’s trying to impose a narrative. What else could he be doing, given that he’s advancing a series of essentially untestable propositions.

But just to show everyone what’s what, turnabout’s fair play: I’d like to know exactly what Chris and others like him would accept as evidence that this gang is not trying hard. Since Geo has given a nice summary of what appears to me to be some very convincing evidence[1], I’d expect the same from Chris – and not “evidence” where we have to look at their secret diaries and assume everything they write there is to be taken at face value.

Something a little more realistic please.

[1]There’s also the fact that Blanche Lincoln was not punished in her primary by the national party, but actively supported, despite her many betrayals, despite the fact that she stood less chance of winning the general election than did her opponent, and despite the fact that DNC types had already declared a “hands-off” policy with regard to local primaries.

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Martin Bento 06.02.11 at 6:42 am

Steven, I’m arguing that they should have voted for it even if it was set up to fail. Given failure, it was better to have voted for it (also, given success, but that wasn’t in the cards). And I have given reasons why either way the debt ceiling fight goes, it puts them in a much better position. What are your reasons for believing the reverse? I have not heard you argue, merely assert. And if the issue is the language blaming Obama, where are the Dem politicians saying that?

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Henri Vieuxtemps 06.02.11 at 9:23 am

Martin, it seems that currently there is one national party with a coherent platform – the Republicans, and the assorted group of opportunistic individual politicians identified as Democrats. Republicans vote the party line; for the Democrats it’s on the case by case basis: each one of them has professional consultants who analyze his individual district and tell him what to say and how to vote.

So, IOW, when you say “it puts them in a much better position“, perhaps there is no them there.

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chris 06.02.11 at 1:26 pm

If you want to argue that not all Democrats campaigned explicitly on those issues, well, OK.

Of course I’m going to argue that! The whole point of “the liberal party had a supermajority, so why didn’t we see more liberalism?!” is to ascribe to the Democratic Party a unity of purpose and ideology that it does not in fact possess.

The not-completely-right-wing-loony party had a supermajority and we saw not that much right-wing looniness. (Aside from war. If you know a way to defeat the mass insanity of a war mentality and wartime politics, I’d be glad to hear it. Turning away from the less-warmongering party in a huff seems unpromising.) Liberals, even with a fairly expansive definition of “liberal”, didn’t even have an ordinary majority. And you’re literally expecting to reverse 30 years of conservative dominance in one session of Congress? That’s nuts. If your glass is the size of a building, then yeah, a paltry few gallons aren’t going to fill it very far. But they’re a few gallons more than we had 2 years ago.

It left a metallic taste in my mouth

People are dying right now from lack of health care. In a few years, fewer of them will die. So I really don’t give a damn what kind of taste is in your mouth.

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StevenAttewell 06.02.11 at 2:05 pm

Martin Bento: http://politicalcorrection.org/mobile/blog/201105310013

I don’t know why they haven’t messaged on this – I’m not in contact with the House Democratic Leadership. But this did happen.

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geo 06.02.11 at 2:05 pm

Steven: the Nader and Amato books aren’t only about building a third party. They’re partly about the vicious obstructionism they faced from the Democratic establishment when they first tried to work within the party, and also about the sabotage and deceit employed by that same party establishment to keep Nader and the Greens off state ballots. Again, just so you know what you’re up against.

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bob mcmanus 06.02.11 at 2:21 pm

People are dying right now from lack of health care. In a few years, fewer of them will die.

Bet five dollars? Life expectancy in America is declining, which is the number I would prefer to use.

Although it may be that a previously protected part of the population is sacrificed to make the numbers look good.

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bob mcmanus 06.02.11 at 2:25 pm

And the way it also works is that opportunity cost is ignored, everything is compartmentalized, so if we do have another financial crash or weather catastrophe or black swan more destructive than it should be because essential resources (political etc) were diverted early in the O administration ACA will receive none of the blame.

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ajay 06.02.11 at 2:34 pm

Life expectancy in America is declining, which is the number I would prefer to use.

Is this actually true? Not according to the World Bank.

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StevenAttewell 06.02.11 at 2:46 pm

geo – I read through the Amato book and didn’t see anything substantial about working within the party. I was also really underwhelmed by the lack of discussion of the Working Families Party/ballot fusion – which to me is the only credible third party model absent a single-issue national crisis.

And I don’t need Nader to tell me what it’s like – I’ve been living it for eight years.

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bob mcmanus 06.02.11 at 2:47 pm

Bloomberg

Raw Story citing journal Health Affairs

or just google “life expectancy decline 2010 USA”

Liberals live in a dream bubble impermeable to facts

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Progressive Libertarian 06.02.11 at 2:58 pm

What a great discussion.

To me, the most important question is the one geo @94 posed and then seems eventually to walk away from:

“Why can’t we the people bestir ourselves and make it happen?”

StevenAttewell @99 gives a very good overview of the answer, IMO.

Discussion that included the “OneTrueScots” label (new one to me, as a label, but I’ve seen the type of argument many times in my work), ensued, as well as talk of third parties and changing the Democratic party.

Seems to me, if this is to be more than an academic exercise of debating angels on pins, this is where the rubber hits the road.

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Salient 06.02.11 at 3:38 pm

People are dying right now from lack of health care.

Including me.

In a few years, fewer of them will die.

Let’s hope so. My fingers are crossed. I suspect that the negative effects of persistent high unemployment is currently overwhelming the positive effects of ACA (note that saying this does not fail to acknowledge the benefits of ACA nor does it suggest ACA should’ve been abandoned, quite the opposite).

