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I Guess I’ll Burn Down This Strawman

[ 317 ] August 17, 2011 |

I have more to say about what the presidency and what it can and can’t accomplish based on Jeff Shessol’s terrific book on FDR and the court-packing fight.   But since I have a couple deadlines, I’ll make a point that should be more obvious first.   Glenn Greenwald is impressed by this vastleft cartoon for some reason:

But, even leaving aside the fact that Obama’s staunchest critics from the left are rather more likely to make arguments that it doesn’t matter who wins presidential elections than his supporters, the point is silly. If I may be permitted to state the obvious, the fact that presidential powers in terms of getting new domestic policies enacted are relatively weak does not mean that the presidency is weak in all respects. In foreign policy, the president is the dominant figure, and much of Glenn’s criticism of Obama here has in fact been correct. The presidency also has more limited but substantial powers over executive and judicial appointments — and, whatever quibbles one may have about Obama’s slow pace and excessive moderation obviously his appointments have been very different and much better than those of his predecessor. The president also has substantial power in terms of implementing existing statutes — which is why, for example, environmental regulations have been strengthened rather than weakened. And the president can certainly prevent Congress from doing things. But the fact that the president has very substantial powers in some areas doesn’t change the fact that in terms of domestic policy presidential power is subordinate and highly contingent. The fact that the president can unilaterally decide to bomb Libya doesn’t mean that the president can get 60 Senate votes for single payer health care because he really wants to. And pointing this out doesn’t mean that it doesn’t matter whether Barack Obama or Rick Perry sits in the oval office.

I’ve asked this before, 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 second term, including a failure to even get a congressional vote on his signature initiative to privatize Social Security? He didn’t give enough speeches? He wasn’t ruthless enough? Help me out here.

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Comments (317)

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  1. Extra words?

    I have more to say about what the presidency and what it can and can’t accomplish

    No charge. Really.

    In other news, VastLeft is a vast joke. Pity GG can’t see it. Here’s a far more accurate (& amusing) cartoon.

  2. c u n d gulag says:

    I could be wrong, but here’s my $0.02:

    Little Boots made himself a lame duck much earlier than most Presidents when NO didn’t float during Katrina, but instead, drowned.

    He could ‘speachify’ all he wanted after that, but he’d lost all but the most hard-core Republican Americans after that.
    And the two wars quickly becaming occupations and bogged down also didn’t help. And I think, his wanting to privatize SS right after the ’04 election, took a lot of momentum away from him. He claimed to have a mandate, which he clearly didn’t. I think the Republicans in Congress turned into Meatloaf when the poll results started coming in – “I’d do anything for (love, politics, etc.) – but I won’t do that!” There we no coat-tails for them to ride in ’06 and ’08.

    But it’s not that he didn’t get anything done. Shortly after Katrina, hidious credit card laws passed Congress and went into effect – making what happened in ’08 and ’09 far worse,. And right before the ’06 election, the Senate basically spit on Habeus Corpus.

    So Bush couldn’t use the bully pulpit, because to too many Americans, he looked like a bully on the pulpit.

    Obama’s poll numbers are way down, but they are light years better than Congess’ as a whole, and the Republicans in particular.

    He needs to use it to bash the “Do Nothing,” or “Do Worse” Republicans that are in Congress.
    That he can still do.
    The question is, will he?
    He’s starting to look like he might.

    • David W. says:

      How Bush thought he could take on Social Security while finding himself mired in Iraq brings to mind how lucky we were that LBJ was able to get both the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and Medicare passed before Vietnam consumed his Presidency.

    • soullite says:

      And here were have exhibit A that magical thinking is hardly restricted to so-called ‘lefties’.

      He honestly thinks that an incumbent President will win an election under the circumstances of a 9% unemployment rate, less than 1% GDP growth and declining wages. He thinks he can do that by attacking congress because some other President attacked congress and won an election the media said he shouldn’t win. He does that by ignoring Truman’s 7% GDP growth in 1948, and the fact that they didn’t even bother polling in the months leading up the election.

      Obama loses and there is nothing anyone here can do to change that. The hack who posted the blogpost knows that, and on some level, even the person I’m responding to knows that. But rather than admit that and lay blame at the feet of those who actually had the power to make different choices, they would both prefer to blame people with no actual power over policy at all.

      Indeed, if they didn’t know this was true, they wouldn’t be dredging up month-old political cartoons to attack so viciously. But they are desperate, so that is just what they did.

      • Origuy says:

        Obama loses and there is nothing anyone here can do to change that.

        Loses to whom? Generic Republican isn’t going to be on the ballot.

        • c u n d gulag says:

          Origuy,
          Thanks.
          Obama has a decent shot. The biggest threat out there now is Romney – but he’s going to have trouble in the primaries, despite the backing of the power and money boys.

          There’s more than 14 months to go, and that’s an eternity in politics.

          • John F says:

            I’m not sure having Romney as President and a Demo congress would be a “bad” thing. Of course having a Repub president and a Repub congress (both houses) would be catastrophic.

            • John says:

              A Democratic president is always better than a Republican president. Remember all the wonderful things that happened during the 110th Congress, when there was a Democratic congress and a chastened, and far less insane, Bush administration? Yeah, neither do I. The appointment powers of the president alone are worth reelecting Obama for.

      • Hob says:

        Soullite, you may well be right– about the election, I mean, not your laughably pugnacious mind-reading (everyone secretly agrees with me, they just won’t admit it!!!).

        But just supposing you’re wrong, and Obama wins the 2012 presidential election, is there any chance you might just be quiet for a while after that, or start admitting that there’s some shit you just don’t know? Oh never mind, who am I kidding.

        • jilted says:

          In his previous incarnation, sotrite was a ragging Obamaphile and he knew Obama would be the greatest president ever.

    • John F says:

      He needs to use it to bash the “Do Nothing,” or “Do Worse” Republicans that are in Congress.
      That he can still do.
      The question is, will he?
      He’s starting to look like he might.

      At this point he’s backed in a corner- pretty much that’s his only strategy if he plans on running for re-election. the trouble is that it just does not seem to be in his nature, he’s not a fighter, and he’s not confrontational. In perhaps another time someone with his personality could have been an effective President, but that’s not now. It seems that everytime the Repubs are irrationally obstructive or confrontational that he’s taken aback – I think he sees it, thinks about Chicago and thinks it’s all an act- that behind closed doors all these pols are adults and will set aside the posturing crap and compromise -

      not happening, many Republican Pols are “true believers” and those who are not- well they are too cowed by the true believers to do anything.
      The truly sad part is that it doesn’t seem like Obama started figuring this out until recently- and with Repub control of the house there really is nothing that can be done until the next election.

  3. Triplanetary says:

    doesn’t mean that the president can get 60 Senate votes for single payer health care because he really wants to.

    Which point is moot, however, given that he didn’t want to.

    • rea says:

      Except that your sole evidence that he didn’t want to is his failure to get 60 Senate votes.

      • seedeevee says:

        Your assumption of “sole evidence” is easily proven false by numerous quotes of Obama functionaries explicitly stating that single payer was never considered past the stage of uttering the words “single payer” during the campaign season.

        Does “Rahm Emanuel” mean anything to you?

        • rea says:

          And the reason that single payer was never considered past the stage of uttering the words “single payer” during the campaign season was that it was plain it didn’t have 60 votes in the Senate.

          • Scott Lemieux says:

            Actually, Obama is on the record as saying that single-payer is a superior system. Whether this is his sincere belief I have no idea, but to assert as fact that he was opposed to single payer regardless of viability makes no sense.

            • DocAmazing says:

              Yeah, he said that. He also said “off the table”.

              One of these things carried the day. The other was opinion, light as air.

              • Well, of course. But here’s the question you have to ask: Do you really think that if Harry Reid called Obama and said “alright, I counted the votes, and we’ve got 60 votes to extend Medicare coverage to every American man, woman, and child no matter what the insurance, pharmaceutical, and doctors lobbies have to say about it” Obama’s response would be “I’ll veto that.”?

                The simple fact of the matter is that, however desirable it may be, single-payer insurance in the United States is mostly a pipe dream because there are too many vested interests opposed to it across the entire healthcare industry.

                • DocAmazing says:

                  We can guess all day long, but “off the table” was a reality.

                • Brian says:

                  The simple fact of the matter is that, however desirable it may be, single-payer insurance in the United States is mostly a pipe dream because there are too many vested interests opposed to it across the entire healthcare industry.

                  Yes. That’s the crux of the whole biscuit, right there. Well said, sir.

                • And I would also add that, though it’s probably the ideal scenario, I find the real-true progressive fixation on single-payer insurance rather odd. It isn’t as though there aren’t other models of universal, highly regulated, progressive-friendly, health insurance out there that could be more easily incorporated into the U.S. system.

                • DocAmazing says:

                  None of which particularly closely resemble ACA, but what the hell.

                • Well no, but I didn’t invoke the ACA either.

                • Scott Lemieux says:

                  Single payer was “off the table” irrespective of what Obama did. Counting votes in the Senate you’d have trouble getting to 10 even if Obama decided to go on a hunger strike over the issue.

            • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

              As far as I can tell, that’s the one occasion in which Obama is on the record “supporting” single-payer. And what he said was “If I were designing a system from scratch, I would probably go ahead with a single-payer system.”

              But even if the Senate contained 100 Bernie Sanders (Sanderses?), President Obama would not have been designing a system from scratch.

              So although, at least on this one occasion, Obama said that he liked single payer in principle, he also said that he was opposed to it in practice, for reasons that had nothing to do with the composition of Congress:

              “Given that a lot of people work for insurance companies, a lot of people work for HMOs. You’ve got a whole system of institutions that have been set up,” he said at a roundtable discussion with women Monday morning after a voter asked, “Why not single payer?”

              “People don’t have time to wait,” Obama said. “They need relief now. So my attitude is let’s build up the system we got, let’s make it more efficient, we may be over time—as we make the system more efficient and everybody’s covered—decide that there are other ways for us to provide care more effectively.”

              • rea says:

                Well the fact that single payer was going to put a couple of million people out of work–heck, putting them out of work would be the whole point of single payer–was always going to be a severe practical problem. Your side doesn’t help things by refusing to acknowledge that.

                • L.M. says:

                  A ton of people will also lose their jobs if we ever manage to roll back the national security state (which is one reason I don’t expect we ever will); this would be a feature, not a bug. In both cases, we’d be reducing particular people’s dependence on employers that constitute a net drain on our economy as a whole. That’s good.

          • witless chum says:

            The problem with this is that he never got his 60 senate votes for the crappy healthcare bill (it’s main accomplishment is getting government firmly into the health insurance business, so later, more meaningful reforms will be easeir). When it came to pass that they couldn’t get 60 votes and passed it with a simple majority under reconciliation, an Obama who wanted the closest thing to single payer he could get would have asked his allies to pass whatever was the most radical thing he could get 50 votes for, then have Biden break the tie. The Obama we actually have did not do that.

            • rea says:

              You don’t understand how reconciliation works. No, he couldn’t pass single payer under reconciliation, because it wasn’t a revenue or spending measure.

              • witless chum says:

                There are lots of parts of the Affordable Care Act that you can argue (and conservatives did) aren’t revenue or spending measures. It wasn’t a bar to the language against preexisitng conditions, say. Ultimately, doesn’t Harry Reed decided what qualifies and what doesn’t?

            • WIll says:

              The 50th vote was Joe Lieberman, who publicly said ‘no’ to a public option. You think what we got wasn’t the most radical thing that could have passed?

            • The problem with this is that he never got his 60 senate votes for the crappy healthcare bill

              Yes he did. The ACA passed the US Senate with 60 votes on Christmas Eve, 2009. You can look it up.

              What passed through reconciliation was a short set of minor tweaks to a massive bill.

          • Richard says:

            Single payer didn’t have ten votes in the Senate. I repeat, it didn’t have ten votes. There was nothing Obama could have done to change that.

            • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

              Absolutely.

              But Obama was also against it in practice for reasons that he made clear even while praising single payer in theory (see the quotes upthread).

              The number of votes in the Senate had nothing to do with Obama’s opposition to single payer.

