Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Democracy is for When They Agree With Us

Last summer I made the very stupid mistake of putting my toe into the American Health Care discussion. Big Mistake. Readers I'd never heard from came forth to tell me I was an idiot, others told me I was a hypocrite, and gangs of others started using this obscure blog as yet another battlefield in their internal American political wars. Eventually I posted an abject apology, and resolved never again to get sucked into that quagmire:
My lesson, however, has been to stop using the issue as a foil for other topics, since it's too radioactive. Foils need themselves to be mildly interesting or easily recognizable, but shouldn't be major bones of contention - because if they are, they overpower the attempt to wield them.
If you follow that link, by the way, you'll see how I tried to extricate myself with an explanation of why I hadn't been saying many of the things attributed to me after all.

Well, after six months of restraining myself, Andrew Sullivan has posted something which causes me to try again. First, however, please do try to accept that I'm not addressing the particulars that have set him off. I'm not addressing the stimulus, health care, or any other internal American political issue. Not.

What I am addressing is the perhaps universal tendency by otherwise democratically minded thinking people (democratic with a small d) not to be able to accept that sometime the electorate really really doesn't see things the "right" way. What happens when you're convinced in a position or set of them, but the voters think otherwise? You can ask yourself if perhaps they're right, and re-examine your positions. You can figure out why you're in the minority, and resolve to shout until enough people hear you to stop being the minority. (There may be better tactics than shouting). You can resign yourself to being of the minority, perhaps even parade the fact. There are all sorts of ways to deal with being in the minority. I expect each of you has repeatedly had the experience; me, since I jump around rather often, I can report on being the minority on both sides of the same issues, when I perhaps moved against the current.

One of the ugly ways to deal with disagreeing with the majority is to comfort yourself publicly that they're all gullible weak-minded innocents who are being manipulated by the Evil Ones:

They crafted a strategy of total oppositionism to anything Obama proposed a year ago. Remember they gave him zero votes on even the stimulus in his first weeks. They saw health insurance reform as Obama's Waterloo, and, thanks in part to the dithering Democrats, they beat him on that hill. They have successfully channeled all the rage at the massive debt and recession the president inherited on Obama after just one year. If they can do that already, against the massive evidence against them, they have the power to wield populism to destroy any attempt by government to address any actual problems.

This is a nihilist moment, built from a nihilist strategy in order to regain power ... to do nothing but wage war against enemies at home and abroad....

Yes, I'm gloomy. Not because I was so wedded to this bill, although I think it's a decent enough start. But because if America cannot grapple with its deep and real problems after electing a new president with two majorities, then America's problems are too great for Americans to tackle.

And so one suspects that this is a profound moment in the now accelerating decline of this country. And one of the major parties is ecstatic about it.

See what I mean? Distasteful.

We've got some similarly minded people in Israel. They make up for being a small minority by telling outsiders they're the only sane Israelis, and the rest of us are mad.


Jon said...

Eh, look, I don't know much more than you do (if that) but all my friends that know something about it tell me that the health care system is so beyond dysfunctional that no matter what bill Obama put forward, even if it nationalized all the insurance companies permanently, would have been an improvement over the status quo. These friends, mind you, are not the type to be all partisan about things either.

Victor said...

You really want to get into why this bill is a disaster that will permanently destroy the American economy, Jon?

Yaacov is making a different point. Let's not get sidetracked.

Personally, I lost respect for Sullivan when he endorsed Kerry for President in '04. I still remember his reasoning - he thought if the Democrats were forced to deal with Iraq it would unify the country. The man has clearly made a calculated decision to earn greater accolades as a liberal than the staunch conservative he once claimed to be. I don't think anyone would confuse him with a conservative 6 years later. His writing has gotten much more visceral over the years, as well.

Bryan Z said...

Well, democracy can reveal some ugly truths about the electorate. I think in this particular instance Mr. Sullivan is in the wrong (I haven't studied the health care bill in any sort of depth yet, but a summary glance leads me to believe it's all kinds of Byzantine, and that voters are right to be skeptical), but it does bring to mind the minaret "scandal" in Switzerland, when the majority of Swiss voters decided in a referendum to ban the construction of new minarets.

Of course, I have a rather illiberal view of that ban (that if you don't like the Swiss decision, then maybe you could try a different country to live in), but a great many people threw a big old-fashioned hissy fit about it.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Lozowick,

A point of clarification, if I may. I think you may be operating under a mistaken assumption in regards to American politics, namely that both sides in the debate are at least somewhat reasonable. In that case, your argument would be valid. I can see the point you are making about the dilemma of determining how to respond to your electorate when the position you hold is in the minority. How should you proceed? Do you try to convince the majority that you are right? Do you give up? Do you fight for a hopeless cause? What do you do? Whatever course you take, you are probably thinking in the back of your mind that one day, you can convince the majority that you are right. One day, they will see the light.

Unfortunately, America is currently not operating under that model. Right now we have one party (the Democrats) who are trying to enact their agenda and their opposition (the Republicans) who are trying to oppose them. So far, this sounds like politics the world over. Here is the difference though. This isn't a clash over two differing opinions, this is the determined will of a group of people to oppose everything their opponent stands for, regardless of whether or not it is logical to do so.

In other words, the Republicans aren't advocating a different solution to whatever problem Obama is facing, they are just opposed to Obama's solution.

