According to an op-ed piece, “How To Win 2010,” by Matthew Yglesias, to avoid a disaster in the midterms, the White House needs to pick a battle it can afford to lose.
[Below is a synopsis of the article, but for the complete opinion, read the op-ed article instead of my interpretation. fnord]
Not on health-care reform! No, that one is too necessary now! Americans are suffering, businesses are suffering and can’t be competitive with those overseas. It is important to go beyond ‘status quo’ and get reform ‘on the books.’ It’s taken almost a century to get this far. However, through the compromising, watering down process we’ve learned victory means getting the votes necessary to pass a bill. And that means making the compromises necessary to get the votes to pass a bill. And that means jumping through whichever hoops Joe Lieberman, Ben Nelson, and anyone else want to jump through.
It’s becoming more and more clear that Timothy Noah was right to warn in mid-December that in exchange for their compromises on the public option, liberals will get nothing. Nothing, that is, except a universal health care bill. And that’s not nothing at all. But therein lies the problem — by threatening to kill it, moderates have consistently been able to water it down. The results have sapped the enthusiasm of Obama’s base, while also tying the president to the much-less-popular institution of Congress. To avoid a disaster in the midterms, the White House needs to reverse this trend: it needs to pick a battle it can afford to lose.
The battle it can afford to lose is the financial regulatory reform package that’s already passed the House of Representatives and is soon to get more serious consideration in the Senate. Passing a regulatory reform bill that’s weak could do more harm than good. A so-so health care bill still provides actual help to actual people. And health programs are the kind of thing that will inevitably be tweaked over the years. A loophole-ridden regulatory measure, by contrast, does no good at all and may merely give people a false sense of comfort.
Consequently, this is an issue where the administration can afford to draw lines in the sand and refuse to compromise. It can say that real regulatory reform must include a consumer protection agency, must create a non-bailout process for resolving bankrupt large financial firms, must force bankers to bear the costs of the process through fees, must do something to discourage the formation of “too big to fail” institutions, and all the rest.
Then the president can do what progressives would have liked to have seen him do on health care—tour the country denouncing opponents of his agenda as corporate stooges, desperately in hock to special interests. The base will love it, and there’s also every reason to believe that the center has no love for bank-boosting politicians. Opponents might get spooked and cave, in which case the White House would have a nice victory to pocket. Or they might not, in which case Democratic candidates would have a nice issue to run on in the fall.
The key thing, however, is that if they don’t get spooked, the White House can afford to take the legislative defeat and play for a political win. Obama’s been hobbled by the need to take on issues like the stimulus and health care where everyone knows he can’t walk away from the table. Those are the cards he was dealt, but it’s made him look weak. A good loss, by contrast, could be an opportunity to show some much-needed toughness.