Uh, Claire, you got to dance with them what brung you

Previously:

Not really. They forgot about Joe, Evan, Ben, and Mary

Claire Never Fails to Disappoint, Does She?

The Johnson County, Missouri Democratic Club meets monthly on Thursday evenings in downtown Warrensburg. The membership of the club includes Democratic Party activists and a significant number of the members of the Johnson County Democratic Central Committee. A motion addressing health care reform, and specifically, Senator Claire McCaskill's (D) recent statement, in the aftermath of the Massachusetts special senate election was offered under new business by a member of the club and central committee.

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The Dunning-Kruger Effect: Why the uninformed scream the loudest

Technically speaking, I'm a weekend frontpager - but here it is 8:30pm with only four posts today and Jerome busy at Netroots Nation, so I feel it's my duty to step up to the plate. ;) Cross-posted from Blue Moose Democrat.

Now here's an interesting theory that may help explain not just the town hall disruptions but the birther movement and the anti-science crowd too.

We've all seen the clips from yesterday's three most disturbing town hall meetings. Arlen Specter's has gotten a lot of play, and there were several threats of violence outside Obama's New Hampshire meeting (though fortunately everything inside went smoothly). Getting slightly less attention was Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO), who I thought did a pretty good job of handling things.

There's another video of how McCaskill handled things after the police had to escort a protestor out of the room, but I think the money quote is from the video above: "I don't understand this rudeness... Do you all think that you're persuading people when you shout out like that?" That's a good question, and one I asked a few weeks ago about abortion protestors. How can anyone possibly think that shouting is more intellectual or effective than reasoning? "I'm sorry, you almost won the vote, but you were two decibels shy!"

A relative of mine showed me a science blog that suggests the answer is the Dunning-Kruger effect, defined by Wikipedia as

an example of cognitive bias in which "...people reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices but their incompetence robs them of the metacognitive ability to realize it". They therefore suffer an illusory superiority, rating their own ability as above average. This leads to a perverse result where people with less competence will rate their ability more highly than people with relatively more competence. It also explains why competence may weaken the projection of confidence because competent individuals falsely assume others are of equivalent understanding. "Thus, the miscalibration of the incompetent stems from an error about the self, whereas the miscalibration of the highly competent stems from an error about others."

In other words, people who can't get it think they actually get it better than everone else and people who do get it think everyone else can too. It is the affliction of those whose arguments have been completely destroyed and are left with no evidence, and yet think they won the debate anyway - like the birthers. It is also why the smart ones don't understand the failure to communicate and keep pressing. If this theory sounds overly simplistic or arrogant, it's worth pointing out that it's based on a study by two Cornell professors called "Unskilled and Unaware of it." It certainly explains a lot about the national discourse.

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Are Moderates The New Partisans?

At a Vermont Democratic Party event honoring Howard Dean, Dean made a passionate plea to Vermont legislators to pass a marriage equality bill. I'll take it as a sign of progress that Dean's remarks were not the most noteworthy thing about the article covering the event.

A little further down the page, I found this:

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., the evening's second keynote speaker...called for greater political courage in the coming years.

"We need both the courage of our convictions and the courage to compromise," she said. "Sometimes compromise is the only way forward, especially in the United States Senate."

She ridiculed Republican efforts to slow the administration's economic policies.

"They drove the car in the ditch and now they want us to take driving lessons from them," she said. "The nerve."

Senator McCaskill, who is part of Evan Bayh's moderate coalition in the Senate, has been one of many redstate Democrats whose standard mantra has been to get away from "partisan bickering" and reach across the aisle, yet here she is targeting Republicans as the ones who are to blame for obstructing the president's agenda. I guess it should come as no surprise that Democrats who had formerly enabled Republicans by insisting on cooperation with them would now turn to throwing red meat to scapegoat them; it takes the heat off the real obstructors of the progressive agenda: moderate Democrats themselves. Once upon a time it was we angry bloggers who were the partisan flamethrowers; now we're the ones challenging Democrats to be better and it's the post-partisan crowd throwing the flames at Republicans. Go figure.