              Now we can talk about whether or not that opposition was sensible. And we can also talk (entirely hypothetically) about how a pro-single payer President might have dealt with a Senate (and a House, in fact) deeply opposed to single payer.

              But Obama was committed to not eliminating our basically private system of health insurance, quite independent of the Congressional politics.

              And, it should be added, he was totally up front about this in the campaign. Only Kucinich supported single payer.

              (Where the Senate and the House ought to come into this discussion is that they suggest that Obama’s opposition to single payer is, in fact, like his obsession with balancing the budget, entirely in line with the mainstream of his own party.)

              • I guess what I don’t understand is how Obama’s personal opinion has any relevance whatsoever in your conception of things. I mean, if you concede that the votes for single-payer weren’t there in Congress, then Obama’s personal view on the matter literally doesn’t make any difference whatsoever. The only way it matters is if a) Obama actively lobbied against it in the Democratic caucus or b)Congress passed a single payer bill and President Obama vetoed it.

                And again, questions of whether anyone thought the votes were there or not doesn’t really help. But imagine a scenario in which Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid tell Obama they have the votes for Medicare for all in their pockets. What does Obama do then? That’s what matters in this hypothetical.

            • But Obama was also against it in practice for reasons that he made clear even while praising single payer in theory (see the quotes upthread).

              The number of votes in the Senate had nothing to do with Obama’s opposition to single payer.

              You don’t see a description of the powerful interests aligned against a bill as relevant to the question of whether it will get the votes in Congress?

              You say he was “against it in practice.” No, he was against trying to pass it in practice – because it would be a fool’s mission.

              • Look at it this way:

                Q: Would you support cutting the Pentagon’s budget to $250 billion a year, down from $700 billion?

                A: Look, if I had my way, that’s what I’d do, but there are a lot of powerful defense contractors and other groups aligned with the military that wouldn’t go for it.

                Isn’t it specifically by getting Congress to kill the proposal that those powerful groups would utilize their power?

              • dangermouse says:

                You don’t see a description of the powerful interests aligned against a bill as relevant to the question of whether it will get the votes in Congress?

                Except Obama’s statement said nothing about powerful interests or their alignment against the bill.

                • Scott Lemieux says:

                  This idea that you can treat policitican’s statements are pure statements of principle unfettered by political calculation is bizarre.

                • Except Obama’s statement said nothing about powerful interests or their alignment against the bill.

                  Umwut?

                  “Given that a lot of people work for insurance companies, a lot of people work for HMOs. You’ve got a whole system of institutions that have been set up,”

    • I’ll take fun with circular logic for $200, Alex.

    • efgoldman says:

      Which point is moot, however, given that he didn’t want to.

      Assumes facts not in evidence.
      Not a good thing to do on a lawyer’s blog.

      • JRoth says:

        None of these guys are actually lawyers.

        I’m not saying that this is a bad thing.

      • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

        Actually it’s totally in evidence.

        Follow the link Scott gives above to the speech in which Obama says that he’d support single payer if we were starting from scratch, but given the fact that we aren’t, we should stick with a system of private health insurance.

        Single payer was an important issue in the 2008 Democratic primary campaign. Kucinich supported it. Edwards thought about it, but didn’t. Everyone else, including Obama, simply opposed it.

        • That is an implausible misreading of Obama’s statement.

          • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

            How so?

            Obama says very plainly that, given the fact that millions of people are employed in our private healthcare delivery system, it doesn’t make sense to switch to single payer, especially when we’re concerned about too many people being out of work.

            Obama never campaigned for President on single payer. He never suggested that he’d propose it to Congress. And his most famous statement supposedly supporting it is qualified by a counterfactual and accompanied by an explanation as to why it doesn’t make sense for us actually to adopt it.

            • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

              Saying Obama is for single payer is like saying James Madison was an anarchist because he wrote that “if men were angels, no government would be necessary.” Such counterfactual statements do not indicate support for political positions.

              • No, it’s not. Noting that men are not angels is not remotely comparable to noting that there are countervailing political forces.

                The former is a statement about something being a bad idea for governance. The other is a statement about the limits of political ambition at a given time.

                • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

                  But Obama didn’t note there were countervailing political forces. He said (and this is a direct quote) “if I were designing a system from scratch, I would probably go ahead with a single-payer system.”

                  But one never designs a healthcare system from scratch. That counterfactual is just as counterfactual as men being angels.

                  It’s of course entirely possible to favor single payer, but not propose it due to countervailing political forces. That has never been Obama’s position, however.

                • But Obama didn’t note there were countervailing political forces.

                  Ahem:

                  “Given that a lot of people work for insurance companies, a lot of people work for HMOs. You’ve got a whole system of institutions that have been set up,” he said at a roundtable discussion with women Monday morning after a voter asked, “Why not single payer?”

                  But one never designs a healthcare system from scratch. That counterfactual is just as counterfactual as men being angels.

                  This is an amazing reach. The horses-not-zebras reading of that phrase is “If I could do whatever I wanted.”

            • How so?

              Because reading a politician’s words about the strength of the opposition as anything but a commentary on the likelihood of passage, without anything except those words themselves, suffers from a massive Occam’s Razor problem.

              Look:

              Q: Would you support cutting the Pentagon’s budget to $250 billion a year, down from $700 billion?

              A: Look, if I had my way, that’s what I’d do, but there are a lot of powerful defense contractors and other groups aligned with the military that wouldn’t go for it.

              What else is this but a statement about political realism? Isn’t it specifically by getting Congress to kill the proposal that those powerful groups would utilize their power?

              Obama says very plainly that, given the fact that millions of people are employed in our private healthcare delivery system…

              What does

              “People don’t have time to wait,” Obama said. “They need relief now.

              have to do with employment? This is a statement about politics – about what he can get passed now, in this Congress, given the strength of the opposition.

              Obama never campaigned for President on single payer. He never suggested that he’d propose it to Congress.

              And he cited political considerations as the reason why he would not do so, despite wanting it if he had his way.

              and accompanied by an explanation as to why it doesn’t make sense for us actually to adopt it.

              No, it’s not. It’s accompanied by an explanation of why it wouldn’t make sense to try to adopt it (because we’d end up passing nothing).

              He also says, after describing the incremental approach he thought would be smarter:

              we may be over time—as we make the system more efficient and everybody’s covered—decide that there are other ways for us to provide care more effectively.

              What is this but a statement that taking the incremental step would make additional steps easier?

              • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

                What part of “if I were designing a system from scratch” don’t you understand?

                • There is no part of that phrase I do not understand.

                  Why you find your silly, implausible misinterpretation of its usage to be so impressive, on the other hand, continues to elude me.

                  joe: I think he’s saying that it’s the policy he would implement if he could do whatever he wanted, but that trying to pass it now it would be political overreach.

                  IB: No, he’s not saying that! What part of “if I were designing a system from scratch” don’t you understand?

                  Um, ok.

              • dangermouse says:

                Because reading a politician’s words about the strength of the opposition as anything but a commentary on the likelihood of passage

                Except that he doesn’t say anything about the strength of the opposition.

                • Except that he doesn’t say anything about the strength of the opposition.

                  Submitted without comment:

                  “Given that a lot of people work for insurance companies, a lot of people work for HMOs. You’ve got a whole system of institutions that have been set up,”

  4. efgoldman says:

    the Green Lantern theory of domestic presidential power

    Might more properly be named the Lavender Unicorn Theory, doncha’ think?

  5. Joe says:

    Even in the area of foreign policy, Glenn Greenwald exaggerated. It got to be too much for me personally.

    I’m not sure, e.g., how Obama was supposed to close Gitmo or even try people in NYC if Congress wouldn’t appropriate the funds to do so and authorize those convicted to stay in domestic prisons.

    The President is much stronger in some areas, but even there, s/he has some restraints, especially (and it helps when you don’t really want the government to do much) if you awnt to get other stuff accomplished, it isn’t unlimited. Without congressional help, Bush couldn’t fight in Iraq.

    Clinton helping him out there was one reason I didn’t support her for President, though some still tell me I’m silly, since she had nothing to do with it. Bush had all the power.

    • I think the best way to look at the foreign policy question is to say that the President has a lot of unilateral power to the extent that Congress doesn’t want to challenge him. So on Libya, for example, Congress really doesn’t want to do anything, so the President can do whatever he wanted. On Gitmo, on the other hand, Congress was overwhelmingly opposed to his plan, and was just fine voting against it and opposing it forcefully.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      Gitmo is a case where Congress has been active, that’s right. Congress provides little restraint on presidents who want to bomb, but they will sometime act to presidents who are perceived as too respectful of basic freedoms.

      That said, there’s no way to say that Obama’s civil liberties record is good, even in context.

      • Hogan says:

        Closing Gitmo and moving the prisoners onshore (with civilian trials) wasn’t pure foreign policy; it was a matter of turning a foreign policy question into a domestic policy question.

      • Joe says:

        The little restraint to bomb is by choice and somewhat a matter of perspective. Congress lets president bomb certain places, for instance. But, yes.

        As to his civil liberties record, there is various things to oppose there. Even there, he in various ways is better than Bush, and in a few cases (like closing Gitmo) he doesn’t have free reign.

    • Captain Splendid says:

      Was it really that hard to close Gitmo? That’s the one thing Obama campaigned on, and didn’t deliver, that made me scratch my head, because it was such a gimme.

      He didn’t even have to close Gitmo, just ship the prisoners off to one of the holding areas without a high profile, and call it a day.

      Yes, it would all be kabuki, but that passes for accomplishment these days, right?

    • I’m not sure, e.g., how Obama was supposed to close Gitmo or even try people in NYC if Congress wouldn’t appropriate the funds to do so and authorize those convicted to stay in domestic prisons

      It isn’t even that Congress didn’t act to appropriate the funds for the purpose. They took special action to make sure Obama wasn’t able to use existing funds to do something that he would have otherwise been able to do without any action from Congress.

    • Ed says:

      Clinton helping him out there was one reason I didn’t support her for President, though some still tell me I’m silly, since she had nothing to do with it. Bush had all the power.

      At least if Clinton (or McCain) were the President we’d likely be hearing a good deal less about Our Semi-Helpless Leader. The President would receive loud criticism from the left for doing things the left didn’t support and for roads not taken, and in most quarters this would be regarded as a healthy phenomenon. Instead I gather we’re all going to be hectored with this Green Lantern blather until Election Day.

      It’s not that online debates on the limits of presidential power never took place before, but I have the strong impression they really became an obsessive subject on various liberal blogs after Obama started disappointing people…….

  6. BradP says:

    He is at least right about the strong tendency of the media to paint the sides into conventional one or the other, us vs. them storylines and try to bundle people into the groups.

    The degree to which that has an effect on people is not one that will be easy to get people to accept. That is unless you are talking about the other side.

    Obama may not be a socialist, but those Tea Partiers are Brownshirt Terrorists.

    • soullite says:

      Yes. Those tea-partiers are fascists. However, they make up about 10% of the population and fearing that they are going to end up in power is about as logical as a white supremacist believing that – somehow – the evil darkies will rise up and control America.

      They don’t have the numbers or the power to do that. You’re nothing but a scared little boy hiding under his bed out of fear of phantom shadows on the wall.

  7. soullite says:

    You O-bots really do get pissy when people point out that you can’t have your cake and eat it too, don’t you?

    The simple fact is this: If you have to spend this much time attacking your left because you’re terrified that their arguments will spur others to abandon you, then you’ve already lost. Indeed, you’re compounding your losses. Doing this ensures that not only will you lose 2012 (look at the data; you’ve already lost 2012), but you risk losing every policy battle for the next generation because you’re furthering the right-wing meme that the left is irresponsible and should never be trusted with power.

    You hate us and we hate you. This stopped being about the Republicans a long time ago.

    • soullite says:

      Indeed, all evidence is that you’re a neoliberal, and that you’re simply trying to lay the groundwork to ‘blame the left’ for stabbing Obama in the back when he inevitably loses.

      This is all about arguing that Obama – and by extension, neoliberalism – is never to blame for anything, including the electoral losses incurred because of them.

