Nihilism?

Others here may well disagree, but I would like to associate myself with every word of James Joyner’s response to Andrew Sullivan’s accusation that a Scott Brown win will signal “a nihilist moment, built from a nihilist strategy in order to regain power.”  The only thing I’d add is that bemoaning the possible death of this health care reform bill as “nihilist” is deeply unfair to the many people who really, honestly do believe that the bills that have been passed in the House and, especially, the Senate actively make matters worse in this country for any number of reasons.  It is increasingly frustrating to me that, for many supporters of Obama, any belief that the existing health care reform bills will do more harm than good is automatically written off as being in bad faith or, as it were, “nihilistic.”

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41 thoughts on “Nihilism?

  1. If nihilism doesn’t work, accusations of ideology is a good fallback position.

    Accuse people who oppose the bill of doing so because they have a blind adherence to some outdated ideological belief. You, on the other hand, want to help children because that’s the moral response to an immoral situation.

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  2. I think Sullivan is talking more about Brown’s style-for-substance campaign than anything else. You might or might not agree with this, but there it is. After all, MA supports Obama and health care reform. I don’t really agree–Coakley just epically sucks, and many Americans still view party-line voting as somehow distasteful, despite the fact that it makes the most sense if your beliefs mostly line up with one of the two parties. But a dispute between parties (sometimes!) winds up as a dispute over ideas, while a dispute between personalities is pointless and nihilistic.

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  3. and if you note Brown supports the Mass. health plan and his spokesman said, we got health care and we don’t see what good the national plan does for Mass. Well that is principled. just the right words to get elected and admitting up front to complete selfishness.

    I guess we can await the serious principled attempt by the R’s to take part in some sort of health care reform. hahahahahahahaha

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  4. And what really frustrates me, as I have said for months and months, is people who say that they are in favor of “some kind” of health reform, but oppose every actual reform. That is cowardice, and it is intellectual immorality. Don’t tell me you want to fix health care if you don’t support a particular plan that has a genuine chance of being made law.

    There has never been more hiding behind the theoretical and empty words, in a political issue in my lifetime, than there has been from opponents of this reform, but opposition to HCR has grown to represent an absolute lack of anything resembling a self-critical process, and so no one who is opposed to HCR bothers to wrestle with that discrepancy.

    I told you, a long time ago, that I believe this to be a moral issue, and that opposition to real reform is immoral. You are free to disagree. What is inimical to democracy is the refusal to entertain that notion. Most people won’t put it in those terms, because they are, frankly, cowards, and they are more interested in making friends than in creating a moral nation. I am neither a coward nor such a simp to friendship that I have that problem.

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    • Wait, I never looked at it that way before.

      Huh. I guess I *DO* have a moral responsibility to pass a bill written by insurance lobbyists because, well, to oppose it is really, deep down, to oppose the goals of the people who are pretending that this regulatory capture is actually a bill that will achieve the things that they claim to want!

      With tears in my eyes and a broken heart, I thank you for showing me the way, Freddie!

      I never before realized the cowardice of the people who said “it’s better to do nothing than do something that makes things worse”!

      I never realized how much better you were than they, I, even *WE* were!!!

      Had you been there tonight
      You might know how it feels
      To be struck to the bone
      In a moment of breathless delight!
      Had you been there tonight
      You might also have known
      How the world may be changed
      In just one burst of light!
      And what was right seems wrong
      And what was wrong seems right!

      Red – the blood of angry men!
      Black – the dark of ages past!
      Red – a world about to dawn!
      Black – the night that ends at last!

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    • The problem is that in order for a proposal to have a “genuine chance of being made law,” it apparently first must be acceptable to every single Dem interest group. This rather limits the types of reforms that Dems are going to be willing to enact into law. I am quite convinced that, were the Dems to really push for Wyden-Bennett, they would get it or something like it enacted. But this will not happen because that bill – even though just about every one who has seriously studied it agrees would solve our health care problems – is unacceptable to one or two highly influential elements of the Dem coalition.

