How to win the defunding debate (a cross-post with a left jab)

This place has had far too little contentiousness since it’s inception, so in honor of Armando’s FP diary promoting defunding I’m cross-posting a DKos diary I wrote on the topic the week before last, to which I add this preface:

I think that couching opposition to defunding as craven bellywriggling on the part of the netroots is ridiculous.  In trying to drum up netroots support for defunding, Armando is being every bit as much a “leader” as Kos or Bowers and Stoller.  And, as usual, there’s a psychosexual aspect to his attack, such that anyone who doesn’t agree with him is a weak punk without the guts for exert “people power” — as if agreeing with him on this issue is people-power’s sine qua non.

I explain below why I don’t think defunding — while a good idea in principle — is going to work.  If it won’t, then we’re simply setting up a situation where we’re going to howl at the Democrats because they can’t control the Bush Dogs.  (In fact, I think that the leadership already knows that there is too much support for continued funding — based on fears of a GOP Dolchstoss strategy for defunding to work, which is why they’re trying to make the best of a bad hand right now.)  That will feel really goooood for those of us who like to be able to say we told you so, but it won’t do a damn thing to stop the war, and by weakening the Democratic Party, may prolong it.

But as (and if) we debate the merits of defunding, let’s not pretend that this is part of any acid test for the netroots.  Armando does not equal “people-power,” despite his claims; he’s just another netroots leader with a different policy idea, which he and several friends have been hammering in a manner that is not readily distinguishable from the putative “top-down” approach of kos, Bowers, and Stoller.  It’s all about persuasion over what tactic to use to tackle a difficult issue; let’s not pretend it’s about something grander than that.

Oh, and if you wonder why I don’t raise this in Armando’s diary itself: he asked me to keep out of his diaries, which I usually (but not inevitably) do as a courtesy, and so far as I know there’s no exception for this site.

Here’s the original diary from DKos.

Disclaimer: my views only, not those of any candidate or organization.

How do we win the defunding debate, as discussed by the erstwhile Armando Llorens in his full-name-signed editorial in The Guardian?

First, we should recognize that maybe we can’t, but let’s put that aside.

Second, think of what we’re actually trying to accomplish.  We need 218 votes.  Having the leadership is not enough, because of the prospect of a discharge petition, which 218 Reps can sign to bring legislation to the floor.  It’s also not enough unless we can always set rules that don’t allow amendments to add funding to any bill where it might happen.  That means that we will need to convince all but a dozen so Bush Dogs (or, to be polite, Blue Dogs) to stick with us through thick and thin.  Because if we don’t do that, we lose.

What else do we need?

Third, we need to focus on how to convince them.  Let’s be clear: We don’t need to convince “the Democrats.”  We need to convince the Bush Dogs.  And the Bush Dogs are not going to be moved by a concerted netroots drive for this policy.  They’ll be moved only when they think that they have more to risk politically by funding than by defunding.

We haven’t made that case.  Maybe we’ve made it to our satisfaction, sure, but not to their satisfaction.  Because what they’re looking towards is ads like those that the Freedom Crunchers put out this week, using tried and true mendacious PR techniques right out of Drew Westen’s book, and they think that it will sell in their districts.

Our response to that tends to be: “But look at the polls!  Americans want the war to end!”  But politicians are harder to convince than that.  They know that the public can be fickle and can have a really short memory.  They’re concerned about what happens after the next terrorist attack, after Iraqi oil falls under Iranian control, after a genocide arises in Iraq, after Saudi Arabia becomes destabilized, after the next oil embargo, after gas prices go through the roof.  They know that Republicans will blame Democrats.  Their concern is how much traction that argument can get.

I believe that their concerns can be addressed, but I don’t think we’ve come close to addressing them.  What’s our answer to the Bush Dogs for what happens when things go bad?  Are we going to show the public the polls are say “look, back in 2007 you said that you wanted to do it our way!”?  No, we need better answers than that.  The reason politicians don’t favor defunding — despite our ability to get a majority for timelines — is that they believe that when things go bad — and thanks to Bush’s stupidity, they will — it will look like a blunt instrument and a plausible culprit for our failure.

That’s what they’re scared of, much more than they’ll ever be scared of abuse from the likes of us.  They know what happened to U.S. public opinion after the two most prominent instances where we took it on the chin from Muslims — the Iranian Hostage Crisis and 9/11, when opinion in the country hurtled rightward — and they don’t want to invite another encore.

