Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Should we be happy Coakley lost?

I hate knee-jerk "counterintuitive" posts as much as the next person, but hear me out. Had Coakley won, Democrats would've been in the same position we were in a month ago: on every major issue, we'd need to get that 57th, 58th, 59th, 60th vote in the Senate. We'd need to make substantial concessions to so many centrists, let alone such repugnant excuses for humanity as Evan Bayh and Joe Lieberman, that every bill we tried to pass would be at least as flawed as the health care shitpile that finally oozed out of the Senate.

Actually, it would be worse than that. In the last month, Coakley's collapse has fed the narrative that the country is backlashing against Democratic overreach. With midterm elections coming up in 2010, getting conservative Democratic senators to vote for controversial legislation would have been even harder. In other words, the difference between 60 and 59 isn't really all that great.

But the very fact of having 60 votes has forced Democrats to govern like milquetoast centrists that only stand up for what they believe in until someone mentions the word "filibuster". Then they need to get all hands on deck, throw out any remotely controversial provision of legislation they're debating, and feed the narrative of weaklings too scared to stand up for what they believe in. This perception, combined with the fact that they've achieved so little to actually defend, means that the only way marginal Dems can defend their seats is to run even further to the right, and against the "excesses" of Washington.

An alternative exists, though recent history doesn't make me optimistic it'll be taken. But if Democrats decided that, rather than scraping even harder to get 60 votes for worse legislation, they'd rely on their still-historic margins in the House and Senate to pass legislation that they actually like, and that is actually popular with voters, their prospects would improve. If they forced Republicans to the mat on issue after issue, they'd win a lot more respect, stand up for better legislation and even get some surprises to go their way. They'd lose a bunch of votes, but it would be because Republicans were voting against popular, good ideas - not a bad way to go down. The base would be more energized, the media would have to write stories about Democrats fighting for their ideals, and good legislation would stand a better chance of passage.

So the Republicans have 41 votes in the Senate? Make them filibuster everything! Make them grind the Senate to a halt, and make them own it! Call for up-or-down votes! Let the country see who's really paralyzing the process!