Now let me be clear, Senator McCaskill is not an active obstructor of anything that I'm aware of. As far as I'm concerned, she's a good faith partner with President Obama in the Senate. But her alliance with Bayh and the other pro-business Democrats who call themselves moderate to hide the fact that their most important constituents are the businesses in their states, gives them political cover. It is Bayh and co. who are actively threatening two pillars of Obama's agenda (and that's just for starters): cap and trade climate change legislation and a cram-down housing bill that would allow judges to write down mortgages to help people stay in their homes. While Senator Bayh has spoken the empty rhetoric of compromise, what he is doing here is no less than threatening to hold Obama's agenda hostage in the name of business interests. Senator McCaskill, I wish you'd turn your sights to the real obstructors and turn your pleas of real compromise to your fellow "moderate" Senators.

For a revealing and maddening look at why and how a few business-friendly Democrats may just succeed at watering down (at best) and scuttling (at worst) elements of the president's agenda, check out Jonathan Chait's must-read article in TNR. Here, for me is the nut of the piece:

Some moderate Democrats seem to suffer from a conflation of their own fund-raising strategies with responsible fiscal policy. The Wall Street Journal reported, of a group of Democratic Senate centrists, "Their stated goal is to rein in deficits and to protect business interests." In fact, this is not a goal but two often-conflicting goals, and neither is synonymous with "the national interest." This sort of behavior didn't hurt Bush because his agenda largely was synonymous with business interests. But the Democratic agenda isn't, and Democratic confusion of the two is poisonous.

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A Mandate For The Middle?

On Wednesday, desmoinesdem posted about Evan Bayh's moderate Senate working group and asked "Does it matter?" In and of itself, I think the formation of the group is rather benign and could, as desmoinesdem suggests, even serve as cover for redstate Dems, but the recent activity of a subset of that group is fulfilling our worst fears:

A bloc of Senate Democratic moderates is quietly maneuvering to keep open the option of vetoing two of President Barack Obama's most ambitious agenda items this year -- climate change and health care reform.

Eight Democrats who want to water down new climate change legislation have already joined with Republicans and signed a letter opposing any attempt to use fast-track budget rules to prevent filibusters. Many of the same Democrats also oppose using those budget rules to prevent filibusters of health care legislation.

If you saw Sen. Mark Begich -- who is in Bayh's 15-member working group but did not sign the letter -- on Rachel Maddow last night, you know some of these moderates are on the defensive now. Case in point: Sen. Claire McCaskill over at her Tumblr blog:

I worked hard to help elect President Obama. I believe he will be a terrific President because he understands that change means listening and compromise, not political posturing. The way forward is almost always up the middle. I look forward to helping the President find that way forward on health care, energy, and our struggling economy. The left and the right shouting at each other hasn't gotten much done. Red vs Blue hasn't been very successful either.

I always try to be an independent voice for Missouri. I evaluate every issue, not as a party vote, but as a policy vote.  There is nothing about the group of moderate Democrats that undermines President Obama. Just the opposite, I believe we can help bring people together around good policy and get away from some of the nasty partisan food fights that have blocked real progress for so long.

Senator McCaskill doesn't have to prove her pro-Obama bona fides to me but she needs to realize that as long as she's associating with the Bayh, Landrieu, Lincoln crowd she will be tainted by that association. These are Senators who insist on joining with Republicans to proudly and publicly statie their intention to obstruct President Obama's agenda by refusing to allow major...and moderate...reforms such as Obama's health care and climate plans, to pass on simple majority vote -- ya know, what Barack Obama and Democrats got in November. Barack Obama spent more than a year running on his agenda and this so-called "center-right" country of ours signed off on it by overwhelmingly electing him president and adding to Democratic majorities to enable him to enact that agenda. The idea that moving President Obama's agenda to the right is somehow moving to the middle is ridiculous; empowering the minority is not "working from the middle" it's simply moving toward an extremist position for the sake of compromise for its own sake.

Senator McCaskill, I know we're on the same team here, I just hope you'll exercise some of that independence and resist the worst instincts of some of your fellow moderates rather than helping to enable the watering down of an agenda already ratified by "the middle" last November.

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Bayh rolls out "Moderate Dems Working Group": Does it matter?

Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana announced plans in December to form an equivalent of the Blue Dog caucus in the Senate. Today his office rolled out the Moderate Dems Working Group:

WASHINGTON - A diverse group of 15 Senate Democrats today announced the formation of a new moderate coalition that will meet regularly to shape public policy. The group's goal is to work with the Senate leadership and the new administration to craft common-sense solutions to urgent national problems.

The Moderate Dems Working Group will meet every other Tuesday before the Democratic Caucus lunch to discuss legislative strategies and ideas. The Moderate Dems held their second meeting Tuesday to focus on the upcoming budget negotiations and the importance of passing a fiscally responsible spending plan in the Senate.

Leading the new group are Democratic Senators Evan Bayh of Indiana, Tom Carper of Delaware and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas. Both Senators Bayh and Carper were successful governors before coming to the Senate. Senators Lincoln and Carper bring bicameral experience to the group as former members of the House of Representatives. All three leaders are honorary co-chairs of Third Way, a progressive Democratic policy group, and Senators Bayh and Carper have led the centrist Democratic Leadership Council.

At the working group meeting, Senator Bayh acknowledged that such a large group was unlikely to agree on all major issues before the Senate. Yet the Moderate Dems are joined by a shared commitment to pursue pragmatic, fiscally sustainable policies across a range of issues, such as deficit containment, health care reform, the housing crisis, educational reform, energy policy and climate change.

In addition to Senators Bayh, Carper and Lincoln, others joining the group are Senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennet of Colorado, Mark Begich of Alaska, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Herb Kohl of Wisconsin, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Bill Nelson of Florida, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, and Mark Warner of Virginia.

A few things jumped out at me:

15 members is a quarter of the Democratic Senate caucus. That's proportionally larger than the Blue Dog caucus in the House.

Look how many first-term senators have joined up with Bayh: McCaskill from the class of 2006 and Udall, Begich, Hagan, Shaheen and Warner from the class of 2008.

Of the Moderate Dems, only Bennet, Lincoln and Bayh are up for re-election in 2010. Lincoln and Bayh are not expected to face tough challenges.  

Of the Moderate Dems, only Lincoln, Landrieu, Begich and Ben Nelson represent states carried by John McCain. Why did the others rush to join a caucus that (based on Bayh's record) will try to water down President Barack Obama's agenda?

Back in December Matthew Yglesias advanced a very plausible hypothesis about Bayh's agenda:

With Republicans out of power, the GOP can't really block progressive change in exchange for large sums of special interest money. That creates an important market niche for Democrats willing to do the work. It was a good racket for the House Blue Dogs in 2007-2008 and there's no reason it couldn't work for Senate analogues over the next couple of years.

Bayh's press release includes a ludicrous quote from Harry Reid:

Of the working group's formation, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said, "If we are going to deliver the change Americans demanded and move our country forward, it will require the courage to get past our political differences and get to work. Established organizations like Third Way and new ventures like this group offer us a new opportunity to get things done, and I support every effort that puts real solutions above political posturing."

Raise your hand if you believe that Bayh's group is going to offer "a new opportunity to get things done."

The only good I can imagine coming of Bayh's venture is if the group gives some political cover to Democratic senators representing red or purple states, making it harder for Republicans to tie them to liberal bogeymen.

This optimistic scenario would pan out only if the Moderate Dems do not consistently vote as a bloc with Bayh. Earlier this month, David Waldman/Kagro X analyzed some Senate votes in which Bayh supported Republican amendments. If you click that link you'll see that various senators named in today's press release did not vote with the Bayh/Republican position.

For that reason, Waldman greeted today's news with a big yawn and doesn't seem worried that the Moderate Dems will do anything other than help Bayh show off how "moderate" he is.

The Russians say one should "hope for the best but prepare for the worst." As a Democrat who wants President Obama to succeed, I hope Waldman is right and the "Moderate Dems" are just using Bayh to bolster their "centrist" image.

On the other hand, if Bayh's group develops along the path envisioned by Yglesias, which I consider more likely, then Democrats really should prepare for the worst in 2010. The severe recession may make next year a tough environment for the president's party to begin with. If Democrats carrying water for corporate interests sink "the change we need," Democratic base turnout could drop significantly, as it did in 1994. Most of the Moderate Dems Working Group members will not face the voters until 2012 and 2014, but their obstruction could harm many other Congressional Democrats.

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