      You’re just another brown-shirt blaming the Jews because Germany got it’s ass kicked in WW2 and you’re entire worldview is based on refusing to admit that your homeland, in this case the Democratic party, has any weakness. It cannot fail, it can only be failed. By liberals.

      • Scott Lemieux says:

        I don’t even know what neoliberalism is.

      • Anonymous says:

        This is profoundly non-responsive to the post in question.

        Insofar as Obama’s agenda had good ideas that were not enacted, the blame lies most clearly and obviously with a number of Senators. Republicans, of course, but also Ben Nelson, Evan Bayh, and the like. A few assholes on the D side in the House (Stupak et al) managed to make the final product a little bit worse than it should have been as well. Who isn’t to blame here? The left. They didn’t thwart Obama at all during his window of opportunity.

        Now, if by the left, you mean a few powerless and irrelevant people with internet connections who succeed in amusing Glenn Greenwald with cartoons that convey an inaccurate depiction of the nature and scope of presidential power, fine. But those people are irrelevant to electoral politics, and they couldn’t hurt Obama, electorally or any other way, no matter what they do. They’re a rounding error in terms of voters. So this whole “Obot vs. Leftist” battle royale is taking place in your fevered imagination and a few threads at firedoglake, but not in the real world.

      • Your pathology is legitimately fascinating to me. You don’t give a damn about gay or minority rights, and have said before that you “don’t get along with” feminists. Yet you remain utterly convinced that you speak for “the left.” Just fascinating.

        • Could it be the Left as seen by the Republicans. As in, “The liberals are the real racist/sexist/homophobes!”

        • Anonymous says:

          I’ve occasionally suspected that Soullite isn’t real, but is a character in some unpublished novel. The novelist comments as her character would, under his name, to flesh out and play around with the character to get the details right.

          I have a similar suspicion about “myles,” the faux-aristocratic Canadian douchebag who comments at crooked timber and yglesias.

    • MobiusKlein says:

      Uh, I can be aware of the limitations of the POTUS, and also be scared of the remaining powers POTUS Bachman / Perry / etc could wield.

      I’m looking at you SCOTUS.
      EPA.
      Veto.

      • And also, since the President obviously has a large amount of power in directing the actions of the executive branch, Republican Presidents have a lot of power to decimate the regulatory state by choosing not to enforce them.

    • rea says:

      If anyone is furthering the notion that the left is irresponsible and should never be trusted with power, it’s Soulite and his ilk, who claim to be leftists, and act like irresponsible people who should never be trusted with power.

      • Bill Murray says:

        as opposed to the Democrats in power who act as if they don’t have power even when they do, and then keep trying to find that sweet spot between the left-most positions allowed by the media and the crazy right wing, which just keeps getting crazier. That’s not irresponsible at all

    • Well once again, you lost your claim to one-true-progressivism some time ago.

  8. soullite says:

    You know what, I’ll just accept that you don’t know what the dominant economic and political ideology of the ruling elite is called, and that you aren’t at all aware of it’s policies. I’m sure you know nothing of the Washington Consensus, or of Reagan/Thatcher, and that you’re essentially completely and utterly clueless about modern politics altogether.

    Because really, that would actually explain quite a bit and then I wouldn’t have to give the views explained here any weight.

    • Malaclypse says:

      When you believe there is one dominant ideology, which encompasses both Krugman and Cato, your terms have lost descriptive utility.

      • Captain Splendid says:

        Krugman and Cato

        Found another one for ya, Scott! Need Lighter fluid?

        There’s some smart fuckers on this site, but that Ivory Tower outlook can be a little limiting sometimes.

      • your terms have lost descriptive utility

        I used to argue on a daily basis with people who thought that the world could be meaningfully divided into “libertarians” and “statists,” and that the latter was a useful descriptive term.

        • Malaclypse says:

          If the world really needs a term for “everyone soullite disapproves of”, then “imperialist running dog capitalist oppressor” really is more fun, if nothing else, than “neoliberal.”

  9. efgoldman says:

    Reagan/Thatcher

    Last I looked, they’re both dead.
    And Reagan’s actual governance, as opposed to the Saint Ronnie hagiography, wouldn’t get any of today’s TeaTards excited, except maybe in opposition.

  10. Gwen Dallas says:

    I think the key word here is “near total lack.”

    Remember that TARP and the first stimulus bill passed in 2008.

    • That isn’t the key word. Those items weren’t George Bush’s agenda. They were actions he had to take to deal with circumstances. You might as well trumpet the relief bill that passed after Katrina.

      Being able to pass bills that you never had any intention of passing but had to get through because unanticipated circumstances demanded it isn’t the same as getting your agenda passed.

  11. The Fool says:

    Here’s the thing, Scott.

    I’ll grant you the point about presidential domestic power constraints, including (sometimes) needing 60 votes in the Senate.

    Yet, domestic legislation continues to get passed.

    And for the last 30 years, on budgetary matters, the Republicans have had a lot of success. They’ve gotten many tax cuts passed for their rich friends and even raised taxes on the middle class (Reagan’s payroll tax increase). As a result taxes are now the lowest they have been in 60 years.

    But they haven’t had 60 seats in the Senate since 1907. How do they do that? Can’t we do that too?

    I submit that there are two key factors explaining Republican success on tax legislation since 1980:

    1) They never give up. They never back down. Far from compromising, they are more likely to lose and then double down.

    2) They consistently push in the same direction and eventually succeed in actually — god forbid! — persuading some people. That includes both voters and, more importantly, elites.

    How does your theory explain Republican success on tax cuts despite never having 60 senate seats and despite the fact that often they do not have public opinion on their side either (for instance, now?)

    What galls progressives is that Republicans have all this success on things like tax cuts despite having even less formal power than Obama and the Democrats. It also galls progressives that even though Republicans only have a narrow majority in 1 chamber of Congress, they basically are able to cram budget policy down Democratic throats. How come they can do what we can’t?

    • Well

      a) You don’t need 60 votes to pass tax cuts.

      b) The 60 vote minimum is basically a very recent construct of Republican opposition. As in post-2006.

      • Captain Splendid says:

        b) The 60 vote minimum is basically a very recent construct of Republican opposition. As in post-2006.

        Half the story. Republicans can be all Bobby Ewing if they like, but the Dems deserve the kicking they get for going along with it. Next.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      1)Tax cuts generally don’t require 60 votes.

      2)Of course you can pass bills when the policies in question 1)unite your coalition, and 2)benefit powerful interests. So what? Nobody says no legislation gets passed, the question is whether presidents can use the Bully Pulpit to ram policies though COngress whether it wants them or not. Passing upper-class tax cuts is irrelevant to this question.

      • The Fool says:

        The question isn’t whether the bully pulpit is a tool that just sits there among the president’s formal powers waiting to be used whenever the president finally decides to use it. The question is really about whether politicians, including the president, can use the bully pulpit in the long run to persuade people.

        Understand: we progressives not talking about isolated incidents. We’re not saying that, for example, Obama could get up today and change his tune completely and use the bully pulpit to immediately pass some legislation.

        We’re talking about consistently standing up for your principles and really fighting for them over the long haul. That means casting moral judgments on your opponents and calling them out as liars when they lie. It means really ramming your points home and not foolishly buying into how your opponents have framed the issue. That’s what Republicans do and Democrats don’t do. They succeed and we don’t. Go figure.

        I’ll grant you it’s too late for Obama now, but imagine if Democratic politicians in high offices had argued just as strongly against the Republicans for the last 30 years as the Republicans have argued against us. Or even if Obama had consistently argued the progressive case on taxation and the budget ever since taking office. You lay a foundation and you build something new.

        And we have two advantages the Republicans decidely do not have: 1) the facts on our side and 2) the interests of the greater number on our side.

        Given those advantages, its hard not to conclude that if our “leaders” had fought as hard against tax cuts for the rich as the GOP leaders have fought for them, that things could be much different today and Obama and other Democratic candidates could have found themselves in a much different and more favorable political environment than the one they do.

        The Republicans changed the way people think about tax cuts. And their success had nothing to do with whether or not they had 60 seats in the Senate.

        • “The Republicans changed the way people think about tax cuts”

          Did they? I mean, I imagine people have liked the idea of tax cuts since the beginning of time. It seems more accurate to me to say that Republicans just embraced lying and mass ignorance to convince people that we can cut taxes forever and always without giving up any of the shit white middle class people like by getting rid of foreign aid and getting the brown people scamming the system off the dole and something something something.

          • The Fool says:

            Yes they did change the way people think. People naturally like tax cuts for themselves, but the Republicans managed to convince a lot of them to like tax cuts for the rich — that’s a neat trick.

            Yes they lied. That should make it easier to fight back because 1) you can expose the lie and 2) you can show them to be liars.

            But the Democrats have never fought hard enough to do those things. That’s what pisses off progressives like me. We wish we had leaders as strong as theirs. But ours are always weak.

            • “but the Republicans managed to convince a lot of them to like tax cuts for the rich ”

              By what measure are you defining that? Because public opinion surveys seem to disagree with that. It seems to me that if that were true Republicans would be happy to have a fight over just the upper bracket parts of the Bush tax cuts, but they’re adamantly refusing to do that, insisting that it be all of the tax cuts or none of the tax cuts preserved. That strikes me as someone who doesn’t think they can win an argument about the value of keeping rich peoples’ taxes low.

          • JRoth says:

            “Tax cuts pay for themselves.”

            That’s something that roughly 0% of the population believed in 1975. Among about 25% of the population right now, it’s gospel truth. I’m pretty sure that has real political effects.

          • DocAmazing says:

            You must have missed the ceaseless corporate-media drumbeat ongoing since the middle 1970s. If it were just a question of “the Republicans”, then we’d have their nominal opponenets, the Democrats, countering them in the media and scoring hits in the fight for ideas. Instead, the corporate media has embraced a number of plainly false narratives (for a very good summary of some of them, pick up Ha-Joon Chang’s 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism), and the Dems have helped to drive that narrative forward. That’s one reason that progressives are so pissed off about the focus on deficit reduction.

            You’re looking at the most thoroughly propagandized population outside of North Korea. It’s not just republicans that got us that way.

            • I take it you meant to direct that comment at The Fool?

              • DocAmazing says:

                No, to you, mostly.

                • Well then it really doesn’t make any sense. I mean, if you want to add “the corporate media abetted Republican lies about taxes in order to make low taxes on rich people more politically feasible,” then by all means go ahead. I have no idea how that in any way undercuts my point though, and would seem to be more appropriately directed at The Fool, as it cuts against his notion that Democrats could nullify the effect of Republican lies simply by calling them lies.

                • DocAmazing says:

                  Or, better yet, not repeating the lies. The Dems have not merely failed to challenge the Republican narrative; they’ve embraced it.

                  That’s the problem: we don’t have a political dialogue in this country, and haven’t for quite a long time.

                • Who has? It seems to me that the vast majority of elected Democrats right now favor the end of the Bush tax cuts. Do you disagree with that assessment?

                • DocAmazing says:

                  Mr. Jackson, The Democrats keep talking about “deficit reduction” and “entitlement reform” which any competent economist will tell you have nothing whatever to do with getting the US out of the recession/depression that we’re in. The Democrats keep talking about “unfair tax burden” when the subject of capital-gains taxes comes up. It was a Democratic president who got us NAFTA and the repeal of Glass-Steagall, I would remind you.

                  We’re being lied to, but the Democrats are repeating the lies, and al high volume. A little tinkering with reductions in tax rollbacks for the wealthy hardly makes up for collaboration since the ’70s.

                • There’s a lot of different policies invoked in that post, none of which are “tax cuts for the wealthy pay for themselves.” And indeed, where it relates to deficit reduction, the overwhelming majority of Congressional Democrats favor increasing taxes on the wealthy specifically for the purpose of increasing revenue.

                  It helps to remain focused on the actual point in question.

