In Praise of Jane Hamsher, et al: Redefining the Art of the Possible

Jane Hamsher has been taking a lot of flak in recent days for coming out against the Senate health care reform bill as well as for suggesting that “both the [progressive opponents] and the tea party activists are saying almost the exact same thing about the Senate bill” and that the “painfully obvious left/right transpartisan consensus that is coalescing against DC insiders of both parties appears to be taking everyone by surprise.”  Although not actively opposing the final Senate bill, Glenn Greenwald offered similar sentiments about the common ground between the Tea Partiers and the far left, noting:

Whether you call it “a government takeover of the private sector” or a “private sector takeover of government,” it’s the same thing:  a merger of government power and corporate interests which benefits both of the merged entities (the party in power and the corporations) at everyone else’s expense.  Growing anger over that is rooted far more in an insider/outsider dichotomy over who controls Washington than it is in the standard conservative/liberal ideological splits from the 1990s.  It’s true that the people who are angry enough to attend tea parties are being exploited and misled by GOP operatives and right-wing polemicists, but many of their grievances about how Washington is ignoring their interests are valid, and the Democratic Party has no answers for them because it’s dependent upon and supportive of that corporatist model.  That’s why they turn to Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh; what could a Democratic Party dependent upon corporate funding and subservient to its interests possibly have to say to populist anger?

Hamsher then followed through on her assertions by agreeing to take her case to Fox News, for which she was criticized as being “naive.” Finally, today we learn that she has teamed up with none other than Grover Norquist to call for Rahm Emanuel’s resignation due to his actions with respect to Fannie and Freddie.  The criticisms of Hamsher and to a lesser extent Greenwald, have been echoed by several of my fellow Gents here at the League

Underlying these criticisms of Hamsher seems to be an assumption that: 1. From a liberal perspective, it is inarguable that the Senate bill at least makes things better; 2.  Hamsher is insane for finding common ground with Tea Partiers in opposition to bailouts that were sold as necessary to prevent a Great Depression; and 3. Hamsher is insane for thinking the Tea Partiers have any actual common ground with her, and that they may actually have similar values to her. 

The first two of these criticisms, however, demonstrate precisely why Hamsher and Greenwald are ultimately correct about the common ground with the Tea Partiers.  Specifically, these criticisms assume that “the experts” are always right, and that the average voter is unqualified to assess the normative merits of a particular government action.  So, the message is sent that progressives like Hamsher should STFU since Paul Krugman thinks that the bill, while imperfect, is at least an improvement from the status quo.  Similarly, on the bailouts, Hamsher (as well as, I assume, all the Dem legislators that voted against them last year) should STFU and support them because the experts say things would have been really, really bad without them [NOTE: I am not offering an opinion here as to my thoughts on TARP].  In each case, Hamsher is expected to weigh the acknowledged normative costs less than the claimed normative costs because, well, she’s neither an expert nor an insider; she’s dismissed as being unrealistic and unserious merely for assigning different moral weight to the acknowledged normative costs from the experts.  Unfortunately, last I checked, being an expert economist or scientist doesn’t give one authority to tell people how to make moral calculations. 

This is, at root, precisely what the Tea Partiers have been ranting about, and Hamsher’s critics have short memories and misunderstand the nature of the Tea Party movement, believing it to be all it has been caricatured to be, and no more.  Let us be perfectly clear, then: for all of its foibles, manipulation by GOP-aligned interest groups, and occasional absurdities, the Tea Party movement is fundamentally libertarian at heart.  Yes, as with any protest movement, there are those who ensure that the underlying mission is obscured by commingling their other pet issues with the core of the movement.  But if you look to the founding principles of the Tea Party movement, as well as to the people who actually started it, you will find a strong anti-corporatist and anti-elitist message, a complaint about being told by their government what they are and are not supposed to care about.  The core of this message is that of an increasingly wide swath of Americans who feel disenfranchised by a government that has long-since ceased to take the needs of individual voters and the taxpayers seriously. 

It is also no coincidence that the progressives who seem to most understand this are people like Hamsher and Glenn Greenwald.  During the darkest days of the Bush Administration, the libertarian precursors to the Tea Party movement often found solace in Hamsher’s and Greenwald’s valiant efforts on behalf of civil liberties and leadership on the warrantless wiretap issue, which itself had profound corporatist undertones.  Hamsher and Greenwald further engaged in quite a bit of direct collaboration with movement libertarians, with Hamsher engaging Bob Barr in a highly sympathetic interview during the Presidential campaign and Greenwald writing pieces for TAC and the Cato Institute. 

