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August 10, 2007

Comments

Amit

Ummm....I don't know. How bout the Net Roots or whomever take a stand against Hillary on this very issue. And I don't say this as an Obama supporter (I'd throw Obama under the bus in a heartbeat if Gore were to run).

Drum is right. There is no incentive for Democrats to take principled stances unless the base forces them to take those stances. If the Democratic base essentially told Hillary that it was not going to support her becuase she took the easy way out on Iraq I think politicians would sit up and take notice. But until that happens the base will be taken for granted. Lamont v. Lieberman was the first attempt at this and I don't think it'd be a bad idea for it to happen more often.

Brian

Right, but the netroots were dead set against FISA. And yet....

JimPortlandOR

The netroots (and the counterpart nutroots on the right) are not driving Congressional action.

Kevin's point can be further summarized. On high risk decisions, Congress prefers to less the voters get ahead of elite thinking, rather than elite thinking be ahead of the voters.

Now that the voters are against the Iraq war, it is still hard to change the policy because of entrenched Bush/Cheney intransigence. (Meaning really, really dug in).

It was impossible for Congress to resist Iraq when the voters were thought to be in favor of the war (because of 9/11).

There may be a political 'law' at work here about leadership versus followership in the US political world. It is clear that there exists a phenomena called 'voter backlash', but very unclear if there is a thing called 'voter frontlash'.

jm

"But if you opposed the war and then, after the invasion went ahead over your objections, the Army discovered a serious nuclear arms program or an advanced bioweapons lab — both considered distinct possibilities at the time — you'd be out of office at the next midterm."

I'm not letting Democrats who enabled this disaster off the hook so easily. I'm just a cabinetmaker, but once I heard Scott Ritter speak to the WMD issue on C-Span back in early 2003, I had serious reservations about the Bush administration's veracity. The guy had the proper credentials, made a very compelling argument against invading Iraq, was all but ignored, and, oh yeah, turned out to absolutely right in his analysis of the information available to congressmembers at the time.

The way to upend the twisted incentives you speak of is to hold politicians responsible for not doing their jobs. We, the voters, have to make risk averse behavior risky, so to speak.

Brian

I sympathize, jm, and nobody is disputing that Ritter was right. But he was also at the receiving end of a brutal smear campaign. Meanwhile people like Colin Powell--much more famous, with much more perceived credibility--were assuring everybody in the world that the weapons were there. It's not insane to me that Democrats chose to believe Powell over Ritter. At the same time, I'd like to think that if I had been a senator way back in 2003, I'd have had the stones to vote against the authorization anyhow.

jm

"...at the receiving end of a brutal smear campaign." And, "...with much more perceived credibility...."

There's the rub, Brian. Fear-inducing retaliation and false perceptions ultimately decided the issue. People who might have corraborated Ritter were effectively silenced and the man who turned out to be a cardboard cutout of a statesman lied convincingly and was believed.

Our signaling mechanisms with respect to the access to and quality of information are seriously screwed up. Way too much emphasis is placed on access, status and position instead of on who makes the best argument. And the public is left with less than adequate information with which to make our decisions.

The press failed catastrophically in the run up to the Iraq invasion. For any number of (what turned out to be bad) reasons, reporters, pundits and public intellectuals preferred to believe the empty-eyed and soulless Dick Cheney and the good soldier Colin Powell over Ritter. With virtually no one of import calling bullshit, congressmembers, who might have been leery of the endeavor otherwise, were free to ignore their better judgement--in other words, there was no risk assessed to cowardly behavior. This is what needs to be changed. Since the press is not changing its behavior (e.g., see Michael Gordon of the NYT, re: Iran, and everyone else, re: John Edward's haircut), it is up to us to punish the bad behavior of congress.

Believe me, I know this is a tilting-at-windmills kind of proposition. Nevertheless, it must be attempted. As the cliche goes, in a democracy you get exactly the quality of governance you deserve.

Brian

I agree with you full stop. A million dynamics would have to have been different (and still need to change) for Democrats to have felt the necessary political coverage to vote against the Iraq war, or FISA or what have you. A lot of effort is going towards just that, but for the time being perception matters more than reality, and so, despite the best efforts of the Netroots, we got the new and improved FISA.

The line about Yglesias' book was mainly a silly way of saying a lot more, new methods need to be deployed to fix the problem.

jm

Let me add, quickly, that we need to punish the bad behavior of the commentariat, as well. I suggest sustained derision.

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