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Revisionism on Presidential Power

[ 204 ] August 22, 2011 |

Given that making an argument on the merits that there is an “imperial presidency” on domestic as well as foreign policy is essentially impossible, as you can see from these comment threads the preferred response has been to say that before Obama was elected nobody thought that the president was subordinate to Congress on domestic policy, so QED it’s just an excuse being made by Obamabots.

As Adam points out, however, is that it just isn’t true. In my case, I was apparently making excuses for the Obama administration well before the Iowa caucuses, and was even prescient enough to apologize for him before he had announced he was running. And, in general, the fact that evaluating the presidency as if the U.S. has a parliamentary system is a fairly common fallacy, it’s not a common fallacy among political scientists. Look at any work on the presidency, from a decent undergraduate textbook to a scholarly monograph, and I defy you to find a single example of someone who thinks the presidency dominates domestic policy. That there is a consensus or near-consensus among actual scholars in the field does not in itself prove that the argument is right — although I think it quite obviously is — but to say that it was newly invented to defend Obama is just 100% pure ignorance.

Comments (204)

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  1. Triplanetary says:

    What this points to is that the whole liberal divide over Obama is missing the point. We liberals need to be a lot less focused on the presidency and a lot more focused on Congress if we want to see our preferred domestic policies passed. We also need to be more focused on the local level.

    Frankly, I don’t understand liberals who really like Obama, but that’s just because Obama is a pretty standard-issue Villager except with a substantially larger vocabulary. But more than that, I’m just tired of the whole argument.

  2. Incontinentia Buttocks says:

    What this points to is that the whole liberal divide over Obama is missing the point. We liberals need to be a lot less focused on the presidency and a lot more focused on Congress if we want to see our preferred domestic policies passed.

    Yes.

    But what this means, in effect, is that liberals need to focus on what the Democratic Party actually stands for. So long as the shape of the Democratic “bit tent” resembles today’s Democratic Party, there will always be a working conservative majority in Congress (though that majority will be bipartisan and center-right when Democrats control a given House of Congress and partisan and far right when the GOP controls it). The shape of the Democratic big tent also means that Democrats (or at least liberals) are substantially more disadvantaged by the institutional dysfuncationality of the Senate than the GOP is.

    The political danger for liberals is that “focus on Congress” will become simply electing Democrats to Congress. And as we saw in 2009-2010, that is simply not good enough by itself.

    All that being said, if we did have a more liberal Congress, a centrist Democratic President could still stand in the way of progressive policies. While Obama is certainly limited by Congress, he is still who he is. I’m not convinced that he’d pursue a dramatically more progressive agenda even if he had a dramatically more progressive Congress.

    • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

      “big tent”*

    • Ed Marshall says:

      Like he would veto progressive legislation? That is paranoia. If we ever get there and it’s a problem, lets talk then.

      • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

        No. But a President still has a lot of pull in Congress with his own party and has an important role in setting the agenda there. And when a President and Congress are not on the same page, it becomes harder to accomplish things.

        In fact, during the Carter years, Congress was to the left of the White House on many issues, and this created a lot of tension between the Democratic leadership in the House and the Senate and Carter administration.

        While Scott is right to criticize the popular view of an imperial domestic presidency, we shouldn’t be lulled into inventing an imperial Congress to replace it. Our system is all about checks and balances between the branches.

        • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

          Or to take another example: Clinton’s decision at the beginning of his first term to prioritize raising taxes and getting NAFTA done before turning to healthcare had a fundamental effect on what that Democratic Congress addressed and when.

          • Ed Marshall says:

            Yeah, that the scheduling is pure Richard Neustadt Presidential Power stuff. Both administrations prioritized certain things. If your gripe is that Obama should have prioritized raising taxes in the face of an economic catastrophe, I find that utterly insane.

            • Triplanetary says:

              Utterly insane? Are you kidding? Corp profits are doing fine, and the rich are still rich. They can afford to be taxed just as much (and indeed more) than they were before the recession.

              All the upper-class whining about how if they’re overtaxed then they’ll just sit on their hands and not produce or hire has never actually been seen to play out in reality. They’re sitting on their hands and refusing to hire NOW, in the midst of historically low tax rates. They have enormous cash and bond reserves going unused.

              There’s absolutely nothing insane about raising tax rates in this situation – on the upper class, anyway.

              • Ed Marshall says:

                Are you worried about the budget? I’m unaware of any possible economic model that says that would be a wise course of action in a deep recession. Keynes would have screamed bloody murder.

                • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

                  I would have wanted the President to say that prioritizing budget-balancing in this economy is crazy.

                  I agree, the focus shouldn’t have been on raising taxes. The focus should have been on stimulus.

                  But raising taxes on the wealthy is much less harmful to the economy than cutting stimulative spending.

                • Ed Marshall says:

                  Right, but why are we doing either?

                • Triplanetary says:

                  I’m not worried about balancing the budget, but raising revenue could have given the Democrats the political capital to resolve the debt ceiling debacle without such debilitating spending cuts, assuming the Democrats were interested in doing so (questionable).

                  Of course, that’s assuming that it would have been politically possible to significantly raise revenue at the time, and I’ll admit that it probably wasn’t.

              • There’s absolutely nothing insane about raising tax rates in this situation – on the upper class, anyway.

                But what he said was “prioritized raising taxes.”

                Why should that be a priority during the recession?

                Are you that worried about deficits during recessions that raising taxes on the rich now rather than later needs to jump to the front of the line?

          • actor212 says:

            Considering what the fallout was from the healthcare debate, it sort of made sense from his persepctive.

  3. soullite says:

    At the point where you’re outright refusing to argue with anyone but your own comment threads, you’ve lost and it’s time to give it up.

    There is a reason why you’ve stopped arguing with people who are on equal footing to you – other bloggers – and started punching downward at faceless people on the internet. Good luck convincing people that that is anything but pathetic.

    • Murc says:

      I fail to see why simply being another blogger puts someone on equal footing to Scott.

      There are people who are major bloggers who have no credentials for themselves besides being opinionated loudmouths, and people who AREN’T bloggers whose understanding of politics and political theory and history likely dwarfs Scotts.

  4. charles pierce says:

    No, the presidency is not “imperial” in domestic policy. But it can be a helluva lot more relevant than this guy has made it.

    • “This guy” got the biggest legislative agenda passed of any President since LBJ, if not FDR, during his first two years in office. That’s pretty relevant.

      • Njorl says:

        Content yourself with the “since LBJ”. It is true. The “if not FDR” makes you look foolish. LBJ got much more done than Obama, as he should have. He had spare Democratic senators to play off against eachother.

        That being said, Obama absolutely should have passed the most significant legislation since LBJ. He had 60 senators, a large majority in the house, and a huge crisis. If Obama couldn’t boast of the most significant legislation since LBJ, he would be an abject failure. That boast is not an adequate response to the accusation that he should have done more.

        • LBJ got much more done than Obama

          LBJ was President for almost six years.

          If you just look at the first session of Congress in each of their terms, it’s an open question.

          Obviously, LBJ got a lot more done in the second 2 years of his presidency than Obama.

          He had 60 senators

          Not reliably. His 60 includes Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson, when it didn’t include Scott Brown in place of Teddy – and during a period when the Senate opposition adopted a stance of complete obstruction using the cloture rules.

          • actor212 says:

            LBJ was President for almost six years.

            And played the whole “Dead Kennedy” card to the hilt.

            Thank god he did the right thing, not like a certain Republican who exploited 3,000 assassinations to commit the country on a self-destructive path of war and gore.

            • Real GDP in the United States grew at an average rate of 5.21% from 1963-1968.

              • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

                There are plenty of good, contextual explanations for why LBJ got so much more accomplished during his first three years than Obama has gotten done during his first three.

                But there’s not much question that LBJ got much more done during his first three years than Obama (or, arguably, FDR, for that matter).

                • In nominal terms or real terms? I know that sounds snarky, but I think it’s a fair thing to keep in mind. LBJ was working in a much different political context, and one that was arguably much more favorable to passing a lot of left-leaning legislation.

                • Scott Lemieux says:

                  In total quantity, FDR probably wins. If you focus on quality and progressivity, I think LBJ beats anybody since the Reconstruction Congress.

  5. Ed Marshall says:

    Probably the biggest weapon the president has in a domestic legislative battle is the Budget Act of 1921 and when Obama submitted his budget the democrats cut him off at the knees.

  6. Jim Harrison says:

    Rightly or wrongly, the bitch against Obama in these parts is not that he did not succeed but that he barely tried.

    By the way, appealing to the constitutional weakness of the presidency in domestic matters to explain the failures of this administration amounts to taking a static view of the system. The worst thing that has happened so far, after all, is that Obama’s feckless response to Republican blackmail on the debt limit has effectively changed the real constitution of the United States by giving a new power to Congress that will be hard to get back. In other words, Obama’s unwillingness to force a crisis is not just a reflection of a lack of power but increased his political impotence going forward.

    • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

      Rightly or wrongly, the bitch against Obama in these parts is not that he did not succeed but that he barely tried.

      This.

      Obama could clearly never get a stimulus package through this House (or this Senate, given its refusal to address its own rules).

      But that fact in no way forced Obama to adopt 90% of the rightwing talkingpoints about the nation being like a household that must keep its budget balanced.

      • Triplanetary says:

        Exactly. Obama is basically touting Reaganomics at this point, and it’s not because he’s some conservative Manchurian Candidate, it’s because the mainstream of American political discourse has narrowed so severely that it hardly encompasses anything outside of Reaganomics.

        The GOP exacerbated this by making debt the focus of our economic discourse. Was there a way for Obama to effectively fight this? I don’t know anymore.

    • Lee says:

      I never really understood the criticism that Obama never tried. Its based on the theory that even if Obama started with progressive legislation that had no chance of passing, we could still get the legislation that passed. There isn’t really evidence for this theory. If Obama started HCR by introducing single-payer legislation than the most likely result would be a crash and burn with no reform at all.

      Its also a very vain theory. The people making this argument want Obama to fight for legislation that has no chances of passing simply to validate their feelings. This isn’t the point of the legislative process. We also see the dangers of using politics as a form of therapy from the right, where many have suffered for the emotional needs of the Republican base to be satisfied like the recent debt crisis. We don’t need to imitate this on the left.

      • Anonymous says:

        The people making this argument want Obama to fight for legislation that has no chances of passing simply to validate their feelings. This isn’t the point of the legislative process.

        Right. They try to disguise this narcissism as strategy by going on and on about “the overton window,” but the evidence that presidential rhetoric is useful in this way is pretty scant.

