Who ordered the scrambled brains?

Just one of many ways Mike has found to waste time.

Mass Health Care

I just finished reading The Democrats’ Day After and had some quick thoughts on yesterday’s Massachusetts Senate victory for the Republicans. I had’t been following the race closely, but clearly health care was the central factor. On the surface, the Democrats have failed in making the case for health care reform to Americans. Sure, there are many out there, Republican and Democrat alike, that support the bill(s) passed by the Congressional houses. However, I imagine the vast majority of these people base their support on personal experiences of difficulty or hardship in the existing health care system, and little on what has been argued by the Democrats. I say this because, as 1) a liberal-leaning individual with a strong sense of human compassion, 2) a political theory and sociology enthusiast, and 3) a news junkie, even I don’t feel like I have a complete and deep understanding of the debate. I’ve had the Wikipedia article on U.S. Health Care open in a tab on my desktop for about three months, waiting to be read when I find the time. Anecdotally, I’d say that most Americans, including and especially the young, have not had trouble with health insurance. For the young, the current state of health care is the reality of health care: under the covers it might not be ideal, but so are many things in the world.

For these ambivalent people, what really stands out about health care reform is the financial cost during a time of economic crisis. Against that, they can only weigh the abstract moral arguments that the Democrats have largely rested upon. And this is the crux of the problem regarding their handling of the debate: they have attempted to cast the issue as a moral one, when the contemporary constituent cares more about concrete ideas. These Americans need to understand the problems before we can feel the moral weight and identify with those that experience the problems. Not adequately informing this majority population is a critical mistake. As impassioned as the Democrats can be on the moral issue (and they are rarely impassioned), the Republicans can fire back hard, concrete bullets of concern over increased taxes. The Democrats would have been much better served by a sharp, directed, and anthropomorphic assault on the varied institutions (and individuals) who are benefiting from the current mess. This is a hardball psychological tactic that is fair game and that the Republicans, as influencers, have admirably mastered. And for the youth specifically (whose apathy prevents them from forming the party base, but are largely sympathetic to liberal ideas) to remain ambivalent to this issue is a massive lost opportunity.

Poorly arguing the case is only part of the problem. The Democrats, over the last four years, have campaigned on the promise of changing the tone in Washington. I would say that their intent was good, but their strategy was pitiful. To these Democrats, changing the tone meant playing nice with Republicans, and not aggressively using every tactic available to them. Primarily, they failed to alter Senate rules to limit minority power, in particular with regard to “individual holds” and filibuster requirements (see the article above). These are procedures that the Constitution authorizes them to perform, and that they had the voting power to enact. Instead, they left them open and preferred a strategy of compromise and bipartisanship. But why not do both? Just because you tighten the wiggle room of the minority does not mean you cannot listen to them, compromise with them, and respect their constituents. To me, this strategy reflects Democratic cultural recognition that the only way they can listen to opposing external viewpoints is by providing or maintaining procedural structures that force them to listen. This is disappointing, and proves itself to be a grave disservice to compassionate policymaking.

Leaving this hole open provides a foothold for an opponent who, unlike the Democrats, will in fact exercise every power at their disposal: Senatorial procedures, compromise, as well as cunning “consumer” marketing. This is the culture of the Republican party. Hence we hear of constant threats of filibuster. Democrats complain that they didn’t behave this way during the Bush years, so the respect should be reciprocated. Unfortunately, those passive acts of collegiality mean little to a populous that receives its political updates from sensational local and cable news shows. The Republicans, however, are very much in tune with the current cultural climate, which is one of fierce individualism (how many reality contest shows are on TV nowadays) where “anything goes” in order to win. Broadcasts of Republican ruthlessness resonate strongly with conservatives, just as Democratic ruthlessness would, if ever there were some to broadcast. For example, I think the Democrats have done a decent job of compromising with Republicans on the issue, but have utterly failed to capitalize on these acts as “tone-changing.” The unity of Republicans was ruthlessly successful in slowing down the bill, and now those Democratic concessions have become ancient history. The Republicans have capitalized by effectively recasting the situation, and all America sees now is a Dem party apparently hellbent on suppressing debate and passing their bill. Instead of acknowledging compromise, the populous see the Democratic party as close-minded and self-righteous; the Republicans have effectively caused the entire “change of tone” promise to appear to be a hypocritical lie. The Democrats should have recognized the longevity of the process of passing this bill, given the razor-thin supermajority, and therefore highlighted the need to act urgently while letting the issues that were contentious early on come to a filibuster. The country would have little tolerance for more than two protracted filibusters before the constant incantation of urgency from the Democrats would feed the image that it was the Republicans who were poisoning the tone in Washington.

In my opinion, Democratic politicians simply have little conviction. When I watch a Democrat speak, I don’t feel like I’m watching someone that has the image of a middle-class hard-working individual planted squarely in the mind. I don’t see passion or recognition of what’s on the line for their constituents. I merely see one who is constantly recalculating their position from an intellectual vantage point, i.e. an intellectual politician. I want to see an intellectual fighter. Someone who has enough conviction in their vision, that they will do the un-intellectual thing and mass market their ideas. Someone who has the intellectual strength to deeply consider the viewpoints of the opponents, to get in the minds of their constituents to understand life as they see it, and then market to them. I want to see a whole party of these fighters, shouting the injustices imposed upon the hard-working, and ruthlessly utilizing every backdoor the Constitution provides, because he is aware of everything that’s on the line and it drives him from within.

Now the health care bill can take two routes: 1) the usual reconciliation process for differences in the House bill and the Senate bill, and have each house go through the voting process again to pass it so that it can move to the President’s desk with both houses’ approval, or 2) have the House accept the Senate bill (which is smaller in scope), move that to the President, and then the House can attempt to start the entire process over to address the issues that weren’t in the Senate bill. The second approach fundamentally makes the House subservient to the Senate, and can upset the constituents of the Representatives (as well as their egos), but I think it is the correct move for the long-term. Starting the process over would give Republicans more momentum and would result in a significantly smaller plan than either Congressional house wants. Further, it would be disastrous for Obama. His Presidency would have lost tremendous steam and whether the Senate bill is affirmed or not, his re-election is already uncertain. The bill is full of very important beneficial policies, and they need to be enacted as soon as possible.

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Who ordered the scrambled brains? » Power of the Wordpress! said:

[…] Looks like Obama saw my last post about Democratic marketing on health care! Suh-weet!! […]


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