On Done Deals, Or, Sometimes Losing Is How You Win

We have been talking a lot about Social Security these past few weeks, even to the point where I’ve missed out on talking about things that I also wanted to bring to the table, particularly the effort to reform Senate rules.

We’ll make up for that today with a conversation that bears upon both of those issues, and a lot of others besides, by getting back to one of the fundamentals in a very real way...and today’s fundamental involves the question of whether it’s a good idea to keep pushing for what you want, even if it seems pointless at the time.

To put it another way: when it comes to this Administration and this Congress and trying to influence policy...if Elvis has already left the building, what’s the point?

Bachmann response now on CNN. Turn to SAP Channel 3 for English captions.

--A Tweet posted by pourmecoffee, immediately following the 2011 State of the Union address

If you have been in any way awake and alert over the past 18 months or so, you’ve noticed that this President is having some trouble with the most fervent of his November ‘08 supporters, who feel—with some considerable justification—that they’ve either been sold short, used as a target of political convenience, or ignored altogether in their calls for a more Progressive agenda.

It has come to the point where many who gave money to Democrats in the ’08 cycle did not donate in ’10—and it’s also suggested that many of that ‘08 voting coalition chose not to vote Democratic as well, exacerbating the Party’s electoral troubles in this cycle’s contests.

And there are numbers to back this up: I’ve been looking at a CAF/Greenberg poll that’s about a week old, and even as those who oppose Obama’s policies (particularly his most strident opponents) have been warming to his approach over the past six months or so, the number of voters who support him the most strongly has never been lower—and it’s stayed that way since about June of ’10.

So a long-running theme of my work is that this is the time to try to influence one thing or another; most recently that’s been an effort directed at trying to impact the discussion around what might happen with Social Security.

A long-running response to that work, in the comments that some of my friends post on the sites where these stories appear, is that there is just no purpose in trying to change the direction of this particular Ship of State, as it has already sailed. This Administration is too corrupt and too feckless to be forced into change, they will tell you, and anyone who thinks otherwise is either deluded or carrying water for the DCCC.

But I don’t agree, and I’ll tell you why:

Right off the bat, you might be surprised how often you can win, even when you did not think you would; the fights over DADT and Elizabeth Warren’s nomination are a couple of recent examples that come to mind.

Beyond that, losing a political fight, and doing it well, helps to move the conversation incrementally over the longer term; I would suggest that it took two political cycles before the tide turned on the war in Iraq, and now it’s beginning to look like the military’s plan for “Victory In Afghanistan Through Massive Force” is a proposition that’s tougher and tougher to sell every day—even within the White House.

Conservatives know this well, and efforts to advocate for gun rights, to advance “pro-life” policies, and to radically change the form and function of government have extended over decades, with incremental changes often being the incremental goal (“let’s create these temporary tax cuts today...and let’s try to extend them forever another day...”).

Ironically, another good reason to “fight the good fight”, even in an environment where you might not see victory as possible, is one that is very familiar to the most fervent of Obama’s ’08 supporters: the very fight, in and of itself, is often a way to create political capital—even if you lose.

How many of us have wished this very President would have stood up and fought for things that he might not have thought he would get?

Would you support this President more if he had demanded that Congress pass a single-payer plan, or if he was pushing harder to end renditions and close Guantanamo, even if Congress was blocking him? I bet you would.

And it makes sense: if you support single-payer, and you see someone out there fighting hard for the idea...that’s a good thing, and that’s someone you’re likely to come back and support later.

It worked for three Congressional Democrats who lost elections this fall: Feingold, Grayson, and Patrick Murphy are all in a great position to seek support from the very people who are the most frustrated with pretty much all the other Democrats today.

Some of those supporters aren’t even waiting for the future candidates; the “Draft Feingold for President” movement goes back to at least 2004, Grayson and Murphy also have supporters ready and willing to go.

So...if it’s true that if this President would fight like Bernie Sanders, even in a losing cause, then we would treat him with the same degree of affection and respect we feel toward Bernie Sanders...is it also true that we should, maybe, apply that lesson to ourselves?

There is an argument to be made that trying to move your opponent when you don’t think you can, and in the process showing how they appear to be either intransigent, or ignorant, or corrupt by comparison...or just plain wrong about something...can regularly end up moving voters, instead—and that the result of that movement is that your opponent sometimes has to move your way as well.

I would submit that the 2005 effort to “reform” Social Security, when we had a Republican President, House, and Senate, went exactly nowhere fast because being wrong did move a bunch of voters to say...well, to say that all those Republicans were wrong.

So there you go, folks: I’m here today to suggest that, even when we might not feel we have a good chance of winning a political fight—or even a fair chance—you still have to get out and fight the fight, if only to advance the cause for another day.

