opposition as governance


Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

Related Post Roulette

37 Responses

  1. Avatar Kyle says:

    That market-oriented politicians should have to swallow whatever watered-down government program the Democrats sell them is absurd.

    umm…thank you.

    You know as much as I’m tiring of talking about health care reform, the one thing I’d like to hear more of is – exactly – how Democrats think they’re being bipartisan or in any sense good negotiators. Saying vote for our plan because we won and we’re asking for only 80% of what we really want isn’t bipartisanship though it may be a compromise.

    If I’m going to negotiate with someone I’m going to try to find out a.) what they want b.) what they need and c.) what they can do or give.

    Since the Democrats have defeated most of the moderate Republicans that means the few that are left can’t really give much seeing as they aren’t just parliamentarian obstructionists. They’re also representative obstructionist representing people who genuinely oppose progressive reforms. Republicans need something to point to and say look, we contributed this. We made this happen. What would that be? Tort reform? Interstate competition? (at this point) co-ops?

    If you don’t give them something to sell the only option left is to tear down single-payer socialism and Van Jones.

    What do they want? Well that’s easy. Power. They want to keep their seats (which means not voting for socialism) and to get some of their friends in. Now, that’s a contest that should be left to voters not backroom deals but in the meantime that means they aren’t going to be keen to do anything risky for little to no gain.

    I mean strategically the Dems have done a good job of presenting bills that are ideologically untouchable for Republicans as decent legislation that Republicans are opposing because they’re obstructionist naysayers and possibly senile. However, when it comes to doing legislative work they can’t operate under that same framework and then be shocked and dismayed that Republicans aren’t tripping over themselves to cross the aisle.

    However, I do think Jamelle has a point about the difference in policy apparati and mid-level advocates. There are far more Democratic wonks and academics who spend years working on studying problems and various solutions.

    Republicans have a lot of ground to catch up on and by not doing that work – also by not recognizing that they need to to do the work in the first place- I think they leave a.) much to be desired when trying to convince independents of the just how feasible their proposals are and b.) they leave their initiatives open to deregulatory capture that can come back and bite them.Report

    • Avatar Freddie in reply to Kyle says:

      If I’m going to negotiate with someone I’m going to try to find out a.) what they want b.) what they need and c.) what they can do or give.

      But that’s exactly it. All that they want is to oppose the legislation, and in fact several more frank members of the GOP congressional leadership have said exactly that. There is no way Republican leadership will vote for a Democratic health care bill, no matter what the form. The amount of disingenuousness on this issue is astounding. The liars are the Republicans who claim to want to negotiate when in fact they only want to oppose and to obstruct, those who say they know health care reform is essential yet insist that every reform is treason. And the amount of smart conservatives who are being unbearably coy about that is really dragging the conversation down.

      Saying “Republicans are bad too” is not good enough. It must come in the context of concrete counter-proposals for reform, or an admission that the person in question prefers the status quo. There is no middle ground.Report

      • Avatar Kyle in reply to Freddie says:

        I challenge three points, first that somehow you and Democratic critics of a rump minority somehow have magnificent insight into the inner-workings of every Republican politician and know what they really mean though it is difficult, if near impossible, to distinguish between principled opposition and unprincipled opposition as an outside observer.

        I may be guilty of not presuming bad faith but that seems like arguing in bad faith to me. To argue as though their motives are unprincipled and disingenuous when quite honestly neither you nor I can prove otherwise.

        2nd. IIRC, only Senator Jim DeMint’s publicly spoken about strategically blocking healthcare reform. Senator DeMint, two time winner of Most Conservative Senator, no time winner of Mr. Congeniality, and by no stretch of the word a member of GOP Congressional leadership. In fact, when directly asked about the comments, actual Senate leaders Senators McConnell and Cornyn flat out rejected that proposition. Senators Gregg, Graham, Bennett, Crapo, and Alexander, would vote for Wyden-Bennett if it came to a vote in the Senate and you’d be hard pressed to find some political benefit to their public support for that proposal unlike say Senator Lincoln’s vanishing support for EFCA.

