Liberals Allow Conservatives to Be “Principled”

Ted Cruz - Liberals Allow Conservatives to Be PrincipledYesterday, Michael Hiltzik wrote, More Than 20 Texas Representatives and Senators Voted Against Sandy Aid. How Will They Vote on Harvey? He isn’t alone. A lot of people have written about the same thing. The focus of it is that Ted Cruz voted against Hurricane Sandy aid, but the moment Cruz’s home state of Texas was hit by Hurricane Harvey, he ran to President Trump asking for aid and he will doubtless vote for whatever aid package Congress approves.

What Hypocrisy?

But here’s the thing: Cruz will never admit to hypocrisy. It doesn’t even make sense to talk about. Cruz was interviewed by Katy Tur, and he had exactly the justification that I knew he would, “Two-thirds of that bill had nothing to do with Sandy. What I said then and still believe now is that it’s not right for politicians to exploit a disaster when people are hurting to pay for their own political wish list.”

This is exactly the point I made a few years ago that Josh Barro couldn’t figure out. A politician can always come up with a reason not to vote for a bill. The fact is that bills are never perfect. So if you want to, you can find something. This is talked about at length in the book Winner-Take-All Politics.

A politician will say, “I would love to vote for this legislation, if it just weren’t for… whatever.” And we know that they are disingenuous because we have so many examples of “whatever” being changed to get the politician’s vote, and they always end up finding something new that stops them from voting for this bill that they would so like to vote for. We saw this many times during the debate to pass Obamacare.

Republicans Don’t Do Their Jobs

The Republicans know that when it comes down to it, they can depend upon the Democrats to come in and save them.

So I don’t really care about Ted Cruz’s hypocrisy. What is vile about him is his original vote. We don’t need to wait and see that he will vote for aid to his own state — despite all the problems with it that he could use to justify voting against it. And, of course, Cruz is just a high profile Republican.

Hiltzik laid out the numbers in his article. There are 24 Republican Texas representatives who were in Congress at the time of the Hurricane Sandy vote. All but one voted against it. We know they will all vote for it this time. There are 12 Democratic Texas representatives who were in Congress at the time of the Hurricane Sandy vote. Other than one who did not vote, they all voted for Sandy aid.

These are the politicians who the people of Texas think are okay. They are the problem. Let’s face it: they love these faux-noble stands against bad government. And in the end, it doesn’t matter. These politicians and voters knew that the people of New York and New Jersey would be taken care of. They knew it because people like me vote for politicians who actually take the job seriously — who don’t figure they were sent to Washington to prance around making “principled” votes while others do the hard work of governing.

Republicans’ “Principled” Votes

I don’t believe in compromise as a good in itself. But like most liberals, I understand that not everyone agrees with me about everything. So every law that the government passes will be a compromise. The biggest piece of legislation passed in the last couple of decades, Obamacare, is a great example of that. It’s not something that any liberal was that happy with, but it is a hell of a lot better than what we had before.

What really angers me is that conservatives think that they don’t need to do anything. As a group, they are like that guy you work with who does almost nothing — rightly figuring that others will do the work if they don’t.

And now, with complete power in Washington, the Republicans show that when there is no one else to do the work for them, they are incapable of doing it themselves. How is it that the people continue to vote Republican? How many times can they be burned?

I suppose we know the answer to that. The Republicans know that when it comes down to it, they can depend upon the Democrats to come in and save them. We are fast reaching the point where the government will have to pass a budget and raise the debt ceiling. And it will be done only because almost all of the Democrats vote for it. Meanwhile, people like Ted Cruz will prance around showing just how “principled” they are.

Without liberals like me to elect Democrats to Washington, there might as well not be a government.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

26 thoughts on “Liberals Allow Conservatives to Be “Principled”

  1. Your point about Obamacare has me thinking, why don’t more liberals tell the story that Obamacare and the economic stimulus were both compromise bills.

    It was just dumb politics to have your signature legislative acts be shaped, in large part, by conservatives and then turn around and act like the stimulus and Obamacare were your children.

