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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Filed in: Current affairs,South Asia,The World