Thursday, January 15, 2015

How "Wins" are Defined in U.S. Politics

Sahil Kapur has just written one of those articles that captures why so many Americans are turned off by our politics. The title: Was Democrats' Big Midterm Defeat Really a Good Thing for Progressives? And of course, the article goes on to suggest that question can be answered in the affirmative.

As evidence for that conclusion, Kapur cites five "wins" for progressive Democrats in Congress after the "shellacking" they received in the 2014 midterms. Two of them have to do with successful blocks of Obama nominations, one is Sen. Warren's failed attempt to stop the cromnibus 2015 budget deal, and one is about committee assignments. The remaining item is about a progressive tax bill that has been announced - and could be justified as a "win" by progressives if it had a prayer of actually passing and/or influencing legislation.

As you can see by that list, "wins" are calculated in terms of the game of politics, not the results that might impact people's lives. The only way to do the latter is to "win" elections or have a President who's willing to go it alone on getting things done.

So let's pause for a moment and pretend that Democrats had won an overwhelming victory in the midterms. What might have happened with Kapur's list? Progressives still could have blocked the Obama nominations, they would still have gotten the plumb committee assignments (as Chairs, not simply ranking members), crommibus wouldn't have been necessary, and progressive tax reform might have actually had a chance of passing. In addition to all that, Democrats in Congress wouldn't have to be spending all their time fighting off attempts to repeal Obamacare, repeal Wall Street reform, defund Social Security's Disability benefits, undo the President's immigration actions, etc. And finally, perhaps we'd be looking at the possibility of things like universal pre-K, free community college and paid medical/family leave. THAT'S what winning would look like!


  1. I'm not against the concept of 2 steps forward one step back overall long-term growth. The idea of growing, trimming the fat, grow some more, trim some more - is perfectly common in nature and societal constructs.

    I do question however whether that's what's happening in a given specific case, and in particular whether media people are bright enough to make such an assessment.

    That said, fuck dixiecrats. We have a stranglehold on the presidency for the foreseeable future - that's not everything, but it's enough.

    1. I guess that could be enough if you think everything is fine the way it is. We need to win Congress and win big

  2. Thank you, Nancy. Since the "I'm too good to vote for Carter" crowd that threw very poor people into the gutter, this has been a big divide on the putative "Left". Wins that herald good theater and ideological satisfaction too often trump wins that change the direction of people's lives. In the budget deal of 2010 when PBO continued the upper income tax cut for two years, even the powerful Center on Budget and Policy Priorities was threatened with drawing and quartering for saying it was strategic and a huge win for people. The cut consisted of 14% of the whole but 86% of the win was to help middle class families and small businesses. If we had policy oriented people who celebrated victories from compromise, we would move ahead, but if we don't get OUR fave bit, the whole thing is a 'sell out' and a 'capitulation' to the Right in their eyes. Policy is the ONLY thing that matters - feel good theater is not. That is the largest divide in America - those who understand reality and those who want only theater.