Interestingly, quoting Ed Kilgore, Greenwald’s post notes how the divide on the left over the merits of the health care bill represents a deeper philosophical divide over the appropriateness of the “use of private means for public ends.”  This is an interesting quote because it mirrors precisely Tea Party and libertarian attacks on Big Government.  Of course, progressives who oppose such actions do so while emphasizing the problems of private interests dominating government, while right-leaning libertarians and Tea Partiers will more likely attack the “use of private means for public ends” on property rights grounds.  But these different points of emphasis are but two sides of the same coin, with public choice theory and arguments about regulatory capture providing a useful nexus. 

I have no idea whether a union of the far left and the Tea Party could form a broad-based political movement.  Certainly, there are many divisions; then again, there are already many divisions within the existing political coalitions that get swept under the rug, and at a minimum there is no reason that the two sides couldn’t coalesce for the limited purpose of advocating reforms to make government more responsive and in touch with its citizens. 

Still, a mere 18 months ago, probably less, the blogosphere was a very different place.  Many of the folks now painted by lefty establishment bloggers as anti-government zealots had stronger relationships with the left side of the blogosphere than the right, while the right side of the blogosphere consistently portrayed us as pro-defeat or pro-terrorist or worse.  I personally learned a lot about the American far left during that time – enough to make me believe that the (very) long-term future of libertarianism lay with the Left rather than the Right.  I have little doubt that folks like Hamsher and Greenwald learned their share of lessons about libertarianism during that time as well, and especially about the nature of the libertarian critique.  It hardly seems far-fetched to think that they remember those lessons and remember how we were all collectively derided for not being “Serious People.” 

Indeed, Greenwald has perhaps never been so prescient as in his spirited 2007 (pre-newsletter) defense of Ron Paul, where he draws the parallel between the attacks on Ron Paul from Serious People and the 2004 attacks on Howard Dean.  Back then, Greenwald wrote:

Where things are going relatively well, and the country has a healthy political dialogue, perhaps there isn’t much of a need to expand the scope of ideas that we consider “normal.” …But our country isn’t doing all that well right now. Our political dialogue isn’t really vibrant or healthy. It seems rather self-evident that it is preferable to enlarge the scope of ideas that we consider and to expand the debates that we engage. The “norms” that have prevailed over the last six years have led the country quite astray and are in need of fundamental re-examination, at the very least. That a political figure (or pundit) clings loyally to prevailing norms isn’t exactly evidence of their worth, let alone their mental health. The contrary proposition might actually be more plausible.

There is no reason to think things have gotten better in this regard, and the views of Howard Dean and Ron Paul on health care are no more “fruitcake” now than they were on the War on Terror in 2002-2008.  Perhaps the Tea Party movement represents a chance for all the fruitcakes and moonbats, left and right, to actually stand up and be heard rather than allow a handful of corrupt establishment figures to dictate the terms of the debate.

That the Tea Party movement has grown to include many of the same people who derided us as fruitcakes in 2002-2008 is of no matter; what matters is whether the underlying critique of the Tea Partiers is compatible with progressive anti-corporatist critiques and whether those critiques are still being dismissed by the establishment as “unserious.”

The answer, on both counts, is “yes.”   If politics is the Art of the Possible, then maybe such a union could finally expand the scope of the Possible.

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60 thoughts on “In Praise of Jane Hamsher, et al: Redefining the Art of the Possible

  1. This is probably anathema for a policy analyst to ask (and I’m well aware of it), but is a responsive government necessarily a better government?

    If you look at scandinavian democracies, for example, they’re not very democratic. They have a lot of experts and pointy headed intellectuals at the top echelons deciding what happens at the macro-policy level then let the democratic institutions handle the minute details. But on the whole they govern significantly more effectively, efficiently and with fewer uses of state power and intrusion into daily life than in other countries.

    Moreover, often experts are the ones that are tied in what they’re able to recommend because policy analysis is constrained by the political optics of what’s being sold. If anything the problem is that policy optimal solutions are rarely discussed because hyperpartisan ideologues will always attack them as being impure in one direction or another. There’s no expansion of the possible, but rather we get constrained and hemmed in as people without expertise demand that policies be shaped to fit a political goal. This isn’t any different whether it’s Karl Rove, Rahm Emmanuel in charge or whether it’s Greenwald, Hamsher et. al making the critiques.

