Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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November 1, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

AMBUSH IN WAR ZONE D....In our November issue, we have an excerpt from Wes Clark's A Time to Lead about the company he led as a young captain in Vietnam:

It has often been said, in the years since the war ended and the all-volunteer force was created, that conscripts were inferior soldiers, and that Vietnam draftees in particular couldn't or wouldn't fight. But that wasn't my experience. The draftees I served with fought with great skill and exceptional bravery. They may not have wanted to be there then, but had they not been, I would not be here today.

....They stood up, men from south Texas and the Bronx and Kansas and California, in a firefight in a jungle in Southeast Asia. Men who had been plucked out of their lives, threatened with jail if they refused, some who held master's degrees, others who hadn't finished the tenth grade, they were firing from the hip and shoulder, a dozen men, moving into the jungle to sweep what turned out to be a small enemy base camp. This was my company. These were my men.

In the same issue, Mark Schmitt reviews Ron Brownstein's The Second Civil War. Brownstein, says Schmitt, is smarter than your average pundit, but he's still stuck in a plague-on-both-your-houses mindset that's been patently specious for over a decade:

Brownstein argues that each of the things he identifies as a problem calls for "comprehensive solutions that marry ideas favored by one party and opposed by the other." On the budget, he says that Democrats would reduce the deficit entirely through tax increases, Republicans would lower it through spending cuts, and that the true solution — a balance of the two — cannot be achieved because each party rejects half of that solution. But in the six years that Republicans held unchecked power, they rejected both halves of Brownstein's solution, while when Democrats were in power, they embraced both. The budget isn't balanced now because the party that has been in power doesn't see the problem in Brownstein's terms: it favors tax cuts above all other priorities. On immigration, most Democrats favored the balanced solution that Brownstein favors, while only a tiny minority of Republicans (which happened to include the president but only twelve of his party's senators) did so.

Schmitt also makes a point about interest-group politics that's seldom appreciated: namely that it tends to reduce partisanship, not increase it. Because interest groups reach out to both parties, they diminish the power of party leaderships and provide cover for moderates to make bargains across the aisle. The whole story is here.

Kevin Drum 1:29 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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I think Schmitt praises the party-crossing potential of interest groups way too much, nowhere more so than when he cites a pro-choice Republican like Lincoln Chafee as necessary to keeping interest group politics alive.

But, as was recently pointed out during the election, a vote for Chafee was also a vote for the anti-choice Republican Party to keep control of the Senate.

I think a better thesis than Schmitt's, as well as much better than Brownstein's, would be the merger of interest group politics with increased partisanship to the point that political parties might actually stand for something, be expected to stand for something, and be held accountable for that, i.e., something with at least a bit of kinship to parliamentary systems.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on November 1, 2007 at 2:14 AM | PERMALINK

Ron Brownstein? Patently specious? My God. Who knew?

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on November 1, 2007 at 4:17 AM | PERMALINK

I don't see the benefits of bipartisanship or compromise, if it mean meeting fascists halfway. That only means your policies are then half wrong.

It is the Republican Party that has veered seriously off the course set by the Founding Fathers. It is up to us to point that out to the American people. If they want to change their ways - great. If not, we need to beat them down in any way we can....

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on November 1, 2007 at 5:53 AM | PERMALINK

Demosclerosis.

Posted by: theAmericanist on November 1, 2007 at 8:01 AM | PERMALINK

Democrats would reduce the deficit entirely through tax increases, Republicans would lower it through spending cuts,

while when Democrats were in power, they embraced both.

Well, not quite so. In FY2000, an on-budget surplus occurred because of increased personal tax payments as people bailed on the NASDAQ, taking profits as the index fell. Spending in FY2000 actually rose by $160 billion (counting off-budget receipts and disbursements, spending rose $198 billion). All through the 90s, on-budget spending increased each year falling only in FY2001.

Posted by: TJM on November 1, 2007 at 8:41 AM | PERMALINK

Mr Clark it is to bad that you did not get the nomination for president when you ran for office after all you are a retired four star general who has been there and have seen things first hand for yourself and at least now we would not be suffering like we are now under this disgraceful president we have now who is like a flower called a turd blossom.

Posted by: Al on November 1, 2007 at 9:12 AM | PERMALINK

Same magazine, but, why not two separate threads?

