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The Bush Non-Steamroller

[ 199 ] August 18, 2011 |

Matt has some useful additions to my post yesterday on presidential power. On the second term, one could add the the 2005 bankruptcy “reform,” which again involved legislation supported by powerful interests, an issue that doesn’t divide the Republican coalition, and key support from parasite-state Democrats. Where one of these conditions wasn’t present, Bush’s allegedly more potent machine wasn’t able to accomplish anything on domestic policy. Bush’s immigration reform proposal advanced powerful interests and had Democratic support — but split the Republican coalition, so no dice irrespective of how much pressure he applied. And this isn’t because he had a significantly less favorable legislative context — indeed, I would argue that given their greater homogeneity and the tilt of the Senate towards conservative states 55 Republican votes are worth more than 59 Democratic votes.

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

I don’t have a lot more to say about Glenn’s rejoinder, because much of it is non-responsive. When talking about legislation I was of course talking about major domestic legislation. Most of the cited evidence goes to establish a point — that in foreign policy the president is dominant — that isn’t in any dispute. If Obama was failing to bomb countries or to enact even more draconian restrictions of civil liberties in the name of the War on Terror then I agree he would be largely responsible, but in the context of the actual argument it’s beside the point. The point about the bailout is addressed above — it wasn’t a central point of Bush’s agenda and represented an issue where there was substantial bipartisan agreement. Finally, I think one reason we’re talking past one another is that Glenn seems particularly concerned with the question of what Obama really believes or wants. Essentially, my position on this is that it’s both unknowable and largely irrelevant, most importantly because for elected officials principle and political viability are inextricably intertwined. Is the ACA exactly what Obama would have wanted and enacted if he was a Prime Minister in a Westminster system? I’m skeptical, but maybe Glenn is right, and I can’t prove that he isn’t. But since, especially in light of Lieberman’s goalpost shifting, nobody has explained how 60 votes for the public option were obtainable it also doesn’t matter. Obama would have signed legislation with a public option and had little leverage over most of the conservative Democrats who didn’t want one and didn’t care if the bill went down, and that’s what matters.

…Given the accusation’s that I’m building my own strawman, I should once again cite Drew Westen and David Sirota ["Most agree that today's imperial presidency almost singularly determines the course of national politics."] The Green Lantern theory isn’t a figment of my imagination.

Comments (199)

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  1. seeker6079 says:

    Given that Bush had a Congress that consisted largely of GOPers who’d give him whatever he asked for, and a majority Dems who’d roll over for anything, how is the situation even comparable to the one faced by Obama?

    • That’s a useful addendum. Even if you think Bush did essentially force Congressional Republicans to do what he wanted, there’s still no reason to ignore the fact that Congressional Democrats and Congressional Republicans are very different from one another in this regard.

    • I don’t think that’s true. Bush dave Delay whatever he wanted on domestic policy.

    • Davis X. Machina says:

      Congress — three parties, two labels.[1]

      Welcome to the joys of coalition government.

      [1] Used to be four parties, two labels, but the Percies and Javitses and Chafees are gone, not to be seen again in our time.

  2. Based on his response, I think it’s time to just assume Greenwald is not very bright.

    • c u n d gulag says:

      I think he’s still one of the better, brighter, people when it comes to writing about civil liberties and the law.

      But I stopped reading him on politics, because he seemed to go all “Jane Hamsher” a while back, and went all in on the “Purity Police’s” bashing of Obama, 24x7x365.

      Obama doesn’t have a great record at all on the wars/occupations, civil liberties, Gitmo, and on whistleblowers, but on domestic issues, he did what he could with the Congress he had, and the Red Dogs (ain’t nothin’ blue about ‘em) he had on the Democratic side.

      • Karl says:

        Brighter than a 12-year-old child, maybe.

        Lots of lawyers in America understand civil liberties and the law better than Greenwald. Most of them do not promote themselves as he does, most do not spend their time covertly supporting Democrats while pretending to criticize them — which is why Greenwald is so “popular.” He gives the air of detached criticism while stumping for Democrats and hating on Republicans. Perfect for self-satisfied “progressives” who are primarily tribalist in nature.

        Primarily tribalist in nature = Greenwald too. Or at least, that’s how he writes. Who knows what he actually thinks? He’s not really known for his thinking. He’s known for his punditry, which is bland and resembles, more than anything, a first-year law student struggling to sound informed and wise in the law.

        I don’t know many lawyers who study federal matters, who find Greenwald insightful or wise. But he’s not writing for lawyers. He’s writing from the perspective of The People’s Legal Expert, so he only has to sound (write) as if he knows what he talks about. Most of his readers are laypeople or, if lawyers, the kinds of lawyer who don’t follow political matters any closer than their job requires them to do.

    • No, it’s deliberate.

      When an attorney spins the facts in a manner that advances the side of the argument he’s pushing, it’s not because he’s unintelligent. It’s because of his intent.

  3. Jim Demintia says:

    So all that Obama does domestically is for the best in this best of all possible (domestic) worlds?

    • scott says:

      Of course it is. Obama couldn’t push against or veto austerity cuts to the discretionary budget, argue for supporting rather than cutting SS and Medicare, or outline an infrastructure plan in which the feds might rebuild our crumbling roads and bridges and employ hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of the unemployed. I do partly agree with Scott that he and Glenn are arguing past each other. Scott seems to be arguing that Obama is institutionally constrained from doing progressive things, while Glenn is arguing both that those institutional constraints are overrated and that they’re irrelevant any way because Obama doesn’t want to do progressive things and is on the record as not wanting them. The Powerless President meme is a pointless distraction from the fact that we have a President who doesn’t want to use the federal government in a progressive and activist way. Arguing about whether he could do something when he doesn’t want to is waste of everyone’s time.

      • I think this is really two very separate points, so how about we separate them into two specific policies.

        On austerity, you’re exactly right. Obama clearly favors it and thinks deficit reduction is the pressing fiscal priority the country faces right now. He’s both anti-progressive and deeply wrong in this belief, and I don’t think you’ll get much argument about that from anyone involved in the discussion, and certainly not Scott or Yglesias based on their writing on the matter.

        Now take the public option, where this all really started. Greenwald’s contention was that, since the President is the center of domestic policy and can get Congress to do anything he wants them to do in his view, the fact that 60 Democrats wouldn’t support the public option was de facto proof that Obama himself opposed the public option, because if Obama had supported it he would have exerted sufficient energy and willpower to force enough members of Congress to support it as well.