    The last time we really had someone with the necessary expertise to tackle a problem and did so independent of politics was when Volcker had the fed chairmanship. And remember what happened then? He killed inflation stone dead while creating such short term economic problems that derailed quite a few political careers.

    If you don’t want to be dismissed as unserious then perhaps it’s worth actually acknowledging that there’s costs, significant, serious and real person costs associated with the courses of action you recommend instead of wailing against “corporate takeovers” or “socialism”.

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    • There are a couple of problems I see here. I think it’s one thing to have experts in charge of the implementation of policy, but something entirely different to expect that experts are inherently more qualified to evaluate normative tradeoffs.

      You write: “If you don’t want to be dismissed as unserious then perhaps it’s worth actually acknowledging that there’s costs, significant, serious and real person costs associated with the courses of action you recommend instead of wailing against “corporate takeovers” or “socialism”.”

      But that’s just it – I see folks like Hamsher, et al, fully aware that they are opposing a policy that may well do some good for some portion of the population. I see them being dismissed merely for saying that the tradeoffs necessary to achieve that good exact too high a price. To me, the establishment types are failing to even acknowledge the possibility that the compromises necessary to secure passage of the bill not only made the reform less ambitious, but actively create new problems or worsen existing problems.

      I see something similar in the runup to the Iraq War – opponents acknowledging that leaving Saddam Hussein in power was undesirable, that he was an evil dictator, etc., etc., but ultimately convinced that the costs of doing that would be far too high for one reason or another. For this they were dismissed as unserious. Ditto in the case of any number of civil liberties issues in the War on Terror: “You’re opposed to waterboarding/warrantless wiretapping/etc.? You mean you’re ok with thousands of your fellow citizens dying in terror attacks?” As if only someone totally unserious would even factor the civil liberties concerns into the equation at all, much less weigh them more than the alleged increased threat of a terrorist attack.

      Returning to the health care debate, in the case of progressives like Hamsher, ranting about “corporate takeovers” isn’t just some hollow trope – it’s instead effectively shorthand for “the Senate health care bill is public choice theory/regulatory capture in action, yet again. We will no longer stand by and pretend that legislation that is dominated by narrow special interests on net serves the public good.”

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      • Mark- who are you including in your comment “the establishment types are failing to even acknowledge the possibility that the compromises necessary to secure passage of the bill not only made the reform less ambitious, but actively create new problems or worsen existing problems?”

        I ask because I’ve seen many establishment Dems in Congress acknowledge that the Senate compromise is less ambitious (though they largely stop short of saying that it will exacerbate existing problems). The establishment blogger/supporters (Ezra, Josh, Matt, Steve Benen, etc.) have all been willing to acknowledge the price that was paid, too.

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        • The Kleiman piece I link to above is a pretty good example of the attitude to which I’m referring, ie, “Krugman thinks its good, so STFU.” Of course, when you check out the Krugman piece to which Kleiman links, it only talks about the positives in the bill and doesn’t even acknowledge the negatives. Ditto Henry Aaron’s piece in the WaPo the other day.

          I’m not interested in admissions by the establishment that the reform is less ambitious than it should be – if that were all that was true, then the establishment types would be absolutely correct that turning against the bill because it’s not ambitious enough is pretty silly. What I am interested in is admissions by establishment types that there are things in this bill that not only make the bill less ambitious but actively either create new problems or contribute to existing problems.

          I haven’t been reading Ezra as much of late, but I will say that he tends to be the exception that proves the rule.

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      • First, I’m a bit confused as to how you think Mark Kleiman in any way is an ‘establishment figure’. He’s never really been part of the beltway consensus nor for that matter has Paul Krugman. Ditto the rest of the economists basically telling Hamsher to STFU because she’s not talking any sense.

        Second, the reason so many ‘establishment types’ are not acknowledging the ‘costs’ of the reform is because the substantive policy goals of reform have always been centered around health exchanges, guaranteed issue, spread limits, medical loss ratios, etc, rather than the availability of a public option. Yes, the public option was spoken of loudly by candidate Obama, but it was (at least internally from what I gather) considered expendable. Substantively the public options that were bandied about were a much greater sop to insurance companies than the present non-public option included bill, because the former would’ve basically allowed insurers to dump high risk patients on the public option (which would then as a whole have had higher premiums) while they gained all the business from mandated low-risk patients. Paradoxically in this case the death of the public option (though not the medicare buy-in) was probably a net loss for insurance companies, particularly given the high MLR restrictions and low (3x) spread cap on premiums.