So I really don’t give a damn what kind of taste is in your mouth.

It’s supremely ironic that you say so, because when I literally have a metallic taste in my mouth it’s because of life-and-functionality-preserving medications I have to take that would be flatly unaffordable without student loans for graduate school, even with the university-provided health insurance. I take out loans to pay for my health. So actually you care quite a bit about the taste in my mouth, and you celebrate and support legislation that will make it easier for me to get the health care corresponding to that taste. Thank you for that. The compassion in your statement is not unwelcome and does not go unnoticed, even if it was expressed in an adversarial way.

Okay, let’s go back to the topic. I’m happy that the affordable health care act passed, and I would’ve mourned its demise. But seriously, are you trying to say I’m shouldn’t be mournfully preoccupied with the people this country killed and continues to kill, because this country is now doing a moderately better job of taking care of its own? I’m not allowed to assert that giving more of one’s own citizens health care access does not, cannot, make up for that country’s military aggression and systematic murder of foreign persons? Really?

You frankly don’t sound all that celebratory either, so I feel like you’re accidentally damning yourself here. Rhetorical flourishes aside, I see rather little distance between our perspectives.

I want what I want, and I call moral judgments like I see ’em. Especially on a blog where there’s no consequence in terms of party-building or party-destroying. And given that I support and even admire folks like Steven Attewell and Lemuel Pitkin who are investing their time and energy into contemplating and building viable party politics, and given that I’m a reliable party-line vote for the lesser evil when voting day rolls around, I think I can hardly be accused of clapping insufficiently loudly.

This talk of “expectations” as predictions is silly. To say “I felt disappointed by what happened, I expected better” is to express my emotional state and then my moral judgment of the parties involved. To respond with “you should feel satisfied, it was unreasonable to expect more” is to demand that I align my emotions and moral judgments to what would be convenient for the national Democratic party. No thanks. If the discussion is about how we feel then there’s room for us to each feel differently. But discussion of how we should feel is patently offensive.

The folks who contributed to the enshrinement of illegally aggressive foreign policy can all go fuck themselves far as I’m concerned, ACA or no. They’ve permanently lost my respect, and only a drastic 180^o^ turn could hope to change that. And I won’t acknowledge any right of other people to dictate to me that I should feel otherwise, just as I try to avoid dictating to them how upset they should feel.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 06.02.11 at 4:26 pm

Obamacare is, without a doubt, the most ridiculous, nonsensical healthcare arrangement of all those in the developed countries and a good chunk of the non-developed ones. How can it be cited as evidence of this political system not being completely perverted?

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ScentOfViolets 06.02.11 at 5:13 pm

I’m shocked, shocked I tell you that we don’t see any evidence for Chris’ multiple claims. And twice as shocked that he refuses to even tell us what sort of evidence would disprove them ;-)

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ScentOfViolets 06.02.11 at 5:53 pm

Btw, just to show the level of cognitive dissonance:

Aside from war. If you know a way to defeat the mass insanity of a war mentality and wartime politics, I’d be glad to hear it. Turning away from the less-warmongering party in a huff seems unpromising.

So when clear, unassailable evidence is cited for the Democratic party in general and Obama’s administration in particular, it gets waived off with a “doesn’t count.”

Iow, there is no evidence anyone could present that would convince people like Chris that “they’re not trying that hard.”

So given this is an idée fixe rather than a reasonably held attitude, the question then becomes what has caused this to happen? I don’t know Chris that well, but it seems from previous conversations that he dislikes being chivvied and rather than becoming more accommodating as evidence to the contrary came to light, the hectoring to admit he was wrong on various points has only served to harden his views.

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bianca steele 06.02.11 at 6:42 pm

bob mcmanus: vWe are going down, and this time the right will be in charge.

I remember hearing a well educated progressive (I can’t remember who) imply that only the right can propose and implement substantive change because the right always represents the interests of the dominant class of society [1]. The farther-left parties can only agitate. This maps poorly onto most real societies. I suppose there may be some subcultures it describes well. But it would of course be an error to mistake a single subculture’s social structure for a structure applicable to the broader society.

So anyway people who believe that (if there are any, the person I heard it from might have been mistaken) would have little problem with the right getting into power once they’d ostensibly absorbed formerly left-wing views. Leninists wouldn’t of course right?

[1] not sure how they account for the possibility of the masses being the dominant class, whether this is discounted as Marxist nonsense or whether it’s accepted that this applies only to our own conservative society. I suppose there is also a way of seeing the Democrats as the party of the dominant bourgeois class and maybe even a consistent one. In that case, of course, the Democrats would be the party to propose and implement change, though not clear pushed by whom, whether the far left, maybe libertarians, or the right on a pendulum-swing kind of theory.

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bianca steele 06.02.11 at 6:44 pm

Also, I may have misunderstood one of the earlier comments, but what kind of far-left person circa 1978 thought the New Deal represented his political ideal?

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Salient 06.02.11 at 7:33 pm

…this isn’t a circular firing squad, fellow leftists, it’s an Archimedean spiral, sideways-facing and extending outward, dominoes with shotguns to their backs ever onward, handles that pass for names, triggers that pass for pronouncements, one to the next to the next, toward some apex limit past all horizons, some escalation toward the infinite, distance from its origin increasing, growing never quite back in on itself, perhaps it’s done already, somewhere, perhaps they have crossed their words already, and have converged, perhaps they have carried one another to the threshold of their tolerance, before the door that opens on the sublime, convergent, that would surprise them, who would be allies, corkscrew-twisted, if it opens to blank hostility, will it be us who cross the threshold, suddenly parallel? Will it be the silence, where I am, and is the silence to be found there one of universal accord, or of void? I don’t know, I’ll never know, in the squabbles you don’t know, you must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on

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Substance McGravitas 06.02.11 at 7:48 pm

Chris is Professor Possiblegloss.

