[digg-reddit-me]Usually I try to contextualize a writer – for example by saying what publication they write for. Other times, I presume the name conveys enough. But I don’t know Sean Trende from Adam. However, he has an interesting column published in Real Clear Politics about what he calls the “myth circulating in the blogosphere and the punditry.” (He gives Steve Benen, Mark Kleiman, Matt Yglesias, and Senator Jim DeMint as examples; I also made this point.) He says this myth is “threatening the Democrats’ majorities.” He describes it:
It goes like this: In 1994, Democrats failed to pass a healthcare bill, and they lost their majorities. Ergo, if Democrats fail to pass a healthcare bill in 2009, they will be at serious risk of losing their majorities in 2010, so to save their majorities, they should make certain above all else to get something passed.
He parses through the data – read his column for the figures – and concludes:
In other words, the problem for Democrats in 1994 was not that they didn’t support Clinton’s agenda enough. It was that they got too far out in front of their conservative-leaning districts and supported the President too much.
Overall, I found his piece rather persuasive – as Trende styles himself a poor man’s Nate Silver – at least on the narrow question of whether or not a Democrat in a right-leaning district would be hurt by rejecting any controversial measure pushed by Obama. But what he doesn’t deal with is the counterfactual – as there isn’t the data available in the set he is looking for to take this on. (Reading a bit more of Trende, it also seems he isn’t that sympathetic to health care reform or the Democrats – making his adopted pose of concern that a “myth” is “threatening” the Democrats’ power in Washington a bit grating.) While it’s true that Democrats in right-leaning districts might save their seats by opposing cap-and-trade legislation, the stimulus, and health care reform, the party as a whole will undoubtedly suffer from their failure to advance the issues they were most passionate campaigning on.
Kevin Drum – in a post which is overall worth reading about why he is optimistic about reform – makes this persuasive counterpoint:
[I]f they [the Democrats] cave in to the loons and demonstrate that their convictions were weak all along — they’re probably doomed next year. Their only hope is to pass a bill and look like winners who get things done.
This is exactly the counterfactual that Trende doesn’t address – and it was the fear of Bill Kristol and many other Republicans in 1994 that this is exactly what would happen if the Democrats passed a successful health care reform. It clearly seems to be the fear many Republican leaders are feeling now – as they seem determined to resist any pressure to work towards a bill they can accept in favor of simply continuing with the unsustainable status quo.