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Sister Souljah Time

As Noam Scheiber pointed out today the really consequential thing about the House New Democrat Caucus' decision to endorse the bankruptcy bill is less on the policy front (the GOP had the votes to win in the house anyway) than in the damage it will do to the New Democrat concept, confirming the worst fears and stereotypes of the party's left wing. This is, I think, unfortunate, because New Democrats have a great deal to contribute on both the policy and political fronts. They're not right about everything in their disputes with "the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party" but they are right about many things, and it's an important voice to have at the table. Sadly, it's a voice that lacks credibility when it pulls these kinds of stunts. I wondered the other day if the DLC wouldn't like to distance itself from this stunt. They don't control the House's self-identified New Democrats, but if they don't speak up, it's natural for people to assume that they're in agreement.

On Wednesday, Marshall Whittman gave it a shot, noting Republican hypocrisy in simultaneously racking up unprecedented levels of public debt while cracking down on private debtors. On Thursday, Ed Kilgore chimed in to pronounce himself "unhappy" with the bill and then noted some important developments on the "Clear Skies" front. Good for them. Still, as a piece of completely earnest advice, I think this is a situation that calls for a Sister Souljah moment -- a direct calling out of the House New Dems. The DLC knows better than anyone that such moves can often be far more potent as statements than this sort of oblique distancing. One doesn't need to disavow the people in question or purge anybody, we all understand that even good legislators in an all-things-considered sense act opportunistically now and again, but the action at least does call for specific condemnation lest opportunism run rampant throughout the future.

March 11, 2005 | Permalink

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Tracked on Mar 11, 2005 1:34:40 PM

Comments

"Still, as a piece of completely earnest advice, I think this is a situation that calls for a Sister Souljah moment -- a direct calling out of the House New Dems."

Hear, hear!

That's a pretty good idea. It's an excellent opportunity for the DLC to refute the corporatist slurs that get flung at them from the left.

If the Social Security debate has taught us anything, it should be that the one issue that can unite Democrats across the spectrum is economic populism / economic anti-royalism / economic communitarianism.

-----

As an aside, I wonder why there is no really organized consumer lobby along the lines of the environmental and pro-choice lobbies.

The lack of a consumer lobby is why the bankruptcy bill passed in the first place, and why these Dems felt there would be no downside to supporting it.

Posted by: Petey | Mar 11, 2005 1:33:48 AM

I second the motion. Perhaps the bankruptcy bill will become some sort of equal opportunity scarlet letter for all those that give it the thumbs up.

Posted by: fnook | Mar 11, 2005 1:44:15 AM

Until Democrats allow people to discharge the tax they owe in bankruptcy, it's hypocrisy.

You owe Visa, we feel your pain. You owe the government, well, you're DAMN WELL GONNA PAY!!!

Posted by: Adam Herman | Mar 11, 2005 2:36:16 AM

Ha! Good call Matt! The DLC loves the whole triangulation thing so much maybe they should practice a little of it on themselves.

Posted by: Chris Andersen | Mar 11, 2005 3:13:57 AM

Here we see yet again that Al From, jagoff extraordinaire, is the real problem at the DLC.

Posted by: praktike | Mar 11, 2005 9:02:51 AM

It's an excellent opportunity for the DLC to refute the corporatist slurs that get flung at them from the left.

Yeah, but don't hold your breath.

Posted by: SqueakyRat | Mar 11, 2005 9:22:10 AM

It's an excellent opportunity for the DLC to refute the corporatist slurs that get flung at them from the left.

Yeah, but don't hold your breath.

Posted by: SqueakyRat | Mar 11, 2005 9:22:11 AM

There used to be an organized consumer lobby. Ralph Nader ran it. In 1981 people quit answering his phone calls, and in 1993 they didn't start up again. So he went literally nuts.

Anyone who wants to can make a cheap anti-Nader joke and blame Nader himself, but the problem is the people (specifically the "business Democrats") who tuned him out.

Nader was also alert to media monopoly issues while the Democrats were sleeping, and now the Democrats are in a deep hole. A lot of bad stuff passed Congress while the Democrats still controlled it.

It is fun to see the New Democrats pleading not to be expelled from the Democratic Party, though. If one came over and let me personally kick him a few times I might be willing to show them some mercy.

