The Iron Binary and Reagan’s Succession Crisis

Related Post Roulette

26 Responses

  1. Barry says:

    “The very strong alignment between the liberal base and liberal elites forms an iron binary, a group whose fundamental agreement on issues joins them inviolably. Their broad agreement on social and economic issues allows them to work – more or less – in harmony.”

    Take healthcare reform, for example. That inviolable join was why Obama was able to get sweeping healthcare reform, with a strong public option, enacted within his first 100 days.

    Also, that was why the bailout of Chrysler and GM were every bit as generous as the Wall St bailout. Could you believe that various right-wingers wanted to have the autoworkers take a hit, while they eagerly pumped hundreds of billions into Wall St with no conditions worth jack sh*t?
    /sarcasm offReport

    • Kyle in reply to Barry says:

      I see what you’re saying.

      In editing this down, I cut a paragraph that directly addressed your first point, viz. politicians would be their own point (a would be triangle) but their reliance on independents and conservative voters places them less in harmony than the base and liberal/unelected, Democratic leaders.

      So what the iron binary means is that even though they disagree on how to fix healthcare, and they do, they all agree that healthcare needs to be reformed. Even though they disagree on when DADT should be repealed, nobody is saying that it shouldn’t be. This continues for a larger host of issues and underlying viewpoints than for their counterparts.Report

      • Barry in reply to Kyle says:

        Well, one of the ways of preventing something from ever being passed is to push the line, ‘yes, but not now’ (MLK had a nice speech on this). Note that we’ve seen a half-dozen ‘centrist’ Democratic Senators who seem to have suddenly gotten a jones for a non-existant bipartisanship, no matter how much the GOP Senate faction jerks them around.

        And as I pointed out with the bailouts, Wall St got from 10 to 20 times as much *known* cash, with far, far fewer restrictions, than Detroit did. For just one item, how many retired Wall Streeters had to take hits?Report

        • Kyle in reply to Barry says:

          Three things.

          1.) That makes sense, centrist Democratic politicians aren’t progressive That makes them not part of the iron binary which was focused on the relationship between the liberal base and its leaders, which is a lot more unified (not just because they’re winning) than the conservative base.

          2.) Centrist Democrats care about bipartisanship to the extent that it gives them electoral cover, strengthens their bargaining power, and moves legislation more in-line with their needs. Not such a strange position

          3.) Comparing the auto bailout to the rescue of the financial industry is comparing apples to oranges. They had different needs and ignoring that to focus on cash outlays is misleading. Moreover, the right-wingers you cited earlier voted almost uniformly against both, so I fail to see how their nefarious influence was greater over one than the other.Report

  2. krogerfoot says:

    Couldn’t we just say that winning, for either party, steals focus away from internal schisms? The “broad agreement on social and economic issues” on the left is at least as thin as it is wide. Maybe what allowed the liberalish side to work in harmony over the past few years was just the recognition that the aroma of corrupt ineptitude, long the distinctive odor of the Democrats, was now wafting that much more strongly from the other side. If the Democrats revert to form and sustain substantial losses in 2010, the harmony will evaporate pretty quickly and the GOP will again look like a well-oiled machine.

    Anyway, an interesting take on things, and I really mean no disrespect in suggesting this piece could use a proofreader.Report

    • zic in reply to krogerfoot says:

      Funny, I took it the opposite, at least for conservatives. Winning caused a lock-step march among conservatives, taking the focus off their internal disputes, weakening them. Had the aired those disputes, they might be better off today.Report

    • Kyle in reply to krogerfoot says:

      For the most part, yes, winning raises the costs of certain actions like airing grievances while also giving party leaders more clout to reward and punish. What I think is important is that we recognize that D’s & R’s are in very different spots. Additionally, the relationship between their bases and their elites is also very different.

      So whereas the discord so common among Democrats would be more prevalent after a bad midterm, it wouldn’t (with the exception of Afghanistan) reflect on fundamental differences as much as differences on degree or method.

      The Republicans at this point are basically held together by mutual loathing, fear, and bad intentions. On issues of substance, fundamental disagreements about almost every issue before the government presents a much bigger challenge.