        The former is a fine critique based on actual positions the President has taken. The latter is an absurd and cartoonish view of Presidential power and leverage.

        • Bill Murray says:

          but since the primary argument about Obama and the public option is that he never even used it as a pawn to improve his bargaining position how does this matter to your made intentionally cartoonish argument?

          • “used it as a pawn to improve his bargaining position”

            Because that strategy of negotiating was, in this case, not practical or beneficial.

          • Wait wait…let me get this straight:

            Barack Obama spent a long time publicly promoting the public option, went in with a plan that included it as his opening bid, despite (allegedly) knowing from the beginning that it wasn’t going to pass, and then settled for a plan without it.

            How is that not using it as a bargaining chip?

            • Furious Jorge says:

              Because he took it off the table before things even got started. He actually said those words – “off the table.”

              • What the hell are you talking about? It was in the plan that originally passed the House, and Harry Reid put it in the initial draft of his manager’s amendment.

                • DocAmazing says:

                  “Off the table”.

                  Couldn’t have been clearer.

                  I wanna play poker with a guy that takes his best cards off the table. Sound lucrative.

                • Sorry, I guess I should have been clearer, by “what the hell are you talking about” I meant “that bears no discernible connection to reality whatsoever.” Since, you know, it’s not how it happened. Like I said.

                  And like Scott mentioned, I think the problem is that the public option is being confused with single payer. And we covered why “putting single payer on the table” wouldn’t have accomplished any damn thing last night.

                • Also, I have no idea what the hell this means either, since you don’t “take cards off the table” in poker. Do you mean “someone who folds the stone cold nuts hand?”

                  Not that that makes any sense either, since it’s basically agreed that there wouldn’t have been so much as 20 votes for single payer in the Senate, and everyone knew that. So single payer not only isn’t the nuts, it’s basically the equivalent of betting an empty hand when the other player knows you don’t have anything.

                  I’m legitimately interested in how it is that you’ve come to delude yourself so much so quickly.

                • DocAmazing says:

                  Nobody said anything about single payer. Try to stay on-topic.

                  “Off the table”. That’s a quote.

                • Murc says:

                  You’re wrong about this, Doc.

                  You’re thinking of single payer, not the public option.

                • Right, nobody said anything about single-payer, they mentioned the public option. The public option that was in the bill that passed the House and was in Harry Reid’s manager’s amendment that he proposed in the Senate.

                  So as I said, it’s just flat inaccurate to say the public option was off the table from the beginning. Not as a matter of negotiating strategy. Not as a matter of what any individual super-secretly wanted the final bill to look like. But as a matter of fact based on things that actually happened in Congress in 2009.

                • Nobody said anything about single payer. Try to stay on-topic.

                  “Off the table”. That’s a quote.

                  The best part about this comment is the way he manages to force such arrogant condescension while being completely wrong on the facts, even after having them pointed out to him.

              • Scott Lemieux says:

                I think you’re confusing the public option with single payer.

              • Because he took it off the table before things even got started. He actually said those words – “off the table.”

                No, you’re thinking of single payer.

                He pushed for the public option, frequently and publicly, throughout the process.

      • we have a President who doesn’t want to use the federal government in a progressive and activist way

        You will not find a single person familiar with Obama’s record in Illinois who believes this.

    • No. That has nothing to do with the argument over which branch is the center of domestic policy.

    • And note than even on the first round of tax cuts Snowe, Collins et al. were able to get the totals arbitrarily trimmed (although this does illustrate a legitimate Obama blunder — his opening bid on the stimulus package should have been higher.)

      So all that Obama does domestically is for the best in this best of all possible (domestic) worlds?

      Whatever.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      So all that Obama does domestically is for the best in this best of all possible (domestic) worlds?

      You may want to try reading the posts before commenting.

      • Jim Demintia says:

        I did read the post, and FWIW, I agree that the issue of what Obama wants is less important than the institutional constraints imposed by Congress. But what most left-critics of Obama are really, and I think justly, incensed about is that he does not visibly push for better legislative outcomes, i.e. he doesn’t attempt to do what Erik’s post earlier today described–ratchet up pressure for progressive policy goals–and thus makes those goals less likely to be achieved and shifts the Overton window to the right. This claim is, fundamentally, what Greenwald’s arguments share with the more common arguments that Obama is simply a bad negotiator and/or making a foolish attempt to go after swing-voters. Just going after the hyperbolic Green Lantern theory does not satisfactorily address this idea. Further, I think the comparison with FDR is misleading for similar reasons–even if New Deal legislation was far from perfect when it was enacted, it was part and parcel of his administration’s attempt to assemble new political coalitions that would later support the improvement of those programs. I don’t see much in the way of evidence that Obama is doing anything but fracturing his political coalition by supporting things like “entitlement reform” in the service of deficit reduction.

        • Ed Marshall says:

          and the remarkable thing is that the same critics don’t even seem to care if what the president they want could actually accomplish the policy goals that they are espousing.

          I’ve literally been told that Obama should fight for things and lose. The only purpose I can imagine (and I’m serious here) is that what they want isn’t an advocate in the executive who is receptive to their ideology, they want someone in the office that they identify with completely. The big, bad, more left than thou, president who would have went on a hunger strike in office until congress submitted and nationalized the health industry or something. Even if he failed, it would mean the President was a *fighter*. Because what you want isn’t someone who understands elementary political science and navigates within the system as it exists, you want someone who will die on every hill out there because it will validate your personal politics.

          • Jim Demintia says:

            Openly fighting for progressive policy goals is not the same thing as charging the Russian artillery at Balaclava. I’m not arguing that Obama should be thoroughly unwilling to compromise in order to pass legislation, but that he should be a more effective advocate for the goals that animated people who did a great deal of volunteering and donating to get him elected. What you’re seeing in all this speculation about what Obama “wants” is the reaction to exactly this failure–if he were perceived as pushing harder for these goals, I don’t think you’d be seeing this kind of disaffection by so many people.