        • I think there is a modicum of truth in the “Overton Window” argument. Sometimes, saying no deal to what is possible at the moment and articulating a different vision is the right call.

          But I’m certainly not going to blame Obama for looking at the situation he was in in January 2009 – biggest House majority is a long time, 60 nominal votes in the Senate, long period of economic ugliness making it unlikely that he’d keep those advantages – and decide that he was going to spend two years scooping up every last feasible crumb of legislation during that session.

          If he hadn’t, we’d be talking about how he spent he early term giving pretty speeches and accomplishing nothing.

      • mark f says:

        If Obama started HCR by introducing single-payer legislation than the most likely result would be a crash and burn with no reform at all.

        I agree on HCR, but I wonder about the stimulus. I have doubts that anyone was more committed to not exceeding a certain dollar figure than to being a reasonable middleman who wouldn’t be a vulgar obstructionist but also wouldn’t go along with the president’s irresponsible profligacy. In other words, I think a certain faction was focused on becoming Broder’s & Brooks’s heroes by moving the number from $X to <$X, regardless of what either $X or <$X ended up being.

        • Lee says:

          This is a reasonable argument. Some form of stimulus would have probably passed even if Obama started with a stimulus that was too large to possibly pass and did not have any tax cuts.

          • Ed Marshall says:

            I suppose, but it passed without a vote to spare. This seems like whistling past the graveyard.

            I’m more open to thinking that the debt deal left money on the table because it passed with bigger margins than it needed.

            • mark f says:

              Right, but what was the goal of the person casting the stimulus’s last vote? Was it really to make sure it didn’t go over $780 billion? Or was it to win some combination of sensible center accolades and pork payoff? If it’s the latter, then I could see a path to a bigger bill.

              • Accepting all of this, it gives a path to a slighter bigger bill, but how much morewould an $887 billion bill have done than a $787 billion bill?

                Some, certainly, but not a game-changer.

                • mark f says:

                  $100 billion ain’t nothin’. That could’ve doubled the infrastructure spending, for example.

                • Sure, but in terms of the economy, $33 billion per year is only going to drop unemployment by one or two tenths.

                  It would be a marginal improvement, and welcome, but the contours of the situation would still be the same, economically and politically.

                • mark f says:

                  Understood. But the question is whether Obama could’ve had a better (not perfect) bill – or, in the worst case, the same bill – if he’d simply started by proposing something closer to the unattainable ideal. Usually I’d say no, but with the stimulus I think it’s probably yes.

        • regardless of what either $X or <$X ended up being.

          I can’t help but think that the words “trillion dollars” would have been a psychological shock, and produced a reaction that would have made it impossible to coax back the last few Senate votes.

      • If Obama started HCR by introducing single-payer legislation than the most likely result would be a crash and burn with no reform at all.

        This is correct. There almost certainly weren’t the votes for a better health care bill no matter what Obama did, but identifying the health care bill with single payer certainly could have killed it.

        • DivGuy says:

          The one way that he could’ve had a better HCR bill was if he hadn’t set that idiotic cost ceiling. Universal health care should be kicking in now, not three years from now. They had to delay implementation to get the overall cost under Obama’s arbitrary ceiling.

        • Lee says:

          Yet I’ve encountered on the net who know that single-payer would result in crash and burn but still insist that such a think would be better than the ACA. Their justification was that introducting major progressive legislation would magically move politics to the left even if it fails to pass in a really spectacular manner.

          I think that for many people poltics is more about theatre and emotionally validification than actually getting stuff done. We see this attitude on the right but more than a few people on the left also subscribe to it.

        • P. Brennan says:

          Only the majority of Americans favored a public option.

          In 2009, when progressives were balking over war funding, The WH twisted arms to get their cooperation. They pressured, threatened and coaxed. That is how this adminstration behaves when they want legislation passed. Obama can fight when he wants to. He never fought for the public option; in fact, he bargained it away, in a deal with lobbyists.

          • This analysis is rather obviously an exercise in circular logic, I don’t understand how it is people don’t see that.

            Obviously the problem here is that we have to assume all of a Presidents co-partisans are always persuadable, and never assert their own preferences in the face of sufficient Presidential arm-twisting. The easiest way I can think of to show how silly that is is just to say….imagine you’re a Democratic Senator. Is it the case that the President would always be able to cajole you into voting his way, no matter your personal preference or how strongly you felt on the matter?

    • Joe says:

      he barely tried

      Which is false in various ways, since as others noted, he not only tried, but in various ways succeeded.

      feckless response to Republican blackmail

      This includes rejecting certain things out of hand, strongly criticizing Republicans and …

      unwillingness to force a crisis

      As if this is a bad thing.

      • Jim Harrison says:

        For all I know, Obama’s health care bill was the best he could have gotten, though the chances are pretty good it will never be implemented. For that matter,maybe austerity and an obsession with deficits will turn out to be good economics, and I’m wrong about that. Caving in on the debt crisis, on the other hand, is different since it involved a change in the structure of the American government. Obama violated his oath of office when he let the Republicans get away with that one since he didn’t preserve, protect, or defend either the paper or the actual Constitution. I guess the technocrats, who play the same role in our system that the court eunuchs did in the Manchu regime, will point out that Obama did avoid a crisis and perhaps muse that it was too bad he wasn’t in office in 1861.

        • though the chances are pretty good it will never be implemented.

          This really isn’t true. Even in the unlikely event that the Republicans control every veto point, it’s far from clear that they would actually vote to repeal the many popular provisions of the ACA given actual responsibility to do so.

          • Jim Harrison says:

            O yeah? And what happens if the Supreme Court shoots down the individual mandate? Do you really think such an outcome is unlikely? The ACA contains many provisions that are favorable to business interests. I doubt if they will be repealed. Without the individual mandate, however, what was always largely a boondoggle will become a boondoggle indeed.

            • Ed Marshall says:

              The house already did a symbolic, doomed, vote in 2011 and what they repealed was federal funds for state insurance exchange boards, funding for health care centers in schools and ban federal money from being used to fund abortion (which it already does, but what the hell, this is just a show for the rubes).

              I actually expected them to try and pass some grandiose repeal measure since they knew they wouldn’t really be responsible for it. They blinked on the symbolic vote. I doubt they would touch the subject again if they regain actual power.

              • Ed Marshall says:

                oddly (or not so oddly) the hated, unconstitutional, mandate wasn’t in their little playschool reform ACA bill.

                • Ed Marshall says:

                  and I remembered wrong, they did in fact pass their symbolic Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act.

            • Hogan says:

              What are you talking about? The individual mandate is the biggest boondoggle of them all.

              • You know what this discussion has been missing all along? Policy ignorance. Thanks for fixing that Hogan.

                • Hogan says:

                  We may be talking past each other here. As I understand it, the individual mandate was what made the ban on exclusions for preexisting conditions and the other restrictions on private health insurers acceptable to the insurance industry; it’s what will keep them solvent under those rules. Boondoggle is probably too strong a word for that, unless you’re dealing with someone who thinks removing the individual mandate makes the ACA *better* for private insurers, which is what Jim Harrison was suggesting.

                • Jim Harrison says:

                  As I should have made clear, I don’t support the individual mandate because I think it will harm the insurance business, but because the ACA doesn’t work at all without it. I had hoped all along that some sort of government option would have survived the process–that would have been my practical preference since I quite agree with others around here that a single payer system was not a realistic possibility.

                  I like the idea of a government option precisely because I thought that the private insurance system would have a hard time competing with it and either would succumb to creative destruction or prove me wrong by figuring out a way to contribute positively to the situation–either possibility would have been satisfactory to me.

        • Joe says:

          it will never be implemented

          parts of it already are being implemented

          austerity and an obsession with deficits will turn out to be good economics

          Not sure what this means. Do you mean the things that got through the Republican House? They are the “obsessed” ones. Obama, if given his druthers, would have done something different.

          Obama violated his oath of office when he let the Republicans get away with that one

          Did you want him to dismiss Congress and run the economy himself? Not sure how else you wanted him to have the budget authority in this area.

          Anyway, I guess all the other stuff he was involved in, including Ledbetter, gays, food safety, nuclear treaties, et. al. doesn’t matter.

          • Jim Harrison says:

            I meant, rather obviously, that what should be done economically is a legitimate subject for compromises of the normal kind between the President and Congress and that what’s the best thing to do is surely not obvious. On the other hand, the constitutional issues raised by Obama’s capitulation on the debt issue are quite clear cut. Congress formerly lacked the power to blackmail the president. Now they have such a power.

            As to what I wanted Obama to do: a strong president would have preempted the debt limit crisis by announcing at the outset that the federal government, in accord with the 14th Amendment, would honor previous spending and borrowing arrangements and that to do otherwise would be to give Congress powers never contemplated by the Constitution. The Constitution gives the legislature the power of the purse but not the power to break its own commitments after the fact. To negotiate on this matter is already to lose. I doubt very much if the Republicans would have picked a fight on this issue once it was framed in this way since any bad consequences of their intransigence would be owned by them 100%.

            I did not write nor do I believe that Obama has accomplished nothing at all. The problem is that he has flunked his major subjects while acing a few electives.

            • Joe says:

              Congress always had the power to “blackmail” the President. It just didn’t use it in this fashion. See, e.g., how the South “blackmailed” many Presidents to look the other way regarding the rights of blacks.

              The 14A requires certain “debts” to be honored. This could be done by not paying entitlements and so forth, since the Supreme Court has held that they can be revoked. They are not the type of “debts” covered. Congress also didn’t have to be loyal to their agreed upon budget.

              Your belief Republicans would have been all sane and all if their “constitutional duties” (misleadingly summarized) was clearly put forward is cute and all, as if the Tea Party caucus are rational sorts.

  7. Marc says:

    I can’t help but feel that the argument between the online left and Obama is one of tone and approach. The Democratic activists were profoundly radicalized by Bush. There were a lot of good reasons for this.

    But the central lesson that appears to have been learned is that the Republicans are evil; that aggressively attacking this evil is absolutely necessary; and that the only terms for discussion with them are unconditional surrender.

    This vision has enormous appeal within a certain audience, just as the Tea Party narrative does. But the country is diverse and complex, and methods which work well in a subculture can backfire horribly in a broader community.

    Take the budget deal earlier this year, for example. Obama negotiated what turned out to be small changes in the current year – despite a lot of rhetoric demanding Big Cuts Now from the right. His team views this as a victory, in the sense of avoiding harm to the vulnerable and to the recovery. But in order to do the backroom deal he also didn’t adopt a verbal scorched earth attack on the republicans – and this was a completely unforgivable sin from the point of view of activists.

