« NASCAR campaigning | Main | Kerry and the Possibility of Greatness »

Losing vs. Losing

Thomas Frank had an interesting op-ed in the Times on Friday, making the point that the constitutional amendment banning gay marriage was not only bound to lose, but was designed to lose, because losing is the only way to reinforce the underlying "narrative" or "pseudopopulist theatre" of the right:

Losing is prima facie evidence that the basic conservative claim is true: that the country is run by liberals; that the world is unfair; that the majority is persecuted by a sinister elite. And that therefore you, my red-state friend, had better get out there and vote as if your civilization depended on it.

This is certainly true. There is no doubt that on gay marriage, the administration at least would rather have the issue than have the ban. That's because they don't actually give a shit what people do; it's just an easy opportunity to stir up some hatred.

But there are different kinds of losing, and I don't think the plan was to get only 48 votes in the Senate. This is hugely significant. The narrative that Frank describes depends on the idea that an elitist minority is blocking the obvious conviction of of most ordinary people that gay marriage is a threat to...something. 48 votes means that the obstacle to the amendment is not that it requires 66 votes in the Senate, and it's not the annoying filibuster rule requiring 60 votes to end debate, it's simply the fact that their majority leader can't deliver the votes of his own Republicans. That's not much of a basis for an electoral crusade. I am pretty sure that if one had asked Rove, Frist, or any of the strategists behind the decision to pursue this issue, "Would you force a vote on this amendment if you thought there was a likelihood you would only get 48 votes?," I'm pretty sure most of them would have said no. It was a huge mistake. To get some benefit from the amendment, they would have to either, win a majority, or win the votes of a few Democrats from swing states in which they currently are running ballot initiatives to ban gay marriage -- for example, Ron Wyden of Oregon, already a profile in cowardice in my view for his support of the Medicare prescription drug bill -- which would legitimate those initiatives and put the Senator in a tough position. But none of this came to pass, and in fact, the most respected Republicans such as McCain instead gave credibility to the idea that conservatives could oppose the amendment.

Early in the time when I worked in the Senate, during the first Bush administration, I once put together an amendment for my boss, an elaborate proposal to take part of the cost of a tax bill, and convert it into spending on urban problems. We knew we would lose, but just wanted to make a point that the bill was skewed in favor of business tax breaks. But because there were a dozen reasons for Senators to oppose Senator Bradley's amendment -- it violated budget rules, it might not benefit their districts, etc. -- I think we got 17 votes. When I got back to my office from the Senate floor that afternoon, a colleague teased me mercilessly: it was fine to offer an amendment just to make a point. But when he did it, he made sure he could get 30 or 35 votes. That's what you needed to make a point. If you only got 16 votes, it meant you just hadn't done a good job and no one would take you or your boss seriously. Of course, he was right. And the threshold for being taken seriously and making a point, as the party in power on an issue that supposedly has majority support, is not 30 votes or 48, but a very solid majority.

But perhaps I take these minutiae of the Senate process too seriously. After all, if no one knows anything about them, they can't have much impact in the outside world, can they?

Posted by Mark Schmitt on July 19, 2004 | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Losing vs. Losing:

» Bmw. Bmw part bmw motorcycle bmw usa bmw m3 bmw car from Godzik Blog
2005 BMW 5-Series. Competition from Acura, Audi and Mercedes-Benz Make AWD 5-Series Reality... [Read More]

Tracked on Jun 24, 2005 7:06:35 AM

» No Worms in this Apple from The Other Corner
Couldn't have said this (or this) better myself. Nowhere in the first amendment does it give someone the right to traffic stolen property... [Read More]

Tracked on Jun 25, 2005 1:20:23 PM

» Conspicuous absenc from Crooked Ti mber
Forbes is the latest magazine trying to capitalize on the blogging thing by holding a best blog competition across various categories. It’s interesting to note that no less than 53% of voters say that the best blog on the economy... [Read More]

Tracked on Jun 28, 2005 10:59:06 AM

» Email, RSS un Wikis from HIRSCgarden
Reiner Langenhan schreibt auf Handakte Von E-Mails zu RSS, in Reaktion auf meinen Beitrag im KMU-Blog: das kann ich nur best䴩gen! Ross Mayfield hat einen recht 䨮lichen Artikel in seinem Blog zu... [Read More]

Tracked on Jun 30, 2005 11:49:15 AM

» Scientists Stunned - Yasser Arafat Returns...As a Small Dog from thing. Tags:
- Arafat | Terrorist | Dead Search Blogs of War: [Read More]

Tracked on May 1, 2006 8:28:47 AM

» With Brand, It's Nice and Warm from wildly popular
ANGELES TIMES. The four-term New York governor is wildly popular in his hometown, [Read More]

Tracked on May 21, 2006 2:47:03 PM

» Not a Total Loss for Cavaliers from appeared imminent,
the Pistons in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals at The Palace of Auburn Hills. [Read More]

Tracked on May 26, 2006 1:46:21 AM

» Dictionary Search Page from Dictionary Search
An unabridged dictionary from aalii to zymurgy, including a pronunciation guide... [Read More]

Tracked on May 27, 2006 3:34:15 AM

» Antonio Davis Hops into the Stands from up his reasons
if I didn't react. There was no time to call security. It happened too quickly. It's [Read More]

Tracked on May 27, 2006 2:15:08 PM

» Italian Charms from ItalianCharms -- Search results
Italian charms has stainless links from companies by Zoppini, Boxing, ReFlorence, Puzzle, Ryry, Talexia & Unodomani... [Read More]

