Sunday, December 14, 2014

Discarding the Master's Tools

I find it fascinating that the liberal's "go-to guy" on railing against Wall Street - Matt Taibbi - basically agrees with me that Blanche Lincoln's contribution to Dodd/Frank was not a significant part of Wall Street reform.
Is killing the Citigroup provision really worth the trouble? Is it a "Hill to die on"? Maybe not in itself.
Instead, he has to rely on a "slippery slope" argument to defend his rant against what he calls The Blob ("a single furiously-money-collecting/favor-churning oligarchical Beltway party).
But the key here is that a victory on the swaps issue will provide the Beltway hacks with a playbook for killing the rest of the few meaningful things in Dodd-Frank, probably beginning with the similar Volcker Rule, designed to prevent other types of gambling by federally-insured banks. Once they cave on the swaps issue, it won't be long before the whole bill vanishes, and we can go all the way back to our pre-2008 regulatory Nirvana.
In other words, it's not that this provision was so important. It's that allowing this one to be repealed will lead to the eventual elimination of Dodd/Frank. I would argue that might have been the case if Boehner had gotten his 3-month continuing resolution. That would have set up a series of "must pass" spending bills loaded with these kinds of provisions. But with the passage of cromnibus, we will now have at least nine months of a Republican-controlled Congress with no government shutdown threats.

But of course Taibbi - like a few other liberals - isn't really worried about government shutdowns. He thinks liberals should embrace the tactics of the lunatic caucus.
If the Democrats actually stood for anything other than sounding as progressive as possible without offending their financial backers, then they would do what Republicans always do in these situations: force a shutdown to save their legislation.
The argument behind something like this is that the threat of a government shutdown gives you leverage in negotiating. But the threat doesn't work if you're bluffing. You have to be ready to actually shut down the government for it to be effective.

The values embraced by Democrats mean we have to look elsewhere for leverage. If you doubt that, just look at a summary of the results of our last federal government shut down. For those who actually care about the unemployed and underemployed, all you need to know is that the CBO suggested that even one of such short duration cost us 120,000 jobs.

Mike Lofgren - former Republican Congressional aide - explained a few years ago why the GOP is comfortable using this kind of leverage.
A couple of years ago, a Republican committee staff director told me candidly (and proudly) what the method was to all this obstruction and disruption. Should Republicans succeed in obstructing the Senate from doing its job, it would further lower Congress's generic favorability rating among the American people. By sabotaging the reputation of an institution of government, the party that is programmatically against government would come out the relative winner.

A deeply cynical tactic, to be sure, but a psychologically insightful one that plays on the weaknesses both of the voting public and the news media. There are tens of millions of low-information voters who hardly know which party controls which branch of government, let alone which party is pursuing a particular legislative tactic. These voters' confusion over who did what allows them to form the conclusion that "they are all crooks," and that "government is no good," further leading them to think, "a plague on both your houses" and "the parties are like two kids in a school yard." This ill-informed public cynicism, in its turn, further intensifies the long-term decline in public trust in government that has been taking place since the early 1960s - a distrust that has been stoked by Republican rhetoric at every turn ("Government is the problem," declared Ronald Reagan in 1980).
Whenever someone suggests that Democrats should mimic the tactics used by Republicans, I think of this:

That makes our job harder. It requires more creativity and maturity. As then-Senator Barack Obama said back in 2005:
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.


  1. Although I have no trouble understanding why supposed liberals like Taibbi want to embrace Republican tactics--they want the thrill of the win, something compromise doesn't deliver--I just cannot get behind that notion. The Democrats cannot force a government shutdown but the Republicans can because we Dems need government to work in order to prove our policies are the right ones. If you want thrills, ride a roller coaster. The adults have work to do.

  2. Heh taibbi knows full well the deal is fine, but his schtick is to whine about Obama. Thus the contortions he has top go thru as you describe in order to make his whine-quota.

    A fine example of progressives caring far more about their whining-persecution-righteousness, than they do about getting shit right.

    1. What's "amusing" to me is that in the same article Taibbi manages to criticize the D's for being too much like R's and then suggest D's should be more like R's. Hmmm....

  3. I understand why Tabbi feels as he does, but I'm not sure I agree that it would be the most effective way to battle the tactics being used by the GOP.

    That's more a tactical debate, and Tabbi is committed to seeing some fairness and equality in our society; can't hold that against him, even I may hold a different idea of the best methods.

    1. As MLK said, the ends are always present in the means.


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