Monday, December 21, 2009

On Being the Good Guys (1)

[T]here's nothing wrong with taking a tough stand for or against what we believe in. But until we're willing to be as immoral and unreasonable as Joe Lieberman, our leverage will be limited.
-Bob Cesca
If there's one thing we've learned over the last few weeks and months, it's that Joe Lieberman is more interested in smacking back the Left than he is in serving his constituents or in helping the American people. Ben Nelson might have grabbed more headlines, but a case can be made that he was, at least, serving his constituents. Nebraska, after all, seems to have mixed feelings about HCR, and, if nothing else, Nelson secured them some $100 million in savings on the cost of the programs in the bill once it goes into effect. Sure, it ain't fair, or right, but part of what every lawmaker is sent to Congress to do is to bring home the bacon for their fair state, and on that, at least, Nelson delivered. Whether or not he had any actual conscientious objections to reforming Health Care in America is between himself and his God, but there seems, at least, to be some excuse for his holding thirty million uninsured Americans hostage. Excuse may be too generous a term. Reason, maybe, would be more appropriate. At any rate, you get the idea.

Joe Lieberman, not so much. For one thing, some 70% of Connecticutians favored HCR. Parse the numbers how you will, but if seven out of ten people agree on something, then it's probably a good idea to pay attention. I should note that seven out of ten Americans do not agree that the Earth is older than 4000 years, and it's probably a close one as to whether seven out ten believe the Earth revolves around the sun.

Now, some have said, and I think there's something to this, that Lieberman opposed HCR because the DFHs were for it. He sure seems to have taken it pretty personally when the Connecticut Democrats declined to nominate him for Senate back in 2006. I mean, he did campaign with the Republican nominee for President last year. Sure, he and John McCain are total BFFs, but it seems not unreasonable to expect that someone who caucuses with the Democrats ought to campaign for the Democrats. They let him keep his Committee Chairmanship, after all. Seems like it'd be nice if he could've at least just STFU.

I guess the personal really is political. Thank you, '90s. And here I thought we were all just circle-jerking with our postmodernism and identity politics while the bad guys tightened their collective grips on the levers of power.

But as much satisfaction as I'm sure Lieberman derived from bucking his caucus and being showered with attention from the media, the White House, and the office of the Senate Majority Leader, and from sticking it to those no good dirty liberal hippies who never gave him more than single-digit support in the '04 Primaries and then almost succeeded in unseating him in '06, at the end of the day, what it comes down to is that Joe Lieberman's self-interest is best served by doing exactly what he did.

It's a bit of a twofer. First off, you've got to ask yourself, 'If this guy's going to get elected again in '12, who's going to vote for him?' Is it the same people who repudiated him in '06? It is not. The only way this guy holds onto his seat, which is probably more important to him than his grandchildrens' souls, is to hold on to the centrist and conservative voters that put him over the top last time around, and to add whatever he can from voters to the right of them. Will it work? It might. By that point, he might just have drifted far enough to the right to get a Teabagger endorsement (though I, for one, would dearly love to see Lieberman teabagged), capturing the far right while holding on to whatever vestiges of Democratic support remain to him. He probably blew it when he agreed to vote for cloture, but I suppose that time will tell. He can probably make up for some of that loss by voting against the bill itself.

The second, and arguably more important, reason Joe Lieberman's self-interest runs counter to that of the American people he is ostensibly elected to serve (or even just the people of Connecticut) is that Joe Lieberman is the Senator from Hartford, where a large number of nationwide insurance companies are headquartered. Put briefly, they pays the bills when it comes campaign time, and only a fool bites the hand that feeds him.

We've now met the first necessary precondition for evil: the privileging of oneself and one's own personal interests over that of the greater good.

Now, obviously we all look after our own, and that's a good thing, both morally and from an evolutionary/survival standpoint. But the game of life and survival is not a zero-sum game. The skeleton is civilization's closet has always been that there's always been plenty to go around, except that certain segments of the population have essentially hijacked the production surplus that allows for civilization itself, largely through the capacity for organized violence.

But that's a thing to be explored later. Here I'm not so much interested in what evil is (though I am interested in that), but in what evil does. And here's where Joe Lieberman comes in as a useful illustration.

As Steve Benen noted, way back in late October, in the Washington Monthly's Political Animal Blog, Joe Lieberman's opposition to the Public Option had evolved through roughly one rationale per month starting in June. Most recently, he stated his opposition to the Medicare buy-in for people over 55, calling it a deal-breaker even though he had come out in favor of it on a radio call-in show not three weeks before.

Take a step back and what you see is an outcome in search of a reason. That the reasons keep changing, as each is refuted by reality's well-known liberal bias, is a clear indication that the man's mind was made up, and that the only way Joe was going to vote for HCR was if he could be convinced that the reform part was going to be more or less toothless.

And that gets us to the crux of what I'm trying to get at here, however circuitously. The short version is simply this: when you're the good guys, a lot of times you have to fight with one arm tied behind your back. People like Joe Lieberman can successfully hold tens of millions of Americans hostage because, at the end of the day, seeing to the continuation of his own political power and the continued economic well-being of his major campaign contributors is more important to him than seeing to the physical and economic well-being of the American people. Progressives feel betrayed, by their President and their Congressional caucus. They feel like they gave away the store, and the base got sold out again, because, at the end of the day, they were not willing to throw the un- and underinsured under the bus to spite their political opponents. This whole kill the bill movement, foolish as it is, is an expression of that anger. After all, the Left thought it was finally going to get to enact its agenda, because when Arlen Specter crossed over suddenly the Democrats had their 60-seat Supermajority and should have been able to DWTFTW.

But that only works if you're willing to enact your agenda by any means necessary. And here's the problem: only the bad guys are willing to do that. At the end of the day, doing evil in the service of good (or even just perceived good) demeans the good you are trying to do, makes it something other than what it is supposed to be. The good guys are, and will always be, at a competitive disadvantage in the throwdown against evil, because the moment they stop fighting fair they stop being the good guys.

That the proponents of Health Care Reform were unwilling to play fast and loose with so many peoples' lives and well-being speaks to the goodness of the cause as well as its partisans. As I've said before, I think that however imperfect the Senate version of the HCR bill is, it's a start, a step in the right direction, and though I would've liked to see a little more back-room arm-twisting on the part of the President and the Majority Leader, at the very least nobody on that side of the issue lost sight of what it was that was at stake. Sure, they could've played their hand a little better, but when your options are limited by your conscience and your determination to do the right thing in the right way for the right reasons, well, you have to win with the tools at your disposal. When all you care about is winning and getting yours, well, it hardly matters how you get there, or who you fuck over on the way.

It sucks being the good guys sometimes. But being a bad guy, well, fuck that.

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