Great to read the General standing up for those of US service numbers. So many have been maligned by the elitist officers and NCOs of recent years. Betcha check and you will find as many bemedaled US troops as RAs and often with higher GT scores.

Posted by: bert on November 1, 2007 at 9:26 AM | PERMALINK

What Donald said. Oh so clever to say "Pox on both your houses!"

Posted by: Gore/Edwards 08 on November 1, 2007 at 9:45 AM | PERMALINK

More missing the point: the usual suspects for pressure group politics on Republicans are folks like the NRA, Norquist and his minions, Dobson, the Scaife chorus, etc.

They generally support Republicans over Democrats, but they are NOT, institutionally, the Republican Party. Not even "Wall Street".

The usual suspects for pressure group politics on Democrats are folks like NARAL, organized labor, trial lawyers, the foundation grant crowd, etc.

In a thousand ways that are not symmetrical with conservative groups, these groups ARE the Democratic Party.

So it is simply a sort of political physics where the influence of pressure groups on Republicans would generally move 'em right, while the influence of pressure groups on Democrats (especially of the sort Brownstein advocates) would ALSO move 'em right, since they're IN the train, driving it down the track in fact, but the only way to get anywhere is where the track leads.

The engineer just controls the throttle and steers, he can't lay track to any new destination.

With the Congress as nearly evenly divided as it is, and the electorate so polarized, bipartisan consensus is both an oxymoron and something of a guarantee that the policy will be substantively bad AND a political failure.

Democrats are at a natural disadvantage in that dynamic: we should change it.

Posted by: theAmericanist on November 1, 2007 at 10:08 AM | PERMALINK

"he's still stuck in a plague-on-both-your-houses mindset that's been patently specious for over a decade"

Funny how that tends to happen to pundits whose spouses are on McCain's payroll.

Posted by: penalcolony on November 1, 2007 at 11:46 AM | PERMALINK

I disagree with the bit about interest groups.

While interest groups may lobby both parties, they also are also a strong force for polarization. Because interest groups don't just lobby for causes, they also raise money -- and it's easier to raise money by avoiding compromises and railing against the evils of the other side, than it is to raise money by touting small gains made through compromise.

If you agree that there has been a rise in ideological purity on both sides, then you also have to admit that interest groups are a large part of it. And that force is a counter to getting things done in a republican system.

Posted by: Alex Parker on November 1, 2007 at 11:51 AM | PERMALINK

The draftees I served with fought with great skill and exceptional bravery. They may not have wanted to be there then, but had they not been, I would not be here today.

The draftees may not have wanted to be there, but they killed Vietnamese patriots and civilians anyway. If there had been a draft in 2003, those conscripts would have killed Iraqi patriots and civilians just like the volunteers do. A draft would not have prevented W. Bush's invasion, occupation and city destroying mission in Iraq, and an officer like Clark would have led them with the same gusto for blood, guts and white phosphorus bombs.

The Vietnam War era was a time to lead, and Wesley Clark failed.

Posted by: Brojo on November 1, 2007 at 12:03 PM | PERMALINK

"If you agree that there has been a rise in ideological purity on both sides, then you also have to admit that interest groups are a large part of it."

Except that it's not about ideology, but INTERESTS.

Say you're the professional staff of the national hq of the Left Handed Widget Manufacturers. Say, too, that you're incredibly powerful, since Left Handed Widget users are a decisive swing vote in 40 Congressional districts.

Because you're a professional, you immediately adopt the Senator Kerr rule: you oppose any deal you're not in on. NOTHING can pass unless you get something out of it.

The actual Left Handed Widget makers may not approve of that strategy, they may not ever even hear of it -- but they will see the results: Left Handed Widget subsidies, a ban or FTC investigations on Left Handed Widget imports, alliances with other organizations on all kinds of issues -- the NRA will endorse the Constitutional right to Left Handed Widgets, NARAL will co-host fundraisers.

It's not about ideology.

Posted by: theAmericanist on November 1, 2007 at 1:41 PM | PERMALINK

Brojo: "The Vietnam War era was a time to lead, and Wesley Clark failed."

Wesley Clark was also only a junior officer in his early twenties.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on November 1, 2007 at 2:54 PM | PERMALINK

How old is Lt. Watada?

