Posted by: Jeff | September 25, 2009

This Shit’s Chess, It Ain’t Checkers

Rachel Maddow, all-purpose media barometer of America’s progressive left, has concluded that the chances of liberal-friendly health care reform passing Congress are on the upswing. Republicans have been effectively shut out of the process, and moderate and conservative Democrats are beginning to feel increased heat from their own colleagues in the Senate.

The more I think about this, the more I conclude it was inevitably going to work out this way. At the beginning of a legislative process, the hold-outs and skeptics towards any proposed change or reform, especially one as big as health care, have all the bargaining power. That’s because no bill has been written yet, so all the options are open. Saying “no” to this or that thing doesn’t mean saying “no” to the reform as a whole. Bills have to be written and wrangled over, amendments have to proposed and voted on, etc, etc ad nauseam.

But as the process moves along, the options begin to narrow. Right now, we’ve got three bills; two in the Senate and one in the House. Pretty soon we’ll just have two, and when the Senate and House vote, assuming the legislation passes, they’ll have to negotiate those two bills down to one final piece of legislation. And when it’s just one bill, yea or nay, then being opposed to one part of the bill really is the same as being opposed to health care reform in total. At that point, the hold-outs and skeptics have lost their advantage. They can no longer vote for their preferred bill, they can only vote for this bill.

That’s a particularly acute problem for the Blue Dogs and moderate Democrats. With the Republicans out of negotiations, they have no political cover. If their refusals to get with the program result in the legislation dying completely, then the public will backlash against the Democratic party for failing to deliver on its own expressed agenda, and the conservative and moderate Democrats will be the first to get voted out of office. Think of it as a game of chicken between the liberal and conservative wings of the Democratic party, but as the cars get closer the liberals’ vehicle magically acquires more armor while the conservatives’ vehicle starts sloughing it off. And the conservatives become more likely to flinch.

I suspect this is a dynamic inherent to the structure of our legislative process, and probably something liberals should have been anticipating from the beginning. It also makes the strategy Obama and Emmanuel have pursued look far smarter than it has appeared thus far.

At least, that’s my humble armchair political theorist take on the matter.


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