Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Half Full or Half Empty?

The most difficult problem of political analysis is trying to determine just what the facts really mean. This means any political analysis is inherently guesswork. As an example (and proof that I am not perfect) I give you this: I believed that Avigdor Lieberman's political blood feud with the Ultraorthodox Jewish party Shas, his quasi-socialist domestic agenda, his hunger for personal political 'respectability', and his commitment to the concept of 'land for peace' would trump the fact that the fact of shared racism and lead him to tell Benjamin Netanyahu to go to hell in favor of the greater legitimacy of serving in a broader coalition government led by Kadimah. Obviously, I was pretty wrong. Was this wishful thinking on my part or merely a misunderstanding of what was really important to Lieberman? Was it a combination of both?

Naturally the most frequent reason for differences in political analyses is partisan. If one watched CNN at all during the election cycle last year then one could see the partisan bias dripping from every word the Democratic and Republican analysts said. The Republican analysts were particular egregious in their attempt represent the entire country as frightening right wing nuts and represent the views of people like Sarah Palin as mainstream. All the same, Democratic analysts were certainly equally partisan in their presentation of the facts of the election.

Of course partisanship is not the only reason for such differences.

Yesterday Robert Creamer wrote, on HuffPo, that momentum for the public option is growing. Citing the votes in the Senate Finance Committee, in which the public option received ten votes in the second go round:

This robust support for the public option -- in what most observers consider the most conservative committee in the Senate -- signals a sea change in Congressional opinion toward the public option. The odds are now very high that some form of public health insurance option will be included on the final bill when it emerges from a House-Senate Conference Committee later this fall and is ultimately passed by Congress.

Great news isn't it?

Just about an hour and a half after Creamer wrote that the public option was gaining momentum, HuffPo staff writer Jason Linkins used the exact same facts to come to the exact opposite conclusions:

Today, the Senate Finance Committee rebuffed two amendments to include the public option in its health care reform bill. The first amendment, offered by Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) went down 15-8. The second, put forward by Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), failed to pass by a 13-10 vote.

So, now what? Is the public option dead? Will the fight go on? Yesterday, Democratic consultant Peter Feld assayed today's committee machinations and warned: "Spoiler alert: the public option goes down in a ritual sacrifice of which this is step one." Want to bet he's wrong?

Being a columnist, Linkins answers his own question:

I'd advise against it...

For the record, after having read both articles, I see where both are coming from. Creamer is focusing his analysis on the fact that the public option picked up two votes the second time it was put to the question. Linkins is focusing his own argument on a general (and justified) skepticism of the Senate Democrats' willingness to overplay their hand. Speaking clearly from a critical perspective it is important to note that Creamer's logical reasoning the more sound of the two analyses. The problem is that Senate votes are not 'logical', they are human undertakings in which quite a few illogical decisions are made.

If this were about logic, after all, we'd have passed 'Medicare For All' when Nixon was president.

Linkins' analyses brings up something important that I cannot let pass. Six years of a Republican House under Bill Clinton and six more of a Republican House and Senate under George Bush have made many liberals extremely cynical. Furthermore the Democratic House and Senate of the first two years of the Clinton administration did not inspire anymore confidence than did the Democratic House and Senate of the last two years of the Bush administration. There is a certain justification for this cynicism.

That said, we cannot afford to be permanently cynical. Ongoing cynicism will merely weaken our resolve. We need to be optimistic of ultimate success even when short term success is unlikely. We need staying power. Right now we do not have it.

If we do not develop the optimism to see when the glass is half full and fight to fill it then the glass will always remain half empty. Over time, if the glass remains half-empty, eventually the right will drain it.

Food for thought.

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