    One of the reasons why Democrats got wiped out in 2010 was because Obama and his surrogates defended the stimulus unconditionally. They were out there declaring it “recovery summer” back in 2010 and the millions of out of work folks felt like Obama was woefully out of touch. It demoralized more marginal liberal voters and radicalized some others because the faux libertarians right was able to convince a lot of people that the bad and unequal economy could only be cured with more deregulation and austerity.

    The same dynamic played out in 2016 with Obamacare. Obamacare made huge accommodations for insurance companies and it allowed petulant Republican governors to deprive their States’ poor access to medicaid. How did Clinton, Obama and rest of the center left react? They said that “America is already great” and that Trump is a big meanie (and that Paul Ryan was from a “social justice tradition”).

    Liberals need to defend what they do and did and then condemn and name names when people are upset by the conservative elements that they were obliged to include in their signature, Obama era laws.

    • A lot of good things done under Obama are all but unknown to the public. There was some very good legislation passed on what credit cards can charge in interest rates. Talk about something that almost every voter can support, lower credit card rates! And nobody knew about it. I don’t know if that’s because these things don’t test well in messaging focus groups or what.

    • I think that’s too complicated a message to give to voters. Even if it’s true, “give me credit for the good things that happened and blame the other guy for the bad things” is a tough sell.

      • If you are vague then yes, it sounds self serving. If you are specific, voters will understand. Look at DAPA and DACA, Latino constituents, who were from mixed status families, knew the distinction between legislation and executive orders. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were able to speak in depth about those issue.

        Barack Obama was a very good politician and political communicator and if he repeatedly called out insurance companies and conservative Democrats and the GOP for everything they did to undermine the ACA, that would have become the conventional wisdom.

        • My experience over the last 15 years has been that Latinos are really plugged in politically. This is especially true when it comes to issues related to undocumented workers. Even though they are citizens, they all have loved ones that are undocumented. So as a group, based on my experience, they are very sophisticated politically.

          People usually don’t understand what privilege is. This is an example of it. Whites can afford to be ignorant because no one is trying to get them. (Obviously, they are: but not because they’re white; usually, it is because they are poor.) This is why it is so easy to get poor whites to vote for politicians bent on destroying them. Republicans like to claim that blacks vote for Democrats out of habit. But that’s not true at all. It’s poor whites (AKA: whites) who vote stupidly based on policies that don’t help them. They vote to get immigrants because they think it will help them economically. But in doing so, they vote for all kinds of other policies that will harm them economically. And the anti-immigrant policies won’t help them economically anyway.

  2. Micah Fields had an interesting angle on this in “The Baffler”:

    It’s about a well-publicized story of how one Houston mattress-dealer is letting people take shelter in his stores and sleep on the display mattresses. Apparently this guy is a typical “self made” businessman, with all the normal idiocy that implies, however he is doing the right thing* here.

    Fields observed that this is the difference between the reality of suffering and the abstraction. Reality is hard to ignore. Abstraction is easier. This mattress fellow, if he lives anywhere near Houston, is seeing horrible flooding like everyone else, and basic decency kicks in. Before that, naturally, he could be a “nobody never gave me no handout” type with a clear conscience.

    Few of us are true sociopaths. I was discussing this with the wife the other day. How can anyone work at a job that involves denying health insurance to people, or injury benefits?

    Because there are cheats — there always will be — and so the person on the other end of that phone call doesn’t think of themselves as robbing the deserving. They think of themselves as stopping cheats. (Of course, placing so many obstacles in front of honest people means more of them get screwed, because they give up … while it does almost nothing to stop the cheats. Cheats tend to be very persistent.)

    How many times do we hear this justification for indifference? “That homeless guy asked for sandwich money, then I saw him with a vodka bottle.” “Well, I know a Wal-Mart worker who loves it there, so the others are whining.” “My brother’s cousin gets food stamps even though he doesn’t need them.” It’s like saying Ben Carson became a neurosurgeon, accordingly racism is dead. Take a few examples, expand them to reduce humanity into an abstraction, and presto — you’re off the hook.

    *This mattress guy did do good, and probably for the right, humane reasons. However, it’s not going to cost him much. Showroom floor furniture always sells for less anyway. And most of the people sheltering in his stores will need new furniture, and they’ll probably by it from the store they stayed at.