            But his failure to fight harder from the left also does him no favors politically with the electorate more broadly. Could a bigger stimulus bill have passed if Obama really worked to rally a bunch of his supporters to barrage Congress with letters and calls and demonstrations? Maybe not. But if it had his prospects in 2012 would be a lot better. And the Republicans certainly think it makes him a pushover. According to Elizabeth Drew’s recent piece in the NY Review of Books, Congressional Republicans have quite openly said as much. This is why I think that the Green Lantern Theory is a strawman, even if some people have been hyperbolic enough to make those kinds of claims: because the stronger criticism of Obama underlying them is born of a real political failure in his administration–the failure to convincingly display will power at all–that was on sickening display during the debt ceiling negotiations and will likely be reprised in the coming negotations over cuts.

          • Murc says:

            I’ve literally been told that Obama should fight for things and lose. The only purpose I can imagine (and I’m serious here) is that what they want isn’t an advocate in the executive who is receptive to their ideology, they want someone in the office that they identify with completely.

            Er… that’s the ONLY purpose you can imagine for fighting for things and losing? Because, as one of those people who does want Obama to fight for things and lose, I have entirely different reasons.

            I think, given the state of unemployment and the economy in general, Obama should be out there every day pimping an absolutely enormous jobs and infrastructure program. We’re talking the full ‘Putting America Back To Work’ press. He should be up there with prominent fellow Democrats talking about how awesome this jobs program would be. It should be voted out of committee in the Senate every week and sent to die in House committees at the same time.

            And you know what? He would lose doing this. He would lose BADLY. The Republicans would murder it in the House and filibuster it in the Senate every time it came up.

            And then he campaigns on this. ‘Republicans don’t want to put america back to work.’ ‘Republicans are penny wise and pound foolish.’ ‘Republicans think the best way to pay off debt is to quit your job instead of getting a raise.’

            Now, you might disagree with this as a matter of politics. (I don’t think you’d disagree that a big jobs program would be good POLICY.) But it’s a far cry from me wanting him to fight for things and lose because I ‘want to identify with him completely.’

            • Ed Marshall says:

              Lyndon Johnson said, Congress is like a whiskey drinker. If you try and make them do too much at once they throw up. You have to give your agenda to them a sip at a time. This is disappointing to people who want everything fixed right this second, and maybe LBJ didn’t know what he was talking about (and I don’t know that he is right, but I’m leary of second guessing LBJ on how to deal with congress), but viewed from that perspective the sequencing of the legislation passed makes complete sense.

              • Murc says:

                I have no particular objections to those points made in isolation, and agree with them broadly. I question how germane they are to the topic at hand, tho, which was the utility of sometimes fighting battles you know you’re going to lose, and the motivations of the people (of which I am one) who advocate that as a strategy.

        • But what most left-critics of Obama are really, and I think justly, incensed about is that he does not visibly push for better legislative outcomes

          I think you’re right, but not the way you think.

          If exactly the same parcel of legislation had passed Congress in 2009-2010, but Barack Obama had made a great show of public messaging, most of his progressive critics would be singing a different tune.

        • “he does not visibly push for better legislative outcomes”

          Well there’s no evidence to suggest that visible pressure would work better than behind the scenes pressure, and it’s quite possible it would be much less effective. So while I’m sure you’re right about what’s up the critics ass in this case, I’m left feeling again that said critics are much less concerned with having a PResident who gets things done than with having one who talks like a writer at FDL.

          • DocAmazing says:

            Making an effort would be appreciated, though.

            • Okay, so Obama stands up and visibly harangues Ben Nelson and Mary Landrieu for being Blue Dog wankers, and that night CNN is blabbering on about how the raging liberal President is putting the pressure on moderate Democrats from red states, and wondering if said moderates are going to acquiesce to the liberal President or not.

              That’s a dynamic you think gets a better result than what happened in real life?

              • DocAmazing says:

                Ask the nice people at OFA who keep after liberals to do their legwork. Ask the people who have been after the Dems to push for tax increases on the rich. Ask the unions in Wisconsin and Ohio.

                There are a whole bunch of people who would like to see some actual fight from liberals. Remember Bill Clinton’s line about people admiring someone who fights, even if they’re wrong?

                The reason that “liberal” gets a bad rap is that people equate it with “milquetoast”.

  4. NonyNony says:

    Finally, I think one reason we’re talking past one another is that Glenn seems particularly concerned with the question of what Obama really believes or wants. Essentially, my position on this is that it’s both unknowable and largely irrelevant, most importantly because for elected officials principle and political viability are inextricably intertwined.

    Yes. Thank you.

    I could give a flying rat’s ass about what’s in the “secret heart” of a politician. To me this question is as important as whether or not I’d like to sit down and have a beer with the politician. What matters in the US system is whether they’re going to govern better than their opponent. And that, sadly, is all that matters. Because that’s the system our Founders stuck us with.

  5. Greenwald “responded” with a list of foreign policy and security measures, to a post in which Scott wrote:

    If I may be permitted to state the obvious, the fact that presidential powers in terms of getting new domestic policies enacted are relatively weak does not mean that the presidency is weak in all respects. In foreign policy, the president is the dominant figure, and much of Glenn’s criticism of Obama here has in fact been correct. …But the fact that the president has very substantial powers in some areas doesn’t change the fact that in terms of domestic policy presidential power is subordinate and highly contingent. The fact that the president can unilaterally decide to bomb Libya doesn’t mean that the president can get 60 Senate votes for single payer health care because he really wants to.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      I suppose the response could be that national security laws are really domestic policies. I don’t think that’s right, but even if we concede that then we’re just dealing with the fact that it’s not hard for the president to get Congress to do things that majorities in both houses want to do and aren’t opposed by any powerful constituency.

    • Furious Jorge says:

      There was a time that I thought Greenwald was pretty sharp. That was, in all fairness, some time ago.

  6. Blue Neponset says:

    But since, especially in light of Lieberman’s goalpost shifting, nobody has explained how 60 votes for the public option were obtainable it also doesn’t matter.

    This kind of a response is a cop out IMO. Just because a bunch of random people on the internets can’t explain in minute detail how Obama could get 60 votes doesn’t mean it is impossible.

    Greenwald mentions quite a few examples of Obama twisting arms to get what he wanted. The President seems quite capable of influencing legislation when it suits him.

    • The fact that I can’t conceive of how human beings can fly doesn’t mean it isn’t impossible either, but the fact that no one can think of how to make it happen is quite suggestive.