Fourth, what arguments do we use?  If we want to change their minds, we need to meet them on the grounds of their own concerns, not to engage in some piloerectile politics where we fluff ourselves up to look more scary.  We need to show them that our arguments can preserve Democratic government not only when the wind is at our backs, like now, but when it won’t (necessarily) be, like when things go bad.

Part of that is probably going to mean showing the public that we pushed policies that cut into the Bush Administration errors with surgical precision, to lead to the best salvageable outcome, rather than using what will be seen as the incredibly blunt instrument of defunding.

Personally, if there were 435 copies of me in the House, I think I’d favor defunding by about 290 votes, even though I’d realize that I would be taking a huge gamble with the future of the party — and thus with the future of the country, given how awful the Republicans are for the Constitution.  But that’s not the question to ask right now.

The question is: do I condemn other Democratic officials, from tough districts, for not agreeing with my assessment and my choice?  I don’t.  I think they’re wrong, but not so demonstrably wrong about this tactic that I can clearly condemn them.  And if I can’t condemn them, then harping on defunding — which won’t happen thanks to those Bush Dogs — is simply inviting people to trash and blame “the Democrats” down the line, when — foreseeably — it won’t occur, is just counterproductive.

And that’s the last point: we win the defunding debate by showing that we value the same things that the people we’re trying to convince profess to value: removing the Republicans from power.

“Counterproductive” seems like such a wan term, but with our country in such a state of crisis, it’s actually a huge insult.  Armando — even though I may agree that he’s right on the merits of policy — is wrong about the politics of ensuring that 218 House members agree not to sign a discharge petition for Iraq funding.  Because he is wrong, because — unless we have engaged the concerns of the conservative wing of our party and convinced them that we see the same hazards they do and have a clear-eyed sense of how to evade them — his stance leads inexorably to condemnation of Democrats for their weakness.  And that is morally wrong, because helps elect Republicans, and that helps to destroy our country.  Control of the government in 2009 more important than ending the war, because without that control, there will be more of this war and more wars like this.  Armando should understand that and set his priorities accordingly.  Being effective in this time of crisis is more important than, in some academic sense, being “right.”

Is the Pony/Pie/Hide rating system too cutsie?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

74 comments

Skip to comment form

  1. do something that they should but probably won’t do and when they don’t do it let’s get discouraged and abandon work for more and better Democrats in 2008 because it’s all so pointless” jar.

  2. It appears to me that your post boils down to the following boldfaced sentence:

    Armando — even though I may agree that he’s right on the merits of policy — is wrong about the politics of ensuring that 218 House members agree not to sign a discharge petition for Iraq funding.  Because he is wrong, because — unless we have engaged the concerns of the conservative wing of our party and convinced them that we see the same hazards they do and have a clear-eyed sense of how to evade them — his stance leads inexorably to condemnation of Democrats for their weakness.  And that is morally wrong, because helps elect Republicans, and that helps to destroy our country.

    So, you are accusing Armando, not of a tactical mistake, but of a moral failing, because, you say, in the future, someone or other will be denouncing (all) Democrats as weak, if defunding doesn’t happen.

    Please correct my characterization of your case as needed — in total, perhaps.

    Now, this may be tangential, but I have seen it so many times that I think I’ll point it out here.

    If interlocutor (1) says:

    “Congress should defund.”

    And interlocutor (2) says:

    “Congress will not defund.”

    Then interlocutor (2) has changed the subject.  Further, and worse, if interlocutor (2) says:

    “You are wrong, Mr. (1), because Congress will not defund.”

    Then interlocutor (2) has not just changed the subject but is using the new subject to beat up interlocutor (1), who never broached it to begin with.

    Here is the larger issue, it seems to me:

    We can ask: what, as an evolving institution, should the netroots be advocating?  Not: what does it expect?  Not: what does it predict?  But simply: what does it advocate?

    If the answer is: the same damn thing the editors of the New York Times advocate, then the netroots, as an evolving institution, may as well not exist.  The netroots would be, in that case, merely repeating a function already served, and better, by other institutions.

    The netroots is the tip of the spear or it is nothing.  But I don’t immediately see what that has to do with weakening the Democratic party.