    Of course, a lot of online activists have simply decided that they hate Obama and don’t trust him, so his actions no longer matter any more. Whether right or wrong this is now a firmly established phenomenon that we’ll simply have to deal with over the next year.

    • Lee says:

      So the liberal critics of Obama seem to be adopting the Scoop Jackson approach of “meeting evil with power.” For Scoop Jackson, evil was racism against African-Americans and Communists. For the liberal critics of Obama, its the GOP and their assorted allies.

    • Njorl says:

      The Republican leadership neotiates with the attitude that their far right fringe is an uncontrollable group which will have to be placated in any bipartisan negotiations. The Democratic leadership negotiates with the understanding that the left will always go along because they have no where else to go.

      It has not been a mysterious force of nature which made irrational Republican ideas into acceptable policies. It was constant right-wing hammering in public discourse. That isn’t something Obama could have duplicated on the left in his short time in office, but he could have made a start. The circumstances were ideal. He chose not to.

      • But in the real world, the far-left fringe actually isn’t as significant a part of the Democratic coalition as the far-right fringe is to the Republican coalition. They’re simply a lot bigger. There’s no equivalence.

        I don’t see how Obama “chose” to make that the reality; rather, he responded to it. Complaining that Obama didn’t pretend the firebagger set is more significant than it is seems to mis-apportion the blame.

      • Hogan says:

        The Republican leadership neotiates with the attitude that their far right fringe is an uncontrollable group which will have to be placated in any bipartisan negotiations. The Democratic leadership negotiates with the understanding that the left will always go along because they have no where else to go.

        The Republican fringe has no problem with a catastrophic shutdown of the federal government. The Democratic fringe does. How do you propose to overcome that asymmetry?

        • Njorl says:

          Fake it.

          That’s what the Republicans did before 2010. It’s only been since January 2011 that they’ve been willing to destroy the country in order to save it.

          We’re going to have to find a way to deal with this. We can’t have every piece of legislation require near-unanimous teaparty approval. It is entirely possible that we have exactly the same situation in January 2013 as we have now. If so, the teaparty must be broken in the very first big legislative battle. The extortion can’t go on another 2 years. If it requires a disaster, then we’re going to have accept a disaster.

  8. snarkout says:

    I’m in general agreement with the this argument, Scott, but I’ve never seen any sensible explanation of why Obama so clearly deprioritized appointments from 2008 to 2010 — not just judicial appointments, which you’ve mentioned, but also the Fed. It’s a place where the “no imperial presidency” counter-critique really doesn’t hold sway.

  9. rea says:

    I’ve never seen any sensible explanation of why Obama so clearly deprioritized appointments from 2008 to 2010 — not just judicial appointments, which you’ve mentioned, but also the Fed.

    Well, it was obvious from day 1 that the Senate would filibuster or otherwise block most of Obama’s appointments.

    It’s not easy to ask high-caliber people to subject themselves to this sort of treatment.

    • snarkout says:

      Do you think that’s actually the case with regard to appointing a couple dovish members to the Fed? When there were 60 Democrats in the Senate? Would even Ben Nelson or Joe Lieberman have blocked the appointment of an obviously-qualified nominee Peter Diamond’s?

      It’s one places I see where Obama had an obvious tactic available to him that might have done good on the economic front that would have been least subject to interference from the Senate.

      • mark f says:

        Would even Ben Nelson or Joe Lieberman have blocked the appointment of an obviously-qualified nominee Peter Diamond’s?

        Joe Lieberman is to the post-2000 Democratic party and Phil Ochs was to personal relationships. His only motivation seems to be as difficult as possible except at a few random intervals where he’s your best friend.

  10. Mark says:

    People on this thread keep saying that if Obama had started out by fighting for single-payer, no bill would have been passed at all. On what basis do you say this? It’s certainly not obvious. When you are negotiating, you start with more than you want, not exactly or less than what you want. I would need to be convinced that a fight for single-payer would have inevitably led to total failure. Total failure would have been one possible outcome.

    I think that simply asserting that Obama could not have done any better is a strangely Obama-esque way to look at these things. I don’t think that Obama can work magic simply by making a speech. I do think that prominent politicians can slowly alter the overarching narrative of American politics by speaking forcefully and relentlessly for certain ways of doing things. If all Obama, or any other Democratic politician, can do is be better than the Republicans and never take a strong public stance in favor of anything that is currently impossible, then perhaps we have reached the endpoint of progress in this country. The narrative counts. It counts over the long-term, because it affects who votes, and how they vote, and in doing so it determines what is possible. If Obama had aggressively fought for a stimulus that was actually adequate, and a health care bill that actually fixed our health care system, and a really strong financial reform bill, it would have made it more likely that those things would eventually happen.

    • Joe says:

      a fight for single-payer would have inevitably led to total failure.

      Some on the left pushed for that; there was also a stronger push for some sort of public option, which actually passed the House, as I recall. The votes weren’t there for it though in the Senate.

      simply asserting that Obama could not have done any better

      And, I’m unaware of anyone here “simply” asserting that.

      If all Obama, or any other Democratic politician, can do is be better than the Republicans and never take a strong public stance in favor of anything that is currently impossible, then perhaps we have reached the endpoint of progress in this country.

      Like the DREAM Act or the DISCLOSE Act or bad mouthing the Supreme Court on Citizens United while they were there to the degree Alito decided not to come back?

      If Obama had aggressively fought for a stimulus that was actually adequate, and a health care bill that actually fixed our health care system, and a really strong financial reform bill, it would have made it more likely that those things would eventually happen.

      Yes, if he just fought harder, the 60th vote would have miraculously appeared from the power of his rhetoric.

      Meanwhile, actual laws, including laws that protect millions more people, were passed, in one case after presidents as far as back as Truman tried and failed. As to fixing things, Medicare didn’t “fix” the health system either. The idea any law in this climate could pass that would is fantasy.

      • mark f says:

        to the degree Alito decided not to come back

        Alito is thin-skinned and babyish, though. As far as I know he still inconveniences himself in order to avoid walking in front of the Capitol because some senators were mean to him at his confirmation hearing.

      • Mark says:

        You do realize that “eventually” covers a time-span longer that three years, right? I am saying that if Democratic leaders are willing to, at minimum, take aggressively leftist positions in public, then that would be a factor in moving policy left over time. And by “time,” I mean on the scale of decades, not Congressional sessions.

        No one on this thread has made an actual argument, or presented any evidence, to the effect that no HCR bill would have passed if Obama had come out pushing for single-payer from the start. They have simply stated it as if it is completely obvious, which it is not. I suppose I will just assume that the assertion is based on nothing.

        I am aware that some legislation has passed which is preferable to legislation that would have passed with McCain as president and the Republicans controlling 2/3 of both houses of Congress. Believe it or not, some of us are far to the left of Obama, and probably of you, and yet are neither idiots nor “firebaggers.”

        Obama has signed some legislation that has helped a lot of people. He has not had the opportunity, and has not really worked for the opportunity, to sign legislation that would help as many people as legislation can help. That means that progress has been made, but that more progress must be made, and Obama is not the sort of person who will be willing or able to take that next step.

        Some of the things he has done entirely by choice, in the area of civil liberties for example, have been awful, and no one forced him to follow Bush’s lead on those things.

        • Joe says:

          The Dems HAVE made “aggressively leftist positions in public” over the decades. Social Security, abortion rights, rights for gays, left leaning justices, et. al. all were consistently aggressively supported by Democrats.

          I myself never said anything about Obama pushing single payer. I do know the HOUSE passed a public option provision, but it was rejected by the Senate. I don’t think the legislation would collapse if Obama pushed for a single payer plan but there simply was no realistic chance the Senate would accept even the PO. At best, it might have got a simple majority there.

          He has not had the opportunity, and has not really worked for the opportunity, to sign legislation that would help as many people as legislation can help.

          What? Again, he worked for and signed legislation that helped people. He, as you want, promoted things like campaign finance reform, immigration reform and trials in NYC for alleged terrorists that Congress blocked or there was no realistic chance of passing.

          No one here think he is St. Obama who couldn’t have done more. But, he and Dems have done a lot good, including promoting stuff that didn’t pass. And, his pragmatic approach — flawed as it might be (though perfectly expected by how he acted before being elected President) — helped this out.

        • Ed Marshall says:

          You are assuming he didn’t take a head count and feel people out before he started rolling out a piece of legislation. That isn’t how a modern executive functions.

    • The Fool says:

      Exactly. These neo-libs make a bunch of self-fulfilling, self-defeating prophecies and then think they are prophets.

      Here is my prophecy: you will never get Lemieux to respond to this point in good faith in a million years. He has no concept of leadership. All he can do is count the current ideological distribution, like a good little political scientist on the make, and throw up his hands. As long as he can pretend to school people in Poli Sci 101, like no one else has ever heard of James Madison, that makes him feel like he may get tenure some day, somewhere.

    • People on this thread keep saying that if Obama had started out by fighting for single-payer, no bill would have been passed at all. On what basis do you say this? It’s certainly not obvious.

      Actually, as far as I can tell nobody is saying this. It’s possible that it would have blown the whole thing up, and it’s possible that the same thing would have passed anyway. The real problem is that that strategy is risk with no upside.

      • Mark says:

        Well, if you look at the thread, this has been stated several times with no argument or evidence. I realize that people think it had no upside, but stating that isn’t evidence or argument either. It’s possible that it would have made things worse or had no effect. It is also possible that if Obama had started out fighting like hell for single payer that it would have altered the entire discourse around the bill and we would have got a better bill. And it’s possible, maybe even likely, that if he had done that then twenty years from now we would have a much better shot at socialized medicine.

        • It is also possible that if Obama had started out fighting like hell for single payer that it would have altered the entire discourse around the bill and we would have got a better bill

          On what planet? First off all, empty threats don’t provide leverage. And second, you’re seriously arguing that identifying the public option with single player would make Nelson, Lincoln, Lieberman et al more likely to support it? This doesn’t even rise to the level of being “implausible.” It’s possible in the sense that it’s still technically possible for the Mets to win the wildcard.

          maybe even likely, that if he had done that then twenty years from now we would have a much better shot at socialized medicine.

          Based on what?

          • mark f says:

            Based on what?

            I’ve got $5 on Goldwater & Reagan and $0 on Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson and Bill Clinton.

          • Mark says:

            I don’t remember writing that Obama should have made “empty threats.” I also did not write that he should have equated single payer with the public option.

            I am saying that at the beginning, Obama should have aggressively argued for what everybody already knows, which is that single-payer and socialized medicine and social insurance models of national health care are better that our system in every way, and that if Congress wants to save the most money and save the most lives, they are going to pass a bill that emulates one of those models.

