Friday, July 29, 2011

Would/should the Democrats ever play the hostage game?

Yesterday Steve Benen wrote an interesting column that got me thinking. Its titled Would Democrats ever pull the same stunt? His question refers to whether or not the Democrats would ever take the global economy hostage for their own political/policy ends.

This is not a meaningless question. Recently I pointed out that Joan Walsh suggested just that. And we regularly hear it espoused by the hair-on-fire poutragers as the only appropriate response.

Benen's thoughts on that question focus mostly on the fact that Democrats wouldn't have a lot of credibility when it comes to the "stark raving mad" quality it takes to pull something like this off.

As hostage strategies go, the current crop of congressional Republicans are pulling an unprecedented stunt, which only works because most sincerely believe they really are dangerously crazy. It’s critical to making the strategy work — those holding the hostage have to convince everyone that they’re ready to follow through on their threat...

But what would happen if/when a Democratic Congress started making comparable threats to a Republican president? Probably nothing. It’s a question of credibility — GOP leaders and everyone else knows that Democrats aren’t crazy; they’re not irresponsible; and they’re not indifferent to the nation’s needs and future.

They wouldn’t, in other words, be perceived as folks who would shoot the hostage. Republicans play this game far more effectively because they satisfied the political world’s skepticism — few question the notion that they’re stark raving mad.

I'd suggest that should be points in favor of the Democrats...folks wouldn't buy that they're insane enough to mean it.

But it goes beyond an issue of credibility. Democrats really aren't "crazy; they’re not irresponsible; and they’re not indifferent to the nation’s needs and future" least the majority of them in public office right now aren't. Surely I have my differences with a lot of them, but the truth is that they're more focused on governing than crazed power stunts.

But lets take just a minute and imagine what would happen if Democrats took the advice of Walsh and the poutragers. What would it look like if they were willing to not only take hostages, but were willing to pull the trigger? What if we had not one, but two parties who played this way? What if there was no adult in the room?

I'd suggest that we'd have a lot of dead hostages and not much governing. Think gang warfare for a minute. One gang shoots and the other retaliates and then the previous one retaliates for the retaliation...on and on. That's what happens when you play that game. Because the fact of the matter is - neither side shuts down. They just up the ante and get more deadly. Certainly there might be a retreat here or there. But that would only be for strategic purposes to figure out how to take the battle to another front. Isn't this, for example, the very problem with intransigent situations like the one in the Middle East between the Israelis and the Palestinians? With the incessant "you did it first" attempt at a rationale?

And how would the American voter respond to such a spectacle? Would they, as some of the poutragers suggest, rally behind a Democratic Party that appeared "tough" and was willing to fight dirty? Or would they see the battle for what it is - a silly dick-swinging power play between two parties that are bent on mutually assured destruction? That's a gamble. I'd put money on the idea that it would turn people off to politics even more than they already are. And that doesn't even count the dead bodies laying around due to the shooting of hostages (you have to follow through every now and then to at least prove your point).

On this one, I'm in full agreement with what Barack Obama said about it six years ago.

The bottom line is that our job is harder than the conservatives' job...A polarized electorate that is turned off of politics, and easily dismisses both parties because of the nasty, dishonest tone of the debate, works perfectly well for those who seek to chip away at the very idea of government because, in the end, a cynical electorate is a selfish electorate.

The very essence of maturity is to not get into playing these kinds of destructive, childish - and yes, selfish - games. That's one of the reasons I'm a Democrat.


  1. Obama's quote - Exact. Great pick by you.

  2. All good points. The only way it could possibly work would be if something equivalent to the Tea Partiers were to emerge on the left -- a group so fanatical and out of touch with reality that they genuinely didn't understand the harm that could be done by their tactics, and wouldn't listen to facts, logic, or party leaders. Such people might make credible hostage takers, but its highly unlikely that they'd mobilize in favor of anything constructive.

    It's also unlikely to be a winning strategy. We don't yet know the long-term outcome of the mess in the House. But Wall Street is thoroughly alarmed and will likely be a lot more choosy about which Republicans' campaigns it contributes to in the future, and the party leadership must be feeling pretty much the same -- I can't imagine Boehner actually likes dealing with this monster of the right's own creation any more than anyone else does. Voters, too, will be more disgusted the more they see such behavior.

    Antagonizing everybody in sight doesn't look like a good strategy for political longevity. It wouldn't work any better on the left.