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      • Mark-I’m trying to distress over this thing because it is driving me crazier then my own natural baseline crazy.

        But I really don’t understand this criticism. A Dem bill will have to be acceptable to Dem interest groups: well yeah that is how politics work in a democracy. Repub bills need support from Repub interest groups, that is how it works. Parties need support from the groups that make up the party, therefore they do things the groups want. I don’t see the problem with that.

        And of course the other option is to have people from both parties work in good faith toward a solution. If 15 R’s in the senate would jump on board with working toward wydnen-bennett maybe they could tell a bunch of D to jump in the lake.

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        • Greg – I was responding to a particular charge that suggested that all opponents of the health care reforms pending in the House and Senate are being “intellectually immoral” and cowardly because they claim to support “reform” but don’t support any reform that has an actual chance at passing. My point is that the range of reforms that ever had “an actual chance at passing” was exceedingly narrow. Whether this was because of Republican intransigence or Democratic unwillingness to betray one constituent interest group to the benefit of its other constituent interest groups is not terribly relevant – the group of people opposed to the Dem health care plans is a rather larger set than “Republican politicians.”

          If someone legitimately thinks that the very limited range of leading Dem proposals will make matters worse rather than better, legitimately believes that something like Wyden-Bennett would make things better rather than worse, and supports something like Wyden-Bennett (or whatever – no need to restrict it to Wyden-Bennett), how are they being intellectually immoral?

          It would be one thing if the Dem leadership (who are, after all, the gatekeepers to what gets considered on the floor) signalled some sort of a willingness to consider proposals that would annoy their interest groups, and then opponents just rejected every proposal out of hand. But that’s not what happened – from the beginning, the first priority for the Dem leadership has clearly been to make sure that Dem interest groups are all on board – this did not exactly leave a wide range of proposals that they were willing to consider.

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    • What does intellectual immorality mean? Do you mean it like intellectual dishonesty, a person self-aware of the immoral nature of what they’re communicating? Given how we distinguish between intellectual dishonesty and ignorance, awareness of veracity or completeness, then how does that [intellectual immorality] work, wouldn’t the person have to share the same concept of morality/immorality as you?

      I don’t think I’ve asked you this but do you still consider it immoral, if someone opposes HCR because they’d rather direct resources to education and the environment (which don’t even come close to 1/6 of the economy). IOW, do you think it’s immoral that someone who cares more about illiteracy than rising premiums, opposes this bill because it will crowd out funds for education – particularly at the state level?

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  5. Sullivan can be rather over dramatic. Nihilism seems a touch over the top as a descriptor but there is something to the charge that the republican minority hasn’t exactly been bargaining in good faith on this issue or really any of the issues since Obama took office. I mean they scream about how the health care bill is being pushed through on a party line vote. But if the dems had set out from the beginning to pass this on a party line vote Obama would have slapped his signature on the thing probably last labor day. They spent half a year bending over backwards trying to coax even the most moderate republicans to join them on the bill and came up with nothing. (Keep in mind that the Republican Party official “proposal” that was presented was a howling farce so it’s not like the opposition presented an alternative position beyond “No!” Hell the right wing even went after the republican author of the only adult alternative that was on the table).

    Or take the stimulus (please). I’ll not be one to defend that bill but in an effort to get the Republicans to buy in the dems wrote in tax cuts to the tune of 30% of the bills total cost, number of votes garnered; 0. Alternatives proposed; none. This is a far cry from the way that the dems behaved under Bush minor when they were in the minority.

