Are Moderate Democrats Playing Kabuki?

by Brien Jackson

Yglesias doesn’t think so:

On a related note, people sometimes have a model in their head whereby the typical moderate congressional Democrat is a solid-gold progressive who really wants to do great things for America but feels constrained by politics. That’s probably true of some of them. But one really shouldn’t assume that it’s uniformly true. After all, a Senator who wants to do the right thing on, say, climate change but worries that a strong cap-and-trade bill would be a tough political sell in his state ought to be eager to see cap-and-trade done through reconciliation. That way you can vote “no” like you think you have to, without the “no” vote killing the bill. And that’s hardly the only example. There’s tons of below-the-radar procedural stuff that a legislator whose “real” views are further-left than he thinks he can get away with could be doing. And I don’t actually see a ton of Senate Democrats trying to push those envelopes.

There’s a certain amount of logic to this, but at the same time it creates the same merry-go-round effect you always get when you try to analyze these things for obvious examples of kabuki. Even if Evan Bayh really wants these progressive measure to go through reconciliation so they can pass over his politically necessary “no” vote, he can’t exactly say that out loud, because that would pull the curtain back. So he has to, publicly, oppose the idea of using reconciliation, and hope that it’s used anyway. And down the rabbit hole we go. Similarly, progressives like Matt Yglesias have to criticize him for the kabuki to work. So even if this is all true, and you want to inform your readers of these things, it still works best to assume that positions are more or less genuine to a certain degree, whether that’s based on personal preference, politics, or whatever. Otherwise you wind up tangled inside a revolving door it’s hard to work your way out of. Whether Ben Nelson wants healthcare reform to pass or not, if he’s decided he has to appear to oppose it, then he has to appear to oppose it. You can’t go half way, as it were.

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