Logic Train: Falling Congressional Numbers and ORM

Toot-toot! It’s Logic Train time people! The reason for our trip into reason this time begins with Kevin Drum over at Political Animal, and his post about the recent drop in polling numbers for Congress released by Washington Post today.

Now, I like Kevin. I think he is a good blogger, knowledgable, and underrated probably due to the fact that he doesn’t scream from the extreme, which I think gives him credibility. I agree with much of what Kevin has to say, particularly when he calls the polling numbers and the past Iraq War funding vote water under the bridge and a natural reaction to the fantasy voters thought they voted into office with the reality of what they got.

It happens every time.

But then, as a parting shot, we get this:

…but I think congressional Dems blew it by caving in to Bush on the war supplemental so quickly. It may well be that they couldn’t have held out forever, but I think there was a big chunk of the public that at least wanted to see them fight harder.

And you know, I get it. I was part of that crowd for a small time too, but never forget who and what I am. I’m not a liberal first. More specifically, I’m a liberal first, but find that only through understanding and playing politics properly can a liberal agenda hope to have any chance of being pushed through. So when the political calculus became apparent, I realized that a brazen showdown between congressional Dems and the White House and the GOP was not in our, meaning liberal, best interest.

What congressional Democrats did was very much akin to ORM, Operational Risk Management, a philosophy carried out, at least, in the Department of the Navy through both its civillian and military employees.

It’s a pretty nifty little process by which you weigh the risks versus the benefits quantitatively and qualitatively, and you decide to act from there. An example was, say you had a dime on your roof. The benefit is that if you go up there and get it, you get a whole ten cents which, when coupled with a few quarters, might buy you a soda. The risks include falling, and breaking something (depending on how big your house is the risk in this area goes up), then there is the risk that you may find your weight being distributed upon a rather weak portion of your roof, putting a hole in it, etc. After identifying all the risks, you find that maybe the dime isn’t worth the loss of life and limb that could possibly ensue.

ORM even comes with color coded cards.

The point here is this is exactly what happened when congress opted out of timelines for funding.

Benefit: We put a definitive end to the war, and back home congressional Dems are welcomed with tickertape parades.

Risks:

-Drop in approval due to Republican success at spinning that Democrats don’t support the troops. Okay, at first to pay heed to this risk may seem like selling out or a lack of a rigid spine, but there is more to it. On one hand, it is about keeping your job, and let’s face it, we all want to keep our jobs right? But on the other hand, the thing that you have to keep in mind is that battles like this are about support, and for those of you who are active in the political process to one degree or another, follow Mr. M’s second rule to politics; Just because you have your opinion, do not think you are in the majority.

Let’s read THE SECOND PAGE of the report that Kevin cites, shall we?

In April, the public, by a 25-point margin, trusted the Democrats over Bush to handle the situation in Iraq. In this poll, Democrats maintained an advantage, but by 16 points. There has been an erosion of support for Democrats on this issue, but not a corresponding movement to Bush. Among independents, trust for the Democrats is down eight points, mostly because of a six-point bump in the percentage who said they trust “neither.”

…In this poll, 55 percent — a new high — said the number of U.S. military forces in Iraq should be decreased, but only 15 percent advocated an immediate withdrawal of American troops. An additional 12 percent said U.S. forces should be out of Iraq sometime this year.

So yeah, Americans are about ending the war, but to what degree? And how? Reading the rest of the report, the support shifts are in the range of about ten or eleven points, which come close to tracking these low teen numbers on who is for an immediate pull out, and for those who are looking at us being out by the end of this year.

What this means, essentially, is that you have a majority of people who want us out of Iraq, but the crystallized get us out now crowd is a rather small minority. The rest of the anti war bloc is in all likelihood non politico moderates, or in other words prone to being swayed if given the proper motivations to.

These are not people who are reading eight different news sites a day and actively wanting the troops home so much as just shaking their heads every time Iraq pops up on their television. Which means that of this population at least some of them are going to be prone to a “Dems don’t support the troops” campaign.

That’s specific, in general, the dangers for eroding Democratic support will touch upon all forms of legislation as support equates to job security, and therefore when support shifts away from Dems, Republicans are strengthened in their ability to either produce a conservative agenda, or at the very least halt a Democratic or liberal agenda.

But this is all the small risk. The big risk being: Bush may choose not to bring the troops home.

This is the single largest flaw in the argument for Democrats to stand up to Bush. Without the power to override a veto Bush has the ability to keep troops there, funded or not, and now the small chunk that you lost in support due to the Democrats don’t support the troops meme is joined by a larger chunk of voters who are now swayed by the Dems are now putting our troops intentionally in harms way without the equipment they need meme.

Remember Mr. M’s second rule of politics? Well, now the majority of Americans who want out of Iraq is neutralized by the bloc that is concerned that our troops are now waging an unfunded war.

There is also the non political math way of looking at this risk as well. A prolonged fight in DC over troop funding with Bush at the helm really could put the troops on the grounded in an unfunded capacity, and they really could be put in increased danger. This is a moral decision, and a difficult one, and maybe if there was some success that it could work, it might be worth the risk. But amid flagging support from the voting public that would occur as a result of the inevitable media blitz, as time drew on, the likelihood that Democrats could succeed under these conditions would drop considerably.

I know this isn’t a popular stance to take on the left. I know it’s much more popular to stand up and boo and say they wimped out, but you know, I like my little logic train, and the problem is, the Logic Train doesn’t take me through this route. It actually takes me through a route that measures risks and benefits, and employs the best political calculus available in order to actually end this war.

In the end, it boils down to a simple idea. The Dems could have fought a very risky battle with little chance of success in order to appease the solidified anti-war left, or they could risk pissing off the anti war left for a little while as they strategically take this war down one piece at a time.

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