    As strategies go it’s an obstructive one and it may well pay off in the short term but I wouldn’t call the strategy nihilism. It seems more like a position that the Republicans would prefer that the whole country suffer rather than allow Obama and his party to garner any legislative achievements. Honestly, one would think that Obama would have gotten a clue sometime in the fall and written the Republicans off and proceeded without them. Then he’d at least have gotten something done and it’s not like the right could howl about him being partisan any louder. Unfortunately it looks like he actually bought into his own above it all claptrap from the campaign trail and as such he got played out like a sap. Still the Republicans are going to have to come up with something substantive sooner or later. Even their pet position of tax cuts requires that they identify something they’d actually cut but good luck nailing a republican down on anything they’d cut other than the NEA.

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    • The number one dynamic that I think gets consistently overlooked in the 2008 elections is that the repudiation of Bushism is often interpreted as an endorsement of the Democratic agenda.

      I know of Republicans (at redstate, of all places) who made complaints of the form “I am sick and tired of my representative acting like a Democrat… at least if he were a Democrat, I’d only feel angry instead of feeling angry and stabbed in the back.”

      This was before 2006. There were similar complaints before 2008.

      It seems to me that an underlying dynamic of those particular incumbents being thrown out was “you don’t represent your district”. When democrats got elected in *HUGE* numbers in 2008, it was read (and I believe misread) as an endorsement of Obamism.

      I don’t think that that’s the case. I think that a number of “conservative” districts threw the bums out. I suspect that the phonecalls being made to congressmen and senators regarding health care reform are being made by the same people who threw their bums out for being insufficiently representative of their own districts.

      It seems to me that there is more and more and more of a disconnect between politicians and their so-called “constituents”. The Republicans, in this case, were probably really scared by the 2006/2008 elections and they are now listening to their constituents to a degree that they hadn’t been in years past.

      Democrats (and especially the blue dogs), I’m guessing, are being extra spineless and wishy-washy because I reckon they are getting all kinds of phone calls from their constituents as well.

      I think that it’s sinking in to the politicians that the 2006/2008 elections were a repudiation and not an endorsement while the media hasn’t picked up on this yet because the politicians don’t exactly come out and say such things as “I won because my opponent sucked oh-so-very badly and, more importantly, more than I do!” Which means that the stories coming out of Washington will not reflect what is really going on (no surprise there).

      I don’t know what this means for the future, of course, but I honestly see something akin to control of the House being up in the air come November.

      And it won’t be an endorsement of the Republicans then, either. It’ll be a repudiation.

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      • I don’t doubt that a significant part of the 2006 and 2008 elections were a repudiation of Bushism. And I agree that you can repudiate something without endorsing something else.

        But I’m having a hard time imagining how that would manifest itself in an election in a two-party system like the one we have. If you didn’t endorse Obama, but wanted to repudiate Bush, couldn’t you have voted for McCain? (Weren’t his positions sufficiently moderated from Bush’s?) Could you have voted for a third party candidate? Couldn’t you repudiate Bush by not voting at all?

        Turnout in 2008 was slightly higher than both 2004 and 2000. There was no significant third party candidate. (Actually, I would argue that Nader’s candidacy was very likely an example of what you’re describing – repudiation of Clintonism without endorsement of Bush.) We know how McCain did.

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        • From what I can tell, McCain didn’t do as well as McCain did because I know of a number of folks who “voted for Palin”. (“Maybe McCain will die”, they joked in the whole “there are no jokes” Freudian sense of the term.)

          Obama, on the other hand, wasn’t just a candidate, he was an *IDEA*. Tons of people voted for the idea. They got stuck with just a guy.

          I don’t know how it would necessarily manifest in a system like the one we have but I have a theory: It’ll manifest in anti-incumbent fervor. If the Republicans win the House back, I reckon that I’ll take that as something akin to non-falsification of my theory.

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  6. Lev, in Mass., HCR is 43/36, which isn’t something I’d be terribly proud of. Only 65% of Democrats support the bill (a percentage of D’s that would doom it in Congress), whereas of those who support it only a 28% strongly support it. Independents oppose the bill by 10 points. If MA supports health care reform, they have an oddly unenthusiastic way of showing it.

