Blaming the Republicans

Ryan Avent has a good post and I agree with much of it (and read him as expressing a good deal of agreement with me).  I do, however, disagree with one part:

…if Waxman-Markey is a bad bill, then it is a bad bill largely because
the minority party has an energy plan that scarcely recognises the
threat of climate change as a problem. This guarantees that the vote
will be close, which guarantees that Democrats will have to wheel and
deal and wheel and deal to get the votes they need–the last Democrat to
be converted can name his price. It's a little silly to complain about
the imperfect bill Democrats have crafted, when the Republican minority
has basically forced them to build a law that every last Democrat can

I don't mean to pick on Ryan but I am seeing this idea growing in influence and I wish to push on it a bit.  (By the way, here is his follow-up post.)  A few points:

1. Negative claims about Republican politicians are, in fact, usually true.  I don't wish to defend them or make you dislike them less.

2. If a policy idea cannot survive the opposition being partisan and also lying about it, I submit the policy idea is not such a good one.  You can blame the opposition with all the justice in the world on your side, but still the idea has major, major problems.

3. The notion of a "minimum winning coalition" is commonplace in political science.  Maybe the idea isn't as universal as its early proponents claimed, but still it is an important force in shaping political equilibria.  If a policy idea cannot survive being turned into a "minimum winning coalition" version of itself…well…see #2.

4. Both the Republicans and the Democrats share some common problems and they are known as voters.  And special interest groups.  If your plan cannot survive the influence of voters, and special interest groups…well…see #2.

5. Many government programs can in fact survive all of these negative influences and still emerge as good ideas.

6. The Democrats do in fact rule by more than one seat in both houses of Congress.  So maybe the marginal Democratic legislators don't have so much bargaining power after all.  You can cite 60+ in the Senate but of course this is endogenous to what the Democrats themselves think public opinion will bear.  There is a reason why the Democratic establishment does not, as Matt Yglesias so often recommends, abolish the 60+ requirement.  Often they prefer inaction, combined with the ability to blame the Republicans for such.  See #4.  The often-sad truth is that the Democrats as a whole prefer to tailor policy to pander to their "worst" members.

7. If indeed "the revolution is over" it is a question of critical importance, for progressives, what lessons to take away from the experience.  I'm not yet sure what are the correct lessons, from a progressive point of view (Robin Hanson and I have been chatting about this and I hope to blog it more soon).  Deep in my bones, however, I feel that if the main takeaway were "the Republicans were at fault," that a significant learning opportunity will have been missed.


Comments for this post are closed