The DLC and the Conservative Faction of the Democratic Party

August 27, 2008

The Democratic Party is using its convention to among other things bridge the widening cleft between its populist base and conservative leadership.  By repeatedly underscoring that the alternative to a Democratic win is four more years of Bush policies, the party leaders are calling attention to the fact that the party rank and file have no place to turn but to the party for any sort of change, even if that change does not approximate the hopes of the party faithful.

The Democratic Leadership Council spearheads the conservative faction of the party.  Its position is that the party must move rather dramatically to the right to avoid obsolescence.  Recognizing that this view is not shared by a majority of Democrats Bill Clinton campaigned as a populist, then actualized welfare reform that Reagan did not dare champion, promoted and got NAFTA.

He avoided much criticism from the right by usurping positions on the right.  Bill Krystal was so impressed with Clinton’s record as a conservative that he expressed wonderment that the right had any objections at all to Clinton.  Meanwhile many progressives felt betrayed.

In 2004 Howard Dean captured the imagination of the populist anti-war movement and was actively opposed by the DLC, which favored Kerry.  Recognizing that the anti-war movement was strong enough to effect election results, Kerry after incoherent blathering about the war, became an opponent of it, undercutting some of Dean’s support.

Progressives or what is sometimes called the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party fear that Obama has done exactly what Bill Clinton did in getting the nomination.  That is appealing to Democrats as a progressive candidate, then after securing the nomination becoming for many practical purposes a Republican.

Remember Clinton’s opinion poll policies.  He would let Republicans launch a campaign for or against something, wait while opinion polls came then make a decision, often doing what Republicans advocated.  This approach was successful if that is measured by tenure in office.  Many would argue that it was not successful if measured against progressive policies.

The cleft in the party relates to fears that Obama has followed Clinton’s formula, trading on charisma while sacrificing policy.  Without out a doubt he has moved to the right since securing the number of delegates for the nomination.  This in itself is not betrayal and is an almost inevitable shift among Democratic candidates, just as moving to the left is typical of Republican candidates after nomination.

Part of this reaction from the left is due to the almost unimaginable hopes that were posited in Obama by the left.  Clinton was the DLC’s candidate of choice and this time, in contract with 2004, the candidate with populist groundswell support carried the day.  Clinton seemed to suffer a bit for not seeming to come out unequivocally against the war until late in the game.  As a result her anti-war position was never entirely believed by the people defining themselves as anti-war.

Obama in contrast seemed to be clear and unwaivering.  That is until his nomination seemed secure.  Then he ousted his anti-war advisors and substituted Clinton Administration hawks.  His speeches began to emphasize the conditions of withdrawal and looking at all the circumstances.  He seemed to adopt Clinton’s initial position about the war.

Then after all the debate talk about the purity of his anti-war sentiment as opposed to Clinton’s vote for the war, he chose as his running mate the man who perhaps more than anybody was the Democratic Party point man for the war.  Biden has changed his tune but he certainly rattled more sabers than Clinton before the war and following the invasion.  Biden too was an ardent proponent of the anti-consumer bankruptcy bill and was one of the few Democrats to vote for it.

Obama has revealed another Bill Clinton tactic that is far from comforting to the left.  He has demonstrated Clinton’s penchant for adopting Republican positions when his position appears to be unpopular.  Not only has he done this with off shore drilling but so has Nancy Pelosi.

Bush also took misleading positions to get into office.  Remember his sanctimonious statement in his debate with Gore that he would never allow our country to get into nation building abroad?  That turned out to be what his administration was all about.  Bush of course became historically unpopular but he was like Clinton elected twice.  These seem to be good models for getting into office even if the endings have been unhappy.

How the Tort System Really Works

August 27, 2008

I thought that I’d briefly discuss a case that shows how the legal system really works with tort claims. As the November elections approach we are no doubt going to hear quite a bit about run away jury awards and the poor, long suffering businesses and insurance companies.

In truth only about 4% of the cases filed ever make it to trial (according to King County records), as plaintiffs are subjected to withering pretrial procedures that drag out their cases for years.

Rivas v. Overlake Medical Center has been pending for nine years and Susan Rivas, the plaintiff, has yet to get her day in court. She went to Overlake Hospital for a procedure after which she was placed in intensive care for four days, then told that she would lose her kidney. With all hope of saving the kidney was lost she filed suit three years and two days after the operation. Overlake and Dr. Muraki, her doctor, replied saying the suit was too late. The three year statute of limitations passed two days before the suit was commenced.

Nine years later her case got to the State Supreme Court, which held on August 7 that the stature of limitations had been tolled for the four day period in which she was in intensive care. This gave her four extra days, so she is not barred by the statute of limitations from suing. She can now have a trial. (Justices Fairhurst and Alexander dissented saying that the statute of limitations should be strictly enforced.)

Most plaintiffs by this point would have given up and it remains to be seen whether Susan Rivas will have the resources (spiritual, mental and financial) to actually have a trial.

If say she has a trial in the next year or two and wins, then the defendants’ insurance companies can appeal the decision. So it is quite possible that even if she wins at every stage from here on out, it could be five or more years before she recovers any money whatsoever, assuming her health holds out.

Washington has no punitive damages that are available to her, so she will be entitled to receive only the damages that she can prove that she suffered directly due to her injury. You can see that insurance companies benefit by delaying payment 15 or more years.

Tort reform would further reduce Susan’s recovery by imposing an arbitrary limit on the amount she could receive. The effect of such a law would not only be to deprive people like Susan Rivas from receiving full compensation, but even more important to the insurance companies it would discourage people from filing suit and no doubt reduce the 4% of cases that survive pretrial procedures to say 3% or 2%.

Another Local Approach to Foreclosure Crisis

August 27, 2008

Seattle this spring adopted a small loan program to help foreclosure victims. The program was so narrowly defined that it could not help most of the people needing assistance, but represented a step in the right direction. The principal recommending feature of the program was that the money advanced to homeowners was treated as a secured loan, so the cost of the program would be quite limited.

San Diego’s City Attorney proposes another inexpensive approach that warrants study. He is pushing the City Council to pass a moratorium on foreclosures. Cities and local governments could certainly do this. There might be an argument that the legislature had not conferred this power on local governments, but this at the very least is debatable. The possibility of a challenge alone is no reason to avoid doing something that is helpful to people.