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Is Maximalism Always the Best Negotiating Approach?

[ 288 ] August 23, 2011 |

I think this comment from David Mizner — whose excellent novel you should check out — gets to the heart of the issue:

This argument — could President Obama have gotten progressive bills through? — is ultimately unknowable because he didn’t try. That’s the problem.

On his 3 big bills — the stimulus, health care, and financial reform — he failed to push what the country wanted and needed.

On the stimulus, he shot for a relatively small figure, partly because of a concern about deficits.

On health care, he dealt away the public option — the single thing that might have challenged the corporate stranglehold on health care.

On Wall Street reform, he killed the effort to break up the banks and opposed the tough measure on derivatives.

On the first one, I think it’s very plausible that Obama left some stimulus money on the table with a low opening bid. I think this was a more difficult problem than some do — there was almost certainly a point at which primary-fearing Republicans would have bailed on the whole thing — but I think he probably got less than he should. But it also seems pretty obvious to me that whether Obama had a successful first term or not doesn’t hinge on whether the stimulus was $770 million or $870 million. So let’s move on to the real key, the ACA.

Here, the most obvious problem with the argument is that conservative Democrats who were both ideologically hostile and had good interest-based reasons to oppose a public option held all of the cards. Nobody has explained what leverage Obama had to make the Nelsons and Liebermans support a public option, or explained how Obama forcefully advocating a public option somehow would have moved them to support it.  Arguments that the optimal strategy would be been for Obama to forcefully advocate single payer make even less sense; empty threats don’t provide leverage, and associating health care reform with socialized medicine is about as bad a strategy for attracting support from red-state Democrats as can be imagined. Maximalism has real risks — especially when there are no votes to spare — and because there’s no reason to believe that the votes were there for the public option under any circumstances the approach is basically all downside.


And it’s also worth noting that it’s not as if we don’t have examples of a president trying exactly this negotiating strategy. At the time in his presidency where he had a political environment most similar to Obama’s first two years — immediately after his re-election — Bush engaged in precisely the same kind of tactics that we are assured would work brilliantly if only Obama used them.  He took a maxmimalist position on Social Security, took to the bully pulpit for a year of messaging, and got…nothing. And as we know all too well, he didn’t fail because there aren’t any Democrats who are sympathetic to changing Social Security for the worse. Rather, by making it clear that his desired goal was destroying Social Security, he made compromise politically impossible, allowing the Democratic leadership in the House to keep the Blue Dogs in line. (And as for the Overtron Window, that was already moved in the 90s anyway — Obama is still to Clinton’s left – but that didn’t help Bush.) The end result of Bush forcefully pushing for maximalist conservative legislation is that he had the most favorable Republican legislative environment since the McKinley administration and ended up with almost nothing to show for it. If that’s success, I have to say I prefer Obama’s legislative failures.

On a more general level, if the ACA isn’t “progressive” legislation, than none of the New Deal counts either. The American welfare state has always advanced through incremental measures that buy off existing stakeholders. Note too that it’s not as if FDR fought loudly and publicly for a safety net that wasn’t grotesquely biased against African Americans and only gave in at the last minute; he knew perfectly well that segregationist Dems were no more likely to vote for racially egalitarian legislation than Ben Nelson or Blanche Lincoln were to take on the insurance industry, but they could certainly torpedo crucial legislation if the New Deal was strongly identified with civil rights. (And nor, for that matter, was FDR particularly progressive on civil rights anyway, but since he was almost certainly more liberal than the median votes in the Senate it doesn’t really matter much.) There are plenty of things Obama can be fairly criticized for, but to criticize him for succeeding where Truman and LBJ failed doesn’t make any sense to me. The chances of getting nothing were far higher than getting a significantly better bill.  For that matter, we can consider Bill Clinton, who also pushed forcefully for a very particular version of health care reform and got bupkis.    This is one area where second-guessing Obama is hard to justify.

Comments (288)

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  1. Walt says:

    I think the real argument against Obama is that he’s done very little to advance the long-term cause of liberalism. Reagan’s list of accomplishments is pretty short, but he managed to permanently shift American politics to the right. Obama’s hasn’t done much to reverse this, even though he came into office in the wake of as large a failure of right-wing policy-making as we’ve seen since Hoover.

    • NonyNony says:

      I think the real argument against Obama is that he’s done very little to advance the long-term cause of liberalism.

      I think if you were hoping that Obama was going to advance the long-term cause of liberalism, you elected the wrong person. You can go back and look at his campaign speeches and see where his take on what the country needed was more moderation not more liberalism.

      • NonyNony says:

        And just to make sure I’m clear here – Hillary Clinton was also the wrong person to be the agent of liberal change you’re looking for. She too was arguing that we needed more moderation, not more liberalism, in our politics.

        The closest individual running in 2008 to be that agent of liberal change was probably John Edwards – who turned out to be a political idiot in the end who would have probably not even been able to get something like the ACA passed once his sex life became the 24×7 focus.

      • Walt says:

        So what? In 2000, I thought George Bush was an incompetent war-monger. Once events proved that this assessment was true, I automatically lose the ability to criticize the Bush administration?

        • Hogan says:

          Did you vote for him?

        • NonyNony says:

          No, you can criticize all you want and that’s fine. But if you’re complaining that Obama somehow lied about who he was on the campaign trail and suckered you into thinking that you were voting for a paragon of liberal virtue rather than a center-left moderate with a penchant for compromise, you might want to go back and re-read his words.

          He’s a center-left moderate. He campaigned as a center-left moderate. He governs as a center-left moderate. As far as I can tell he’s always been a center-left moderate. I can see being upset that the Democratic Party isn’t as liberal as many of us might want it to be, but the idea that Obama is supposed to be “advancing the cause of liberalism” when he’s a center-left moderate (and is in fact advancing the cause of center-left moderation – as I would EXPECT a center-left moderate to do) just seems like an odd complaint.

          • wiley says:

            Right on. All the Progressive disappointment in President Obama has been very confusing to me. He wasn’t a member of the Progressive Caucus and I never heard him say he was Progressive. Were did they get the idea that he was?

            As polarized as this country is right now, I’d say that he may very well represent the center and that pushing harder to the left would only make the right wing nuts nuttier and the media—with it’s Beltway bent—unfriendly to the administration.

            Hysteria sells. Less drama the better.

          • P. Brennan says:

            When I voted for Obama my hope was that he would advance good policy, wherever it fell on the political spectrum. I hoped for progressive outcomes but in many cases, what I wanted was completely in sync with what the majority of Americans wanted, and with what many economists were recommending. Obama has advanced policy that has not helped average Americans, has not made their lives better. That’s why his approval ratings are in the basement.

          • BradP says:

            No, you can criticize all you want and that’s fine. But if you’re complaining that Obama somehow lied about who he was on the campaign trail and suckered you into thinking that you were voting for a paragon of liberal virtue rather than a center-left moderate with a penchant for compromise, you might want to go back and re-read his words.

            IT isn’t that people wanted a radical liberal, its that they wanted a center-left moderate to replace a radical. They wanted good governance to replace crazy ideological governance.

            The problem then comes with trying to accept that Bush wasn’t a crazy idealogue, and that a democrat who really, really tries for good governance is only a couple clicks to the left of who they thought was the devil.

            Therefore you end up with a lot of agnostics as far as politics goes: some taken aback by how much they didn’t know about the relationship between Bush and Obama who end up extremely disappointed in Obama, and some radicals who already had their suspicions who now wonder why everyone is so afraid of Rick Perry and Michelle Bachmann.

            • wengler says:

              No actually the problem is that Bush was very liberal in his approach to looting the economy, while Obama is very moderate(have fun banks, but don’t make me look so bad).

      • dangermouse says:

        Bush engaged in precisely the same kind of tactics that we are assured would work brilliantly if only Obama used them. He took a maxmimalist position on Social Security, took to the bully pulpit for a year of messaging, and got…nothing.

        There couldn’t possibly be any difference in outcomes between Obama using those tactics to promote a popular policy that polled well, and Bush using them to promote a shitty policy that everybody hated.

        • dangermouse says:

          yeah this wasn’t meant as a response to nonynony idk why it posted here

        • dangermouse says:

          I mean IDK whether it would have made a difference in Obama’s case but it seems pretty ridiculous to compare the hypothetical push for a public option to Bush carrying out a strategy that, from what I recall, was based entirely upon tricking Democrats into proposing a plan for him so that he could dump the blame for his destruction of Social Security onto them.

        • There couldn’t possibly be any difference in outcomes between Obama using those tactics to promote a popular policy that polled well, and Bush using them to promote a shitty policy that everybody hated.

          Was the public option popular in the Senate?

          Because that’s the choke point. Do you think Ben Nelson was going to start feeling the heat from the public in Nebraska?

          • Scott Lemieux says:

            Right. 1)What matters was how it polled in Nebraska and North Dakota and Louisiana, not nationally, and 2)what insurance interests thought about it was more important than public opinion.

            There couldn’t possibly be any difference in outcomes between Obama using those tactics to promote a popular policy that polled well, and Bush using them to promote a shitty policy that everybody hated.

            Well, at least we’re conceding that the bully pulpit has no particular ability to affect public opinion, so we’re getting somewhere.

            • DocAmazing says:

              affect public opinion

              I think the word you’re lloking for here is “rally”, not “move 180 degrees”. Hammering home rhetoric in support of policies already popular and using said rhetoric to energize those who might just unseat the senotors of Nebraska, North Dakota na d Louisiana has been quite effective in the past and might be again, if someone would attempt it.

              • Except as has been pointed out multiple times, there’s basically no examples in modern politics of Presidents “rallying public opinion” to move the votes of intransigent Senators in the face of strong opposition from powerful monied interests.

                • jmack says:

                  Doc’s point was not about rallying public opinion to change votes, it was about rallying public opinion to vote out intransigent Senators.

                • Well Joe Lieberman isn’t running in 2012, Evan Bayh didn’t run in 2010, Mary Landrieu doesn’t stand for re-election until after Obama’s term ends…

                  So how does this one work exactly?

                • jmack says:

                  FWIW, I am generally in Scott’s corner on this issue, but there is a difference between the claim that the president can will Senators to change their votes and the claim that the president can rally public support that can lead to different electoral outcomes in the long run. How much the president can do the latter is still up for debate.

                • DocAmazing says:

                  Not if he never attempts it. There are many Liebermans who owe the president and his party for their seats, but they apparently don’t owe enough to follow any sort of party discipline.

                  That’s a recipe for bad outcomes.

                • @jmack

                  Well different *electoral* results, perhaps. But we’re not really discussing elections, but Congressional votes.

                • “That’s a recipe for bad outcomes.”

                  Yes, yes it is. I mean, you can certainly argue that Mary landrieu owed Obama a favor, but if she doesn’t feel like voting for a public option, what are you going to do about it? Unfortunately the rules are such that she doesn’t have to be re-elected until 2014, by which time Obama might not even be President anymore. So what do you do?

                  This is really the crux of the problem. Congress, especially the Senate, has real power in domestic policy, and simply bemoaning the fact that conservative Democrats realize that won’t help matters any.

            • david mizner says:

              at least we’re conceding that the bully pulpit has no particular ability to affect public opinion, so we’re getting somewhere.

              I don’t concede that.

              To all of those bully-pulpit-doesn’t-exist folks, I’ll pose this question: Why did the percentage of Americans saying debt is serious problem skyrocket over the last two years?

              • Ed Marshall says:

                Because Republicans don’t give a shit about debt until a democrat is in the White House.

                • david mizner says:

                  Okay, but how did the GOP manage to move public opinion?

                • rea says:

                  how did the GOP manage to move public opinion?

                  Becasue pro-GOP nutjobs (e. g., Rupert Murdoch) own the media?

                • lawguy says:

                  I’d suggest that once Obama started to really push the “Deficit is all that matters” line, everything else, including creating jobs just disappeared.

                  So maybe this would have happened anyway, but it sure does look like he used that Bully Pulpit to change the discussion.

                • UserGoogol says:

                  The GOP did not change public opinion.

                  Republicans (as in people who vote Republican) collectively started deciding the debt mattered because the debt was increasing and they could plausibly blame a Democrat for it, which is the sort of thing partisans like to do. Meanwhile independents started deciding the debt mattered because they don’t really understand the difference between the debt and the bad economy, and notice that the economy is bad.

                  Just because public opinion changed doesn’t mean it changed because of people purposefully changing public opinion. It’s just the result of political forces grinding along through history.

              • The bully pulpit can at least tell fellow democrats like Nancy Pelosi where the hell the president stands so they don’t have to panic about whether or not he’s offering to axe popular programs.

              • Because the average person is an economic illiterate who believes government finance is exactly the same as household finance. Any more simple questions?

            • LosGatosCA says:

              The fundamental problems with Obama are:

              1. He ran as Democrat and he’s governing like a Republican.

              2. He’s perceived as weak not because he won’t fight for liberal causes, he just won’t fight. Period. Full Stop. He’s not even fighting for his own re-election. If he thinks he is fighting, even unsuccessfully, for his own re-election, he’s a lot dumber than anyone ever thought.

              You can evaluate his values, his strategies, his tactics along any dimension – triangulation, re-election, post-partisan, etc. and they just come up short on every score.

              His only hope is that Perry or Romney are not the Republican candidate. America WILL take a stupid dumbass presidential candidate as a legitimate contender, George W Bush proved that.