            That might have had no effect, or it might have pissed everybody off, but it would have been an important moment in the history of this particular battle. It might have changed, in a positive fashion, the way that we talk about health care policy in this country. It might have moved the debate in a more favorable direction over time. I say might because he never said anything like that, never took any kind of a strong stance at all, really, and we ended up with a sub-optimal bill that most people don’t understand, that is unnecessarily complicated, and that wastes a vast amount of resources by diverting them to for-profit insurance companies.

            People sometimes do listen to what the president says. If Obama had decided he wanted to fight for the kind of health care they have in other industrialized democracies, and insisted on it, and encouraged the activists who helped get him elected to mobilize for it, we might have got a lot more than we did. Or, not. But why assume that whatever Obama did was the best he could have done?

            • I don’t remember writing that Obama should have made “empty threats.”

              You said that he should have “fought like hell” for a bill that would max out in the Senate at about 10 votes. So, yes, your argument is that had Obama just made some empty threats this would magically produced a better bill.

              I also did not write that he should have equated single payer with the public option.

              Whether he does it or not, immediately Republicans would certainly have pointed out that Obama wants to nationalize health care.

              People sometimes do listen to what the president says. If Obama had decided he wanted to fight for the kind of health care they have in other industrialized democracies, and insisted on it, and encouraged the activists who helped get him elected to mobilize for it, we might have got a lot more than we did.

              The president can’t “insist’ on anything. Anyway, this is all just bare assertion, without a shred of plausibility. Again, how exactly is Obama announcing that his goal is European-style health care going to make conservative Dems more likely to support a better bill? You still haven’t explained, except to attribute short-term powers to presidential rhetoric that demonstrably don’t exist.

              • witless chum says:

                The idea of threatening the insurance industry with oblivion to get them to sign off on a AFCA-style reform with less resistance?

                • Hogan says:

                  See above re: empty threats. The US has never nationalized an industry that was turning a profit.

                • Yes, I’m sure that the insurance industry would been petrified about the possibility of Obama demanding a bill that would lose about 92-8 if it came up for a vote. Why didn’t Obama think of this brilliant strategery? Hell, he should have threatened to nationalize the oil industry too, then they would have agreed to anything!

                • witless chum says:

                  You don’t have to nationalize anything.

                  If you create a publically-funded insurance system they’d have to compete with, they’ll lose. And presumably they know this.

                  Obama had a lot of prestige early in his term, he might have been able to buffalo them. Corporate America isn’t some kind of font of rationalism that knows politics much better than the general public. If you talk to a CEO, they come off a lot like a decently-successful politician does. Ie, affable and not very smart.

                  But, I hope Obama basically managed the seeds of the current system’s destruction with the AFCA. It gets the federal foot in the insurance industry’s door and it’s now the feds’ fault when things don’t work.

                • The Fool says:

                  Lemieux is like the guy who tells himself, “I’ve never succeeded in getting a date from a woman who was more than a 5 on the 1-10 scale, so there is no point even trying to hit on a 6.” And if he does get drunk and accidentally hit on a 6, slobbering all over her and getting the big rejection, a guy like Lemiex will take that as conclusive evidence that he couldn’t possibly have succeeded and therefore it will never be worthwhile to ever hit on any woman who rates more than a 5 ever again.

                  Boy, didn’t your mama tell you, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again”?

                  You can do it, Scott. You can do it. Yes, you can! You just need the audacity of hope, bro!

                • I have no idea what point you think you’re making, but to state the obvious: Scott is right. A single payer bill would have had something like 6-10 supporters in the Senate, and more importantly, everyone would know this. So “threatening” to pass a single payer bill wouldn’t do a damn thing because everyone would know you couldn’t do it. It’s rather literally like threatening to shoot someone if they don’t do what you tell them when they know you don’t have a gun.

                  Your alternative seems to account to being proud that you’re oblivious to the policy preferences of a vast majority of U.S. Senators and hoping really really hard 50-60 of them would actually vote for a single payer bill.

              • Mark says:

                You’ve been arguing that if Obama had fought for single-payer, it’s possible that no HCR bill would have passed. So I know you don’t think that presidential rhetoric is totally useless. Apparently, you think it is totally useless only when used to fight for a progressive position. Why do presidents give speeches aside from the SOTU, if they have no effect? Has every president since the 1960s been advised by idiots? Are those speeches purely informational? “Just FYI, my fellow Americans, we’ll be working on the budget this month…”

                The answer is that of course presidential rhetoric has influence. Does it have the power to hypnotize DINOs? (Yes, I still use that term and will continue to do so.) No, it does not. But you seem to be arguing that presidential rhetoric on domestic policy has no influence at all, which is ridiculous.

                If Obama had been willing to take a strong public position in favor of a stronger HCR bill, it might — again, might — have had a positive effect on the overall debate on the issue. I think I a have typed this at least three times now. It would not have magically passed the bill I wanted. No one says it would have. But ultimately, the people get what they want. That’s the case even in a country ruled by a dictatorship. Saying that a change in Obama’s rhetoric could not have had any positive effect is the the same as saying that the influence of millions of voters and activists, properly informed and motivated, cannot have any positive effect. Because this is what I’m talking about. Over time, rhetoric can move the electorate and it’s the electorate that sets the broad boundaries of potential legislation.

                I mean, really, if we’re arguing whether or not a U.S. president’s rhetoric, and the positions they take, have any effect at all on legislative outcomes in any time frame then this is pointless.

                • If Obama had been willing to take a strong public position in favor of a stronger HCR bill, it might — again, might — have had a positive effect on the overall debate on the issue.

                  He did take a strong public position position in favor of a stronger heath care bill. He didn’t take a position in favor of single-payer, because that makes so little sense that you’ve decided to be strategically vague rather than make the agrument again.

                  You’ve been arguing that if Obama had fought for single-payer, it’s possible that no HCR bill would have passed. So I know you don’t think that presidential rhetoric is totally useless.

                  It’s not the rhetoric itself, as much as the fact that would have given conservative Democrats who didn’t particularly want to vote for a HCR bill another excuse not to.

                  Meanwhile, the facts that presidents give lots of speeches does not in fact constitute evidence that such speeches (which only a tiny minority of people pay attention to) have the ability to affect public opinion in the short term, and there’s good evidence that they don’t.

                • The Fool says:

                  Lemieux said, “Meanwhile, the facts that presidents give lots of speeches does not in fact constitute evidence that such speeches (which only a tiny minority of people pay attention to) have the ability to affect public opinion in the short term, and there’s good evidence that they don’t.”
                  Presidents have the power to get their ideas across. Repetition is part of that.

                  We are not solely focused on the short term. We’ve been sliding into the muck for at least 30 years. At this point a medium term or long term strategy is fine and dandy at this point.

                  Your argument that what the President says makes no difference is oversimplified pseudo-sophisticated bullshit. if Obama were to have a Bill Clinton moment and come out and convincingly say that he has seen the light and the Era of Big Government Taxation is over and if he were to then renounce the very idea of tax increases as a way to lower the debt for all the usual bullshit reasons the Republicans usually give, and if a significant and influential faction of the Democratic party backed him up, this would have a huge effect on the current and subsequent debate and would paralyze progressive efforts for years unless and until there were some Great Repudiation clearly expressed by future Democrats.

                  Your argument is bunk.

            • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

              I am saying that at the beginning, Obama should have aggressively argued for what everybody already knows, which is that single-payer and socialized medicine and social insurance models of national health care are better that our system in every way

              The problem is that everybody doesn’t know this. In fact, even most Democrats (including the President) don’t believe it.

              I agree that the strategy most likely to produce the actually best possible outcome would have been this one.

              But the only Democratic Presidential candidate who could reasonably have been expected to do this would have been Dennis Kucinich (who, for reasons of nebbishness, could never have been elected president).

              • “I agree that the strategy most likely to produce the actually best possible outcome would have been this one”

                And with all due respect, this simply makes you someone who substitutes personal preference for anything approaching objective reality.

                • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

                  As long as one is willing to compromise, one doesn’t hurt oneself negotiating from an extreme (as the GOP–which isn’t really willing to compromise–keeps proving).

                  I’m not even claiming that the final result would necessarily have been much better.

                  But I don’t buy the argument that it would have been much worse…let alone that starting from single payer would have guaranteed no deal at all.

                • But it just has no viable means of accomplishing anything positive because, for the millionth time, everyone would know you didn’t have the votes to follow through on the threat. Your strategy sort of makes sense for, say, an argument over what toppings to put on a pizza, but in the context of opposition to even getting a pizza, it just makes no sense.

                  Also, there’s the somewhat unnoticed problem that the negotiations weren’t actually with Republicans, since the GOP decided to pursue a stragegy of total opposition, but with conservative Democrats in the Senate. And, of course, this strategy wouldn’t do anything with them, since you need their votes to pass something, so you obviously couldn’t threaten to go pass something more liberal if they withheld their support.

                  I don’t know that anything bad would have happened as a result of asking for a lot more than you had any hope of getting at the outset, but that question is really totally irrelevant. You simply couldn’t gain anything from it, so there was no sense to pursuing a strategy with no upside whatsoever.

                • Scott Lemieux says:

                  Well, please explain — how exactly would making single-payer the opening bid have improved the final outcome? Would associating the public option with single-payer make conservative Dems more likely to support it? It doesn’t make any sense. It’s a risk with no short-term upside and only speculative, implausible long-term upside.

                  Personally, I’m happy Bush wasted a year seeking the maxmimalist destruction of Social Security rather than actually trying to accomplish anything. I wasn’t interested in Obama doing the same thing.

                • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

                  How does making single payer the opening bid associate the PO with single payer?

                  I’d suggest that it would do the opposite: the PO, which was already a huge compromise for progressives, quickly became an extreme position precisely because it was one of the extremes in the debate.

                  The mistake that the Panglossian take on Obama’s HCR strategy makes is assuming that Senators’ positions were set in stone. In fact, they never are. And in the case of HCR, we ended up with a Republican plan that was utterly unacceptable to Republicans simply because Obama proposed it.

                • Scott Lemieux says:

                  How does making single payer the opening bid associate the PO with single payer?

                  Because Obama is establishing single payer as the goal, which carries the implication that the ultimate goal of health are reform is to eliminate the health insurance interests who lavishly fund conservative Democrats. Again, Bush’s Social Security initiative — which to many posters seems to perfectly represents optimal presidential strategy — is instructive. We know there are all too many Democrats willing to support Social Security cuts — but even they won’t if the context is a plan to destroy Social Security altogether.