      • Blue Neponset says:

        Human beings do fly. Google “747″.

        but the fact that no one can think of how to make it happen is quite suggestive

        Facts not in evidence. I am sure if I had a frank conversation with Rahm Emmanuel or Karl Rove even, one or both of them could tell me how to go about putting the screws to Lieberman. Do you disagree? If so, why do you think Lieberman (or anyone else) is untouchable.

        • Well…because I can’t see how you could have forced Lieberman to do something he didn’t want to do. You couldn’t threaten to campaign for a primary opponent, because Lieberman knew he couldn’t win anyway, and he’s not even running again now. You could threaten to take something he wanted away from him, I guess, but it seems to me that what he’s really wanted to do in the last 5 years is piss off progressives, and even in the best case scenario this is just a game of chicken.

    • Well, the other side of those random people in the internet can explain quite clearly how it was impossible to get the 60 votes.

      Obama already twisted arms to get the ACA passed, and it slipped through with no votes to spare. But we should just believe that he could have gotten more?

      • Bill Murray says:

        so the only thing possible to propose is what will pass? That to me is the difference between Bush and Obama. Bush was willing to sometimes lose — witness SS, he clearly lost — to place a marker for later discussions often after his Presidency was finished — witness SS, it sure seems like the current President wants a grand bargain that lowers SS benefits. Sure that’s not all the way to privatization but it does move money from SS recipients to elites ie the whole point of privatization.

        So an unbroken string of partial to Pyrrhic victories versus a few losses to win the long war. Maybe it’s easier when a share of the opposition is in your pocket, but it sure isn’t impossible unless you don’t try

        • Scott Lemieux says:

          The heighten-the-contradictions argument on health care is implausible even for heighten-the-contradictions arguments. Sure, let’s torpedo a significant improvement on the status quo so we can “set a marker” for the time however many decades from now when there are liberal median votes in both houses of Congress, that would mysteriously have been prohibited from voting for single-payer had not Obama bungled the legislative fight decades earlier. Can’t see any flaws with that plan!

          • Asteele says:

            The ACA is an improvement, if its ever implemented in something like its current form. What are the odds of that happening if (when) Obama loses in 2012.

            Anywho, the larger problem isn’t Obama, I feel that a lot of people are displacing to him their general dissapointment in the Democratic party. ie: Ineffectual, terrible on civil-liberties, soft-right, basically an obstacle to doing something about unemployment.

            • Davis X. Machina says:

              There is another party for them to vote for…

              Disciplined, even more terrible on civil-liberties, hard-right, basically a die-in-the-last-ditch obstacle to doing something about unemployment.

              Politicians respond to incentives.

            • Scott Lemieux says:

              The ACA is an improvement, if its ever implemented in something like its current form. What are the odds of that happening if (when) Obama loses in 2012.

              Very good. American politics has a strong staus-quo bias.

          • And, of course, the actual history of Democratic attempts at healthcare reform failing in Congress since the Truman administration has been that, after each failure, the next attempt produces a less progressive proposal.

            But sure, this time would have been different.

        • Pithlord says:

          I lose you when you put GWB forward as the Platonic ideal of governance.

        • Ed Marshall says:

          What the fuck good does losing do? ARRRRRGH!

          • Ed Marshall says:

            I’m fucking done with the internet for today.

          • Furious Jorge says:

            Ask Barry Goldwater.

            This isn’t a football game. A loss can mean a couple of very different things.

            • Scott Lemieux says:

              Yeah, really, between the repealing of the Civil Rights Act and Social Security and the failure of Congress to enact Medicare and Medicaid, what major plank of Goldwater’s platform hasn’t been enacted? And, certainly, LBJ wasn’t able to accomplish anything after 1964. Frankly, I wish we had lost that one.

        • Bush was willing to sometimes lose — witness SS, he clearly lost — to place a marker for later discussions often after his Presidency was finished — witness SS, it sure seems like the current President wants a grand bargain that lowers SS benefits.

          1. There is nothing remotely similar between Bush’s privatization proposal and anything Obama has either said or done.

          2. I can actually respect the idea of staking out stands beyond what is possible, under certain circumstances. However, when you are a new president who has just been handed a massive partisan majority in the House and 60 nominal votes in the Senate, that is not the time to posture and not pass things. That is the time to cash in your chips, and go for every single last crumb of what can be legislatively accomplished in that session – which is exactly what Obama did.

    • And really, you argue that and then you accuse others of copping out? Talk about a lack of self-awareness.

      • Blue Neponset says:

        Angry!

        You, Scott and others are asking a bunch of amateurs about how to strong arm a politician and when these amateurs can’t give you a iron clad answer you assume that is proof that a politician can’t be strong armed.

        Point that self aware finger at yourself my friend.

        • Murc says:

          Wait, what?

          I apologize; I don’t understand the point you’re trying to make.

          You’re saying that you don’t know how to strongarm a politican in situation X, but you know for a fact that it can be done, because you’ve seen it done in situation Y, right? And so the people saying it can’t be done in situation X are self-evidently wrong, even though you yourself don’t know the specifics of how it would work in situation X.

          That seems like dubious reasoning to me, if I have your point correctly. It’s like saying you know someone can grow in the December because you just saw them grow an enormous field of it in July.

          • It seems much worse than that to me. It seems like he’s using two base assumptions:

            a) That he knows it was somehow possible to leverage Lieberman to vote the way Obama wanted him to vote.

            b) That since the White House had professional political operatives in it, those people must have known the brilliant method by which Obama could force Lieberman to do whatever Obama wanted.

            So yeah, I guess if you accept those notions it makes sense, but it seems like an altogether curious set of assumptions to me.

      • Bill Murray says:

        wow what a steaming pile of pot-kettlism

  7. Charlie Sweatpants says:

    Obama has been atrocious on civil liberties. Those issues are Greenwald’s area of true expertise and he’s got every right to be pissed off. I am too. But there’s no chance in hell a president Perry/Bachmann/Romney/Whoever wouldn’t be significantly worse.

    Unless Obama faces a left wing primary challenge, which is extremely unlikely and becoming more improbable by the day, then all of this is just an intra-left exercise in blowing off steam. Obama’s our guy in 2012, however much he’s disappointed us in any given area. And if he loses, then things get worse.

    Sadly, the real fight over the things Greenwald’s always on about (secret wars, indefinite detention, assassination) are going to have to wait until 2016, whoever wins next year. I’d don’t like that, but I don’t see any alternative.

