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Saturday, December 19, 2009  


I'm going to get to Weber's essay on Politics as a Vocation just as soon as I can, because I like what Matt has been saying about it. Coming from a family of politicians, I may have a more intuitive grasp of the need to be not just righteous but responsible, and to mediate carefully between your ideals and the reality you live with as a politician (or any political actor). But what Matt has said so far doesn't offer a whole lot of guidance on when you really do have to take a stand and let the chips fall where they may.

Take Harry Reid. He's come in for a lot of scorn from all quarters (including this one). But the fact is that he's done something remarkable in getting such a sweeping bill that both radically expands the social safety net and reduces the long-term deficit as far as he has. If trends hold and he actually manages to keep the caucus together and pass this bill in the age of the perpetual filibuster, he'll deserve far more credit than he'll get until posterity judges him aright.

And yet this whole effort may cost him his job. It's a rough time to be a Democratic incumbent, and it's never easy to be a party leader, but he could have laid low this year and told himself--and his caucus--that he'd do more good by getting re-elected and living to fight another day. Indeed, he may do just that once HCR is through final passage, stepping off the climate-change gas pedal and letting banking reform go its own way. And given the cynical calculus of Washington, in which literally no maneuvre is considered too unprincipled so long as it's in the service of re-election, no one of much prominence besides Paul Krugman will criticize him, should it come to that.

All the same, Reid has really put himself on the line for this, and he deserves a whole lot of credit regardless of what you think of the underlying bill (and I continue to be baffled by the liberals who think Reid et al. are taking these great risks in the face of industry opposition in order to give a big gift to the insurance companies. That would be both sociopathic and plain stupid). Sometimes, the responsible politician needs to do that. What's the value of Feingold's one vote against the turdball known as the USA PATRIOT Act? What would ten or twenty more votes against the Iraq AUMF have meant to the course of American politics? Maybe not much, maybe more than we think. There was little upside in those votes, or so it seemed at the time, but someone needed to be brave, even--especially--in lopsided defeat.

Success can be more ambivalent, as Reid's roasting by the left shows. But success it is, knock wood. Reid will need and deserve our help next year.

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posted by Benjamin Dueholm | 11:54 PM
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