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StevenAttewell 06.02.11 at 9:06 pm

Henri –
See, I don’t think it is “without a doubt” that Obamacare is nonsensical.
The mandate/premium subsidy is basically the Swiss model.
The exchanges aren’t that odd an idea.
And, what most people haven’t glommed onto yet, half the expansion of coverage comes through the partial Federalization of Medicaid and the creation of Medicaid as a right to anyone within 133% of poverty. That’s basically a gradual model of single-payer on the lines of the British 1911 act.

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bob mcmanus 06.02.11 at 9:34 pm

186: Ian Welsh and others, including myself, believe that it is imperative that Obama loses in 2012. 6 more years of the horrible damage Obama is doing to the country and the Democratic Party brand and identity, followed in 2016 by a Republican will be unspeakable.

OTOH, if a Republican is elected in 2012, she will under current conditions be a failure, and as outsiders Democrats can safely rebuild the party and its reputation without as much damage to themselves, and then win in 2016 with a decent agenda.

It may be too late, if the economy crashes before election day, Democrats will be labeled as the “Herbert Hoover Redux Party” for several generations.

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ScentOfViolets 06.02.11 at 9:50 pm

Henri – See, I don’t think it is “without a doubt” that Obamacare is nonsensical.

The mandate/premium subsidy is basically the Swiss model.

The exchanges aren’t that odd an idea.

If by “basically” you mean that marriage between man and jellyfish should be legalized because they are basically the same, you might have a point.

Iow, don’t be lazy. It’s been pointed out, for example, that the “mandate/premium” is not basically the Swiss model because this presumes that insurance companies are as tightly regulated and constrained here in the U.S. as they are in Switzerland. When that’s simply not the case; in fact, insurance companies aren’t allowed to make a profit on basic coverage in the Swiss model. Surely you were aware of these “basic” differences that renders your use of that word nonsensical? You were paying attention way back when when all this was being bandied about, yes?

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StevenAttewell 06.02.11 at 10:08 pm

SOV – wow, how not condescending.

Both systems have an individual mandate through private firms, both provide subsidies to help cover the cost of the premiums, both regulate those private firms. The Swiss system regulates more strictly, but it’s a difference of degree, not kind.

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Salient 06.02.11 at 10:49 pm

…I guess the alternative to participating in the spiral firing squad is just watching it spiral away, so…

Ian Welsh and others, including myself, believe that it is imperative that Obama loses in 2012

It’s ‘imperative’ that we save the Democratic party from a branding problem by disempowering them?

Then we’re screwed, because nothing on God’s green Earth will save the Democratic party from a branding problem (sadly, for pretty much the opposite reasons that nothing on God’s green Earth should be able to save the Democratic party from a branding problem).

But bob, you’re letting me down. Since when did you give a carp about Democratic party image? I thought we were going to be rioting-in-the-streets buddies, you know, when gas hits $6 a gallon and the revolution finally comes.

OTOH, if a Republican is elected in 2004, she will under current conditions be a failure, and as outsiders Democrats can safely rebuild the party and its reputation without as much damage to themselves, and then win in 2008 with a decent agenda.

…I have nothing to add to that.

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StevenAttewell 06.02.11 at 10:53 pm

196

ScentOfViolets 06.02.11 at 11:03 pm

I’m sorry Steven, but how is what I wrote condescending? In fact, you’re doing exactly the same thing here – again- that I warned you about the first time: Show, don’t Tell.

Telling me the two types of coverage are “basically the same” doesn’t cut it. You’ve got to show me. Similarly, telling me I’m being “condescending” doesn’t cut it. Show me.

Iow, don’t try to get other people to accept your conclusions as simply given premises or observations. As I said, that’s – at best – lazy.

Oh, and for the record? For the specific reasons I gave and backed up with a cite, I disagree that mandates for private insurance here in the U.S. is “basically the same” as the Swiss model.

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Salient 06.02.11 at 11:10 pm

…in a world of circular (or Archimedean-spiralesque) firing squads, SoV is a machine gunner with the trigger taped down

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ScentOfViolets 06.02.11 at 11:17 pm

Salient, do you have anything specific to say about specific arguments I’ve made or specific opinions I’ve advanced or specific assertions of fact?

If not, then why post what you just did?

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StevenAttewell 06.02.11 at 11:56 pm

This isn’t screenplay writing, SoV.

I think that an individual mandate to buy private insurance, government premium assistance, and regulations on insurers makes the two similar, you think the fact that Switzerland bans profits invalidates the other points – but you haven’t shown me why that should be the case.

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Sebastian 06.03.11 at 12:11 am

“Obamacare is, without a doubt, the most ridiculous, nonsensical healthcare arrangement of all those in the developed countries and a good chunk of the non-developed ones. How can it be cited as evidence of this political system not being completely perverted?”

To be fair, Obamacare is without a doubt, the most ridiculous healthcare arrangement *other than what we had in the US preceeding it*. Between Medicare and Medicaid, the US government already spends enough money that in any other country all citizens would be covered. And it isn’t just the stupid government, between the private plans we *ALSO* spend enough money that in any other country all citizens would be covered. So we have two sets of systems, both of which spend enough money to cover all other citizens, and even combined we don’t have everyone covered.

Something is clearly very wrong in the way the US does healthcare. And it isn’t a government/private question.