    Greginak, so a state that might have a working healthcare system opposing a system they think would be worse than theirs (at covering the poor and making people healthy) is selfish? Or is it moral opposition to backwards steps in hcr for the worst?

    North, so are you’re saying the attempt to bring the GOP on board shouldn’t have been made and party line votes are fine? (not that this is a bad thing) I’m just wondering if you’re taking the opposite view of greginak’s earlier stated wish that the GOP had come to the table to make the bill a better bill, rather than simply trying to kill it. Arguably, that’s what they did for the stimulus, the Senators from Maine, and you don’t seem to particularly care for their influence.

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      • a large part = ?
        does anyone know? Surely, some people do, but I don’t think anyone knows if we’re talking 5% or 50% so we can’t guess as to what might be preferable, all we do know is that in Massachusetts HCR only has a 7 point margin and support is under 50%

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        • A reminder; the GOP’s proposed alternative was ~NOT~ Wyden-Bennet. They were firmly opposed to Wyden-Bennet and the republican sponsor of Wyden-Bennet actually got attacked from the right on the subject.

          http://www.democraticunderground.com/discuss/duboard.php?az=view_all&address=433×108402
          I misremembered these numbers. It’s 43 percent support the bill, 39 percent oppose the bill (too liberal) and 13 percent oppose the bill (not liberal enough). The original idea was presented by Nate Silver. So if you combine the totals you have 56% who either support the bill or want it more liberal vs 39% who oppose which is far more respectable.

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          • I’m referring to a Boston Globe poll in Mass, not the CNN poll Nate’s using, I can’t imagine the number is fairly different but I wanted to be clear.

            I don’t mean to be difficult but “I don’t like this bill because it’s not liberal enough and a giveaway to insurance companies” (if you strike them down they only become more powerful) doesn’t mean “pass this bill because some good now is better than no good.” The most relevant question here is not why people don’t support the bill (too/not liberal) but whether they want the bill to pass, despite not supporting it. Is that question on the poll?

            As for Wyden-Bennett, I know, but Landrieu, Lieberman, Gregg, Crapo, Alexander, Graham, and – of course – Bob Bennett signed onto the bill. Whether other members of the GOP opposed the bill is immaterial. Regarding the claim that the whole GOP is mindlessly obstructionist and nobody negotiated in good faith, this rests as a credible counterexample.

            I keep hearing the GOP this and the GOP that, bad faith this, obstructionist that. However, you had a bipartisan bill, drafted by both parties with at least 5 Republican votes that you passed on to pursue the Dodd-Baucus bill that has 38% support from the American people, the Democrats own that.

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            • I shan’t quibble about the poll numbers Kyle, but I don’t think you can leave off 13% of the electorate who happen to want something more liberal than the current bill when you use the 43/36 number. It makes the country look a lot more conservative than perhaps it is.

              In the case of Wyden-Bennett we have an example of what you would expect the GOP to peddle had it been behaving maturely on the matter. Being the soulless neoliberal that I am I’m actually quite fond of W-B but it bears repeating that the bill had only 4 individual GOP supporters. The actual party itself was very much opposed to W-B. Why would it have been incumbent on the party that had just won the election to pass the bill as if they were responsible republicans? If the republicans were bargaining in good faith why was Wyden-Bennett left on the side of the road to die while what can only be described as a pure poison pill was preferred as the actual party counter-offer (a counter-offer that seemed tailor made to be in every way impossible for the democrats or even any health care wonk to take seriously)?

              Now I am not saying that Obama should have gone for a party line vote off the bat. I am saying that he didn’t try to pass it by himself and republican implications that he did are patently false because anyone who’s even glanced at the news watched the Dem leadership chasing stray republicans around like mad for half a year or so trying to get one of them to sign on. One can admire how cleverly the republicans have strung him along and run out the clock on this. A cannier Obama, maybe one who hadn’t bought into his own rhetoric about bipartisanship, unicorns and sparkles would have probably realized he was being played sometime right after August and the sage political move would have been to wash his hands of the obstructive minority and push ahead from then on.