                • DocAmazing says:

                  And again, we get to the tax cuts themselves, which required the complicity–even the support–of the Dems to pass in the first place. The very birth of the tax-cutting movement, California in the middle 1970s, saw Jerry Brown first opposing Prop 13, then supporting it as “the will fo the people”. This has been a pattern all along: the Dems continue to support–not merely oppose weakly, but affirmatively support–Republican platforms, then wonder how we got so very for into Republican territory. The narrow example of tax cuts and their repeal offers plenty of instances, but backing up and looking historically makes it clear: the Dems do not usually act in opposition to the Repuplicans rhetorically–and frequently, not legislatively. The best current example is the focus on deficit reduction, but tax-cuts-as-stimulus is frequently invoked by Dems right on up to the White House as well.

                • A couple of obvious points:

                  1. A large majority of Congressional Democrats voted against both rounds of the Bush tax cuts.

                  2. Which Democrats, specifically, have trumpeted upper class tax cuts as a means of economic stimulus?

                • Brien,

                  1. When 1 Democrat crossed the aisle, it’s because the Democrats as a whole want something to pass, and 98% of the caucus is performing a charade. We know this because of the awesome party discipline that characterizes the Democratic caucus.

                  2. When Democrats agree to a policy they have spent a great deal of time vocally opposing, as part of a package that gets them other policies they do want, it means that they only pretended to oppose the policy, and were actually just engaged in a charade. We know this because the passage of legislation can easily be accomplished without compromise.

                • Ah yes, silly me. Well done.

        • Gwen Dallas says:

          But think about it. Nobody in their right mind fights “as hard against tax cuts for the rich as the GOP leaders have fought for them.” Especially not through most of recent American history (the economic shit having hit the fan only in the past few years).

          Even discounting the Laffer curve (and the Laffer curve is probably valid, the only problem for Republicans is that we are almost certainly on the left slope of it and not the right side as they believe), tax cuts for the rich are not a zero-sum game from an economic perspective.

          They are also not a zero-sum game from a political perspective either, particularly when the economy is growing at a healthy clip (as it did for most of the 20th century). When the economy is growing, we really *can* give out goodies to everyone: Medicare for seniors, Medicaid and welfare for the poor, UI for workers, mortgage deductions and education credits to the middle class, and of course tax cuts for the rich.

          By the time we got to where the Republicans’ lust for tax cuts was pathological, hurting everyone else in society (I’d say this was in the past 10 years) tax rates were already pretty close to where they are right now. The difference between Clinton-era rates and Bush-era rates is significant, but not huge (we’re talking 39.6 versus 35 percent; capital gains rates dropped a bit but they were already well lower than income tax rates; the only tax that really got knocked out was the estate tax).

      • JRoth says:

        So, by definition, pretty much anything Republicans want to do (short of destroying SSI) doesn’t count in this equation?

        I suppose that’s one way to hold Obama harmless. “Presidents can’t pass domestic legislation except for domestic legislation that GOP Presidents would support.” Literally every single bill that Bush favored falls under your second category.

        • When did the observation that the Senate structurally and institutionally favors conservative ends over progressive ends become particularly controversial?

          And what Republican goals other than tax cuts were mentioned?

        • Literally every single bill that Bush favored falls under your second category.

          Yes, George Bush only favored legislation that had the support of powerful interests, and therefor, it was easy to pass what he favored.

          There are two parts to that statement. Do you thing the first is wrong? The second? Both?

          I can’t see any argument in your argument, except that it must not be true because it weakens an attack on Obama.

  12. Blue Neponset says:

    I think you are being disingenuous. Privatizing Social Security didn’t happen because voters hated the idea.

    Voters, however, seem to like the idea of increasing taxes on the rich and Obama and the Democrats can’t seem to capitalize on that. Why do you suppose that is?

    My answer, Obama and Co. suck at messaging and negotiation. Because of this, Obama has painted himself into a corner and really can’t do a damn thing about the economy anymore. Don’t blame the Republicans for that. The R’s have been evil bastards for decades now and yet Obama still thinks he can compromise with them.

    • Isn’t the most direct reason that Democrats haven’t raised taxes on the wealthy yet that they traded said tax increases for an extension of unemployment benefits last winter?

      • Blue Neponset says:

        So what if it is?

        Republicans will be Republicans. Caving in to their demands is not a good way to deal with them. It also would have been a good time to whip out the bully pulpit and have a public debate about the issue. Instead Obama kept his powder dry and gave them what they wanted to the detriment of the country and his reelection chances.

        • Well, it might have been a bad deal, but it was still a deal. And in a system where reaching in an agreement oftentimes is actually required to pass something, it seems that you’re opinion of the trade rests on which you think was more important to get. I’m not really coming down on other side of this, but obviously if you’re a progressive willing to take the tradeoff, you’re not too broken up by the deal.

        • Wait wait wait…Obama harmed his reelection chances by not raising middle-class taxes and by getting UI extended?

          What’s the theory here? The public opposition to a two-year extension to the Bush Tax Cuts is going to swamp the benefit of those two things?

      • BradP says:

        Probably that and the chances of raising taxes and the coverage concerning the economy becoming so dire again.

        Any tax increase coupled with bad economic news would be really bad for Obama. Especially since opinions are shifting towards the conservative side.

  13. dan says:

    Speaking of straw men, the mere fact that a president cannot get anything he/she wants passed through force of will does not mean that Obama got the most he could have out of the resources provided. I don’t believe, to pick one example, that Ovama was under any obligation to allow Senator Snowe to write the bulk of the health care bill without securing from her a promise that, if she was going to write most of the law, she would have to vote for it, or at least vote for closure. He could have proposed a stimulus package sufficient to meet the needs of the economy at the time and then negotiate down as necessary rather than start at a too-low, too reliant on tax cuts package and negotiate further down from the half a loaf he was asking for. That Obama did not even ask for a debt ceiling increase when he made last December’s massively-debt increase tax deal to extend the Bush tax cuts does not signify any failure in American institutions, but rather a tactical error (or plain old wrong values) on his part.

    • The Fool says:

      sounds right to me

    • None of that is particularly wrong, but it has nothing to do with the point of contention here.

      • JRoth says:

        But it does. Scott’s (continual, repeated) argument is that liberals are stupid to complain about Obama, because he couldn’t possibly have done any better than he has, because the Presidency is an empty shell of an office, except for the phone line to the Pentagon. But if the claim by liberals isn’t that Presidents have infinite powers, but that they have actual impacts on both legislation and the national political conversation, and that Obama has squandered those, then Scott’s argument gets harder, and he can’t just invoke Green Lantern (ha ha stupid liberals, thinking that a vote for Obama was a vote for Hope, Change, and Progress).

        • No, I think you’re missing the point of the original argument. It might not apply to you, but Greenwald and others have, mostly around the spring and summer of 2010, argued that Barack Obama actually had the ability to make each Democratic Senator and Joe Lieberman vote for whatever Barack Obama wanted them to, that the failure of every Democratic Senator to vote the way Greenwald wanted them to was de facto proof that Obama didn’t support Greenwald’s favored policies, and ipso facto the failure of the bill to reflect 100% of the Progressive caucus’ views was because Obama necessarily disagreed with those views and/or failed to exert enough pressure on Blue Dogs in Congress to vote for them.

          Again, this may well not apply to your line of thinking, but it is the argument Greenwald made, and the underlying point of contention here.

          • dan says:

            The parameters of presidential influence on domestic legislation are difficult to ascertain, and one can never prove what would have happened if something in the past had been done differently, but I do resent the implication in Scott’s original post that, just because I believe Obama could have done better, that means I believe in a “Green Latern” theory of presidential power. I can’t speak for Glenn Greenwald, or anyone else, but I’m failing to see any citation to any statements of his (or mine, or others) suggesting a belief that all Obama had to do was to want more to get more progressive legislation passed. I agree that single payer was impossible (and also that he wouldn’t have wanted it if it was), but that does not mean that what was passed was the most progressive HCR possible, because there are innumerable ways in which the bill could have been made more progressive without become single payer (i.e. Medicare for 55 and older, you you remember that provision that was withdrawn because Lieberman threatened to filibuster if he couldn’t be seen as making the bill more conservative, and Obama hadn’t insisted on Lieberman’s support, or nonfilibuster, of any domestic program as a condition of keeping his committee assignments). It’s this tendency of Obama’s to give people what they want without asking them to support anything that leads me to believe he’s leaving more progressive outcomes on the table.

            • “but I do resent the implication in Scott’s original post that, just because I believe Obama could have done better, that means I believe in a “Green Latern” theory of presidential power.”

              That’s not the implication of the post at all. I think Obama could have gotten better outcomes. The question isn’t whether better outcomes could have been achieved, it’s whether you think they could have been achieved by a certain means, in this case exerting sufficient willpower to force Congress to do exactly what he wants it to do regardless of the personal preferences of members of Congress.

              But just saying “I think better outcomes could have been achieved” does not mean you necessarily believe in the Green Lantern Theory.

              • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

                Well the post is about a cartoon. And what the cartoon suggests is that the very people who question the extent of Obama’s powers (and thus make excuses for some of this administration’s actions) seem to assume that a future Republican President would have extraordinary powers.

                We might disagree about how important this observation is, but I think there’s an essential truth to this observation.

                What is problematic about this observation, it seems to me, is that it doesn’t take into account Congress. The problem, from an Democratic electioneering perspective, is that even Democratic Congresses often have working, bipartisan conservative majorities. So while Democratic Congresses are certainly less bad than GOP Congresses, as we saw in 2007-2010, they don’t behave particularly progressively under either a Democratic or Republican President. So, regardless of which party controls it, Congress will tend to limit progressive presidential actions more than conservative ones.

                • “but I think there’s an essential truth to this observation. ”

                  No, there isn’t. As Scott explicitly noted, the missing question is “the power to do what?” Rejecting the notion that the President has magical powers to pass an affirmative progressive reform through a Congress that doesn’t support the measure is quite obviously not the same thing as believing that a President Bachmann would, say, veto the increase of the debt ceiling or unilaterally gut the enforcement of environmental regulations. And I honestly can’t believe people can’t see the difference.

                • Or, put another way, the fear of how a Republican President would wield their formal powers has absolutely nothing to do with whether you believe a particular informal power of the Presidency exists or not.

                • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

                  The cartoon’s observation isn’t about the powers of the presidency but about the way that certain people talk about presidential powers. Scott’s post concerns the actual powers of the presidency, which is not entirely the same thing.

                  It is entirely reasonable to argue, simultaneously, that: 1) there are powerful institutional restraints on the presidency; but 2) certain terrible things will happen if a Republican is elected president.

                  But, in fact, some people speak of Obama as if he’s utterly powerless and of potential Republican president’s as if they will be all-powerful.

                • the very people who question the extent of Obama’s powers (and thus make excuses for some of this administration’s actions)

                  Did anyone else actually laugh at this?

                  Questioning whether a President has limitations on his powers is, therefore, making excuses.

                  Anyway, I don’t think Bachmann would have “extraordinary” powers. She’d have the same powers as Obama, meaning, she’d have a great deal of power to take military action overseas, a great deal of power to take major action by executive order, considerable power to determine the makeup of the Supreme Court for the next generation, and no little power to pass a domestic agenda. Perhaps she wouldn’t pass as massive a domestic agenda as Obama did in his first two years, but then, even passing something that pisses us off half as much as the ACA pissed off the Republicans would be bad enough.

                • Unless you can produce an actual example of such a disconnect, it appears to me that you’ve just constructed another strawman, since that summarizes approximately zero arguments that have actually been made that I can think of.

                  Of course, it could also be a matter of completely ignoring the fact that Congressional Republicans are much more inclined towards falling in line than Congressional Democrats are. So given that reality, even the observation that Republican Presidents can exert much more pressure on their co-partisans than a Democratic President can doesn’t constitute a disconnect in thinking.

                • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

                  These latest comments by joe and Brien at least address what the cartoon is actually about: the way people talk about presidential power. Both joe and Brien say they don’t talk about it as the cartoon (and to a certain extent I) think they do. That’s a much more valid criticism of the cartoon than pointing out the presidential power is, in fact, limited (of course it is).

                  A word about why this cartoon appeals to Greenwald: what has most frustrated him since 2009 is that some of the very things that most upset many progressives about the Bush administration–especially in the area of civil liberties and the conduct of the war on terror–seem to bother them much less when the Obama Administration does them. He’s thus very accutely aware of double standards applied to presidents of different parties.