  3. Colin Keesee – “Your point about Obamacare has me thinking, why don’t more liberals tell the story that Obamacare and the economic stimulus were both compromise bills.”

    Because that might involve reminding the public that Obamacare was passed with zero Republican votes. And then someone might start asking why, that being the case, the Democrats didn’t go ahead and pass more liberal, less compromised legislation. You know, the kind they claim to favor if it weren’t for those dastardly Republicans standing in their way. If it weren’t for… whatever.

    • I think there’s a couple of issues here. Recall that several so-called “Blue Dog” Democrats were against a more progressive health bill. It simply wouldn’t have passed.

      But that illustrates a problem with the modern Democratic Party. Some of them are corporate tools who should probably be Republican, and the rest actually care about good government. The best strategic move for the ACA would have been to fight for something better (a public option, say) and lose. Then Democrats could hang rising insurance premiums and deductibles and the whole damn hullabaloo on Republicans and the Blue Dogs.

      Which I think would have been successful. However, that would have taken years, and in the interim, people would have been hurt & killed. So they passed the “compromise” version. Premiums and deductibles kept going up (if far slower than they had before), and Republicans were able to hang the hullabaloo on “Obamacare.” This was devasting to our side. It’s no accident that the Brexit campaign reached out equally to people wanting British health care to be better funded (they didn’t get it, surprise) and to xenophobes.

      Had I been given an ACA vote, though, which way would I have voted? I honestly cannot say. Better lives in ten years via sacrificing lives today is a horrifying choice. I don’t fault the honest Democrats for making it. (The Blue Dogs need to be boiled in oil, however.)

      • I’m not sure why you say they should have “fought for a public option and lost.” That’s exactly what they did. There was a public option in the earlier versions of the ACA. It had to be taken out to appease the treacherous Joe Lieberman. The result was the compromise system we got.

        If you’re saying they should have said “we will let it die without a public option,” then I’d say that’s purely evil. Allowing people to continue dying or going bankrupt over health issues in the hope that it will somehow galvanize people to demand better solutions is despicable. I think that’s how the Republican Party got corrupted- they started to see any unethical behavior as legitimate if it advanced their long-term goals. Do the ends justify the means? What are the ends? Every victory or defeat just sets the stage for the next battle. There’s no utopia at the end of the fight, so you do what’s best for people right now.

        In addition, I don’t think “noble failure” is even a valuable strategic goal. If the Democrats had the House, sixty senators, and the presidency and still couldn’t deliver on one of their biggest platform planks, the response wouldn’t be “damn, those Republicans thwarted the noble Democrats.” Rather, it would be “even with all that power, they still couldn’t get anything done? What a bunch of losers!” It’s a post hoc error to say “the Democrats’ actions on health care caused them to lose in 2010.” They would have lost seats no matter what; that’s just what happens when you have the White House. Democrats had unified control of the government in 1993 and failed to pass health reform, and the next year Republicans took Congress for the first time in nearly half a century. It wasn’t until a Republican administration led us through a terrorist attack, a failed war, and the devastation of a major American city from a hurricane that the Democrats got power back. Were they really supposed to waste that opportunity and then wait for an even better one? “Forget last time, we’ll get something done this time, really” is a poor slogan.

        Success begets success. Sure, the ACA is complicated and has holes in it (though Republican governors denying Medicaid to their citizens wasn’t part of the design; it took a Supreme Court decision to make that possible). Despite all that, it was strong enough to save thousands of lives, thus building a constituency that was devoted to protecting it. As a result, the GOP’s repeal plan collapsed and its benefits survive. Moreover, there is a strong push to make the system even better through some sort of single payer type plan. Health care is now seen by the majority as a right that the government should provide. There are threats still. Of course there are. But if the ACA had failed in 2010, we’d be in worse shape than we currently are. There would be millions of people suffering compared to what we see today, and we’d be in the wilderness once more. We would not have a lot of people saying “let the Democrats back in power so they can make things better!” More likely we’d have Democrats trying even hard to reach “the middle.” 2009-2011 was the most successful period of progressive legislation since Lyndon Johnson, and the Democratic Party’s platform is also the most liberal it’s been since then. That’s not a coincidence.

