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Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Third Way to Irrelevance
by David Atkins ("thereisnospoon")

Let us grant for the sake of argument that the Obama Administration's push to put Medicare and Social Security on the table in the Grand Bargain is not Wall St. fueled corruption, but an act of technocratic and political calculation that doing so is actually the right thing to do. That's a postulate fraught with loaded assumptions of good will, but simply for the sake of argument let's go down that road for a moment.

On the political side of the equation, no one better encapsulates that argument better than the people at Third Way, the newest reincarnation of the old corporatist Democratic Leadership Council (DLC). The Third Way people have a new memo out called Democrats Winning the Battle of Reasonableness on the Deficit:

Republicans understood one part of their November mandate: reduce the deficit. But not the other: compromise. Now, Democrats are winning the battle of public opinion on Republican turf – the deficit – because they have been willing to put sacred cows on the table. If Republicans do the same, we may get the grand bargain budget deal the country needs, and it may also be good politics for Republicans as well.

Their white paper looks at recent polling on the default ceiling battle indicating that voters favor hard choices and compromise (as usual), that the GOP is losing support over their stance on this particular issue, while Barack Obama is seen as the adult in the room. All of which are true, insofar as that goes.

Digby has pointed out before that there's a leadership issue involved here, in that many people see the President as the national leader, and that if he encourages "shared sacrifice", many people will support that and the polls will follow. If he were to lead in a different, more progressive direction, the public would follow him there just as easily (within reason, of course.)

But beyond that, even if one grants the Third Way every argument they and their allies have made, their position is still hopelessly myopic.

It really doesn't matter how voters view the current battle, in the long run. By the time November 2012 rolls around, the particular emotional character of the agents in this battle will be long forgotten. What will be remembered is the result: Did the economy improve? What services got cut? How many jobs were lost? Can I afford to go to the hospital? What will the attack ads say as a result of the consequences of those very real results that affect people's lives?

None of which even even approaches a discussion of lost opportunities in the area of cognitive linguistics and the power of framing to shift people's active metaphors about the respective roles and powers of government vs. the "free" market, deficits and surpluses, and the barriers to achieving the American Dream posed by massive income inequality. These are conversations that need to be happening, but they're not even remotely on the table.

Which side of the debate was more "reasonable" to voters in 2011 will matter very little to them in 2012. This is the problem with tuning one's policy pitchforks to the frequency of shifting public allegiances rather than to basic principles. In the end, principles matter because they affect real results, while today's political posturing is forgotten with tomorrow's headlines.

Which means that even if the Third Way types were right on the details, they are still hopelessly wrong on the big picture--which is really the only one that matters.