Monday, July 10, 2006

When everyone's an expert

As a moderate with many liberal amigos, it was really weird to work for Republicans. Here I was, constantly told by my friends (1) What the Republicans were doing (2) How they explained the justification for what they were doing and (3) their real evil motivations.

And I actually knew different, and could usually prove it about the first two. When I heard from a UU pulpit (!!!) that the Republicans in Congress were plotting to privatize social security, I knew that information was largely wrong, both because I knew how ambivalent my clients seemed on it and because “Senior citizens scare easily and vote in huge numbers; don’t mess with social security if you’re worried about re-election” is a general Washington principle. (Second-term President Bush was the one pushing it, not congress. Especially not the House. Some folks, especially in the Senate, said good things about it, but not many. If Sen. Lindsay Graham isn’t on your side on your conservative issue, you’ve got problems.)

I’ve talked before about the many conversations I’ve had that ran approximately like this:

Liberal: "Head start! How could you POSSIBLY be against greater funding of HEAD START! Don't you CARE about the POOR at all? Or are you some sort of SELFISH CONSERVATIVE who doesn't care about kids in the inner city?"

Me: "Um... Head Start does sound really good in theory. Teaching kids during these formative years should have a permanent effect. But it doesn’t. When psychologists have studied it, they have shown that the effects of head start wear off. Even if you send a kid to the best nursery school in the world when you send them on to a badly underfunded inner-city school later, by fourth grade they are going to be right where the other kids are. So it seems reasonable to me to take the money you'd use on Head Start and use it to improve the schools at higher grades or do something else with it, because if what we're doing is wearing off, we're wasting the money now."

Liberal: "Oh. Well, I still disagree, but OK..."

And I had to correct several people who had heard about the Kelo decision and bitched about the conservative members of the SCOTUS who made it. (Twas the liberals.)

I don’t know as much about what’s currently going on in Republican heads as I used to, though I can typically make some reasonable guesses and ask around if I’m still unsure.

Politics is a weird field where everybody thinks they’re an expert and tells you so.

Now there are some good things about that, obnoxious though I personally might find it. In a Democracy, it is everybody’s duty to become to some degree an expert. A Democracy can’t run without an informed populace, after all.

To some degree, the same deal applies to UUism. Everyone thinks they are an expert on religion. We do have a pretty informed populace.

Unfortunately, this can lead to us being obnoxious about it, or being perceived as obnoxious when we were trying to be helpful.

Peacebang, as us politics folks like to say, “I feel your pain.”



LaReinaCobre said...

Maybe you can provide some insight into the Republican Party of Texas's agenda. I was reading it today and on the issue of Social Security it says:

Social Security - We support an orderly transition to a system of private pensions based on the concept of individual
retirement accounts, and gradually phasing out the Social Security tax. We insist that Social Security benefits be non–
taxable. To protect the Social Security System, its funds should not be co–mingled or spent with general revenues or
invested in private or public corporate stock. We support Americans being allowed to purchase directly, and hold directly
as part of their tax-deferred retirement and educational savings plans, United States Treasury obligations, personally
managed investment accounts, and tax-free equities. Individuals, who qualify for Social Security benefits, including school
teachers, should receive all of the benefits for which they are eligible without penalty. To protect freedom and privacy,
government and private institutions should not require Social Security numbers as ID. Application for Social Security
numbers should not be required before the age of consent.

It sounds like their desire is to transition to privatized social security.

The platform can be downloaded in its entirety at: here. There are some interesting things in there.

Chalicechick said...

A party platform is not an individual congressman's platform is not actual legislation.

That said, my guess is that a lot of these folks, including some members of congress, would really like to see Privatized social security happen, but congress really is in a tough spot trying to make it happen.

There are some aspects of it I find pretty appealling, such as the lockbox focus.

whose primary problem with privitized social security, given that it would be voluntary in most plans, is the amount power it would give the government over the stock market.

Doug Muder said...

Still, if the Democrats in the Senate hadn't maintained their solidarity, Social Security probably would have been privatized by now. Some Republicans dragged their feet, but the leadership whipped most of them into line. (If I remember right, the House passed some privatization program.)

And that, I think, is why the moderate I-vote-for-the-person-not-the-party model is obsolete. The party leadership in Congress (especially the House) is so powerful now that your representative really only casts one important vote: the one that decides which party organizes the House or Senate. After that, the leadership will allow him or her a few renegade votes that don't really matter, and that's pretty much it.

In realistic terms, every House race is Hastert against Pelosi and every Senate race is Reid against Frist. Would that it weren't, but it is.

Chalicechick said...

I used to get the roll call votes on every hotly-debated vote and post a list of how our clients have voted on my office door. I can remember a few times when they all voted the same way, but it wasn't as often as you seem to think.

Do you honestly think, say,

-- a good ol' boy populist from a border state who is worried about immigration

-- a midwestern evangelical worried about people's souls

-- an old money New Englander who is fairly liberal about social issues but worried about the estate tax

are going to always vote the same ways?

Some bills on politically-charged topics do get even splits. We saw a lot of them right before the house left for the summer because there was lots of legislation designed to help out re-election campaigns and because they do a lot of budget stuff that really has been hammered out in advance.

Likewise, naming a post office after somebody is rarely all that controversial.

But, yeah, I did see quite a few big divisions over things like sugar subsidies, some parts of the patriot act and abortion notification.


Doug Muder said...

The question is: Do any of these "independent" folk ever cast the deciding vote against their party leadership? I'll bet not.

Leadership lets the sheep wander as long the ultimate outcome isn't in doubt. But on close votes -- like the drug-company-written Medicare drug benefit -- they'll whip enough people into line to get it passed, independent of what those people said when they were running for office.

Arlen Specter in the Senate is a great example. He understands the civil liberties issues around the War on Terror and makes headlines every few months by saying something about how the administration has gone too far. But somehow the hearings he keeps threatening to chair never happen. If a Democrat were chairing that committee, there'd be hearings.

BTW, my memory cleared and I recalled that I got it wrong in my last comment: the House didn't pass the Social Security privatization. The Republicans decided to let the Senate tackle it first, because that's where the Demcrats were strongest.

Chalicechick said...

Well exactly who casts a deciding vote is kind of silly question. In a very tight race, every vote for what wins is a deciding vote.

But if you want to think that way, you can take your pick of the Reublican senators who voted against the cloture on the marriage amendment, which was 12 votes from passing, or the Flag Burning amendment which was 17 votes from passing.


Chalicechick said...

Ps. I might agree that sometimes party leadership can force the votes it needs on a few issues that are very important to it. Tip O'Neill could do that. Every majority leader does that.

But that is a VERY different statement from saying In realistic terms, every House race is Hastert against Pelosi and every Senate race is Reid against Frist.

Also, treating the smaller votes as insignificant is exactly what the people sponsoring them want you to do, of course.

Anonymous said...

I prefer sleeping with Republicans to working for them as a way to find out what the "other side" is thinking ;-)

As for your stance on Head Start, that seems to assume that money taken away from that program would go to education in the higher grades. Considering the degree to which No Child Left Behind has become an unfunded mandate on the states -- thus presenting the weird spectacle of decidedly red states in revolt against one of Bush's hallmark programs -- I don't think that can be assumed. As you surely know better than I, money in the federal budget is a pretty fungible thing. If there were a guarantee that any money taken out of Head Start would go improve reading programs for 3rd graders, I'd feel better about de-funding it, but that's not usually how the issue is presented. Kind of like the $34 million missing from UNFPA's budget -- it wouldn't bother me if the U.S. spend that on 100% never-even-whisper-the-word-abortion family planning programs.