        • Pretty much where I’m at, I must have phrased it imprecisely. Of course the proper moral action for decent Democrats to take was passing a compromise bill that saved lives. That’s a no-brainer.

          However, while the bill saved many lives by getting millions of people insurance they didn’t have before, it didn’t make a very big difference for people who already had insurance. Who were and still are incensed at the corporate bullpoop you have to deal with every time you go in for so much as a checkup.

          My beef isn’t with the honest Democrats who decided saving lives was better than nothing. It’s with the corporate Democrats who believed placating insurance donors was more important than serving their constituents.

          As for the Democrats who lost their seats due to a “yes” vote on ACA, I respect some of them. I’m guessing the ones who lost their seats but played nice with the insurance companies are all lobbyists or members of corporate boards by now. Whereas the ones who fought for a public option (or proposed single-payer) are teaching political science at Moo Tech.

          The issue isn’t whether or not the ACA was a flawed, but good step in the right direction — it was. The issue is the corporate-friendly Democrats, whom good ones have to drag kicking and screaming into anything that benefits voters instead of powerful business interests. These people have run the party straight into the ground and enabled the rise of the far right. (Also the rise of a real left, which is a good thing, although the corporate Dems are fighting it with everything they’ve got.)

          • A big part of this is the way that Americans have been trained to think: only government interferes with their freedom — never businesses. I’ll be writing about that shortly here. (Actually, I’ve already written it. I’ve started writing articles on my morning walk, using the memo application and voice to text. It’s pretty amazing!) One big change over the last few years is the number of people who are voluntarily unemployed. This is due to people giving up jobs they only kept because they needed insurance. I believe Obamacare has allowed about 2 million people to do this. Of course, conservatives have claimed this is a bad thing because working when you don’t want to is a Good Things™.

        • The problem with having 60 Senators is that you will necessarily be a diverse caucus. So having 60 Senators sounds good to us lefties, but it isn’t as powerful as we would think. Having 60 Senators means that the Blue Dogs get what they want.

          Voters are very simple. They won’t listen to why the party failed. They just know that it did fail. It’s true that the Republicans (and Joe Lieberman) screwed over the American people. But the voters will never see that. They don’t pay enough attention to even noticed it.

          Over the weekend, I was at a family gathering, and there was talk of all the money that we waste on foreign aid. As nicely as I could, I pointed out that we spend very little (~1%) on foreign aid. But I could see that they just didn’t believe me. Most people (especially old people) think the problem with the US is that we are just too nice. I’m planning to write an article about this. The truth is that as a country, we are about the worst there is. We don’t give much aid to other countries, and the aid we do give has strings attached. But Americans just can’t see that. And if they can’t see something that clear, it’s hopeless when it comes to the complexities of legislation.

  4. “Recall that several so-called “Blue Dog” Democrats were against a more progressive health bill. It simply wouldn’t have passed.”

    You are likely correct, but at worst a foundation could have been laid for further efforts.Our healthcare situation wasn’t going to get better on its own. Those Blue Dogs you mention were mostly Senators. Although margins were also thin in the House, Representatives have historically been more vulnerable to leadership pressure than Senators. A lot of the debate around passing the ACA (or something else) was concerned with whether or not a Senate supermajority (60 votes) would be required due to filibuster rules. I’m not an expert in legislative procedure and even experts disagree. However, I’m given to understand that some relevant assertions are at least plausible.

    1- The Dems were in a position to abolish or amend filibuster procedures. It’s a fact that many people at the time were urging exactly that course of action.

    2- Legislation might have been passed using Budget Reconciliation which doesn’t require a supermajority. The ACA was actually passed with 60 Senate votes, but Budget Reconciliation was indeed used to pass various amendments to it. COBRA, by the way, stands for Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985.

    3- Senator Joe Lieberman was regarded as a key vote on health care reform but he was not actually a Democrat at the time. In 2006 he was supported for reelection by prominent Dems including one Senator Obama, but he was defeated in the primary by the more liberal Ned Lamont. Lieberman then ran as an independent and won the general. Lamont later claimed that lack of party support contributed to his defeat (the Republican candidate came in a distant third). Lieberman was allowed to keep his Senate chairmanship, even after endorsing John McCaine in 2008. One would think he could have been pressured with the potential loss of that position.