        Now why is this important?

        Because it shows the gap between popular perception of a bill and what the bill is best meant to accomplish. There is so much in the bill that raises accountability for private insurers, significantly over the status quo that it’s very hard to view it as a sop to them.

        “Executive compensation” is another issue, where the compensation is where the outrage is focused, but not on the actual practices. Many of the pro-regulation crusaders who demand that government do more don’t seem to realize that some of the transparency regulations they so demand made it possible for bankers to game the ratings system.

        My point is that the lack of expertise makes this sort of incoherence not only possible, but inevitable and will often lead to very bad legislation, even worse than what we end up with now. At least with experts leading, we get a better idea of what aspects of a bill ought to be prioritized for preservation.

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      • Also…

        Re: the Iraq War.

        I’m sure this is partly selective memory, but the expert vs. populist divide was in the other direction from what I recall. Nearly every IR scholar I knew short of the AEI/PNAC dummies were strongly opposed to the war. Granted there was also a gap between the scholars and the policy elite as far as dialog was concerned (there seems less of one in other policy areas such as economics or health care) but a lot of it was dismissed as pointy headed academics not understanding the “real threat”. There’s alot of that “the elite just don’t get it” thinking that leads to dismissing expert opinion saying something is either an improvement or problem.

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      • I’m inclined to agree. It’s very often the case that any political, economic or ideological discussion evaluates a case strictly on possible or imagined benefits, while ignoring or at least minimizing any possible costs. I think again it’s human nature to see ‘Benefits’ through a magnifying glass, while filtering out the costs by some appropriate selection from our collection of information reduction devices, whether formed from secular or religious ideology, group-think or simple laziness/ignorance. Why do we all do incredibly stupid things? We have the information, we just tend to ignore or rationalize away anything that would make our preferred choice less attractive.

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  2. I think that you might be able to sell a Paul-Hamsher two sides of the same coin argument, but I don’t believe that Tea Party can substitute for Paul. No matter how the Tea Party may have started, no matter what those principles may have been, it’s a movement now populated and driven by standard issue anti-government zealots. You know the type of zealot who opposes extending health insurance or reproductive choice, but loves wiretapping and pre-emptive wars.

    The only common ground that Hamsher and Bachmann may share is a tenuous grip on reality.

    But, more substantively, I do not believe we face a dichotomous choice between loonies and corrupt establishment types. And, if that even was the choice, I’d be more than tempted to side with the latter, who at least have some grip on reality. Would you really want our government to pay attention to the morons who surround us? Most people can’t even name the three branches of the federal government and you think we ought to listen to what they have to say about complex policy matters? It would be like a scene from Idiocracy.

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    • “You know the type of zealot who opposes extending health insurance or reproductive choice, but loves wiretapping and pre-emptive wars.”

      Sure, there are plenty of those types in the Tea Party movement, probably even a majority of the Tea Partiers. But are those the messages that the Tea Party movement is emphasizing? I mean really emphasizing, not just the subject of some stray signs here and there?

      Nor do I think we face a dichotomous choice between loons and the establishment in the long run. As Greenwald points out in the 2007 piece I linked above, the establishment is often the more radical and insane group, pretending as if there are no possible downsides to their policy preferences, that we could invade another country, depose its government, and experience virtually no meaningful repercussions, much less repercussions that made it a bad idea in the first place.

      At least the loons and the crackpots recognize that we are not going to have good governance in this country without meaningful systemic change of some sort or another, no matter which party is in charge. Besides, while I don’t think Hamsher is a loon at all, who said that I was specifically referring to Michelle Bachman in this post? Why would she somehow be more representative of such a project than someone like Ross Douthat or Reihan Salam, both of whom have made arguments along the lines I’ve made here?

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      • I brought in Michelle B. as a stand in for what the Tea Party now is, irrespective of its roots. I don’t religiously read Douthat or Salam, but my take is that they’re not exactly Tea Partiers. Or am I wrong?

        If there is some non batshit insane section of the TP movement, I’ve yet to see it. And, even if there is (was?), I would think that their failure to distance themselves from the Obama is a secret socialist, Muslim, non-American ranks worse than some of the Left’s inability to get ANSWER out of the anti-war demonstrations.