                  (Again, that doesn’t constitute a defense of the cartoon, but rather an explanation as to why Greenwald likes it that doesn’t have anything to do with over valuing the informal powers of the presidency.)

                • “what has most frustrated him since 2009 is that some of the very things that most upset many progressives about the Bush administration–especially in the area of civil liberties and the conduct of the war on terror–seem to bother them much less when the Obama Administration does them.”

                  That seems like a highly implausible reading of Greenwald’s views on the matter, especially once you invoke the limitation of Presidential power. Scott certainly criticized Obama’s record on those things, as will I, and rightly noted that Obama does have a lot of power to unilaterally make decisions in this area (though as I said upthread, I’d discount closing Gitmo from that, due to actual, and strong, opposition from Congress).

                  That doesn’t have any bearing to the informal powers we’re arguing are limited or non-existent. And, to point out the obvious, your reading of Greenwald’s point requires us to accept the notion that Greenwald is too dense/stupid/dishonest to understand the difference.

                • what has most frustrated him since 2009 is that some of the very things that most upset many progressives about the Bush administration–especially in the area of civil liberties and the conduct of the war on terror–seem to bother them much less when the Obama Administration does them. He’s thus very accutely aware of double standards applied to presidents of different parties.

                  Greenwald’s above-it-all Broderism, his insistence that both sides are just the same and his dismissal of evidence that the Democrats are substantially better as blind loyalty from partisans, is what has most frustrated most of Greenwald’s ex-fans since 2009.

        • Scott Lemieux says:

          Scott’s (continual, repeated) argument is that liberals are stupid to complain about Obama, because he couldn’t possibly have done any better than he has, because the Presidency is an empty shell of an office, except for the phone line to the Pentagon.

          Yeah, no.

    • Pithlord says:

      The problem with all this Monday morning quarterbacking isn’t that Obama had an unerring strategic sense at every moment. I tend to think he did pretty well, but that’s neither here nor there. The number of Americans who think Obama hasn’t been liberal enough is a tiny minority. If you want to have an impact, get some people elected to state office and contest some primaries. Make specific policy proposals.

      However you slice it, there is zero chance that Obama will be defeated by a more progressive Democrat in the primary process in 2012, and zero doubt that the left will be worse off with any Republican President. So be disciplined. Criticize policies you disagree with, but don’t try to demoralize the Democratic base. Retrospective strategic advice is completely worthless.

      • Captain Splendid says:

        The number of Americans who think Obama hasn’t been liberal enough is a tiny minority.

        Actually, no. Or am I misremembering the polls that showed strong support for things like: Single-Payer, withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan, letting the Bush tax cuts expire, etc?

        When actual majorities of your population are to the left of your Democratic President, and he, his advisers and his enablers criticize some fringe rump, it is, at the very least, insulting. Stop doing it.

      • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

        The number of Americans who think Obama hasn’t been liberal enough is a tiny minority.

        But the number of Americans who think that he has not, e.g., focused enough on jobs is huge. And there’s good reason to think that more progressive policies would have made the economy better for average Americans in ways that could move millions of votes.

        Most Americans, especially swing voters, aren’t particularly ideological in the way they approach politics. They’re pragmatists. And the reason the President has dipped under 40% in the popularity is due much less to the American people’s understanding of his ideology, and much more to our assessment of the results of his policies.

        More liberal policies would have been means to ends about which average Americans in fact care deeply.

        • You’re right, but, this isn’t the question! The question isn’t “would more stimulus have been good?” It isn’t even “could more stimulus have passed Congress?” The question is “could Barack Obama have coerced Senators who didn’t want to vote for more stimulus into doing so?”

          That’s it.

          • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

            Actually there are a number of questions here:

            1) Should Obama have asked for a larger stimulus package, even if such a package was unlikely to pass Congress?

            2) Would such a request have resulted in a larger package being passed than was passed, even if that package were not as large as Obama had hoped?

            3) Are there other worthy job creating programs that the President could have pursued, whether or not they got through Congress?

            While it is easy to exaggerate the power of the bully pulpit, not all presidential actions are about what can and can’t get through Congress.

            We are now in the bizarre situation of both political parties crawling all over each other to look more serious about deficit reduction than the other, when our economy is, in fact, in need of stimulus. How did we get here?

            Generations of Republican politicians, most of whom didn’t give a rat’s ass about actually balancing the budget, have argued repeatedly that the nation’s economy is like a household’s and that budgets have to be balanced.

            The only way to resist having all of our economics debates framed by this sort of nonsense is to offer counternarratives. And since proposing his too-small stimulus in 2009, Obama has steadfastly refused to do so (though I think the problem here is less strategic error on his part and more ideological commitment to budget balancing).

            Let’s put this another way: if more stimulus would have been good, there is no reason whatsoever not to say as much. Repeatedly. Even if you can’t get that stimulus passed.

            If, that is, you happen to believe that more stimulus would have been good.

            • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

              And to get back to the swing voters for a minute:

              The economy sucks. Our policies are clearly not working.

              Had Obama repeatedly called for stimulus packages that Congress refused to pass, he’d have a story to tell voters: I care about jobs. This economy needs stimulus. I called for stimulus. But Congress didn’t give it to me. Reelect me and a Congress that will give you the economic growth we all need.

              But in fact, Obama did no such thing.

              Now the Republicans have a (largely nonsensical story) about why the economy is in the crapper: we’re spending beyond our means. The stimulus package and Obamacare have made the problem worse. Elect us to impose fiscal discipline and get the economy moving.

              Obama doesn’t have a very clear counternarrative. Indeed, he buys half of what the GOP is selling (budget balancing is a key to economic prosperity).

              • “And to get back to the swing voters for a minute:”

                What exactly do swing voters have to do with getting Congressman who don’t support your agenda to vote for it?

                • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

                  I’m responding here to Pithlord’s claim that “The number of Americans who think Obama hasn’t been liberal enough is a tiny minority.”

                  As I said in my first comment in this subthread, while voters are not looking for more liberal policies per se, had Obama pursued more liberal policies in the area of, e.g., job creation, it would have benefited him politically. Not because these policies are liberal. But because, if enacted, they would have produced jobs. And if blocked by Congress, they’d have produced a useful campaign narrative.

            • Okay, let’s break this down:

              Should Obama have asked for a larger stimulus package, even if such a package was unlikely to pass Congress?

              That’s a question of optimal policy/political strategy, not about whether or not Obama could coerce Ben Nelson into voting for something.

              Would such a request have resulted in a larger package being passed than was passed, even if that package were not as large as Obama had hoped?

              That’s a question of optimal policy/political strategy, not about whether or not Obama could coerce Ben Nelson into voting for something.

              Are there other worthy job creating programs that the President could have pursued, whether or not they got through Congress?

              That’s a question of whether or not the President had other formal powers available for him to use, not whether or not he has the power to coerce Ben Nelson into voting for him.

              So in short, none of your questions have anything to do with the Green Lantern Theory. You raise perfectly good and reasonable points, they just have nothing to do with the actual point of contention here.

              • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

                This subthread isn’t about the post, but rather about Pithlord’s contention that very few voters think Obama isn’t liberal enough.

                The reason that my discussion of Obama and job creation policies doesn’t address the issue of the Green Lantern theory of politics is that I’m not trying to address that issue here.

                • Okay, that’s fair. Though even though I accept the notion that a more progressive set of policies would have also been better politically, we’re still left with the question of how we would have gotten those more progressive policies passed (and with the stimulus specifically, you have to remember that Specter was still a Republican, so there weren’t even 60 nominal Democrats in the Senate).

                • Pithlord says:

                  Polling organizations actually conduct public opinion polls asking that precise question, and only a tiny minority of Americans answer that Obama is not liberal enough.

                  Now, you can argue that lots of people who don’t answer yes to that question would in fact be more willing to vote for the Democrats if Obama acted more liberal. But the onus is on you.

          • Jay B. says:

            Then the answer is yes, that is, if you understand politics or simple carrot-and-stick inducements. Of course, we’ll never know. But clearly, politicians vote for things they previously opposed all the fucking time. And often times, its due to inducements or pressure from other politicians, including the President.

            • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

              Absolutely.

              And saying so doesn’t entail believing that the President can accomplish anything whatsoever, provided he wants it badly enough (i.e. the so-called Green Lantern Theory of Politics).

            • Of course they do. But politicians also, at times, vote their own preferences regardless of pressure from their co-partisans. Greenwald’s contention is that this never ever happens, and that the President can always and everywhere coerce his co-partisans in Congress to vote exactly the way he wants them to no matter what the Senator’s preferences are.

    • Njorl says:

      I agree. The fact that the president has limited powers in domestic policy should not obscure the fact that Obama has consistently made the least of his opportunities.

      I don’t necessarily think that he could have gotten any more from any particular negotiation, but he screwed up in other ways.

      He let the health care bill move too slowly. He should have pushed it harder. It ate up far too much legislative time in the period when he had huge majorities in both houses.

      He should have been making the Republicans look worse. The message from day one should have been that we are in a Republican mess. The message from day 2 should have been that Republicans are obstructing all efforts to clean up their mess.

      Obama owns the economy now. The stimulus he said was good enough wasn’t. If unemployment doesn’t dip down to around 8%, we’re screwed, and Republicans are going to fight like hell to keep it above 9%.

      • He let the health care bill move too slowly. He should have pushed it harder.

        You know, you can say this, but I can’t help but notice that it freaking passed this time. After 70 years, the Democratic President actually gets a comprehensive health care bill through Congress. And I’m supposed to just accept that he could have just jettisoned the level of deference and patience he showed to the members of the most egotistical country club on earth without scuttling the bill?

        Look, there’s no way to prove a hypothetical, but I’m not inclined to believe someone who responds to Marris’ 61st homer by saying his batting stance was wrong. The way Obama handled the HCR bill’s movement through the Senate actually got the HCR bill passed.

        He should have been making the Republicans look worse. The message from day one should have been that we are in a Republican mess. The message from day 2 should have been that Republicans are obstructing all efforts to clean up their mess.

        This would likely have made his re-election easier. It also would have come at the expense of some of his first-term agenda. He got the largest legislative agenda since Johnson, if not FDR, through Congress. If there is any time to say “screw politics, I’m going to put my head down and legislate,” it’s when you have a 60 vote majority that, due to a lousy economy, you’re only going to have for two years.

        • pete says:

          I’m not inclined to believe someone who responds to Maris’ 61st homer by saying his batting stance was wrong.

          Applause.

          • Njorl says:

            FDR and LBJ had much larger legislative majorities, so their superior accomplishments are understandable. But by the same token, Obama should be held to a higher standard than other Democratic presidents. The healthcare bill was not 61 home runs. It was what should have been expected of him.

        • dan says:

          Well, Joe, most of the time I agree with you about HCR. But I sometimes feel the other way. And today just happens to be one of those days. And one of the reasons why is that, in every other situation, it seems like Obama left more on the table from a progressive point of view than he needed to. I don’t really care if it’s because he’s more conservative than I would like, or because he’s a bad negotiator, because either way the result is the same.

          The one that really gets me is the tax deal last December. Now, maybe he really didn’t want to let the Bush tax cuts expire. Maybe he did, but also wanted the payroll tax cut and thought this was the best deal. And maybe it really was the best deal. But to not ask for a debt ceiling increase at the same time? Either he (a) actually believed, after two years of you-know-what, that the Republicans wouldn’t be using the debt ceiling as leverage to force greater reductions in the social safety net, or (b) he knew it, but thought the confrontation would give him an excuse to do some kind of grand deal. (a) is a combination of bad tactics and willful blindness, (b) is policy I don’t agree with, and both result in an outcome that seems to me to be both completely unnecessary (if the debt ceiling had been raised back in December, you know, back when there were increasing the debt) and a suboptimal outcome from a progressive point of view. And maybe similar mistakes were made with HCR, too. Just because it passed this time doesn’t mean it’s the most progressive version that could have passed. This whole subthread started, in part, when I complained about letting Sen. Snowe take such a major role in writing the bill without making a condition of that authorship that she vote for what she wrote. That really doesn’t seem like too much to ask for, does it?

