WINNING BY LOSING. Ezra's fine article in the print edition reminds us that the Republican approach to policy was not just to pass what they thought were good ideas, but to use policy to disembowel their enemies. He does a fine job of identifying some strategies that are not only good policy, but would help break down the right-wing power structure.

As is so often the case when one looks at the recent Republican racket, he could have gone one level deeper in cynicism. Ezra writes that the GOP priorities of "tort reform, unflinching support for Israel, and deunionization [are] policies that would either flip or impoverish lawyers, unions, and Jews, thus eliminating the three primary funding sources for the Democrats."

Taken that way, the strategy would seem like a failure. Jews, unions, or trial lawyers are neither impoverished nor flipped. (Unions are impoverished relative to the past, but still, their financial clout in politics is larger than their membership, and probably is used more effectively today than a dozen years ago. While Republicans flipped part of the Jewish vote -- the Orthodox, in particular -- in 2004, it appears to have flipped back, with exit polls reporting that 87% of Jewish voters supported Democrats. )

But part of the strategy was also how to win even by losing. Part of the strategy of tort reform, and particularly the attack on unions known as "paycheck protection," was simply to divert the resources of those constituencies into the fight over their own interests. As long as the unions were fighting paycheck protection initiatives in various states (requiring unions to allow members to withhold what portion of their dues that goes to political activity), then the unions weren't operating as part of a broad progressive coalition or working to elect good people or working on health insurance. Similarly, if trial lawyers are defending their own turf, they're not working as the base of progressive politics, as they do in so many Southern states where unions don't play that role. And losing is as good as winning, because it means that you can come back year after year with the same fight.

So when you hear people say things like, "the Democratic/progressive coalition is really just a bunch of narrow special interests," remember that there are also policies and policy fights that have the effect of exacerbating the narrowness and self-interest.

So if you want to be that cynical (and it's not easy, if you're not born that way) you want to think about policies that create fights that in themselves help to break up the Republican coalition. Stem cell initiatives probably had that effect, perhaps initiatives on things like banking regulation would take some key parts of the conservative coalition out of the game and focused on self defense.

--Mark Schmitt

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