It surprised most people to know that I am a default progressive. What I mean by that is on most issues I tend toward the progressive way of things, but — and this is a big BUT — I am educated enough in history, politics, and democracy, to understand that compromise is a large part of the equation; and that in a true democracy, ignoring 48% of the population and ramming through your ideas is not a good idea. Thus, while I default toward progressivism, I understand (and respect) conservative thought, don’t entirely believe that libertarians are crazy (in all actuality, it was a perfect mix of progressivism and libertarianism that founded nearly every good idea in this country), and believe that — always — the correct road for public policy is a moderate path.
This brings me to a ridiculous article I read by James Carville. Now, I love James Carville — just as much as I love any lunatic — he was (one of) the genius(es) behind the Clinton Era, but he believes that Democrats lost in 2010 because of a bad economy. This presupposes a stupid electorate, which I know people like to treat voters like special needs students, but there is not real evidence to support that theory. And even some of the more uneducated voters I meet are not even close to as stupid as insiders treat them.
The other genius of the Clinton Era, Rahm Emanuel, had it right. Had the progressive health care movement and the Democratic Party followed his strategy, the House would easily still be in Democratic hands, Obama would not be vulnerable at all in 2012, and the shape of the statehouses around the country would be entirely different. In January 2010, pundits were shocked that the tight ship of the GOP had no message, until it was handed to them by Democrats and the Tea Party Movement. I’m not going to go into the different proposals, but in short, Emanuel wanted to install an incremental approach of the more popular ideas that could not be used against Democrats at the polls (regulation, re-existing conditions, universal coverage for children); and if it were used against them, the campaign defense would be much easier.
Anytime, you speak out against an issue, you are seen as supporting it less. I have seen this directly throughout my career. This is the main reason I have been on the payroll of both political parties and subsequently thrown out of both political parties. However, nothing could be farther from the truth. You cannot make a different, unless you are in power. There is nothing more important in legislative politics than keeping power.
Republicans understand this and will do anything to stay in power. If they knew they could win on gay marriage by saying, “If you vote for gay marriage, we will all get cancer,” they would say it and not blink an eye. It does not make them evil. They do not believe it, but in democratic politics you say what the people want to hear and no one is better at responding to the public than the GOP. If Republicans could win on health care by saying, “If you support universal health care, grass will stop growing,” they would do it. Now, both of these examples are absurd, but I use them to make a point. The point is this:
The biggest weakness of progressive (and Democratic, big D) politics is that they need to be right. They need to be right about the facts, and they need to be right on the issue. If you told a Democrat, “You could win health care, if you told people that it will make them millionaire,” a Democrat will say “But that’s not the truth. The truth is everyone has a right to coverage (which is constitutionally debatable), it will reduce health care costs (which is why Republicans ought to support it), and it is morally the right thing to do.”
If you responded with, “But you will lose,” the Democrat would pick up their sword and reenact the ending scene to Braveheart. This doesn’t make Democrats stupid (on the contrary, in my experience with both parties, I’ve found progressives to be way, way too smart), but it does make them naive, arrogant, and (somewhat) ignorant (toward reality).
There is a reason why I am still concerned about this issue, and what it did for progressive politics and candidates moving forward. I will cover that in my next post.