        3rd. No middle ground? Are you saying “my solution or the highway”? I recognize that health care reform is a moral imperative for millions on the left but I should think that the impulse to do something – anything, now, because the status quo is untenable would be somewhat leavened by the disaster that was the Patriot Act.Report

        • Avatar Ryan in reply to Kyle says:

          Ugh. Here’s a for instance: Chuck Grassley and Mike Enzi continue negotiating in the so-called “Gang of Six” despite the fact that they are both very clearly on the record as opposed to any health care bill that comes out of that negotiation. At least one of the two things they’re doing is being done in bad faith.

          Also, re-read what Freddie said about middle ground. You don’t get to say “I think there’s a problem, and this is not the solution.” You either have to name what the solution is or stop saying there’s a problem. You can’t play the game of pretending you care and then doing nothing about it. That’s bad faith.Report

          • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to Ryan says:

            Here’s the thing. Republicans have regularly and repeatedly proposed a decoupling of employment and health insurance. Just about every economist agrees this is a good and important thing. A large number of liberal wonks also agree this is a good and important thing, though they think (perhaps correctly) that it needs to include greater regulation of the individual market. Republicans also propose tort reform (I think this is a wrongheaded reform, but it’s also one that is generally made in good faith) along with the above.

            That is the alternative they offer. Unfortunately it is viewed as a nonstarter, even though just about everyone agrees that it could form the basis for a meaningful reform – there’s really just dispute over the details. Why is it viewed as a nonstarter? Because it would anger the unions, and the Democrats can’t be expected to do that.

            So we have a situation where the Republicans are acting in bad faith because they are aligned with interest groups that find increased government involvement in health care, with nothing else, unacceptable. Meanwhile, Democrats are acting in good faith and just living with political reality because they are aligned with interest groups that find decoupling of employment and health care unacceptable.

            Me? I think the bad faith/good faith distinction doesn’t do much usefulness.Report

            • Avatar Ryan in reply to Mark Thompson says:

              And the health care reform bill introduced by Mitch McConnell and John Boehner that includes tort reform and the decoupling of employment/health insurance is which bill exactly? If you can give me the number or link me to Thomas or something, that would be helpful.Report

              • Avatar Ryan in reply to Ryan says:

                Also, the White House is now clearly calling for malpractice reform and a tax on insurers who provide expensive plans (incrementalism woo!). Does that move you at all? Why or why not?Report

              • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to Ryan says:

                Does it move me? No – I’m not terribly big on malpractice reform, though, as I said above. The tax on insurers who provide expensive plans is supposed to appeal to me or Republicans….how?

                Regardless, I’d be surprised if tort reform made much of a difference – it’s secondary to the central issue for the GOP base, which is that these plans still go in a direction that the GOP base finds anathema to core principles while fundamentally asking them to take on faith that they will make things better. It’s also not an issue on which conservatives are completely unified AFAIK. Adding tort reform to the bill will thus have about the same effect on the GOP as chipping away at the size of the subsidies will have. Sure, it makes the bill less bad from the GOP’s perspective, and maybe it will even be enough to win over a handful of votes. But it’s not going to be a particularly meaningful concession from the perspective of the overwhelming majority of the GOP.Report

              • Avatar Kyle in reply to Mark Thompson says:

                “the central issue for the GOP base, which is that these plans still go in a direction that the GOP base finds anathema to core principles while fundamentally asking them to take on faith that they will make things better.”

                That was one of the points of my original comment and you make it really succinctly here.

                There’s simply little to no political motivation for Republicans to break with their stated principles and at this point the voters keeping them in office to do a favor for the Democrats and what the Dems have been offering is a slightly less toxic bill for the Republicans which is no trade at all, really. Not that I’m making a normative evaluation here but I just don’t see why people are expecting something that quite honestly there are very few incentives to make happen.

