Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Distressing Gap

Calculated Risk likes to talk about the distressing gap between existing and new home sales a lot. It's certainly something to ponder. When will the combination of population growth and consumption of fixed capital reduce the surplus inventory of homes enough so that developers have a reason to build again? Inquiring minds Greedy investors would like to know.

But I'd like to talk about the other distressing gap: the one between the policies being implemented and the policies that the country needs. I think it is the primary fuel for the online-lefty civil war that is going on right now (nope, I'm not linking to any of it).

Take health care reform. (Please!) Congress is about to pass a bill that makes a number of significant improvements to the current system. But the improvements are not anything like the fundamental transformation that is needed to really fix the system. Various legislators added cost controls here and there, but a strong, nationwide public option was defeated. A bill for a single-payer system wasn't put to a vote in either chamber. So, as of now, there is a big gap between what progressives want to see done and what the country is going to get. The same holds true for gay rights (the HIV travel ban has been lifted but DOMA/DADT haven't been repealed), economic stimulus (which wasn't large enough and had far too many tax breaks), foreclosure prevention (programs exist but they have done very little at a high cost), and others. The next big reform package that won't meet progressives' criteria is the climate change bill. The news from scientists keeps getting worse, and yet little is likely to be done. Fossil fuel production is geographically based, so the issue cuts across ideological lines - mostly in favor of the status quo.

So, what to do? Clearly the thing not to do is launch a nuclear attack against your closest allies, which is currently taking place. Instead, progressives should identify the obstacle(s) to better legislation and take them on. Quite clearly, the biggest obstacle for health care reform was the filibuster. It needs to go. So progressives should work together to lobby Senators to get rid of it. And they should also lobby Representatives, because the House has an institutional interest in beating down the filibuster. And they should lobby Democratic Party hacks because a lot of them will be out of a job if the party loses big in 2010. Once the supermajority rule is eliminated, progressives can take the campaign finance system (again) and support more progressives in primaries. Or something else. It will be tough, and there will be a lot of disappointments. The left just doesn't have the institutional muscle the right does, due to less money and extreme fragmentation into single-issue groups. There is also the inherent asymmetry between change and business as usual. But what else can progressives do except to keep on trying?

Update 2009/12/24: As usual, somebody else says it sooner and better.

Update 2010/01/01: Another good post, this time focusing on how the "movement" was squandered in at the beginning of Obama's first year. Again, right or wrong doesn't matter: how the former volunteers feel is simply a fact that has to be (or should be) addressed.

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