Tuesday, February 26, 2013

What it means to "win" in politics

Anyone who is committed to social justice should know by now that you can never declare victory and go home. The struggle in this world is always ongoing. So in that sense - you never "win."

But one of the things that has always intrigued me is how so many on the left seem to almost have a distaste for acknowledging the small steps of progress when we are winning. I'm one who happens to think that if you always see the glass as half-empty, you are likely to miss understanding how progress is actually made.

As we've watched the achievements of President Obama over these last 4 years, many of us have felt the need to remind our fellow progressives that the suffragettes threw black women under the bus to achieve the right of women to vote, FDR did the same thing to women and African Americans to get Social Security, and Congress watered down the 1964 Civil Rights Act's enforcement on private businesses in order to break a filibuster. And yet all of those were milestones in this country's progressive journey. As painful as it is - that's what "winning" looks like.

I was reminded of all this today when reading an article by Digby at Hullabaloo.
But I'm going to guess that the major battles of the coming years are going to be around the fundamental role of government, with labor and social insurance at the top of the list. And on that, I see no signs that the GOP is prepared to moderate. In fact, the Democratic Party isn't much better on those issues and shows little sign of truly pulling in the opposite direction.
I agree...the GOP is showing no signs of moderating. But that's not what opposition parties do. In the face of clear loses in the last election, the Republicans have made the choice to fully embrace opposition.

But it still boggles the mind to think that there are liberals who assume that Democrats aren't much better on issues related to labor and social insurance than the Republicans are. It seems that folks like Digby assume that efforts to voucherize Medicare and privatize Social Security are no different than a pragmatic awareness of the long-term challenges those programs face. We can certainly disagree amongst ourselves about how to address those challenges. But to assume that the ones embraced by Democrats are no different than those of the Republicans is sheer madness.

I would remind Digby of the quote EJ Dionne used recently about the stage of the struggle we're currently in: first you win the argument...then you win the vote. According to Pew Research, we're certainly winning the argument when it comes to the role of government.  As I've said before, lets not mistake Republican malevolence for success.

Digby goes on from there.
...on the fundamental battle over the role of government, they [Republicans] have been winning and they know they've been winning. After all, Obamacare, their most hated new government initiative was a GOP plan not even two decades ago.

They aren't all stupid, especially those who are working to restore our society to a pre-New Deal state. It would be really helpful if Democrats stopped being so cocky and started recognizing how much they have been losing on policy even as they've been winning elections. The country is losing either way.
On that reference to Obamacare, please notice that Digby did a bait-and-switch. Her argument is that Republicans are winning the battle on the role of government. Just because previous generations of Republicans supported a larger role for government when it comes to health care doesn't make her point. That would be like saying that because Republicans at one time in their history supported the abolition of slavery, it would be a losing argument for Democrats to embrace the idea now.

The question is whether or not Obamacare advances the cause of an effective role for government in health care. I'd suggest that the largest expansion of Medicaid in that program's history (which Republican governors are increasingly embracing) along with insurance reforms (such as denying exclusions for -re-existing conditions, community ratings, medical loss ratios, exclusion of lifetime caps, and exchanges) do a pretty good job of advancing the idea that government can play an effective role.

So no, I'm not going to stop being "so cocky" because we're not losing. The need to prop this current crop of Republicans up as not being "all stupid" is the losing strategy here. As a matter of fact, my favorite word for what the Republicans are doing these days is not just "stupid," its "lunacy."

The struggle is ongoing, and at this point we're winning. I'd suggest that progressives get on board by recognizing that reality.


  1. I've been reading these kinds of articles for four years now and have seen very little evidence that Progressives, particularly the Professional Left have embraced the idea that we are winning. I suppose we all have to keep trying, but my heart is not in it. There are just certain people who can only be motivated by being in opposition to something. Winning doesn't interest them--criticizing others for not producing the exact winning results they seek does motivate them.

    I can't even call these people Progressives anymore. They're just judgmental cranks who call themselves Progressives. They have no real interest in winning anything except an argument.

