Wolraich: Obama at the Gates of... Gates
Dr. C: In Praise of Writing Binges
Maiello: Gatsby Doesn't Grate
As someone who has worked for a legislature I can tell you that the provenance of ideas--who is proposing them, who is for them and against them, and how powerful are those forces--has an enormous amount to do with how, and whether, they are even seriously considered by legislators.
The reason why public policy decisions are being conducted in many areas using one bastardized, oversimplified and inaccurate version of "free market" theory is because legislators believe they stand both to gain by doing what the vociferous advocates and groups on the Right are demanding, and to lose by not doing what those organized groups want.
OTOH, I think it's a fair statement that Democratic legislators sometimes feel as though they don't get rewarded by groups they thought were with them when they do tough things, and they also are a heck of a lot less afraid of what might happen to their fortunes if they buck most of the groups they think of as part of their base of support.
Which is another way of saying that the institutional balance of forces, of power, is heavily lopsided right now in favor of the organized--and highly vocal--Right. That could change to a degree if they overrreach badly. That has often happened historically, including in the 1990s. If that is the way the pendulum swings back in the other direction, however, it won't be in support of a clear, consistently expressed message and positive agenda being offered by Democrats, backed by organized power to entice potential allies and discourage foes. It will be because the other side messed up.
If your ideas have organized power behind them, that can do a great deal to get you to the table--although it is neither always necessary, nor sufficient. If your ideas have no powerful organized clout behind them, you can sometimes get them adopted anyway, particularly if they are not what are known as "heavy lifts" (policy changes that face powerful entrenched organized opposition). But it's a lot harder. It is all but impossible to get heavy lift policy changes accepted without organized support for those policies that has the attention of elected officials.
This helps explain some of the differences in orientation between the former DLC and some of the liberal activist groups. The former DLC's theory of power was that if you can come up with ideas that attract strong bipartisan support from policymakers you can get them adopted. You don't need to have an organized lobby behind them to do that. That is sometimes true. The limit to that is that it's very hard to get policy changes that are opposed by powerful interest groups. The range of policy that gets serious consideration is seriously limited in that way. So what one saw out of the DLC's efforts were lots of relatively small-bore ideas that did not purport to offer far-reaching solutions to major policy challenges.
Strong carbon emissions reductions legislation, by contrast (to take one example), faces powerful entrenched opposition. As does HC reform. As does financial reform, etc. Those are much tougher lifts. You really need organized power that can at least compete with the opposed organized power to even have a chance, to even get your ideas seriously considered by enough legislators to potentially make a majority. If I may, I conclude that Obama's view is that even though he supports some of these heavier lift measures he looks at the balance of organized power and concludes he can't get that done.
So regardless of whatever one concludes about what Obama wants on policy, it doesn't matter if that is the case in the sense that the only way any of this changes is if organized power can be developed that is strong enough to support and pressure more policymakers to be willing to vote for them.
To organize successfully usually requires a necessarily oversimplified (but necessarily plausible as well, at least to the major target audiences) narrative that implicitly, at least, but often explicitly as well, identifies one or more "bad guys". That is offputting and even insulting to many people who are well educated, who see that there is exaggeration in all of this, who are put off by what they consider oversimplification and overheated rhetoric, and who want to engage at a deeper, more skeptical level on the substance of issues.
So there are from what I observe lots and lots of very thoughtful and well-informed people who self-identify as moderate or left of center who want to engage public affairs on a purely intellectual level (that is my preference and my more 'natural' inclination as well, BTW). They want to discuss pros and cons.
But not only are they themselves not "out there" attempting to organize people to support any particular policy goals, but in some cases they are so put off by the oversimplification and exaggerated or irresponsible rhetoric that they either won't support, or they actively oppose associating themselves with such efforts. You strike me as very much of that orientation.
Not placing any judgment on this here--am just offering an interpretation that helps me make sense out of the policy outcomes and strong trends I observe over the last several decades, where, on economic issues certainly, public policy and the terms on which it is debated have shifted substantially to the right.
This is one reason I have come to feel strongly about the union issue. It isn't because I think unions are perfect or always right by any means. And as I've said I am very much open to institutions other than unions which can perform similar functions in altering the gross imbalances of power we see now.
Good ideas are necessary, but not sufficient. Right now there just isn't enough organized power on the left side of center to have any chance whatsoever of being able to get an equal hearing and consideration for many, many "left of center" ideas on policy. For decades unions provided that entree on many issues (by no means all), not just on narrow labor issues but on many other issues as well. They are greatly weakened now. Nothing has taken their place. Thus the inability of people with left of center ideas, no matter how rational, no matter how good, to get many of them adopted has long been dramatically impaired.
None of this will change in my estimation unless and until the constellation of political forces changes at the level of the relative balance of organized power on left and right. This is what has some of us excited about the mobilization and response in Wisconsin and around the country in response to that issue. It isn't that that issue is by any impartial standard "the" most important one, or necessarily the key that will unlock the door to some sort of progressive resurgence.
It's that..finally...after the longest of droughts, there is some evidence that left of center collective action, on a significant scale, as a strategy for assisting in the enactment of progressive public policy is not entirely dead in this country. And, with that, that social solidarity is not dead yet, either. If it can happen in that context and on that issue, perhaps it can happen in other issues and contexts as well to permit some good things that haven't been able to get any political traction to have a chance of getting done.
I think there is a certain realism and discipline for progressives in accepting that kind of analysis, grounded as it is in a real-world understanding of power: good ideas by themselves are necessary, but they are not nearly enough. And I think it has extremely important implications for the choices individuals make about how they are going to choose to spend whatever time they choose to spend trying to "change the world". But that's another subject.
And, yes, I know I am oversimplifying and overgeneralizing highly complex reality here. My hope is that there is, recognizably, enough small "t" truth here to help ground some discussion for those interested. But that is for you, dear readers, to decide.