                  The mistake that the Panglossian take on Obama’s HCR strategy makes is assuming that Senators’ positions were set in stone. In fact, they never are. And in the case of HCR, we ended up with a Republican plan that was utterly unacceptable to Republicans simply because Obama proposed it.

                  1)It’s not a Republican plan in any meaningful sense; the fact that Republicans have felt a need to propose an alternative when health care reform might pass doesn’t mean they actually favor it, as you can see from the time they actually controlled government. 2)The next person to explain how Obama could have gotten a dozen or so conservative senators to vote for a public option they weren’t ideologically predisposed to and threatened powerful interests they’re beholden to will be the first.

    • I haven’t seen anyone say that a fight for single-payer would have inevitably lead to total failure.

      I’ve seen plenty of people argue the opposite – that a fight for single payer would have inevitably led to a better final bill than the ACA – and I’ve seen other people argue that this is not the case, and that such a tactic might have just as easily led to total failure.

    • Lee says:

      Liberals/progressives, whatever you want to call the American center-left, have desired to implement universal healthcare from the time before WWI. Since the model available at the time was the Bismarckian model, thats what liberals wanted. The German-phobia caused by WWI allowed the anti-healthcare forces to defeat this early drive for universal healthcare.

      The Democratic Party has been calling for universal healthcare in their party platform since the Truman adminsitration. Earlier, if you include FDR’s flirting with the idea and the Second Bill of Rights. However they never managed to pass any healthcare bill that applies to the entire population even though there were some siginificant theories here and there.

      The ACA is the first healthcare bill that applies to the entire American population to pass. It took nearly a century for such a bill to pass if you start the fight for universal heatlhcare from the First Progressive Era. If you date it from the FDR or Truman administrations, it still took over fifty years. This is a long time. Germany had universal healthcare since the 1880s. Other European states for almost has long or at least since after WWII. Yet you want Obama to try for something that would most likely fail in hopes that it might pass or that a better bill than the ACA might result. This is too risky. I prefer having some success than no success after nearly 100 years of battle for universal healthcare.

      • Mark says:

        I was pretty happy that the bill passed, too, and unlike some leftists I didn’t turn on Kucinich, for example, because I think he voted on the bill that was being voted on.

        I realize that we’ve been trying to get universal health care in this country for a long time, and 2008 was the best chance we had in years, as you know. Obama didn’t try to get a better bill, and there are costs to that approach, as well. There are dollars and lives between no bill at all and the one that passed. But there are also dollars and lives between the bill that passed and the bill that should have passed.

        I think that on the day the vote took place, there was no chance of a better bill passing. I also think it’s possible that the passage of that bill made it much more difficult to get a better bill passed ten or twenty years from now. Personally I’m not going to be satisfied until the entire health care system has been socialized, and I’ll be advocating that for the rest of my life.

    • Sly says:

      People on this thread keep saying that if Obama had started out by fighting for single-payer, no bill would have been passed at all. On what basis do you say this?

      About a hundred years of political history.

      A national insurance system had been the stated goal of at least four Presidents; Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, Harry Truman, and Lyndon Johnson. The first Roosevelt didn’t even try. FDR’s proposal was killed in committee, as was Truman’s. Johnson had to reshape his proposal into what today is the Medicare and Medicaid systems just so that it would get out of committee, and this was during the years of American liberalism’s peak ascendancy.

      Ever since Johnson, the principle vehicle for healthcare reform has been a kind of single payer lite, as in the kind proposed by Nixon, Clinton, and Obama. If you want something better, you’re going to need a left/liberal realignment the likes of which this country has never seen.

      I do think that prominent politicians can slowly alter the overarching narrative of American politics by speaking forcefully and relentlessly for certain ways of doing things.

      Politics has almost nothing to do with words or arguments. Right does not make might. Politics is about two things: incentives and interests. I don’t think it is much of a stretch to say that Congress has neither the incentive nor the interest in putting every private health insurance company, for-profit and non-profit, out of business. There is no cleverly constructed series of words that will alter this.

      If Obama had aggressively fought for a stimulus that was actually adequate, and a health care bill that actually fixed our health care system, and a really strong financial reform bill, it would have made it more likely that those things would eventually happen.

      You know what word pops out at me in this? The word fought. In fact, I keep seeing it again and again in posts and comments like this. So it strikes me that the perception of Obama as a fighter is at the root of this debacle.

      What do you mean by fight? What is your definition of the word in the context of legislative wrangling, and can you give me an example of a politician, past or present, who fights at a level sufficient to garner your praise? Because I’m fairly confident that whatever politician you cite will either be (a) some backbencher who co-sponsored one or two bills that renamed post offices and not much else or (b) someone like Obama.

      • Mark says:

        Politics has almost nothing to do with words or arguments.

        This is silly bullshit. Politics is not about incentives and interests. It might be about people’s perception of their incentives and interests. And those perceptions are affected — in fact, they are formed — by words.

        As for examples of fighters: FDR, LBJ, DeLay, Cheney, Kucinich, Sanders. Politicians who always got the most they could out of a situation. That’s what fighting is. It doesn’t mean not compromising at all. It means not surrendering at the start of the fight.

        • Scott Lemieux says:

          Uh, could you give some examples of social change being driven by top-down presidential rhetoric? The civil rights movement became a powerful force in the wake of FDR, who was indifferent about civil rights above and beyond what was necessary to keep his coalition together. Did presidents take a leadership role in the women’s rights movement? No. LGBT rights? No. Did Goldwater convince the American pubic to reject the New Deal with his forceful rhetoric? No. Did Bush make privitizing Social Security popular after talking about almost nothing else for a year? No. Your vision of how political change works is completely wrongheaded.

          • witless chum says:

            What Bush did do is sort of make privatizing Social Security a viable topic in the Village. Previously, it was crazyness, but after his failed effort, it had been placed on the Republicans say, Democrats say, truth must be in the middle spectrum.

            That probably isn’t all Bush and it’s an accomplishment that I’m not sure of the value of.

            • Hogan says:

              I remember privatizing Social Security being a viable topic in the mid-nineties. There were public debates, op-eds, Heritage and Cato papers and everything. Other than crazy religious shit, it was Rick Santorum’s signature issue. I don’t hear about him mentioning it in his current campaign, though.

              • cer says:

                ‘Twas all the rage in the 90s. While spearheaded by a lot of the usual conservative suspects, Democrat Bob fucking Kerrey was a mover and shaker there.

            • Sly says:

              What Bush did do is sort of make privatizing Social Security a viable topic in the Village.

              So? How has making it a viable topic in “the Village” (and I don’t entirely agree that it is) help to move the ball forward? If anything, it exposes the underbelly of the Republican agenda; whereas the DNC and other organizations couldn’t effectively target Republicans as people who want to kill or otherwise harm Social Security, making it a “viable topic” in the fashion the Bush Administration undertook has given them that opportunity.

              The Bush Administration obsessed over elite DC opinion for eight years, with very mixed results. They’re just one faction of many that work to mold, actively and passively, political consensus. If anything, the Bush Administration’s efforts w/r/t Social Security demonstrated the limits of that strategy; focus on one group, and you’ll be blind-sided by another when they assert themselves.

              • Scott Lemieux says:

                In addition to this, the quixotic attempt to privatize Social Security had a massive opportunity cost — given the most favorable atmosphere for Republican legislation in a long time, Bush used his agenda-setting power to focus on a maxmimalist wingnut goal, and got nothing. (And I don’t see the Overtron Window argument, either, since Obama remains to Clinton’s left on Social Security.)

          • The Fool says:

            Tax cuts for the rich and spending cuts for the non-rich. Nixon pioneered the resentment. Reagan perfected it and polished the rhetoric (and the con job with talk about supply-side economic) and enshrined it. Now it is a Republican article of faith and many Democrats shake with fear when these Nixonian/Reaganite ideas are invoked.

            • Scott Lemieux says:

              So even if we assume that rhetoric is the primary reason for Republican orthodoxy on tax cuts — which I don’t believe, but anyway — you’ve shown that the might power of presidential rhetoric can get ideologically predisposed members of Congress to support policies overwhelmingly favored by the most powerful interests in the country. Wow!

              Clearly, this proves that a few speeches and the Senate would have passed a single-payer health care bill for which there was virtually no ex ante support and was overwhelmingly opposed by powerful interests. Sure.

              • The Fool says:

                Single payer is not the only issue at hand. The degree of difficulty on that is obviously high, so at best you are right about an extreme case. But its not impossible. And I have been trying to get across to you for some time now: even if you don’t win in the end, if you argue it well it helps set things up for the long run and it puts you in a much better bargaining position as you bargain away concessions from a position of strength. And maybe what you do then is fall back to a public option! You get it, Scott? It’s Negotiation 101.

                And you have missed the point anyway. Back in the late 70′s it was not true that all the Republicans and many Democrats were ideologically predisposed to supply-side tax cuts for the rich. Ask George H.W. Bush! But years of relentless Republican lies and rhetoric have made tax cuts for the rich way cooler than they were before.

                I find particulalrly, disingenuous your repetition of the “few speeches” straw man. This is particularly dishonest since, as you well know, I made clear on earlier threads that much of my argument involves the medium and long term and requires a concerted and consistenly fought effort over years — not a “few speeches”.

                But I am not as upset as I might have been because I take your dishonesty as a sign not merely of deceit but of desperation.

                • jeer9 says:

                  It’s Grover Norquist, dude. He pulls the strings. The pathetic whoredom of economic commentary from Chicago school types for the past fifty years has had no effect on our discourse. Threaten the hackery of Dem incumbents with repeated, insistent progressive challenges and the DNC will eventually shift their support. It’s the only way to alter the Overton Window and move the Dems left. Reform from within! Buy some new shoes and prepare to walk the precincts next year.

        • Sly says:

          This is silly bullshit. Politics is not about incentives and interests. It might be about people’s perception of their incentives and interests. And those perceptions are affected — in fact, they are formed — by words.

          Give me a string of words that will convince a majority of United States Senators to destroy their state-based insurance system. Be sure to include arguments that will comfort them for the loss of political contributions and the insurance regulatory bodies that are often part of patronage networks (bonus points if you can list all current U.S. Senators who were former state insurance commissioners), as well as provide a replacement system that will help insure their reelection as much as the current system does.

          Keep in mind Lyndon Johnson couldn’t do this, and that he was arguably the most successful legislative negotiator in American history.

          As for examples of fighters: FDR, LBJ, DeLay, Cheney, Kucinich, Sanders. Politicians who always got the most they could out of a situation. That’s what fighting is. It doesn’t mean not compromising at all. It means not surrendering at the start of the fight.