                Being upset at Republicans for not supporting Democratic health care reform efforts is like being mad at Iran for keeping the mullahs around…sure there are legit reasons to be upset at the situation but there really aren’t legit reasons to expect anything different. If there were reasons to expect Republican support and then they didn’t give it, I think there’d be a lot more reason to be angry/irritated.Report

              • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to Ryan says:

                Try S. 1099, S. 1324, S.1459 and HR 2520. Also, some guy named McCain proposed exactly that during the campaign last year. Also try Wyden-Bennett. That’ll add up to about 16 GOP senators (more if you include Lieberman…heh) representing just about every part of the GOP’s (admittedly narrow) spectrum. Then add Craig, Corker, and Voinovich, all of whom co-sponsored or sponsored similar legislation in the previous Congressional session, and you’re at just about half the GOP Senate caucus, even if there are no other bills lying around that do this of which I’m not aware (and I’d be surprised if there weren’t). Frankly, you should probably even add Grassley, who backed Wyden-Bennett in the past, even if he had reservations about it, since the reservations had nothing to do with the decoupling (which was the reason they supported it since it’s high on the con wish list) but with the regulations it would put in place (which is presumably negotiable).

                When you’ve got a majority of a party’s caucus openly backing a particular item, it’s probably safe to say that support for that item is close to unanimous within that party’s caucus.

                But, hey, it’s clearly offered in bad faith because these people all know that the Dems would never go along with something that annoyed unions.Report

              • Avatar Ryan in reply to Mark Thompson says:

                Correct me if I’m wrong, but the primary mechanism by which those bills decouple health care and employment is through exchanges, right? Which is… what Obama recommended last night, along with malpractice reform and taxes on some plans. Why is this an unacceptable compromise?Report

              • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to Ryan says:

                No, they do them by removing the employer tax incentives and replacing them with individual tax incentives. They definitely don’t contain mandates that all employers above a certain (relatively small) size provide insurance for employees, which is a pretty good way of making sure that employment and insurance remain linked.Report

              • Avatar Ryan in reply to Mark Thompson says:

                I’m almost hesitant to say this, because it’s not what people do on the internet, but you’re basically right. I would much, much, much prefer a bill that would tear employer and insurance apart. It’s an utterly perverse arrangement.

                Of course, I’m sure we still disagree about the necessary mechanism. I think a robust public option open to everyone, or national exchanges with subsidies, or any number of other ideas could all achieve that, so I’d support any of them. Republicans for sure don’t agree with me there, and they don’t (contrary to claims around here) appear ready to accept any compromises that don’t check off their complete laundry list of goals.

                So, in the end, this will look a lot like the climate change bill: a weak, flawed piece of legislation that I’ll grudgingly support because I see it as an improvement over a deeply awful status quo.Report

              • Avatar Ryan in reply to Mark Thompson says:

                I guess, that said, if you can come up with a way to sell to the American public (this isn’t just unions by any stretch) a plan that can be summarized as “you are definitely going to lose your employer-provided health care”, I’m all ears.Report

              • You see, that’s where the Democrats would have the best answers – ultimately, there’s no way to do that (making the principle saleable, I mean) without having some pretty strong regulations that make the transition seamless. I could see one avenue being the inclusion of a provision that required existing policies to continue in effect with restricted cost increases until such time as the insured chose to change coverage or switch jobs. I can even think of a bunch of other regulations that would make the transition period virtually unnoticeable to employees – a gradual phase-in/out period, automatic pay raises of at least x% of whatever the employer is currently subsidizing, etc.Report

          • Avatar Kyle in reply to Ryan says:

            Mark ended up saying a lot of what I wanted to but “You don’t get to say ‘I think there’s a problem, and this is not the solution.'” is an arbitrary and self-serving rule.

            If I were interested in a tit-for-tat, I could counter with, “you don’t get to say I think there’s a problem, if you don’t have unanimous consent.” Which is, of course, quite silly.

            There are any number of circumstances in which it’s perfectly valid, even prudent to oppose a solution you think is worse than the status quo, while recognizing the status quo as at least problematic if not downright untenable.

            Off the top of my ahead, opposition to the surge in Iraq, opposition to invading Iraq in the first place, opposition to Japanese internment during WWII, opposition to Reagan’s military buildup, opposition to entitlement reform, opposition to more accountability in the classroom.

            In all of those the opponents to various “solutions,” neither proposed “concrete counter-proposals for reform” nor did they deny the existence of the problem the precipitated the search for solutions in the first place.