        Actually, let me bring up another parallel, though slightly less insane, group for historical reference- Perotistas. I came across these people in ’92 (I was working for Buchanan at the time) and they were nearly completely ignorant of American government, but they were damn sure they were pissed off. People like that, whether they are on the left or the right or wherever, scare the hell out of me.

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        • “If there is some non batshit insane section of the TP movement, I’ve yet to see it. ”

          More to the point, the TP movement arose in a few months after Obama was inaugurated, after years of not staging large demonstrations while Bush, Cheney and Rove trashed the country. Their apologists say that those guys were pissed off during that time, but that somehow Obama magically crossed the tipping point, whereas the Bush administration didn’t.

          Which, of course, is BS.

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  3. Hamsher may mean well. I’ll even go as far as to say that her principles look sound from the libertarian perspective. But looking at it politically which is the dynamic that it’s really impacting right now she looks more like a useful idiot for the right. The tea party was, after all, not even a tempest in a teacup (teaparty-cup?) until they looked up and noticed that the big spenders in charge were no longer right wing big spenders.
    Would they be kicking up this kind of noise if a President McCain and Veep Palin were rolling out this spending? I’m skeptical.

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    • I have no doubt that the Tea Party movement, at least as it is currently constituted, would not be what it is today were McCain and Palin elected. BUT…I think you still would have seen some sort of movement centering on these types of frustrations and reaching an increasingly critical mass. It just would have been more heavy on the lefties than the righties. That said, a big reason why McCain and Palin weren’t elected was precisely that frustration with an intrusive, overpowerful, and unresponsive government had already reached a sort of critical mass – progressives were more motivated than they had been in a very long while to kick the bums out, thinking (incorrectly but undestandably) that Obama would be a significant change from business as usual, while a goodly number of righties either stayed home, voted for Barr, or even voted for Obama for the same reason.

      As for your first point about Hamsher appearing as a useful idiot, I get your point, but I think appearances can be deceiving. If she honestly thinks that the Senate bill makes things worse rather than better, why shouldn’t she fight to kill it? If she honestly thinks (correctly, in my view) that the real dichotomy in modern politics is between insiders and outsiders rather than Left/Right, why shouldn’t she try to take that message to large swathes of the Right in the hopes of formulating a new trans-ideological movement?

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    • Hey, fiscal conservatives had started leaving the Republican Party in 2006. They left en masse in 2008.

      I don’t know what more you want from them than abandoning the party.

      “Why didn’t they abandon the party earlier?”, I hear you ask. 9/11. The 2002 elections were still in a haze of remembering the anniversary, the 2004 elections were an election where the Democrats ran the *ONE* guy who would lose against Bush.

      By 2006, the argument that “THE ONLY THING THAT MATTERS IS THE WAR ON TERROR!” lost much of its moral heft. Especially because you see the Republican party picking up and waving the body of Terri Schiavo around and screaming about the sanctity of life… “what about spending?” “oh, yeah, the only thing that matters is the war on terror… HURRAY BUSH VETOED FEDERAL FUNDING FOR STEM CELL RESEARCH!!! you people hate federal funding for shit, right? There you go. A veto of a funding bill.”

      Fiscons walked away and Republicans lost the legislative branch and then the executive.

      What more do you want from the people showing up at the protests?

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      • Well they sure didn’t make much noise until after Obama in 2008 Jay. That said I’m thrilled they’ve been throwing their weight around, hell I’m pretty fiscally conservative myself. I hope they kick up their heels even more energetically in 2010. If they somehow get through to Obama and he actually takes concrete steps to get the nations’ finances under control the Dems will probably gain an electoral majority that will give them control of the country for a generation.
        Sanity on the left and the Republicans and social right exiled to Rumpistan? Awsome!

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        • I remember hearing a great deal of screeching about the Bush bailouts. “Republicans aren’t even being good at the stuff Republicans are supposed to be good at.”

          Sure, you can point to Eric Erickson at Redstate supporting the Bush Bailouts temporarily as a particularly egregious example of Republicans walking in lockstep with Bush… but, dude, EE ain’t a fiscal conservative. He’s a social conservative and a defense hawk. Redstate in general, for that matter, is not a fiscally conservative site particularly. Socially conservative, youbetcha. Hawkish? Oh mais oui! Fiscons? Well, you have to understand, politics is the art of the possible, to be sure, etc.

          (Full disclosure: I have been banned from Redstate. Excessively pro-sodomy, pro-drug, and all-around libertine who believed in stuff like “a Right to Privacy”.)

