Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Learning from the 1930s

With all the talk about the 1930s: comparing the Great Depression to the current one, wingnuts trying to compare Obama to Hitler, etc. something struck me as I was reading Ezra Klein's recent post on the public option:

Letting [the public option go] go will smooth the path to victory. But will it? The co-op plans, which were supposed to be the compromise to the public option, endured a blistering attack from the GOP yesterday. When Republicans are attacking the compromise of a compromise, it's worth wondering whether their opposition is based on a dislike of particular provisions or a desire to doom the whole bill. I'd say the evidence increasingly favors the latter.

Loudly letting go of the public option wouldn't necessarily secure additional votes so much as it would increase the confidence of opponents and depress supporters. If the forces arrayed against health-care reform could spend two weeks assailing end-of-life counseling, they can find another provision in the bill, too. Maybe the exchanges, Or the subsidies. Or MedPAC. They're committed to defeating Barack Obama and the Democrats, not erasing a particular section of the bill. Reform's advocates, however, are substantially -- maybe overly -- committed to the public option. Dropping it from the effort is likely to wound them while emboldening the opposition.

It struck me how similar the public option is to the Sudetenland in that giving it up gets the Democrats nothing from the Republicans, but it undermines the will of the left to fight for the rest of the health reform bill. The Democrats need to absorb the lessons of the 1938 Munich Agreement as far as dealing with implacable opponents goes. Appeasement doesn't work, and it's a very stupid idea when you have the upper hand.

If the Republicans aren't willing to negotiate in good faith then shut them out of the process until they're willing to start. Grassley said a couple days ago that he'd vote against the bill even if it contained everything he was asking for. How much more obvious does it need to get that there's no point in trying to talk to these people? It's time to focus on people who would conceivably vote for the bill like "moderate" democrats or the senators from Maine. At least there, concessions might actually buy you the votes you need to pass something mildly effective.

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