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bianca steele 06.03.11 at 12:55 am

bob mcmanus:
You cannot be serious. A decent proportion of the “Obama is awful” argument seems to emanate from some strange realm of racism, along with things like the contention that he knows nothing about Christianity or would not have written something with the title “the audacity of hope” from such a luminary of Christian studies as William Kristol. From liberals and the left almost as much as the right. Some of it is opportunistic attacks from people with single issue interests, or libertarians, who would either attack anybody who didn’t fix everything they wanted fixed immediately, or are trying to take advantage of the putative center right nature of the population to push their issues. Some of it is, okay, from people who are farther left than he is (none from people who are farther right, isn’t that strange, given that he is kind of to the left on at least some issues), who think they may be able to pull him closer to themselves. Okay, I don’t think anybody thought he would do something like appoint Geithner. It wasn’t obvious from, say, The Audacity of Hope (which I haven’t finished), what he wanted to do. He wanted to get past old 1960s-era false dichotomies, he regretted the demise of bipartisanship and professionalism that prevailed in the Senate already when he got there. Whether he’s resigned to that demise, what in detail he thinks those dichotomies are, I don’t think he said (any more than Berman says what his positive views are). Some of what he’s criticized for seem to me to be pretty widespread beliefs (similar to widespread beliefs I might be inclined to criticize Hillary Clinton for, though of course not the same ones). To blame him for the Democrats’ inability to (a) get past the ideological anti-liberalism of a segment of the voters that is rightly considered important, and (b) form a coherent view of the world, is not really fair. Bill Clinton was no better. Hillary Clinton would have been no better. John Edwards would have been no better.

I don’t know if it was obvious Obama intended to wait for other people to form an educated consensus, or to wait for other people to move the consensus, or where he was going to think that consensus was, or that he would choose to handle the financial and auto industries the way he did. Waiting for a consensus isn’t something I would have come up with myself, but it isn’t obviously stupid, though waiting for other people to move the consensus instead of using his power as president just might another story. It really is hard to believe there is no organized consensus around ideas to the left of what Obama chose–people like Krugman and De Long have been arguing pretty darn strenuously that there is one–and if there is, yeah, Obama could be blamed from the left for not trying very hard to support it, because either he missed it somehow or he thinks only Republican ideas count.

But voting in Republicans on purpose to move the next Democratic candidate further to the left is counterproductive in more ways than I can name, unless you really think the Republican candidate is just as good about as much of the time.

I’m done on this thread, sorry.

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sg 06.03.11 at 12:55 am

Bob gets his facts wrong again … life expectancy in America is declining (or expected to decline) due to obesity.

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bob mcmanus 06.03.11 at 1:11 am

A decent proportion of the “Obama is awful” argument seems to emanate from some strange realm of racism

Over and out. The New Godwin

202: Sure, sg, those that can’t afford personal trainers just deserve to die.

Sick to death of you people

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ScentOfViolets 06.03.11 at 2:16 am

This isn’t screenplay writing, SoV.

No, it’s presenting a clear and coherent argument supported by facts and cites. You didn’t do this, in fact, think that my asking you to do so is “condescension”.

I think that an individual mandate to buy private insurance, government premium assistance, and regulations on insurers makes the two similar, you think the fact that Switzerland bans profits invalidates the other points – but you haven’t shown me why that should be the case.

Er, no. You were the one who said they were “basically the same”. It’s up to you to defend this claim by showing that the differences, such as they are, are of little to no consequence. You aren’t doing this, preferring instead the usual “make me say I’m wrong” lobotomy shuffle.

There’s also the fact that – from various little tells – you actually didn’t know about this difference between the two systems until I pointed it out. So you’re not really being serious; you just want people to think that you are while in fact are doing nothing more than parroting a party line. Please, stop wasting everyone’s time with this sort of nonsense.

Also, please do your research before making claims like this in the future. Then at least you won’t flounder about so much and spout absurdities about “this isn’t screenplay writing”. As it is, you look every bit the partisan tool that Chris is taken to be.

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Salient 06.03.11 at 2:33 am

This isn’t screenplay writing, SoV.

Shenanigans! What is blog commentary, if not sort of the crowdsourced screenplay-writing that used to pass for pub conversation, spoken a little too loudly for privacy and with half an eye on the table across the way?

Salient, do you have anything specific to say about specific arguments I’ve made or specific opinions I’ve advanced or specific assertions of fact?

Oh don’t be so grumpy. I am a speaker of many nonspecific truths! And also of many nonspecific… things. About… stuff. Some of those things might be jokes!

If not, then why post what you just did?

Possibly I am just “taking the piss” on a masterpiece for “topple the idol” “down with authority” reasons. It is also possible that I’m just being funny.

…and it’s also possible that I’m determined to be weirder than you on this thread (hopefully for other peoples’ entertainment and not just my own) and you’re making it really damned hard. I can’t do better than whatever it was you said along the lines of “you need to prove to me that I’m being condescending,” which I’m lazy enough to not be bothered with scrolling up to quote precisely. I just can’t go further than that, even in parody. Cripes, I don’t think even Myles could. But uh. I guess I could try. You need to prove to me that I’m being unfair to you! …see that just sounds stale and derivative by comparison. And there’s the danger you might take it literally.

I am kind of hoping you will now demand that I provide specific evidence and cites that my joke was funny. People support me in email!

Steven points out some similarities, you point out some differences, and somehow that turns into the two of you squaring the two-person firing circle circle, while the rest of us wait for our turn to domino-fall, draw little spirals on the dust on our desks with our forefingers, and decide that stack of paperwork we’ve been avoiding really might be more interesting at this point.

