Thursday, May 5, 2011

Learned Helplessness and Interest Groups

Last week I had an interesting back and forth on Twitter with Bruce Lesley, president of DC-based children's advocacy organization First Focus, after he praised Sen. Collins for refusing to endorse the budget proposal put forward by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI).

I found the praise irksome: In the context of the junior senator's history of disingenuousness, bad faith and hypocrisy on fiscal issues--and given that she's never come anywhere near articulating how she'd balance the budget, even as she demagogues the issue--his kind words seemed misplaced. To put it mildly.

In fact, the rejection of Ryan's draconian proposal seemed to me like just another example of Collins sidestepping the logical implications of her own actions and policy commitments: Ryan, at least, is owning up to the fact that large new tax cuts will require shredding Medicare. Collins, who favors such tax cuts, has made no similar admission.

So when Lesley doubled down on his praise, asserting that, "[Collins] has never supported gutting Medicare and Medicaid" I thought it was necessary to note that he was giving a vastly incomplete picture of her stance.

I also drew attention to Collins' recent vote for the 2011 House budget--a piece of legislation Lesley's own organization condemned. And I noted the irony that First Focus had given Collins an award for work on children's issues just two weeks after she'd voted to slash funding for food stamps and Head Start, a move that earned her condemnation, by name, in The New York Times.

And that's when things got weird.

Lesley informed me that Collins was merely presented with the award last month, and that it was given earlier, based on her work in 2010. And that's fair enough.

But he seemed totally ignorant of Collins' vote for the 2011 House budget proposal, which his own organization had blasted, even after I made a couple of attempts at clarification.

What's more, rather than researching the issue to find out what I was referring to, or entertaining the idea that I might be correct, he tried to make me the issue ("I get that you don't like her") and lashed out at me for drawing attention to the tension between his organization's praise of Collins and the reality of her recent record ("Do you hate Obama for signing that bill [sic] into law?")

In short, Lesley seemed more interested in challenging me--and putting me on the defensive--than he was in exploring Collins' children's issues bona fides, holding the junior senator accountable, or accurately conveying the substance of her record.

What does it all mean? Maybe not much. But it underscores a couple of unhealthy dynamics:

--Most DC interest groups seem to think that the best way to win the junior senator's loyalty is to shower her with awards. There are exceptions, like NRDC. But whether it's because of political gamesmanship, inside-the-beltway coziness or economic self-interest, the fact is that speaking truth to Collins and/or holding her accountable almost never figures into the plans of left-leaning DC-based groups.

--As the Republican party moves further to the right, there are a slew of nominally "nonpartisan" progressive organizations that are willing to go through all sorts of unseemly contortions to maintain the fiction that their issues transcend partisanship. But this often requires some airbrushing. And so these organizations find themselves coddling unworthy pols rather than telling their constituencies the unvarnished truth.

1 comment:

Steven said...

You're on the right track here for sure, though I'm not sure NRDC is the best example of a group that does hardball accountability.