This is why I find your argument flawed. You can't convince the majority to change their position on an issue because they don't have a position. They aren't looking to change to a different solution because they don't have a current solution. You can't argue logically with a people determined at all cost to thwart what ever it is you plan to do. I would think Israel has had some experience with this problem.

I hope my comment shed's some light on Mr. Sullivan's posting. He is just frustrated by the tactics of a political party that seems to be on a suicide mission. Either you agree wholeheartedly with everything they propose, or they will seek with all their might to destroy you. So it's not that he looks down on them thinking "my position is right and theirs is wrong". Rather "my position is a good solution, and they are insane". The best thing that could happen to America right now would be for the Republicans to stand up and start offering solutions. They might be bad solutions, they might be "wrong" solutions, but that at least would be a starting point.

So your question "What happens when you're convinced in a position or set of them, but the voters think otherwise?" might better be stated "What happens when you're convinced in a position or set of them, but the voters are insane?"

Just a thought though.

Anonymous said...

may be what you have here is the voice of a minority (i.e. former opposition) having finally "triumphed" and thus feeling unable to tolerate obstacles to making everybody see the-ir light ... at least that's how it seems to an "old" European.

another possibility is that the pro-Obama scribbling classes are becoming aware that they aren't as good at educating the electorate (the great unwashed stupid ones) i.e. explaining in plain language the desirability of whatever. (And why should they? - after all in "real life" I have rareliest encountered a teacher/educator who was even willing to contemplate that his own skills might be not be up to the task - usually it is the pupil who is stupid, unwilling, incapable, lacking etc. - remember the early times of the computer? it was always the user who was to blame;-)

and last but not least: as always Sullivan is Sullivan, a pontificating dullard who is convinced that he is the brightest of the brightest and a romantic who knows exactly how a perfect world would look like on top of it all.

Lee Ratner said...

Yaacov, as somebody who considers him to be on the American left I think you are wrong about the entire American healthcare debate. The majority of Americans think that the American healthcare system is pretty screwed and supports major reform and think that this form should be very much a governmental thing. Depending on which poll you look at, a substantial plurality to a bit of a majority of Americans want single-payer healthcare.

However, a large minority of Americans are opposed to any reform in the healthcare system for a variety of reasons. Obviously some people oppose it because they are making lots of money off the current system. Other people are opposing it because ideologically they believe that "government can't do anything right" and that the "free market" should be Americans guiding principle. Many of these people really like Medicare for some reason and don't want the government to touch it. Other people are opposing it for political reasons like the Republicans but do not have a solution of their own. Others are quite frankly racist and xenophobic and do not want the wrong type of people to get healthcare. The system of government created by the Constitution combined with the procedural rules of the Senate gives these groups of people a lot of power even though they are in the minority. If America had a unicameral legislature, America would have single-payer healthcare by now.

Meanwhile everybody outside of America is bewildered because universal, government provided or supported healthcare has been proven to be very successful. Outside the U.S., only the very extremely far right advocate getting rid of universal, government provided/supported healthcare.

Anonymous said...

I am always amazed at the language mix-up of the debate
- I wonder who did the original highjacking and established HealthCARE as a synonym for HealthINSURANCE

doctors and nurses giving CARE is one thing, how they get PAID for it is another - to fuse the two right from the beginning when talking about the whole field must lead to confusion and unnecessary emotion hyping.

Strange that the chattering mandarins who after all pride themselves on their language skills (and get paid for them) do not seem to mind the mix-up

maybe the mix-up happened because Insurance is too long a word to fit comfortably into headlines???

Anonymous said...

Oh My. Anonymous and Lee Ratner are so off on this, it's pathetic. Republicans HAVE offered solutions-Portability, S.S. reform, etc. Bush did so during his first term and Demo's only played politics by saying that they wanted the poor and elderly to starve. Speaking of government run, take a hard look at Social Security and the military run healthcare systems and see what "governement" gets you.

Anonymous said...

The hubris of trying to ram through a flawed reform of a flawed system against the will of the majority. It's true that sometimes the US political system creates illogical compromises. Perhaps the pro-reform group should try setting up pilot projects in some of the left-leaning states? It would give a chance to work out the kinks and decide if it should be single-payer or a mixed public-private which is another common option world-wide.

Lee Ratner said...

No Anonymous, the Republicans have not offered meaningful reform. During the debate, when the Republicans finally gave into pressure and released their own bill, the CBO revealed that the bill would actually increase the number of uninsured by eight million, So under the Republican proposals we would have 52 million Americans lacking health insurance rather than the current 45 million Americans lacking health insurance. Nor would tort reform or social security reform do anything meaningful but cause more harm to people already suffering. It would make a lot of business people richer though.

Like it is often said, you are entitled to your own opinions but not your own facts and the facts on American healthcare are dismal no matter how you slice it. Government supported or provided health insurance has been proven to be very successful in EVERY country it was implemented in. Americans LOVE Medicare. Our host Yaacov is no flaming liberal and he can't understand why so many Americans are opposed to universal healthcare. The same goes for conservatives in every other developed country.

kai said...

Hi Yaacov, you may like this anecdote: some former classmates of mine (i.e. from Eastern Germany!) told me very seriously, due to the insane character of the majority we should change the electoral system to give TWO VOTES to people which are more worthy and more likely to decide the "right way".

Rob said...


Yaacov said...

Kai -

Thanks for the suggestion. I'm all for it!