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      • “The 2002 elections were still in a haze of remembering the anniversary, the 2004 elections were an election where the Democrats ran the *ONE* guy who would lose against Bush.”

        I love how everybody blame Kerry for losing, rather than simply admitting that the right still loved Bush, and still would vote for any GOP guy before voting for DemonokRats.

        They just *assert* that Kerry lost due to his own fault, rather than perhaps that half of Americans kept voting Republican until reality hammered home the failure, and then most of them kept voting Republican.

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        • Barry, I’m sorry but Kerry was a horrific candidate. I voted for him with my eyes watering and my nose pinched so hard it hurt but lets call a spade a spade. He was terrible. He waffled and garbled. He let Bush Minor keep up with him in debates. He ran a crappy campaign and he lost, inarguably lost.

          Now one can debate which one was a worse campaigner, Kerry or Gore, and it’s actually open to question whether Kerry was worse than any of the other primary candidates that year. Maybe he was the best the party had. But he was very very bad.

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    • If a Mccain/Palin administration said what this admin has said and was attempting what this admin is attempting, you’d see an even larger revolt. If in 2012, a Repub administration is elected and they continue these huge statist takeovers, you’ll see the Tea Party double in size. It would be such a gross betrayal that twice as many people would take to the street and government would lose all legitimacy.

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  4. A part, a big part, of the liberal frustration at Hamsher is that she seems to be aggressively organizing a classic liberal circular firing squad. she is being a tool for people who want to see Obama fail. she wants the Obama she thought existed to succeed. i just don’t see how her actions are making what she wants more likely to occur. In fact her actions are more likely to bring about outcomes she doesn’t like. At most, down the road Obama will use some of the anger of the Hamsher wing of the liberals to show centrists that he is truly a moderate, not a captive of Left. The second Hamsher says some thing the tea party crowd disagrees with they will be calling her a socialist and unamerican.

    This is a side note, but i am truly surprised at how many D’s and liberals truly thought Obama was a radical progressive. So many D’s seem just as delusional as most of the right was about him. I always thought he was cautious centrist with some liberal tendencies, so i am not all that surprised by his governance.

    The thing is I agree with Hamsher in a lot of ways about the power insiders and special interests have in Washington. in fact that is a main tenet of lib thought and one of the many reasons the tea party people seem off base. The D’s aren’t socialists since they so in bed with big business. but i don’t see Hamsher achieving anything from this. especially since, all other things aside, i don’t think she has a clue about getting health care passed. if anything the senate, not Obama, has been the biggest roadblock to progressive goals. attacking emmanual and obama does not do diddly sqaut about the filabuster or the clusterF that is the senate. Hamsher, and so many others, seem to have the impression that the prez is all powerful and can just make things happen. let her learn something about senate procedure and division of powers and getting bills passed.

    and finally Obama said a few months ago he was planning to make his big push regarding health care when it goes to conference. he saw that as the key leverage point where he could make things happen. Well that is where we are now, so we’ll see.

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    • Here’s Kevin Drum: “Apparently Jane Hamsher has decided that a healthcare bill that provides a trillion dollars worth of benefit to low and middle income workers is so odious that mere opposition isn’t enough. Nor is opposition that increasingly employs the worst kind of right-wing talking points. No, it’s so odious that it deserves a scorched earth campaign against the Obama White House in partnership with Grover Norquist. Hard to know what to say about this. What’s next? A joint Twitter campaign with Sarah Palin? A letter writing campaign cosponsored by Richard Viguerie? A joint lawsuit with Orly Taitz? Jeebus.”

      I see one of the following two things possibly explaining Hamsher’s behavior. The first–and most charitable–is that Hamsher really thinks that Obama is an intolerable leader, and that it is in the interest of progressives to take him down. This seems deeply misguided to me, and destined to fail. The second option is that Hamsher is simply an unbalanced blogger. Not very nice to her, admittedly, but possible. The third option is that she is trying to carve out a space for herself as the next Lyndon LaRouche, a figure ostensibly of the left who spends all her time viciously attacking Democrats. In light of all recent news, I’m inclined to option three.

      Mark, I simply think your assumptions and enthusiasm are misguided. Hamsher and the Tea Parties know what they’re against, not what they’re for. None of these movements are intellectual movements–they’re primarily conduits for peoples’ anger. The visions these groups share are fundamentally incompatible, as are their respective worldviews. I must therefore concur with greginak. That is all.

