Friday, December 18, 2009


Regarding the post below, Tankerbell writes:

It's pretty easy to use someone like Lanny Davis as a strawman, but the fact is there are also some prominent liberals... who are arguing that for all its flaws and shortcomings, the legislation still does important things and is worth passing.

... I think it's at least worth entertaining an alternative perspective...which is at least AS plausible as the notion that Obama is just shelling for the insurance industry and essentially in cahoots with that unnamable thing from the state of CT.

Yes. Obviously Lanny Davis is an easy target. Just as obviously there are intelligent sophisticated conflict-of-interest-free persons arguing in good faith for passage of this bill. Also just as obviously there are gradations of sophistication in argument on either side of the debate, as there are in any debate, from principled, tightly argued theoretically coherent data-heavy position papers to logical-fallacy lobbing flatulators like myself. I’m a dipshit who doesn’t get paid to read and think, with posting privileges on a blawg. If I had NYT real estate I’d say different things.

Logically Lanny Davis’ whorishness does not discredit his argument and neither should the good-faith attempts by people on his “side” be dragged down by guilt-by-association tactics. However, outside the realm of pure logic and into the realm of the “real” world, I do honestly believe and will stand by the notion that when whores like Davis start arguing for an outcome, a huge red flag should go up. Davis’ allegiance creates for me an even higher burden of proof for those on his side. When CEO’s, establishment journos and think-tanks that take corporate money, state officials and generally people with power and their minions start talking, I think heavy skepticism is warranted. Not only is it warranted, but it’s the most sane orientation to take. They may indeed occasionally be saying something true or worthwhile, but that’s not the way to bet. When it comes to the discussion of the welfare of powerless people, people with power are simply not to be given the benefit of the doubt.

Now Krugman:

And maybe I’m being unfair, but I don’t seem to see the same degree of soul-searching on the other side. Too much of what I read seems to come from people who haven’t really faced up to what it will mean for progressive hopes — not to mention America’s uninsured — if health care reform crashes and burns, yet again.

Honestly, Paul: Fuck you, you supercilious fuck. Yes you are being unfair, to put it mildly. People who think this bill is shit haven’t done the requisite soul-searching and are heedless of the consequences? Why? Because you "don't seem to see" it? That’s some ad-hominem bullshit if there ever was such. Only he’s writing for NYT, not AmCop. Anyone who knows how to search the internet can find plenty of thoughtful sophisticated good-faith criticism of this bill from people who care just as much about “progressive hopes” and America’s uninsured as Paul Krugman. Singling out some people who made a guilt-by-association argument to attack your position and then knocking them down is just another victory in the war on straw. If that’s the best critique you’ve got of your opponents, your shit is weak. Apparently it’s “not a time for cheap shots” unless you’re Paul Krugman. In which case, fire away.

Dionne’s argument appears to be fourfold. First, that the 60 vote supermajority is required and empowers obstructionists. Second that Rockefeller and Brown say it’s a bad idea to kill the bill. Third, killing the bill aids your enemies. Fourth, that the bad bill can and likely will be expanded upon in the future.

The first is pure mythology that has been well-debunked by the articles and links that Speakingcorpse has provided in previous posts and comments.

The second is merely an appeal to authority and therefore fallacious and worthless.

The third requires belief in a false dichotomy: that a loss for Dems is a win for Republicans, but even in politics the enemy of my enemy is not always my friend.

The fourth is highly debatable and I think we’ve already done a respectable job here arguing the other side, although you can find more disciplined stuff elsewhere on the interwebs.

Now regarding this split among progressives, I’ve read two posts today that I think sum it up nicely. One by IOZ and one by La Greenwald. I like IOZ and find his polemics highly entertaining and basically spot-on. Since he doesn’t adhere to standards of civil discourse and rational argument, and people in these parts seem not to like him, I’ll just provide the link. Greenwald is more measured and judicious. Quoth Glenn:

(Jake McIntyre) explicitly said, his intent wasn't to suggest that those individuals shouldn't be listened to because of their Iraq position six years ago (that would be an invalid and unfair claim), but simply that -- as Kilgore says -- there are underlying and significant differences in strategic and ideological outlook driving the health care debate that have been present for some time but are typically ignored.


There are many reasons for the progressive division on the health care bill.  There are differences over the narrow question of health care policy, with some believing the bill does more harm than good just on that ground alone.  Some of it has to do with broader questions of political power:  if progressives always announce that they are willing to accept whatever miniscule benefits are tossed at them (on the ground that it's better than nothing) and unfailingly support Democratic initiatives (on the ground that the GOP is worse), then they will (and should) always be ignored when it comes time to negotiate; nobody takes seriously the demands of those who announce they'll go along with whatever the final outcome is.  But the most significant underlying division identified by Kilgore is the divergent views over the rapidly growing corporatism that defines our political system.


