Three months of watching the Democrats compromise, capitulate and now teeter at the edge of completely losing the battle for health care reform has been a slow-motion hell of watching a bloody bullfight when you're rooting for the bull. And it's been a uniquely Democratic style of losing.
Exactly how and why do the Democrats end up in these ghoulish scenarios? For the answer to that, I spoke with best-selling author Robert Greene who has written books like The 48 Laws of Power in the recent The 50th Law with hip-hop artist and entrepreneur 50 Cent.
Greene also wrote The 33 Strategies of War which looked at and enumerated timeless truths about battle and conflict. Much of it seems to apply directly to the drawn-out campaign to pass a health care bill -- seemingly any health care bill -- that the country has witnessed for the past several months
Can understanding war help us understand this legislative battle? I think so, and one concept that Greene discusses in his book seems particularly applicable; the concept of "Tactical Hell." As you watch the bloody blame and confusion going on currently on Capitol Hill, where every day seems to bring a fresh defection, reversal or retreat, Greene's book is like a field guide.
Here's how Robert Greene explains Tactical Hell and its relevance to the Democratic Party and their fight for health care reform.
"When people discuss war, they often differentiate between strategy and tactics. Strategy is long-term goal or plan you want to reach and tactics of the means used to get there. One problem is that many people don't use the terms in the right way. They may be dealing with some problem in their lives or in their office and think that they're being strategic when in fact, they're simply being tactical. They don't have an overall view of where they want to be in a year or two, and because of that everything they do is tactical; they never rise up to a higher level of strategy real larger set of goals.
Tactical Hell is where you're constantly reacting to what people give you. So a rival makes a maneuver and you immediately respond to something to protect you yourself. Then, maybe you go on the attack. But you're really just reacting to what the other person gave you. If you're always reacting to what happens, you're never able to control the dynamic and raise yourself up to that higher level.
Democrats in the 80s and 90s were very much locked into small picture thinking. "Let's just pass this one bill, just hold on defending Social Security or Medicare lets do one small thing for the environment and oppose that bill." It's a very Senate oriented legislative mentality that probably comes from the years the Democrats were in the wilderness and out of power.
A lot of it comes from fear. Republicans have been successful at painting a large picture of the Democrats as being very liberal, socialistic and anti-American. The Democrats attempted to just do small things to avoid the accusation that they were socialistic. This affected them for many many years. There wasn't a Democratic politician that was able to create a larger strategic picture or what the Democrats represent -- this is our goal, these are our values, and this is our vision for America
In The 33 Strategies of War, I use the metaphor of a general who looks out at a battlefield from the top of a mountain. He can see the whole picture -- what's going on the whole terrain; where the enemies are coming from and how they are deploying themselves. Now he comes halfway down the mountain and the view is quite different. He sees things fairly well, but he's missing part of the larger picture. Now if you put them on the ground. He sees the battle -- it's right in front of him. And he can make decisions but those decisions are to be very good.
Barack Obama seems to have been dragged down to the ground and has lost the sense of the larger picture. He's been infiltrated with Clintonites who are very skittish from losing the battle for health care reform in the 90s. But things are different now. Condition have changed. They are fighting the last war. So what we've ended up with is a very tactical flight.
President Obama could've chosen a different path -- mapping his vision out in speeches and controlling the dynamics by saying, "This is what we want. This is what we oppose", being consistent and even letting the opposition be called a liberal because they're going to do it anyway. And it least it gives people a clear idea of what he wants.
Losing is never easy, but how you lose something is important. If he'd taken a big picture approach and lost it would've been a failure that would've let him perhaps build a better bill six years down the road. But they pulled Obama off that mountain and turned it into a piecemeal legislative approach. With all the disgusting things that go into creating legislation. A little compromise, a little more compromise and you end up with practically nothing. You have no vision at all and you've lost a way that's terrible."