Overconfidence: the fatal flaw


by digby

Greg Sargent has a good piece up about the political myopia of the Democrats toward the possibility that the Supreme Court conservatives would be hostile to Obamacare.

Many people have blamed Obama Solicitor General Donald Verrilli’s poor defense of the law for the sudden jeopardy Obamacare finds itself in, and there’s no denying he was unprepared to answer questions that we’ve known for months would be central to the case.

But there’s another explanation for the botched prediction: Simply put, Obamacare’s proponents, including those in the administration, badly misjudged, and were too overconfident about, the tone, attitude and approach that the court’s conservative bloc, particularly Justice Scalia, would take towards the administration’s arguments.

Keep in mind: Many observers, Obama officials included, spent weeks preedicting Scalia could be a key swing vote on the case. Lawyers defending the law wrote some of their briefs and opinions with an eye towards persuading Scalia. They consciously invoked Scalia’s own words from a 2005 opinion affirming Congress’s power to control local medical marijuana in hopes it signaled he might be open to the administration’s defense of the individual mandate.

This now looks like a terrible misjudgment. During oral arguments this week, Scalia invoked the broccoli argument to question the goverment’s case. He mocked the government’s position with a reference to the “cornhusker kickback, even though that’s not in the law. As Fried notes, this language is straight out of the Tea Party guerrilla manual that was written during the battle to prevent Obamacare from becoming law in the first place.

I've already said what I think of this: after Bush vs Gore, any Democrat who thought that verges on the puerile. Certainly this idea verges on political malpractice. And I have to also say that I think David's assurance below that there would be a big uprising of progressives if this law is shot down is highly unlikely. I just don't see the organizing function that makes that happen --- and even if it does it won't change anything as long as the balance of power rests with the Republicans.

This is how they think about this:

And this:

I wish I had more confidence that liberals would rise up en masse and demand single payer if Obamacare is struck down, but I just can't imagine it happening. It would take a whole bunch of people who have health care (most of the country) taking to the streets and demanding it for others. At this point I think the middle class is battered and tired. The best case is that some states would manage to pass Romneycare in fits and starts.

But regardless of what happens, the administration's "surprise" at conservative radicalism is starting to become something of a theme. Recall this observation in Rich Yeselsen's review of Noam Scheiber's book about the administration:

Scheiber’s narrative is lucid enough so that the reader can begin to question, along with the author, why several mistakes are made more than once, The White House trusts Iowa Republican Senator Chuck Grassley time and again during sensitive negotiations long after he’s demonstrated his bad faith. The deficit fetish culminates in the ghastly 2011 effort by Obama’s new Chief of Staff, Bill Daley, and David Plouffe, his 2008 campaign manager, to increase the president’s credibility with independent voters by positioning him as a budget cutter—not only the “hoariest of Washington’s old saws,” Scheiber says, but an old saw dependent on the fantasy, even after the Tea Party ascendancy, that a deal can be cut with the Republicans.

How can this be? I'm willing to consider the idea that the Obama administration would be willing to do deficit cutting to benefit the 1% or that they refused to jail corrupt bankers because they were protecting the elites. But tanking your own signature legislation (that happens to benefit insurance companies?) None of the people at the top of the heap in the Democratic Party will ever have to worry about money on a personal basis, certainly not the president himself. So you'd have to believe that he is some kind of 1% martyr to think he would destroy his own legacy simply in order to help out the ruling class.

No, I don't believe it. Sure, they may be corrupt whores for money for all I know, but that just isn't adequate to explain this one. They really were that naive. In fact, my current belief is that the administration's overriding problem is exactly what it seems to be --- they constantly overestimate their own abilities and underestimate the opposition's. Case in point:

Rep. Marion Berry, D-Ark., fears that these midterm elections are going to go the way of the 1994 midterms, when Democrats lost control of the House after a failed health care reform effort.

But, Berry told the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, the White House does not share his concerns.

“They just don’t seem to give it any credibility at all,” Berry said. “They just kept telling us how good it was going to be. The president himself, when that was brought up in one group, said, ‘Well, the big difference here and in ’94 was you’ve got me.’

No, this isn't about corruption, it's about believing your own hype instead of believing your eyes. The astonishing thing is that it's continued even to this week. Thinking Antonin Scalia would vote to uphold Obamacare is simply delusional.