But You Did It First

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After the election in November, I wondered whether all the talk from Democratic leaders about finally running things as uniters rather than dividers would ever come to anything. The answer turns out to be no. Straight out of the Washington Post:

House Democrats intend to pass a raft of popular measures as part of their well-publicized plan for the first 100 hours. They include tightening ethics rules for lawmakers, raising the minimum wage, allowing more research on stem cells and cutting interest rates on student loans.

But instead of allowing Republicans to fully participate in deliberations, as promised after the Democratic victory in the Nov. 7 midterm elections, Democrats now say they will use House rules to prevent the opposition from offering alternative measures, assuring speedy passage of the bills and allowing their party to trumpet early victories.

The "but you did it first, so it's ok for me to do it too" mentality seems to have replaced Speaker Pelosi's earlier assurances that things would change with Democrats involved. A lot of people voted for Democrats to get the Republicans out of control. Issues of corruption and how government is run were front and center, even if those weren't the only issues people cared about. This move, therefore, seems to me to frustrate the intent of those voters who wanted to remove Republicans from control of Congress primarily because they were led to believe Democrats would do things differently. They should feel betrayed.

The article goes on to show how Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, in contrast to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), is going to be true to his word and to the spirit of the election. Some House Democrats, including at least one committee chair, will be joining him in demonstrating sincerity with respect to the complaints about Republican leadership that the Democrats have been making for years. Pelosi and Hoyer, on the other hand, must have had no interest in the principle behind their complaints, since they're happy to continue the same practices. They just didn't like its consequences for them and their favored policies.

I should note that they're saying the iron fist rule will only last for their initial agenda, and then they'll let the Republicans have some influence, but that's like saying that it's wrong for someone to slander you but then to do it back for a short time before calling it quits after you've had some fun with it. If it's wrong to do it, then it's wrong to do it for a brief time before stopping it later. Don't say it's wrong to do it to begin with if you aren't going to refrain from doing it yourself when you get the opportunity. It also raises doubts about how serious they are about stopping it once they're done with their initial fun. So I have to say that this is at best an inconsistency and probably something more like outright hypocrisy. It's hard to make the hypocrisy call, since everyone stumbles and does something they consider wrong. Real hypocrisy takes some sort of track record of speaking against it while doing it. Whether this is hypocrisy depends on how long they've been contemplating doing things this way and how long they will end up doing it, and we can't know either of those things right now. So it may be hypocrisy, but it's an inconsistency either way and one they've been unwilling to back down on once it's been brought into the public light. That at least moves it closer to hypocrisy.

On the other hand, certain Republicans really have no right to complain except to point out the inconsistency (and possibly hypocrisy) of the Democratic House leadership. They have no right to complain on principle, since they did the same thing. Republicans who weren't part of that still can't complain on behalf of the Republicans in general either, though they can state that it is wrong if they didn't personally endorse it. Also, the following position is neither inconsistent nor hypocritical: "There really isn't anything wrong with the way the Republicans ran the House for 12 years, but those who acted as if it was wrong cannot themselves then go and do the same thing." If the Republican complaints are restricted to that sort of thing, I wholeheartedly endorse them.

The iron fist rule of the House isn't the only issue. Corruption, probably an issue even more on the minds of voters in November, has been a real problem for Democrats too. How serious is Speaker Pelosi going to be about ethics cleanups? She's already shown her favor for people with known ethics issues in her choices for high positions. She favored Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) for Majority Leader, despite his Abscam problems. He didn't get the position, but not because Pelosi had anything to do with it. Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL) had been in line to chair the Intelligence Committee, but Pelosi in his case ended up finally giving in to pressure not to give him that job because of his ethics problems in the 80s as a judge. Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), her choice to chair the Judiciary Committee, has issues with using Congressional staff for a number of personal uses, including some pretty grievous use of Congressional staff for babysitting and even full time nanny duties. Again, Republicans may well have no platform from which to complain except to point out the hypocrisy on the part of the Democratic leaders who have been fashioning themselves to be above this stuff. But I do think that point ought to be made. We've traded corruption for corruption, and conservatives and moderates who voted for Democrats on issues unrelated to policy should now be regretting what they've helped cause. Not only did they not achieve what they wanted, but they allowed people with very different policy goals to take control.


This move, therefore, seems to me to frustrate the intent of those voters who wanted to remove Republicans from control of Congress primarily because they were led to believe Democrats would do things differently. They should feel betrayed.