            It’s a forced and false dichotomy and absolutist nonsense.

            To expand on a comment I made in response to what Jamelle said, legislative contributions aren’t wholly measured in bills. The work of a legislator is larger than drafting and voting on bills so the idea that Republicans are doing nothing, contributing nothing, and not offering reforms because there’s no leadership backed bill on the table – forgetting for the moment that there’s no coherent Democratic bill yet either – is a misleading canard and willfully ignorant of basic facts.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Kyle says:

      They don’t *HAVE* to be bipartisan or be good negotiators.

      This comes down to what *THEY* want. Given that any given bill that is likely to show up will have been written by lobbyists for the insurance companies and trial lawyers and this group and that group and this other group rather than by legislators proper, and given that the majority of middle middle to upper middle class folks will want to help others *BUT* not change the fairly decent coverage they get from their job (assuming, of course, that the middle middle and upper middle are still employed… I’d assume they’d fall back to lower middle if not) and given that, as such, the bill will be adding an addition to the current system rather than replacing anything within the current system…

      Well, they’d be better off fighting the good fight, failing, and blaming everything on the Republicans.

      Compare to the abortion debate in Congress for the congressional representatives for socially conservative folks.

      Don’t look at what they *SAY* they want. Look at what they are reaching for.Report

  2. Avatar Freddie says:

    These are really just two opposing philosophies of governance.

    What rankles me, personally, is that some who endorse the latter philosophy act as though it’s apolitical. A lot of times you hear people say, “let’s stop being ideological and not change things.” Advocating not changing things is inherently ideological. The choice to endorse the status quo is no different in effect from endorsing any other policy position; it just happens to endorse one already in effect.Report

    • Avatar Kyle in reply to Freddie says:

      That’s a fair criticism. It’s entirely possible to be non-partisan but I don’t think it’s possible to be non-ideological/non-politically philosophical. The former is an affiliation. The latter a point of view…and everyone has one.

      I wonder – though – if you think it’s logically any different from the people who say “let’s stop being political in enact reform?”Report

  3. Avatar mike farmer says:

    ideology is simply a set of ideas — from the Free Dictionary, the primary definition is — The body of ideas reflecting the social needs and aspirations of an individual, group, class, or culture. — the word has been corrupted through spin. Of course people and political parties have a set of ideas regarding life, politics, social needs, etc.

    I think what is meant by disparaging ideology is “closemindedness” — however, when you have a set of ideas regarding, say, healthcare, then, of course, you are going to act according to those ideas — if you are open-minded, realizing that if better ideas come along, then you adapt to the new ideas — the healthcare debate has been thorough, and Republicans tend to accept a certain set of ideas, while the Democrats tend to accept another set of ideas — there is nothing wrong with this — and the Republicans have no obligation to give up their set of ideas simply for the sake of compromise. If the Democrats think they have the best set of ideas, then they need to push them as far as they can go, but not whine because others don’t hold those idea.Report

  4. Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

    > Friedman bemoans the opposition of Republicans who, for
    > reasons purely incomprehensible, oppose the “centrist”
    > policies of President Obama.

    What was described tonight was certainly not progressive as the Left would describe it. You can argue that Obama is center-left rather than centrist, I suppose.

    > That market-oriented politicians should have to swallow
    > whatever watered-down government program the
    > Democrats sell them is absurd.

    Essentially, the Democrats prefer a top-down approach to solving problems. The Republicans favor a bottom-up approach to solving problems. The first has efficiency problems, the second has coverage problems. Neither approach, from an ideological standpoint, is the optimal way to approach every class of problem (IMO). Hybrid models can address the inherent weaknesses in either approach.

    In this particular problem, principled opposition from Republicans would be to say, “We see inefficiencies in a top-down model, in general. In your particular proposal, we see inefficiencies here, here, and here. Our general bottom-up approach can solve this inefficiency, help alleviate this other one, and can enable a better approach altogether in the final case.” Unprincipled opposition, however, is what we seem to be seeing: “We will vote no on whatever you propose, because we disagree with all top-down structures in general”.

    That’s obstructionism, just like when the Democrats do it (“We oppose all deregulation on principle”).