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  5. As a crazy person who has long grown tired of compromising my values so that the possible may be obtained, I say “good for her”. We need more crazy people who refuse to compromise their principles.

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    • no Jay, I’m the one who shouldn’t have to compromise my principles. Everybody else should be bending to me…………although i guess everybody thinks their principles are the ones that are inviolable and correct….silly other people.

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      • I’d never argue that you should compromise your principles, Greg.

        Never ever.

        If you think that you should compromise them in order to accomplish real things, I’d think that your real, deep-down, principles are not what you claim your principles are, however.

        Hey, follow your heart. Make compromises if that’s your inclination. Let me know what you get at the end of it.

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        • Cool. I admit one of the ways I am drifting away from the popular culture is the use of words. I tend to think people use them inaccurately or wildly. I also tend to dislike hyperbole. I am fine with sticking to principles but I think people use the word very broadly.

          For instance I believe the government can take positive action to improve the welfare of the people. So HCR is right up my alley. I don’t however think there is only one specific way the gov can improve our lives. So is the public option a principle for me: no although I think it was a good idea.

          Is there a difference between a principle and a policy preference?

          In a democracy do any of us always get what we want?

          No and no.

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          • Best of luck with that.

            For the record, I do tend to get what I want. I want to keep my principles.

            I hope that your HCR is better at saving The Children than the TSA is at keeping them safe from terrorists who want to kill them.

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            • Good I get to keep my principles also although I do try, not always successfully I assume, to purge my self-righteousness and holier then thou attitude.

              Actually most children have health care since there are well established programs like S-CHIP to make sure poor children can get medical care. Somehow most R’s who think HCR is unbearable are cool with S-CHIP.

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              • Ain’t nobody holier than anybody.

                Let me know if compromising your principles leaves you better off than if you had kept them.

                My experiences led me to the conclusion that I was always worse off afterwards.

                If you find that getting rid of yours brings you to a better place… hey! Pragmatism! Knock yourself out.

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                • Who said I was compromising my principles. I just don’t think everything I want or think is a good idea is a PRINCPLE.

                  And why can’t pragmatism be a way of achieving principled goals?

                  To be more clear, I think people conflate principle and ideology. Principles are personal beliefs about ethics or laws for the way the world works. Ideology is beliefs and methods about how to make the world the way you think it should be. ( well at least those definitions make sense to me at the moment) When you tie yourself to an ideology you are expressing a unchangeable view about how to achieve certain goals or make principles active. The problem is I don’t’ see any evidence anybodies ideology about how to make a good country is all that perfect. Nobody , liberal, conservative, libertarian ,ect has all the answers for how to live and make a good country. So a pragmatic, less ideological view seems a wise principle for figuring out how to do things well.

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                  • “Nobody , liberal, conservative, libertarian ,ect has all the answers for how to live and make a good country.”

                    I agree. This is why I like local control. Let these people here figure it out for themselves, let those people there come to a different conclusion, and let those people over there come to a completely different one.

                    For some reason, however, this is seen as “unrealistic”.

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                    • Sorry to jump in, but I like this too. It’s only “unrealistic” insofar as it’s been used too often as an excuse for oppression…beyond that, I really don’t get it either. I’m surprised, actually, that more people on the left haven’t come to that conclusion as well.

                      As for principles, the nice thing about not having them is you don’t need to compromise them.

                      Hope you have a nice holiday.

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  6. The problem with this post, and with many of the comments on it, is that it operates at such a high level of generality that argument is replaced by assertion. It’s all very well to say that the teabaggers are misunderstood and that they are really libertarians – but you don’t do much, if anything, to show that this is true. Why specifically should we believe any of this? Where’s the actual evidence? As for the idealization of Ron Paul here, it’s a little hard to take seriously someone who either knowingly published a racist newsletter for years, or was so out of it that he allowed his newsletter to become an outlet for racism, and never knew was going out under his name. Kook or incompetent – not an appealing set of choices.

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  7. The article’s kind of straw-manny in its characterization of the Senate bill’s proponents, particularly the line “specifically, these criticisms assume that “the experts” are always right, and that the average voter is unqualified to assess the normative merits of a particular government action.”

    There are lots of us on the left that support the bill because it will expand coverage for millions of people. We’re not angry with Hamsher because she questioned the “experts,” but because she is selling out working America to attract attention as she cavorts around with Grove Norquist.

    P.S. If the teabaggers are so “libertarian,” then why do they hate gay people?