  2. I think that many go-to bloggers are so not so much because of any real insight, but because they got into the act very early in the creation of the "blogosphere" and benefit as a result. Tenure, so to speak.

    When you say that we do have medium- to long-term problems with Medicare and Soc Security spending, you make what seems to me is a huge mistake in not actually distinguishing between the two, both in causes and severity.

    Medicare is a very real problem, because it's linked directly to the mass of Baby Boomers now set to or actually receiving benefits. We have a growing proportion of people, at least temporarily, who are over 65, relative to the rest of the population. Also, Medicare by its nature is indexed to the cost of medical care, which has grown in the last 30 years at rates much higher than the general cost of living or certainly the rate of inflation.

    Social Security is another matter. I refer you to an article in the Monthly Review, from 1983:


    "Phony Crisis." That was 1983. 30 f'in years ago, and they were crying wolf then, too.

    Another article, same journal, from 2000:


    There are funding issues with Social Security, but fairly easily handled. It does not need major changes to continue to meet requirements for the foreseeable future. The right, however, seeking to privatize the program, cries crisis. The goal here, as that second article puts it, is a kind of primitive capital accumulation: the mass of capital which then could, in finance's hands, be managed for a 1% commission. That would be a huge influx into the market, and would also serve to artificially inflate (because of the increased demand) stock prices, a massive windfall for those who already own stocks, and therefore disproportionately benefiting billionaires.

    Medicare spending is a subset of overall rising health care costs, absent a real single-payer or national health program. Social Security is indexed to a much broader cost of living index, and not in crisis. It needs, as any government program does, occasional, slight course-corrections, the likes of which are noticed only by those whose profession it is to pay attention. For most people, it's just there.

  3. SP, probably would do your BP a favor and avoid Digby. Just sayin'


  4. I am reminded of something that happened in my home state of Oregon a few years back.

    Oregon had some of the best land-use planning laws in the country. These were laws that were passed after years of progressive struggle and were to be greatly admired.

    However, that does not mean they didn't have flaws. Those flaws would occasionally grab headlines and those who opposed those laws at a fundamental level were more than happy to seize on those headlines in order to undermine them.

    The problem came, however, when the supporters of those laws refused to even consider mild reforms to correct the issues. They repeatedly attacked the reforms as an attempt to undermine the whole system and attacked those who backed those reforms as being in the pockets of big developers.

    So the problems were fixed and they just became bigger and bigger issues.

    Eventually a ballot measure was passed that gutted a significant portion of those laws, to a much greater extent then the reforms that were initially proposed.

    The lesson: when you oppose even the smallest reforms, you create the soil in which more destructive reforms can take root.

    The fear of the slippery slope can sometimes blind you to the massive cliff yawning before you.

    (note: some of the laws were restored after a few years when people realized the gutting went to far, but wouldn't it have been better not to have gone that far in the first place?)

  5. Digby can't get on board because that would mean the rain has stopped. It's always raining in Digby's universe. Democrats scoring a major victory means it's time to lament how they have not achieved anything or sold out their base completely.

  6. I stopped giving myself ulcers. I stopped reading Digby.

  7. Yeah, I had to give up Digby too. Perpetual doom. Glad to have found this blog.

    1. Other than Tavis Smiley & Cornell West, why is it that the kvetching progressive left almost always means white people?

    2. Uhh, White Privilege.

  8. There were a lot of us who started calling ourselves the "pragmatic liberals" or progressives, simply to distinguish ourselves from people like Digby. The reality is that nothing that ever gets accomplished is ever going to be satisfactory to them, that it will always fail some "purity" test.

    I remember when Digby moaned and cried over Kucinich losing a primary. You'd have never known reading the column that it was ... a primary, not a general election. In other words, in vote of the base, Kucinich lost.

    The same holds true, as you point out, in their inability to recognize progress. It's one thing to say "OK, now we need to move to the next step," another to say "we failed because it's not pure enough." Every major progressive advancement across the board started with some truly butt-ugly piece of toothless legislation that was by no means good enough. But it was a start.