Perfect, meet good. You two play nice now.
The Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party has a reputation to uphold. During the darker days of the Bush Administration, it was the Democratic Wing of Howard Dean that stood up to the outrages, the excesses, and the likely crimes, both overt and covert, perpetrated by the previous residents of the White House and Foggy Bottom. In those days, no stance of opposition could have been too strong. The extreme and reckless path of the Bush administration and the Republican Congress that did its bidding was gradually shifting the Overton Window of political acceptability further and further to the right--or more accurately said, to positions that were, and continue to be, anti-democratic and willfully authoritarian.
At that time, damage control was the watchword of the day. In the face of a pliant political media that accepted as fact the talking points of the party in power, it often took the messaging equivalent of screaming in people's ears to even have a chance at being heard or swaying the debate. There was no hope of advancing any sort of progressive policy, at least nationwide--as progressives, we could only hope that we could somehow stop the next reckless thing from happening.
At that time, the strategy for trying to make sure that fewer bad things happened was equally as clear: be loud, be vociferous and be clear about precisely how wrong--morally, historically and factually--the opposition was, whether with votes, with speeches or with any other tool in the progressive arsenal. The progressive movement knew that it could not count on the Democratic leadership to do the right thing, and could not count on the media to provide an opinion that was more truthful than "balanced". And during those times, the renascent progressive movement had a scant few successes sprinkled in with the gigantic failure that was the implementation of the Bush doctrine.
The era of Obama changed many things--but did not change our methodology. We no longer had to worry about the implementation of yet more disastrous conservative policies; instead, we were merely concerned that old policies would not be changed fast enough, or that a new progressive policies would not be implemented soon enough. And in the early going of the Obama presidency, the strategy here for the progressive movement was clear as well: as policy was still being formulated, it was the prerogative of the movement to push for policies that were as progressive as possible in the hopes of shifting the Overton Window for what was under consideration as far to the left as possible. And in this context, the movement's biggest enemies were not the Republicans, whom we knew would be opposed to anything that did not further serve their corporate masters, but rather the "conservative" Democrats who bent right as soon as they could before they could even have known what could be achieved without significant political cost at home.
The debate over health insurance reform provides an excellent example. The progressive movement pushed hard for what was right. A single-payer system was certainly not going to pass the House or Senate, but a public option that would hold insurance companies accountable through the creation of an alternative certainly seemed popular enough to be possible. And every single time it looked like the House Bill would not have a public option, the progressive movement was right there to say otherwise. And whether through lobbying, massive small-dollar fundraising, or citizen-generated whip counts, the movement said, "yes, it will have a public option."
We won that battle. But on the public option itself, we have lost the war--for now. To be sure, this is a massive disappointment. The healthcare reform bill that has come out of the Senate will do good things, but it is not what progressives were hoping for, no matter whether the blame rests on Obama, the Senate, or anyone else. And the progressive response to non-progressive policy has so far been simple: if it's not progressive enough, speak vociferously against it and make sure not to vote for it.
But circumstances are different now, and as painful as it is to say it, case-by-case tactics sometimes require a wholesale shift from movement progressivism to incremental pragmatism. As thereisnospoon explained:
The second thing to understand is that March 2010 is not August 2009. Back in the heady days of mid-late 2009, members of Congress were still putting their fingers to the wind (and looking hard at the threat of insurance industry money) to determine their stance on healthcare. More importantly, we didn't yet have actual bills passed in the House and Senate. Scott Brown was considered a long-shot candidate in Massachusetts. And there was still time to deal with healthcare, and move to other legislative priorities in advance of the midterm elections.
In short, there was a lot of room to negotiate at the time. There was some real room to bluff; real methods to play hard to get; and adequate time to persuade.
We no longer have any of those. The situation now is as follows:
* Whatever happens, must happen quickly or not at all.
* Stances on healthcare reform have hardened significantly for nearly all legislators.
* Whatever deals were going to be made, have basically already been made.
As idealists, progressives feel obligated to push for policy solutions that are ideal--not just "better than what we have right now." And hence, there is a tendency among some in the movement to want to kill the bill we have right now and start over. But each specific situation requires a hard, pragmatic analysis of exactly what will ensure long-term progressive gains.
Continuing with the example of health care reform, the nature of the Senate Rules makes it such that this is the best we are going to get. No other votes are persuadable, and coming away with nothing will be an utter disaster. And ironically, it is by maintaining its allegiance to its purest ideals that the progressive movement will become its own worst enemy, as there is a chance that some progressives such as Kucinich will vote against the Senate Bill from left and end up sinking the entire reform process--and potentially any hopes for a successful midterm cycle for the Democratic Party.
But what's important to note is that health care reform is not a special case. Every single major policy initiative for the next two years will likely follow this pattern, whether it is financial sector regulation, immigration reform, or even LGBT equality--and progressive strategy must adapt case-by-case from the strictly principled to the productively pragmatic.
Progressives will not be able to get everything they want on these, or any, policy issues. But what the movement must absolutely learn is to make that adaptation. On every single issue, there will come a point when there is no more negotiation to be done and when there will bill a final policy position to be either accepted or rejected. And whatever that final position is, it will then be the job of the progressive to evaluate it strictly on the merits of what it is, rather than what it could have been. And if what it is, is even incrementally better than what we have right now, then it should be supported. That's just pragmatism: maximizing the progressive nature of current policy.
Failure to make this evaluation on a case by case basis will result in the perfect being the enemy of the good. And when that happens, you usually end up with neither.