        • TAZ says:

          Agreed. Polls did and continue to show public favor for a public option. It is also specious to argue first term vs. second term policy initiatives. Oh, there was (is) something like Iraq going sour when shrub pushed his Norquist fantasy. Now we got Nixon going to China on SS (see Dean Baker today).
          The bottom line of Mizner’s piece is that “he didn’t try” to push popular polices. Even if he would have lost, which we will never know because he didn’t and doesn’t try to advocate for the implementation the best policies for the country, he could have, as Walt notes, moved the goal posts at the very least. Instead, he makes a fetish of “compromise” to fool the uninitiated while governing like a Republican. No hope. No change. No vote.

          • Scott Lemieux says:

            Oh, there was (is) something like Iraq going sour when shrub pushed his Norquist fantasy.

            Yes, fortunately there were absolutely no external events going on that were undermining Obama’s popularity in red states.

            • TAZ says:

              I probably shouldn’t have complicated what I was trying to say by bring up the wars because of course your right. What I wanted to emphasize is that this thread is has us all tied in knots trying to argue about something that was not tried, he did not push for politically popular policies that would be good for the country. We will never know.

              I also want to emphasize that I agree with you about the power of Congress and domestic policy. Therefor I will put my $ and electoral energy on working to elect more progressives to Congress. I’ve given up on Obama.

    • Leaving policy accomplishments aside, Ronald Reagan didn’t create the modern American conservative movement nor the conservative media, Rush Limbaugh did.

    • david mizner says:

      I wholeheartedly agree, but I think there’s a connection between his eagerness to use conservative rhetoric and his failure push strongly liberal bills.

    • Bijan Parsia says:

      I have a slightly contrarian take on this. It’s contrarian even for me since I don’t think Obama is hugely progressive or left wing. But here goes.

      One issue progressives have had since before Reagan is a branding issue both with the populace at large and in the commentariat. In particular, the idea that we don’t have ideas, that our ideas are unserious, and that we, ourselves, are not serious, reasonable, rational, “grown up”, etc. has made electing people and enacting policy far more difficult than it need be and made Republicans far more able to get away with amazing crap.

      Now, the Republicans are finally imploding on the ideas/seriousness/grown up front. (They remain ridiculously resilient of course, but I remain convinced that there’s SOME line which when crossed causes them to collapse.) They are having their dirty, crazy tea party moments, their Chicago 1968, if you will. I think Obama wants to grab the adult, non-dirty-crazy role for the Democrats.

      This might (or probably won’t) be helpful for the long term progressive cause. The Power of Being Serious seems to have a real effect over time both in papering over mistakes and supporting political power.

      Now, you can disagree on the general strategy and you can disagree on the price it’s requiring, but I think it’s not completely nutty. Indeed, it has a logic to it. Of course, it’s groundwork laying rather than full blown reversal, but I think a real shift might well require a lot of groundwork laying. It’s a bit like the key argument for ACA. No it’s not the progressive health care reform we want, but it shifts things around to make a better health future more possible. And least, one can hope.

  2. Walt says:

    Things like the Ryan Plan are a good example. In the short-run, the politics aren’t there, but in the long run, who knows? Maybe in ten years, gutting Medicare will just seem like common sense. Look how quickly Bowles and Simpson’s plan went from “too right wing” to being practically the left edge of the debate over the deficit.

  3. david mizner says:

    Hey, thanks for the plug!

    As for the substance, I’ll re-post a comment I made in the thread below:

    Why do you insist on saying that 60 votes were needed to pass the PO? Just not true. Could have used reconciliation to pass the PO, and Bernie Sanders said the votes were there:

    “I think we do have 50 votes in the Senate for a public option and frankly I don’t know why the president has not put it in and I hope that we can inject it,” Sanders said on MSNBC. “I think it’s a very important part of healthcare reform.”

    So Dems could have lost a few conservative Dems and still passed it.

    Bernie wonders why they didn’t push it.

    I (and Tom Daschle) say: Because they’d already dealt it away in July.

    Others say: Because they feared such an effort would derail the entire bill.

    Russ Feingold says: the President didn’t want to pass the PO.

    In any case, we get an administration not using its clout to try to pass it.

    Now, to be clear, I’m not among those who believe the PO was the end all, be all — in fact I feared that it would become a dumping ground for expensive-to-insure people and end up undermining the government health care cause — but if you’re wondering why many progressives are pissed off, the failure to try to pass the PO (whatever the reasons) is part of a pattern of, well, not trying.

    Perhaps you’d make the case (perhaps you already have) that it was a savvy move, dealing away the PO that wouldn’t have passed anyway in order to mollify corporate interests that could block the bill…but then I believe you’d be making the critics points for them. Pre-compromising to buy off corporate power.

    • mpowell says:

      So we’re going to go on Bernie Sanders say so on this one? I was hearing from other people, Feingold among them, that evading the fillibuster was not acceptable. It seems to me there was a risk of a revolt if the party tried to do too much through reconciliation.

      • Also, see below. Passing the PO through reconciliation would have had to have been a subsequent action, and you would still need Nelson and Lieberman’s support for the original bill.

      • david mizner says:

        The same Feingold who said Obama didn’t want to pass the PO?

        I sorta can’t believe we’re re-arguing the PO, but I don’t think any of the legislative intricacies of the debate negates my general assertion: the Obama administration didn’t push it.

        • I have no idea what actual actions would entail “pushing” anymore. The damn thing passed the House and was in the Senate Majority Leader’s original proposal to the Senate. What the hell else was supposed to happen?

          • david mizner says:

            At the very least, it means says the bill must have it. (Actually, he did say that a single time then backed away from it.) The President made other non-negotiable demands (on the price for example) and played legislative hardball on other components (to defeat the effort to undo his deal with Pharma, for example.)

            I find it hard to believe you think the White House pushed to bill. From where I sat, it’s clear they didn’t.

            • But this does…what? Because now we’re back in the realm of having to ask how it is that you make the 5-10 Senate Democrats who opposed the public option vote for it if they don’t want to. Unless you have an answer for that, you’re pretty much outright demanding the President go tilt at windmills to make you feel better about yourself.

            • mark f says:

              At the very least, it means says the bill must have it. (Actually, he did say that a single time then backed away from it.) The President made other non-negotiable demands (on the price for example)

              But these aren’t symmetrical. Ted Kennedy was open to passing a healthcare bill he found suboptimal, because he was committed to the passing a healthcare reform bill as a priority. Blanche Lincoln and Ben Nelson had no such commitment and other priorities, and were therefore willing to let the whole thing fail if it didn’t live down to their demands.

              • Exactly. I fail to see how Barack Obama telling Ben Nelson he’ll veto a HCR bill without the public option in it is going to put pressure on Nelson in any way shape or form. What seems to be the problem here is that people like David just won’t accept that there weren’t enough votes in the Senate for a public option. I’m getting tired of rehashing the same points because, honestly, the belief has reached the level of deeply held religious faith amongst the believers.

                • david mizner says:

                  “People like David.” Do describe.

                  Seriously, you may well be right. It might not have worked. The Senate Dems might have not be susceptible to any kind of pressure or bribery. Maybe if from Day One the President had said the PO was essential, it wouldn’t have changed a thing. Maybe if he seemed to care about is Jane Hamsher, it still would have crashed and burned, but the fact is — and here is my point — we just don’t know because he didn’t none of those things. Hence this debate.

                  The fact that we’re having this debate that

                • What the hell is this “may” shit? Are you actually going to tell me that Obama should have threatened to veto the whole bill as a means to forcing Lieberman to vote for the public option?

                • steelpenny says:

                  There are other kinds of pressure Obama could have exerted beyond the bully pulpit. He could have said “Ben, baby, do this for me and i will make sure you have the biggest war-chest ever for your next election” or “I will personally make sure your pet project happens” or “I will come and stump for you in Nebraska.” Or the stick: “I will make sure that you get no $ from the Party, from the DLC, or the DSCC” or “I will veto every piece of legislation you put your name on” or “I will personally campaign for you in every small town and bring 20 busloads of my blackity-black-blackest friends from Chicago.” Or the indirect method: “Chuck, Harry, talk to this dickweed and get him on board, or you and me are gonna have a problem.” All these assholes want something and they all understand horse-trading. Maybe no-matter-what, Obama couldn’t have got a better deal, but I doubt it.

                • Some of that is realistic, some of it not so much, but in any event, what do you do in the event that Nelson calls his bluff and/or cares less about that then about not voting for a public option?

                  Also, how do we know none of that was attempted?

                • mark f says:

                  Also, how do we know none of that was attempted?

                  Seriously, who the hell thinks these kinds of quid pro quos are discussed publicly?

                  And can people please stop pretending Nelson was gettable on the public option? He required embarrassing-to-the-president special favors to vote for cloture on the bill we got.

              • Scott Lemieux says:

                But these aren’t symmetrical. Ted Kennedy was open to passing a healthcare bill he found suboptimal, because he was committed to the passing a healthcare reform bill as a priority. Blanche Lincoln and Ben Nelson had no such commitment and other priorities, and were therefore willing to let the whole thing fail if it didn’t live down to their demands.

                Right — this is absolutely the core of the problem. You have leverage over people who want to pass a deal. You don’t have leverage over people who could give a shit if a bill passes or not.

                • Michael Drew says:

                  The “They Didn’t ‘Fight’ For the Public Option” discussion in a very small, but perfectly representative, nutshell.

    • Davis X. Machina says:

      What are the practical consequences of the loss of the public option anyways?

      How many not presently insured through the government (Medicare, Medicaid, SCHIP, VA, etc.) and not presently insured through employers (who may have eventually bailed on their existing provision, but only eventually) and faced with the PO as one of a number of choices on an exchange, would it have wound up covering? And how net-beneficial would it have been to those covered by it compared to private plans?

      My recollection is that the numbers involved were relatively small, leading me to ask how much of this battle was over a shibboleth?

      • Michael Drew says:

        Totally, I mean To-Tal-Ly, beside the point. It’s about “They Didn’t FIGHT!”

      • witless chum says:

        A public option is important because it further undermines the for-profit insurance system.

        • UserGoogol says:

          No it doesn’t. If implemented poorly, a public option could be a massive boon to the private health insurance industry.

          One of the big problems with private insurance is adverse selection. Private insurers want to get the healthiest customers possible since they’re cheaper to insure. If you create a public option which goes out of its way to be the “nice” insurance company, the private insurers will do everything in their power to encourage high-risk patients to sign up with the public option, and low-risk patients to sign up with them. This would make the private health insurance companies more profitable, and the public option more expensive. And conversely, if the public option doesn’t go out of its way to be nice, then you just have another health insurance company that merely happens to have its board appointed by the government but otherwise acts the same as the others.

          Now, a well constructed public option (ie one which piggybacks off Medicare so it can negotiate lower costs) would be a very good thing. But a public option in of itself is just meaningless symbolism. The whole problem with privately run health insurance is that competition doesn’t quite work the way you want it to. As such, competing with private insurers doesn’t necessarily undermine it.

  4. jhe says:

    Like Walt said. Using conservative language on defecits and government spending isn’t helping us or him.

    On ACA, at one point in the debate someone (can’t remember who) somewhat plausibly that extending Medicare eligibility and allowing buy-in to the prgrM could have been done as a budget bill requiring only 51 votes in the Senate. Not articularly Kumbayaa, but if presented as an alternative might have created a more productive negotiating environment. It might have been the threat that put the insurers in line as well.

    • The problem here is that doing either the public option or Medicare buy-in through reconcilliation would have had to have been done through an amendment, much like the series of changes that did ultimately pass. The problem being, of course, that making the Nelsons and Liebermans think you’re going to turn around and push through something they object to with reconciliation is a very good way to make them vote against the rest of the package you have to pass through normal rules first.

  5. david mizner says:

    And this:

    On a more general level, if the ACA isn’t “progressive” legislation, than none of the New Deal counts either.

    The New Deal created government programs — government programs that, whatever their unjust components, provided protection from the injustices of capitalism. It was a foundation on which to build a social safety net. (Mixed metaphor!)

    The ACA, while attempting to deliver a liberal end, strengthens the corporate insurance companies and drug companies and, as such, in my view will make the creation of a decent health care system more difficult.

    A strong PO could have done what a New Deal programs did: create a foundation on which to build.

    If the end goal is, as we all agree I think, Medicare for All or some such, how do we get there from the ACA?

    • TAZ says:

      This is a key point. It is about ideology. It is about changing people’s minds. It is about using this fight to set up the next one. Just like with the stimulus. Obama could have said “I think that our economic problems need a more robust approach and here is why…. but this is the best I can get through Congress now. If I’m wrong and this works, great! We all get back on our feet again and we will wind it down. However, if I am wrong then to prevent worse damage to the ecomony we will have to do more and here is why.” The key is explaining it then fighting for it. Roughly 30% of the population never gave up on shrub but what about the 70%?

    • The ACA also created and expanded government programs – the exchanges, regulations, and subsidies are not 100% of the bill.

      We get to Medicare for All through Medicaid for More.

  6. efgoldman says:

    But… but… all us Firebaggers had our feelings hurt.

    Look. I’m old enough to remember LBJ and those congresses. That was an incredible few years for progressive legislation, and the fact that LBJ then f*cked up Vietnam to a fare-the-well shouldn’t take away from his accomplishments – but it does. The difference of 50 years in the media environment matters, too. If LBJ and speaker McCormick and minority leader Gerry Ford (and Senate majority and minority leaders Mike Mansfield and Everett Dirksen) had been dealing in a hyperpartisan 24/7/365 cable and intertubes environment, who knows what would have happened.
    Also, too: Look who the minority (GOBP) leadership in the senate was: Dirksen from IL, Kuchel from CA, and Saltonstall from MA.
    All of which is a long-winded way of saying: Maybe Obama could have got a stronger stimulus by starting with a higher number. Maybe. Everything else? Given voting realities (and the &^$$*&(Y(& senate rules) I think he got about as much as any Dem was going to, and maybe more than most.

