Tribal politics and the suicide pact

This story underscores a basic fact about our two major parties: they don’t differ in ideology, per se. The GOP is a collection of people who share certain common ideas. There are disparate interests within the GOP, but all (or at least most) share a common desire to limit the power and reach of government. The same could be said of most minor parties, that they are based on certain common ideas. But the Democratic party is different. It doesn’t differ from other parties by having a different ideology; rather, it differs by not having an ideology.

The Democratic party is the big government party, but big government isn’t much of an ideology. While conservatives and libertarians oppose big government on principle, no one supports big government on principle. Rather, people support certain ends that might be advanced by big government. The Democratic party is a collection of tribes, cobbled together to contain enough people to contend for political power. It consists of progressives (who want to use the government to re-work society in various ways), trial lawyers (who want a heavily legislated and litigated society), various racial interests (who want to advance themselves at the expense of others), big business interests (who see the government as a tool for rent seeking), and others. Democrats share a common desire to use the reins of power to advance their interests, but do not generally agree on those interests.

They are able to work together on the scratch-my-back-and-i’ll-scratch-yours principle. One Democratic tribe will back another tribe’s goals, knowing that their own turn will come later. Occasionally the seams in the alliance will show when two tribes’ goals are in conflict, but the system generally works for them.

But today we’re looking at a case where it might not be working. The Democratic effort to pass an unpopular health care bill has become essentially a suicide pact. Democrats are looking at terrible retribution from the voters if they pass the bill, but they have decided to sacrifice everything to do it. Health care nationalization is so important, it’s worth giving up their power to accomplish it.

The problem is, that’s the progressives talking; not every tribe feels that way. Some tribes don’t care as much about health care and the suicide pact doesn’t work for them. Why should they sacrifice power to accomplish the goals of another tribe?

I think that’s what we’re seeing with the Hispanic caucus:

A group of Hispanic lawmakers on Thursday will tell President Barack Obama that they may not vote for healthcare reform unless changes are made to the bill’s immigration provisions. . .

Unlike abortion, immigration has flown beneath the radar, and almost seemed to vanish altogether as House Democrats have wrestled with how to accept a Senate healthcare bill far different from the one they passed in November. But immigration remains just as explosive an issue and carries the same potential to derail the entire healthcare endgame, a number of Democrats said. . .

The Senate language would prohibit illegal immigrants’ buying healthcare coverage from the proposed health exchanges. The House-passed bill isn’t as restrictive, but it does — like the Senate bill — bar illegal immigrants from receiving federal subsidies to buy health insurance.

Hispanic Democrats say they haven’t moved from their stance that they will not vote for a healthcare bill containing the Senate’s prohibitions.

There’s a real problem here for Democrats, because reconciliation cannot be used to change the illegal immigration language. (Unless the chair overrules the parliamentarian, but I can’t see Democrats doing something so raw for illegal immigrants.) If the Hispanic caucus is in earnest, the bill is dead.

But opponents of health care nationalization shouldn’t get excited, because the Hispanic caucus is not in earnest. They are angling here for a payoff. They are sending a message: if the Democratic leadership wants them to walk the plank with everyone else, they need something big in return. (An amnesty bill, presumably.) That’s what this story is about.

(Via Althouse, via Instapundit.)

UPDATE: Lindsey Graham (R-SC) is rarely accused of genius, but this tactic might just be genius, even if he didn’t intend it that way.

UPDATE: Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) says he is switching to no. (Via Hot Air.)

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