  14. Blue Neponset says:

    The idea that unemployment would not have been extended is ridiculous IMO. Obama gave away the $200,000+ tax increases for nothing. The Republicans would have caved on the unemployment extension and Obama could have either gotten something else (debt limit maybe) for the tax increase or maybe even some form of tax increase.

    We, of course, will never know what could have happened because Obama folded like a lawn chair.

    What progressives were happy with that deal?

    • “The Republicans would have caved on the unemployment extension…”

      By what basis do you make that claim?

      • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

        They have always done so in the past.

        But in fact, unemployment insurance extension, which was so absolutely necessary in December that it was used to justify a terrible tax deal, wasn’t part of the recent deficit ceiling deal.

        So why is it, all of a sudden, so unimportant today?

        • Different power points. In December, Obama had all of the leverage (and failed to use it to the fullest extent, IMO) because Republicans REALLY wanted to extend the Bush tax cuts, and couldn’t do it without Obama’s support. In August, Republicans had all of the leverage (thanks to Obama’s blundering) because most of their members were willing to not pass a debt ceiling increase.

    • Richard says:

      You’re insane if you believe that Repubs would have agreed some other tax increase. And I see no reason to believe that they would have agreed to an unemployment extension.
      In retrospect, tying an extension of the Bush tax cuts to an increase of the federal debt limit would have been the preferred tactic but believing that some form of tax increase would have been thrown in as well? You’re living in an alternative universe.

    • Njorl says:

      In case you haven’t noticed yet, the Republicans want sufffering. Suffering helps them politically. They have zero incentive to extend unemployment benefits without getting something in return.

      You can argue that Obama should have gotten more in return, but the idea that the Republicans would cave is ridiculous.

    • The idea that unemployment would not have been extended is ridiculous IMO. Obama gave away the $200,000+ tax increases for nothing.

      Wait, what? If there is one defining characteristic of the post-2008 Republican Party, it is a willingness to stick together in blocking efforts to shorten or mitigate the recession, no matter how much bad press it gets them at the time.

      Anyway, the key part of that deal wasn’t just the half that the Democrats wanted, but the end of the filibuster of all Senate business, and the freeing up of the DADT, START, and food inspection bills.

  15. Pithlord says:

    Presidents must be all-powerful daddies who will smite the enemy tribe. I don’t care what Article Two says, because it was written without adequate regard for my need to have an all-powerful daddy to smite the enemy tribe. What use is a president who doesn’t even look like an all-powerful daddy and pays attention to trivialities like the 2010 midterm results?

  16. Pithlord says:

    Can I also say that I want my mass left-wing American movement which has no connection to any organizations of women, racial minorities or labor, has never elected any state-level officials or contested any primaries and agrees with me on everything? And that I want it right now? And that I am very, very angry with Mr. Lemieux for telling me I can’t have it and I think he must be a neoliberal?

  17. mb says:

    There was a moment when Obama had 60 votes in the Senate. And he had Lieberman by the short hairs. At that point, I believe he, and Reid, could have played a little old style LBJ-like hardball and demanded party line votes on all cloture motions. Instead we got GOP filibuster threats empowered by people like Nelson and Lieberman and a absurd fight to get a warm-over republican-lite healthcare reform.

    That is, imho, Obama’s great political failure.

  18. I’ve found that a lot of liberals whose political awareness dates back to the Bush administration – like Greenwald’s – have internalized the image of the Bush Executive and the Delay/Frist Congress as their conception of how politics works, and feel ripped off that the Democrats don’t operate the same way.

    They look, for example, at the Republican use of the filibuster in the 2009-2010 Congress and instead of thinking “That’s outrageous,” they think “Why didn’t the Democrats do that before?” and the answers they come up with are “cowardice” or “complicity.”

    • Malaclypse says:

      Is Greenwald actually a liberal? I mean yes, he is concerned about civil rights, and I’m glad for that, but has he ever taken a position that Radley Balko would not also take?

      • No, Glenn Greenwald is not a liberal.

        • I don’t know if his ideology is cohesive enough to equate with any specific worldview. He’s certainly not a conventional liberal, but if he’s a libertarian, he leaves an awful lot of libertarian arguments (on economic issues, for instance) on the table.

          On the issues that he uses to attack Obama, his positions overlap considerably with those of liberals, and he attacks Obama from the left.

          • DocAmazing says:

            he attacks Obama from the left

            There a huge amount of room on Obama’s left–enough, even, for a fairly conservative guy like Greenwald to maneuver from.

            • a fairly conservative guy like Greenwald

              Hilarious.

              • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

                Greenwald basically cares, overwhelmingly, about civil liberties issues. If “libertarian” had not simply become shorthand for “Republican who cares a little more about taxes than about denying equal rights to gays, women, and racial minorities” he could be described as a libertarian.

                • Libertarians do not care overwhelmingly about civil liberties issues. They care overwhelmingly about their “economic freedom” agenda. They care about civil liberties, too, but it comes in a distant second.

                  I couldn’t really say what Greenwald’s opinions about economic issues are. He sure keeps quiet about them.

              • Malaclypse says:

                Hilarious.

                If it is hilarious, can you name three areas, beyond civil rights, where he can be described as liberal? Has he crusaded on economic issues? Big union supporter? Single-payer advocate? Protection of Social Security? Bueller? Bueller?

    • John F says:

      They look, for example, at the Republican use of the filibuster in the 2009-2010 Congress and instead of thinking “That’s outrageous,” they think “Why didn’t the Democrats do that before?”

      And of course the answer is, it was really only one before by Dixie Dems in opposition to civil rights laws.

      There also was a time when the filibsuter meant that a Senator had to literally take the floor- and stay there – cloture was not the only way to defeat one- you could also simply outlast the SOB. Originally filibustering was allowed in the House as well- but as the House grew so large, the recognition that it was absurd grew and it was abolished in the 1840s

      • And of course the answer is, it was really only one before by Dixie Dems in opposition to civil rights laws.

        I’m sorry, I don’t understand what this sentence means.

        What was really only what before the Dixie Dems did what? And what does that have to do with what I was saying?

        Anyway, even when the Dixiecrats filibustered civil rights laws, they didn’t make 60 votes the minimum for passing any laws. They used the filibuster in extraordinary circumstances.

    • dangermouse says:

      They look, for example, at the Republican use of the filibuster in the 2009-2010 Congress and instead of thinking “That’s outrageous,” they think “Why didn’t the Democrats do that before?”

      I for one have always believed that what’s outrageous about Republicans is not their policy agenda, but rather, their willingness to use effective procedural tactics.

      • Thanks for demonstrating my point.

        A whole generation of liberals who look at the Tom Delay House as how things are supposed to work, and feel disappointed that Democrats don’t run Congress that way.

        Sad.

  19. Ed says:

    By what basis do you make that claim?

    Because extending unemployment benefits was one thing that the GOP had agreed to before, as was noted in reports at the time, and it would have made them look terrible if they had refused to do so again in the circumstances. It just wasn’t that great a concession. Trumpeting the extension of benefits as some sort of victory for Obama was rather silly and such talk came mostly from Administration apologists.

    Single payer didn’t have ten votes in the Senate. I repeat, it didn’t have ten votes. There was nothing Obama could have done to change that.

    I guess we’ll never put this discussion to rest, but the point was that single payer was off the table before negotiations even began, which was a blunder as even Baucus admitted, and the Administration strung liberals along regarding a public option by making nice noises about it when it was already secretly a dead letter as well.

    • and it would have made them look terrible if they had refused to do so again in the circumstances.

      Unlike, say, voting en masse for Paul Ryan’s Medicare Plan?

      Did any of the stances the Republicans took during the debt ceiling discussions – no taxes or even closing loopholes on the rich, cut Medicare, cut Social Security – demonstrate an aversion to taking unpopular stands in the cause of government-cutting?

      • Ed says:

        http://qctimes.com/news/national/article_0ba26c02-02f5-11e0-b751-001cc4c002e0.html

        I suppose you can argue that the extension for 13 months rather than three or six was a sort of victory, but given the dire situation of the long term unemployed it seems to me and seemed to others that Obama did not get nearly enough for what he conceded.

        The debt ceiling debacle took place after the GOP had taken the measure of the opposition in December 2010. I would agree that getting GOP agreement to benefits extension in the current environment would be a good deal trickier, to say the least.

        • “Charles Grassley thinks.”

          Oh, ok.

          The debt ceiling debacle took place after the GOP had taken the measure of the opposition in December 2010.

          It also took place after Obama left Obama looking like a fool in the April budget resolution negotiations. And?

    • Richard says:

      Actually its easy to put this discussion to rest Neither Obama or Hilary supported single payer in the primaries. And less than ten democratic senators supported single payer in any of their election contests (either in 2008 or before). Undisputed facts. Putting single payer on the table after the election wouldn’t have changed the votes of any senators who had previously declared themselves as being against single payer.

      Putting single payer on the table when you don’t have ten votes for it doesn’t strengthen your bargaining positon. You have a better argument when it comes to the public option (although I don’t think he could have ever got 50 votes for the public option given the opposition of Lieberman and others) but the single payer argument is just not rooted in reality.

      • Ed says:

        Putting single payer on the table when you don’t have ten votes for it doesn’t strengthen your bargaining positon.

        Observers and participants in the negotiations, then and now, disagree. As was pointed out at the time, ruling single payer out of court meant the public option assumed single payer’s position on the far left, or what passes for a far left in this country, leaving not much room to move to the center. Mistake, unless you assume as some do that the corporatist arrangement was already where we were headed and the rest was just smoke and mirrors.

        JFL, your response speaks for itself.

        • “ruling single payer out of court meant the public option assumed single payer’s position on the far left, or what passes for a far left in this country, leaving not much room to move to the center.”

          Jesus Christ, not this dumb shit again.

          • Scott Lemieux says:

            Seriously. It’s like the guy in your fantasy baseball league who think’s it’s the height of negotiating brilliance to offer you Yuniesky Betancourt for Justin Verlander so that you’ll negotiate for something more reasonable. This will work if you’re a complete idiot. If not, you’ll just stop looking at his emails.

            Anyway, to state the obvious putting single payer “on the table” would not have accomplished anything, because everyone knew it didn’t have the votes. Empty threats don’t provide leverage.

            • I’ll be charitable and note that it does, in certain circumstances, work, but the way people present it as a strategy is as a one size fits all view of the goals of the other side of the negotiation that ignores that they might be in a position to name their price and actually extract it.

              To use the stimulus as an illustration, if the position of the marginal Senator was that they wanted to take $X off of whatever the President’s proposal, no matter what the number was, to make them look “more moderate,” then obviously this strategy would work quite well. But it’s completely useless if the Senator says “I’ll agree to $X in stimulus and not a penny more” if said Senator can actually back up their position.

              • Scott Lemieux says:

                Right. In the specific case of the stimulus, I think the criticism holds water, because there were a few moderate Republicans who were determined to arbitrarily shave off a certain amount of whatever the stimulus was. Within reason, the higher the starting point, the better. With health care, though, that’s not going to work, both because it’s easier to compromise with figures and because the Republicans were strongly opposed to passing anything.

                • Well I don’t think the Senate would have accepted any number that ended in “trillion,” but I suppose there’s no way to really know that.

                  To look at HCR, I guess I’d look at Lieberman’s behavior. He opposed the public option, so Reid offered allowing everyone 55-64 to buy into Medicare, something Lieberman had supported in the past, progressives agreed, and Lieberman…said no. In this case, it’s pretty clear that there were 5-10 Senate Democrats who were simply opposed to the public option outright, and the President “putting single payer on the table” wouldn’t have done anything to change it, since those Senators were in a position to block the entire thing if their demand wasn’t met.