          Let’s see… sellout, sellout, sellout, sellout, do-nothing, and do-nothing. FDR, LBJ, DeLay, and Cheney got what they wanted in large part by co-opting the demands of their most partisan activist, watering it down to get it through, and then taking credit for it. FDR and LBJ, in particular, where exceptionally good at this.

          Kucinich has done jack shit as a Congressman. Look through his fifteen year legislative record: five bills he’s sponsored passing out of committee and three of those becoming law. And those successful laws? Post office, honorary citizenship for a Polish cavalryman who’s been dead for 230 years, and a request that a documentary produced by USIA be made available to a local museum. He’s survived politically because he attracts donations from out-of-state liberals and leftists, to whom he is unaccountable, and outspends his opposition five to one. A strategy of ignoring local political dynamics that has worked so well for him that he’s probably going to lose his seat due to redistricting.

          Sanders record is even more sparse.

          This is not to say that people like Kucinich and Sanders aren’t valuable. They are… just not as political leaders. Mugging for the camera has its importance, but it isn’t the only thing a politician needs to do in order to be an effective fighter.

        • Richard says:

          Kucinich as an example of a politician who got the most as he could out of a situation? whatever you’re smoking, I want some

      • The Fool says:

        “Politics has almost nothing to do with words or arguments…Politics is about two things: incentives and interests”

        Oh, come now. This is vastly oversimplified pseudo-sophisticated bullshit. Even if you were right, surely words and arguments have an effect on how incentives and interests are perceived.

        • Sly says:

          Even if you were right, surely words and arguments have an effect on how incentives and interests are perceived.

          Yes, and that is their only impact. There is always a point where grand arguments for a more just way forward will fail. This point is generally coterminous with the point at which the preference to act ethically yields to the pressure to act expediently.

          Politicians, as a class, are not very likely to risk their job security. For one thing, there’s the issue of personal privilege; being a politician is a very cushy job. For another, there’s the issue of opportunity costs; if a politician truly wants a better deal for the public, losing their position might enable someone they deem manifestly unqualified (either ethically or otherwise) to occupy it.

          In other words, Single Payer will become a reality when preventing it from happening becomes a bigger short-term liability for politicians than allowing it to pass. That is the dynamic that drives everything. And, currently, allowing such a measure to pass is an immense short-term liability. That dynamic has to change, and it won’t change with facts and figures cited from the PNHP website.

  11. Pete says:

    I agree that the President does not dominate domestic policy. But that is just a strawman argument.

    Does the President influence domestic policy? And has Obama done things that would convince people that he is really trying his best to implement the progressive policies that he himself said he would in 2008?

    My answers to those questions would be:
    1) Yes.
    2) No.

    • The Fool says:

      Exactly.

      Lemieux specializes in beating the crap out of brainless straw men and then strutting around the barnyard like a bantam cock.

    • I agree that the President does not dominate domestic policy. But that is just a strawman argument.

      It’s not — see links in the previous post.

      Does the President influence domestic policy?

      Of course — a point that isn’t in any dispute.

      And has Obama done things that would convince people that he is really trying his best to implement the progressive policies that he himself said he would in 2008?

      Who gives a shit whether he’s perceived as “trying hard”? In terms of the more relevant question of whether he’s accomplished as progressive as agenda on domestic policy as could be expected, the answer is pretty much yes, unless the ~$100 million in stimulus is the difference between an accomplished presidency and a neo-Republican one.

      • Pete says:

        I don’t know which links you are talking about, but I doubt if you can find any serious writer who claims that that the President dominates domestic policy. I’d challenge you to find anywhere where for example Glenn Greenwald wrote that.

        A lot of people care whether the President works hard to do the things that they care about, especially when the things that they care about are not happening. Whether the President has accomplished as progressive as agenda on domestic policy as could be expected is pretty much unknown. If I was convinced that President Obama has accomplished as progressive an agenda on domestic policy, I’d for sure feel a lot better about him. But I don’t work in Capital Hill. And all I see him is unilaterally disarming, conceding Republican points, and starting the negotiations half way and ending up three fourths of the way.

        • Pete says:

          And by the way the progressive disappointment is not limited to the domestic ledger. There are a fair number of policies on the foreign affairs/national security ledger where President Obama has a lot more ability to act unilaterally where he has abandoned the very progressive principles that he once claimed to stand by.

          • Scott Lemieux says:

            I don’t know where you’ve gotten the idea that my argument is “progressives should not be disappointed in anything Obama has done,” but it certainly has nothing to do with anything I’ve written.

            • Pete says:

              You seem to be suggesting that progressives should not be disappointed in anything Obama has done on the domestic agenda. You said “In terms of the more relevant question of whether he’s accomplished as progressive as agenda on domestic policy as could be expected, the answer is pretty much yes“. To me the clear implication of that is that you believe that on the domestic agenda progressives should not be disappointed with Obama.

              And I do not understand why you are unwilling to discuss these questions on issues other than the domestic agenda, where Obama has a lot more power. Are we to believe that Obama is faithful to progressive principles on domestic issues where he has far less leverage to achieve them, than he is to progressive principles on wars, civil liberties, state secrets, detainee treatment, assassinations, drone attacks, etc. where he has a lot more leverage?

  12. ,,,but to say that it was newly invented to defend Obama is just 100% pure ignorance.

    While I disagree with your position on teh weakness of the president with respect to teh domestic legislative agenda – you certainly have a point here. And if I can accept that I can’t read teh Secret Heart of Obama, I should be able to accept that I can’t read teh Secret Heart of People Who Appear To Be Defending Obama, But May Just Be Pointing Out Something That They Have Always Believed To Be True.

    • Hogan says:

      I can’t read teh Secret Heart of People Who Appear To Be Defending Obama, But May Just Be Pointing Out Something That They Have Always Believed To Be True Blog Posts of People Who’ve Said the Same Thing for Years.

      FTFY.

  13. Kadin says:

    The “apparently making excuses” link goes nowhere.

  14. The Fool says:

    Lemieux and his epigone have a set of standard moves they habitually use to gain the appearance of winning the Obama Apologist debate without, uh, actually being right. What are those moves? First and foremost, vigorously assault oversimplified straw men. Second, transmogrify continuous quantitative claims into discrete dichotomous categorical monsters – and then, of course, assault the resulting straw men with impunity. Third, assume a fully determined system such that whatever did happen is what had to happen in this, the best of all possible domestic policy worlds.

    Scott: the point is not that Obama is an absolute dictator and should have dictated the preferred progressive outcome. But the fact that he is not a dictator does not make him completely powerless. He retains significant influence. Scott likes to demolish the concept of the Imperial Domestic President and then proceed as if there’s a simple dichotomy between Imperial President and Powerless president. Then he subtly counterattacks as if he has established the other side of that dichotomy. No Scott. There are vast vistas of possibilities between Imperial and Powerless president. And in real life where we are in that vista is something that fluctuates with the issue terrain and over time and in part based on how we play – and have played — the game.

    I get how much you, as a fledgling academic, like to show off your poli sci chops, whipping out your ideological spectrum charts and pontificating about veto points, yada yada yada. But the legislative system is not perfectly determined in advance. Senators do not have essential and completely exogenous ideological properties and issue positions. The course of history is contingent even though you have everything all mapped out. It still matters how the game is played.

    Scott takes senatorial voting behavior as his measure of senatorial issue preference and then uses that same measure to retrodict the outcome of the voting. But that is a circular argument. You don’t know what would have happened in counterfactual circumstances. It’s easy to say “Oh, he didn’t have the votes — once the votes have been cast — but that is only trivially true. And just because a given senator tends to vote one way, doesn’t mean they will do so no matter what.

    Pete asked Scott, “has Obama done things that would convince people that he is really trying his best to implement the progressive policies…?” Scott scoffs, “Who gives a shit whether he’s perceived as ‘trying hard’”. Yet another straw man. It’s not the perception we’re focused on, Scott. It’s the reality that that perception does or does not reflect that we care about. Unlike you, we don’t assume that all outcomes are 100% determined in advance. Therefore it matters very much indeed how hard Obama tries. If he tried harder, he might be more effective and he might get a different outcome. Only if you believe that Scott Lemieux – political scientific engineer extraordinaire! — has everything all charted out with r-squared of 1.0 does it not matter how the president performs. You have ostensively reduced presidential performance to a completely insignificant variable and that is bunk.

    We progressives think that presidential performance matters and we think Obama has done a crappy job. You yourself largely agreed on an earlier thread when you said, “There may be times when a more Bush-like leadership style would have produced better results — most notably the stimulus and the debt ceiling package.” Those are some very large concessions. But it is much worse than that quick admission allows. .
    Over and over Obama has negotiated like a clown, making concessions up front. And worse he buys right into and validates the Republican frame on every debate. This is particularly pernicious as it weakens us in the future as well. The cumulative weakness of years of cowardly Democrats just weighs us down more and more. We need to break the cycle of weakness and lay the foundation for counterattack.

    It matters HOW you lose. It is one thing if you lose because you said A and they said not-A and they end up with more votes. It is quite another thing if they say not-A and you agree with them. If that happens more than a few times, then not-A becomes established as the conventional wisdom. You follow, Scott? You can’t say oh its just bullshit perception and doesn’t matter because you lose either way. But you’re wrong. It makes all the difference to future iterations of the game, HOW you lose. And that is what pisses off progressives. Obama loses like a chump. He’s not alone. Lots of Democrats do. But we are fucking sick of it

    Democrats didn’t used to have a Reaganite wing. That has been the product of decades of the Republicans lying their asses off and fighting tooth and nail no matter what the odds for the upper income tax cuts they so greedily crave. We (meaning YOU, Scott) need to learn from that experience.

    • Hogan says:

      transmogrify continuous quantitative claims into discrete dichotomous categorical monsters

      Your words make my eyes sad.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      assault the resulting straw men with impunity.

      [...]

      Scott likes to demolish the concept of the Imperial Domestic President and then proceed as if there’s a simple dichotomy between Imperial President and Powerless president.

      That’s classic stuff.

      Anyway, the fact that you don’t seem to understand how presidential power works doesn’t make you more progressive than anyone else, sorry.

      • The Fool says:

        You’re going to have to spell that out a little more, my friend.

        • Ed Marshall says:

          You could read Neustadt. You would probably misread it, but here is the theory: “the power to persuade is the power to bargain”. The misread is the green lantern fallacy of the cult of the presidency. The power isn’t to somehow persuade the public and make the congress afraid to object to your agenda.