    I agree that people can stand or fall on their own positions; no Republican is obligated in any way to reach across the aisle in any case, just like no Democrat is required to do so, either. But when the opposition party has been elected with a supported majority, compromise isn’t about demanding that the other side see your view of the world; it’s about working within the worldview of the opposing party and proposing the best alternatives to the glaring problems that you see.

    Any proposal coming out of a Democratic Congress with a Democratic President is going to be essentially a top-down design. Rejecting the whole kit and kaboodle isn’t constructive. Proposing that the opposition party compromise by adopting an entirely bottom-up design isn’t compromise, either.

    Finding areas to apply bottom-up solutions to specific parts of a top-down solution *is* compromise, and effective bipartisanship.Report

  5. Avatar Jamelle says:

    Could governing even sometimes mean the repealing of programs or laws that currently exist, whether these are discriminatory laws or even entire departments of the federal government? These are really just two opposing philosophies of governance. Opposition to cap and trade, for instance does not mean one is opposed to governing. Perhaps one simply believes that a more limited government can better achieve the most important goals.

    The problem, of course, is that in our case, the opposition party won’t even admit that there’s a problem in the first place. And that, really, is what I mean when I say that the Republican Party is uninterested in governing. It would be one thing entirely if Republicans were in the business of offering pro-market reforms to problems which we all acknowledge. But…they aren’t. In the case of climate change, they actively deny that there is a problem, and in the case of health care, they continuously ignore the fiscal and human costs of inaction. We really are dealing with a situation where the supposed “governing partner” is completely ill-equipped to tackle the most serious problems on the policy horizon.Report

    • Avatar Jamelle in reply to Jamelle says:

      I’d also add that I’m skeptical of the view that legislation should be difficult to pass. For starters, a long legislative process/abundant veto points increases the opportunity for “special interests” (I hate the term, but I can’t think of anything better) to influence said legislation in ways which might not be favorable. And more importantly, majorities should be able to legislate in accordance with their mandates. Of course, I agree that this can be taken too far…but I think the United States is on the opposite end of that pole, and we could and should move towards a status quo where even landslides are neutered by arcane rules.Report

    • Avatar Kyle in reply to Jamelle says:

      Those seem awfully cherry-picked. Climate change denial has lessened significantly amongst Republicans (though famously not George Will) and most prominently in the man they nominated for President.

      On public education, not only do Republicans acknowledge problems they talk about them as much, if not more than Democrats and have a relatively larger policy apparatus for offering pro-market reforms.

      The same on Energy and Defence. That their plans are less than perfect goes without saying but I think it’s unfair to cite two issues of importance, among others, as the sole evidence for Republican do-nothing-ism. Moreover, I’ve heard liberals from Maxine Waters to Freddie flat out say that there are no contributions or counter-proposals from Republicans on health care reform, which ignores the inclusion of over 160 Republican amendments to the bill that passed HELP two months ago and the basic fact that legislative contributions are not measured in bills alone.Report

  6. Avatar Ryan says:

    “there are times when good-faith really boils down to principled opposition”

    And what exactly does that make the current situation, where every single proposal from Democrats is met by Republicans with rabid, hysteric, unprincipled obstruction?

    I’m with Freddie, but I’m less nice: “smart” conservatives need to stop being so damn cute about all this. Anyone pretending that Republicans are even on the same continent as good faith at this point is either deluded or a liar. You’re a pretty insightful guy in general, ED, which means I’m pretty sure you’re not deluded.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Ryan says:

      I have come to the conclusion that anyone who says “anyone who says X is stupid or evil” is stupid or evil. Except me in this particular case, of course.Report

      • Avatar Ryan in reply to Jaybird says:

        Well, as your comment points out so eloquently, sometimes it’s true that the only explanation for a person’s behavior is that he is either stupid or evil.

        I’m reminded of Brad DeLong’s trilemma, wherein it was impossible to find a conservative who was simultaneously smart, honest, and a supporter of the Bush regime. Same thing basically still applies.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Ryan says:

          There’s more than one way to do it.