Posted by: Brojo on November 1, 2007 at 2:58 PM | PERMALINK

Wesley Clark was also only a junior officer in his early twenties.

But, but, but...Don't Generals emerge from pods, fully formed at the age of 48? You mean to tell me they come up through the ranks and have to figure stuff out?

How old is Lt. Watada?

28, I believe. But we are also talking about two entirely different realities, and trying to make a comparison where none exists is counterproductive at best.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on November 1, 2007 at 3:19 PM | PERMALINK

Brojo, thanks for making it easy for conservatives to make fun of us. Sheesh, that was dumb.

Posted by: Mark on November 1, 2007 at 4:00 PM | PERMALINK

Brojo, or should I say the Hostile of old - Smearing all soldiers as killers once again - You are pathetic - Well, at least you can't put that label on ex-Liberal, now, can you?

Posted by: bert on November 1, 2007 at 4:53 PM | PERMALINK

"They stood up, men from south Texas and the Bronx and Kansas and California, in a firefight in a jungle in Southeast Asia. Men who had been plucked out of their lives, threatened with jail if they refused, some who held master's degrees, others who hadn't finished the tenth grade, they were firing from the hip and shoulder, a dozen men, moving into the jungle to sweep what turned out to be a small enemy base camp."

It is Gen. Clark himself who 'smears' American soldiers as killers. I just do not venerate them or him for serving in Vietnam, or the volunteers in Iraq for their service. To you, my lack of reverence for their service and my acknowledgment that the people they were/are fighting, and killing, were/are either patriots or civilians who posed/pose no risk to America's national security is a smear.

We are not going to stop future wars of imperialist aggression by ignoring that our soldiers are fighting the wrong people for bad leaders and honoring them for it. When Japan's Prime Minister ignites criticism for honoring the Japanese soldiers killed in WW II by visitig that Shinto shrine, do you think those criticizing the Prime Minister are smearing the soldiers who killed all of those Chinese, Koreans, Fillipinos, Americans, Dutch, etc.? The consrcipts under Cpt. Clark's command fought as bravely and honorably as the soldiers in WW II and the volunteers in Iraq, but only one of those conflicts deserves national veneration. The other two conflicts should elicit pity for those who served and shame on the nation as a whole.

Posted by: Brojo on November 1, 2007 at 6:29 PM | PERMALINK

theAmericanist, not sure what "it" is in your formulation. But interest groups such as NARAL, NRA, and Citizens Tax Watch are much more ideological than they are "interest" oriented. Groups such as the left-hand widget thingee may exist, but they are not nearly so influential as the ideological variety.

Each of these groups and many others like them clings to and to and supports a rigid ideology on a single issue. These groups are also generally fairly partisan and closely allied with a single party. Well, actually, this is less true of the left-leaning organizations. NARAL and many environmental groups have campaigned for Republicans who are strong supporters of their positions. I wonder if the NRA has ever done such a thing. I'd guess not, which makes it more of a shill for the Republican Party than the non-partisan interest group it claims to be.

Posted by: Rob Mac on November 1, 2007 at 8:35 PM | PERMALINK

"I wonder if the NRA has ever done such a thing."

John Dingell.

And if you think the NFIB, the AFL/CIO, SEIU, AFSCME, the MeatPacking Institute, the US Chamber of Commerce, the National Restaurant Association, the Home Builders, the Roofers, the Landscapers, the Carpenters and Joiners, defense contractors, the American Bankers Association, the American Bar Association, and about 200 more I could name lack influence "compared to the ideological variety", you need to get out a bit more.

Posted by: theAmericanist on November 1, 2007 at 10:25 PM | PERMALINK

"Schmitt also makes a point about interest-group politics that's seldom appreciated: namely that it tends to reduce partisanship, not increase it. Because interest groups reach out to both parties, they diminish the power of party leaderships and provide cover for moderates to make bargains across the aisle."


Yea man, this works GREAT!..For the INTEREST GROUPS. Not the public.

Jesus...people are really desperate for some new twist to their mental processes and some way to rationalize our MafiaUSA,Ltd. political system.
This is one of the funniest I've seen.

Posted by: Carl on November 2, 2007 at 1:18 AM | PERMALINK
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