  7. Njorl says:

    I think the problem on the ACA was taking too long to get what he got. The public option was never a possibility. That is not unknowable, it is a fact. Joe Lieberman had veto power over it, and there was no lever large enough to pry him away from the insurance companies. They’re going to be paying him enormous amounts of money after his current term ends.

    On July 7 2009, Franken was sworn in, and Specter had already switched. A bill should have passed each house on the 8th, and been reconciled well before the 30th.

    It took 8 more months.

    • I agree with that, but a failure of political tactics isn’t necessarily the fault of the White House, and this in particular seems to rest pretty squarely on the shoulders of Max Baucus and other marginal Democrats in the Senate.

      • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

        There are few failings of the Obama Administration on the domestic front that are not equally failings of the Senate Democratic leadership.

        • I might be wrong, but I seem to recall stories about the White House wanting to speed up the process during the summer of 2009. The problem being, of course, that they don’t have any ability to make the Senate move faster than it wants to, a decent number of Senate Democrats legitimately wanted to cut a deal with Republicans.

          • Ken Houghton says:

            You are wrong. The delays of 2009 were in part because the Administration made it clear that it would wait until every last option was used in MN before they would seat Franken.

            Just as Obama didn’t get a bigger stimulus because he started from his compromise position–something he subsequently admitted, so I don’t know why Scott thinks it’s even worth a discussion point, save that that admission dropped into the Memory Hole as similar gaffes piled on–he made it clear that he wouldn’t fight.

            So Shrub, with a losing amount of the popular vote, was able to push an agenda, while BarryO acted the same way he did when Liarman and McCain told him to ESAD: he went into the corner and cried.

            • “The delays of 2009 were in part because the Administration made it clear that it would wait until every last option was used in MN before they would seat Franken.”

              Even putting aside the laughable cowboy nature of this suggestion, if memory serves Franken was seated in April, so this obviously had nothing to do with Baucus and Finance dragging the thing out through the summer.

              • Rob says:

                Obama gave it over to Baucus because have a bipartisan bill was more important that a good bill. Its amazing how much is forgotten in such a short period of time. Ypu know, like how Obama rescued Lieberman’s seat or how getting tacit approval from a Maine Senator was an entire goal.

                • Obama gave what to Baucus? Chairmanship of the Finance committee?

                • mark f says:

                  I’m sure things would’ve gone much better if the deciding vote had been ostentatiously shunned a few months before the debate.

                • Despite what others are saying, you are remembering it right. The House bill was ready in March (with public option intact), but it had to wait for Baucus-Grassley. Which became Baucus-Snowe. Which became Baucus-got nothing to show for it except the Tea Partiers at townhall meetings.

            • The Administration had no influence on whether Franken would be seated – Minnesota and the Senat were the crucial players there.

    • Davis X. Machina says:

      Everything IIRC had to go through three Senate committees — basically HHS, taxation, and one other one who escapes me at the moment. Two of them cleared their plates quickly, and one did not. Was that Baucus’?

    • Michael Drew says:

      The amount of fantasizing in this particular sub-thread that the WH has any significant control at all over how things work in the Senate is actually grimly fascinating, assuming everyone commenting here are all as much political junkies as they must be in order to be spending their time doing this in the first place.

    • BradP says:

      I think the problem on the ACA was taking too long to get what he got. The public option was never a possibility. That is not unknowable, it is a fact. Joe Lieberman had veto power over it, and there was no lever large enough to pry him away from the insurance companies. They’re going to be paying him enormous amounts of money after his current term ends.

      And treating it like it wasn’t even a serious option is what a president would do if he was:

      a) committed to ideals and good governance?
      b) committed to party politics and business interests?

  8. david mizner says:

    One more thing then I’ll stop cluttering up the thread. (I’ve missed this blog; I got a new computer last year and forgot about it.)

    I don’t think it’s really a stretch to argue that the President isn’t exactly doing his damndest to push liberalism; quite the contrary. Yet I get into debates with good smart progressives who try to tell me that he doesn’t actually support stuff he’s supporting (like Social Security cuts.)

    I’m reminded of a classic anti-Obama post:

    We know that Barack Obama, in his heart of hearts, truly wants Real Change. We can tell this by examining the furrows of his brow as he squints meaningfully into the middle distance, by carefully measuring the sincerity-per-pixel count of his campaign posters, by reflecting on the inspirational Martin Luther King quotes he delicately intones before carpet-bombing an Afghan village. But we also know that despite his best efforts, Barack Obama can’t achieve Real Change, confounded as he is by such institutional barriers as Congress and the Pentagon and Barack Obama. We know, for example, that Barack Obama wants nothing less than a sweeping overhaul of America’s health care system, but has been hopelessly blocked at every turn by conservative Democrats like Ben Nelson, Joe Lieberman and Barack Obama. And we know that Barack Obama did everything he could to oppose a trillion-dollar no-strings-attached bailout of a corrupt finance industry, but was helpless to stop it, boosted as it was by notorious corporate whore Barack Obama. And we know that Nobel Laureate Barack Obama is a devout lover of peace, but has been powerless to prevent the American military’s rampant bloodletting throughout the Muslim world, as the nation’s armed forces remain in the hands of that bloodthirsty warmonger Barack Obama.

    http://fafblog.blogspot.com/2010/02/mule-variations.html

    • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

      Nor is this a new story. During the Clinton years, there were even a couple major Hollywood movies about too-conservative Presidents finding their inner progressive: Dave and The American President. Even the early seasons of The West Wing were a kind of what-if-Clinton-were-a-fighting-liberal fantasy.

      The problem is that the “Third Way” / DLC / “New Democrat” wing of the party took over the Democratic Party in the early 1990s and too many progressives apparently prefer telling themselves just-so stories about leading Democrats being spineless progressives (or progressives cursed by political circumstance), rather than facing up to the task of taking the party back.

    • Murc says:

      You know, I agree with Scott’s take on Obama’s tactics, but you (and others) have been precisely right on the strategy, David.

      Part of Obama’s job, as President, is to entrench and push forward the cause of liberalism. To not worry just about the legislative battles of 2009 and 2010, but the legislative battles of 2017 and 2018. And his rhetoric, and the ideas he (and by extension, the Democratic Party, which he leads) endorses MATTER. They mean dick with regards to winning Ben Nelsons vote. They mean a lot with regards to whether in six years we’re discussing how big the infrastructure investment and healthcare expansion we need to undertake need to be, or if we’re discussing if we’re ONLY going to eliminate all funding for bridge repair, or if we’re going to lose bridge repair AND medicare subsidies.

      And he’s doing a shitty job preparing the party for the future.

      • Joe says:

        “Part of Obama’s job, as President, is to entrench and push forward the cause of liberalism.”

        Is that in Art. II or something?

        He wasn’t quite elected to “push forward the cause of liberalism.” He didn’t get all those electoral votes and crossover votes and talk about there not being a red or blue America to “push forward the cause of liberalism,” did he?

        Let’s see what he did. He did help pass a health law with various popular provisions, some in place already. This DID “push forward the cause of liberalism” by making health care a concern of the government. It’s there.

        Let’s try some Republican in ’16 say “well, sure, insurance companies should be able to cut you off for pre-existing conditions and your local health center shouldn’t get those funds and cost messages shouldn’t be there.” Foot in door, like LBJ building off FDR and Ike resigned to okaying the New Deal, it can be built on.

        Another “idea” he endorsed? End of DADT and DOMA and making gays first class citizens. Republicans, up to the head of the House of Representatives, look like bigots.

        How about campaign finance reform and the power of corporations? The DREAM Act? Looking like an adult, a serious sort that will compromise instead of letting things like unemployment funds be cut or the debt ceiling not be raised? Shitty brand there for the party, huh?

        We live in a shitty time and as with Clinton (apparently the first Republican Democrat President) and Vietnam supporting LBJ (who screwed up the SC too with Fortas), we have a flawed President. Realistic people point this out. Others exaggerate the situation and don’t realize what he actually did. Or, in effect paper over it, helping the meme that it is not worth it to put much of an effort to fight for the guy.

        This for some reason is supposed to HELP the Democrats win elections.

        • Scott Lemieux says:

          I’m a little skeptical about the extent to which position-taking and rhetoric affect future outcomes, but it’s now a fair critique in the sense that no good legislation is going to pass anyway, so you might as well make a case for liberalism when you can. And will be even more true if he gets re-elected with the GOP in control of a veto point.

          OTOH, in his first two years the goal when dealing with Congress should be getting the best legislation you can get, and here Obama did a good job- not perfect, but good.

          • Murc says:

            Uh. No offense, Scott, but isn’t that kind of how the Republicans have managed to mostly run the table for the last thirty years? By articulating a position, crafting rhetorical hammers around it, and then smashing those rhetorical hammers into the faces of Democrats over and over again? That, in turn, has affected future outcomes.

            • Scott Lemieux says:

              They’ve become more successful at winning elections, but with the exception of upper-class tax cuts not only have they not “run the table” but they’ve left the New Deal and Great Society essentially untouched.

              • Holden Pattern says:

                While simultaneously making it financially impossible to sustain those programs…

                The game is to hollow out the gummint until it all collapses, while convincing everyone that gummint sucks at everything except killing and jailing people, so when the gummint collapses, everyone is happy to see it go.

              • Murc says:

                Winning elections is kind of the sine qua non of exercising power, and while the New Deal and Great Society remain essentially untouched, that’s only because those were might fortresses that take some serious undermining before you can collapse them. The fortresses remain intact, but the battering rams are sounding at the gates and the arms of the guys on the walls are starting to go numb from constantly pushing back the scaling ladders.

                And that’s to say nothing of them completely gutting the robust modern regulatory state upon which our economy depends.

                More to the point, the Republicans have become not only more successful at winning elections, they’ve become more successful at winning them with increasingly right-wing positions. A Republican can run and win today with destroying social safety net programs as a major campaign plank and its regarded as a mainstream position rather than a career-killer.

                Now, to an extent that’s because, as Schlesinger famously said, politics is a pendulum. The right realizes it can be pretty batshit insane and not pay a major political price because eventually the pendulum is gonna swing their way again.

                But to a greater extent it has to do with, as I’ve said before, playing the long game. They catapulted the propaganda and kept catapulting and kept catapulting and never, ever let up. Now, yes, obviously you do want to pick and choose your battles intelligently. But I continue to maintain that we need to pick up our strongest rhetorical weapons and wield them boldly and constantly in order to win the war. It will be a work of decades, not years, the same as it was for the Republicans. And I feel like Obama, and senior Democrats in general, just aren’t doing their part. It would be one thing if they were simply passive, but a lot of them have actually adopted the framing of the other side, which means winning elections on sensible policy platforms and then governing according to those platforms because that much harder.

              • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

                AFDC?
                Glass-Steagall?

              • Njorl says:

                “…but with the exception of upper-class tax cuts …”

                That’s almost all that matters to them. The entitlement cuts they want are to reduce the likelihood of higher income taxes. The point of Social Security reform is to have the federal government reneg on repaying the trust fund the money borrowed from it. The only way to repay that money will be through income taxes predominantly levied on the rich. Wrecking the country’s finances was an essential prelude to reneging on the internal debt. The tax cuts are the biggest part of wrecking the country’s finances.

                The do or die point for this gambit will be later in this decade. If the Republicans can successfully fend off tax increases above and beyond ending the Bush tax cuts, the federal government will reneg on at least some of the debt to social security. Once that starts, it will accelerate.

                In my opinion, at some point when Republicans hold the presidency and both houses of congress, they will end the filibuster rule and “forgive” the internal debt. It will be electoral suicide, so they will go all in and strongarm through as much reactionary policy as possible. They’ll lose congress in the mid terms but be able to obstruct reversals through the presidency. Their old order is headed to demographic oblivion anyway. They’ll make the most of their last gasp.

          • Joe says:

            I’m all for messaging even when it won’t immediately lead to legislation but Obama has done that too on the DREAM Act, campaign finance and other issues. But, too many critics are one sided advocates, and don’t actually hint at such things very much.

            I’m sure he can do more and his centrist caution tendencies (the irony of “audacity to hope” noted) troubled me in ’08. This is partially why when I hear some speak with a tone that sounds like we should be soooo hurt at what he’s doing, he is a traitor! etc., it annoys me.

            • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

              I’m all for messaging even when it won’t immediately lead to legislation but Obama has done that too on the DREAM Act, campaign finance and other issues.

              Absolutely.

              Obama doesn’t, in principle, avoid pushing for legislation that cannot pass. But he naturally doesn’t support legislation that he doesn’t support.

              The simplest explanation for White House messaging this spring is that Obama hasn’t promoted Keynesian solutions to our current economic mess because he doesn’t believe in Keynesian solutions. As Krugman has written, when Obama continually repeats nonsense about fiscal policy, at a certain point one has to conclude that he believes the nonsense.

              What separates Obama (and other centrist Democrats) from the progressive wing of his party is first and foremost ideology, not tactics, spine, or competence.

        • Murc says:

          Is that in Art. II or something?

          It’s in ‘this is part of your job when you are leader of the Democratic Party.’

          I am not blind to Obama’s accomplishments. You list many of them, and they are worthwhile. However. The Obama Administration actively worked against financial reform, and Obama has personally endorsed economic models that are both wrong, and harmful. This helps to entrench right-wing economic dogma that has the purpose of destroying the middle class and hollowing out the country as a whole has the potential, in the long term, of undoing all of his good work.

          That would seem to fall under the rubric of ‘pointing out we have a flawed President.’