    • “Obama has been atrocious on civil liberties. Those issues are Greenwald’s area of true expertise and he’s got every right to be pissed off.”

      And we agree on that. So why can’t Greenwald understand the distinction being made?

      • Charlie Sweatpants says:

        Got me. I don’t know the secret heart of Glenn Greenwald any more than I know the secret heart of Barack Obama.

    • BradP says:

      But there’s no chance in hell a president Perry/Bachmann/Romney/Whoever wouldn’t be significantly worse.

      Specific examples?

      • Charlie Sweatpants says:

        Well, none of them are president yet, so what they would do isn’t something I can predict with perfect accuracy. But . . .

        - Perry has so little concern for rights and due process that he let an innocent man be executed and brags about it. That doesn’t bode well for his take on the rights of innocent people caught in federal dragnets.

        - Bachmann is cartoonishly bigoted, and seems unlikely to appoint a lot of people who have a high regard for non-Christians as good Americans.

        - Romney is more difficult to pin down because he’s held every position imaginable over the last few years, but as I recall he was the one who said we should “double Guantanamo” as a matter of policy.

        The only candidates who might be better than Obama on civil liberties are Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman, and snowballs in hell don’t count.

      • Specific examples?

        Torture. We have a major political party that endorses the use of torture.

        • DocAmazing says:

          And another that refuse to punish those who order it used.

          • JRoth says:

            But Congress has a veto over the Attorney General.

            Right? Don’t they? Because if they don’t, I’m having trouble understanding why Obama hasn’t done anything about torturers running free in America.

            So I have to conclude that this is Susan Collins’ fault.

            • Scott Lemieux says:

              Again, comments tend to be better if people read the fucking posts first.

              • jeer9 says:

                Rebuttals tend to be more effective when hosts don’t duck behind the fucking rhetoric of non-responsiveness.

                That bill — passed with substantial Democratic support — basically legalized Bush’s previously illegal warrantless domestic spying program and bestowed retroactive immunity on the entire telecom industry, which seems pretty “major” to me.

                Of course, there’s no political constituency for domestic civil liberties so there’s no sense in which we should ever expect a Dem president to act differently from a Republican on this issue.
                However, on banking reform after the collapse of the the financial system, there was a sizeable constituency demanding greater regulation of the savvy businessmen so a Dem president responding to such pressure would certainly direct his minions to act in the following manner.

                Geithner’s team spent much of its time during the debate over the Senate bill helping Senate Banking Committee chair Chris Dodd kill off or modify amendments being offered by more-progressive Democrats. A good example was Bernie Sanders’s measure to audit the Fed, which the administration played a key role in getting the senator from Vermont to tone down. Another was the Brown-Kaufman Amendment, which became a cause célèbre among lefty reformers such as former IMF economist Simon Johnson. “If enacted, Brown-Kaufman would have broken up the six biggest banks in America,” says the senior Treasury official. ‘If we’d been for it, it probably would have happened. But we weren’t, so it didn’t’.”

                Heads you win. Tails I lose.

                If Obama was failing to bomb countries or to enact even more draconian restrictions of civil liberties in the name of the War on Terror then I agree he would be largely responsible

                Shorter Lemieux: Only if Obama were doing good things would he be responsible. Otherwise, his motives are unknowable and irrelevant. Why try to understand some little contingent actualities when the myriad conditions of political possibility remain undeterminable?

                There’s a frightening sublimity to such skepticism that an uncharitable person might describe as willful ignorance.

                • Murc says:

                  This post puzzles me a bit, jeer.

                  You start off talking about civil liberties. In the context of this discussion, which has focussed what it is and isn’t possible for a President to get done, and especially the validity or not of Scott’s views on this subject, this would seem to be a bit redundant, as just about everyone on this thread, including Scott, would agree that the Obama administration has been absolutely horrible on civil liberties.

                  Then you talk about banking regulation, another topic that I think everyone here agrees the Obama Administration and Congress in general fucked up on.

                  I mean, there’s merit in both those views, and the former especially can’t be said often enough, but I question how they’re germane.

                  Your last point is totally legitimate as a point of discussion, but I do believe you’ve misread an admittedly tortured turn of phrase by Scott.

                  If Obama was failing to bomb countries or to enact even more draconian restrictions of civil liberties in the name of the War on Terror then I agree he would be largely responsible

                  This doesn’t mean what you think it means, I think. Scott is saying that Obama has the power to act more or less unilaterally in these areas. Therefor when he DOESN’T do things in those areas, where he could to them and nobody would give a damn enough to stop them, he is ‘resonsible.’ He is similarily responsible for the things he DOES do in these areas.

                  I think.

                  (I’m not 100% on this. I think Scott phrased it badly. I could be wrong. I’m wrong a lot!)

                • jeer9 says:

                  Murc,
                  Most everyone agrees that Obama has been terrible on civil liberties (apparently because there is no political constituency for the issue, though I seriously doubt Clinton – Ricky Rector notwithstanding – and certainly Carter would have been as remotely indifferent as our current president in similar circumstances). To imply that Bush’s passage of the domestic surveillance and telecom immunity bill is non-responsive because it is marginally related to foreign policy simply evades difficult evidence.
                  The banking example is another instance of intention on Obama’s part, something which Lemieux believes is unfathomable due to the mutability of a politician’s principles and the ever-changing nature of legislative viability. Now Geithner’s actions on behalf of the president may represent (A) political expedience (a less progressive bill is the only kind that will pass) or (B) political corruption (protection of the president’s main financial backers) or (C) political incompetence (fighting for this popular issue and using it as weapon against the Right does not interest the C-in-C as a transformational chess player). Given Obama’s behavior during the debt ceiling crisis (and numerous other examples of negotiation), it seems ludicrous to me to persistently interpret his actions as pragmatic examples of A.
                  On the last matter, since so much of what Greenwald wrote appears to be beside the point to Lemieux, I’m not sure it matters much whether we understand the meaning behind that tortured syntax – though your view that he seems to be saying Obama is responsible for what he both does and doesn’t do in foreign policy would hardly appear to merit analysis.
                  Lemieux lives in the land of Pangloss. Since he cannot grasp Obama’s intention even at this late date due to his skepticism, whatever domestic legislation the administration manages to pass is always the best of all possible bills. Optimism really is the better attitude. Let’s muddle through with the corporate hack and stave off the disaster inherent in Perry or Bachmann or (a bit less ominous) Romney. Trying to use your vote to move the Dems left is pointless and self-defeating.