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  8. Mark – I think you fundamentally misunderstand the Tea Partiers of this particular movement. I think you’re argument breaks down when you look past what the progressives and Tea partiers are against and toward what they each stand for – in other words, while they both recognize a sickness each prescribes vastly different and indeed opposing solutions to that sickness. I think that this is where your argument loses its feet. While some in the leadership of these various movements may be able to find common cause up to a point, I think it doesn’t go far or last long. I especially think this is true since the modern tea parties are simply nowhere near a libertarian uprising – especially on civil liberties where liberaltarians and leftists/progressives/liberals might actually find much to agree upon. On market issues I think you’ll find progressives far too distrustful of free markets and globalism. I just don’t see the sides coming together in any lasting way and I will write up a decent response to this after the holiday.

    Cheers, and merry Christmas!

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    • The “Liberty Train” is an idea held within some libertarian circles.

      It doesn’t matter if you are anarchist, minarchist, night watchman, libertarian, republican who wants to smoke pot, democrat who wants to bring our boys home, or centrist who thinks that the government is big in the wrong places… pulling back is the first step.

      So get on the liberty train! When the train finally arrives at your stop, just get off! But, in the short term, get on the liberty train and we can move stuff in the right direction!

      It works about as well as you’d expect.

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  9. Very interesting post. I think if those on the ‘left’ who share an antipathy toward corporatists and gummint bureaucrats (managerial elites) responsible for the current condition with the TP ‘rightists’ than it is possible that the two-party system could come under some pressure. And that system is rotted in its center and brittle on its edges and given the right circumstance could collapse.
    Should that happen we may have attained more than we bargained for. We may succeed in capturing the summum bonum, creating the dictatorship of the proletariat, or it all stays as it is and we continue the slide into oblivion.
    But if we are to succeed as a nation, those responsible for this clusterboink must be brought to justice.
    Merry Christmas!

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  10. Mark, it’s important to note that Jane Hamsher is one of the most important figures on the left who have helped Ron Paul and the C4L with the Audit the Fed bill. She organized a letter in support of the bill, got as many leftist organizations she could to sign it, and then sent them out democratic members of the financial services committee.

    Also, the leaders of Moveon.org and Freemworks also had dinner over the issue. In addition, there seems to be a alliance forming over criminal justice, and some other issues (where libertarians and the left always had a good deal of common grounds)

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  11. It should be noted that Jane Hamsher and Oliver Stone once took peyote (or was it mushrooms) together while scouting locations for Natural Born Killers. I’m not saying she’s not lucid…

    I’m just saying that she’s not a person whose opinion I put much stock in…

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  12. Crazy people? I will say that anyone that appeals to the part of my brain that likes overwrought emotion, anger and misleading halftruths is not someone that I want to be associated with. That includes Jane Hamsher and the Tea “death panelist” Partiers. There’s a place for logic and rationality and people telling me I should be “more angry” just completely turns me off. I see Jane’s FDL e-mails in my inbox and I don’t find them persuasive I find them hysterical just like the Tea Parties over the summer. Why is this a good thing?

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  13. “I will say that anyone that appeals to the part of my brain that likes overwrought emotion, anger and misleading halftruths is not someone that I want to be associated with.”

    I take it, then, you are not a Democrat?

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  14. Hamsher never quite comes out and says (like you have) that the existing bill would be worse than the status quo, I believe because she doesn’t believe that. If you can produce her saying that, then I’ll stand corrected, but not that a statement like “The bill is a piece of shit” is not the statement ‘The bill is worse than the status quo and shouldn’t be passed.” There are considerable points of adjustment left to make to the bill — possibly as or more significant that the changes that caused her to go from support to nominal opposition. She’s just playing hardball, or such is my belief. Which I agree is salutary to the extent that it expands the breadth of the realistic. If she stands unambiguously opposed to the final, final law when it has been passed and urges the president to veto it, then I’ll believe this hasn’t all been tactics. Until then, I just regard her as easily shrewd and tenacious enough simply to be playing hardball to the last moment of the process.

    So while there is a momentary convergence of message in a stated desire to kill the bill, it doesn’t imply that there is substantive common ground with Tea Partiers. If Jane and Dick Armey were to sit down , they would be unable to produce a framework for health reform that they each could support (unless I am wrong). Hence (if I am right), there isn’t common ground here, merely tactical harmony on the narrowest construction du jour of this political question.

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