Field Position by David Atkins

Field Position
by David Atkins ("thereisnospoon")

Democrats have a few pieces of good news to cheer about, from an electoral standpoint. First, Dems are polling very well for the House, courtesy PPP via the DCCC:

A new poll released today by Public Policy Polling shows that House Republicans are paying the price with voters for their extreme agenda to end Medicare in order to protect subsidies for Big Oil and tax breaks for billionaires, and for playing games with debt limit.

Key Findings:

Public Policy Polling’s conclusions: "...if there was an election today I think that they'd take back the House... There's little doubt that Democrats are winning the fallout of the debt debate... Last year independent voters were the driving factor behind the GOP retaking the House majority. Now they give it a 20/68 approval rating."

And again via the DCCC, Republican House members are facing major anger from constituents back at home. Meanwhile, a Marist poll shows Obama leading all GOP contenders:

Obama does have an advantage over several potential Republican rivals:

Smart money at this point says that Obama probably gets re-elected, Dems have a good chance of retaking the House, and GOP will likely take over the Senate due to the difficult time Dems will have holding onto their 2006 pickups. It's early of course, and things can change dramatically in short order. But right now Democrats are looking in fairly good shape, from an electoral point of view.

Strong supporters of Administration, of compromise and the Grand Bargain take these numbers as vindication of the success of their approach, and the rejection of both the conservative hostage-takers by the public at large, as well as frustrated progressives.

But that would be foolish. Even if Democrats do hold onto the White House and put the Speaker's gavel back in Pelosi's hands, the damage will already have been done. Austerity is the name of the game in Washington, and social security and Medicare are irrevocably on the negotiating block in a way that would have been unthinkable just five years ago. And the Super Committee is likely to make things even worse.

The point of politics is not to win elections for their own sake, or to prevent the other team from doing damage. The point of politics is to advance one's preferred legislative agenda. What bipartisan compromise advocates on the left seem not to understand is that the Tea Party agenda will not have failed, even if Democrats do win victories in 2012. It will have succeeded in marvelous fashion.

Conservatives understand that they won't win every election. They understand that politics is an ebb and flow. They also understand that when you do win, you have to make hay while the sun shines, and advance your legislative agenda as far as possible while you have power. They understand that you have to do everything in your power to stop the other side from doing likewise when you're in the minority.

Sports metaphors are overused in political reporting from an electoral standpoint, but if anything underused from a public policy standpoint. Due to the two-party system in America, public policy looks very much like a game of American football: whether the question is taxes, regulation, environment or social policy, governance is essentially a zero-sum battle for field position on the gridiron, issue by issue.

Republicans know they won't always have the ball. They'll toss a few long passes, and sometimes their playbook will fail. Sometimes the American people will get fed up and force them to punt. But their objective is to tilt the playing field as much as possible in their favor, injure and batter as many members of the opposing team as possible, score as many points as possible and drive the ball as far down the field as possible until they have to give it up. (The analogy fails only in the sense that in football, a team has to give up the ball after they score. Not so in politics. But that's a minor point.)

Democrats, meanwhile, rejoice whenever it looks like they're about to get the ball back because Republicans went for too much ground, too fast. And when they do get the ball, they "learn from Republican mistakes", and run careful plays along the ground to pick up a yard here and there. Nothing too fancy. Nothing too aggressive. Nothing too dangerous. Maybe we score a field goal here and there, particularly on social issues.

But, of course, eventually the GOP will get the ball back again. It's a two-party system. Nobody stays in power forever. And when they do, they'll again advance their agenda far more aggressively than Democrats and put more points up on the board.

The point of politics isn't just to hold power, any more than a team wins a football game by having a longer time of possession than your opponent. The GOP has run up the score, and backed the Democrats up to their own economic 10-yard-line because of the Democrats' soft defense.

The fact that we may yet get the ball back should hardly be cause for celebration, or an endorsement of the brilliance of our coaching staff. Over the last 30 years, we're way behind on the scoreboard, and the other guys still have all the momentum.