                • Murc says:

                  To imply that Bush’s passage of the domestic surveillance and telecom immunity bill is non-responsive because it is marginally related to foreign policy simply evades difficult evidence.

                  I don’t believe its non-responsive for that reason. I believe its non-responsive because it was a bill that Congress really, really wanted to pass and that had powerful constituencies that cut across party lines behind it AND the enthusiastic support of a President. Bills like that pass easily. Had Congress NOT wanted to pass that bill and their were powerful constituencies backing it up, Bush couldn’t have gotten jack shit done with it.

                  I do agree with you that Scott classing it as foreign policy is somewhat wrong. It’s sort of related to foreign policy, but only in the same way that, say, defense spending is. It’s kind of a mix of both, but I’d agree with you it is more domestic policy than anything else.

                  The banking example is another instance of intention on Obama’s part, something which Lemieux believes is unfathomable due to the mutability of a politician’s principles and the ever-changing nature of legislative viability.

                  Two things. First, would agree with you that Obama either fucked up or has substantively wrong policy positions when it comes to how he’s handled the aftermath of the financial crisis, and that he’s surrounded himself with untrustworthy and/or incompetent advisers in that regard. I believe Scott would agree with that as well, although I wouldn’t presume to speak for him except to cite statements of record he has made.

                  Second of all… Scott’s contention upthread and in other places that ‘what lies in a politicians heart’ doesn’t really matter to him is something I find deeply wrong. Intentions and goals matter. They matter a LOT. Someone who really believes in a cause is going to be a much more effective advocate than someone who is only grudgingly going along because you have a gun to their head. Moreover, determining what a politicians actual policy preferences are is dispositive towards a whole lot of vital decisions; whether you have to hold that gun to their head or if you can devote resources elsewhere, whether you need to see about replacing them with someone who doesn’t require said gun, etc etc.

                  The example I like to bring up in this regard is Nixon. Nixon didn’t give a fuck about domestic policy, so he was willing to sign a lot of bills that are crazy progressive by todays standards. That doesn’t mean I’d want Nixon in power right now, because it means he’d be willing to sign bills that are equally crazy fascist rather than reaching for his veto pen.

                  I want my politicians to BELIEVE. Political loyalties are ephemeral; political leverage is unreliable. Belief is rock-solid. The Republicans understand this.

                  your view that he seems to be saying Obama is responsible for what he both does and doesn’t do in foreign policy would hardly appear to merit analysis.

                  I’m going to chose to believe this means you think I’m so obviously right we don’t even need to talk about it.

                  Since he cannot grasp Obama’s intention even at this late date due to his skepticism, whatever domestic legislation the administration manages to pass is always the best of all possible bills.

                  I don’t think Scott believes this at all, and his writings, I think, back that up.

                  Let’s muddle through with the corporate hack and stave off the disaster inherent in Perry or Bachmann or (a bit less ominous) Romney.

                  Well… yes, dude. This is self-evidently true. If you have a choice between Obama and any of the above, you pick OBAMA.

                  Trying to use your vote to move the Dems left is pointless and self-defeating.

                  Trying to use your vote IN A GENERAL ELECTION to do this is, in fact, pointless and self-defeating. It won’t have the results you want. It will in fact push the party further to the right.

                  You show me a primary challenger to Obama who is substantively better than him and I’ll vote for the dude and give him money. In a general election? You’d have to be a hell of a lot worse than he is to lose my vote.

          • And a peanut gallery that considers those two things equivalent.

            • I love people who are so passionately concerned about torture that the question of whether or not people are being tortured is a matter of little concern to them.

              • Patrick Meighan says:

                The issue of whether or not torture is occurring in America is at this specific moment in time is indeed less important/valuable to me than the issue of whether or not torture will be deterred in America in perpetuity.

                Barack Obama has the unilateral power to effect progressive change on both the first and the second issues. There is absolutely nothing stopping him from doing so on both. But unfortunately, Barack Obama has opted to exercise is power on the first (ephemeral) issue, and to leave the second (lasting) issue unimpacted… thus virtually guaranteeing that subsequent American administrations will revert to torture, assured of permanent unaccountability.

                And, oh by the way, that particular choice of Obama’s also happens to represent a specific betrayal of a specific promise Obama made when running for the danged office (he points out naiively, as though Barack Obama’s apologists give a flying fig about the lies he told to American progressives in order to secure their votes)

                Patrick Meighan
                Culver City, CA

  8. BradP says:

    Please direct me to the post discussing why presidential strongarming of congress is easier on surveillance, trials, and other civil liberties than it is on other domestic issues.

    • NonyNony says:

      Please point out evidence in the record that Congress has ever been strong-armed on these things rather than that Congress was on the point to push these things as hard or harder than any President.

      Congress didn’t need their arms twisted to pass the PATRIOT Act – they ran to do it as soon as the opportunity presented itself.

      • David W. says:

        I don’t think Congress would have passed the Patriot Act if the attacks on 9/11 hadn’t happened.

        • Davis X. Machina says:

          There’d still be in all probability a DHS, though. The Hart-Rudman Commission pretty much guaranteed that. Its creation was being fought on turf-preservation grounds within the executive agencies, but it was also being pushed by powerful interests in Congress.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      What strongarming? This implies that there’s some powerful pro-civil liberties contigent in Congress that needs to be rolled. Hint: there isn’t.

      • This implies that there’s some powerful pro-civil liberties contigent in Congress that needs to be rolled. Hint: there isn’t.

        But there would be a powerful pro-civil liberties contingent in Congress if only Obama had made it clear that he really, really, really wanted to close Guantanamo. Ergo, he didn’t really want to.

        • Of course, Obama and Holder actually did come out and loudly, publicly, and for an extended period, argue for civilian trials and for closing Guantanamo.

          It was the damn charge of the light brigade, and it ended with a unanimous bitch-slap from Congress.

          But, of course, when Obama does advocate hard for something in a public manner (this, DADT repeal), the same people now making the Green Lantern/bully pulpit argument flip-flop to a “talk is cheap, he doesn’t mean it” argument. He hosted a basketball team the day one of the DADT votes failed! Because he hates gay people!