          • NonyNony says:

            It’s in ‘this is part of your job when you are leader of the Democratic Party.’

            I think you have confused the Democratic Party with a liberal party, rather than a coalition party made up of left, center-left, and center-right elements.

            Obama is actually part of the “center-left” part of the Democratic party, not the liberal one. So I’m betting that if he sees his job as promoting any kind of ideological agenda at all (which, given that he’s almost the definition of a technocratic wonk, I doubt highly) he would feel that it’s his job to push for a moderate center-left agenda, not a liberal one.

            If you want the leader of the Democratic party to push for a more liberal agenda, the first step is to make the liberal faction of the Democratic Party larger and more powerful. Until that happens the center-left faction is going to hold onto the control they gained in the 70s and have been holding onto ever since.

          • Joe says:

            NonyNony has a point and that’s different from his job as “President.”

            If all you are doing is saying he’s flawed, well fine, LBJ was flawed too, see him helping Burger become Chief Justice and his handling of Vietnam. And, he had more to work with.

            Meanwhile, in various ways, Obama IS helping the party for the future. It wouldn’t shock me if some Huntsman type is who wins in ’16. If Obama paves the way to a rational Republican as compared to Clinton paving the way to Bush in part based on their style of governing, well, I’ll take that. Since, I know a R. will come back to the WH eventually and I want a rational one.

        • Walt says:

          Joe, this is the very high-water mark for progressive legislation. So you better be happy with what you’ve got, because you’re never going to get any more.

          • Joe says:

            What does that mean?

            In the short term? Well, yeah, with the Republicans controlling the House, I don’t expect much “progressive legislation” to pass.

            I’m not going to say NOTHING that progressives would be happy with will find the way in, especially since with a Democrat Senate, Republicans can’t just block every single thing. If that was even possible. So, some tax break or some provision that will help gays in some small fashion is possible.

            More so long term. And, since — though you wouldn’t know it from some people — a good amount of stuff passed in two years vs. the previous eight even, long term, there are things to grab hold on. For instance, if a few more people don’t die because they are refused insurance, net plus.

  9. I would add Scott that the stimulus example is sort of the exception that proves the rule. I agree that Obama probably could have gotten a bigger stimulus than what he got with a larger initial proposal, but said proposal would still have had to be within the realm of possibility.

    • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

      but said proposal would still have had to be within the realm of possibility.

      The core of this discussion, however, regards how wide that realm of possibility was and is…not only in regards to the stimulus package.

      • Not really. Simply asserting over and over that single payer might magically have been passed with 5-10 Senate votes, there’s basically no question what the broad outlines of a possible bill that would get votes from all 59 Democrats and Joe Lieberman would look like.

        • Ken Houghton says:

          But they didn’t need 60 votes. The final bill was passed through reconciliation, with Pelosi on the record as being perfectly willing to put the PO in.

          If you want to say that Harry Reid running the Senate has destroyed any hope of a Democratic Presidency, you won’t (well, shouldn’t) get any argument. But if you want to put full blame for BarryO being a one-term President on Reid’s Caseyite attitudes, well, then you’ve got a problem, since Scott already conceded what the ProgLibs have said all along: that BarryO had “the power to set the agenda.” And he didn’t use it.

          • The final bill was not passed through reconciliation. That’s not an argument, it’s just point of fact. A subsequent package of amendments was passed through reconciliation, but the bill itself was the version the Senate passed through regular rules.

            I’m actually willing to entertain the idea that you could have put the public option in that package, but I’m skeptical that could have been pulled off strategically. And even in the best case scenario, that would have been a nuclear option that would have ended the possibility of negotiating with the conservative Democrats for the rest of the administration.

            • steelpenny says:

              I just want to respond to the last sentence. No, those assholes would still have to deal. Look at it like this: Bernie Sanders gets no juice because he plays ball. If Bernie Sanders says fuck it, I’m filibustering everything, then everybody starts sucking his dick. That’s the Joe Lieberman method and it seems to be working for him.

              • Well what I meant was that if you so vigorously double crossed them, they would never be willing to trust the administration again and cutting a deal with them on anything but their terms would be basically impossible.

                • steelpenny says:

                  Which is different from the current situation how?

                • Well, it’s not I suppose. Keep in mind I never said it couldn’t be done if it would have worked, I was just pointing out that there was a real tradeoff to worry about, and in any event I don’t think you could have found 50 Senate Democrats willing to go along with it.

                • dangermouse says:

                  I was just pointing out that there was a real tradeoff to worry about

                  Well, it’s not I suppose.

                  So where’s the tradeoff.

        • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

          I have never asserted that single payer might have passed the Senate. Nor has anyone else in this conversation.

  10. Wouldn’t a maximalist negotiating position for health care have been ‘Mandatory Medicare for Everyone With Much Higher Tax Rates On Rich People’? Not this weak tea public ‘option’. Let’s not let the slightly liberal possibility become the bleeding edge.

    • david mizner says:

      Indeed.

      It doesn’t take Howard Zinn to understand this, but here’s Howard Zinn in any case:

      On healthcare, for example, he starts out with a compromise, and when you start out with a compromise, you end with a compromise of a compromise, which is where we are now.

      http://www.thenation.com/article/obama-one?page=0,5

      • Scott Lemieux says:

        Except, again, he doesn’t consider that 1)starting with a non-compromised position doesn’t provide leverage if it doesn’t have enough political support to be credible, and 2)if you start off with a non-compromised position you may be more likely to end up with nothing.

        Again, I think what a lot of people are missing is that while more maxmimalist starting points might work if you have to reach an agreement, they don’t work very well if you don’t. The Senate didn’t have to pass anything; it’s not like you’re guaranteed that 60 senators will meet you halfway.

        • TT says:

          Exactly right. Obama had to pass a bill, any bill. The alternative for him was a fatally crippled presidency after just 14 months. If he could have afforded to lose Lieberman, Nelson, or Lincoln, or all three of them, then believe me, he would have.

          • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

            Is the Obama administration more or less crippled now than the Clinton administration was after failing to pass healthcare reform? Discuss.

            Look, I think the ACA was (and is) better than nothing. I’m glad they got it done. But the history of its passage is hardly an example of a presidency avoiding being crippled. Indeed, the way Obama got HCR reform passed (focusing on the hard and necessary work of getting votes in Congress, while basically letting frame the public discussion) helped assure that the Democrats would lose the House last year, thus apparently crippling his presidency.

            • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

              I should add that during the end game of the ACA debate, I, too, felt that passage was critical for Obama’s political future. But I (apparently foolishly) believed that the President and Congressional Democrats would try to sell the ACA (and, for that matter, the stimulus bill) much more vigorously to the public in the fall of 2010, while emphasizing other issues, like allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire, that already enjoyed overwhelming public support.

              Instead, they ran and hid.

              One of the downsides of the technocratic, we’re-doingthe-best-we-can-under-the-circumstances view is that it tends to overlook the importance of active political communication with potential voters. Policies don’t sell themselves.

              • TT says:

                “But I (apparently foolishly) believed that the President and Congressional Democrats would try to sell the ACA (and, for that matter, the stimulus bill) much more vigorously to the public in the fall of 2010…”

                Point well taken. It most certainly was disappointing to watch the Democrats run for the hills instead of repeatedly hitting the GOP over the head for opposing the ACA’s most popular individual components.

                However, maybe I’m wrong–I haven’t seen the polling from that time–but my sense is that the Medicare cuts in the ACA and the continuing unemployment crisis had a lot more to do with the Democrats taking a big hit in 2010 than the actual sausage-making process did. I don’t remember the GOP paying a price for how they passed Medicare Part D. Also, Democrats were going to lose big in 2010 no matter what, because of both the aforementioned jobs crisis and the fact that they had overperformed in conservative-leaning districts in 2006 and 2008. Obama probably figured, rightly in my view, that the sunk political costs of the ACA were simply too much and that salvaging a major bill would at least give them a fighting chance. Which takes us back to their political communications strategy…

                • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

                  Just to clarify: I didn’t mean to suggest that the public objected to the sausage making process. I meant that the Democrats only attended to the sausage making process, leaving the public debate to be defined almost entirely by the right.

                  I assume this was because the White House correctly understood that no Senate votes could actually be moved by that public debate (with the surprise exception of Massachusetts’). But they paid a hefty price for this attitude last November.

                  This is one of the problems with an overly technocratic approach to policy making.

            • Bijan Parsia says:

              After ACA passage? Less. (Lots of stuff came after ACA, including Frank-Dodd and DADT repeal. Not a lot came in 1994.) After the Republican takeover, more? Perhaps? By a bit?

      • Bijan Parsia says:

        And what about the psychology of prior attempts? I mean, we had a bunch of moments about once a decade where, at least some of the time, an insufficiently progressive reform bill was rejected from the left in order to get something better.

        I think this did…and should have!…instilled some caution. You can argue that they were over cautious, but it seems really hard to get past that nothing/failure is far far worse than this success.

        Health care seems to be something we should rally behind. A success which should beget future successes. DADT seems similar. Yes, a stick is required. Yes, progress was rather slow to be satisfactory. But repeal happened. It wasn’t always clear that it ever would. Again, they were fighting a Clinton war, second time. The gay activist community by and large seem to be giving credit for DADT and saying “DOMA next”, while also fighting at the state level. That seems to be a reasonable model for health care.

        (Now, I’ve nothing good to say about Obama and civil liberties. There, I don’t see many half loafs, even.)

  11. mark f says:

    I remember when Woodrow Wilson took to the bully pulpit to gin up public support to pressure the Senate to ratify the League of Nations treaty. As I recall that was an unqualified success on all counts.

    • Actually, the best domestic case is Truman’s Fair Deal. Truman went on the stump across the country fighting for it, got re-elected, pushed for Congress to pass it – and conservatives had the votes to block it, so they did.

  12. Wannabe Speechwriter says:

    One thing that doesn’t get mentioned a lot (and this is up Erik Loomis’s alley) with FDR and LBJ is there were people in the streets. Roosevelt got a lot of his legislation through in no small part because of actions like the SF General Strike and the Flint sit-in. These actions deeply upset those in power and forced them to compromise with the New Dealers. With civil rights, while Johnson’s negotiation skills are rightfully legendary, if civil rights demonstrators weren’t standing up to the forces of Jim Crow, nothing would have happened. In order to get real change, there has to be a movement behind it.

    This is the biggest area I fault Obama. I know first hand of how OFA just sat on its list of 13 million e-mails. I remember when there was suppose to be calls to voters in Indiana during the stimulus fight asking them to flood Bayh’s office in support but then OFA cancelled at the last minute. I heard from a SEIU member-organizer about how OFA was suppose to do an action with them but didn’t really know what they were suppose to be doing.

    I don’t know if it would have made a huge difference if there had been major action on OFA’s part to get better legislation through. However, in politics, the loudest voice usually wins (look at gun control).

    • I’m sorry, but as regards FDR, this is historically wrong. FDR’s initial burst of legislation happened well in advance of the SF General Strike, and the Flint strike coincided with the decline of FDR’s ability to pass legislation.

      I know social historians want to believe that people in the street created the New Deal, but that’s not what happened.

      • Moreover, by that logic, Watts should have increased the pace of War on Poverty/Great Society programs. It did the reverse.

        • Wannabe Speechwriter says:

          Do you honestly expect me to believe mass movements had nothing to do with the New Deal/Great Society? That these programs happened merely because of FDR’s Brian Trust or LBJ’s mastery of DC?

          It’s true a rally or a speech or one letter to Congress isn’t going to do much. However, when you have a group of people committed to a cause or a purpose, you get change done. Why do you think Republicans hate unions so much? This is one institution that can explain politics in terms of wadges better than any other progressive group. As long as they exist, they remain a threat to the conservative agenda.

          Look at the issue of gun control. More people support than oppose some form of gun control. Yet, gun laws are being rolled back. Why? Because the NRA crowd is much more active-

          http://thinkprogress.org/yglesias/2011/06/29/256840/taking-action-matters/

          I was talking to a former Obama staffer who has run down the ticket campaigns. He told me often he’d find out the GOP campaign office was a real mess and was horrible at field. However, it didn’t matter. Churches did the GOTV for them and, because of their commitment, Republicans won more than they lost.

          If liberal/progressive/social democratic politics is going to succeed, it’s not going to be from an election result or a bill passed. We need a mass movement that puts pressure on our elected leaders. That forces Democrats to remain true to their principles and forces Republicans to compromise on theirs. Until then, Democrats are just going to be a bunch of triage doctors, treating the immediate crisis with the limited resources they have.

          I had no illusions that Obama was going to compromise on his campaign promises. Every politician does that. However, I hoped the campaign he built from the ground up would be used to advance his agenda. Instead, he just turned the machine he created off, not bothering to try and use it to put pressure on those swing senators and congresspeople. I can’t prove he had used OFA to its true potential it would have worked. However, that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t have given it a shot…

          • I don’t think they have nothing to do with it, I just think they have less to do with it and do with it in different ways than social historians think.

            The New Deal happened because Democrats won a crushing victory in 1932 and 1934 – and that happened because the public at large was pissed off at the Republicans for the Great Depression – and because when they did there was not just a Brains Trust but an entire generation of experts, intellectuals, pressure groups, AND social movements (not JUST social movements) that had developed an agenda during the Progressive Era who were inside/alongside the Democratic Party and gave it a schema to work with once it had a majority.

            I think the Great Society happened because Democrats won big in 1958 and 1964 – and even then, it only lasted until 1966.

            In short, I think politics matters, and I think ideas matter, and I think social movements matter less than social historians think.