      Shorter: Democrats need to learn how to work together to advance common goals. Republicans need to figure out what common goals they want to advance in the first place, besides the naked pursuit of power.

      As for the proofreading – no excuses, no offense taken – this could be a lot cleaner.Report

  3. Jaybird says:

    There is a fair amount of rot within both parties. It needs to be wrung out.

    Had 9/11 not happened, we would have seen a very different 2002 and 2004. The Republicans are merely dealing with what they would have had to deal with had 9/11 not happened. (Tea parties would have started in 2005, for example. And when people ask “why didn’t you complain about Bush?”, it could be pointed out that he lost the House in 2002 and the White House in 2004).

    The lessons of Perot still haven’t sunk in, I don’t think.

    At this point, the only thing that either party really has going for it is that the other party is worse… but you only notice when the other party is in power.

    (Apologies for rambling but that’s what your essay had me thinking about.)Report

    • Kyle in reply to Jaybird says:

      lessons of Perot?Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Kyle says:

        A sufficiently fiscally conservative candidate who is charismatic and indifferent to social hotbutton issues can go apeshit on national television and still get 1 out of 6 votes.Report

        • Bayesian in reply to Jaybird says:

          Jaybird –
          (sorry for ugly formatting – preview is looking strange)
          I knew people who were part of Perot’s legions in 1992. In two cases giving substantial $ and time. Granted, this was in urban SoCal, so my data are both anecdotal and would be unrepresentative even if they were quantitative. That disclaimer made:

          1) The fiscal conservatism alone didn’t do it. The economic nationalism (subliminally triggering all sorts of nationalism IMHO) was a significant part of it too. A freetrading, nonnationalist deficit hawk (arguably Tsongas?) wouldn’t have struck the chord.

          2) I don’t think Perot was “indifferent” to the hotbutton issues – he was determinedly moderate/centrist on them, or at least so he presented himself. Compare e.g. Norquist, who presents himself as hard right on the social hotbuttons, but doesn’t prioritize them.
          3) Need it be said that Perot’s ability to self-finance was crucial?Report

          • Jaybird in reply to Bayesian says:

            I see 3 as essential (absolutely)… but 2 as more important than 1.

            I don’t really remember 1 at all… I mean, sure. I’m sure that that was there, but I don’t really remember it. Huh. I’ll do some researching.Report

            • Mark Thompson in reply to Jaybird says:

              Opposition to NAFTA was definitely a central area of emphasis in his campaign. This data seems relevant as to what kind of role that played in his campaign although I’m not sure how well it answers the question:,_1992#Voter_demographics

              Interesting factoid that I never realized from that link: did you know that Perot beat Bush I in Maine and got 30% of the vote there despite Bush’s ties to that state? Weird.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Mark Thompson says:

                OH YEAH! I remember now. The “giant sucking sound”.

                As someone who spent a fair amount of time watching his jobs outsourced to Singapore, the giant sucking sound was to the west, not to the north/south.Report

              • North in reply to Jaybird says:

                Woah, Jay? What’s going on? Are you anti-free trade?Report

              • Jaybird in reply to North says:

                No… not exactly.

                I do think that domestic policy ought not encourage corporations to have to go overseas for workers.

                This probably deserves a post in itself but… well, when I started out in the IT field, it was as a contractor. Why a contractor and not an employee? Well, earlier, the government passed a number of laws to protect employees… and, of course, made exemptions for contractors. So I was not hired as an employee because, as an employee, the corporation would have to follow laws that it didn’t have to follow to hire me as a contractor.

                How wacky was the law? Well, I had a co-worker who told me that he had been told that he was going to be laid off, because if he had been working there as a contractor for more than 18 months, he’d have to be hired as an employee. His manager said “we’ll lay you off, we’ll pay your unemployment, buy a playstation, we’ll see you (I think it was) in three months and do this again.”

                The law was creating perverse incentives.

                On top of that, when outsourcing mania started to hit, I couldn’t help but notice that, for much of the 90’s, corporations were dumping a lot of money into IT types… who then went to restaurants and motorcycle dealerships and realtors and whathaveyou and bought stuff and created a great deal of velocity for the economy… which, of course, included waiters and motorcycle saleswomen and realtors buying computers, which necessitated IT people, and so on.

