Thursday, January 29, 2009

"A Free Math Class for the Children's Table"

Al Giordano:
If math were a required subject for blogger-punditry, various members of the Children's Table would have been held back to repeat 2008's class all over again.
But here's David Sirota, fresh off his 0.000 batting average of 2008, as if in a campaign to become Speaker of the Children's Table, romping around with his imaginary playthings again:

The pony riders from the psychedelic fantasyland continue to push the unfathomably stupid theory that Democrats are realistically hoping that by being nice to Republicans on the stimulus bill, Republicans will be more inclined to support the Employee Free Choice Act...

...the GOP will never, ever ever support the Employee Free Choice Act.

Indeed, that's exactly what Republican leader Mitch McConnell has already said...

Those who continue to forward the theory that Democrats are effectively lobotomized and thus think being nice to the GOP will help them pass EFCA are not living on Planet Earth. Democrats are a lot of things - but they aren't that stupid. The only people who are, are those voices who continue to make these inane claims.

Sirota's not alone in that viewpoint, although far fewer buy into that sort of thinking today than ever before, but he is one of the more convenient foils to use as a teaching tool, so, for today, he can be our Exhibit A.

What he is effectively saying, then, is that labor and everyone else ought to give up on the Employee's Free Choice Act - which would lead to the organizing of more unions in more workplaces across the country - because the simple math is that it cannot get approved in the Senate for the next two years without at least some Republicans to vote for "cloture."

If that kind of thinking were true, then you could also kiss goodbye to Immigration Reform, Health Care, a moratorium on home foreclosures, and other upcoming priorities, too, at least until January of 2011, and probably longer because failure now will lead to more failure in the 2010 elections.

I have to wonder aloud if maybe the mocosos at the wee-person's table want it to turn out that way, because perhaps they (errantly) think it would vindicate their complaining over the past year if nothing good happens this year.

But in the event that there is a sincere bone in their growing boy bodies, I'll offer some hot milk and cookies. Okay, kids, pull up your highchairs and gather round for a free math tutorial:

While it's true that in the US House, a simple majority of 50 percent plus one is all that's needed to approve a bill (and thus a tactic of intensive polarization at least temporarily would work fine there, if legislation were only up to the House), the rules are significantly different in the US Senate.

In order for a bill to be approved in the Senate (again by at least of 50 percent of those voting) there first has to be a vote for "cloture" which requires 60 out of 100 senators.

That will be true on the economic Stimulus Bill as well as all future legislation.

Currently, the make up of the Senate falls short of those needed 60 votes for the Democrats: The upper chamber has 56 Democrats, two Independents that caucus with the Democrats (Saunders of Vermont and the notoriously unreliable Lieberman of Connecticut), 41 Republicans, and one vacancy that will eventually go to Franken of Minnesota once the courts clear the way. But even with Franken out, Democrats still need 60 votes for "cloture" to get anything done. And that means, presuming they hold on to every single Democrat on any given vote (something that did not happen in the House on the Stimulus) they're still going to need at minimum two Republicans (one, later, when Franken joins the body) plus one additional for every Democrat or Lieberman that breaks with them on any bill.

Thus, to say that "the GOP will never ever ever" support a bill - in this case the Employee's Free Choice Act - if the tantrum-thrower means to say that no Republican will ever support it, is to predict that the bill will "never ever ever" pass or even be allowed to be voted upon.

Of course, political rug-rats who go around shouting epithets like "stupid" and "lobotomized" (such writers! Where did they ever get such a command of the language?) at those who argue for more strategic paths - probably should check the basic Senate math before throwing such terms around the playroom.

That's because to get anything through the Senate, President Obama and the Democratic leadership are going to have to get at least one Republican to go along on each vote (and two when Lieberman strays). And given the penchant of some conservative Senate Democrats to stray frequently, at key moments they will need even more of them.

Were Obama to follow the screeching advice from the Children's Table (essentially they're arguing that he should barrel in there full of arrogant bravado like Bill Clinton did in 1993, polarizing Congress along party lines - something that resulted, two years later in 1994, with the Democrats losing control of the US House for the first time in 40 years after Republicans ousted 54 of them), then not one major legislative priority would get through the Senate in the next two years.

