Political parties need both pragmatists and ideologues, and each needs to let the other do what they do best. (More)
We don’t have windows at Árbol Squirrel, but we have curtains for privacy. Mrs. Squirrel made them from fabric remnants that Chef gave her and they’re quite lovely. The twins, Nancy and Michelle, nibbled on Mrs. Squirrel’s new curtains when they were infants. They were too cute for Mrs. Squirrel to get upset, and the fringe they left lets in a nice breeze.
We need fringes for the same reason in politics. That’s where most new ideas begin. Many will be bad ideas, like the House Republican Budget’s plan to turn Medicare into a voucher program. Others will be good ideas, like the financial transactions tax in the Congressional Progressive Caucus “Back to Work” Budget. As the Economic Policy Institute report noted, that tax would “raise significant revenue while dampening speculative trading and encouraging more productive investment.” It would also discourage individual investors from day-trading and other mistakes that churn their savings into brokers’ profits.
New ideas tend to start on the fringes – right and left – because the fringes don’t have to govern. Think tanks, academics, pundits, and bloggers can kick around ideas without worrying about whether the ideas are politically viable. We did that at BPI when we discussed a Guaranteed Basic Income, an idea from and still on the political fringe. We didn’t talk about whether it could pass in the House or Senate. It couldn’t, at least not soon. But it might gain traction in some form, at some point, and such discussions open our eyes to other perspectives on work, wages, and the social safety net.
Ideas moving in from the fringes also anchor the sides of the Overton Window that defines mainstream political dialogue. Progressives should be pragmatic in governing, but if we close off ideas from the left fringe then the political boundaries will steadily drift to the right. Advocates for single-payer health care helped pass Obamacare by proposing an idea well to the left of the plan being debated in Congress. Republicans howled and still howl that Obamacare is “socialized medicine,” but polls show most Americans want their states to make health insurance exchanges a top priority and only a third want Obamacare repealed. Americans are confused about their health care options and costs, but even most Republican voters support Obamacare’s key provisions … if they don’t know those are in Obamacare.
But, again, progressives should be pragmatic in governing. Yesterday Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid split off proposed bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, because neither had even a 51-vote simple majority. While both will likely still get a vote as amendments or in a standalone bill, Majority Leader Reid decided not to let them pull down other provisions that could still pass: universal background checks, enhanced school security, and stronger federal gun trafficking laws. That is, he decided not to make an all-or-nothing bet with a losing hand.
Not surprisingly, many progressives were disappointed by that decision, including false headlines claiming Majority Leader Reid denied President Obama’s stirring State of the Union “they deserve a vote” call. But only a handful calling for progressive voters to stay home in 2014. We learned that lesson in 2010.
Republicans also have a fringe, and as Charlie Cook wrote for the National Journal, they must decide whether to let that fringe run their party over a cliff. While Rush Limbaugh said yesterday the Republican Party lost in 2012 because they weren’t conservative, the 2012 GOP platform was so radical that RNC Chair Reince Priebus is now denying major platform planks.
Good ideas blow in from the fringe, and pragmatists must respect that. But progressive government requires ideas that can become law, and ideologues must accept that as well.
Good day and good nuts.