              Personally I was rather agnostic on HCR, I just wanted Obama to accomplish something and since the poor idealistic dolt has chosen this to accomplish I’ll root for him. Ultimatly something is going to be passed, Coakley or no, Pelosi is just going to have to toughen up and whip her votes.

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  7. Obviously, I agree with James and you, Mark.

    The thing I wonder if we’re beginning to see (from Krugman to Sullivan) is whether supporters of the President, democrats mostly, are entering into a kind of Busholyte bunker mentality, where the opposition can do no right, has no point, and their motives are immoral/unpatriotic. If the President has any problem or valid criticism at all, it’s that he wasn’t liberal/partisan enough on key measures.

    The rhetoric here, the moralizing, the “best evers and worst evers,” especially the unprecedented use of the word unprecedented reminds me, and not in a good way, of the aughts.

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    • I go onto Hot Air, and I get an eyefull about how Obama is a marxist who’s goal is to destroy America. I go onto the Daily Dish, and I hear about the Republican party is full of nihilists who will end up destroying America. Somehow it’s hard to determine which is worse.

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    • Kyle, wouldn’t the opposition have to be doing or proposing something in order for the new Obama alcoytes to say that they can do no right? Has the right actually proposed any credible alternatives to what Obama’s done in affairs both foreign and domestic?

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      • Two things, not doing something has unsurprisingly led to liberal criticism of the GOP checking out of governing. So, in a word, no. Doing anything is criticized, doing nothing is criticized.

        Sure you can laugh at GOP alternatives, but we’ll never know, will we? They weren’t voted on – the Democrats never really called their bluff – and we don’t know how not successful their reforms might have been because we shelved them. As for a wonk-respected bipartisan bill, it’s the Democrats that passed on Wyden-Bennett, not the other way around and you can reasonably point to both the credibility of the reforms and GOP contributions. Good will earned: 0.

        Second, “credibility” is the rigging I almost can’t stand, because when one points to something they think is credible, the criticizing party laughs and declares it “not credible or not feasible.” (Ironically enough people said the same thing about a Black President but the Democrats achieved that one…) I’ve found that, more often than not, credible and politically feasible are used to rig the challenge rather than reigning in pie-in-the-sky suggestions. Not to mention the art of the possible is mutable.

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        • Fair enough and how many Republican propositions during the Bush era received absolutely 0 Democrat votes? Because so far the Republicans have pretty much unanimously opposed every item the Democrats have proposed. Their official counter proposal for healthcare was tort reform and tax cuts.

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          • “well pretty much…unanimous…almost” – sounds dramatic. Let’s say they’ve mostly all opposed some items the Democrats have proposed. Just as accurate but with less drama.

            I had a longer comment here but really what I want to get across is that I’m tired of using D & R as though there were two senators in the Senate, rather than 100. It’s sloppy and inaccurate to say all Democrats are pork-loving tax and spenders just as it is to say all Republicans are nihilistic obstructionists. When it comes down to it, some senators are but others are not and it’s unfair to the latter group to lump them in with the others because it’s rhetorically convenient.

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  8. I feel that Andrew is probably being overly melodramatic, but this whole process has made it very difficult for me to take Republicans seriously. Even Olympia Snowe, who I thought was actually acting in good faith, seemed to have not been by suddenly turning around and saying the process was “rushed” when the Democrats bent over backwards to try to get her on board.

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    • Right. Andrew is saying this result is the result of a Congressional Republican strategy of nihilism. Essentially, Andrew is saying that the Republicans would have opposed their own health plan had Obama proposed it. He’s not calling every person who opposes the particular bills that have been passed a nihilist. He’s talking about Republicans in Congress, whom he believes have a duty beyond their own policy preferences to work with the majority when the voters hand them a mandate. (He’s not calling you a nihilist, Mark.)

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