  3. If ending an unnecessary war and an all wrong destabilizing civil war inspiring occupation is wrong……..I don’t wanna be right.  If pressuring for peace is wrong I don’t wanna be right.  If refusing to embrace with acceptance even one more dead soldier or one more dead “collateral being” is wrong I don’t wanna be right.  I can live in  my nugget and stew in all sorts of  neurohighway self induced endorphins until I can no longer feel empathy for other human beings that I have to look in the eye every day but I don’t wanna be that wrong and for me that is the worst wrong I can do to myself and others.  Chop wood and carry water makes one sweaty, and for me is still the path to enlightenment.  I never want to wake up one morning and realize I was one that didn’t speak up when I knew that others were being abused and I could do something about it.

    • pfiore8 on September 5, 2007 at 2:09 am

    you are stuck in conventional wisdom.

    bush has created the future and there is nothing we can do about it…

    the polls… fickle americans?

    if congress needs to be convinced with their approval ratings in the basement… then they don’t want to be convinced… they don’t care what the polls say… there is something else at work here

    one other thing you didn’t factor in… credibility… the pols have none and the candidates, with their pre-9/11 campaigning style… like nothing big is at stake just doesn’t impress me much

    they mouth the words… but were are they???

  4. Not convincing, Major.

    I think that the Bush Dogs are indeed afraid and are wrong to be so.  And you admit they are afraid as well.  So fear – cowardice – yep.

    What this boils down to is taking a risk.  You can give a million reasons why our Dem reps won’t go for defunding, but the fact is, we have a leadership, especially in the Congress (Pelosi) whose job it is to whip the Dem caucus into unity.  That is her job.  And she ought to do it.  If she can’t, then the Dem caucus is indeed a failure.

    What is needed here is opposition.  There is no other way to look at it, imo.  I don’t see any way to end this war “in 2009” somehow by refraining from calling out Dems who do not oppose this administration.

    Sure, the Repubs will call out the dogs and the media will help.  And the Dems should take that risk and move ahead.  If they do so, as a unified caucus, the spin will not work.  If they don’t, then they have failed.  You can parse it any way you like, but I don’t think there’s any other way of looking at it.

    1. Go ahead and make your case.  I look at the list of Bush Dogs — and what seems to be their visceral fear of being victimized by a Dolchstoss gambit before and/or after 2008 — and I just flat out don’t see where you get enough people refusing to sign a discharge petition if need be.  I think — as I expect Pelosi does — that a discharge petition would be an unmitigated PR disaster for the Dems; you may disagree.  If our aim is to show the public what we’d like to do, I’d much rather fight potentially winnable battles over benchmarks, terms of engagement, etc. than put all my eggs in the defunding basket unless I know we have pretty close to 218 people locked in.

      My advice in the diary above isn’t just for show; I mean it.  You should make your case.  You are trying to convince the Bush Dogs who fear seeming weak (and thus being vulnerable to a Dolchstoss.)  If you address those politicians’ actual concerns — which is what lobbyists (as opposed to polemicists and activists) do — you may get somewhere.  I’ll be rooting for your success, while I’m frying other fish.

      (By the way, I don’t recall if you’ve ever addressed how we keep efforts in Afghanistan funded while refusing to appropriate funds for Iraq, or how we prevent Bush from using his War Powers Act authority to respond to attacks on U.S. troops that will very likely occur even in the early stages of withdrawal — after all, the ersatz Al Qaeda spinoff group there wants us to stay.  Defunding strikes me as damn hard to implement without passing no Defense Appropriations or Authorization bill whatsoever — which won’t happen — and to the extent other potentially sympathetic House Members have similar concerns, they are also the sort of thing that should addressed.)

      1. not sure how you get that he’s blaming unions; he’s simply stating that unions are increasingly less powerful politically.

        Do you disagree?

        He’s not stating that it’s the fault of the unions, just that it’s a major (pardon the pun) factor.

        Thanks to Reagan, Bush, Clinton, et al. Oh. and the unions, too. But that’s my opinion – not Major Danby’s.

      2. The unions lost members and influence.  Not, for the most part, due to the actions of the unions (though there was some of that), but due to Reagan and his compadres gunning for them (first and most notably with PATCO) and then with the brunt of the country not defending them because people bought the notion that unions were generally corrupt and lazy and they didn’t remember what life was like without them.

        I can’t figure out how you twisted that sentence out of shape.  It was a statement of fact, not of opinion.

  5. for an interesting discussion.

Comments have been disabled.