                When the money started being dumped on Singaporean IT folks, a huge number of IT folks from Tier 1 support to Tier III support were laid off… and they stopped going to restaurants, motorcycle dealerships, etc. There was a lot less churn. (And, if rumors are to be believed, servers that I brought back up in 20 minutes were going 2 days without being brought back up.)

                Additionally, there was a similar phenomenon happening in Asia that had happened for a short while in the US. The first people could be hired for pennies on the dollar… but then the second corporation showed up and offered a few pennies more. And the third corporation showed up and offered nickels on the dollar. So on and so forth until it reached the point where my company could no longer hire people in Singapore but we had to bus them in from Malaysia (some of them told us that Singaporeans were really racist to them and left newspapers lying around that had headlines that said, paraphrased, dey took ur jerbs). On top of that, we found that we never had someone work for us for more than a year. They made their money, they said “holy crap, I’d be a millionaire in the north/south/east/west part of the (or this other) country!”, and they’d run off to be a millionaire in the sticks. (Meanwhile, the servers still had two-day downtimes.)

                When the dollar crashed, the corporations found, huh, the dollar used to buy a double buttload of monopoly money overseas… but now it only buys a buttload (and then only one cheek) and we still have to pay them the rates we signed contracts for. Meanwhile, the servers still had two-day downtimes because, among other reasons, there was no longer accumulated memory on the part of the team. The guy who had been there 15 months was the old man.

                That said, the corporations could fire people at will over there, didn’t have to pay for health care or provide handicapable restrooms on the third floors. Discussions of why fewer products were moving stateside showed up every now and again, but no one in the board rooms seemed to make any connections. The bottom line looked *GREAT* for a while, but eventually lost productivity started hurting, then the weak dollar, and so on and so forth.

                From what I had last heard, Costa Rica was the next big place to put a call center. The first company to go there paid pennies on the dollar.

                All that to say, I am not against free trade (indeed, I am a fan). I am, however, a fan of knowledge workers having something akin to actual knowledge rather than procedures written by people who had been given a termination date and suspect that corporations would have better products and better bottom lines if they gave Americans enough money to buy their products.

                It would certainly be a lot more patriotic on their parts.Report

              • Cascadian in reply to Jaybird says:

                Lovely post.Report

        • Kyle in reply to Jaybird says:

          I’d say that has something to do with the fact that a nation of then under 300 million people can’t be satisfactorily represented by two parties.

          Enter the American paradox, we like choice but we also like power and efficacy. So we could have more political choice at the expense of political efficacy or vice-versa, which is what do have.Report

    • Barry in reply to Jaybird says:


      ” (Tea parties would have started in 2005, for example. ”

      No, the tea partiers managed to keep their teapots at a simmer until a few months after a Democratic president was elected. It wasn’t a matter of finally losing patience, it was a matter of a bunch of right-wingers throwing a temper tantrum, and the media obligingly not pointing out that they licked Bush’s boots all the way down.Report

  4. steve says:

    Part of the problem is distance. The far left fringe can say something weird like, let’s all be Communists and it is ignored by the rest of the left, while getting good play on Red State. When the far right fringe says something like Obama is not an American or he is a socialist/fascist, it gets repeated by some of the elites on the right, including elected officials. The right fringe has very little distance from the right’s most popular elites.


  5. This is an interesting piece, Kyle. And it points out how perceptions may vary. A few things-
    1) It’s interesting that you should note that Democrats are not tarred with comments from fringe people viewed as left. I’m not going to buy that one bit. Not only Fox, Drudge and Politico, but the mainstream media as well commonly link Democratic politicians to crazy statements by (take your pick)- Michael Moore, Morgan Freeman, Sean Penn, etc. Further, prominent Republicans/conservatives appear on the same stages as members of the lunatic fringe Right with very little notice from the media (see, for example, CPAC).

    2) I think what seems to be Democratic politician/liberal base alignment is more appearance than reality. There may not be the volume of discord between the two that seems to exist on the other side, but I’d argue that it is very real. But one thing that the netroots has done very well is place partisanship above ideology. The roots have supported candidates on the right end of the Democratic spectrum in order to get to their majorities.