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sg 06.03.11 at 3:05 am

jesus christ on a bike, bob. How did you get from my statement to your conclusion?

Declining life expectancy is not caused by your broken healthcare system, it’s caused by obesity, which has zero percent of fuck all to do with personal trainers. How your health system is going to handle this fatness is important, but it’s not the cause and it’s unlikely that a decent universal health system (such as the rest of the civilized world enjoys) will fix that. Especially since obesity is driven by inequality and structural factors well upstream of the health system.

But there’s no point in pretending that your current dog’s breakfast of a health system is the cause of this decline. It’s not. And saying so is not equal to saying “people without personal trainers deserve to die.”

Take a chill pill man.

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ScentOfViolets 06.03.11 at 3:13 am

I can’t do better than whatever it was you said along the lines of “you need to prove to me that I’m being condescending,” which I’m lazy enough to not be bothered with scrolling up to quote precisely. I just can’t go further than that, even in parody.

So you’re going to make up stuff about what I say and then criticize me on the strength of something I never said except in your head?

Sigh.

Do you have any idea how much of a mirror you are to the Right when you do this sort of thing? Do you have any idea why these sorts of practices are frowned upon, just on general principle?

Or are you simply trying to redress a one-sided grievance that you’ve been nursing for – how long now – three years or so?

As I said way back, you’re seriously mistaken even to the original slight.

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geo 06.03.11 at 3:25 am

bianca: Bill Clinton was no better. Hillary Clinton would have been no better. John Edwards would have been no better.

Would someone remind me why it was irresponsible of me to vote for Nader?

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Salient 06.03.11 at 3:37 am

Telling me the two types of coverage are “basically the same” doesn’t cut it. You’ve got to show me. Similarly, telling me I’m being “condescending” doesn’t cut it. Show me.

Ok, fine, you said “show” not “prove.” You win a fucking prize!

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Salient 06.03.11 at 3:54 am

Seriously, if you’d just said something like “I don’t think the ACA sets up a system that’s anywhere close to the quality of Sweden’s, because it fails to meet these criteria that the Swedish system meets: [1] … [2] … [3] …” then you’d have gotten your point across just fine and there wouldn’t have been this whole pointless pissing match and who knows, maybe Steven would chime in to agree with you or acknowledge the validity of your perspective or whatever. Demanding that Steven ‘show’ you that the systems are similar according to your definition of sufficiently similar is just weird posturing, hostility for its own sake, ill-directed, machine-gunned. Regarding events of years past, granted, I’ve been spotted moonlighting as Crooked Timber’s own theater of memory from time to time — and generally speaking, being the target of someone’s aggression flags them in your mind — but I’m hardly the only one to make note of your aggression here & elsewhere.

But now I’ve flagged your weirdness and backed it up with a cite. Similarly, telling me I’m being “condescending” doesn’t cut it. Show me. Even in the midst of a migraine-induced hallucinatory fever I don’t think I could come up with something that weird in my head, but to put the finish on it, you accused me of hallucinating the thing because I was slack enough to say ‘prove’ instead of ‘show’ even though you prettttttty clearly meant for ‘show’ to be synonymous with ‘prove’ at least in the everyday sense of the world ‘prove.’

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ScentOfViolets 06.03.11 at 4:06 am

“But now I’ve flagged your weirdness and backed it up with a cite. Similarly, telling me I’m being “condescending” doesn’t cut it. Show me. Even in the midst of a migraine-induced hallucinatory fever I don’t think I could come up with something that weird in my head, but to put the finish on it, you accused me of hallucinating the thing because I was slack enough to say ‘prove’ instead of ‘show’ even though you prettttttty clearly meant for ‘show’ to be synonymous with ‘prove’ at least in the everyday sense of the world ‘prove.’”

You do notice that your cite doesn’t back up your claim, right? You know, this one:

I can’t do better than whatever it was you said along the lines of “you need to prove to me that I’m being condescending,”

Salient, please stop stalking me, and stop with unearned hostility. I don’t know what I’ve done out of the ordinary to earn your spite, but believe me, you don’t paint a pretty picture of yourself.

Oh, and that thing where you said that since I was a woman I would never be a top mathematician? That was just mean, and I don’t appreciate it.

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Salient 06.03.11 at 5:21 am

believe me, you don’t paint a pretty picture of yourself

You’re tellin’ me. This blasted chalk gets e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e. And the chalk in colors smears when it erases, so I work and work and I’m left with some impressionistic blur of lines and curves.

As for the rest. Oh my god. You said, to Steven,

telling me I’m being “condescending” doesn’t cut it. Show me.”

I summarized:

whatever it was you said along the lines of “you need to prove to me that I’m being condescending,”

Any rational human being on the face of this earth, if asked “is that a fair and reasonable summary of the original statement,” would say something like, “sure, why are you even asking?” And if asked “does the original statement back up the latter claim,” they’d say something like “what claim? I guess they implicitly claimed that the person said something that falls under the category of ‘whatever they said that can be loosely but not unfairly summarized as this’? well that much is true.”

Salient, please stop stalking me, and stop with unearned hostility. Oh, and that thing where you said that since I was a woman I would never be a top mathematician? That was just mean, and I don’t appreciate it.

