Saturday, October 30, 2010

Of Hicks and Hacks

I was reminded by the Spousal Unit of a post by Brad DeLong a little over a year ago (Health Care Reform: Memories of 1994) that fits quite well with the themes I've been writing about. DeLong notes (my emphasis):
After President Clinton's 43 percent plurality victory in the presidential election of 1992, I worked as a spear carrier in the U.S. Treasury Department under Secretary Lloyd Bentsen. The plurality view in the Treasury Department throughout 1993 and up through the middle of 1994 regarding the health-care reform situation had six analytical pieces:

(1) There were not even 50 votes available in the U.S. Senate for any health-care reform bill sponsored by President Clinton. It did not matter what the bill included or how good the policy might be, because key Democratic senators placed a higher priority on teaching the hick from Arkansas that he was not their boss; they were determined to vote against it. Thus even though the Democrats had a majority in the Senate, they could not pass Clinton's bill—whatever it was—even if the Republicans did not filibuster it.

(2) There were, on the other hand, 80 votes in the Senate for any health-care reform bill that would be blessed by Republican Senate leader Robert Dole.

(3) Dole was not a cruel or cynical or amoral man, and really did want to make the country a better place.

(4) Dole—with his own long-standing health problems stemming from his World War II injuries—was keenly aware of the importance of health care.

(5) Dole was smart: He understood how the American health-care financing system was broken and how much public good would be achieved by fixing it.

(6) Dole and Bentsen, who had represented Texas in the Senate before becoming Treasury chief, had worked well together throughout the mid- and late-1980s and into the 1990s trying to repair the damage done to America's budget by the supply-siders. (Dole, remember, was the guy who told this joke: "The bad news is that a bus went over the cliff. The good news is that it was loaded with supply-side economists.")

Therefore, we in the Treasury thought that sometime—probably in the second quarter of 1994—Bentsen's personal policy staff would start feeling out Dole's personal policy staff on the issue. Then President Clinton would invite Sen. Dole to a private Oval Office meeting, after which Clinton would tell the cameras that the health-care legislative process had gotten bogged down and that he was seeking Sen. Dole's wise counsel to break the logjam.

Dole would then announce the Dole Compromise. This would provide the nation with desperately needed health-care reform. And it would provide Sen. Dole with a capstone achievement to a senate career that had been too often misspent spinning his wheels and backtracking.
It was more important to this pack of senators - no doubt led by Teddy Kennedy - to punish the interloper who had so rudely won the White House than to pass substantive reform. (Given what Kennedy has said of himself vis-a-vis Nixon's health care proposals and what Pres. Carter has said about Teddy's backstabbing ways, I think that Kennedy should best be remembered as the Democrat who ensured substantive health care never happened because the health of millions of Americans was less important than salving his own bruised ego that he wasn't handed the presidency, but that's a topic for another post.) The Stevensonian elite's perception of and response to Clinton, a response that you can read from them even today, when he's busting his ass to keep their party from losing everything and the kitchen sink, is most remarkable for its tenacious mendacity. I've presented that analysis before. Here are relevant posts and you can look at my Clinton Derangement Syndrome tagged posts for more:
More interesting to me is the deference given to Dole. This is the fantasy of bi-partisanship that the media loves to trot out and that the high-minded Stevensonians of DC want to pursue, even though it ceased to exist after the Watergate hearings.

Dole himself was not willing to play ball. He stayed loyal to his party, blocking everything he could, and rode that horse to defeat in 1996, taking the remnants of the moderate Republicans with him. With that loss should have come an end to the nonsense about bi-partisanship as cooperation, consensus or compromise. It certainly was so on the Republican side of the aisle.

DeLong seems to think that the lesson of 1994 on Democrats is that "Democratic senators do themselves no good either in the next world or in this when they block sensible initiatives from Democratic presidents," but neatly sidesteps the reason that block of senators was blocking sensible initiatives from a Democratic president in the first place. The fantasy of bi-partisanship remains strong among precisely those Stevensonians who thought (and think) that teaching lessons to hicks is more important than having functional power.

The real question that requires an answer is why are the political hacks on the left incapable of honesty about their own actions that undermined the strength of the party? Clinton started his administration more liberal than he ended, and was consistently denied support from his own party to move politics left. Public intellectuals like DeLong himself have wasted no time in blaming Clinton for everything that went wrong in that era, yet are strangely silent about their own roles in undermining him so badly in the first two years that they inflicted a defeat on the party - a loss of power and public authority greater than the number of seats lost, as evidenced by their impotence even when they regained their legislative majority. What spears was DeLong carrying, for whom and whose backs received those weapons? He does not tip his hand in this blog posts as to whether he agreed with the analysis of the Treasury hacks, and what he specifically did to further (or confound) the cause of the Dole Compromise.

The counter-balance to the fantasy of bi-partisanship is the fantasy of the hate-filled unwashed, against whom the forces of reason are allied and arrayed. The Bubbas and Bunkers who just don't understand or, more malevolently, are actively opposed to progress and justice. They vote against their own self-interest! shriek the headlines even as the senators and representatives cast their votes against the interests of all but a few. The presidential candidate privately castigates those ignorant rubes for clinging to god and guns, the newly minted president crafts a health care plan that may very well impoverish them more, and now we're shocked, shocked that they are angry at having their self-interest sacrificed on the altar of private insurance profits?

If the hicks are hacking away at the Washington power elite, the hacks have no one to blame but themselves. This is what comes from voting against your long-term self-interest.



    Anonymous said...

    2% less evil is still evil.

    Koshem Bos said...

    The increase in affluence has decreased the connection between the center-left parties, e.g. Labor in the UK and the Democrats in the US, and the poor and the lower middle class. Being close to money snd having many rich operatives forced the Democrats to the right. 2008 was the victory of the upper middle classes over everybody below them. Even veteran lefties such as Pelosi, who grow up in the labor town Baltimore, never mention the poor anymore; it's the middle class (actually the lower middle class isn't included).
    The poor and the lower middle class don’t fit into the moneyed and cultural framework of the Democratic power elite. As said, the hacks don’t need the hicks unless it’s election year. The arrogance and ridicule are traits of moneyed ruling class, the faux lefty blogs, the MSM and of course, Obama. To extrapolate on Robert Reich, Nebraska will vote Democratic when the rich will be much poorer and the Democrats will recall their original agenda and the operative won’t come from Wall Street but rather the unions and the poor communities.