• Obama
  • July 23, 2010
  • 4 minutes read

Re: Should Liberals be Giving Obama a Break? Part III

Re: Should Liberals be Giving Obama a Break? Part III

Michael writes:

The notion that signals or dog whistles to the left should be more important than actual accomplishments (like passing legislation that provides health insurance for 30 million Americans) is crazy to me.

Pretty sure I didn’t say that. So let me be clear: at the end of the day, liberals should have supported health care reform in its final and imperfect form (and most did). My post wasn’t actually about that. It was about getting there. It was about not accepting constraints as a given. This, as a great philosopher once said, is the “soft bigotry of low expectations.” Politics is the art of the possible and, as Michael tells it, so little is apparently possible. It’s unclear how accepting these limits without at least testing them is of benefit to the “actual Americans” who are suffering and, presumably, would have benefited from, say, $1 trillion in stimulus spending rather than $800 billion.

It might be said – it often is – that only liberal elites have the luxury of being ideologically pure. Well, it might also be said – if often isn’t – that liberal elites also have the luxury of being flexible pragmatists. After all, painful policy compromises – that hurt the middle and lower class – are painful for, well, the middle and lower class. I think it’s fair to say that the liberal DC establishment isn’t exactly known for its inflexible ideological proclivities. The ones criticizing Obama for “compromising,” if that’s even the right word, are pretty clearly in the minority.

By this notion, Obama should have fought for the public option – as a signal to the left – even if it risked undermining the entire effort at comprehensive health care reform.

No that’s not the correct implication. It’s not a zero-sum game. Obama (clearly) signaling that he cared about the public option would not have destroyed the health care reform effort. Because 50+ senators saying they cared about it and most of the House Democratic caucus caring about it did not undermine the “entire effort.” In fact, it strengthened the Democrats’ bargaining position. 

It’s also worth pointing out that liberals’ preference for the “public option” wasn’t about standing for “principle” at the expense of people. I think a public option is probably a good thing in part because it would help “actual Americans suffering from lack of health insurance” gain access to more affordable care. 

Indeed it is striking that Shadi is standing on principle over an issue (the public option) that he acknowledges he doesn’t have a strong, informed opinion about.

My question to Michael would be: when is it appropriate, if ever, to stand on principle? How do we make that call? Where are the red lines? When should liberals fight and when should they back down?