          Someone can disagree with the conclusion you’ve reached and be neither stupid nor evil. Heck, they can even reach a specific conclusion without being either.

          “Look, I don’t agree with position P, but position X is the main concern of mine and the opposition party is wrong on position X and the (whatever) Party is good on it. If I want to make a difference, (whatever) is the only game in town.”

          We saw this bullshit get played after 9/11 (admittedly to great effect). It’s hard to not notice the tune a second (or umpteeth, actually) time.Report

          • Avatar Ryan in reply to Jaybird says:

            The difference is I’m not asking Republicans to agree with me; I’m just asking them to act like they’re capable of having an adult discussion. People like Grassley are playing both sides in public, stoking fires and encouraging lunatics who think the President was born in Kenya (and that that really matters) and that he wants to euthanize their grandparents. It’s not the disagreement, which is what “smart” conservatives don’t seem to get; it’s the fact that the entire Republican Party seems to be engaged in a project to lie, smear, and obfuscate rather than engage in anything like principled opposition.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Ryan says:

              Oh, are we talking about the politicians themselves?

              Oh, yeah. They’re stupid and evil. Get a couple of pillows and meet me at the tar factory and we’ll work something out from there.Report

              • Avatar Ryan in reply to Jaybird says:

                Yes, we are mostly talking about that. I think it trickles down, because people who identify with the GOP tend to take cues from these guys on the teevee, so all this nonsense about socialism and birth certificates gets blown all out of proportion when the national politicians adopt/don’t deny it. I understand that the outrage among the plebes is driven by actual concerns (I’m a liberal because I think the plight of actual people living their lives is an important thing for government to worry about, for crying out loud!), but I think the Republicans are clearly uninterested in doing anything about those concerns except stoking them and whipping people into an ill-informed, angry frenzy.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Ryan says:

                What number of people who identify with the GOP do so because their only other option is the DNC?

                We don’t have a Republican or Democratic party anymore. We have a Not-Democrat and a Not-Republican party.Report

              • Avatar Ryan in reply to Jaybird says:

                I don’t think that’s entirely fair. One of the chief things we spend so much time talking about is all the plans Democrats have to fix/destroy the country. Whatever else you might say about them (and I have a few thoughts that are not appropriate for family environs), they are a party with an agenda. (As were the Republicans… in 1994.)Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Ryan says:

                In 2004-5, we talked about the plans of the Republicans… then they lost their “permanent” majority.Report

              • Avatar Kyle in reply to Ryan says:

                I think Jaybird’s point is rather exceptionally fair. In a republic, you vote for people but not issues directly. The two are not synonymous as any President who’s ever nominated a Justice to the Supreme Court would probably attest.

                Back to Democrats and Republicans, the breadth of different political positions represented by the Democrats should underscore that electoral success doesn’t imply one priority over another. I mean just how many issues do Reps Shuler and Pelosi agree on? Or even for that matter Reps Dingell and Waxman?

                Just because you talk about plans doesn’t mean that every person who votes for you endorses them…especially when the viable alternatives are at most…one other person.Report

            • Avatar Kyle in reply to Ryan says:

              And what exactly does that make the current situation, where every single proposal from Democrats is met by Republicans with rabid, hysteric, unprincipled obstruction…Anyone pretending that Republicans are even on the same continent as good faith at this point is either deluded or a liar.

              Just how, exactly, do those statements fit into the “adult discussions” that Republicans are so apparently unable or unwilling to have?

              Moreover what proof do you have the Senator Grassley is or has ever encouraged the birther movement? I could find none but if there is none, I would suggest that such an allegation might be described as part of an “ill-informed, angry frenzy.”

              It’s not that I take issue with your criticisms of the GOP, I don’t think anyone commenting or writing here wouldn’t agree that they deserve at least some of them. I do, however, take issue with the persistent caricaturing, willful ignorance of fact, and unproven/unprovable allegations. Surely one can make a case against or critical of the GOP without relying upon such measures. After all, it is the GOP.Report

  7. Avatar Ryan says:

    That said, Friedman’s article is insane. We don’t have one-party democracy; we have a two-party democracy in which only one party’s membership actually includes grown-ups.Report