Don’t Panic: Advice to Democrats from Jonathan Chait

This today at the New Republic:

Remember the classic scene in It’s a Wonderful Life? Facing a run on his building and loan, George Bailey tries to explain to his frantic customers how to look after their self-interest. “Don’t you see what’s happening?” he pleads, “Potter isn’t selling. Potter’s buying! And why? Because we’re panicking and he’s not.” President Obama’s great challenge right now is to be his party’s George Bailey.

Democrats, by contrast, have a congenital tendency to panic. Abandoning health care reform after they’ve already paid whatever political cost that comes from voting for it in both houses would be suicide. Even if Coakley loses, the House could pass the Senate bill as is, avoiding the need to break a filibuster, and tinker with it in a reconciliation bill that can’t be filibustered. The only thing preventing the Democrats from following through would be sheer panic.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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13 Responses to Don’t Panic: Advice to Democrats from Jonathan Chait

  1. jonolan says:

    There’s a flaw in this logic. All the “floor voting” on ObamaCare is over. It never has to go beyond committees at this point and those committees are ruled by Dems.

    There’s no possibility of filibuster at all at this point, insofar as I understand the process.

  2. andrewclunn says:

    Unfortunately this ( ) is more of the reaction your probably going to get. Also, don’t bother with the New Republic. i removed it from my bookmarks just today. it used to at least try to have some varied opinions. Now it’s little more than a french rag.

    • santitafarella says:


      Don’t read the New Republic?! If Ayn Rand makes you incurious and narrows your intellectual horizon, she’s not good for you.


      • andrewclunn says:

        I’m totally fine with differing opinions. But when all you get are articles like this that are essentially meta-debates of how the democrats can best mold PR and gain political ground, then what’s the point? Talking about the pros and cons of a particular healthcare plan? That’s a discussion. Talking about how a political party should handle itself where popularity and support is substituted for being right and polls are supported for facts and positions? That’s not worth my time.

      • santitafarella says:


        Then you’re just reading Chait (which is a political blog at TNR). TNR has substantial book reviews, art criticism, literary criticism, sociological analysis etc.

        Leon Weiseltier of the New Republic is one of the best literary editors in the country. You even get prominant scientists writing for them (like biologist Jerry Coyne). It’s not wise to ignore TNR because you don’t like their Democratic politics and the political wing of the magazine. All urban intellectual magazines are going to lean liberal. Liberalism is part of intellectual culture.


      • andrewclunn says:

        “All urban intellectual magazines are going to lean liberal. Liberalism is part of intellectual culture.”

        What? You can’t really believe that. Tell you what though. I’ll give the New Republic another shot.

      • jonolan says:

        I would never say that Liberalism is part of intellectual culture. It may well be an intrinsic part of the culture created by liberal indoctrination in colleges, but that is hardly an intellectual culture.

      • santitafarella says:

        Jonolan and Andrew:

        I’m not sure what you mean by liberalism then. What I mean by liberalism is simply the set of social values inherited (more or less) from the French Revolution, the American Revolution, and the Enlightenment. Some of those values include such things as secularism, democracy, free speech, feminism, and a repugnance for torture.

        And what’s this thing about college indoctrination? The students in college either are (or are not) adults. If they are adults, and a professor assigns texts or presents opinions that are contrary to their own, as adults they can handle them. In my own college career, as I’m sure is true of yours, I had diverse professors, some of them with outspoken views I found intellectually unsettling or challenging. Guess what? I learned more from them (left and right) because they made me think. Are college students adults or not? Do you really want people to have college encounters in which professors tip toe around issues?


      • andrewclunn says:


        I think you should watch this.

      • andrewclunn says:

        And here’s another:

  3. TomH says:

    I’m not sure that the dems will be able to muster a majority to pass the reconciliation bill, should one ever appear. Many dems seem to be running away from the whole health insurance thing. The Scott/Coakley race hinged on govt. control of health insurance. If it has that big an impact in a very blue state like MA, then that’s got to catch the attention of all the dems.

    Even if the dems use the nuclear option to bypass the filibuster (which I hope they do), then that may end up biting them in the elections of 2010 and 2012. Then the repubs won’t hesitate to return the favor, hopefully assigning a host of liberal programs to the dustbin of history.

  4. santitafarella says:


    I hope that the Democrats push through (as you do) health care reform (before the Republican Massachusetts senator is seated). It will provide clarity to the electorate. If the electorate hates health care reform, and the Democrats go down in flames, at least a choice is being made.


  5. santitafarella says:


    I watched the first video (but not the second yet). With regard to the first video, I don’t share the student’s anti-gay equality views, but so what? I support the student completely. Obviously, no person, under any circumstances, in a liberal society, can coerce conformity of opinion in the fashion portrayed. It’s profoundly illiberal. And I am glad for FIRE as an organization. By the way, I have their legal booklets and one of their videos (because I believe strongly in free speech). Also, several months back, I reviewed one of their films (favorably).

    But here’s the issue: adults have to be able to hear things and learn to dialogue in a civil manner about controversial issues. As a professor myself, I would find it very difficult to teach classes if I felt that I needed to avoid topics because there might be students who don’t care to talk about them. For example, I have, over the years, periodically taught the Bible as Literature on my campus. It’s a class that is offered. You have to teach such a class under the assumption that adults can hear things and talk about controversies (and the premises underlying them).

    As to gay adoption, should the topic come up, or an instructor wants to make it a topic of discussion, an instructor (in my view) should be able to lead class conversation on the topic, welcome alternative views, and even express his or her own. I think that these are all part of free speech and adult discussion. You don’t disagree, do you? You aren’t advocating that certain subjects be avoided among adults in a classroom, are you?

    Lastly, as someone with a lot of classroom experience, I think that one of the skills one would hope students would pick up is self-assertion. In other words, one of the things you’re trying to cultivate in college adults is an opening out of the voice, the ability to assert the I: “I think this,” “I disagree,” “You say this, but I say . . .”

    It’s only the dullest instructors and students who think of education as regurgitation and herding people to collective political agreement. College is about respecting the critical intelligence and views of others, and critical thinking, and finding your own voice and persona (whether as an instructor or as a student).


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