          The persuasion is for the members of congress. You make them believe that they are better off supporting your agenda, because there are carrots that you can offer and sticks that you hold. The “I want Obama to pick fights and lose” bullshit sucks because an executive that picks fights and loses can no longer guarantee carrots or sticks. You may as well stick with the interests in your corner because a loser can’t promise anything.

          • The Fool says:

            That ain’t how the Republicans done it. It’s obviously a complicated story, but a big part of it is they persuaded the public and leveraged public opinion.

            They talked up magical supply-side tax cuts and welfare queens. They got everyone pissed off at the government and the welfare recipients. They branded anyone that wanted to help their fellow man a goddamn “librul” which became a term of abuse. And then Reagan won in a “landslide” talking like that. And lots of Republican senators and Congressmen won on his coattails. And everyone thought it was all about Reagan’s message. Lots of Democrats too.

            But not Walter Mondale. He told people he was going to raise their taxes and Reagan was too. Mondale was right! But the Villagers and many centrist Democrats thought he was wrong. And the media did too. And so did the “Boll Weevils” and the “Reagan Democrats”. Then Reagan won re-election in another “landslide.” And we had 7 fat years. And all the Villagers and the media and the Republicans thought Ronald Reagan was an economic genius. And many voters were persuaded too.

            And Reagan kept on trashing Jimmy Carter and liberals and welfare queens. And soon Democrats began to fear the liberal label like they were being called devil worshippers. And soon, thanks to Ronald Reagan and his supply-side magic, the conventional wisdom was turned on its head. There was a new conventional wisdom. And that led to Grover Norquist and every other Republican activist down to this very day.

            If you don’t know and understand this story, you don’t know jack shit about American politics, sir.

            Interests and incentives are important. But their effects are mediated by beliefs, which are influenced by what people hear. And no one gets heard more than the President. Especially if he is a “Great Communicator” with a great story to sell and the willingness to sell it no matter what.

            • And Reagan’s signature accomplishment that required a rash of brilliant Congressional arm twisting was….what, exactly?

              • The Fool says:

                For real?

                How about income and capital gains tax cuts for the rich and payroll tax increases and spending cuts for the non-rich?

                Barrel. Fish. Bang!

                • Your evidence that majorities in Congress were very opposed to those things and they were passed only through sheer force of Reagan’s singular will is…?

              • Ed Marshall says:

                Raising taxes multiple times to get blue dog democrats to go along with his horseshit in Central America and buying off liberal Republicans to approve dentente.

            • Scott Lemieux says:

              but a big part of it is they persuaded the public and leveraged public opinion.

              Except that this isn’t true. Republican economic policies remain notably unpopular despite all the brilliant messaging. It’s just that having the support of monied interests is a lot more important than having the support of public opinion.

              • It’s amazing how easily the relative popularity of conservatism fluctuates based on the argument that needs to be made by “left-critics” in these conversations.

                • Scott Lemieux says:

                  Right. In the last thread, the same person was arguing that brilliant conservative messaging had made conservative policies popular and that liberal policies were so popular that Obama could get anything with a little pressure in successive posts, with no apparent self-awareness.

              • The Fool says:

                Oh Scotty, my boy. You are even more dishonest than I thought. I already debunked this piss poor argument on the previous thread.

                Sure, people don’t like tax cuts for the rich — under that description. But that ain’t how Ronald Reagan described them!

                Barrel. Fish. Bang! Bang! Shoot! Shoot!

                • The sound effects and vocalized verbs are basically the height of political argument. Sorry Scott, I have no choice but to concede he has us here.

                • Scott Lemieux says:

                  Again, this is just hand-waving bullshit. It’s a basic fact that upper-class tax hikes are popular, period. Even if Reagan got elected in some small measure because of his folksy rhetoric there’s no evidence that this part of his agenda was popular, or that he would have fared worse had he not pursued upper-class tax cuts.

      • The Fool says:

        Cat got your tongue?

  15. Steve LaBonne says:

    Obama may have done close to the best possible as far as legislation goes (debatable, but not totally implausible). But he failed on some significant things that didn’t require Congress. HAMP was a joke, TARP money was not used to help Main Street when it could have been. He was remarkably lazy about making appointments when he had a Senate that would have confirmed them, and has failed to use recess appointments effectively since then. And he has reinforced conservative economic ideas such as the priority of deficit cutting over job creation, thus poisoning the well for future policy-makers.

    Look, even the decidedly non-hippie Michael Tomasky tore him a new one in Newsweek recently for his failure to unlearn his naive civics-textbook view of politics. Defenders of Obama do him no favors by exaggerating their defense past the point of plausibility. Nor is it helpful to keep insisting on the impotence of the office, since in that case why should I vote for Obama’s re-election if it matters so little? You can’t have it both ways.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      Obama may have done close to the best possible as far as legislation goes (debatable, but not totally implausible). But he failed on some significant things that didn’t require Congress. HAMP was a joke, TARP money was not used to help Main Street when it could have been. He was remarkably lazy about making appointments when he had a Senate that would have confirmed them, and has failed to use recess appointments effectively since then.

      I agree pretty with pretty much all of this.

      Nor is it helpful to keep insisting on the impotence of the office, since in that case why should I vote for Obama’s re-election if it matters so little? You can’t have it both ways.

      I understand why people feel that the vastleft cartoon was a strawman, but amazingly it isn’t.

    • Joe says:

      Obama may have done close to the best possible as far as legislation goes (debatable, but not totally implausible).

      Faint praise. “NTI” suggests you think it IS fairly implausible. Still not seeing it.

      But he failed on some significant things that didn’t require Congress.

      And, he did good stuff — usually ignored by critics as here — as well.

      HAMP was a joke, TARP money was not used to help Main Street when it could have been.

      How badly he handled this is open to debate.

      He was remarkably lazy about making appointments when he had a Senate that would have confirmed them

      When was this? The Republicans retained the power to filibuster. Illness provided a tiny actual window of 60 votes, one or two who supported blocking certain people.

      and has failed to use recess appointments effectively since then

      debatable though he’s open to criticism here; recess appointments are of limited value in various cases.

      And he has reinforced conservative economic ideas such as the priority of deficit cutting over job creation, thus poisoning the well for future policy-makers.

      He is trying to work within the limits of a Congress which has forces trying to block him left and right. He could talk all he wants about job creation but if Congress isn’t going to actually do anything, I’m unsure how helpful that is.

      Defenders of Obama do him no favors by exaggerating their defense past the point of plausibility

      Going too far the other direction while repeatedly under-recognizing what he did and the burdens he had to face isn’t good either.

      • Steve LaBonne says:

        It looks as though you have pretty close to as big an argument with Scott as with me. Also with Michael Tomasky, who is certainly no Glenn Greenwald. That ought to cause you to stop and re-examine the soundness of your position.

        • Joe says:

          Scott doesn’t (to cite put one thing) provide such faint praise as saying the argument isn’t “not totally implausible” so not quite.

          To the degree he fails to recognize that there actually was nearly no time when Obama had a filibuster proof majority in the Senate that wouldn’t block his appointments etc., I do disagree with him.

          I reckon Michael Tomasky can be wrong on a few things too.

          So, if you are merely going to “appeal to authority,” sorry, that isn’t too helpful. Again, I and others aren’t saying Obama should be free from criticism. But, if you are going to provide this sort of slanted criticism, it simply isn’t very convincing.

      • Steve LaBonne says:

        By the way, if Obama’s inner circle is feeding him this stuff (which appears to be the case) then they’re also a big liability to his re-election chances. Because he’s going to need to convince the voters that he understands why things didn’t turn out as hoped (not easy to do when you’re busy convincing yourself that nobody could have done better), and that he has a better plan for his second term.

        Brad DeLong is also a decided non-Greenwald type as well as an experienced government hand, and this is pretty devastating. Nobody who wishes Obama well should be an enabler for the kind of thinking he describes.

        • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

          Wow!

          Two things to note about this: 1) If one finds oneself hippie punching Brad DeLong, perhaps one should consider reregistering as a Republican; 2) “This is the best of all possible worlds!” is not a winning election strategy…especially when things aren’t going very well for tens of millions of the voters you hope to convince.

          • Joe says:

            Hard to tell who is “hippie punching Brad DeLong” here. I’m not. Next. Not trying to be Dr. Pangloss either. I said that Obama can be criticized in various ways.

            So, wow, that reply was lame.

            • Hogan says:

              Hard to tell who is “hippie punching Brad DeLong” here.

              The Obama administration. It’s pretty clear from the linked post.

              • Joe says:

                Oh okay. I see the link referenced. Some people criticize Krugman or whatever in a way deemed too much and they should join the Republican party. I see the punching. My bad. I still think the comment a tad much.

  16. The Fool says:

    Imagine this poker game:

    Boehner: Well, I have the best hand, I’m all in.

    Obama: Gosh, I guess I fold

    Dealer deals

    Boehner: What do you know! I got rockets. I’m all in.

    Obama: damn, I can’t beat that. I fold.

    Boehner: Hey I just made a str8 flush. I reraise.

    Obama: Doh! I better fold. You got me beat!

    The dealer deals another hand.

    Obama: I have jacks but if you reraise, I’ll probably fold. I raise you a dollar.

    Boehner: I can’t get away from these pocket queens! I reraise.

    Obama: Well, I trust you wouldn’t lie about such an important matter just like I trusted you not to play chicken with the debt ceiling. My jacks are a big dog to your queens, so I guess I fold again.

    Dealer deals.

    Obama: I bet $10

    Boehner: Hmmm. Well you know what they say. Get it all in with the best hand and let the chips fall where they may. I push.

    Obama: Wow, you are hot! My hand’s not strong enough for an all in. Guess I have to fold again, gosh darn it!

    Dealer deals Obama aces and the flop comes with another ace.

    Obama: Well, John, I have a set of bullets. Just letting you know so you know I’m bargaining in good faith and putting all my cards on the table – literally.

    Boehner: Oh I see. OK, I’ll fold, you take the blinds.

    Dealer deals.

    Obama: You know. Let’s forget this penny ante stuff and go for the Grand Pot. I bet $100. My hand is so good there is no way you can get me out this time!

    Boehner: Oh bad timing Barry. I’m positive I have the better hand. I’m all in.

    Obama: Wow! Guess I’m beat again. I fold.

    Lemieux: Well, obviously Boehner just had the better cards. Obama did the best he could!

    • Poker analogies to Congressional politics are inherently bad because the obvious difference is that, in poker, your hand is only known to you, whereas in Congressional politics the basic outline of available votes is known to everyone. You can’t just pretend to have super secret votes to pass something when everyone’s basic preferences are known.

      • Pithlord says:

        The Fool’s point is not about actual negotiation, but that Obama is not sufficiently tribalist, and therefore feminine.

