January 20, 2010
Progressive, or Just Liberal?

Politics is the shadow cast on society by big business, John Dewey said, and there’s a great truth in that statement.

But politics is also the shadow cast on society by psychology. Of course an aspiring clinical psychologist would say that, but I think I can support the claim. In fact it’s probably self-evident.

In something resembling a democracy, individual psychology clearly influences, and usually determines, personal voting patterns. If you see yourself as weak, helpless, and in need of outside forces to keep you from doing bad stuff, as the Southern Baptists I grew up around apparently do, then you’ll gravitate to strong leaders and forceful foreign policy and anything that makes you feel less insecure. Whereas if you feel confidant, capable, and self-directed, you’re more likely to vote to help others, and to have some compassion for people on the other side of whatever divide is being confronted.

At a higher level, what you think is going on in the world determines how you understand new information and what you think about events that take place. If, for example, you see the Republicans as just this side of evil, and the Democrats as disappointing but noticeably better, then your mental model of how things work involves the ideological necessity of keeping the Democrats in power pretty much all the time. The problem soon becomes apparent, and you realize that, but you still can’t see it.

People don’t like politicians who are weak and don’t know what they believe. If the [Senate health care] bill was worth passing yesterday, it’s just as worth passing tomorrow. All the meta-politics about being for something before you were against it, knowing what you believe or not knowing, being able to get something done. It all comes down to stuff like this.

Late Update: Here’s an unnamed “presidential advisor” quoted in Politico who should get a promotion: “The response will not be to do incremental things and try to salvage a few seats in the fall,” a presidential adviser said. “The best political route also happens to be the boldest rhetorical route, which is to go out and fight and let the chips fall where they may. We can say, ‘At least we fought for these things, and the Republicans said no.’”

I cannot say this enough. The policy front speaks for itself. But the meta-politics is real. It’s a big. But it’s something Democrats have great difficulty with. For a whole variety of reasons voters clearly have a lot of hesitation about this reform. I think the polls make clear that the public is not against it. But the reticence is real. If Dems decide to run from the whole project in the face of a single reverse, what are voters supposed to draw from that? What conclusion would you draw about an individual in an analogous situation in your own life? Think about it.

To me, Josh comes across here as completely bereft of a clue; it’s hard to know where to start. With “politicians who are weak and don’t know what they believe” — recognize any current President in that? Or how much the current Democratic dilemma arises directly from the complete absence of evidence of the President “fight[ing] and lett[ing] the chips fall where they may”, so that it’s now way too late? Or “run[ning] from the whole project in the face of a single reverse” — this is the only negative indicator the Democrats have seen for completely caving on health care reform? What about Obama’s sliding popularity? What about the polls on the bill itself — will the Democrats in general follow the lead of Martha Coakley and claim they didn’t have enough money for tracking polls?

Such a viewpoint leads to frustration, to telling people to just STFU, because it conflicts with reality. Cognitive psychology tells us that emotions are a reaction to the difference between what actually happens and what we expected would happen. Thus we can control our future emotional reactions by setting our expectations appropriately.

If we expect something unrealistic, we can call ourselves realists but events will not meet our expectations. When that happens, people get frantic.

“If it’s the end of health care, it’s the end of the Democratic majority.”

That’s Paul Begala from a few moments ago on CNN when asked whether a Brown win meant the end of health care reform. So true. It really is nothing to fear but fear itself. The Dems have no choice but to finish the job. No choice.

And I strongly suspect that means the House has to pass the senate bill.

One cannot even imagine anything more horrible than the end of the Democratic majority. Therefore, passing a terrible bill that everyone knows is only being enacted as a political ploy to keep the Democrats in power is the best, in fact only, move, because it keeps the Democrats in power.

Witness Massachusetts.

And I just have to point out one more time, there is no health care in this bill. It mandates the purchase of insurance, but does not mandate that insurance companies pay for whatever care you need. Who’s gonna come out ahead in such a transaction?

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at January 20, 2010 12:03 AM
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Well with only 58 Democratic members in the Senate, it's not like you can expect them to act like they have a majority or something. Obviously you need 80 votes to pass anything, since 60 didn't work.

Posted by: Mike Goldman on January 20, 2010 4:54 AM

"One cannot even imagine anything more horrible than the end of the Democratic majority. Therefore, passing a terrible bill that everyone knows is only being enacted as a political ploy to keep the Democrats in power is the best, in fact only, move, because it keeps the Democrats in power."

Bingo. And this is why Democratic voters are so pissed off and either didn't vote or voted for Brown. You would have to be completely freaking stupid to not see that no one on the Democratic side was willing to fight for any meaningful reform of our health care system, that they are no more interested in real reform than the Republicans but merely want to score points by claiming "victory on health care reform!"

It has been absolutely infuriating to watch the Democrats in congress and the White House cater to every freaking whim of the insane rightwing, torpedoing everything that the voters thought they were pulling the lever for in November 2008.

Forget the psychology of the voter, what's wrong with the Democratic leadership?

How mentally deficient do you have to be to replace Howard Dean with Tim Kaine? People who would just as soon pretend the great unwashed don't exist.

And this morning the Democratic leadership is doing an excellent job of undermining their own platform and alleged agenda by refusing to accept responsibility for the results of yesterday's election in Massachusetts by willfully not recognizing that Democratic voters are disengaged because of a lack of movement on any of the Democratic planks.

There was a palpable exhaustion of the population after eight years of Bush who then gave a clear mandate to the Democrats to change the direction of the country. Their failure to do so has resulted in a teabagger taking Ted Kennedy's senate seat.

It's incredible to me that rather than manning up and admitting they screwed up badly, the Democratic leadership shrugs and says, "Well, I guess people really want hard right policies after all."

Posted by: karen marie on January 20, 2010 9:22 AM

"And I just have to point out one more time, there is no health care in this bill. It mandates the purchase of insurance, but does not mandate that insurance companies pay for whatever care you need. Who’s gonna come out ahead in such a transaction?"

Hear, hear! The bill as it stands is somewhat worse than RomneyCare. Coakley ran as an establishment hack, indifferent to the electorate at best, with a platform of making things worse, directly in the face of people who have a very good idea of what's coming down the pike.

Posted by: Jim on January 20, 2010 11:26 AM

No, I'm pretty sure I see Republicans as being just the other side of evil. Having said that, I think Coakley's loss will serve as a wake-up call to Democrats to grow some spine and start doing the things their constituents elected them to do. If they don't, they'll likely be turned out of office in droves in the next election.

Posted by: Phil on January 20, 2010 5:42 PM

I agree with most of what Karen Marie says, except for the "how mentally deficient do you have to be…". That, to me, was a perfectly rational move by the corporate Democrats to get rid of a challenger and replace him with someone who's not a threat.

I hope for what Phil thinks, but I can't see why the Democrats would wake up this time after the 500th wake-up call.

What I think is that the population needs to wake up and form a second political party.

Posted by: Chuck Dupree on January 20, 2010 7:06 PM
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