Lefties should stop cutting their noses to spite the face


by Sunny
11th November, 2009 at 9:39 am    

Lefties make this argument all the time: that if we only have some small incremental change then it kills off the prospect for more revolutionary change. Therefore many, especially on issues like climate change, oppose progress on the basis it does not go far enough. I oppose this stance for various reasons, principally that while I’d like to see much more change in our society – incremental steps are usually the best way forward.

Ezra Klein, who writes about healthcare in the USA, confronts the question of whether a watered down bill is worse than no bill at all. This should be required reading for every leftie.

This is, I think, a misreading of not only the politics of this issue going forward, and also the history of health-care reform going backward. Failure does not bring with it a better chance for future success. It brings a trimming of future ambitions.

Failure does not breed success. Obama’s defeat will not mean that more ambitious reforms have “a better chance of trying again.” It will mean that less ambitious reformers have a better chance of trying next time.

Conversely, success does breed success. Medicare and Medicaid began as fairly limited programs. Medicaid was pretty much limited to extremely poor children and their caregivers. Medicare didn’t cover prescription drugs, or individuals with disabilities, or home health services.

As any scientist will tell you, it’s much easier to encourage something to evolve in a certain direction than it is to create it anew. The idea that a high-profile failure in a moment where a liberal Democrat occupies the White House and Democrats hold 60 seats in the Senate for the first time since the 1970s will encourage a more ambitious success later does not track with the history of this issue, nor with the political incentives that future actors are likely to face. If even Obama’s modest effort proves too ambitious for the political system, the result is likely to be a retreat towards even more modest efforts in the future, as has happened in the past.

This is spot on. The left should not lose the stomach for revolutionary change or radical ideas. But it must also have the pragmatism to find ways to push for them, perhaps even incrementally, rather than constantly throw toys out of the pram when change does not go far enough quickly.


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  1. pickles

    Blog post:: Lefties should stop cutting their noses to spite the face http://bit.ly/4pWEY


  2. Naadir Jeewa

    Reading: Lefties should stop cutting their noses to spite the face: Lefties make this argument all the .. http://bit.ly/pOdqY


  3. Carnival of Socialism « Harpymarx

    [...] the house of Paisley. Feministing highlights the problems of faith based charities and homophobia. Sunny believes that Lefties should stop cutting their noses to spite their face. Penny Red shows [...]


  4. pickles

    @nextleft i'm not always persuaded by failure http://bit.ly/4pWEY – but you strategy is to accept what's on table. It doesn't go far enough


  5. pickles

    @alexmassie But I do agree with your overall point: http://bit.ly/4pWEY




  1. sohopolitico — on 11th November, 2009 at 1:31 am  

    Ezra would have much more credibility on this if he had ever been at the forefront of arguing for a bill with a robust public option. But, in fact, he has never cared about the public option, and, indeed, has spent an inordinate amount of time telling other, more concerned lefties to just let it go. So the sentiment is fine, but it's pretty rich coming from him…

  2. reggie — on 11th November, 2009 at 2:07 am  

    In short..its a middle class protest.

  3. Owen — on 11th November, 2009 at 4:54 am  

    I definitely agree that not making the perfect the enemy of the good is important, but I don't think your argument holds true in all cases. Aside from anything else, if the same reasoning is applied to reforms we find less palatable then it basically becomes the slippery slope argument. In the case of American healthcare reform you're probably correct, but there are clearly also instances where it doesn't apply. A good example would be companies “offsetting” their carbon emissions (which I believe does do *some* good, though of course not nearly as much as its advocates claim), then using that as an excuse not to do anything else to reduce their environmental impact.

  4. Sunny H — on 11th November, 2009 at 5:56 am  

    Ezra would have much more credibility on this if he had ever been at the forefront of arguing for a bill with a robust public option.

    That's a separate argument – should we be pushing as hard as we can.. and that's where I agree with the decision to keep pushing for the public option.

    But when it comes to the crunch, you still have to make a decision. This is why I'm not a fan of the purists who vote against a bill because it doesn't go far enough (Kucinich did this on the climate bill)

    A good example would be companies “offsetting” their carbon emissions (which I believe does do *some* good, though of course not nearly as much as its advocates claim), then using that as an excuse not to do anything else to reduce their environmental impact.

    Good example – and you're right in saying that it shouldn't stop the left pushing for more though.

  5. Fojee Punjabi — on 11th November, 2009 at 7:04 am  

    ROLF :D

    Ma negga.

  6. shamit — on 11th November, 2009 at 8:26 am  

    way too many fucking idiots trolling here nowadays who don't have a clue about politics in general.

    Sunny – good post once again. If they don't do something it would be like 1994 deja vu during midterms.

  7. Shamit — on 11th November, 2009 at 8:31 am  

    Can't seem to figure out this comments system

  8. Naadir Jeewa — on 11th November, 2009 at 9:02 am  

    Just to reinforce that, Kucinich also voted against the Affordable Health Care for America Act in the final roll call, which I was sad enough to watch live at 4am on Sunday morning.

  9. Sunny H — on 11th November, 2009 at 9:09 am  

    Kucinich is too much of a damn purist sometimes. How the hell does he plan to drive a new healthcare bill?

    Shamit – you can say that again.
    What's the problem with the comments system?

  10. soru — on 11th November, 2009 at 9:48 am  

    Seems like basic common sense to me: even a minimal health care reform leaves more people alive to vote for you. An extra year on life expectancy is probably going to be over 1% of the electorate.

  11. punkscience — on 12th November, 2009 at 11:47 pm  

    Sunny H: “This is why I'm not a fan of the purists who vote against a bill because it doesn't go far enough (Kucinich did this on the climate bill)”

    As George Monbiot keeps pointing out, climate change policy that won't enact any meaningful efforts to combat climate change is useless. A waste of resources and effort. A lie. Are you advocating such action? Are you an advocate of evidence-based policy?

    The healthcare debate is so ridden with lies and propaganda that it is no wonder a half-arsed effort is the best they can produce. The lack of any reasonably balanced coverage of politics in the US is one of that nation's great flaws, as revealed by their absurdly ideology-driven policies.

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