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The Green Lantern Theory Of Domestic Politics

[ 4 ] July 9, 2007 |

To follow up on Ezra’s point about Megan McArdle’s claim that impeachment proceedings would “mean[] not having any achievements to show the electorate next year,” it’s always striking to me the extent to which even many smart, politically aware people don’t fully absorb the implications of the Madisonian institutional framework. As Ezra says, as long as the GOP has more than 40 Senators and the White House, major accomplishments are not an issue. This also came up in certain recent not-to-be-reopened debates, but while there are any number of valid critiques of Clinton to attack him for not achieving any major progressive initiatives after 1994 is bizarre; with a Republican Congress this simply wasn’t a possibility. The President has a lot of power to affect the implementation of existing policy and can do a lot to obstruct change, but his ability to create major domestic policy shifts without Congress is nil. (And this is applicable to reactionary — as opposed to merely conservative — policy shifts as well as progressive ones. As Bush’s attempts to privatize Social Security recently and thankfully dramatized, the only thing harder than creating a major new domestic program is rolling one with anything resembling a broad constituency back once it’s been implemented.)

Another upshot of this is that debates about impeachment are purely about the politics — obviously there’s no chance of 2/3 of the Senate voting to convict anyone. And here I also agree with Ezra that here McArdle is considerably more persuasive. It’s hard to see how serious impeachment proceedings (as opposed to stepping up use of Congress’ oversight powers in general) would strengthen the Democrats’ political position.

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  1. [...] But the real key, as Matt says, is to also examine Bush’s first term. The number of times Bush steamrolled Congress into accepting his domestic legislative agenda despite opposition from the median votes is “none.” Tax cuts are the single issue that most unites the Republican coalition and of course are strongly supported by the moneyed interests that exert undue influence. And note than even on the first round of tax cuts Snowe, Collins et al. were able to get the totals arbitrarily trimmed (although this does illustrate a legitimate Obama blunder — his opening bid on the stimulus package should have been higher.) NCLB was an actual bipartisan compromise. Medicare Part D was a largely Republican bill that Bush did exert a lot of pressure to pass, but one attempting to preempt a Democratic issue that certainly didn’t reflect conservative ideological priorities (and did have key Democratic support.) More to the point, there’s nothing in the 8 years of the Bush administration that represents the kind of legislative achievement the ACA was – a central piece of presidential agenda passed over united partisan opposition and despite substantial reluctance on the part of median Senate votes. (The closest comparison to the ACA was Bush’s Social Security initiative — which went down in flames.) There may be times when a more Bush-like leadership style would have produced better results — most notably the stimulus and the debt ceiling package. But any differences are going to be marginal, for the simple reason that in terms of enacting (as opposed to implementing) legislation the president is subordinate to Congress. This isn’t revisionism I’ve developed to explain away Obama’s failures; it’s a fact. Many people may not understand this, but I’m not one of them (note the date of this post.) [...]

  2. [...] but since I’ve never received a decent answer let me ask again: for people who believe in the Green Lantern theory of domestic presidential power, how do you explain the near-total lack of major legislation passed during George W. Bush’s [...]

  3. [...] Adam points out, however, is that it just isn’t true. In my case, I was apparently making excuses for the Obama administration well before the Iowa caucuses, and was even prescient enough to [...]

  4. [...] but since I’ve never received a decent answer let me ask again: for people who believe in the Green Lantern theory of domestic presidential power, how do you explain the near-total lack of major legislation passed during George W. Bush’s [...]

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