Cute, but you could’ve done better, don’t you think? I started out pretty jokingly. You coulda smiled. And the image of a machine-gunner in a circular firing squad is interestingly evocative enough, in a New Yorker cartoon sketch sort of way. I didn’t intend it to be insulting or derogatory, just facetiously playful and maybe (if I’m brutally honest with myself) a little condescending. “well you know how that SoV is, gunning for people all the time.” I guess I’m glad you decided to break off from badgering Steven to badger me but didn’t consider me worth the effort of trolling better, because … who on earth needs more blog fights? This one’s been bad enough.

Still, from now on I’ll remember these quips of yours whenever you’re jackhammering on about the need for citations backing up every last damn assertion or conjecture (or even joke!) that a person dares to make in your presence, and I’ll smile a little. The trouble with deciding to out-and-out troll somebody, even when it’s in obvious pokety-poke jest, is that you forfeit credibility when trying to assert yourself as a paragon of incisive and well-sourced assertions of fact and argumentation. You’ve given that status up by implicitly acknowledging the legitimacy of alternative modes of communication, unless you think your own statement’s unfair, which would be silly. (And hey, it’s cool. Most of the rest of us never bother to even attempt that paragon-type assertion about ourselves; it’s probably a good thing to give up.)

I don’t know what I’ve done out of the ordinary to earn your spite

See, that bit was nice, clever, because you’re aware you didn’t do anything out of the ordinary, and that part of the point of my original joke was that you’re ordinarily this obtuse and inexplicably demanding. So, in the most literal sense, you’ve done nothing out of the ordinary to earn my spite or spittle! All good troll quips contort themselves around a small kernel of truth like this. So if I even attempted to respond to this, I’d be left sputtering at the incoherence of it, its utter detachment from any description of events I could comprehend, its nonetheless-plausible-soundingness, and probably its character as a “mirroring of the Right” or whatever strange thing it was you accused me of earlier (I have no idea what that meant, and don’t mind heading to the grave not knowing). This bit was good, though. That’s the quality trolling I figured you’d be able to deliver.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 06.03.11 at 6:16 am

The Swiss model is bad, it’s unable to contain costs, and yet it’s sill much more logical than the new US system. Others noted the non-profit nature of it, and the fact that it’s the same for everybody; no Medicaid, Medicare, VA, etc. – what a mess.

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Andrew 06.03.11 at 12:01 pm

It’s a bit strange reading the last portion of comments in this thread. Obama has done quite well on health care, financial regulation, and foreign policy.

On health-care: the fact is that after months of negotiations, a bill with a public option barely passed the House in late 2010, and in late December 2010 a bill without a public option squeaked by in the Senate. In January the Democrats lost their 60th vote in the Senate. Two months later, Obama signed a compromise bill that, while it did not contain a public option, still constituted the most massive reform of the health-care system in decades.

On financial reform: the bill addressed the major problems that led to the financial crisis: lack of transparency and oversight of credit default swaps, regulatory inability to seize and wind down systemically important companies in an orderly fashion, and proprietary trading.

On foreign policy: Obama has wound down the conflict in Iraq, while focusing efforts to bring matters to a conclusion in Afghanistan. He has strengthened US relationships across the globe, and has acted very prudently with respect to Iran.

I regard all of these things as excellent outcomes, and as important stepping stones to future policy achievements. Obama is pragmatic, and, though left-leaning, a moderate. That is why I voted for him. It is why he will win in 2012. It is why he can plausibly run as the candidate grounded in reality, with a focus on pragmatism and progress, while painting the Republicans as a group of carnival performers divorced from reality, hawking ideological snake-oil when what we all want is real medicine.

I understand why those further to the left disagree with his policies, but surely we can all agree that they’re better than what the Republicans offer, and surely we can all agree that they’re a big step in the right direction.

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mds 06.03.11 at 3:32 pm

The Swiss model is bad, it’s unable to contain costs, and yet it’s sill much more logical than the new US system.

This would seem to be the nut of the needless disagreement between Mr. Attewell and Professor Violets. Mr. Attewell is correct that the mandate to buy private insurance under a government framework is similar between the two systems, and that it probably wasn’t the best European model to emulate. Professor Violets is correct that there is nevertheless a noticeable difference due to levels of regulation and the non-profit nature of Switzerland’s lowest tier of coverage. And both seem to agree that the ACA falls short: Mr. Attewell would likely prefer that the Swiss model not have been even a crude analogue to US health-care reform, while Professor Violets presumably would consider it an improvement to actually implement the Swiss model, rather than imitate it in a half-assed way. That’s my take on it, anyway. Can’t we all just get along? (Well, all of us except Lemuel Pitkin; I hear he’s a Marxian.)

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ScentOfViolets 06.03.11 at 3:57 pm

The Swiss model is bad, it’s unable to contain costs, and yet it’s sill much more logical than the new US system. Others noted the non-profit nature of it, and the fact that it’s the same for everybody; no Medicaid, Medicare, VA, etc. – what a mess.

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I was a Hillary supporter, and it is precisely because of health care issues that this is so. Yes, she would have been in all probability another embedded third-wayer. But on her signature issue – health care reform – I believed (actually, believed what Krugman wrote at the time) that she would have done a far better job of it than Obama did. Who in any event has turned out to be – surprise! – the most committed third-wayer of them all.

In fact, here’s my conspiracy theory: The shenanigans around the primary process which resulted in Hillary losing to Obama were engineered precisely because she couldn’t have been fobbed off on health care reform the way Obama was.

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StevenAttewell 06.03.11 at 4:45 pm

Clinton, Obama, and Edwards (oy, Edwards…) all based their plans off of Jacob Hacker’s blueprint. Let’s review:
1. Clinton’s plan was based on a mandate
2. Clinton’s plan provided premium subsidies
3. Clinton’s plan included a h.c exchange
4. Clinton’s plan regulated private insurers
5. Clinton’s plan would have expanded Medicaid/SCHIP

So what exactly would have been different?

