Thursday, February 7, 2008

Losing by Winning
Mike Rappaport

Maimon's response to my posts (the first one is here) on McCain is characteristically thoughtful.  I agree that he makes some good points about what might happen if McCain loses.  And they scare me too.  Socialized medicine, premature withdrawel from Iraq, a leftist judiciary -- they are all quite possible under Obama or Clinton.  But Maimon overreaches a bit.  Unrestricted immigration from Mexico?  That's what the Kennedy-McCain bill would have produced.

The problem with these predictions is that they are too easy.  Yes, they seem obvious and vivid, but the world does not work this way.  As my examples of winning by losing involving Ford and Bush I have shown, politics is less predictable than this.  So lets think a bit about immigration.  If the Democrats have the Presidency and both houses, one can expect the Republicans to unify and fight.  They will be able to filibuster any outrageous immigration bills that Hillary and Ted Kennedy attempt.   By contrast, if McCain makes a deal on immigration with Kennedy, then it will be quite difficult  to fillibuster and stop it.  If you care about stopping illegal immigration, my guess is that we are better off without McCain in the White House.

What about premature withdrawel from Iraq?  I think it will be very hard for a Democratic President to do that.  If the surge continues until January 2009 and things remain stable until then, what does Hillary do?  Start to withdraw troops?  And when the bombs explode, who will be blamed?  No, I think Hillary will recognize this problem and will not withdraw very quickly.  Perhaps Obama would start to withdraw, but I don't think he would get very far.  The political system might come up and bite him.  I don't mean to sound too certain about this.  I am not.  But I think Maimon's predictions are way too certain on the other side.

Maimon also predicts socialized medicine, and this is the scariest possibility.  Yet even here, one should not give up all hope.  After all, remember what happened the last time Hillary attempted to use a Democratic White House and Congress to pass health care. 

Notice that Maimon says nothing about the Republicans' winning by losing with Ford and Bush.  Imagine what Maimon would have said if I told him Bush I should lose to Bill Clinton, because he will lead to Republican strength.  Well, I am not sure I have to imagine it.  I knew Maimon and I believe I made that argument to him.  I am sure I made it to our co-blogger Gail Heriot, who if memory serves, wasn't too impressed.

Finally, let me add one more example.  Did the Republicans win by losing the Congress in 2006?   Hard to say, but let me make the case.  It is often said, and I am inclined to believe it, that President Bush only decided to push the surge when it became clear that the Democrats would be taking over the Congress.  He knew then that time was limited and he had to do something.  If the Republicans had won, we might still have too few troops in Iraq and a catastrophe on our hands.  If the Democratic takeover was the cause of the surge -- a big if, I grant you -- then the signal achievement of Bush's second term was due to winning by losing. 

Let me conclude with this point.  I suspect that I have convinced very few of you of my position.  The basic problem, I believe, is that it all seems so speculative: It could happen, but is it likely?   But I think the various examples I have given suggest that our ability to predict matters in politics is not very good.  We see through the glass only darkly.  If winning by losing happens as often as I suggest, then it could be far more common and likely than it seems.  That would mean in cases where winning by winning seems unlikely -- where we have to compromise on our principles in order to win -- we may be better off by not making that compromise.

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Mike Rappaport


I see your arguments as thoroughly compelling, just a couple things though. I think it is just as hard to predict politics as it is to determine motives of politicians. Therefore, I do not know what motivated Bush to push the surge, and your explanation seems highly probably, but it is not definite. In history, while I am sure that there were a few who would have rather not had Bush 1 a second term or had Ford lost, I think the party and base still rallied for the closest candidate to conservatism in those races. If we lose, then maybe it was meant to be, but just because it has worked out in the past doesn't mean it will work out this time around and I am not sure I am willing to hedge my bets.

I do like your argument that McCain has to work to get us to vote for him, because as memory serves me, he thinks it is the exact opposite. From a few of his speeches (I have not heard the CPAC speech yet) he wants the party to unite behind him because he has the majority. There are two problems with that sentiment:
1. I have never seen a politician who believes the voters have to give him or her a reason why not to vote for them. Party is not and should never be a given.
2. He does NOT have a majority. We had turn out sometimes half of the Democrats. He by no means has the momentum or the votes to win an election yet.

For the IDEOLOGY's sake (not the party) McCain has to prove to the conservatives (or fusionists) that he is their candidate, and while not perfect, will stand on the same base of principles and at the very least surround himself with that base.

P.S. Any spot for Newt in that lineup?

Posted by: Chris Heinsen | Feb 7, 2008 9:12:42 PM