The other thing that the aspiring spokesmen for the (increasingly shrinking) Children's Table fail to grasp is that nobody is making the argument that Obama and the Democrats should "be nice" to the Republicans because they think the GOP can be wooed with candy and flowers. Portraying it that way only wins, for the complainers, the slowest of the slow class for allies because most folks can plainly discern that a very different strategy is at play.

Rather, the most ruthless and brutal way to divide Republicans and pick up moderate GOP votes for upcoming bills - I used the term Machiavellian yesterday - is to not behave like Clinton did and to continue to put on a grand show of being reasonable in the face of the GOP hardliners becoming the "Party of No."

Nate Silver, as usual, "gets" it, with his essay on The Republican Death Spiral today:

...the Republicans, arguably, are in something of a death spiral. The more conservative, partisan, and strident their message becomes, the more they alienate non-base Republicans. But the more they alienate non-base Republicans, the fewer of them are left to worry about appeasing. Thus, their message becomes continually more appealing to the base -- but more conservative, partisan, and strident to the rest of us. And the process loops back upon itself.

By playing the role of "Mr. Reasonable," Obama is not only pleasing the crowd, but also throwing a life line to moderate Republican senators - on some votes that will be Northeasterners Snowe and Collins of Maine, Gregg of New Hampshire and Specter of Pennsylvania, on others it will be the regularly-forming axis of McCain of Arizona, Graham of South Carolina and Martinez of Florida (where Lieberman often resides, too), at others it will be the Midwesterners Voinovich of Ohio, Grassley of Iowa and Lugar of Indiana, and even sometimes someone like Hatch of Utah has been brought along by his pal Teddy Kennedy on specific legislation- giving those Republicans a sufficient lack of polarization to have the breathing room to buck their party with some regularity.

The surest path to shutting down the probability that those GOP Senators, in particular, can cross over in rotating combinations would be to follow the advice from the Children's Table and polarize, polarize, polarize.

Of course, polarizing the Senate is not something Obama will do anyway. He's said so again and again for two years now. Which also suggests there's something "not right" with the thinking over at the Children's Table, because they're advocating for something that is an utter impossibility to begin with. In a way, they're in the same kind of self-inflicted "death spiral" that Nate described for the Republicans above. The more they keep getting it wrong, the smaller the group around the table has become, and the more even their own former troops in their own corners of the Internet scoff at their BS.

But maybe it is more comforting to them to only take on causes that they know, in advance, they'll lose? That is one of the defining traits of a "beautiful loser." If so, they can look forward to being held back in math class in 2010 and in more years to come, too.

But do enjoy the cookies and milk, kids, even if you're still finding the math too hard to understand.

Update: Reports this afternoon from The Hill and the Huffington Post that US Senator Judd Gregg (R-New Hampshire) may be nominated as Secretary of Commerce, and that his replacement would be picked by the state's Democratic Governor John Lynch, don't fully solve this problem for Obama and the Democrats even if, once Franken of Minnesota and the new New Hampshire Democrat are sworn in, the Democrats now have, on paper, 60 votes.

First, because they can't trust Joe Lieberman. Other reasons: Evan Bayh, Mary Landreiu, Ben Nelson, and even some "Netroots" senators (Mark Warner, Jon Tester) often stray on big issues. Some, like Bob Casey, are anti-choice on abortion, and now Kirsten Gillibrand is there to gum up the works as well. Add to that the health problems of Ted Kennedy, Robert Byrd and Tim Johnson, and it would be a very fragile 60 votes. And the "cloture" rule requires 3/5 of all Senators - 60 votes - even if one or more are not in the chamber when the vote is taken. That number doesn't go down just because some senators may be out sick or away on any given day.

Finally, the Democratic leadership can itself be problematic, and Reid and Pelosi may be tempted to try and push and shove against the White House, particularly for earmarks and pork and against "good government" reforms that Obama champions, if they get that 60 vote (on paper) super-majority in the Senate while already having it in the House. It may, in fact, turn out worse that way, and provoke some 1990s style "triangulation" on other matters.
Howie P.S.: Any organizer, "community" or otherwise, has learned you have to know how to count heads in order to win. So far, Barack has been pretty good at it.

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