Over at Balloon Juice, David Anderson confronts the question of why do Democrats have to offer up plans that are already a compromise of a compromise, and raises some good points, but I kind of think he’s answering a different question than what was asked. He notes the dangers of overpromising and the problems that the Republicans have had in governing, and this is the key argument:

I would rather under-promise and over deliver than over promise and under deliver.

I also believe that the details matter and an accurate assessment of the current state and a reasonable approximation of future states is critical in doing anything well. I can be accused of having that bias for professional and financial reasons as I am a health policy wonk and figuring out complex systems pays the mortgage. I don’t think that is what drives me, but I will acknowledge that possibility.

I want a political and policy program that has two realistic chances.  The first is that it needs a realistic chance of passing Congress and being signed into law.  The second is that once it is law, it needs to have a realistic chance of actually working and doing what it intends to do without surprising consequences in type or scale.

I can’t argue with these points at all. And yet, I’m not sure this actually answers the why of it, which at this point I think is essentially habit. Bill Clinton comes in for a lot of criticism–much of it deserved–for the choices he made in the 1990s, but it’s not as though triangulation was a wildly insane choice given the context of the 1990s: a more conservative but less polarized country, a Republican Party still willing to cut deals sometimes with Democrats, a great economy. Third Wayism was disappointing but not an altogether insane reaction given those circumstances. It was not at all sane in the context of the early 2010s–whether Obama offered up an incremental, centrist plan that 80% of focus groups supported or Bernie’s health care plan, Republicans weren’t going to pass it, and it didn’t seemingly make much of a difference in terms of gaining approval from the middle. Same was true on immigration, guns, Merrick Garland, etc. There are certainly people who think it was wise of Obama to keep to the center on this stuff but the anemic turnout in 2014 doesn’t exactly bear it out (nor does the anemic turnout in 2016 for Hillary Clinton’s extremely similarly-themed campaign). To be fair, not even all Clinton supporters wanted this kind of campaign, which is why she adopted more of Sanders’s positions. But really, Sanders’s biggest departure was to get Democrats to think big again on issues. This was deemed “irresponsible” by many as there wasn’t a clear path to passage for all of his stuff, but it’s not like there was any more of a path to passage for Clinton’s stuff in a gridlocked Congress, so…

Which is why I think Anderson misses the point of it here. Compromise is a normal part of governing. You can’t always get what you want, and you have to accept what you can get. But precompromising is essentially an outmoded, generation-old strategy to box out the right politically that rests on assumptions that no longer hold: a broadly-growing economy, a broad center that can be reached through normal political appeals, a conservative opposition that is at least willing to consider a win-win proposal, etc. None of that holds, so triangulation is essentially a dead letter (or undead, as I don’t think the institutional party has abandoned it quite yet). But there’s no need for Democrats to keep bothering with it. It’s not pragmatic to cling to an outdated strategy, it’s the opposite.

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