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Joe Lieberman: Smarter Than Br’er Fox

This is what Atrios wrote six days ago:

Since all the dirty hippies decided that the public option was what mattered, it was probably inevitable that it would go (I don’t know this, I’m hopefully mostly kidding). Pissing off the hippies is what “moderates” do, and as most of them don’t have a clue about policy anyway, if the hippies are for it then they know it must be bad.

Along those lines, dirty fucking hippies like digby shouldn’t they think lowering the Medicare age is a good idea, because if so it won’t happen.

Next time there’s a major piece of legislation, I hope “The Left” can organize around supporting all the stuff they actually don’t like and rejecting all the stuff that they actually do. We might just trick the “moderates” that way.

…adding, in practice I think any “compromise” which will make liberals sort of happy will just be a shiny object which will be pulled away at the last second.

I thought this was a rather prescient bit of analysis at the time — and it appears especially so now, after the Medicare buy-in compromise has apparently collapsed on news that Joe Lieberman, possibly among others, won’t support it.

The problem with the Medicare-buy in compromise was that it wasn’t really a compromise. Unless you were making a singular fetish out of having something called the “public option” in the bill, it appeared to be at least as good and probably better from a policy standpoint than the “public option” in its current, dilapidated state. And also, it accomplished largely the same objective: giving some fraction of consumers an additional choice of health insurance, one which would be provided by the public sector.

Indeed, it was a br’er rabbit compromise but do please, Senart’er — don’t fling me in dat brier-patch — one which could draw progressives into the brier patch kicking and screaming — and secretly thrilled with themselves.

But, alas, there was no particular reason to think this would work. Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson are a lot of things, but they’re smarter than br’er fox. And maybe liberals made things a bit too easy on them by not protesting loudly enough.

Indeed, I think you can make a plausible case with Lieberman — not so much Nelson — that his objective really is to make liberals suffer, especially the (online) progressives who supported the Ned Lamont campaign. The br’er rabbit compromise didn’t really accomplish that objective — it didn’t force liberals to suffer much, if at all. For someone like Nelson, the motivations were different and somewhat less vulgar — Nebraska is one of the few states where the public option isn’t especially popular and Nelson is near the top of the list of Senators that receive the most money from the insurance industry. But the outlook was the same: this wasn’t a compromise that served any of Ben Nelson’s goals.

So what do Lieberman and Nelson want? I think they’ve actually made this rather clear. They want liberals to give up the public option and not get anything for it. If liberals do, they’ll probably get a health care bill. If they don’t, they probably won’t.

After the promise of the br’er rabbit compromise, that’s going to feel like a huge setback for the liberals. But it really isn’t: objectively speaking, liberals are in pretty much exactly the same position that they were a week ago, in a position where it appeared that they they had to simply capitulate on the public option if they wanted health care reform. You capitulate, and you probably get Lieberman’s vote (although his mendacity should not be overlooked), you may get Ben Nelson’s vote (although the abortion issue is another hurdle), you may get Olympia Snowe’s vote, and you may get Susan Collins’ vote. There’s also the drug importation issue, which is somewhat orthogonal to all of this. So no guarantees. But — I’m not going to put an exact percentage on it — you’re somewhere safely north of 50 percent for passing a bill.

But of course, politics isn’t purely objective: it’s a people business, and now you have some people (liberals) who are going to lose a lot more face than they would have by making the same capitulation a week ago, and moreover will have to lose it to Joe Lieberman, a person whom they singularly detest. So, while I know what I think should happen here, I just don’t know that it will.

Nate Silver is the founder and editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.