            • Wannabe Speechwriter says:

              Well, I’m not a social historian. I’m just a field grunt who’s done work for progressive candidates and candidates (including President Obama) for the last 4 years. I don’t have a Ph.D. but I do know the reason climate legislation failed wasn’t because ACES wasn’t the best policy. I also know church goers and gun owners are more likely to get involved in knocking on doors and writing to law makers than people who complain about Republicans on Facebook. I just don’t see how you can honestly think the left doesn’t have a major disadvantage with the collapse of unions and the lack of any mass movements on the left comparable to the right’s…

              • Again, as I have said before, social movements are useful, may even be necessary, but they are not sufficient.

                Social policy often occurs, not because of public opinion, but in spite of it.

                • Wannabe Speechwriter says:

                  Someone didn’t read what I wrote. As I pointed out in my first link, it’s the people who are active that make the difference. Hence the gun control issue-majority of Americans support some form of gun control but, since opponents are more active, they win despite being in the minority. Also, mass movements don’t always have broad support. When the workers at Flint went on strike, they didn’t have the majority of people on the factory floor supporting them. MLK never had the majority of black churches marching in the streets for civil rights. However, from the 1930s to the 1960s, there were nonetheless movements of politically motivated liberals/progressives who took to the street and got their message across. Sometimes they failed. Sometimes they succeeded. However, what was important was they were out there. This is something the right learned from and has been using to their advantage over the last 40 years. Why you denounce people who say the key to making change is getting active by writing letters to lawmakers around progressive/liberal issues and talking to people to do the same is somehow foolish and what we should do is Wait for Superman to work DC to get legislation passed is beyond me…

                • You’re free to read my comments at the same time.

                  I am not denouncing people “denounce people who say the key to making change is getting active” – I’m disagreeing with people who argue that social activism is superior to political activism and that extra-party political activism is superior to intra-party political activism.

                  And I’m saying that you’re wrong on the history of the New Deal and the Great Society. Flint and Montgomery had substantial influences on the New Deal and Great Society, but they did not cause them.

  13. RAM says:

    Pushing for more during the debates over the stimulus, health care, and financial reform would have at least gotten the issues on the table, however briefly before being dealt away, and the party would now have the satisfaction of saying “We told you so.” And that might well resonate with voters. But the party can’t say that because they never pushed for what everyone with a brain knew was required.

    • “The party” is doing a lot of work there, though you probably didn’t mean for it to. But remember, in the HCR debates specifically, the meat and potatoes negotiating wasn’t between Democrats and Republicans, but between Democratic leadership and marginal Democrats in the Senate.

  14. I mostly agree with Scott’s point, but I think there was “money on the table” when it came to ACA – namely, had Obama’s bargaining position been more on the left in several areas (a much larger and expansive public option, much more generous and universal subsidies, a higher cutoff for Medicaid expansion, etc.) then he could have got more “credit” for compromising that he could have parlayed into other areas – as long as he refrained from making that initial bargaining position an all-or-nothing position that wouldn’t be taken seriously. For example, had the lowering of the Medicare age been closer to the end of the process and perhaps if we’d been better play-actors in grudging at the compromise, we might not have had Lieberman taking it back at the last second. There’s more examples here.

    However, I do think people fail to recognize an inherent truth of the ACA: half of the people who get/will get coverage through the ACA will do so through the expansion of Medicaid to all within 133% of poverty lines. This, plus the increase of Federal share for Medicaid and the increase in reimbursement rates to Medicare levels, are the most important advance in health care in the last fifty years on their own. I firmly believe that in the future, this will be the most consequential element of health care reform, as coverage expands up the quintiles.

    In other words, ACA works out to “single payer for many” rather than “single payer for all.”

  15. Lee Hartmann says:

    I’m too late to this game, and I’m tired of the whole thing, but: if rhetoric, words, don’t mean anything, how the hell did Obama get elected in the first place? It sure wasn’t for anything he did in his career. Forget inspiration (which is why he got elected, including a crummy economy: hint); could he at least stop repeating Rethuglican talking points about austerity and cutting social security?

    The whole argument about “what could he have accomplished” tends to ignore things he could have done on his own, like fix the horrible HAMP process, etc. DeLong has a list of things he could have done, some of which at least seem reasonable to me. I don’t expect really anything from Obama any more, but at least he could stop discrediting progressive ideas in an attempt to be “even-handed”.

    If there is any threat to him, it is from the economy, not from people like me.

    • “The whole argument about “what could he have accomplished” tends to ignore things he could have done on his own, like fix the horrible HAMP process, etc.”

      Well of course it does, since this is specifically a discussion of the President’s ability to cajole Congress into doing what he wants. So actions that can be undertaken by the executive unilaterally are neither here nor there.

    • “if rhetoric, words, don’t mean anything, how the hell did Obama get elected in the first place?”

      Because presidential electorates are skewing demographically to the right? Because a series of Republican failures on domestic and foreign policy coincided with a major recession? Because the McCain campaign was poorly run?

      Take your pick.

  16. Pete says:

    Te argument that Obama would never have gotten 60 Senators is rather weak. As at least one other person said – you needed 50 and not 60.

    Another option was to get an internal agreement among the Democratic caucus that they would not support a filibuster, but would be free to vote yes or no on the final bill. This allows folks like Nelson to go to the voters and say that they voted against the bill (which I think is far better for them than to say that they voted for Obamacare but managed to strip out the public option). Filibuster fails 60-40. Bill passes 50-50 with Biden casting the deciding vote.

    And senators like Lieberman are from the north east where people support the public option. Obama never even made a strong case for the public option.

    • With all due respect, how does any of this make any fucking sense to you at all. I mean:

      “As at least one other person said – you needed 50 and not 60.”

      I mean, what the hell? Fuck it, I’ll try it: you’re wrong, you only need 45 Senators! That’s not true, but maybe if I just keep saying it over and over it will be?

      “Another option was to get an internal agreement among the Democratic caucus that they would not support a filibuster, but would be free to vote yes or no on the final bill.”

      Another option was to get the ghost of FDR to shit out a single-payer system. On the other hand, that’s probably much more likely than getting the pivotal Senators to agree to unilaterally disarm by forsaking their ability to filibuster.

      “And senators like Lieberman are from the north east where people support the public option. ”

      And…so what? Opposing the public option is going to be a major blow to his non-existent re-election campaign or something?

      I mean, there might be good alternatives out there, but this shit wouldn’t even make for convincing religious beliefs in your more illiterate parts of the South.

      • Pete says:

        Did I strike a nerve somewhere? If you want to argue that 45 Senators are needed, then God bless you. And yes the final bill was passed with 50 Senate votes. Pivotal Senators could have been persuaded on this one topic because a) there is enormous value in enforcing a Democratic brand, AND b) it gives them a better re-election story. Lieberman may not be running for re-election but he does not want to be a pariah in his own state. And he loves all his plum assignments and does not want to be marginalized.

        So maybe none of this *might* have worked – I am willing to concede. But was a good faith effort made to try it? Did Obama even stump the benefits of going for a public option? Did he even try to sow some seeds which would give dividends later? Sadly no. And that is what alarms some of us.

        And while I am not from the South, why belittle the South?

    • rea says:

      Lieberman represents the biggest concentration of insurance companies and their employees in the country. His positioon was not that surprising for a senator from Connecticut.

      • Pete says:

        Fair enough, and thanks for engaging in a civil discourse. As I said earlier maybe Lieberman would never have flipped. But maybe he could have been flipped. And a good faith effort was not made to try to flip him.

        • dave3544 says:

          And a good faith effort was not made to try to flip him.

          How do you know?

          And I think what your missing here is that our 10 recalcitrant Senators would not have voted to move the bill out of committee, but then oppose on the floor because they thought it was a bad bill. They are not liberals. They do not want the health care system out of private hands. And a good many of them were on record saying that they though passing the bill with only Dem votes was bad for the party because now we own a piece of shit bill.

          • Pete says:

            Having a public option takes the health care system out of private hands? How so?

            So you think that Nelson is better off voting for Obamacare than if he was if he had voted against?

            The bottom line is that there is a perception that Obama did not try hard, and that there are good reasons for that perception.

            • Pete says:

              And none of the arguments from Obama defenders are convincing me that Obama did try.

              Their argument is that it was an impossible task, not that Obama attempted to take on that task. Whatever happened to “Yes, we can”?

              • dave3544 says:

                How ’bout, I’ve never ever in my life been in the White House, so i have no clue what kind of conversations take place in the White House. Maybe Obama was twisting arms every day and the Senators reminded him he had absolutely no leverage over them.

            • Hogan says:

              there is a perception

              Oh well, if there’s a perception, then I guess that settles it.

              • Scott Lemieux says:

                Shorter Pete: Ben Nelson is a liberal if you want it.

              • Pete says:

                No it does not settle it. Show me how Obama tried. Not that it was an impossible task. But show me what Obama did to try to make it happen.

                • rea says:

                  In other words, what you want is a president who will expend his political capital in a futile attempt to do what you yourself are willing to admit would have been impossible.

                  I’m damned if I see how that makes a lick of sense.

                • Pete says:

                  I said it may not have been possible, but I also say that it may have been possible.

                  And had Obama got the public option, my contention is that his standing would be higher today. And the election chances of some of the vulnerable Democratic Senators would have been higher because they would have voted against the final HCR bill.

                  I even think that had Obama sincerely pushed for it but reached the current bill as a compromise, his standing would be higher today.

                  I have not seen anything convincing in this forum that convinces me otherwise.

                • This is a blatant strawman, in so much as it assumes all forms of “trying” must be public. You honestly think the White House didn’t privately lobby Senators at all?

                • Pete says:

                  Brien Jackson says:

                  August 24, 2011 at 4:34 pm

                  This is a blatant strawman, in so much as it assumes all forms of “trying” must be public. You honestly think the White House didn’t privately lobby Senators at all?

                  Wouldn’t surprise me if they did not private lobby as hard as they could on the public option.

                  Furthermore if they privately lobbied it does not prevent them from making a strong public case for it. Which they did not.

            • Furious Jorge says:

              Having a public option takes the health care system out of private hands? How so?

              Well, there is that word “public” in there to give us a hint …

              • Pete says:

                Well no kidding, this whole debate could have been solved by taking that word “public” out of the name. Maybe they should have called it “The Patriot Option”. Then I am sure all would have been ok.

            • Njorl says:

              The existance of the public option would have doomed private insurance. Private insurers could never supply a comparable product at a competitive price. The entire private health insurance industry would have disappeared in a decade or two.

              That would actually be a good thing, but it doomed the public option politically. Public option was just single-payer with an indeterminite phase in period.

  17. mb says:

    Obama didn’t need Nelson and Lieberman to vote FOR the public option. He just needed them to vote FOR cloture. There was a time when your own party could be relied upon to vote en bloc on procedures like cloture even though they might be free to oppose the bill on final passage. Obama and Reid never demanded party discipline on procedural votes. That alone would have made the public option much more likely.

    • And they were supposed to demand this…how?

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      Yes, if only Obama had “demanded” that senators unilaterally give up the procedural tool that empowers them. Because it’s not like political activists would understand that the vote on cloture is the same as the vote on the merits or anything. I have no idea why you’re wasting your time here when you could be dispensing your brilliant political advice for six figures a year!

      The “there was a time” bit is particularly comical. For that matter, there was a time when many Republicans in the Senate could be counted on to vote for good progressive legislation. Obama should demand that this happen again too!

      • Pete says:

        I would think that voting for cloture and against the final bill would have been far better for the re-election prospects of those like Nelson, sd it was in his interest to go along with this.

        The only one I can think who may have held out is Lieberman, but he could have been persuaded in other ways.

        Politics is also about perception and posturing. The fact is that many progressives feel that Obama did not make a good faith effort to try to make it happen.

        • Scott Lemieux says:

          I would think that voting for cloture and against the final bill would have been far better for the re-election prospects of those like Nelson, sd it was in his interest to go along with this.

          Alas, both Nelson and insurance company lobbyists understand American politics better than you do. I also find you assumption that Nelson would love to support a more liberal health care bill as long as it was politically possible charming. (It’s very amusing that people who can’t stop pointing out that Obama isn’t the social democrat nobody thought he was are convinced that venal red-state Deocratic senators are all secret left-wingers.)

          • mark f says:

            Yeah, but be fair. Obama once won one congressional district in Nebraska. Two-term governor and two-term senator Ben Nelson is probably desperate to ride those sweet coattails.

          • Pete says:

            Where did I say that Nelson would be supporting a liberal bill? I said he would be voting against Obamacare.

            • Scott Lemieux says:

              This is a great idea if you think everyone involved in politics is a fucking moron. In the real world, everyone who matters understands that the vote on cloture was the meaningful vote, and in particular business and insurance interests in Nebraska understand this. So somehow I don’t think Nelson would be receptive to your advice.

              • Pete says:

                Nobody cares about cloture votes. Adding a few “fucks” does not make it true.

                I’m out of here. Have a nice day.

                • Scott Lemieux says:

                  Seriously. You really think that Republican candidates and special interests would ignore a cloture vote that allowed a bill to pass as long as you vote against it on the merits. Are you sure you’re not Mark Penn?

                • Malaclypse says:

                  You really think that Republican candidates and special interests would ignore a cloture vote that allowed a bill to pass as long as you vote against it on the merits.

                  Why, of course they would.

                  Also, fuck.

                • Pete says:

                  I was talking about the voters. Voters don’t care about cloture votes. The Republican candidate and special interests may moan as much as they want, but Nelson has a very clear message to the voters that he voted against Obamacare.