    4- Obama and the other Dem leadership took single-payer off the table before public debate even started. Advocates were banned from participation. Even the feeble “public option” was traded away in early back room deals, though it continued to be used as an illusory carrot to garner liberal support for the ACA. A number of “heavyweight” pundits and bloggers advised concentrating on this imaginary goal rather than on single-payer advocacy. When political leaders actively oppose an idea, it’s hard not to think “self-fulfilling prophecy”, especially if one still believes that public opinion has something to do with political outcomes.

    • Huh! I didn’t think of the budget reconciliation angle (to be honest, I didn’t know what that was until this year). I remember being livid when they abandoned the public option. Feeble compared to universal care, surely, but insurance companies were terrified of it. CEOs went before Congress and said the public option would bankrupt them. And it eventually would have, for obvious reasons.

      I don’t think we’re very far apart here. Clearly too much of the Democratic Party considers protecting corporate interests #1, and helping Americans #2. My point was merely that there are good ones who have their priorities straight, and I don’t blame them for passing the best bill their party would allow.

      Where I think they were shortsighted is in assuming the ACA would be so beloved it’d naturally lead to further moves towards real universal care. When it was very easy to predict that the ACA would be blamed for all the insurance industry awfulness. If you make a huge deal out of improving a bad system, and your improvements basically consist of things getting worse more slowly, you will be blamed for this. And I can’t believe more people in the party didn’t see this coming.

      • “If you make a huge deal out of improving a bad system, and your improvements basically consist of things getting worse more slowly, you will be blamed for this. And I can’t believe more people in the party didn’t see this coming.”

        Except that’s not what happened. Okay, with regards to premiums, “getting worse more slowly” may be accurate. But the ACA made enormous improvements to many people’s lives. I would agree that the Democrats should have been more proud to defend it, rather than run away. The biggest problem was that most of it didn’t take effect until 2014, so in 2010 Republicans could run against hypothetical dangers of the law and play on people’s fears. There are plenty of examples of people who opposed the law suddenly supporting it once it took full effect and they benefited directly.

        Why do you assume people in the party didn’t see the backlash coming? Of course they did. Many of them knew that voting for the ACA would cost them their careers. I’m glad they decided to put the good of the country over their personal political fortunes.

        • You’re quite right about former opponents supporting the law once it helped them. They really came out in force during those GOP town hall meetings and scared many congresscritters into canceling appearances! That’s real democracy in action, and it was lovely to see.

          Some other folks that played a huge role were activists with disabilities. The GOP “plan” paid for cutting taxes on the wealthy by slashing future Medicaid funding. Well, anyone under 65 who lives in a nursing home or assisted-living facility relies on Medicaid. They’re a favorite target for funding cuts by the GOP on both the national and state level, just because they’re not a very visible part of the population.

          Those activists weren’t going to take this sitting down. Literally! In some cases, activists were helped out of wheelchairs to lie on GOP office floors and conference tables, challenging Republicans to have them dragged out on camera!

          But then again, this is the same community that had people get out of their chairs and crawl up the Capitol steps to advocate for the Americans With Disabilities Act. They have a long history of gutsy public protest (and asked civil rights leaders for tips).

          The disability community is a sleeping bear you don’t want to poke. And they’ve poked it. Because, right now, they think they can get away with anything. We’ll see if they’re right. But I smell a lot of pushback coming.

          • Don’t worry. Eventually enough Republican politicians will have children with disabilities that they will support it. That seems to be the main way to get Republicans to see the need for a program: for them to have the need.

            I’ve gotten so much more cynical over the last 6 months — but also over the last two years. I don’t suppose it surprised me that all these Christian conservatives would jump at the chance to vote for such an un-Christian man as Donald Trump. But the behavior of the Congressional Republicans has been a bit of a surprise. A big deal is made any time a Republican says something against Trump. But the truth is, there have been almost none. At this point, I can’t imagine anything that Trump would do that would cause them to stop him. I’ve always known that Republicans care only about power. But the last 6 months have shown just how powerful that commitment is.

        • Jurgan’s right here.