Pretty much by definition, one thing credit card companies have is lots of cash. Duh.

Posted by: John Emerson | Mar 11, 2005 9:50:24 AM

How about a Sister Souljah moment on the right? Let's not hog it. George W. Bush certainly has plenty of possible targets, eh?

Posted by: John Isbell | Mar 11, 2005 9:51:45 AM

"There used to be an organized consumer lobby. Ralph Nader ran it. In 1981 people quit answering his phone calls, and in 1993 they didn't start up again. So he went literally nuts."

OK, but Public Citizen's research is often hysterical and misleading. There's a role for a consumer advocate, but how about a better consumer advocate?

And yes, Nader is nuts and a complete jackass.

Posted by: praktike | Mar 11, 2005 9:57:50 AM

Nader destroyed the organized consumer lobby through his manipulative backstabbing, raging egomania, and refusal to work with others. Don't blame the victims.

Posted by: Anonymous | Mar 11, 2005 10:01:13 AM

Whether or not Social Security privatization was a decoy, the bankruptcy bill sure did slip under the radar, didn't it? It was going to pass anyway, probably, but it was able to sneak through without much noise or bad publicity.

I still think that the SS privatization, while probably not exactly a decoy, was a bold gamble which they didn't plan on succeeding. It would have pretty much destroyed the Democratic Party if it had passed, by sinking its flagship program and showing today's party to be completely helpless and worthless. And probably they can do some bait-and-switch, cut some deals, and come up with a compromise program which is still pretty bad.

Posted by: John Emerson | Mar 11, 2005 10:02:07 AM

Bullshit. Nader failed because Democrats were sucking up to business. And because Terry McAullife was such a dynamite fundraiser.

There is no way that the Democrats are the victims here. If they ignored Nader's message because they didn't like his tactics or his personality, they're certainly being punished for their pettiness and stupidity now. On the media consolidation issue in particular, they were like oxen to the slaughter.

I expected the pettiness here. But it's too late to change anything, so who cares?

Posted by: John Emerson | Mar 11, 2005 10:07:02 AM

"As an aside, I wonder why there is no really organized consumer lobby along the lines of the environmental and pro-choice lobbies."

Isn't that basic policy sci/economics? It's always extremely challenging to organize a group for diffuse benefits to a large number of people than extraordinary beneftis to a privileged few. And the benefits of pro-consumer policies are very diffuse (and generally invisible to most folks until they disappear). It's the same as education: there's no kids and parents lobby for better schools, because it's much more rational for individual parents to try to manipulate the system to their child's interests than to invest time in advocacy, which won't see effects til their kid's out of school anyway.

Yeah, environmentalism and pro-choice also have diffuse benefits (ie, most women supporting the right to choose don't do so b/c they believe they'll need it some day--they hope they won't and take action not to--but there's a general value to women in the knowledge of that option's availability). But they also have tremendous emotional and ideological content behind them. I don't see the same kind of emotion behing consumer protections, except in the case of people who hate corporations and business, who are not exactly part of the American mainstream to begin with.

Posted by: flip | Mar 11, 2005 10:39:42 AM

"I don't see the same kind of emotion behind consumer protections, except in the case of people who hate corporations and business, who are not exactly part of the American mainstream to begin with."

And how was it that consumer protectionists got expelled from the American mainstream? And when did they come to be summed up as "people who hate corporations", as if they were loonies?

Organizing a large group of people for diffuse benefits is one of the difficult kinds of thing that healthy political parties are for. But ours didn't bother.

Posted by: John Emerson | Mar 11, 2005 10:46:25 AM

Sister Souljah was an obscure member of a rap group nobody in the DC cocktail circuit had ever heard of -- unless maybe Charles Krauthammer had already used her existence to do some race-baiting. The Moment, for Clinton, was one of selling himself to the Richard Cohens of the world as a real hard thinker, somebody who wouldn't let his weepy dogooderness get in the way of telling off poor people who stood in the way of the DC cocktail party circuit's efforts to become richer and more likely to appear on television. We don't want anybody, ever, to engage in a Sister Souljah moment. For that matter, there's no such moment to be had here, because the Richard Cohens of the world are sure to be hemming and hawing that this bill may not be the right bill, but really, we have to do something to stop those bankrupt people from gaming the system, and don't they need to take responsibility for their actions anyway. And aren't the democrats just showing themselves to be the party of no ideas if they don't support some sort of bankruptcy reform.