          • Scott Lemieux says:

            Right. The Gitmo issue — where the messaging was fine but resulted in a loss — makes me think that, in fact, messaging doesn’t matter all that much. (Which I agree with!)

        • Pinko Punko says:

          I do love my MB. I love the internet ergo, I mean if “Monkey Man” isn’t terrible, then I am forced to conclude it is awesome. Plus infinity, ergo no backsies. And now the Ed Show will accuse this post of being racist, when it is in fact pro cold Italian pizza.*

          *Is this a Scalia dog whistle?

          I believe that Sen. Brown has addressed this important issue.

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WsnRwU9uCJk

          • Scott Lemieux says:

            Look, let us be clear that Berube is profoundly wrong on the Let It Bleed issue. I blame Obama’s messaging.

      • Patrick Meighan says:

        We were told in 2008 by the man running for president that, if he won, we’d get a powerful pro-civil liberties contingent in the White House. Hint: we didn’t.

    • surveillance, trials, and other civil liberties

      You are deliberately using language to obscure what is relevant. We’re not talking about surveillance of bookmakers, trials of crackheads, or other civil liberties of political protesters as the issues on which Bush Presidents are able to get what they want.

      We are talking about these things in the context of international terrorism.

  9. I think the arguing about what Bush could and could not do as a way of understanding what Obama can and can not do just obfuscates.

    There’s the fact that Bush was “elected” in 2000 by teh Supreme Court, while Obama took two thirds of the electoral college. That in 2000, teh GOP lost seats in teh Senate and barely held steady in the House, while Obama rode in on the largest wave victory in recent history.

    There’s also the fact that the political climate starting Fall 2001 had pretty exceptional attributes too.

    Maybe comparing their second terms, if Obama get a second, may be more revealing – but looking at teh Bush first term in comparison to anything else is pointless.

    But to address the underlying point about a president’s ability to affect the domestic legislative agenda – major domestic legislative changes are associated with the presidents that sign them and not the Congresses that draft them for a reason. Does anyone even know who the Speaker of teh House was when the FDR’s New Deal legislation was being debated?

    Every single piece of major domestic legislation that I can think of is associated with the guy that signed it. Presumably because he championed it in some way, but maybe this is a failing of our (or at least mine) way of understanding historical domestic legislative achievements.

    And then there’s this – that Greenwald is deeply deluded because he responds to your discussion of domestic issues with all sorts of bits about foreign policy. How is the Patriot Act foreign policy? I suppose if you look at it sideways and squint a bit and disregard all that stuff about trampling on the rights of Americans in their own homes,,, And that is at least one way a president manages to control the domestic legislative agenda.

    • Murc says:

      You’re on a smartphone, aren’t you?

      Quick responses: the Patriot Act is a piece of domestic policy. It’s also a piece of domestic policy that had enormous and powerful constituencies rabidly in favor of it. I think that serves to buttress Scott’s overall points, rather than refute them.

      And as for major legislation being associated with the Presidents who pass it, rather than the Congresses… this is absolutely true. It doesn’t make it RIGHT, however. People think lots of things about history that arne’t right.

      I can’t name the Speakers during FDR or Truman’s tenures either. But the army of idealogically aligned democrats in both houses of Congress that got the New Deal done. If they hadn’t existed, FDR would not have been able to create them out of whole cloth.

    • How is the Patriot Act foreign policy?

      It’s security policy, passed to protect from a foreign threat. Surely, you must have some memory of the discussion that accompanied its passage and what was going on the United States at the time.

  10. Davis X. Machina says:

    Every single piece of major domestic legislation that I can think of is associated with the guy that signed.

    President Robert Taft and President Hartley certainly concur..

    It is in general easier to remember one name than 218, though…

    • Hogan says:

      Glass-Steagal, the Hatch Act, Gramm-Rudman-Hollings, Kennedy-Kassebaum, McCain-Feingold, Sarbanes-Oxley, Dodd-Frank . . . and let’s not forget Senator Lily Ledbetter.

      • Okay, you guys are right. When there’s a lot of legislation that carries legislator’s names and aren’t tied to the signing president. You have me there.

        But you gotta concede that there’s a lot of major domestic legislation that is associated with the executive administrations that sign them. The Civil Rights Act, for example. Or more releveantly to this president, DADT repeal. Unless DADT repeal doesn’t count because it’s “foreign policy”.

        • Hogan says:

          But even if it’s true, it’s very weak evidence that presidents have much more control over domestic policy than Congress. Acts of Parliament are generally identified by the reigning monarch and year of reign; it’s been a long time since British monarchs actually wrote laws.

      • elm says:

        Smoot-Hawley!

    • But Truman could have double-secret-vetoed Taft-Hartley after Congress overturned his initial veto. The fact that he didn’t just proves that in his secret heart, Harry Truman was a union-busting neoliberal sellout.

      And while I’m on the subject, if Truman had really wanted to desegregate the US military he could have done it the day he took office. Instead he kept throwing African-Americans under the bus for more than three years.

  11. Pjerome says:

    Greenwald specifically noted that he does not “know” what is in Obama’s head, but that his “liberal” supporters wish/think/hope that he’s one of “us.” What should be clear by now is that he is one of “them,” that is, an elitist defender/proponent of corporate rule. It is absolute nonsense to claim, gee, he can’t get anything past this right wing Congress when his stated views are congruent with theirs. He has proposed drastic and dramatic cuts in Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare, more than the Republicans. And because you dimwits think he’s really one of you, you’ll vote for him again even after he ends up cutting your Social Security check in half.

    • This. Finally, someone who knows that Obama signed Cut, Cap and Balance (Only Worse) in a secret ceremony during his neoliberal fiftieth birthday celebration.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      He has proposed drastic and dramatic cuts in Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare, more than the Republicans.

      No. Look, raising the eligibility age of Social Security is terrible, terrible policy and Obama should be criticized for implying that he favors it, but it’s not nearly as bad as Bush’s plan, and nothing Obama has proposed is remotely as bad as the Ryan plan.

      And because you dimwits think he’s really one of you

      Yeah, no.

      • Oh, come on, Scott. You remember election night 2008, when all of LGM sat around the bar chanting “one of us, one of us.” I was the only one there clever enough to know that you were in for a series of disappointments.

      • pjerome says:

        “Implying that he favors it [cuts to Social Security]“?

