Trust and Good Faith
It’s taken me awhile to get to this – mostly because I’ve been (unusually) busy with real life – but I wanted to offer a few thoughts on Mark’s post on Wyden-Bennett, and particularly his broader issue with liberals and Democrats assuming the worst of conservatives and Republicans. Here’s Mark in his own words, if you didn’t read the post:
I’m usually one of the more cynical people when it comes to politicians, but in this case the evidence that Republicans would turn against Wyden-Bennett if it came to a vote is pretty weak. It appears to me that liberals who assume that Republican support for Wyden-Bennett would disappear were it actually pushed are committing the cardinal sin of underestimating their opponents, attributing the worst possible motives to all of those opponents despite clear evidence to the contrary and without any supporting evidence.
I don’t think liberals are underestimating their opponents as much as they are drawing lessons from the past few years of conservative governance. On issue after issue, conservatives (or, to be more accurate, Republicans) have regularly argued and negotiated in bad faith. Take the stimulus, for instance. The Obama administration’s first move in pushing for a stimulus package was to argue from the center. Tax cuts made up a significant chunk of the stimulus package, and the administration was more than willing to cut money from various provisions, even those – like direct aid to states – which were the most useful. In return, the administration got a nearly party-line vote against the stimulus, and the charge that Democrats were taking us on the road to fiscal irresponsibility. Indeed, Republicans have been haranguing the administration about the deficit from the beginning, seemingly oblivious to the fact that it is, in significant part, a legacy of George W. Bush’s presidency.
Looking at the current “debate” over health care, it is abundantly clear that Republicans aren’t actually interested in constructive criticism. As Andrew Sullivan has recently (and repeatedly) noted, far from attempting a vast overhaul of the health care sector, Democrats are proposing a series of modest reforms aimed at expanding coverage to low-income Americans and reforming the insurance industry. And as Matt Yglesias has pointed out, there is plenty of room in those proposals for conservatives to make substantive input. But that’s not at all what we’re seeing. Honest efforts to reduce costs or raise revenues are met with screeching and accusations of socialism, and innocuous provisions in the bill become fodder for incredibly outlandish claims (the Democrats what to kill your grandparents!). Republican leaders are actively spreading lies and misinformation, and encouraging their supporters to respond to Democratic outreach with quasi-violent confrontations.
For all of the Republican support that Wyden-Bennett has received, pace Mark, I don’t think the Republican response would be any different if that bill were up for serious consideration. And I don’t necessarily blame Republicans for taking this approach; politically, it’s in their best interest. Even a successful bipartisan bill will solidify Democrat gains for at least the next two or three election cycles, and Republicans know that their path back to relevancy is much easier if they can sink a Democratic health care bill. It’s almost unreasonable to expect them to do anything else. That said, Mark’s right, it is unfair of liberals to assume bad faith of Republicans. But in an argument, you have to earn the assumption of good faith, and Republicans clearly haven’t.