Reading Chris Bowers’ retrospective on the “Progressive Block” strategy, I think what’s missing is an appreciation of the importance of the issue who really wants this? It’s been difficult for a Progressive Block to be effective on health reform, because at the end of the day expanding health coverage to all Americans is something progressives really want to do. Centrist Democrats, by contrast, are largely willing to go along with this idea but sufficiently unenthusiastic about it that they’re happy to hold the overall cause hostage to various subsidiary points. Progressives can’t—and shouldn’t—try to do that credibly because the main issue is so close to the core of the progressive agenda.
But not every issue is like that. Plenty of legislation comes up where the tables are turned and progressives may be willing to go along but centrists are the eager ones.
Something like the Conrad-Gregg Deficit Commission idea would be a good example of this. I don’t think Conrad-Gregg was a great idea, but it’s not a terrible idea either. But both the Obama administration, the Senate leadership, and sundry centrist opinion elites seem to have decided that it was the greatest thing since sliced bread. That’s an opportunity to bargain—to say you’re willing to vote for the thing, but only if you get something you want. It’s in the past now, but presumably other similar things will arise from time to time. And that’s what you’ve got to keep your eye out for—ideas that centrists hold dear but that don’t seem all that wonderful on the merits.