Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Combating a Political Circus

I'm not sure why, but I've always kind of liked Harry Reid and supported him in most of his efforts.  I suppose it's because I heavily preferred him over the completely ineffectual Tom Daschle, who was not only unable to outmaneuver Republicans, but entirely clueless as to where to even start fighting.  But Reid's taken a lot of grief from liberals who didn't like his risk-averse strategies.  For example, they wanted him to filibuster as minority leader and want him to stand-up against Republican filibusters as majority leader.  

And now that Reid has released a memo stating why filibusters can't realistically be stopped, he's being attacked by liberals who insist that this memo shows why he should have filibustered as minority leader, as well as by those who say we should let them filibuster now regardless of the difficulties.  Somehow, both of these groups kept arguing against those of us defending Reid, rather than realizing that they were stating mutually exclusive propositions which cancelled each other out.  

I mean, if it's bad for Republicans to filibuster by showing them to be obstructionists, then it would have been bad for us to do that.  But if filibusters would have been effective for us, then they'd be effective for Republicans now.   There's just no in-between ground here, yet these people never faced-off against each other.  The debate was strictly between those defending Reid and those attacking him; even if the attackers were doing so from opposing sides.

Gimmicks as Governing

And I am of the firm belief that we'd have been screwed in either case.  Dems would be painted as obstructionists for filibustering, and ineffective for permitting a Republican filibuster.  And that's because our greatest strength is our desire to actually get shit done, so Republicans win as long as it appears we can't get shit done.

And the main problem for us is that Republicans have never cared about governing; at least not since the "Gingrich Revolution."  It's all about political theater and taking huge gambles at the expense of America.  And they had to do this because they have no real platform.  They have no ideas or policies.  It's all about political gimmicks because that's easier than getting shit done.  And if they were truly interested in governing effectively, then they'd need to be liberals.  History has shown again and again that liberal policies are the only ones with a realistic chance of succeeding.

And so they gave us government shutdowns, endless investigations, presidential impeachments, preemptive wars, constant threats of filibusters, "nuclear options" against filibusters, and all sorts of stupid culture wars, pointless grandstanding, and manufactured outrage.  None of this had anything to do with passing policies.  Policy battles were only waged for their political value.  These people were never serious about getting anything done, and so they didn't.

And this stuff is HUGELY unpopular.  The nation hated Gingrich.  Before 9/11 temporarily changed the rules, Bush had to run as a "Compassionate Conservative" with a bipartisan record, in order to put a happy face on the Republican ticket.  Similarly, McCain had absolutely no strategy in his presidential run, preferring gimmicky tactics, outrageous smears, and Hail Mary longshots.  And the few times they succeeded, many liberals would insist that Obama was being routed and demanded that he try equally risky gambits.

And in the end, voters preferred the coolheaded adult over the gimmicky gambler.  And that dynamic continues now, with Republicans preferring political theater that the media loves, but which gets soundly rejected by a majority of Americans.  And that's as it should be.  Progressives might hate risk-averse strategies, but they work far better than Republican gambles.

Ignoring Reality

And this only happens because Republicans don't give a shit about the rules of politics or public opinion.  They're playing by their own rules which say that as long as they make the far-right happy and get the media to repeat their nonsense, the rest of America will follow.  Yet it rarely does and we have too many elections which prove they're wrong.

And that's the real problem that Reid and Democrats have.  If Republicans refuse to acknowledge political reality, then there really isn't much we can do about it, besides wait for another election.  Because they not only want political drama and gamesmanship, they require it.  And if we do the same, we'll only play into their hands and give them exactly what they want.  And not only will we not get what we want, but we'll lose elections too; getting us even further from our goal.  Again, our best attribute is our desire to get shit done.  Without that, we really get trounced.

It'd be like when your toddler has a temper tantrum in a restaurant.  You can respond by matching their theatrics, but you'll only look like a fool and won't have quieted your toddler.  And the louder you get, the louder they'll get; which is exactly what they wanted.  And so you bribe them and plead for them to behave rationally and are at their mercy until you can get them home and beat the hell out of them (joking!).  Except in our case, we can't leave the restaurant and they refuse to be placated.  

Because the temper tantrum is all they've got.  Without that, they'd have nothing to work with.  So while Democrats need to act responsibly and play within the rules of political realities, Republicans get to do any crazy stunt they can dream up.  And in the short-run, it works.  They have their tantrums and political drama and keep screwing with us.  

And the only time we can really stop this is at election time, when they lose again.  Ignoring public opinion is a huge advantage until election day, when it becomes the ultimate disadvantage.

Beating Blago

And we're seeing this played out again with the Blago-Burris Senate appointment.  Reader Green Eagle mentioned in my American Nihilist post on Burris how Reid got totally played by Blago and Burris, and how he's a buffoon because of it.  But again, the problem isn't that Reid screwed this up.  It's that he was dealing with two children who refused to acknowledge political reality.

And in the long run, this will hurt them.  Blago is unlikely to win elected office again and I seriously doubt Burris will have good chances of holding this Senate seat.  But in the meantime, they got what they wanted.  Reid did the adult thing and stated that no Blago appointment would be accepted, but Blago ignored reality and appointed someone anyway.  And Burris pulled out the political theatrics and ignored reality and insisted upon being seated, and Reid had little choice than to allow it.  And now that Burris has been exposed as being a lying schmuck, he still refuses to acknowledge reality and is trying to hold on to his seat at all costs.

And throughout this, Blago and Burris were perfectly willing to take huge risks and ignore reality, while Reid is considered the sucker for playing by the rules.  And in the long run, Reid will win.  Burris is quite unlikely to win re-election, assuming he holds his seat.  And in any case, it's likely that his reputation is tarnished almost as badly as Blago's.  Blago's career was over and Burris decided to chance a roll of the dice by sleeping with the Devil, on the belief that he'd get a political office he had little chance of obtaining otherwise.

Playing Against the Rules

And in the short run, he got his seat and Blago got to humiliate the adults with political gamesmanship that served no other purpose than to score a meaningless point.  For as much as he "routed" Reid, he gained nothing and only became more of a joke.  Sure, he had nothing to lose from all this, but he gained nothing either.  And Reid's only "mistake" was being stuck working in reality and getting outmaneuvered by people who had no such restrictions.  

But it's not because Blago, Burris, or the Republicans are political geniuses who know how to manipulate the political world.  It's that they're political morons who could only imagine they're winning because they're so ignorant of the rules they're breaking; and are egged on by a media which is equally ignorant.  It's like someone who thinks they're a chessmaster because they "discovered" they can move their pawns anywhere on the board they want.  Sure, they might capture your king on the second move, but they still lose.  And if progressives would stay focused on long-term goals, they'd realize that Republicans are losing.  But again, the problem is that reality can only inject itself every two years, and Republicans can continue ignoring it the rest of the time.

And overall, this is a dynamic that will always favor the adult in the long run.  If you want a successful career in politics, you have to play by the rules of politics.  And if you ignore those rules, you won't succeed.  And now with a political powerhouse like Obama in the Whitehouse, even short-term success will elude Republicans.  That's not to say we can steamroll them, as their lack of concern for public opinion denies us our strongest weapon.  Merely that they'll become even more irrelevant as they continue to play games that no longer have any value.


TRUTH101 said...

I would tell the real scoop about how Illinois politics works but it would give my enemies ammo they've been looking for Doc.

Betsy said...

Oh thank you so much. I always thought that Harry Reid was doing a good job but I am not experienced enough to understand whether he is or not. I keep seeing people fussing at him and I was badly confused. I understand much better now--you were very clear, and I feel much more relaxed than I did. Many thanks for this post.