The health care bill is one of the most flagrant advancements of this corporatism yet, as it bizarrely forces millions of people to buy extremely inadequate products from the private health insurance industry -- regardless of whether they want it or, worse, whether they can afford it (even with some subsidies).   In other words, it uses the power of government, the force of law, to give the greatest gift imaginable to this industry -- tens of millions of coerced customers, many of whom will be truly burdened by having to turn their money over to these corporations -- and is thus a truly extreme advancement of this corporatist model.  It's undeniably true that the bill will also do some genuine good, as it will help many people who can't get coverage now to get it (though it will also severely burden many people with compelled, uncontrolled premiums and will potentially weaken coverage for millions as well).  If one judges the bill purely from the narrow perspective of coverage, a rational and reasonable (though by no means conclusive) case can be made in its favor.  But if one finds this creeping corporatism to be a truly disturbing and nefarious trend, then the bill will seem far less benign.


Even if one grants the arguments made by proponents of the health care bill about increased coverage, what the bill does is reinforces and bolsters a radically corrupt and flawed insurance model and an even more corrupt and destructive model of "governing."  It is a major step forward for the corporatist model, even a new innovation in propping it up.  How one weighs those benefits and costs -- both in the health care debate and with regard to many of Obama's other policies -- depends largely upon how devoted one is to undermining and weakening this corporatist framework.

Etc. Etc. The whole thing is worth reading.

I have, as you’ve asked, “entertain[ed] an alternative perspective...” As someone who did his fair share of “agonizing soul-searching” years ago and came out firmly on the side of devotion to undermining and weakening the corporatist framework (to put it extremely mildly), my default stance is this: any bill Democrats are pushing is intended to strengthen this framework. Any claim by Democrats that this is not what they are doing is a lie. Most of the jockeying and jostling in Washington is undertaken for two purposes: to create the appearance that strengthening the framework is not what they are doing, and to settle intra-elite disputes among rival factions of the powerful. Their goal is to enact unpopular policies that benefit them and yet retain popularity. Thus they have to engage in prolonged and complex deception. So far, I haven’t seen enough evidence to convince me that this is not what is in fact happening.

So no, the “alternative perspective” is not “at least as plausible” as the notion that Obama is shilling for corporate America. The “alternative perspective” is highly implausible. I assume that Obama is shilling for corporate America until proven otherwise. I assume that fundamentally the State exists to serve the interests of the privileged and powerful, and its officials will so act until proven otherwise. I don't assume these things willy nilly, but based on my examination of history, theory, economics and the like I’ve concluded that such assumptions are warranted and quite useful tools of analysis. Your mileage may vary depending on your reading list and life experiences. It’s an ideological position to be sure, but there is no escape from ideology so understood. The idea that everyone should be given the benefit of the doubt regardless of their position in the power structure is equally ideological. It is certainly possible that other things being equal Obama is not going to serve corporate interests, no ideology or political theory is determinative, but I consider it highly unlikely that he will do so.

(I should also say that most of this “deception” is mostly unconscious. The various mechanisms, techniques and processes by which this takes place are perfectly mundane and generally understood and do not amount to “conspiracy theories” or paranoia. But that’s an argument for another time.)

At any rate, I’ve yet to see much evidence that those who hold the “alternative perspective” you mention, i.e. the mainstream perspective on the what and how of American political economy, have ever seriously entertained the notions held by those of us "devoted to undermining the framework” as Glenn puts it.

I see a lot of dismissiveness: charges of paranoia or conspiricism. I see a lot of goal post moving: when you polemicize you’re accused of lack of sophistication and rigor, when you adhere to scholastic discipline you’re accused of pedantry; when you discuss a point-of-view not widely seen and don’t give equal time to the opposition, you’re accused of lacking balance. I see a lot of downright ignorance among presumably educated people: lack of familiarity with the concepts and language of theoretical and political traditions outside of their own. Lack of willingness to “consider an alternative point of view” to their left, or even their right for that matter. I also see among mainstream progressives just as much if not more anger directed at the far left as at the far right.

I’m not questioning your good faith here, but frankly I’m really tired of being asked to “consider the alternative”. We live in the “alternative”. The “alternative” is the air we breathe. We never for a moment have any option but to consider it. We are schooled in it since birth and have it repeated to us incessantly through every symbolic medium possible. Every institution we participate in is built around “the alternative” and therefore every action we take forces us to confront or conform to “the alternative”. We are constantly in the position of reconciling ourselves with it even when we’ve stopped believing in it. You might as well ask the poor to consider the travails of the rich, or women to ponder the dilemmas of patriarchs, or blacks to see it whitey’s way for once. I say this not to appropriate the moral status of oppressed groups, I’m personally quite privileged and have no claim there, but to point out the relationship of dominant to marginal perspectives. You can’t ask me to do something I’m continually being forced to do.


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