Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Minority's Dilemma

The following is from an email sent today by former Colorado Senate Majority Leader and Democrat, Ken Gordon, of Denver. Ken is far more prescient and introspective than most politicians that I know and I thought his piece would be of fairly broad interest:

The Minority’s Dilemma: It seems that a majority of the country is willing to give President Obama a chance. Most Americans recognize that he came into a difficult situation and they are hoping his program will be successful in helping with the economy, the war, the environment, etc. Yet Republican elected officials seem to be less supportive.

I was in the minority in the Colorado Legislature for ten years so I have some familiarity with the quandary facing minority parties.

I think it is useful to create a decision box. On the vertical axis we have two possibilities. The minority can either support the President’s program or they can oppose it. On the horizontal plane we have two possibilities as well. The program can either succeed or fail. So this creates four boxes--

1. The minority party supports the President, and the plan is successful.
2. The minority party supports the plan, and the plan fails.
3. The minority party opposes the plan, and the plan succeeds.
4. The minority party opposes the plan, and the plan fails.

Let’s assume that some of the Republican elected officials have a partisan interest. That is, their principle goal is to win more seats in the next election, and defeat the President in 2012. Which of the four possibilities is most likely to help them reach their goal?

If they support the President and he is successful, they may have done the right thing for the country, but the President will get most of the credit. So supporting the President when he is successful won’t hurt, but it is unlikely to help them pick up seats or defeat the President in 2012.

If they support the President and he is unsuccessful, they won’t get a benefit because they were advocates for the same unsuccessful policy.

If they oppose the President, and he is successful, they will obviously receive no benefit from that approach.

However, if they oppose the President, and his plan is unsuccessful, they can say, more or less, “We told you so.” This will benefit them.

As you can see, this analysis does not consider the merits of any proposed program. It is an analysis that the minority can use regardless of the merits, and I believe that it is what leads so many elected Republicans to relentlessly oppose whatever the President and the Democrats in Washington, or Denver for that matter, propose.

The only political advantage they can receive is for them to oppose the Democratic program and have it fail.

Now there are quite a few Republicans who do not go through this analysis. They make their decisions based on a genuine examination of the merits of a proposal seen through the light of their values. But unfortunately there are enough who only care about the politics so that every talk show has no trouble finding knee-jerk opposition to every Obama or Democratic proposal. It is disheartening for those of us who would like to see the country come together in the face of our serious challenges, but there it is.

By the way, when the Democrats are in the minority, I am sorry to say, there is no shortage of knee-jerk opponents as well.

I have been troubled by the opposition to Obama, who in my view is making a good faith effort to deal with a difficult situation. I had hoped for more of a “country over party” position from the minority. Perhaps we will get there someday.

I hope you are doing well. As always do not hesitate to write back with comments or questions and feel free to forward this email to anyone you think might be interested or to republish, with attribution, in any blog or other publication.


Ken Gordon

1 comment:

Detroit Dan said...

Good post. In the long run, one's reputation is based upon doing the right thing. Perhaps that's why the Republicans are in such trouble today. They've trashed their reputations by thinking and acting in narrow partisan terms. It's somewhat analogous to business, where maximizing short term profits can backfire over a longer period of time...