It’s also a great way to accrue political capital that can be used to your advantage later—and if the resistance from the other side is perceived as being too heavy-handed, they can suffer from a sort of “attrition”, as their own political capital is diminished.

And even if you lose, there’s still a lot to be gained in the effort, although you might not see the results until further down the road.

As we said at the top of the story, there are lots of battles left over, including what is going to happen to Social Security and the potential for reforming Senate rules; but win or lose, it’s probably a better idea to be trying to fight these fights, loudly and logically, just as we wish the President would, then to find ourselves hanging back and doing nothing at all today...and then voting for Jack Box for President 2012 as a way of expressing our frustration.


you don't have jack in the box...

...in nc...so make sure you check out the link.

"...i feel that if a person can't communicate, the very least he can do is to shut up." --tom lehrer, january 1965

We do

have Jack in the Box in NC. Not many, and concentrated around Charlotte. I've never seen them advertised though (around Raleigh).

Revisionist history and revisionist present

Right off the bat, you might be surprised how often you can win, even when you did not think you would; the fights over DADT

A win? You've got to be kidding.

DADT is still the law of the land to this very day. The President, his Secretary of Defense, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs STILL HAVE NOT certified that DADT can be repealed.

The polling on this issue was always strong, and now even after the vote is taken and the law signed we're waiting on Obama and his administration to act.

Do not say DADT is repealed until it actually has been repealed.

Then we can talk about whether it was an "Obama win" or not.


not to be too direct here...

...but you are just absolutely wrong on this one.

it would have been impossible to simply certify, and there are perfectly good reasons this won't happen overnight.

it took seven years for racial desegregation to be fully implemented in the services (and to be honest, i expect the marines to be the last to comply, just as was the case back then), and it is not going to take anywhere near that long for this to occur.

politically, it would be best for obama to do this during '11, so as to remove it from the '12 campaign...unless he sees it as something that should be held back until that campaign, which seems unlikely.

i know you don't like obama and the democrats (and by the way, how you likin' the "grim weeper" as the new speaker and the new house committee chairs?), but it's time to let reality creep in a bit, even if it does undermine the reasons why you dislike the man so intensely.

as we said before, it's easy to discern how a democratic house you did not like could still be better than a truly horrible republican one...and now that you're starting to get what you so badly wanted, i hope you take the time to think a bit more dispassionately about whether it was a good idea or not.

"...i feel that if a person can't communicate, the very least he can do is to shut up." --tom lehrer, january 1965

There is no good reason for full DADT repeal to still be waiting

but it's time to let reality creep in a bit,

The reality is that DADT repeal was the lowest hanging of all the LGBT fruit. It had the highest polling of any LGBT issue.

And somehow Obama turned that piece of gold into a pile of crap with the wildly insulting and unprecedented "study" and certification process with a 60 day waiting period to follow.

Not that that's the only issue he's watered down with nonsense, but it's a prime example.

Two years into President Obama, and we've still got DADT and "progressives" explaining how grateful we should be and why we need to wait just a little longer.

No, no, and no.

I'll see your House observation and raise you.

How's that "Democratic" Senate and "Democratic President" working out for ya?

Remade the judiciary yet?

Didn't think so.


i don't know if you saw the story i linked...

...but it does take a bit of time to do that stuff.

you do not get that kind of organizational movement done in a single workday, and that is just the way large organizations work.

there is a 90 day period required for public comments when virtually any federal regulations change, and that's in the us code, has been there for decades, and it is not open to negotiation--so even after the new regulations are written, there will have to be an additional three months before the certification can occur...and that's if there are no changes to be made to any potential regulatory changes.

of course you can't do any teaching to the troops until you identify the teachers, determine exactly what they'll be teaching, and then teach it to them. all that requires "curriculum approvals" and the booking of meeting rooms and coordinating the presence of those teachers at the meeting rooms...and all of that is an unavoidable fact of "process" life.

it is also more likely than not that new conduct expectations will not be "taught" to troops currently in a combat assignment, which is common when dod policies change, so you will have to figure out if you can certify before all those troops are brought back home, or if you'll have to do a full rotation of combat troops "stateside" before you can certify.

if you have to do the rotations first...add 6-18 months to the process.

if you want to see exactly what is going to happen, the defense department's implementation strategy document is available here. it lays out the discrete steps that will be required to get the work done, and if you have a look i think you'll see it's something that simply can not be done overnight--or in a month, for that matter.

and as for the judiciary...in the current environment, where about 15% of us district court judge positions are unfilled because the senate refuses to vote to confirm the nominees (those secret holds, you know...), who exactly were the liberal candidates that were going to be confirmed that obama should have nominated?

"...i feel that if a person can't communicate, the very least he can do is to shut up." --tom lehrer, january 1965