Jeremy: I didn't have anyone to vote for in the congressional races this year but, if I had, I certainly would have voted Democratic. And I don't think what you've described comes anywhere close to the charge of "betrayal." Pelosi and her fellow Democrats made it very clear that she had an agenda for the first 100 hours, that she intended to work hard to pass that agenda, but that she also intends to work with the Republican leadership; that doesn't mean that she will accede to every Republican procedural demand. And frankly, given the non-collegial way Congress has been run by the Republicans in recent years, I am surprised at Pelosi's willingness to be as accomodating as she says she intends to be. I expect her to do something about that, and think she will be rightly judged on whether she follows through on that promise. But she has not been disingenuous about her agenda for the first 100 hours.

It is also ridiculous to suggest on January 4th that "we've traded corruption for corruption." First, I infer from your comments that you did not vote Democratic if you had the chance to vote so you played no role in the "trade." So you are exonerated on that score! Second, how you can equate these early moves on the first day of the new Congress to the level of corruption, the unwillingnes to exercise oversight responsibility of the executive branch, and the shutout of Democrats in committee, evident in the last six years of Republican rule, is beyond me.

We all wish our country well. You will do yourself no harm by giving the new Democratic Congress a chance to do something of substance before drawing these kinds of overblown conclusions.


I was surprised that she had said it too. I didn't expect her to see the election for what it was but instead to see it in the triumphalistic, smug way that Schumer saw it. But given that she saw it the way she did, and given that she said what she said, she seems to be very clearly breaking a promise that she made to the American people. There's no getting around that. As I said, saying that this promise-breaking will only be temporary doesn't serve as an excuse or a justification any more than saying that you're just going to steal a little bit and then stop excuses or justifies the stealing. Wrong is wrong, even if you don't intend to do it forever.

No, I did not vote Democratic in this election. I wasn't fooled by those who argued that teaching corrupt Republicans a lesson is best done by voting in people who will do things I think are very wrong. I happen to be represented in the House by someone I very much like, and I voted for him, and he won.

As for corruption, the people I named have issues that go back a long way. With Hastings, it's decades. With the other two, it's years. My point is that Pelosi, in some of her earliest moves, was endorsing people with very corrupt pasts for high positions. That is indeed corruption. People were getting upset at Dennis Hastert not being as hard on Mark Foley, and it wasn't clear he even knew the extent of what Foley was doing. Pelosi, on the other hand, has all the information we have.

Did you bother to read my first post, where I was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and warning about how they could easily screw it up? They did exactly what I was hoping they would not do, before they even had a chance to let their legislative record indicate how we should view them. I will examine their substantive legislative proposals independently of this stuff, of course. But that doesn't mean they haven't started off on the wrong foot, and it doesn't mean that I shouldn't point out when they've done something immoral even before they start their substantive work.

What exactly was the promise she made that you're saying was broken? It's hard to evaluate without her actual words in front of us.

I couldn't find her whole speech, but two things she promised were "to restore stability and bipartisanship" and "to lead the most honest, most open and most ethical Congress in history".

There are some specifics here and here but without exact quotes from her.

Here's an article on Pelosi's proposed Minority Bill of Rights from 2004.

Seems premature to say she's breaking a promise to "restore stability and bipartisanship" -- esp. if she didn't say anything about when that would be done in temporal relation to keeping other promises. As for leading "the most open and most ethical Congress in history," well, who knows? I don't have the historical knowledge needed to know how tough the competition is, or what her prospects are for attaining that, but I wouldn't imagine that's been ruled out by anything that's happened so far.

I think it's fair to say that she was speaking about when they took control, not about after the first 100 days. Not saying it doesn't mean it didn't carry that implicature. She also clearly stated how she expects a minority party ought to be treated in her Minority Bill of Rights, and the mere fact that the majority party at the time didn't give it to her doesn't mean she should stop thinking those things are morally required of the majority party just because she's now in the majority.

"Breaking a promise" seems a pretty strong charge for what you've got here. She promises "to restore stability and bipartisanship" and you already charge her breaking that promise b/c you think you can detect in it an implicature to the effect that that will be the very first thing she does? And it isn't as if, even at this very early point, she's done nothing to promote bipartisanship. Give her a chance!

Sending a message in a political speech that you are going to do something counts as promising it. It doesn't matter if it's through language that doesn't explicitly state exactly what you're going to do. If you say something that very clearly has the implicature that you're going to do something, I think that counts as a promise.

I am giving her a chance. She can always back down from this. She can later on do what she's still saying she'll do. There's plenty of time for her eventually to do what she clearly indicated she believed the majority party has the obligation to do. That doesn't mean it's right for her to do this, and I think that should be noted. Her legislation will be judged on its own merits, and her later action will be judged on its own merits. That doesn't preclude commenting on this now. None of what I'm saying counts as a prediction that she will never do anything right or that this next Congress will be forever bogged down by all of the problems of the previous Congress.