                • dan says:

                  To respond to Brien’s point — which is so embedded I can’t respond to it directly –

                  Doesn’t Lieberman’s demand that the Medicare buy-in be dropped, when he previously supported it, mean not that he was standing on any sort of principal or belief as to what was acceptable, but rather that he believed that he should be able to claim responsibility for moving the bill to the right, regardless of where the bill began? In which case, positioning is relevant. I agree that starting off with single payer probably wouldn’t have accomplished anything. But when you accept the (what is to me very obvious proposition that some people in this thread seem to believe is fantastical) that there was a solid block of senators (Lieberman, Nelson, etc.) who wanted or needed to be able to make the political claim that they made the bill more conservative regardless of what the substantive concessions were, then positioning, even within the HCR fight, is a relevant concern. Doing things like “having Republicans on the Finance Committee write the whole damn thing, with sporadic contributions from a conservative Dem from Montana, all without getting a single vote for closure in return” means that, when the inevitable trading comes, you have to make even more concessions like trading away the Medicare buy in. If the bill had a public option at that point, the public option could have been traded to Lieberman, Nelson, etc. in exchange for their votes while substituting a Medicare buy-in.

            • It’s like the guy in your fantasy baseball league who think’s it’s the height of negotiating brilliance to offer you Yuniesky Betancourt for Justin Verlander so that you’ll negotiate for something more reasonable. This will work if you’re a complete idiot. If not, you’ll just stop looking at his emails.

              Or making an opening offer of $1000 for the new Honda Accord. The dealer isn’t going to meet you halfway. He’ll tell you to get real, and go talk to someone else if you don’t.

            • Ed says:

              Jesus Christ, not this dumb shit again.

              I’m afraid so:

              “In the interview, Mr. Baucus said he has tried to keep everyone at the table — a tactic he honed discussing tax issues in Montana. “If you don’t like something, suspend judgment for 15 minutes and let’s find a way to get to yes,” Mr. Baucus said.

              He conceded that it was a mistake to rule out a fully government-run health system, or a “single-payer plan,” not because he supports it but because doing so alienated a large, vocal constituency and left Mr. Obama’s proposal of a public health plan to compete with private insurers as the most liberal position.”

        • Yes, my responses usually are clear.

  20. joshtk76 says:

    I think progressives’ major mistake have been viewing electoral victories more as an end than a means. We think as long as we get Democrats or some fantasy third-party in office, our job is done. If we hold to that mindset, we will suffer from major legislative defeats which we will attribute to bad strategy / weak will on the part of the politicians we hitched our wagons to.

    I propose instead that we focus our energies, our time, and our money on movement building. If the austerity measures currently favored by Republicans were met by massive demonstrations (and by massive, I mean, massive) I think we would be seeing much better outcomes, even if Republicans controlled Congress + the White House.

    So yes, vote Democrat, defend Democratic politicians, etc. But spend the bulk of the time and money you allocate to politics to movement building.

    • pete says:

      Wow, I scroll all the way down this thread (because I am avoiding work) … and I get a reward! You are exactly correct. Winning elections is a means, as is movement building, and both are necessary.

      But now I’m going to waste hours scrolling down equally interminable threads and be disappointed. Oh well.

  21. Steve S. says:

    how do you explain the near-total lack of major legislation passed during George W. Bush’s second term

    A better question might be, why are you comparing Obama’s period of maximum political leverage with Bush’s period of minimum political leverage?

    • Um, in February 2005 Bush had just been re-elected and enjoyed the largest Congressional majority of his administration. How was this his period of minimum leverage?

      • Steve S. says:

        OP’s words, “second term.” My question stands unanswered.

        • Well there’s two parts to the second term; pre-2006 elections and post-2006 elections (or substitute Katrina if you’d like). Your formulation only accounts for the latter and ignores the former (which, incidentally, is when Bush proposed social security privatization, which Scott also explicitly mentioned).

          • Steve S. says:

            Obama was elected by a much wider margin, had a much bigger House majority, had a much bigger Senate majority, and had much higher approval ratings than Bush comparing the ’05-’07 and ’09-’11 periods.

        • And I’d also note that the distinction is without meaning, since the Greenwaldian contention is that the President always has sufficient leverage to make his co-partisans vote for whatever he wants.

          • Steve S. says:

            Whether Greenwald really contends that or not is irrelevant. I want to know why the OP wants to compare Obama’s first term to Bush’s second.

            • Because there is no second Obama term to compare it to?

              Because the period immediately following 9/11 was somewhat unrepresentative of a typical Presidential term?

              • Steve S. says:

                The absurdity is compounded when you plow into the link for the Green Lantern Theory, which is formulated by using Clinton post-’94 as the point of comparison. I guess it’s easy to formulate theories when controlling for vastly different political landscapes is simply ignored.

                • But “different political landscapes” aren’t relevant (in fact, you’re making the counterpoint for us). The Green Lantern Theory is that Presidents can exert their influence on Congress through the sheer force of their will alone. That they can’t actually do that is the whole point!

            • “Whether Greenwald really contends that or not is irrelevant.”

              WTF? That contention is the entire point of the post.

              • Steve S. says:

                The OP does not quote Greenwald saying such a thing, and you provide no cite of Greenwald saying such a thing. It can therefore be ignored until you have something relevant to add.

                “But ‘different political landscapes’ aren’t relevant”

                If you’re hellbent on constructing a strawman argument about some supposed Green Lantern Theory. Since intellectually honest people aren’t interested in strawman theories, and since intellectually honest people would consider the respective political landscapes that the respective Presidents faced, we’re still in limbo as far as the OP’s question which I questioned is concerned.

    • Obama’s period of maximum political leverage

      was 2009 and early 2010, when Congress passed the largest stimulus bill in American history, an SCHIP expansion, the ACA, yadda yadda yadda, onto the largest legislative agenda passed by any President since LBJ, if not FDR.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      A better question might be, why are you comparing Obama’s period of maximum political leverage with Bush’s period of minimum political leverage?

      According to my opponents in this discussion, it’s irrelevant, because the president is the center of domestic policy. Leverage is certainly relevant to my position. And Obama’s first term is comparable to Bush’s first term, so there we go.

      In addition, I’ll note that a 54-46 Republican majority is worth more than a 59-41 Democratic majority, because the former is a lot more homogeneous.

  22. [...] are his choices (I’ve linked to one post, there are multiple others). •Several posts at Lawyers Guns and Money have argued that Obama is an effective liberal president, possibly one of the most effective [...]

  23. Steve S. says:

    Since Joe From Lowell and Brien Jackson are having tremendous levels of difficulty with vanishingly simple concepts I’ll try to restate.

    There exists a left critique of Obama that he has not used his position as President to sufficiently advance left priorities. I trust this statement is uncontroversial

    Scott Lemieux says that this critique is an example of the Green Lantern Theory. Following the link, this alleged theory appears to be a strawman of his own concoction. Be that as it may, regarding Obama’s accomplishments he asks the question, “how do you explain the near-total lack of major legislation passed during George W. Bush’s second term,” which any rational person who doesn’t buy strawman constructions would immediately see as an inappropriate comparison. So I questioned his question.

    Brien’s response is that Glenn Greenwald allegedly believes Presidents can coax anything out of his party members. Since the OP doesn’t quote Greenwald saying such a thing, and Brien provides no cite for Greenwald saying such a thing, we can ignore this statement of his.

    Joe responds that Obama accomplished X, Y, and Z. That’s his privilege, of course, but irrelevant. The left critique would obviously be that X, Y, and Z were inadequate and we still have no answer to my question of why the inappropriate comparison was made.

    So once again; if we want to understand the power to shape policy that Presidents wield why would we compare Presidents in vastly different political landscapes?

    That Glenn Greenwald allegedly said something does not answer this question.

    That Obama did X, Y, and Z does not answer this question.

    That nobody has ever answered a strawman theory which I concocted is not an answer.

    HTH.

    • You don’t know what the Green Lantern theory is then.

      To sum it up, back during the HCR debate, leftist critics of Obama contended that conservative Democrats could be made to support the public option and liberal priorities if the President exerted enough pressure on them to do so, and rejected out of hand the notion that there might be a limit to the President’s leverage with any particular member of that Democratic Senators could simply express their own preferences if they chose to. It was taken for granted that the President could make them do whatever he wanted to, if only he exerted enough energy. Therefore, it’s the Green Lantern theory of politics, that the President can get whatever he wants from Congress (or at least his co-partisans) if only he has enough willpower to get it.

      • DocAmazing says:

        No, back during the HCR debate, leftist critics of Obama contended that if he demanded 2x, he might just get x, but if he asked for x, he’d probably get 1/2x. That’s basic bargaining strategy, which he failed to employ.

      • Brien’s response is that Glenn Greenwald allegedly believes Presidents can coax anything out of his party members. Since the OP doesn’t quote Greenwald saying such a thing, and Brien provides no cite for Greenwald saying such a thing, we can ignore this statement of his.

        You don’t know what the Green Lantern theory is then.

        Yup. No wonder he can’t figure out why our rebuttals are relevant.

    • “I’ll use smaller words” + “strawman” = poseur

  24. Davis X. Machina says:

    250 comments? What the hell is this, Balloon Juice?

  25. bobbyp says:

    Hi Davis. I was wondering when you’d show up.

  26. [...] Scott of course is right about the Green Lantern theory of domestic politics. There’s just no way Obama is going to will Ben Nelson or Olympia Snowe into supporting a given policy. Giving speeches aren’t going to do anything to change that, and in fact we’ve seen Obama’s speeches become progressively more ignored over time. [...]

  27. bobbyp says:

    To sum it up, back during the HCR debate, leftist critics of Obama contended that conservative Democrats could be made to support the public option and liberal priorities if the President exerted enough pressure on them to do so..

    False. The critics were arguing for single payer or a variant thereof as a better policy and were angered by the fact that it received little, if any, public discussion. The administration could have widened the scope of the debate. It did not. Whether or not such a stance was ‘good politics’ seems to be the nub here….that and whether or not ‘they believed in it to begin with’…

    and rejected out of hand the notion that there might be a limit to the President’s leverage with any particular member of that Democratic Senators could simply express their own preferences if they chose to.

    Again, false. My 2cents is this…if the administration had put up any kind of fight on behalf of single payer and yet lost only to compromise with what was obtained, we would not be having this conversation. Invoking the Green Lantern is simply conjuring up one straw man to beat another one with it.

    • BobbyP,

      I think you missed something.

      To sum it up, back during the HCR debate, leftist critics of Obama contended that conservative Democrats could be made to support the public option and liberal priorities if the President exerted enough pressure on them to do so..

      False. The critics were arguing for single payer or a variant thereof as a better policy and were angered by the fact that it received little, if any, public discussion.

      Just as single payer and the public option are two different policies, so were they handled differently during the debate over the ACA, and so did the progressive critics of Obama make two different complaints.

      What you say it correct as a description of what progressive critics had to say about single payer, but they actually were making the argument you deny having heard about the public option.

  28. Billy Bob Tweed says:

    Thank You Mr. Lemiueux, for reminding us that the POTUS is weak and handcuffed and mostly powerless, so much so that it doesn’t matter who wins the Oval Office.

    Dem pols are ratcheting up fear of the Tea Parety, etc. – OMG! Michelle Bachman is crazy!!

    That may actually be true, but now you have convinced me that the POTUS is toothless, I’m not so terribly afraid of her presidency, or Rick Perry, or Sarah Palin.

    In fact, because I was so invested in the principle election themes of 2008 – “Change” and “Hope” – you’ve now convinced me to carry them over 2012. I’ll simply “Change” my vote and “Hope,” knowing the POTUS is just a ceremonial role and doesn’t actually has the power to do anything except throw parties hosting winners of the SuperBowl.

    • Scott has written nothing remotely like the POTUS is weak and handcuffed and mostly powerless, so much so that it doesn’t matter who wins the Oval Office. In fact he spent a good deal of text explicitly discussing the extensive powers the president has, before pointing out that influencing domestic policy legislation in Congress is where his power is at the weakest.

      That you chose to treat such a nuanced rejection of a false absolute as an assertion of the opposite false absolute is your problem.

      But you have obediently regurgitated Glenn Greenwald’s opinion, so your work here is done.

    • witless chum says:

      My advice to fellow lefties on voting:
      A kick in the teeth is better than a bullet to the head.
      Vote Democrat in the general, vote for the leftmost candidate at all levels in the primaries.
      Stop looking at politicians as people who you like or don’t like and look at them as means to your ends.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      Thank You Mr. Lemiueux, for reminding us that the POTUS is weak and handcuffed and mostly powerless, so much so that it doesn’t matter who wins the Oval Office.

