clap clap blog: we have moved

Monday, May 05, 2003
Atrios points to an entry in The Sideshow in which an article by Todd Gitlin (not necessarily my favorite journalist in the world, but he's down with the crew, I think) in which Todd explains why the left maybe isn't doing so well ("The left is left with its 'no.' A no has its occasions. But for a force that aims for power, it won't do.") is criticized for speaking ill of the left. Viz:

Huh? The Democratic left, at least, has perfectly good policies - they just aren't as dramatic-sounding as Invading a Country! and Winning a War! and Enormous Tax Cuts! and what-have-you. They are, in fact, policies that have worked all along, whether we're talking about diplomacy or school programs or Social Security. From where comes the mentality that says that the right has some sort of "answer" just because they want to re-introduce policies that were such dismal failures for centuries all over the world? Who says diplomacy, maintaining alliances, and working to keep the peace isn't a positive policy?

I just can't help the feeling that Todd Gitlin, who I used to like, has been taken over by the Borg.

This seems to be missing a number of points. One is that the left may have great policies, but it obviously isn't doing a very good job of getting them out there right now. Their main response to tax cuts, say, is, "Smaller tax cuts!" instead of "Well, here's how we think we should balance the budget and stimulate the economy," and while simply oppositional responses like "Smaller tax cuts!" may be a perfectly fine response intellectually, politically it means you're always playing catch-up instead of leapfrogging the other side and leading the agenda. Which leads to another important point: if you don't lead with the issues, you have to respond to them rather than simply refusing to acknowledge that it's an issue. With Iraq, for instance, the left faced a major hurdle because it wasn't even on its agenda; it didn't have an "Iraq policy" (aside from that of some activists that demanded an end to sanctions, which looked especially weak in this context) and so it was constantly playing catch-up. The problem became that a lot of leftists had sour grapes about this and kept complaining that we shouldn't have been even thinking about war in the first place instead of acknowledging that we are and responding to that. "No war!" may be a fine sentiment, but it doesn't really get you what you want.

The main point--and I think this is one that the left is critically missing--is that old policies can be good, but you need to repackage them to look like new ones. Yes, yes, that's hypocritical and dishonest, but it's probably better to be hypocritical than to have the UN gutted, right? It's good to respond to a negative conservative policy with an old positive one repackaged as something new; it's even better to respond by doing the same thing but not look like you're responding, but are instead proposing a whole new issue. Gephardt's idea for health care, while flawed, fits nicely in this catagory. So would a positive proposal to reform international institutions, which from our perspective have the problem of not being able to restrain the US. You gettit?

Even more important, maybe, is the ability to differntiate between a bad policy and bad politics. You can have a bad policy with it still being good politics--i.e. being a net gain in the long run.