The Duty of the Wonk

I was arguably too hard on progressive pundits yesterday when I said that they've led their ideological compatriots to unrealistic expectations of the process.  After all, we need wonks to get their wonk on:  advocating what's a good idea, rather than what is politically feasible.  That's how you move broad political sentiment towards better policy.

Still, I think you have to establish a sort of minimal cutoff below which it's better to wait for a better opportunity than do something NOW!!!  What I'd really like to see up front is an acknowledgement that after a proposed program gets through congress, it will probably look very little like what is being proposed, and to talk about when we should--and should not--go for second best.  That would leave the true believers less disappointed.  It would also, I hope, mean that we might pass fewer bad policies on the ground that they share a few minor features with some hypothetical good policy that's politically infeasible.

The insistence, now, that conservatives arguing against the plans on the table have to take into account hypothetical potential cost savings that have so far proven politically and bureaucratically unworkable, is a case in point.  Conservatives are perfectly within their rights to argue that these plans right here do nothing to bend the cost curve, and in fact, quite noticeably increase the structural fiscal instability of the US budget.  If you want to talk about awesome future cost savings, pass them.  Otherwise, you have to defend the actual bills we might pass, not some better bills that we haven't and probably won't.