Friday, August 26, 2005

I think I have no power

Democratic leaders must look themselves in the mirror every morning and say to themselves, "I have no power.""

That's Matt Yglesias, five months ago, on the Social Security debate. I thought it was a pretty funny image -- imagine Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid building that into their morning routines. I also thought it was right. To put it more accurately, but in a way that would make Pelosi's morning routine a little longer, the only power that Democrats have is to ambush dramatic new Republican legislation like Social Security Privatization that we can successfully rally public opinion against. Dramatic improvements in policy are beyond us.

Now Matt's talking about how to get our Iraq policy in order, and I'm confused. Did we somehow get power? If so, it must have been a lot of power, because it's hard for me to see how Democrats can reshape something that's as much an executive matter as Iraq policy. Is Matt envisioning a future in which Democrats retake the House or Senate in 2006? Is he imagining that the moderate Republicans will come around and actually vote our way? (I don't think he thinks that.)

If we have power, making constructive suggestions about a withdrawal tied to events in Iraqi politics (elections, progress on the Constitution) might be a good idea. Everyone should be puzzling over Brad Plumer's post against withdrawal and figuring out whether he's right. If we don't have power, though, our energies should be devoted to finding politically sellable positions that will help us win some seats in 2006 while leaving us in position to clean up the mess in 2008 if it still exists. Taking the longer view, we should be trying to make this debacle the symbol of Republican foreign policy for a generation. When you can't actually change things, you have to settle for making Americans aware that Republicans make idiotic decisions which strengthen terrorism while killing lots of good people.


Matt Yglesias said...

Well, look, here's one question -- "what should Harry Reid say/do about Iraq policy?" Here's another question -- "what would be a good Iraq policy for the country?" These are logically distinct. I have strong views on the second question and have been writing a lot about it frequently. The answer to the first question is unclear to me.

Rousseau said...

I felt Matt was saying that since we have no power and it's nigh impossible to predict how local elections will hinge on this, let's say what's right instead of what's short-term pragmatic. But Matt knows what he meant better than I, so I'm just stating the view of some platonic-Matt who I agree with and disagrees with you.

I think this kinda relates to what Ezra's been saying about Roberts, which is since it doesn't really matter what party members say at this point, there's little reason to use political capital to pressure people to line up (or to shut yourself up for the good of the party). You may disagree with the premise there, but if you agree the result seems clear. Clinton will try to look macho, Feingold will try to look visionary, and why stop them?

Anyway, I've said it before and I've said it again: we are the Loyal Opposition and we do have an important constitutional role. We need to point out things the government does that are objectively wrong/corrupt, so they have a check against doing them. And I think in the past 10 months we've done a better job of that than in the previous 4 years. (Porty frelling Goss!?)

Brandon said...

For some reason people are upset by Dems grousing without offering alternatives. We can't actually push through our alternatives, but giving people some idea of what we will do when we win in '06 and '08 would be good.

Neil Sinhababu said...

No doubt the questions are logically distinct, Matt. In fact, I'd say that they're even less related here than they usually are. And the question of what to do about Iraq is definitely an interesting one to think about, even if you have no power to do anything about it. I should have quoted more of your post from Tapped to make it clear what was bugging me:

"It's becoming depressingly clear that, in some ways, the liberal hawks are going to be a bigger threat to getting our Iraq policy in order than the right-wingers are."

If the liberal hawks all turned around tomorrow, we still wouldn't have a majority for withdrawal in either the house or the senate. So we'd need a victory in 2006 or moderate Republican support to make anything happen. And then there's this:

"I'd rather see the war end than see it drag on for years and years purely in order to make sure George W. Bush gets stuck with the blame for it."

Maybe you meant this as an idle wish, but I read it as a statement that stopping the war is actually to be pursued.