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mds 06.03.11 at 5:01 pm

So what exactly would have been different?

… See, the problem is summed up by your use of the word “exactly.” The devil is in the details for more than one of those steps. If you prefer something other than the Hacker blueprint, than it doesn’t matter how it’s tweaked, and “exactly” isn’t relevant. On the other hand, if you think the Hacker blueprint was implemented poorly by the Affordable Care Act, then deviations from “exactly” become important. As we also saw with Dodd-Frank, for instance, “regulated” has a lot of wiggle room.

(FWIW, which approaches zero as a limit, I’m much more inclined towards single-payer, or indeed pretty much any European system other than the Swiss one. Yet the Swiss model as implemented in Switzerland would still be an improvement, especially since we weren’t getting the NHS or Canadian Medicare out of the US Congress this time around. Perhaps someday, assuming those systems weather the electoral empowerment of those pledged to destroy them.)

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StevenAttewell 06.03.11 at 5:40 pm

It’s the details I’m after – would the mandate have been done more effectively? Would subsidies have been higher or more directly targeted at limiting costs as a percentage of income? What are the precise deviations from the Hacker blueprint that happened with the ACA that would have not happened with Hillary Clinton in charge?

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ScentOfViolets 06.03.11 at 5:44 pm

Steven, this really does not become you. If you want to claim that these are “exactly” the same, it behooves you to show why, in particular, why the differences don’t matter. You know, the whole burden-of-proof thing? As to the differences, let’s let Krugman have his say:

Both plans require that private insurers offer policies to everyone, regardless of medical history. Both also allow people to buy into government-offered insurance instead.

And both plans seek to make insurance affordable to lower-income Americans. The Clinton plan is, however, more explicit about affordability, promising to limit insurance costs as a percentage of family income. And it also seems to include more funds for subsidies.

See that bit about “government-offered health insurance”? Also, ironically enough:

But the big difference is mandates: the Clinton plan requires that everyone have insurance; the Obama plan doesn’t.

And:

But while it’s easy to see how the Clinton plan could end up being eviscerated, it’s hard to see how the hole in the Obama plan can be repaired. Why? Because Mr. Obama’s campaigning on the health care issue has sabotaged his own prospects.

You see, the Obama campaign has demonized the idea of mandates — most recently in a scare-tactics mailer sent to voters that bears a striking resemblance to the “Harry and Louise” ads run by the insurance lobby in 1993, ads that helped undermine our last chance at getting universal health care.

If Mr. Obama gets to the White House and tries to achieve universal coverage, he’ll find that it can’t be done without mandates — but if he tries to institute mandates, the enemies of reform will use his own words against him.

If you combine the economic analysis with these political realities, here’s what I think it says: If Mrs. Clinton gets the Democratic nomination, there is some chance — nobody knows how big — that we’ll get universal health care in the next administration. If Mr. Obama gets the nomination, it just won’t happen.

The Krug-man calls it again :-) The takeaway here is that Hillary seemed more up-front about the realities, and I tended to trust what she had to say about her signature issue. Obama? Not so much. He was promising a pony he couldn’t deliver and this was obvious to everyone who was paying any sort of attention at all.

More thoughts from Krugman in another column on health care, Obama, and his apologists:

Now, if I had my way I’d just go to single-payer, Medicare for All. But that’s politically impossible, at least for now. What had me hopeful was that the Democratic candidates seemed to be offering a more feasible path that could work politically: regulation, subsidies, mandates, plus public-private competition that could eventually lead to single-payer.

Obama’s plan fell short — but I was initially willing to cut him slack, figuring that it could be improved. But then he began making the weakness of his plan a selling point, and attacking his rivals for getting it right. And in the process he has systematically trashed the prospects for actually achieving universal coverage.

The Obama plan is still vastly preferable to plans that rely on tax credits and the magic of the marketplace. But from where I sit, a dream is dying — and progressive Obama supporters, caught up in the romance of his candidacy, don’t understand that he’s actually undermining their cause.

Well Steven? The ball’s in your court now. And this time, when you have an opinion, please take the trouble to support it with facts and cites.

No more of this nonsense where you throw out something unsubstantiated and then challenge others to prove you wrong or hope that no one catches you out on the important details which make the two plans anything but “basically the same” :-(

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StevenAttewell 06.03.11 at 5:48 pm

But just so I’m clear – I think that the ACA actually has a lot more going on under the surface than people give it credit for, as I suggest at 52. Fifty years from now, I doubt anyone will know or care that there used to be a private mandate or premium supports or an exchange – but they will know that ACA started the expansion of Medicaid into a single-payer program, hopefully in the same way that the stimulus bill started the nationalization of Unemployment Insurance.

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StevenAttewell 06.03.11 at 5:57 pm

SoV:

You know what? I hope you don’t treat your colleagues like this in real life, because this pattern of giving no benefit of the doubt whatsoever and automatically jumping to the worst possible conclusion is really rude. How ’bout we read the Clinton plan together?

But as for specific issues you mention:

1. The mandate – guess what? Obama ended up including a mandate to have insurance!
2. Subsidies – the subsidies enacted also cap costs as a share of income!

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ScentOfViolets 06.03.11 at 7:53 pm

To the contrary Steven, this is precisely how my colleagues and I treat each other all the time. You know, that whole science thing? So at least we’re clear on the concept that you think the way scientists operate is “rude”. Or for that matter, finance people who are asked to put up money to fund some sort of enterprise (Trust me, if I was some sort of VC and I were asking you questions about the stuff you were leaving out, if you responded by saying that I was being rude, well, let’s just say you’re not going to get any money out of me.)