      Generally, reading the posts will improve your comments.

  29. DocAmazing says:

    Invoking the Green Lantern is simply conjuring up one straw man to beat another one with it.

    Bobbyp basically sums it up in this sentence.

  30. TK421 says:

    Here’s what I would do if I were president:

    1) Destroy HAMP and start over. Create an effective program in its place that will help homeowners lower the principal on their mortgage with direct payments. There are tens of billions of dollars left in the HAMP fund—money the president needs no one’s permission to spend.

    2) Once that money runs out, order Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to refinance more mortgages, borrowing if necessary, to get more homeowners above water. The president needs no one’s permission to do this.

    3) There is between $100 billion and $300 billion left in TARP. The president can spend this money any way he wants, and there is enough to boost the economy in productive ways (Cash for Clunkers only cost $3 billion).

    4) The Federal Reserve took trillions in worthless assets off the hands of big banks and is holding it now. It could put these assets (“toxic waste”) on the open market and force banks to match their own toxic waste to the market value. This would ruin them. Then the FDIC takes them over, pink-slips their executives, breaks them up so they aren’t too big to fail and gets them lending again.

    5) Use quantitative easing to take bad risk off of working people’s hands. The president needs no one’s permission to do this. If any member of the Federal Reserve refuses to go along, the president can legally fire them for cause and replace them with a recess appointment.

    6) A few months ago, Congress approved a $30 billion fund to help small businesses hire people. To date, none of that money has been spent, solely because of Treasury department foot-dragging. The president should demand they give out that money, and fast. He need’s no one’s permission to do this.

    People who answer with “but the media would say bad things about him!” will not be dignified with a response.

    • Malaclypse says:

      4) The Federal Reserve took trillions in worthless assets off the hands of big banks and is holding it now. It could put these assets (“toxic waste”) on the open market and force banks to match their own toxic waste to the market value. This would ruin them. Then the FDIC takes them over, pink-slips their executives, breaks them up so they aren’t too big to fail and gets them lending again.

      I’m not sure that nuking a boatload of banks all at once right now would bring stability, or demand, to the economy. I’m not saying the banks don’t deserve to be nuked, but economics is not a morality play, and I think the results would be real ugly.

      5) Use quantitative easing to take bad risk off of working people’s hands. The president needs no one’s permission to do this. If any member of the Federal Reserve refuses to go along, the president can legally fire them for cause and replace them with a recess appointment.

      I don’t know what your first sentence means, but I’m assuming you are suggesting “inflate our way out of bad debts.” Now, that is a good idea. But 1) in the history of the Fed, I don’t believe a director has ever been fired over a policy disagreement, and 2) the Republicans have been perfectly willing to stay in session just so that no recess appointments can be made.

  31. GaryA says:

    Poor Scott. Glenn Greenwald has so torn him to pieces on this, he’ll look ridiculous if he ever tries to make the same “weak presidency” case against Obama again.

    See: http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2011/08/18/obama_v_bush/index.html

    GA

  32. Jonno says:

    Rather than once again disparage Obama critics, why not simply open your eyes and acknowledge the rather obvious truth? Dismissing criticism of Obama because “the President is a weak office” practically invites the logical conclusion that if this is so then it doesn’t matter who is in the President’s office.

    Instead of lazily floundering around this simple truth why not make better arguments against Obama’s critics? Can you? With “the President is a weak office” it doesn’t seem like you actually can.

  33. vastleft says:

    Want an example of a straw man, of facts not in evidence?

    The supposition that Obama wants good, progressive things for non-elites in this country.

    There are a million excuses for why Obama’s presidency is decidedly and reliably to the right of Nixon’s. Somehow, you think it’s to your credit to keep making ‘em.

    • David W. says:

      The Affordable Care Act is evidence that Obama wants good things for over thirty million non-elites who will now be able to get health care coverage they couldn’t get before.

      • vastleft says:

        The Affordable Care Act was a bailout for the health insurance industry that further ensconced the profit motive in health care access.

        A glimpse into the administration’s noble motives for national RomneyCare:

        Barack Obama: “I have no interest in putting insurance companies out of business. They provide a legitimate service, and employ a lot of our friends and neighbors.”

        Rahm Emanuel: “[The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is] very similar to the bill Republicans advocated in ’93. And, if you look at Mr. Frum’s piece, former Bush speechwriter, he noted, which is some of the things I have said before even to this show and others, that this is very similar to policies advocated back in the ’90s by Republicans, not individual policies, the basic approach, which is a free-market, market-based-system approach.”

        The entire process was corrupt, despite assurances of an open and transparent process that considered all options, including secret deals with Big Pharma and the hospital lobby, and the repeated arrests of people who attempted to bring single payer into the discussion.

    • Pithlord says:

      It is more important that people vastleft resents are punished than that the uninsured are insured.

      Bottom line.

      • vastleft says:

        Naturally, you took the position that RomneyCare (based on the same Heritage Foundation plan as ObamaCare) was an unalloyed good, yes?

        Or did your anti-Republican bottom line cloud you from appreciating a plan that forces citizens to buy crappy, overpriced insurance from profiteers in order to get medical treatments?

        • Malaclypse says:

          Naturally, you took the position that RomneyCare (based on the same Heritage Foundation plan as ObamaCare) was an unalloyed good, yes?

          It is possible to hold both 1) Romney/ObamaCare is a far cry from perfect, and by no means an unalloyed good, and 2) it represented an improvement over the status quo.

          • David W. says:

            Here’s an analysis on the subject of care affordability that jives with your point:

            Realizing Health Reform’s Potential

            Abstract: Using a budget-based approach to measuring affordability, this issue brief explores whether the subsidies available through the Affordable Care Act are enough to make health insurance affordable for low-income families. Drawing from the Consumer Expenditure Survey, the authors assess how much “room” people have in their budget, after paying for other necessities, to pay for health care needs. The results show that an overwhelming majority of households have room in their budgets for the necessities, health insurance premiums, and moderate levels of out-of-pocket costs established by the Affordable Care Act. Fewer than 10 percent of families above the federal poverty level do not have the resources to pay for premiums and typical out-of-pocket costs, even with the subsidies provided by the health reform law. Affordability remains a concern for some families with high out-of-pocket spending, suggesting that this is the major risk to insurance affordability.

          • vastleft says:

            It’s also possible to note that each plan offers some benefits but that both fundamentally fail to address the core problem with the US health access system. In fact, both serve to enshrine the very problem: the profit motive where no profit motive should play a role.

            • Malaclypse says:

              So long as we agree that many people will, in fact, end up with marginally improved lives.

              And the moral statement that there “should be” no profit motive in health care is logically completely separate from whether the profit motive in health care reduces or improves outcomes.

              Also note that “our only duty is to our shareholders” is not, in fact, the only type of profit motive in existence. Not all profit is rentier profit.

              Or, you can carry on with your binary worldview. Have you met soullite yet?

            • David W. says:

              I have less of problem with profit than I have with the insufficient taxation of wealth.

  34. vastleft says:

    Oh, and this is kinda funny, especially when faking up strawman accusations:

    Obama’s staunchest critics from the left are rather more likely to make arguments that it doesn’t matter who wins presidential elections than his supporters

    Gee, maybe that’s why I have the staunch Obama critic making that argument, Scott.

    • David W. says:

      As a resident of Wisconsin, I can assure you that it does matter in 2012 who wins the Presidential election. Back in the 1990s we had a Republican governor and legislature and they weren’t radicals. There’s been a tipping point since then and that’s also been reflected in the GOP nationally. Obama would be a far better choice given the likelihood of the Republicans taking control of both the Senate and House than even Romney, and certainly Perry, when it comes to the Republicans being able to implement reactionary policies.

  35. The Mahablog says:

    [...] Scott Lemieux, who a professor pf political science, wrote about presidential powers generally in a recent post. Scott explained that presidents have some powers to do some things but [...]

  36. bill from the hill says:

    250 comments? What the hell is this, Balloon Juice?

    Sadly, No.

  37. bobbyp says:

    Joe from Lowell: I think you missed something.

    What “variant thereof” do you speak of, sir? The principle remains. The case for a public option could have been made strongly by the administration. For whatever reason, they chose not to do so. I suggest if they had, they might well have wound up with HCR as passed, but the vitriol levels amidst “da’ Left” would be much lower…..or we could move on to the Iraeli-Palestinian dispute and argue about how ‘facts on the ground’ dictate the politics, right?

  38. vastleft says:

    By the way, everyone bemoaning the demise of the “public option,” it’s a completely fake “policy” that successfully distracted the left from complaining about the lack of transparency and even the most minimal debate about proven solutions to health care cost and access woes (single payer, nationalized medicine).

    “Public option” means nothing more than “undetermined access to undetermined benefits and a farcical hope of creating competition to Big Insurance.” A shiny object, signifying nothing.

    Sure, one can note that Obama didn’t even throw a bone to his base by enacting some meaningless variant of “PO,” but it had no fixed meaning whatsoever, even if you tricked it up with pleasing adjectives like “strong” and “robust.”

    Sorry, you got played. Again.

    • David W. says:

      The biggest deal about the Affordable Care Act wasn’t the public option, but the subsidizing of health care coverage for those with incomes under the poverty level, whether it’s private or public insurance. The insurance exchanges were also a step towards nationalized medicine because to participate all insurers would have to meed the federal standards in order to qualify for those subsidies. It’s definitely more complicated and less efficient than single-payer but it’s not pandering to Big Insurance either.

  39. [...] Greenwald is debating Scott Lemieux from Lawyers, Guns, and Money, whose posts on the subject are here and [...]

  40. YankeeFrank says:

    What many of the commenters and Scott are missing is that when Obama wants something he twists arms and makes deals and gets it done. A president has massive power to get congresscritters to bend to his will, as he is the head of the party and can withhold campaign funding altogether if he wants. Not only that, but if he would’ve made the moral case to the American people and called us all to Washington to support a truly moral healthcare reform law the congress would’ve been terrified to vote against it. The American people were ready for a leader to inspire us to move forward and he could’ve gotten 10 million people for a march on Washington in support of single payer, or a truly powerful public option. But he did not because he is not the leader he was marketed as, and he actually believes that plutocratic thieves are “savvy businessmen”. I guess because we haven’t had one in most of our lifetimes we just can’t even remember how transformative a truly moral and righteous leader can be. Obama is a tragedy because he did not rise to become that man the country desperately wanted and needed. You can all mealy mouth around this fact and defend the indefensible but that won’t change the facts. He could’ve achieved sweeping health reform if he wasn’t too afraid. His biggest fear is losing a political fight, which is why he always caves at the beginning, so as to be sure something will pass so he can spin it as a great achievement, blah blah blah. Ironically, Obama has no audacity, and in the end he is an utter fraud and failure.

  41. [...] Scott Lemieux hauls out the presidency-is-weak excuse to explain away some of Obama’s failures; I’ve addressed that theory many times at length before and won’t repeat those points here, but this bit of historical revisionism, made in service of that excuse-making, merits a response: I’ve asked this before, 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 thenear-total lack of major legislation passed during George W. Bush’s second term, including a failure to even get a congressional vote on his signature initiative to privatize Social Security? He didn’t give enough speeches? He wasn’t ruthless enough? Help me out here. [...]

  42. [...] on domestic as well as foreign policy is essentially impossible, as you can see from these comment threads the preferred response has been to say that before Obama was elected nobody thought that the [...]

  43. [...] asserts that I argue that we shouldn’t care who is president. So, working backward from my clearly stated position, he seems to be saying that we shouldn’t care about foreign policy and security policy (where [...]

  44. [...] is usually the case, I don’t see what Glenn sees in the latest VastLeft strawman burning.  Omitted: any liberal [...]

  45. [...] there’s obviously a single indivisible entity called Presidential Power so haha gotcha” routine.) Also note the end, where Gillespie tries the classic conservertarian move of invoking general [...]

  46. [...] my twitter feed, someone alerted me to professional Green Laternite vastleft defending the idea that the ACA was, in fact, the same as the Heritage plan, because all political [...]

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