Friday, 29 January 2010

The Continued Struggle Against Statergery

Daniel Larison offers a customarily smart take on the state of the Republican Party (SOTR?) right now. As is so often the case, he's a lot less convinced of them having any long-term route back into power in their current form than anyone is on the left. How much of this represents him lacking the usual paranoia and cynicism the American left tends to display these days (and who could blame them?), and how much is Larison's continued difficulty in viewing voters as anything other than supremely rational, I'm not sure, but in it's way it's comforting.

I also think his picture is incomplete, though. Whilst I think this is entirely true -
Republicans have been treating temporary, tactical political victories as if they were far more significant, strategic victories, when, in fact, they have no political strategy worth mentioning.
- it fails to take into account that the Republicans are a hair's breadth away from winning their greatest strategic victory since the Clinton years. I remain too depressed over the whole HCR debacle to go over it all again (I might have a bit more later; inevitably it'll be depressing and overwrought), though my current thinking lies pretty close to Kevin Drum's, but had the bill been passed by now, it would have almost certainly been a disaster for the GOP long-term. Had the Republicans put any effort into contrition over the disastrous last eight years, the Democrats might actually have gotten themselves a vote or two for HCR from them, and we'd a) already had a bill, and b) gotten to have watched the exact moment Senator Lieberman realised he was no longer of relevance to anybody except the editors of Bitter Old Prick magazine.

So I agree entirely with Larison that the Republicans are entirely focusing on tactics rather than strategy. This is something I remarked upon during the Presidential campaign; McCain's utter obsession with winning the news cycle was almost always successful, but frequently counter-productive. On the other hand, up until this moment, it's been tremendously beneficial for them. This might well become less true as whatever legislation is crafted to create jobs takes shape (can the GOP find a way to persuade the American people that more jobs is a bad idea? I'm betting they can!), since the downside of letting the Democrats pass that is far less than it was regarding HCR. I guess we'll see.

One other thought. As I say, I've been making this point over the Republican fixation with short-term tactics for a while now. It's also been widely pointed out in the past that a major difference between progressive and conservative thinking (or more accurately, what many individual progressives and conservatives seem to think) is that progressives see the links in the wider picture, and realise pulling one thread somewhere may lead to unravelling somewhere else, whereas conservatives treat each new issue as a sealed box, to be opened, the puzzle inside solved, and then closed again.

It only just occurred to me upon reading Larison's piece that those two traits might actually be very closely connected. Someone who views problems as a list of independent articles is probably prone to short-term thinking over political fights, and anyone too busy punching hippies to sit and think about the long-term direction of their party isn't liable to want to sit down for long enough to work out whether their views on healthcare will have an adverse knock-on effect on (Hell, these people haven't worked out whether their views on healthcare will have an adverse knock-on effect on healthcare).

I don't know if I'm way off the mark with this, or if it's a ludicrously obvious point that I alone have never grasped (a friend of mine calls these "Dickensian moments", after the exact moment an acquaintance of his finally clocked onto the fact that "Dickensian" means "Like something from Dickens"). I thought it was worth passing on. I should also state for the record that I don't believe all conservatives are necessarily incapable of considering and understanding complex systems, I'm sure some of them can and are selfish pricks anyway, or are even like Larison and actually arguably too strategic [1]. It's just that, as is pointed out so often, it ain't that type of conservative who's running the asylum right now.

[1] I asked him last week why he would be happy to see a bill designed at saving tens of thousands of lives a year die, and whilst he didn't directly respond, he did give a one-line justification for his position in his next post, which was something along the lines of the bill being "unaffordable and unsustainable". To which I say, maybe, but that's a hell of a long-term angle to take when people are dying every day.

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