It does strike me as very strange that key elements of corruption have continued on despite the very clear message that that's supposed to be ending now, and I think people who voted on corruption issues thinking that a change in leadership would change things should feel betrayed by some of the things that she's already done. I don't see why it's so bad to point that out, and I don't see how pointing it out constitutes not giving her a chance on anything else she might do. It just means her chance on these immediate decisions has been lost. She made some of them the wrong way.

Jeremy, you said: I think people who voted on corruption issues thinking that a change in leadership would change things should feel betrayed by some of the things that she's already done. Well, here's what the House did today:

"The House of Representatives today passed budget rule changes to rein in pork-barrel spending and reinstitute pay-as-you-go guidelines, requiring tax cuts or spending increases on entitlement programs to be offset in the budget to avoid swelling deficits. . . .

In other action, the House also adopted a rule to limit the ability of House leaders to hold roll-call votes open for hours in order to pressure members and to ensure that minority representatives are included in the House-Senate conference committees that reconcile different versions of legislation. Democrats portrayed the change as remedying past abuses by Republican leaders. The vote was 430-0."

Source: Washington Post

And here's what it did yesterday:

"Unexpectedly broad ethics rule changes that the House passed Thursday are putting new pressure on the Senate.

Saying they were responding to voter backlash against Congressional corruption that helped them take control, House Democrats went beyond some of the ethics proposals on which they had campaigned.

The new House rules bar members from taking gifts, meals or trips paid for by lobbyists, or the organizations that employ them. The rules also ban lawmakers from using corporate jets and reimbursing the owners. A further proposal would also eliminate major loopholes from earlier drafts, in requirements for lawmakers to disclose sponsorship of pet spending projects, or earmarks, and tax breaks they hide in complex legislation."

Source: Washington Post

She promised, and she's delivering. She has betrayed no trust so far as I can tell. I'm glad you say you're giving her chance. I think she might surprise you.

Yes, these are the things she's been saying they would do without Republican amendments offered or variations discussed. There have been some criticisms of these stricter rules, including some that sound legitimate to me. This really restricts the speech of advocacy groups, according to one complaint I heard.

Just because she's delivering on some promises doesn't mean she's betrayed none.

I notice that she passed one of the items from the Minority Bill of Rights, but the way they passed all this stuff would have violated it if it had already been in effect as she had wanted back in mid-2004.

None of this is a surprise, though. This was all part of the public plan. It's not as if this was pulled out of the woodwork, and it's not as if she's going to start banning abortion or downsizing welfare.

So far as I've seen, she never promised to enact the Minority Bill of Rights she had proposed in 2004 if she became speaker in '07. Proposing a bill is not a promise (not explicit or implicit; it's just not a promise at all) to enact its measures whenever you might get the power to do so in the further future. In politics, proposing a bill is often a bargaining move: Sometimes you propose more than you want so when the other side makes a counter-proposal, it might be closer to what you actually want. In fact, there's often an element of you'd-better-take-this-now-cause-there's-no-promise-you'll- ever-be-able-to-get-these-terms-again to it. The only relevant promise concerning bipartisanship identified here so far is the extremely vague promise "to restore stability and bipartisanship." Note that this is not a promise -- not even implicitly -- to do this in any particular way that any potential critic might see fit. And it sounds like she's already taken measures to begin to do this. Maybe not everything you happen to like, but she never promised that anyway. So far, I see no grounds for a charge of breaking promises here.

I think we just disagree on what constitutes a promise. If you say you're going to do something, and it carries a clear implicature in the context that goes beyond your literal words, especially if you deliberately intended that implicature, then I think you've promised to do what the implicature includes.

I do also think proposing a bill counts as an endorsement of the bill as something that ought to be passed.

Now politicians do break promises all the time, and sometimes it's the lesser of two evils, but this is extremely early to be breaking a promise.

I think our real disagreement is that I don't see any "clear implicature" in this case -- though I'm open to hearing an account of the form, "Here's what she said, and here's why that generates a clear implicature that ..." I hesitate to draw a conclusion that someone has broken a promise without seeing where the promise was clearly made.

I think saying she would restore bipartisanship, in the context of what the Republicans had done to the Democrats when she was in power and in the context of her having offered a Minority Bill of Rights only to have it ignored, carries the implicature that she would be doing the kind of thing that she had asked for from the Republicans. I think her inclusion of some of these provisions in the first 100 hours was a good thing, but it's strange to include provisions in the first 100 hours that she wouldn't follow before they were passed. I would expect if she had thought them moral imperatives that she'd follow them even before they were passed.

I also think the statement about leading the most open, uncorrupt Congress in history carries the implicature that she would appoint people without long-standing ethical suspicions or even ongoing, unaddressed ethical issues.

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