        • Well of course it is, and really, the Fool doesn’t have a point. He just doesn’t like Obama, and he’s shown definitively over the past however many days that that dislike leaves him utterly incapable of grasping nuance or comprehending what people are saying beyond “Obama sur iz teh suxorz!!!!”

        • djw says:

          A few years ago there was a thread with a poster calling himself “the fool” who wrote a long string of masturbatory posts about how torture really, really could produce useful results, if only done properly, as he could do it. I’m guessing it’s the same guy.

      • Scott Lemieux says:

        Actually, here’s a poker analogy for how the Fool views politics:

        Boehner: “I’m all in.”

        President Avakian: “Call!”

        Boehner: “Aces full of tens.”

        Avakian: “10 high.” (Begins to rake chips.)

        Boehner: “What the fuck?”

        Avakian: “But I’ve been saying repeatedly for many years that 10 high is the best poker hand there is. So it’s true, and the fact that you also control security is irrelevant!”

        Boehner: “Oh, OK then. Also, congratulations that your constant messaging has led to single-payer health care, just like FDR’s many fiery pro-civil rights speeches led to the Civil Rights movement.”

  17. Pithlord says:

    A lot of this is, “If I was playing Obama in a video game, I would have done a better job than he did.”

    Assume that you would. So what?

    The following facts remain true:

    1. Obama’s re-election is of all the possibilities in 2012 the best for anyone to the left of Mitt Romney.

    2. If you want to further any progressive policy goal, there are better ways to spend your time than figuring out whether you would have been better at the Obama Video Game.

    If you regard the Obama Video Game as harmless diversion, that’s cool. I am genuinely unconvinced that if LBJ was reincarnated, he would do much better, but nothing really turns on it.

    • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

      Politics doesn’t end in 2012.

      While it is trivially true that the best choice in 2012 will be Barack Obama, that is very definitely a bug, not a feature.

      And while there certainly is an Obama Video Game version of these criticisms, the more serious questions are:

      1) What organizational strategies can progressives adopt to change the frame of American politics so it is less utterly hostile to the American middle class?

      2) How can we have a better Democratic Party and better candidates in the future?

      These are real, practical questions. And if the response of some is to claim that it is simply impossible to imagine a better President than Obama or a more progressive party than today’s Democrats…well, that’s why we have these endless analyses of the job that Obama and the Democrats are doing today.

      • Pithlord says:

        Your questions are good ones (although I’m not sure the problem with American politics is that it is utterly hostile to the middle class, as opposed to being hostile to the poor and indiferent to the working class).

        I don’t think they have much to do with these kinds of discussions, which are about how much more awesome the poster would have been at rolling the Republicans.

  18. Pithlord says:

    I also think Scott’s missing the point of the anger from the anti-Obama left. It is definitely not about policy accomplishment. It is about feeling that Obama does not respect their tribal feelings the way Republican leaders respect those of conservative activists.

  19. Pithlord says:

    It’s worth noting that liberal Democratic dislike for Obama must be the most overrepresented-on-the-Internet phenomenon since libertarianism. According to Silver, liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans are practically the only groups for which Obama has suffered virtually no loss of support in 2011. The big losses are among self-described independents and conservative Democrats.

    The most reasonable narrative based on the polls is that low-intensity voters hated the debt-ceiling impasse, and blamed everybody for being too intransigent. Obama was blamed less than the Republican Congressional leaders, but he doesn’t get to run against Boehner.

    If that’s right, more liberal tribalist rhetoric during the debt ceiling impasse would have rendered him basically unelectable.

    • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

      I think the most reasonable narrative is that the economy continues to suck and low-intensity voters blame all of those in power (i.e. Congressional Republicans and the President). Low-intensity voters care a lot more about jobs and the price of gas than arcane arguments over the debt ceiling.

      • Steve LaBonne says:

        Frankly, I could live with Romney and a Democratic Congress.

        • jeer9 says:

          Thank you, Steve. And I think it’s more plausible than people imagine. Of course, then we’d have the joy of watching the Dems “stand up” for the poor and downtrodden.

        • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

          Give me Huntsman and I might agree…except:

          1) Huntsman can’t win the nomination; and

          2) The SCOTUS remains the best reason not to settle for even a relatively sane GOP President.

          • Scott Lemieux says:

            This is a great strategy if you don’t care about Roe v. Wade being overruled.

            • Steve LaBonne says:

              Not a “strategy”, just what we might very well get. And I did say with a Democratic Congress. Congress includes the Senate, you know.

              Though Roe is already pretty much dead of the death of 1,000 cuts.

              • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

                Well, it’s not just Roe.

                And we saw how Democrats in the Senate reacted to the Alito and Roberts nominations.

                When Janice Rodgers Brown or John Yoo gets tapped as the next GOP SCOTUS nominee, the difference between a GOP-majority Senate and a Democratic-majority Senate will be measured entirely in the number of harshly-worded letters produced. Both would confirm anyone nominated by a Republican President.

                Or to put this another way: if you’re so sure you can’t count on Obama, why do you feel you can count on a Democratic Senate?

                • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

                  Actually let me correct that: a Republican Senate might reject an insufficiently ideological Republican nominee (e.g. Harriet Miers).

                • Steve LaBonne says:

                  I no longer feel that I can count on ANY Democrat. This is a big problem. I don’t know what to do about it.

                • Steve LaBonne says:

                  But despite that I agree with the very first comment in this thread, that liberals and their organizations have been excessively focused on the White House, sometimes to the detriment of getting more and better Democrats in Congress and in state and local offices.

            • Paula says:

              Well, suffice it to say they probably don’t care about Roe v. Wade.

      • Pithlord says:

        I think it’s true that floating low-information voters react to the economy. But they also have actual political preferences, and they certainly paid more attention to the debt ceiling fiasco than to most political events. And the result was they hated everybody involved. They hate the Republican and Democratic Congressional leadership more than they hated Obama, which might suggest he was actually right to try to look like he was the one willing to compromise.

  20. steelpenny says:

    This whole “green Lantern” argument is fairly stupid. I don’t have a panglossian take on Obama’s presidency thus far. I think there are things he could have done on both the legislative side and the executive side that might have led to better policy outcomes; I think the path that has led us to where we are has closed doors we want open and opened doors best kept closed. But what’s done is done, it’s no use complaining about battles that are over.

    I’m worried about what happens over the next 14 months. Obama has insisted on negotiating with people who have the explicitly stated goals of destroying Obama’s presidency and limiting him to a single term and who have demonstrated that they are quite willing to tank the economy and cripple the federal government to achieve those goals and that they are constitutionally incapable of negotiating in good faith. I’m concerned that if he can’t come up with a new strategy, he’s going to lose. What that should be, what fights he should take on, I don’t know. I will say (based on personal experience) telling critics that they are stupid and that they should just cheer harder is definitely counter productive. (Also, before anyone says “What Republcan is going to beat Obama? They all lose in head to head polls.” let me say that if you place more stock in polls 14 months out than you do on the economy in October 2012, you’re a dipshit).

    • For what it’s worth, I think this discussion too often gets bogged down in very general terms that people inevitably get conflated. The question isn’t whether policies could have been better or if negotiating tactics could have been better, but rather a matter of the nature of the specific informal power of the President to negotiate with Congress and apply pressure to his co-partisans, specifically whether or not that “power” is unlimited. That’s the Green Lantern issue, the notion that Presidents can pressure lawmakers to give them what they want, that lawmakers are impervious to this pressure in all cases if the pressure is sufficient, and that, as a result, any failure to produce Desired Outcome X is ipso facto proof that the President didn’t want that outcome and didn’t apply enough pressure because he actually opposed the policy.

      • steelpenny says:

        I don’t think much of anyone really believes the President has unlimited power (likewise, I don’t think anyone really believes the President has little power); people get all het up and say stupid stuff (and make all kinds of nasty ad hominem attacks). I think a lot of people projected a lot onto the candidate Obama (who was perfectly happy to have them think whatever as long as they voted, and gave, and volunteered). I think they feel betrayed. I certainly felt that way away the torture thing. All that said, I think at some point, the acts and policies Obama ends up with do reflect his preferences if imperfectly. People talk about veto points, but ignore the President’s actual veto.

        • I don’t know how many people would believe it in raw terms, but in terms of these debates there are certainly people who assert the view, and Greenwald has done it in the past, which was really the genesis of this whole topic at various points since Obama took office.

  21. scott says:

    Good Lord – is Scott still digging this hole deeper? Maybe a couple of posts you might expect from him on the self-refuting thesis of the Obama apologists that The President Is Powerless, but an unending series of them? And he actually wants to make the argument, with a straight face, that he was stressing the powerlessness thesis before Obama as much as he is now. Man, once you commit to the fanboy route, there’s no such thing as reconsidering, and it’s doubling down all the way. Pathetic.

  22. Paula says:

    This thread is hilarious. I just spent four hours at a dinner party with my family — brown immigrants living in Southern California who’ve benefited from social security and medicare and government education loans provided by your United States government — bitch about how Obama is destroying us with his ridiculous Euro-style spending on entitlements and his lack of leadership (read: unwillingness to drop bombs) in the Middle East.

  23. Steve LaBonne says:

    More from Brad DeLong on what Obama could have done.

  24. [...] Thankfully This Time, the Green Lantern Theory of Presidential Power is Wrong [ 0 ] March 20, 2012 | Scott Lemieux var addthis_product = 'wpp-262'; var addthis_config = {"data_track_clickback":true,"data_track_addressbar":false};if (typeof(addthis_share) == "undefined"){ addthis_share = [];}Since this failure to bring Congress aboard involves Obama trying to achieve abysmally and unnecessarily conservative ends, I’m pretty sure that this time I’m not going to get much of a “but if Obama really wanted a terrible fiscal policy “grand bargain” he would have used the magical powers of the Bully Pulpit to ram it though, so obviously he didn’t really want it” pushback from those who would ordinarily provide it. [...]

  25. The Fool says:

    Hey Scotty:

    You any good with SPSS? Gimme a call in a few years after the academic thing fails to pan out and I’ll see about getting you a real job doing real politics in the real world.

    But, dude, if I set you up with an interview…ixnay on the residentialpay eechspay isay eaninglessmay, you savvy? You don’t wanna get laughed out of Washington right after getting laughed out of academia do you?

  26. You seem highly intelligent. You have certainly seen through all of Scott’s oversimplified pseudo-sophisticated ruses thus far. Indeed, I am intrigued by your ideas and wish to subscribe to your newsletter. But first I’m curious as to what kind of real politics you do in the real world.

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