So stop saying Sister Souljah moment, unless you're talking about Al From condemning Michael Moore or MoveOn. (or, or course, yourself, on trade).

Posted by: david | Mar 11, 2005 10:51:16 AM

OK, but Public Citizen's research is often hysterical and misleading.

One thing is clear: when the US liberals are rounded up and sent to concentration camps, they'll have no one to blame but their own stupidity.

Posted by: MonarchyNow! | Mar 11, 2005 10:54:26 AM

Well, at least the "Sister Souljah" moment here involves dissing the DNC and/or DLC. Hilary thinks she can get to the Presidency by petting Santorum's and Brownback's dogs. Or bending over herself.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Mar 11, 2005 11:19:04 AM

Bob, it is inappropriate to make that kind of homophobic remark about a woman. A different kind of homophobic remark is required.

Posted by: John Emerson | Mar 11, 2005 11:23:41 AM

As a partisan issue this is toast. Harry Reid voted for the bill in its final form.

Posted by: Abby | Mar 11, 2005 11:59:20 AM

Enron died as a partisan issue too. Lay succeeded in implicating enough Democrats to make sure that nothing happened. Joe Lieberman went on record with his worries that too much might be done about the case. Since he was the Senate Democrats' point man on this kind of thing, he needn't have worried. (Lieberman was Arthur Anderson's man in the Senate; A.A. was so implicated in Enron's fraud that they went out of business.)

Posted by: John Emerson | Mar 11, 2005 12:08:02 PM

No one seems to be noting that Hillary Clinton was the only Senator not voting on the bankruptcy bill. That's pretty sneaky, IMHO.

Posted by: flip | Mar 11, 2005 12:11:28 PM

"There used to be an organized consumer lobby. Ralph Nader ran it. In 1981 people quit answering his phone calls, and in 1993 they didn't start up again. So he went literally nuts."

Sure. But if people stopped answering calls from the environmental or pro-choice lobbies, they wouldn't go literally nuts. They'd fundraise and organize for certain candidates.

"And the benefits of pro-consumer policies are very diffuse (and generally invisible to most folks until they disappear). It's the same as education: there's no kids and parents lobby for better schools"

This is the correct explanation, of course.

But it's worth noting that even education isn't as bad off as consumer protection. Between the combination of the saliency of education as an electoral issue and the self-interested activism of the teachers' lobby, education doesn't get ignored.

It's interesting and disturbing that consumer protection gets even less attention than education.

And it allows me to bring up reason #47 for advocating for John Edwards. Not only did he make his name in defending consumers, but during his presidential campaign, he regularly used rhetoric about credit card rates and a few other similar consumer protection concepts that are unusual for a national politician to bring up.

Posted by: Petey | Mar 11, 2005 1:54:15 PM

Fuck John Edwards, he's a part of the problem. What we need is James Stewart.

Posted by: MonarchyNow! | Mar 11, 2005 2:01:58 PM

"The Moment, for Clinton, was one of selling himself to the Richard Cohens of the world as a real hard thinker"

No.

The Moment, for Clinton, was one of selling himself to swing voters who had voted Republican in the previous 3 Presidential elections.

It's also worth noting that as Republicans have had a working majority in this country since '68, Democrats are more likely by necessity to Sister Souljah the fringes of their base than the GOP is, but the tactic does work both ways.

I thought it was quite significant when George Bush Sister Souljah-ed Tom DeLay in 1999 by saying pretty loudly, "Don't balance the budget on the backs of the poor". When I saw Bush do that, it was the first time I thought he might have a real shot at beating Gore.

"We don't want anybody, ever, to engage in a Sister Souljah moment."

Speak for yourself. "We" are fond of effective Sister Souljah moments. If John Kerry had Sister Souljah-ed Michael Moore in an effective manner, he'd likely be President right now.

Posted by: Petey | Mar 11, 2005 2:04:09 PM

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