But let’s put the shoe on the other foot: I find your tactics to be extremely rude and offensive. And I’m very sure that you don’t treat, say, your loan officer for your mortgage in the way that you’ve been treating people here.

And if you want the benefit of the doubt, don’t get smarmy and say that this isn’t some sort of screen treatment. You need to say my bad, apologize up front, and amend your posting style accordingly. Anything else, and no, you don’t get the benefit of the doubt. Now act like an adult instead of whining that people aren’t conducting the terms of conversation to your advantage. Don’t post about how the different plans are “basically the same” and then challenge others to prove you wrong. That’s not the way it works. You need instead to explain how the differences don’t matter. Quite frankly, I’m astonished that I even have to explain this to you. My students know better than this and they’re in all probability maybe half your age or a bit more.

As to the rest, you seem to be deliberately simulating obtuseness:

1. Cost control – guess what? Obama ended up dropping the public option provision that would make mandates feasible.

2. The mandate – guess what? Obama didn’t include it in his initial plan and attacked Hillary for having it in hers. Later on, he dropped the one and included the other to the betterment of the insurance companies and the detriment of the public.

3. Honesty – guess what? Obama wasn’t honest and wasn’t up front with his supporters . . . with the results being exactly as Krugman predicted (“prediction” – there’s that word again. I much prefer it to “narrative”, which seems to be your preferred style.)

And just so we’re clear – don’t confuse me with those supporters you and Krugman were talking about. I’m different, and not particularly liberal.

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ScentOfViolets 06.03.11 at 9:24 pm

I see an earlier comment of mine is still stuck in moderation, so let me repost:

—-begin—-

This would seem to be the nut of the needless disagreement between Mr. Attewell and Professor Violets. Mr. Attewell is correct that the mandate to buy private insurance under a government framework is similar between the two systems, and that it probably wasn’t the best European model to emulate. Professor Violets is correct that there is nevertheless a noticeable difference due to levels of regulation and the non-profit nature of Switzerland’s lowest tier of coverage.

Actually, my point was just a little different: Attewell disagreed that HCR “reform” was nonsensical. He also said the two mandates were “basically the same”.

As I pointed out, anyone halfway familiar with this assertion (shucks, I believe even McArdle did her usual dissembling generalization schtick and said the Swiss and U.S. mandates were “basically the same”) knew it for the talking point it was.

Iow, if you want to say the system of mandates were similar, fine. If you want to say they are “basically the same”, you’re kinda sorta obligated to add that crucial piece of information about the differences. Otherwise you’re just trying to force a conclusion onto other people who may not know better.

Notice btw that “basically the same” is a normative judgment call: Some people will disagree that same-sex marriages are “basically the same” as the hetero-sex ones while other people will agree that humans and jellyfish are “basically the same”. And vice versa.

The point is, if you’re going to present your (normative) opinion as if it has some sort of weight, it’s on you to make sure your audience has all the relevant facts so it can decide for itself. Or even more briefly: None of this claptrap about calling Saddam a “gathering threat” while selectively feeding and withholding information to the general populace with the intent of fostering a like opinion amongst them.

With those thoughts in mind, if you look up above, you’ll see that I first made the claim about a difference between the two systems, then I added a link, and then finally I offered my own opinion, not a considered analysis. I’ll let other people decide for themselves whether or not the two implementations of insurance mandates are “basically the same”. Does anyone really think that this extra bit of information isn’t necessary to form an opinion as to whether or not the two are “basically the same”? Does anyone think that Attewell[1] was actually just about to inform us of this difference :-(

[1]Since he’s stated before that he’s at least a mid-level party apparatchik, I’ll give him a pass on personal conduct; after all, no one expects a Seattle Mariner 3rd baseman to say anything but good about his team’s prospects whatever the current win/loss stats may indicate.

—-end—-

In the meantime, Attewell’s , shall we say, idiosyncratic ideas of what’s “rude” and what’s “proper” have been made more apparent. So, a little test: Who thinks that there is a difference worth remarking upon between these two statements:

1)The U.S. and Swiss mandates for insurance are basically the same.

2)The U.S. and Swiss mandates for insurance are basically the same, but the Swiss system also exercises much tighter regulation over the insurance industry to the point that it is not allowed to make a profit on basic coverage.

Does anyone really believe that no one who didn’t know that extra fact in 2) would change their mind? Does anyone really believe that the ones who changed their minds would change from “not basically the same” to “basically the same”?

Or do most people believe that there would be a significant number of people who would change their minds in the light of this extra fact, and that they would change their minds to say that the mandates are not basically the same?

Steven is perfectly entitled to his own opinion. He is not (imho) entitled to withhold information that has the potential to change other people’s minds on the subject in way that would conflict with his opinion.

Finally, does anyone really believe that this is a horribly contrived standard, or that I’m simply being mean or hostile in drawing attention to lapses in it’s application? Or do most people believe that this is a perfectly reasonable, perfectly acceptable standard, and that people who don’t hold to it, say the makers of Vioxx, are behaving in a less than sterling manner?

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Sebastian 06.06.11 at 1:21 am

“So at least we’re clear on the concept that you think the way scientists operate is “rude”.”

No. Most scientists are actually very polite. You’re the one who is an ass. It may be one of those correlation/causation things, but I strongly suspect it isn’t scientistness that is your problem.

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