    3) As someone on the outside looking in, I viewed the GOP contenders in 2008 to be very similar ideologically. Leaving aside Ron Paul, I saw very little cleavage in terms of support for permanent war, support for creationism, support for the Bush tax cuts and other major issues. (Maybe Huckabee was slightly different in his opposition to capital punishment.)

    4) The lack of welcome for Romney probably has as much to do with his serial flip-flopping, as anything else. (Full disclosure: I worked for his 1994 primary opponent.) I wouldn’t trust that guy to carry my groceries to the car, let alone the federal government.Report

    • Kyle in reply to Justin_Anderson says:

      1.) My point wasn’t about Democrats per se but liberal elites, “For wonks, there really isn’t a constituency of people demanding that say Ezra Klein denounce ACORN…there’s a very widespread sense that the fringe on the left is…distinct from mainstream serious people on the left.”

      I’m asserting that the operational environment for issue oriented serious people is different depending on which side of the line you stand on. Put another way it’s easier to be a respectable liberal and say, “I care about affordable housing but I could care less about big or small government,” than to be a respectable conservative who says “I care about promoting entrepreneurship but could care less about abortion.”

      2.) I think it’ll be interesting to see how much that netroots support continues. Already, frustration with the party seems to be pushing progressive groups to take a more inquisitorial stance. Then again, it may recede after health care reform passes. That said, I agree on the base-politician split. Though my focus, if not my examples, was on liberal and conservative elites.

      There just aren’t any liberal elites out there arguing for repealing Roe or right to work. The only issues, I think, where you can identify disagreements that are fundamental and not over degree, are Afghanistan and education.

      If you were to put Maddow, Huffington, Vanden Heuvel, Drum, Krugman, and Klein on a stage you’d get a lot more agreement out of them than you would a stage with Scarborough, Krauthammer, Will, Mankiw, Frum, and Beck.

      3.) They all did basically agree on Iraq/Afghanistan and the Bush tax cuts. On creationism, Giuliani strongly opposed it, McCain opposed it in science classrooms but thought it was up to the states, Romney opposed teaching intelligent design in classrooms as Governor. Then you had Tancredo, Brownback, and Huckabee who all didn’t believe in evolution.

      Beyond that issue, Huckabee de-emphasized fiscal conservatism to focus on more compassionate social conservatism, Giuliani emphasized the GWOT and defence and far less extreme views on social issues, Romney was a socially more conservative Giuliani with more emphasis on fiscal policies and then Fred Thompson was a reliably conservative version of Romney. Then, there was John McCain, whose political vision was President McCain and little more.

      As for mistrust of Romney, the flip-flopping is true but what he flopped to and from are what I was talking about. To be presentable to an external audience in Massachusetts he adopted positions that were anathema to the right but necessary for his palatability to Mass voters. It wasn’t that he didn’t know which face to present to which audience, it was that both audiences could see both faces and then he became the Janus candidate.Report

      • Kyle in reply to Kyle says:

        eek super long reply…I’d make a terrible tv pundit.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Kyle says:

        A dynamic that I noticed at Redstate:

        Nobody (or, at least, dang few) had McCain as their most hated candidate. Now, nobody had McCain as their favorite… but the people who liked Giuliani *HATED* Huckabee. People who liked Huckabee *HATED* Giuliani. People who liked Romney *HATED* Tancredo. Everybody hated Ron Paul. McCain was everybody’s #3 (or sometimes #2) choice.

        I suspect that, in that at least, Redstate was a fairly accurate reflection of the country.Report

  6. Hi

    Nice post. It goes well with a recent post of mine on “not getting” the American Revolution, so I have included a link to it in my post. Progressives are signaling to themselves and others that they are members of the Club of the Virtuous. Conservatives are committed, to varying degrees, to defense of different parts of a diverse inheritance from the past which is evolving/threatened in varying ways. It makes unity inherently harder in the absence of a sense of common threat. Particularly if they start getting into the game of signaling their own “purity”.Report