Tracked on May 29, 2006 12:18:45 AM

» September Is Baby Safety Month Swaddleaze, the Award-Winning Baby Swaddler and Sleep Sack, is the Proven Choice in Ultra Safe Sleepwear from of baby products.
URI: http://www.prweb.com/zingpr.php/UGlnZy1UaGlyLVN1bW0tUHJvZi1IYWxmLVplcm8= [Read More]

Tracked on Jun 5, 2006 7:20:59 PM

» Australians back bacterial theory for bowel disease from ike ulcers, Crohn's
ike ulcers, Crohn's disease may respond to antibiotics. [Read More]

Tracked on Jun 14, 2006 2:00:30 AM

» Le Batard: Unbelievable Finish Gives Heat Hope from the Miami Heat
wheezing Heat players falling apart in pieces? With the gunslinging Mavericks [Read More]

Tracked on Jun 20, 2006 10:43:35 PM

» Revamped Airbus Jet Debuts from the plane in
track after the firing of two CEOs and the delayed line of superjumbo planes. [Read More]

Tracked on Jul 24, 2006 12:19:47 PM


But none of that matters. The part that reinforces the narrative is simply that the ammendment failed. What Democrat is going to come back to that with "well you see they didn't get a majority"? The Republican would throw back that THEY will be that majority.

The whole omnipotent liberal elite thing is preposterous anyway, that doesn't stop it from being used, and apparently believed. And the FMA's loss goes a whole lot further in confirming it than any technical explanation can negate.

Posted by: stress | Jul 19, 2004 3:30:55 AM

Well, when the Bush Campaign can use that whole "350 votes to raise taxes" canard to attack Kerry with relatively good effect, it's clear that almost no one in the rest of the US has a clue about how the Senate works, given that most of those votes were procedural, etc., etc.

So, I think stress is sadly right, that all the ordinary voter in the right-wing base will hear is that "the libruls hate marriage". That will work nicely for them, since the base is anti-gay (or at least anti-gay marriage) and they were really the target of this charade. Remember, these are people who get their news, when they get it at all, from Fox and Rush, so they're misinformed in any event.

Posted by: paperwight | Jul 19, 2004 10:54:46 AM

I wrote about Frank and his ideas behind the FMA too - here. I think that Frank (and stress and paperwight) are right about playing to the victim feelings of the people who consider themselves BushCo's base. It's a very effective strategy based in fear.

Posted by: eRobin | Jul 19, 2004 12:55:33 PM

Hmmm. The linked article was an interesting read, especially Nordquist's comment about ignoring the 10% of swing voters and getting the 45% who support Bush to take a relative/friend to the polls with them.

What may make this strategy work is the increasingly effective use of absentee ballots by the Republican party over the past several elections. In theory this is kosher: volunteers go to senior citizen homes and gets them to fill out absentee ballots; or volunteers find friends who typically skip voting and give them an absentee ballot and offer to take it to the post office for them. If you energize enough volunteers, you can greatly bump up the participation rate.

In practice, this lends itself to all kinds of fraud. We saw this in Miami before 2000, and there were numerous absentee ballot problems throughout Florida in 2000, not including the overseas-military ballot issues. Of course, those problems didn't get the same media attention. In some precincts with especially motivated volunteers, voter participation rates hit unheard of levels ... and heavily for Bush.

Indeed, one of the biggest challenges for pollsters has been predicting turnout of the various voter segments. The patterns have changed tremendously in recent years. A big part of the problems with VNS' 2000 election day prediction of Florida for Gore by 7 points was that exit polls showed Gore coming within a few points of Bush with Hispanics in south Florida, but the absentees bumped the turnout much higher than expected and bumped the percentage to over 60% for Bush.

So, look for another big step-up in Republican absentees this year.

Posted by: Dem | Jul 19, 2004 1:19:40 PM

My gosh, is there nothing we can count on? I can see why people don't bother to vote at all.

Posted by: eRobin | Jul 20, 2004 5:42:05 PM

Yes, eRobin, I'm afraid that we can count on Rovian "My Party before My Country" politics.

Posted by: Jeff | Jul 23, 2004 5:45:57 PM

I believe Stress had it right at the top:

"But none of that matters. The part that reinforces the narrative is simply that the ammendment failed."

The failure is the key point here. The actual vote count is much less significant, though I would add that 48 out of 100 votes looks pretty good. Its not enough to get anything done and almost embarassing if you know what was actually needed, but its almost half of the Senate--and that is what most people will think when they see it.

Posted by: Bolo | Jul 28, 2004 12:57:31 PM

I don't understand why Kerry doesn't go after Bush when he makes idiotic statements that distort Kerry's senate record. Right now, Bush is basically capitolizing on the ignorance of the American people about Senate process and procedure, and the significance of various votes.

Why doesn't Kerry (or better yet, ALL the Dems in the Senate) come at Bush and say "It's amazing, after four years here, that you don't understand how the Senate works. Here's what that vote meant (blah blah, explain it). But more importantly, I'm amazed George Bush has been in Washington for 4 years and he's saying he doesn't understand what this vote means. Is he not paying attention, or is he deliberately lying and pretending he doesn't understand, to score political points?"

I mean, the press knows what his "no" vote on the war spending bill meant. It was an attempt to force Bush back to the negotiating table, and even if it couldn't achieve that, it was a protest vote. It was a vote against giving him a blank check. The press knows this. Kerry should stop allowing Bush to capitolize on what is, basically, a big lie. He should call Bush on it, and force the press to pick a side. Here, they'll pick Kerry's.

Posted by: theorajones | Aug 2, 2004 6:16:37 PM