                  It puts him in a far better position with the voters than he is now where the Republican candidate will have ads all over the place that Nelson voted for Obamacare. Or are you Mark Penn and think that the Republican candidate opposing him will never mention about Nelson’s vote for Obamacare.

                • mark f says:

                  It puts him in a far better position with the voters than he is now where the Republican candidate will have ads all over the place that Nelson voted for Obamacare.

                  And in the real world, the Republican opponent would’ve run ads that said a Ben Nelson who voted for cloture and against passage voted for Obamacare. And Ben Nelson would’ve been forced to campaign while explaining senate procedures, which as I recall was a smashing success for John Kerry, not to mention trying to rationalize why merely allowing passage while symbolically opposing it should matter two shits to anyone not named Pete.

                • Scott Lemieux says:

                  And not only would he look like a flip-flopper, but he’d also be running without any money from the many interest groups who would understand that he supported the ACA.

                  Seriously, stop digging. This is pathetic.

                • UserGoogol says:

                  Voters don’t care about much of anything. Voters are driven by fundamentals. Most voters are completely ignorant of policy, and those who do are relatively informed tend to have their minds made up as to which party they want to vote here. Voters are not a particularly important player here.

          • Pete says:

            Obama very clearly stated during 2008 that he would fight against the special interests. Yet he did not and cut a deal with the special interest insurance companies. He gave up the public option in a deal with the insurance companies. Before you start berating others for misreading Obama on what they think he stood for, could you try to hold Obama to the very principles and promises he himself made on the campaign trail?

            • Njorl says:

              If Obama managed to trick the insurance companies into giving him something in exchange for abandoning the public option, then good for him. It never had any use except as a bargaining chip or PR issue.

            • dave3544 says:

              Wait, an American politician pledged to fight against “special interests”? Bold.

              When he said “special interests” and you heard “insurance companies” maybe the fault lies with you more than Obama.

              • Pete says:

                By your definition, nothing is a special interest.

                • Pete says:

                  And Obama also promised in 2008 to have the negotiations televised on CSPAN so that the American people can see what the choices are.

                • dave3544 says:

                  Actually, by my definition – and that of every politician who ever spoke the words – a “special interest” is something I oppose. The issues and groups I support are “just plain folks.”

      • mb says:

        It’s really not that hard to demand party discipline. Every senator has goodies they want. Lieberman wanted to be chairman of the Homeland Security Committee — which he got essentially for nothing — just agreeing to be the 60th vote for…whatever he wanted to vote for? Why not demand that any senator that wants a leadership position must vote the party line on procedural votes? It’s been done in the past and, shockingly it worked! Your simplistic attitude that cloture can’t be separated from support of final passage is of rather recent vintage — and it is a big part of what empowers the current filibuster environment. Voting for cloture but against passage has a long history.

        • Pete says:

          You are absolutely right, but Scott Lemieux will not admit it.

          Voters do not care about procedural votes. They care about the vote on the bill. Voting for cloture and against the final bill frees up ten Senators in conservative states to vote against Obama’s health care bill. Something that they were not able to do now. This would have been far better for them.

          And if Lieberman was the odd man out he could have been persuaded with the things you mention.

          • dave3544 says:

            Again, you are assume that the only think that matters is that they can go back to their home states and say “I voted against the bill, but I am a loyal Democrat!”

            And in 19-dickity-2 that might have meant something. It doesn’t any more.

            One, the health care lobby is not going to fall for this. So, they are going to either withdraw their campaign contributions or give a shitload of money to the opposition.

            Two, you are overlooking the possibility about what I said before – that Ben Nelson et al really thought the unmodified bill (the one they would have voted for cloture on in your world) was a bad idea.

            Three, they had tremendous leverage to get shit. They would have had to say to themselves, “well, I could use my position here to get goodies for my state and political sponsors, but you know Party comes before all else, so I will not do that.” Not going to happen and your belief that it used to happen is naive.

            Four, yeah Harry Reid at the behest of Obama could have threatened to take away the chairmanships and refused to back pork for the home state, and all that shit LBJ did, but not to Dem Senators in red states. You are not going to undercut your own people who are barely hanging on. This is why the pressure is always on the liberal Senator in the safe seat to cave to the middle – he or she can do it and still get elected.

            • Pete says:

              1) The HCR bill is already passed. Let them give a boatload of money to the opponent who will lose because Nelson is better positioned with the voters, having voted against the health care bill.
              2) But you haven’t shown that Nelson really thinks in his heart that the unmodified bill is a bad idea. Maybe he thinks in his heart that it is a great idea, but has to do the politically expedient thing.
              3) They still have the same tremendous leverage. It is just that they get their goodies at the time when cloture is debated. (And by the way, the way this thing has played out I’d think that the goodies hurt them more than they help them).
              4) Use that leverage only on Lieberman who is an opportunist SOB, not one one your own.

              • mark f says:

                Right. So if voting for cloture and against passage is such a brilliant re-election strategy for Hypothetical Secret Liberal Ben Nelson, why didn’t real life Real Life Ben Nelson utilize it?

                And once you secure Secret Liberal Ben Nelson’s vote by tricking those naive lobbyists, renowned for knowing fuck-all of congressional mechanics, you secure Joe Lieberman’s suddenly even more pivotal support by magic?

                I wonder why the Obama/Reid axis did not take advantage of this simple four point plan. The ONLY POSSIBLE explanation is perfidy!

                • Scott Lemieux says:

                  Right, among the people who don’t seem to understand this brilliant strategy is Ben Nelson.

                  But remember when Joe Lieberman voted against the bankruptcy bill after voting for cloture? That totally fooled everybody!

                • dave3544 says:

                  Thanks you. I was going to make this point, but delicious lunch interfered.

                • Pete says:

                  Or maybe the issue was decided when Obama made an agreement with the insurance companies to gut the public option. What makes you think that this was Nelson’s choice?

        • Njorl says:

          Who, exactly, is going to do this demanding? No one is going to win senate majority leader votes by making such demands. There were more than thirty Democratic senators who wanted a better health care bill, but there weren’t thirty who wanted that kind of party discipline. Republicans want it, Democrats don’t.

  18. Bruce Wilder says:

    “At the time in his presidency where he had a political environment most similar to Obama’s first two years — immediately after his re-election — Bush . . . ”

    You lost me with an obviously false premise.

    Is there any point in reading further?

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      Why is it false? His party had firm control of both houses of Congress. Yes, that’s not quite the same in the second term as the first term, but the lame duck effect (especially before the midterms) should not be that powerful.

  19. Oh brother. Well and truly back into teh HCR debate again. Okay, here’s what I would have liked – for Obama to have acted in a way that made single-payer not a ludicrous pipe dream that will nevar happen in a million billion years. Evar.

    Socialized medicine has always polled well in teh US. It’s had majority support in almost every poll except Rasmussen’s since teh eighties. The reason it can never work? Because people like Obama say so.

    Seriously – a black US president. Raised by a single mom. Would you have thought that possible five years ago? Would you have thought that world-wide opinions of the US could rise back to pre-Bush levels in a matter of months after Obama’s election? Would you have thought that they’d crash down to below Bush’s worst markers in light of what Obama’s done? Would you have thought that any US Administration would treat years of near double digit unemployment as normal? Or that in spite of the unemployment, that they’d spend all their time arguing about raising teh Debt Ceiling? At a time with negative real interest rates?

    But single payer is moar impossible than anything else, evar. That’s now actually true, and a great deal of the reason why lies with Barack Obama.

    • Thlayli says:

      Socialized medicine has always polled well in teh US. It’s had majority support in almost every poll except Rasmussen’s since teh eighties.

      Well, if people like it so much, they ought to try electing Congresscritters who will vote for it.

      • They do. But somewhere along the line teh “moderate centrists” take control of teh leadership. I think that might have something to do with money.

        A universal healthcare bill has been introduced in every session of Congress since 1933. And if you don’t count Dingell pere et fils, there are what – three universal health care bills floating in teh system right now? Single-payer proponents are being supported by the public – they just aren’t being allowed out of their cages by the Democratic leadership.

        • dave3544 says:

          You understand that the use “teh” generally denotes that someone is mocking their own use of a word or phrase. Like saying “teh system” would generally indicate that you are aware that people say “the system” like its a real thing and you want to indicate that you are saying “the system” but with an ironic wink and nudge.

          It should be used sparingly.

          And in 2004.

    • Njorl says:

      The nature of the senate means simple popularity is not so meaningful. You need popularity in 30 states for it to matter.

      There are also degrees of popularity. I want the fillibuster rule changed. One of my senators, Barbara Mikulski, doesn’t want to change it. I’m not going to vote against her in the primary over that issue.

    • UserGoogol says:

      Issue-based polls are pretty useless. If issue-based polls teach us anything, it’s that voters have wildly inconsistent views on policy because they don’t really understand the relevant issues. Just because if you call a randomly selected voter on the phone they’ll support a policy in principle doesn’t mean that support has any influence whatsoever over electoral outcomes.

  20. Bonnie Jean Smith says:

    Public Option? We have a group of legislators that have forgotten THEY are public servants.

    “Too many Republican Congressmen and Democratic Congressmen and not enough U.S. Congressmen!”

  21. david mizner says:

    I don’t know why you decide the ACA is “the real key.” In terms of its impact both the economy and Obama approval ratings, it’s nothing compared to the stimulus. On that point, you underestimate what might have been accomplished had the President been less neoliberal and more audacious.

    Obama had a successful first term or not doesn’t hinge on whether the stimulus was $770 million or $870 million.

    First, the stimulus wasn’t just a matter of size. It was a matter of what it contained. (Too many tax cuts, not enough aid to states.) Also the Obama administration removed the “cramdown” measure from it. On the matter of size, I’ll give you this:

    TAPPER: Your team has talked about the stimulus package being $675 to $775 billion. But at the same time…you’re going to distribute a memo in which economists say it should be between $800 billion and $1.3 trillion. How do you reconcile that difference…?

    OBAMA: Well, we are still in consultation with members of Congress about the final size of the package. We expect that it will be on the high end of our estimates, but [it] will not be as high as some economists have recommended because of the constraints and concerns we have about the existing deficit.</blockquote.

    Here you have a MSM reporter asking him why he isn't pushing a bill a big as his own information says is necessary. We know that Romer was recommending 1.2. (Dean Baker said 2 trillion was needed.) My guess is: If President Obama had pushed 1.6, pundits and conservatives would have called it crazy. Congress would have "dealt him a blow" by passing a bill of, say, 1.2 trill.
    Indeed, that's exactly what happened with Bush and his tax cuts: he wanted 1.6 and got 1.2 trillion — suffering an initial "loss."

    I repeat: the idea of what's possible is malleable.

    • david mizner says:

      The last 2 graphs shouldn’t be blockquoted.

    • Walt says:

      I agree with this. Really, he should have asked for 3 trillion, which then would have been whittled down to 1.9 trillion. Mortgage cramdown could have had a big positive impact, as well.

      • dave3544 says:

        Why not ask for $100 trillion and let them whittle it down to $50 trillion?

        Why not ask for 150% income tax on millionaires and let the GOP whittle it down to 75%?

        Why not start out by demanding that doctors pay their customers and let them whittle it down to medical services being free?

        This is fun.

        • Scott Lemieux says:

          He should ask for unlimited state-funded abortions and a minimum of three abortion clinics per county paid entirely by a tax on churches. Then Congress would have no choice but to pass a bill providing for state-subsidized abortions and one abortion clinic per county. And having moved the Overtron Window I’d expect it all to be enshrined in a constitutional amendment within ten years.

          • dandelion says:

            This is just specious. Yeah, he could have asked for a million sparkle ponies too.

            but what Mizner is arguing is that Obama should have asked for what every reputable economist agreed was needed AT THE TIME.

            Do you remember Al Gore debating Ross Perot about NAFTA, with his pie charts and careful explanations to the voting public? I sure do. Perot was right about NAFTA, and yet Gore was so good he convinced the American voters that NAFTA would be to their benefit.

            I’m not saying Gore was right. I’m saying he was effective.

            Obama or Biden could have done something similar about the stimulus, people were that scared about the economy. He could have won the public over.

            Instead he took the easy path, low-balled the stimulus — and here we are, 3 yrs. later with a 9% unemployment rate that, quite rightly, endangers his re-election.

        • dangermouse says:

          Why not ask for $100 trillion and let them whittle it down to $50 trillion?

          Because $50 trillion wasn’t needed, whereas 1.2 trillion was actually needed.

          I realize other people here are foolishly basing their understanding of negotiations based on what has taken place in previous negotiations, whereas you’re wisely basing your understanding of such negotiations on !!, but you know, Obama had a pretty good idea of the amount he actually needed, never asked for it, didn’t get it, and the unemployment rate is 9.2%.

          • dangermouse says:

            And oh, he never bothered even asking for a second round of stimulus, after the first one – which we knew from the beginning was inadequate – turned out to be utterly inadequate.

            But uh… firebaggers!

  22. norbizness says:

    As Howie Mandel once said, insanity is putting up the same blog post and expecting different results.

  23. soullite says:

    H-A-M-P.

    Four letters you will never see one of these O-bot clowns put together on their own accord. The way that program was run devastates every argument they make. It proves that Obama did not do everything he could have done, and more than that, it proves that Obama never did a damn thing that didn’t ultimately benefit the bankers at the expense of the rest of us.

    Instead of helping people keep their homes, he helped the banks steal their homes, often dragging out the process long enough to destroy their lives. Nobody made him do that. He chose to do that.

    So really, stop pretending that he’s a good man in a bad spot who did the best he could. Nobody believes that, I doubt even you folks believe that.

