Saturday, December 19, 2009
Our friends have been explaining things to us ever so kindly during the last few days: “Don’t let the best be the enemy of the good”, “politics is the art of the possible”, “politics is the art of compromise”, and just recently “We must obey he ethic of responsibility”.
This isn’t about purism vs. compromise, as many on both sides seem to think. In the end you’re going to get a compromise. This is about fighting for the best compromise.
But playing the game involves risk. In the example I just gave, over a run of auctions you’re going to come out ahead, but now and then it will happen that you would have been better off with the easy deal. If you play, sometimes you lose, but if you don’t play, in the end you lose more. For at least the last twenty years, Democratic negotiations have been defined from the start as finding the middle, with the progressive positions surrendered even before bargaining begins.
This leads to a second question: who are we bargaining with? Well, we’re not bargaining with the Republicans or the conservative Democrats — our representatives are in Congress to do that. We don’t have to figure out how to handle Joe Lieberman or Olympia Snowe or Ben Nelson or any of the other boodlers and rightwingers stinking up Congress. We’re bargaining with our own representatives in Congress, not the other side’s representatives. And in practice this means that we’re bargaining with the progressives in Congress, the Democratic leadership, and Barack Obama (as represented by Rahm Emmanuel).
We obviously shouldn’t take bargaining tips from the people we’re bargaining with. Progressive bargaining with the Democratic Party has been stuck at the “Shut up!” level for a good long time, and Obama (in the person of Rahm Emmanuel) has not changed that.
Centrists are always assuring us that they’re really on our side but are continually forced to compromise by the political realities. This is not true, however. Centrists are committed to centrism — some for ideological reasons, some for corrupt reasons, and most for both reasons. Along with the Republicans we are one of their two main adversaries, and we shouldn’t be too sure that they’ll side with us at crunch time. Beating us is one of their primary goals.
Democratic pros and Republican demagogues tend to speak of progressives and intellectuals as tiny, effete, inconsequential minorities, but that’s just bullying...The Democrats can’t win without intellectuals and progressives, but they don’t want to give us much, and that’s why we are continually having these dog-and-pony-show debates about purism and realism and moral seriousness and the ethic of responsibility and so on.
We should play the game to the end, and make our choices piecemeal as we go along. And remember — anything less than Medicare for all counts as a compromise.