Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Why Beating Lieberman Mattered, Until It Didn't


[If you're a reader who shies away from coarse language, you may want to skip this post]

As a matter of moral and political practicality, I think as much as the current deal has large, crap sandwich-esque elements to it, there is a lot to like in the bill. In the main, it returns health insurance to being something more akin to social insurance than it currently is. It also makes insurance affordable for a large number of people (and yes, I still need to do a post about how the bill is as good or better than Massachusetts on this score, despite my previous carping) and will reduce preventable deaths and other sickness-related reductions in quality of life. It also fully or partially unwinds some policy errors of the previous decade, such as Medicare advantage and the overpayments to pharmaceutical companies.

But as a matter of long term politics for progressives, it's hard to say that this bill is good news. Because we're still somebody's bitch. And since this whole political blogging thing got revved up in 2002-2003, a large animating factor was the desire for liberals to stop being everybody's bitch. Howard Dean's campaign message was basically that Democrats should stop being George W. Bush's bitch. The 2006 camaign finally put House Democrats in a situation where they could stand up and say that. In 2008, certainly some of the anti-Clinton sentiment grew out of a desire not to be under the thumb of the Clintonistas--not just Hillary, but various centrist figures such as Richard Holbrooke, Larry Summers, Mark Penn, and so on. On that score, things have worked out well in some cases, and not so well in others. But right now, none of that matters because we're all Joe Lieberman's bitch. There's some debate about the extent to which this is true because President Obama is letting himself be dragged around the nose by Lieberman, Nelson, et al. because he agrees with them more than the progressives, and the extent to which it's just the result of the current structure of Senate politics and there isn't much of a choice if Obama doesn't get anything done. Either way, it's not good.

Being anybody's bitch, especially being Joe Lieberman's bitch, doesn't feel good. So there is a question going forward of how we get out of this situation; how it is to convince the White House and Senate leadership that they should fear progressive objections as much as they fear "centrist" objections. That's not going to be possible when it comes to health care, or, I fear, when it comes to climate change. But it might be true for something else, like banking reform, or appointing Fed chairs who only pay attention to the "price stability" part of their mandate and not the "full employment" part, or continuing to fund the war in Afghanistan, or other priorities such as education reauthorization.

8 comments:

Ursula said...

Seriously though, we couldn't use the phrase 'Joe Lieberman's ridiculously compliant object of abuse and scorn' or anything like that?
Because your use of 'bitch' here equates femaleness with compliance. You're lucky ladies don't read your blog or you would have heard it from all of them by now.

AsianTrains said...

Since when do women not read this blog.

chrismealy said...

In the spirit of "if you don't buy this magazine, we'll kill this dog," how about getting tough on Israel?

I know, I know, credible threat. Grrr.

Carl said...

I think Nick was making a prison sex reference and wasn't necessarily comparing "femaleness with compliance." Although, yeah.

Also, I think there are enough lefties issuing credible threats that Stupak shouldn't be in the final bill, so that's something (although since it just preserves the status quo, not something great).

ikl said...

There is some magical thinking going on in this post. Lieberman caucuses with the Democrats, but he is not really a Democrat anymore. He doesn't have any chance at the Democratic nomination in 2012 (Blumenthal will be the nominee unless Dodd drops out and he runs this year in which case Chris Murphy is probably the Dem nominee). Obama and Reid have little to no leverage over Lieberman. Reid could probably strip him of his chairmanship but (a) not until 2011, (b) he needs Lieberman's vote for any number of other things until then, (c) Lieberman may be better off switching sides then anyway since he sure isn't winning as a Dem in 2012 no matter what he does. Please explain how Obama or Reid is supposed to get Lieberman to do anything he doesn't want to do. This is just handwaiving as far as I can tell. Situation sucks, but it is what it is and frankly we are lucky that the Dems have 60 votes in the Senate in any way shape or form (think of all of the close Senate races in the past 4 years that went our way).

Yeah, wouldn't it be great if Obama etc. just told off clowns and knaves such as Lieberman and Nelson rather than getting anything accomplished. I'm sorry but the point here is to get something useful accomplished, not to make you feel good about how "progressives" can beat up on people or act tough regardless of whether it gets anything done.

richard.clayton said...

What ikl said, but I'd also add that progressives need to shift from looking at very narrow and personal forms of revenge against Lieberman (stripping his chairmanship) and toward broader and more effective forms of revenge against Lieberman: majority rule in the Senate. If the anger currently directed at the health care bill (and Obama) could somehow be harnessed and directed toward ending the filibuster and the hold, we'd be a long way toward getting much more progressive legislation, and a long way toward rendering Joe Lieberman a powerless irrelevance. But if you can't even get Russ Feingold to support using reconciliation for health care, you've got your work cut out for you.

Tyrone Slothrop said...

Progressives want actual legislation. Centrists like Lieberman care more about preening and basking in the adulation of bipartisan and serious people within the Beltway. It's very easy for centrists to fuck with progressive legislation -- after all, that's one way to win the adulation of the serious people. It's very hard for progressives to prevent centrists from preening. The whole Ned Lamont thing was a good try, but it's hard. Change is hard.

AsianTrains said...

Well said.