    • david mizner says:

      Agreed, his pro-bank, anti-people non-response to the housing crisis gives people the clearest sense of his priorities. And it’s not just HAMP:

      http://www.propublica.org/article/dems-obama-broke-pledge-to-force-banks-to-help-homeowners

    • Speaking of HAMP – I can’t understand why teh banks are so fucked up about it. They know they have garbage mortgages and they know that foreclosing isn’t getting them their money back. At this point, there’s places where it’ll cost them moar to take teh house than to just write off teh entire value of teh loan and just give teh houses to teh “deadbeats”. Seriously, they’re now looking at spending money to bulldoze houses they’ve foreclosed on – so that they can donate the land to teh municpalities. Because of teh housing market glut caused by all teh foreclosures they’re trying to dump.

  24. Incontinentia Buttocks says:

    One other electoral factor here: roughly 20% of self-described progressives disapprove of Obama’s handling of the presidency. Now, on the hand, this is a pretty good number, which can legitimately be read as indicating thay the White House political team is entirely correct that they can basically count on progressives to turn out for Obama and his party next year. And it’s of course possible, too, that much of that 20% are the sort of mythical “Professional Leftists” that would object to anything any White House did.

    But in an election that promises to be close, would there be votes to be gained by this administration by at least giving the impression that they’d govern a little further to the left if they could? Even better: they really can’t with a GOP House, so such gestures would be free. Nothing’s stopping Democrats from pretending they really care about, e.g., EFCA now. Yet they don’t.

    • DocAmazing says:

      Why would Dems respond to union concerns (like EFCA) when their larger donors have already told them what their concerns (the deficit) are going to be for this cycle?

      The customer is always rignt, after all.

    • dave3544 says:

      Nothing’s stopping Democrats from pretending they really care about, e.g., EFCA now. Yet they don’t.

      I think the thinking goes like this:

      If we pretend to support EFCA to make the union bosses happy [believe me, the rank and file is not screaming for EFCA], what does that get us? We are going to have the unions’ support anyway. What we would do, however, is give every Republican the talking point “If you don’t vote for me, government is going to take away your God-given, Founding Father-fought-for, 200-years-of-tradition, even-FDR-supported, right to vote in union elections!” And why the hell would we want to give them that talking point?

  25. justaguy says:

    I understand the structural reasons that make it easier for the President to lead in foreign policy than in domestic – but why does it seem to be so much easier for the president to drive public opinion on foreign policy than domestic? Look at the invasion of Iraq versus Social Security with Bush – Bush was incredibly effective at creating widespread support for his views on Iraq, and crashed and burned on social security.
    Is it that domestic policy issues tend to have a direct effect on your day to day life, so you have more of a frame of reference to make an independent judgment on it?
    That there are more independent sources of information (e.g. there are plenty of think tanks that could refute Bush’s claims on social security, while few could refute his claims on WMD with the same authority)?
    That people just care less about things outside their borders, so they’re fickler about changing their minds?
    Or that issues like terrorism and WMD just push the buttons in our reptile brains that keep us from thinking critically in a way that health care policy doesn’t?

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      The flaw here is that the Iraq War was never especially popular.

      • Njorl says:

        I think the bigger flaw is that not screwing with social security was a lot more popular than not invading Iraq from the outset. If Bush had tried to convince people that we should invade Italy, that would be a more apt comparisson.

        • Hogan says:

          Hank Scorpio: By the way, Homer, what’s your least favorite country? Italy or France?

          Homer: France.

          [Scorpio adjusts a giant laser cannon pointing towards the sky]

          Hank Scorpio: Heh heh heh. Nobody ever says Italy…

  26. bobbyp says:

    “Nothing’s stopping Democrats from pretending they really care about, e.g., EFCA now. Yet they don’t.”

    Doing so conflicts with their need to lay the groundwork now for ‘stab in the back’ meme blaming the hippies for the party’s defeat in 2012.

    Smart politics, eh?

  27. Moleman says:

    Man. ~140 comments and no one’s mentioned the appearance of the dread Overtron and his window? Internet, I am disappointed in you.

  28. Quercus says:

    So, you’re responding to the criticism that Obama 1) started too low on a stimulus number; 2) didn’t get the best deal possible on health care; and 3) gave the country away to the banks.
    From what I can tell, you basically say to (1)- maybe, and he admits a possible mistake, to (2) it was in fact about as good a deal as possible (I personally agree more than not), and then ignore (3).

    So, are you admitting he folded on banks? Or just arguing that everything said for health care also applies identically to finance reform?

    • Njorl says:

      Well, just to purue my own Obama tick, if he had finished the ACA faster, he would have had a better shot at a good bank reform bill.

      Debate on it should have started before the summer recess. Town hall meetings where Republicans tried telling their constituents that Obama was going to put a bueaucrat between you and your banker would not work so well as “between you and your doctor”.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      Well, as I say above I don’t think it’s obvious what the progressive position on the size of banks should be. On derivatives, I don’t know enough about the process to comment.

      • david mizner says:

        Really?

        You don’t think the progressive position is to oppose TBTF? I might be at the wrong blog.

        • Amongst actual left-leaning experts on finance? No, there is no consensus on optimal bank size, and a good many of them would prefer something that looks more like Canada’s rules.

        • Scott Lemieux says:

          David — I’m Canadian. The banking system is dominated by a few quasi-monopolostic banks, and there was no banking crisis.

          This isn’t to say that you’re wrong. What makes that system work is strong regulations and (more importantly) regulators that probably aren’t viable in the American system. But it’s not obvious that smaller banks are better. And nor do I think that allowing lots of small banks to fail would work either. Fundamentally, if good regulations aren’t in place the size of the banks is beside the point, and if you have good regulations big banks don’t seem inherently problematic.

          • david mizner says:

            Scott —

            Some left of center economists (like Krugman; unlike Simon Johnson) argue that reducing the size of banks wouldn’t reduce the risk of a crisis because everything is interconnected regardless. But I don’t know of any progressives except on this blog who argue that reducing the size of banks wouldn’t be a good thing for political reasons. They have too much wealth and too much political power.
            Six banks possess assets amounting to more than half of the GDP; that number was less than half that in the nineties. We can disagree about how important a progressive goal this is, but I don’t think there’s any doubt that it’s progressive goal.

            • david mizner says:

              But I’d be interested to know if the size of the banks in Canada poses problems for the country’s political economy. Like most Americans, I’m shamefully ignorant about Canada.

  29. lawguy says:

    I myself have been without a computer for about 5 days, but in reading Scott’s posts and drifting down the comments section, I realize the point: The point is of course, no matter what we must support Obama in 2012.

    He has done the very best he could ever have done, because of the institutional grid lock he could have done nothing more. Even if he wanted to and he may well have wanted to, but you are really dumb if you thought that he was anything but a moderate liberal, even though he governs like a true conservative.

    Oh yes, no matter who is elected, if that person is a republican somehow that person will be able to break through the grid lock and will govern like an ideologue.

    • mark f says:

      in reading Scott’s posts and drifting down the comments section, I realize the point

      I call bullshit.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      The point is of course, no matter what we must support Obama in 2012.

      Well, I will certainly supporting Obama in the 2012 elections, not because he’s achieved optimally progressive results (which he obviously hasn’t outside the imaginary voices in the head of people who prefer not to respond to actual arguments) but because the relevant criterion is whether he’s the best viable candidate on the ballot.

      even though he governs like a true conservative.

      If you use a definition of “conservative” that encompasses no actual American conservatives, then…well it still doesn’t make any sense.

      Oh yes, no matter who is elected, if that person is a republican somehow that person will be able to break through the grid lock and will govern like an ideologue.

      Odd that the last Republican president wasn’t able to do so.

  30. Pete says:

    mark f says:

    August 24, 2011 at 3:22 pm

    in the real world, the Republican opponent would’ve run ads that said a Ben Nelson who voted for cloture and against passage voted for Obamacare. And Ben Nelson would’ve been forced to campaign while explaining senate procedures, which as I recall was a smashing success for John Kerry, not to mention trying to rationalize why merely allowing passage while symbolically opposing it should matter two shits to anyone not named Pete.

    That opponent ad would not have worked. Voters do not care about cloture votes. Nelson does not need to explain Senate procedures. All Nelson had to do was to say that every bill deserves an up or down vote and that he voted against Obamacare. Which would put him in a far better position than where he is now.

  31. Pete says:

    Scott Lemieux says:

    August 24, 2011 at 3:25 pm

    And not only would he look like a flip-flopper, but he’d also be running without any money from the many interest groups who would understand that he supported the ACA.

    Seriously, stop digging. This is pathetic.

    He would “only look like a flip-flopper” because it suits your argument.

    Maybe Nelson may get less money from some groups, I don’t know. But you have not shown that it would be the difference between a win and a loss, especially when you have been so far unable to even acknowldge that it puts Nelson in a position where he can say he voted against HCR, something which he cannot do now, and something which hurts him.

  32. JRoth says:

    I missed all the fun, and I’m sure all this has been covered, but I just have to say:

    Scott, this is a terrible post. I generally disagree with your series of posts about how Obama is the best possible President, but I at least get your arguments. But this is just garbage.

    Pretending that the ARRA fumbled maybe just $100T, and that the balance of tax cuts to actual stimulus is meaningless? When we’re about to see a 2012 that will make Democrats long for the halcyon days of November 2010? Handwaving at its worst.

    And to compare Bush’s position in January of 2005 to Obama’s in 2009? Bush won a squeaker of an election (in which he basically never said the words “Social Security”) before which and after which his net approval ratings were negative, and this is supposed to shed some light on the position that Obama was in after a major Electroal College sweep, a big popular vote victory, and coattails so large that he had a (theoretically) filibuster-proof majority? The two could hardly be more different, but pretending they’re similar furthers your argument, so you beg the question. Truly pathetic.

    Lastly, of course, you – as usual – ignore the actual liberal complaint about the public option. It’s not that, if he had only speechified harder, then everyone to the left of Orrin Hatch would have voted for it. It’s that he said he was in favor of it, then secretly told the insurance companies that it was off the table from Day One, then failed to get the support of the insurance companies anyway. Whether perfidy or simple incompetence at negotiation, it was a dishonest failure.

    But since Presidents don’t matter, I suppose it doesn’t matter when they’re dishonest failures. At least he stopped torture ended the wars nominated good, young judges loaded the Fed with people who care about the unemployed fought the good fightreplaced a couple people in the Civil Rights division of the DOJ.

    • JRoth says:

      Just to run the numbers on ARRA:

      What the CBO said, at the time, was that we were facing a $2.1T shortfall. That meant that what we needed was $1.4T of stimulus at a 1.5 multiplier (setting aside how much stimulus was going to be erased by 50 little Hoovers). So any opening bid that was less than that was criminally insufficient – criminal because it doomed tens of millions of Americans to immiseration and a lifetime of reduced earnings.

      If Obama had actually wanted to avoid such immiseration, his opening bid would have been higher than that. Maybe $1.2T of high-multiplier spending plus $600B of low-multiplier tax cuts. Olympia Snowe doesn’t vote for that, of course, but you can generously cede lots of ground to her at that point. “You don’t like 2:1 spending to cuts? How about 60/40, and we’ll take it all out of the spending?” That gets you to $1.05T of spending and $600B of tax cuts. She still balks, and so you concede a bit more to get that nasty spending under $1T. $990B of spending, $600B of tax cuts, Snowe and Collins declare victory and go home*, and guess what? You have completely closed the projected demand shortfall, the economy is humming by 2010, and the Tea Party never happens.

      But what happened in this branch of the multiverse is that Obama was too scared of running up deficits, and not scared enough of letting the economy stagnate, and so he never asked for anything close to enough. Oh, and Scott Lemieux takes a leave of absence from his day job to spend all of his time telling us that Obama is the bestest President humankind could ever create.

      * Any theory that says that they had a specific number in mind, and weren’t simply demanding “$100B less than what Obama asks for”, needs to prove that they actually completed an independent economic analysis showing that $770B was the right number, and that if Obama had proposed an ARRA of $500B, Snowe and Collins would have insisted on increasing that number by $270B. Go ahead, Scott. Make that argument.

      • dave3544 says:

        Is that how bargaining works? You come with a really high opening bid knowing that your opponent is going to knock about $100 billion off of it so that they can say they beat you? It’s really that fucking simple? Jesus “Fucking” Christ, you’re putting everyone who negotiates contracts for a living out of business.

        You’ve convinced me! Obama must be some motherfucking criminal or some shit who just doesn’t care about anyone’s suffering, or he would have just asked for $1.8T.

        Of course, if he were real smart, he would have gone to Snowe and Collins, and said “Look ladies, here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to propose $3.6T in stimulus. You tell me to shove it. Knock it down to $1.8T. I’ll shake my head and accept it, then you can tell people you got me to cut my proposal in half.”

        This would have worked! Obama’s failure to enact my scenario proves he’s the most criminal president since ever!

        • dangermouse says:

          Is that how bargaining works? You come with a really high opening bid knowing that your opponent is going to knock about $100 billion off of it so that they can say they beat you?

          No, the way it works is by starting out asking for a fraction of what is actually needed, and then bargaining a large amount of that away.

      • BradP says:

        What the CBO said, at the time, was that we were facing a $2.1T shortfall. That meant that what we needed was $1.4T of stimulus at a 1.5 multiplier (setting aside how much stimulus was going to be erased by 50 little Hoovers). So any opening bid that was less than that was criminally insufficient – criminal because it doomed tens of millions of Americans to immiseration and a lifetime of reduced earnings.

        I love how, after the complete failure of $770B to do the job, you are still so committed to the idea of fiscal stimulus that you would call anything less than a 1.4T stimulus criminal negligence.