          My then congressman Harry Mitchell was one of the people who threw away a lifetime career of serving the people to do one final act to serve the people. When the bill was being debated, everyone talked about the national approval ratings. They forgot to see the congressional district ratings were what mattered.

          That is why I don’t believe those national opinion polls that say “Single Payer Is Totes Popular You Guys” because that’s a national poll, not a congressional district one and those congresscritters do not want to throw their seats away.

          • Which is why we have to do a lot more work getting to know our neighbors and sharing ideas with one another. Clearly, a true single-payer system would benefit everyone. Just as clearly, it’s politically almost unthinkable at this point. Many people are still terrified of “keep your government hands of my Medicare!”

            We attended a neighborhood political meeting last week. It was … a beginning, I guess. Mostly upscale yuppies congratulating each other for the inclusive sentiments posted on their lawn signs.* At one point, one asked, “what can we do to make our community more diverse?” I felt like screaming, “stop throwing hissy firts about public housing and facilities like nursing homes where people of color are likely to work, every time one of these is proposed nearby, you idiots.” But I didn’t. Not much point.

            We did meet a lady who’s trying to put together a reading class featuring African-American authors, so we’ll be looking into that. A lot of this stuff is just remembering how to politically connect with your community. That’s almost an atrophied American skill. BLM and Occupy, despite their flaws, are useful steps in this direction.

            *(Yeah, after I got married last year, I moved into the Gentrified Twilight Zone. It’s a house my wife’s factory-worker parents bought decades ago when this area was cheap. Once we both hit 55, we hope to move into a seniors condo somewhere less snooty. But, for now, this shit is paid for, so why not stay here.)

            • Solidarity is hugely important. I’ve long argued that business hates unions more because of solidarity than any concern about higher wages, greater benefits, and so on. They know that united workers could destroy the business community. Thus, the business community is terrified that workers will care about each other. Thus they push the ridiculous that the law of the jungle is “natural.” Solidarity is the most powerful idea in the world. But before we fight businesses and the government over it, we must fight our own ideas — which have been poisoned by decades of business propaganda.

          • Absolutely. However, I don’t believe that we should push things we only believe we can pass. Constituencies can be grown. Just the same, I think that single-payer healthcare is a bad policy to make the center of our platform. Obamacare made our healthcare system much better than it was. I believe we should work to improve that. And part of that is a push toward single payer: lowering the Medicare eligibility age. But for the future, I would like to see us focus on worker rights. They have been de-emphasized for too long. Eventually, the American people will wake up to the fact that our working lives have become a tyranny.

        • If the ACA had been around 5 years earlier, I wouldn’t owe a quarter million dollars in medical bills. So there is no doubt that Obamacare has been good for me. And the truth is, it has been good for most people. The problem is that it is hard for people to see it. And that would be true even if we had received single payer healthcare. The fact is that people get less healthy as they age. So people won’t look back 10 years ago and say, “You know, I was paying a lot more for my age group than I should have 10 years ago.” They will see that they paid less 10 years ago or that they were simply healthy without insurance.

          People aren’t rational, unfortunately.

      • James, you should go back and review the “public option” that was actually proposed. Nobody was scared of that. It would hardly have been available to anyone, and almost certainly would have immediately entered a death spiral. Besides, Obama had already made a secret deal to kill any public option, so it was moot anyway. Well, except as an object lesson — 57 members of the Progressive Caucus signed a letter stating they would not support a healthcare bill that didn’t include a decent public option. Care to guess how many kept that pledge?

    • Reconciliation isn’t magic. It has specific rules to be able to be used, and while I’m no expert I’m pretty sure they were not available for that law. As for eliminating the filibuster, it was theoretically possible but also never would have happened. That would have required at least 50 senators agree to do so. Senators are very conservative when it comes to changing the rules of their institution, and I’m sure there were at least ten Democrats who would have refused.

      • Even though I hate the filibuster, it is actually better for the Democrats than the Republicans. Because of the anti-democratic way that the Senate is set up, it is more likely that we will be in the minority. I’ve been against the filibuster because I figured the Republicans would just do away with it the first time it got in the way of their agenda. So I’m rethinking it.

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