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Please begin with an informative title:

Why has it historically been so tough to keep House progressives standing strong and using the leverage of their voting bloc to extract concessions on important legislation the way Blue Dogs have been able to?

Part of the reason is that progressive elected officials occupy a portion of the political spectrum that generally leaves them insulated from most accountability to progressive voters. In other words, they're protected to some degree by the "where else are they gonna go?" factor.

That's why progressive grassroots activists have come to expect their elected officials to eventually and in most every case, end up making the "best deal we could get" argument in support of their ultimate abandonment of principles clearly stated in the earlier stages of the process. Like so:

“This is the best, most historic healthcare bill we’re going to get,” said Rep. James McGovern (D-Mass.), one of 60 liberals who’d signed a bill pledging to vote against a letter without a “robust,” Medicare-based public option. “At the end of the day, we have to pass something.”
The article quoted above has accidentally reversed "bill" and "letter," obviously. McGovern was one of 60 liberals who signed a letter pledging to vote against a bill without a "robust" public option. But the whole point of the letter was to foreclose, to the extent possible, against eventually adopting the position that, "At the end of the day, we have to pass something." I mean, that was literally the entire point of the letter. And as expected, a week in advance of the vote, the signatories are dismissing the weight of their own signatures in off-the-cuff remarks.


Now, ought it to be the position of House progressives next week that this bill and this rule are worth getting behind? For the sake of argument, let's say it is. The key part of the question, then is "next week." How do you guarantee that you'll lose any negotiation? Announce a week in advance of sitting down that you're willing to cave. McGovern obviously doesn't speak for the entire Progressive Caucus. But I'd feel an awful lot better if I could have ended that sentence after "McGovern doesn't speak." That would have been great, and we'd all have a lot less problems this week.

This is almost exactly the situation I had in mind in August at Netroots Nation when I asked progressive strategists and activists to think ahead to the end game, and about what our reaction ought to be when Members who'd apparently pledged to oppose any bill without a "robust" public option claimed they needed the latitude to do some other thing, ranging all the way up to... doing the exact opposite of that.

To some extent, this is a function of there being no universally accepted definition of either the public option or what it means for one to be "robust," at least not at the time that the pledges were solicited and the letter was signed. But there can be no doubt about the intent of those efforts. It was quite obviously an early effort to guard against public declarations like McGovern's, and to at least preserve the plausibility of the claim that the Progressive Caucus was in a position to demand concessions the way Blue Dogs always have been.

That's obviously going to require still more work on a cultural change in perceptions of the Progressive Caucus, including the perceptions held by actual members of that caucus.


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Originally posted to Daily Kos on Fri Oct 30, 2009 at 05:56 PM PDT.

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