        • Malaclypse says:

          after the complete failure of $770B to do the job,

          As authoritative as libertarian theory normally is for macroeconomic discussions, there is an organization called the CBO, which publishes handy quarter-by-quarter analyses of the effects of the stimulus. Shockingly, their analyses do not support your argument.

          Still, CBO estimates that, compared with what would have occurred otherwise, ARRA will raise real GDP in 2012 by between 0.3 percent and 0.8 percent and will increase the number of people employed in 2012 by between 0.4 million and 1.1 million.

          So, after all stimulus has ended, between 400K-1.1M people are gainfully employed, who would be unemployed without ARRA.

          That’s not a big win, but it is still a win.

        • mark f says:

          I love how, after the complete failure of $770B to do the job, you are still so committed to the idea of fiscal stimulus that you would call anything less than a 1.4T stimulus criminal negligence.

          I love how, after the complete failure of a drinking glass to do the job, you are still so committed to the idea of blanketing fires with water that you would call anything less than dumping dozens of gallons criminal negligence.

    • dave3544 says:

      Too bad almost nothing you say has anything to do with this particular post.

      This here particular post is about negotiating approach. See, it’s right there in the post title.

      It is truly pathetic that Scott does not talk about the issues you would like him to talk about, yes. If only you had some kind of outlet for expressing your opinions on Obama’s performance to the larger world. Perhaps in an electronic format.

      You got anything that has to do with negotiating tactics that would demonstrate that Scott’s proposition that the maximimalist approach would not have gotten Obama anything better, but might have made it worse?

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      Obama is the best possible President

      It’s strange — you comment on all these posts, and yet you’ve never read one.

      As for your comically oversimplified stimulus bargaining scenarios, you fail to grasp the simple points that 1)the Senate didn’t have to pass anything, and 2)Obama has no leverage over the Maine Republicans, who can only lose if they get primaried. It is entirely possible that starting with a bid that immediately made the discussion about a TRILLION DOLLAR surplus would have made the bill so toxic among Republicans that they would have opposed it as steadfastly as they did the ACA. Maybe it would have worked — but to pretend that it would have certainly have worked, or that there’s no downside, is silly.

      As to the idea that Bush was in a much worse position, in the real world the amount of leverage provided by a bigger electoral college victory over Senators whose states Obama failed to carry is “none.” One thing I will give Bush — he was smart enough to understand that this pundit theory of mandates is just bullshit. You have the mandate to pass anything you have the votes to pass, and Obama wasn’t particularly popular in most of the states represented by median votes in the Senate anyway. Moreover, given the relative ideological homogeneity of the caucuses 55 Republican votes are worth at least as much as 59 Democratic votes.

      • Stanczyk says:

        You and Dave seem convinced that JRoth hasn’t read your posts but from where I sit JRoth has got your number. He laid out a very strong case for why you are wrong about Obama and the stimulus. Granted you’ve painted yourself into a corner with your prior admission that Obama didn’t get everything he could have. So what is a good little Obamapologist to do in these circumstances?

        JRoth has laid out an eminently plausble scenario and the best you can do is assert that it is “oversimplified”. You arbitrarily stipulate that Obama only left $100B on the table, but there is no justification for that figure. You (over)simply pulled it out of your, uh, hat.

        The problem with Lemieux’s “argument” is that is unfalsifiable. We now know that Obama was able to get $787B. So clearly that much was possible. But if Obama had only gotten $487B Lemieux could — and no doubt would — be here making exactly the same argument: i.e. that the Senate didn’t have to pass anything and Obama has no leverage and to think that he could have gotten $7878B is comically naive, etc. etc.

        That’s the great advantage of unfalsifiable arguments. You can make them no matter what the facts are.

        • Stanczyk says:

          that should be $787B not $7878B

        • Scott Lemieux says:

          and to think that he could have gotten $7878B is comically naive

          So apparently you haven’t read the post either.

          • Stanczyk says:

            Huh? Have YOU read your post? JRoth (and I) were responding to one of the very first paragraphs in YOUR post where YOU say,

            “I think it’s very plausible that Obama left some stimulus money on the table with a low opening bid. I think this was a more difficult problem than some do — there was almost certainly a point at which primary-fearing Republicans would have bailed on the whole thing — but I think he probably got less than he should. But it also seems pretty obvious to me that whether Obama had a successful first term or not doesn’t hinge on whether the stimulus was $770 million or $870 million.

            You do then say, “So let’s move on to the real key, the ACA.” but it is unclear what makes the ACA the “real key” other than that you are able to construe it as requiring 60 votes which makes your argument easier.

            Be that as it may, clearly the stimulus debate was an example of Obama negotiating and as such directly relevant to a post entitled “Is Maximalism Always The Best Negotiating Approach?” Get it? Because it’s about negotiating? And because it’s about how “maximal” Obama’s opening bid was?

            • Scott Lemieux says:

              Oddly, you still haven’t quoted anything where I said it was “comically naive” to think Obama left money on the table, and instead quoted something where I said it was perfectly plausible.
              So, I guess it’s not so much that you didn’t read the post as that you don’t understand the argument.

              What I do think is comically naive is your Broderite belief that there’s no opening bid that would have caused the whole bill to break down, because apparently faux-moderate Republican senators are totally committed to the public interest and would never just kneecap Obama’s presidency is they feared for their primary lives or anything.

      • dangermouse says:

        Maybe it would have worked — but to pretend that it would have certainly have worked, or that there’s no downside, is silly.

        As opposed to asking for much less than the amount needed, which totally could have worked as a means of getting the amount which was actually needed, somehow.

        That this brilliant strategy instead resulted in a woefully inadequate stimulus that failed to accomplish much of anything except slowing down the economic collapse, uh…. them’s the breaks?

        • Scott Lemieux says:

          If you think there was a real chance to get a $1.5 trillion stimulus bill through the Senate, you must have been asleep for the last 30 years. Hell, while we’re dreaming in technicolor why don’t we demand that the Senate pass the Freedom of Choice Act as part of the package too.

          • Walt says:

            I lack your soothsaying abilities, but a $1.5 trillion stimulus would have been easy to come by. If Obama demanded $3 trillion, the Senate would have compromised on $1.5 trillion. It’s not like the marginal Senator has a macroeconomic model in his or her head that tells them how much stimulus they believe in.

            • Scott Lemieux says:

              Really. You see marginal Republican senators who can only be defeated by a conservative primary voting for a $1.5 trillion stimulus even though one half that size cleared with zero votes to spare. Well, I wished we lived in your alternate universe.

      • Walt says:

        I missed this the first time around, but do you find it plausible that Congress could have passed no stimulus? Like zero? No stimulus, and Senators are looking at like 15% unemployment, the stock market tanking, administration officials on the television saying every lost job is the fault of an intransigent Senator? Not one of the Republicans is going to crack? Reid and 50 of the Democrats aren’t going to decide to just this once pass the bill by a bullshit procedural manuever?

        ACA was optional, but the day in 2009 that stimulus gets voted down in the Senate is the day the Dow drops 1000 points. If you’re Obama, that’s leverage.

        • Scott Lemieux says:

          Well, it was unlikely, although not impossible. More possible was a stimulus that was even smaller and even more tilted towards tax cuts to salvage things after the Republicans pulled out.

          • Walt says:

            You know, Scott, it’s surprisingly easy for you to win these arguments when you assign yourself oracular powers to determine the probability distribution of counterfactuals.

    • Stanczyk says:

      Very strong point about Obama’s circumstances compared to Bush’s. Bush had to actually STEAL his election for chrissakes, his party lost seats in Congress instead of gaining them, and the first thing he does is ram huge tax cuts for his wealthy friends right through a Senate that didn’t have to pass them and over whom he had no leverage!

      The stark contrast with Obama is obvious to anyone not wearing Obamaphilic blinders.

      • Scott Lemieux says:

        Yes, the presidential power required to get Republicans to pass upper-class tax cuts is truly astonishing.

        Again, I’m not sure how you manged to miss this, but Republicans and conservative Democrats like tax cuts. Bush didn’t have to “ram through” anything.

        But I give Bush credit for this: unlike you, he understood perfectly well that what margin you get in the electoral college means basically jack shit.

        • Stanczyk says:

          So I guess your argument comes down to saying that Obama is not as negligently weak as his progressive detractors say he is because all presidents are weak — except, you know, when it comes to relatively trivial matters like foreign and fiscal policy, where they don’t need 60 votes. And Obama gets a complete pass for how he handles anything that can be construed as requiring 60 votes — no matter how much he buys into and validates conservative arguments thus weakening the progressive bargaining position from then on.

          So leaving aside quibbles over minor things like war and money and weakening our future bargaining position on everything else, Obama’s not as weak as you might think he is at first glance.

          Now there’s a ringing endorsement!

        • Stanczyk says:

          Yes, it was kind of astonishing given that:

          1) Bush had absolutely nothing that could be construed as a “mandate”

          2) His legitimacy as president was seriously in doubt

          3) His budget unbalancing tax proposal immediately followed a historic budget balancing after decades of histrionics over the need to get the budget balanced

          4) He had the thinnest possible margin in the Senate: a tie breaking vote from the VP. His proposal was bold in a context where, given the above, it was at least conceivable that conservative Democratic Senators might be coerced by a strong president into showing some party discipline in order to protect their conservative value of a balanced budget

          5)He argued for it by reviving the definitively debunked supply-side argument. This is a great contrast with Obama. Bush comes in with no legitimacy, the thinnest of congressional margins, and the facts not on his side, and revives a debunked argument, thus strengthening the conservative bargaining position going forward. Obama, by contrast, with far greater legitimacy, far more fellow partisans in each chamber, the facts and recent experience on his side, and in the context of a historic economic crisis that should have given him great leverage, weakens the progressive bargaining position going forward.

          • Stanczyk says:

            oops — meant to erase “coerced by a strong president”

          • Scott Lemieux says:

            This stuff is just embarrassing. “mandates,” as Bush understood, are bullshit. You have the votes or you don’t — and, again, Bush does deserve credit for not believing in this centrist pundit pablum. As for 3, 4, and 5 politics isn’t a debating society. Whether or not upper-class tax cuts are a good policy on the merits doesn’t matter if legislators favor them. As you have somehow managed to miss — apparently your knowledge of American politics is derived entirely from Thomas Freidman columns — tax cuts are the one policy that unites the modern Republican party and conservative Democrats like them too. So how passing a tax-cut bill proves that Obama could have gotten a $1.5 trillion stimulus and single-payer if he had just really wanted it is beyond me.

        • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

          Again, I’m not sure how you manged to miss this, but Republicans and conservative Democrats like tax cuts.

          This entirely correct observation about conservative Democrats is not an unfortunate contextual difficulty. It’s the problem itself. Democrats do not govern as progressives because they don’t want to govern as progressives.

          To say that they cannot govern as progressives because they’re too conservative is a bizarre way of putting it.

          • Scott Lemieux says:

            We’re arguing about presidential power, not about whether the Democratic Party is uniformly progressive. Again, it’s the critics in the thread who seem to confuse 59 Democratic votes with 59 liberal votes, not me.

  33. charles pierce says:

    I’m going to keep asking this question until somebody holding up the “incrementalist approach” argument answers it. Please show me the prominent Democratic politician — up to and especially including the president of the United States — who is actually treating the ACA this way. Right now, it’s a jerry-rigged insurance friendly Rube Goldberg concoction, much of which hasn’t even kicked in yet, and which in any case may not even survive the arrival of the Ostrogoths in the next Congress. (Anybody want to give me odds that a second-term President Obama doesn’t deal off some of it piecemeal in some “negotiation” in, say, 2014?) Is there anyone, in or out of government, even arguing that the ACA is just the way we’re all going to get to a public option or, Golden Dream of Golden Dreams, a sensible single-payer system, let alone anyone actually trying to do it? How would one use the ACA to do that, since the only way to do so is to eliminate the insurance companies from the equation, which ACA was specifically designed not to do? I’d like an endgame on the “incremental” argument, and some evidence that somebody, somewhere is taking it seriously.
    Also, Social Security radically transformed the relationship of Americans to their government and, for all of FDR’s compromises, virtually eliminated elderly poverty. The ACA makes people by health-insurance. The comparison is inapt.

  34. melior says:

    Note too that it’s not as if FDR fought loudly and publicly for a safety net that wasn’t grotesquely biased against African Americans and only gave in at the last minute;

    Thanks for relinking that, I had missed it the first time. I can’t stress enough how helpful to me it is to read historical corrections to the made up “US history” I was taught in grade school.

    In that same vein, I’m certainly not the only one who was taught the exact opposite of this (quoted here from someone who was actually present at the time):

    In describing Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation, George W. Julian relates the story. Julian was a Free-Soil Party leader and a Member of Congress during Lincoln’s administration. Julian’s story begins on page 241:

    “Few subjects have been more debated and less understood than the Proclamation of Emancipation. Mr. Lincoln was himself opposed to the measure, and when he very reluctantly issued the preliminary proclamation in September, 1862, he wished it distinctly understood that the deportation of the slaves was, in his mind, inseparably connected with the policy. Like Mr. Clay and other prominent leaders of the old Whig party, he believed in colonization, and that the separation of the two races was necessary to the welfare of both.”

  35. [...] problem here is that this is all completely false. Much of Bush’s agenda failed to pass, and nothing he did pass required “going over the [...]

  36. [...] because it makes the argument seem more coherent than it is. And does he recycle the “Al Gore earth tones” crap? I think you know the [...]

  37. [...] is generally the case when people argue for Democrats adopting maximalist strategies, Daniel also isn’t taking into account that the interests here aren’t symmetrical. [...]

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