        CONYERS:

        “We’ve got to educate the American people at the same time we educate the President of the United States. The Republicans, Speaker Boehner or Majority Leader Cantor DID NOT call for Social Security cuts in the budget deal. THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES CALLED FOR THAT,” declared US Representative John Conyers in a press conference held by members of the House “Out of Poverty’ Caucus on 07/27/11.”

        Conyers added “”My response to him (President Obama) is TO MASS THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE IN FRONT OF THE WHITE HOUSE TO PROTEST THIS.”

        Ashley Dawson articulated the current strategy of “popular authoritarianism” that is the common denominator of Republicans and Democrats last week on Counterpunch. This is where the Obama and this facile “debate” is leading us,

        “In response to these interwoven economic and ideological crises, elites in Britain, the United States, and other developed countries gradually cobbled together the hegemonic project we now know as neo-liberalism. The lineaments of neo-liberalism of course included smashing institutions of working class power, shrinking and/or privatizing the redistributive arm of the state, and beefing up the state’s security apparatus.”

        Conyers had it almost right, but we need to mass millions of people, and not just at the White House. There is no voting our way out of this, and engagement in sterile “policy debates” fails the broader strategy confronting us.

        But I sit corrected. You are not a nitwit for thinking Obama is one of you. I don’t see much light between your two positions.

  12. Sorry for the sidetrack. There’s a bunch of things being argued here:

    1. Bush’s influence on the domestic legislative agenda. Greenwald may have cited a lot of blow-up-Iraqis stuff, but he also quoted Froomkin:

    Historians looking back on the Bush presidency may well wonder if Congress actually existed

    The point being that the legislative branch just rolled over for Bush on everything until Katrina. Someone made the point that Congresscritters were champing at the bit to vote for the Patriot Act. Sure that’s true, but it doesn’t negate Bush’s ability to ram through odious legislation – in kinda highlights it.

    Calling the legislative pieces Bush championed “bipartisan” isn’t necessarily about presidents only being able to do what Congress wants – it can also be about Congress wanting to do what the president dictates. That’s certainly the general feel, from my perspective, those early days of the new millenium had.

    2. The convenience of the Obama is powerless argument – what with the economy tanking again.

    3. Whether or not Truman has any relevance since he wasn’t really president. Truman was born in Africa (the S stands for Senegalese).

    5. Four is unlucky.

    6. Whether or not a president can get domestic legislation passed by sheer force of will and Green Lantern’s light.

    My point is that a lot of domestic legislation is introduced on behalf of the president. That the president, as the recognized leader of his political party, one of only two in play, has a major role in shaping that legislation. That, taking HCR as an example, Obama himself acknowledges that he could have done more and done better.

    7. Combining 2. and 6. means that the economy must be yellow.

    • P.S. I’m sorry for the sidetrack only because I clearly lost the point.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      The point being that the legislative branch just rolled over for Bush on everything until Katrina.

      The fact that Dan Froomkin says it doesn’t make it true, and it isn’t. Bush didn’t “ram through” the PATRIOT Act.

      • You’re right it doesn’t.

        re: USA PATRIOT Act – maybe I’m the one doing the revisionism thing here, but my remembering of that time was of the Bush Admin making all sorts of plays to heel the already softened up media. Of providing, or at least helping to provide the requisite “do this or your grandma gets blowed-up by muslims” atmosphere required. Of making sure it happened fast enough so that no one had a chance to regret the passing of their civil rights.

        Sure it had almost unanimous support from both houses – but I’m suggesting that that was in part due to the “will” of the president of the time.

        • Murc says:

          but my remembering of that time was of the Bush Admin making all sorts of plays to heel the already softened up media.

          No, no, you’re correct about this.

          I find it dubious, however, that the Bush Administrations relatively successful gaming of the media in that regard actually resulted in changed votes; that is, that there were people who were going to vote against a Bush-sponsored, Bush-proposed bill that had powerful constituencies and a poisonous political climate behind it, but decided to switch theit votes to ‘yes’ because of the media blitz. As you said, it passed near unanimously.

          Now, did the White House have the ability to shape and impact the debate? Absolutely. And had a different President been in the White House he or she may have been able to successfully game things such that a Patriot Act that originated purely in Congress was NOT passed over their veto. (I find it doubtful that Gore speficially would have opposed the Patriot Act had he been in office.) But there would definitely been a huge majority in favor of the Patriot Act no matter who was in the White House and what they did; I feel confident asserting that.

        • I’m suggesting that that was in part due to the “will” of the president of the time.

          No.

          Most of the USA PATRIOT Act consisted of changes that the bureaucracy – the FBI, NSA, and others – wanted. Congress was eager to accommodate them. Bush probably couldn’t read the thing. Bush jumped on a board of a train that was already thundering towards the Capitol.

      • Another example of presidential influence on domestic legislative agenda – re: USA! USA! USA! PATRIOT Act

        The use of various executive abilities such as state secrets claims and general intransigence to any sort of oversight -> direct impact on the liklihood of reauthorization.

        • Davis X. Machina says:

          ‘Homeland security’ as it is today, a stand-alone agency, is an outgrowth recommendations of the 1998-9 Hart-Rudman Commission. So too, the re-organization of the intelligence services.

          Much of the of ‘Bush-era’ drive to expand domestic security, and intelligence operations, was both pre-Bush, and bi-partisan.

    • Also, teh weird Truman thing is about Daryn Moran, teh “birther” Air Force Sergeant who needed to be discharged before catching teh Ghey after DADT repeal. If only Corporal Klinger knew teh secret to getting out of teh armed forces was just accusing your C-in-C of being african.

  13. [...] * In sum, nobody — and I mean nobody — was talking about how weak the presidency supposedly is before Barack Obama was inaugurated: neither in the domestic nor foreign policy realm. Greenwald is debating Scott Lemieux from Lawyers, Guns, and Money, whose posts on the subject are here and here. [...]

  14. bob mcmanus says:

    Well, you have convinced the heck out of me that the President is totally powerless in domestic affairs and the economy.

    I’m staying home in 2012.

    • Davis X. Machina says:

      You have to vote for Congress, though. Consistency demands it.

    • I don’t see why people think that repeating this obvious, silly distortion of Scott’s argument is such an impressive thing to do.

      You don’t understand anything between “Green Lantern” and “totally powerless?”

      OK. Congratulations!

    • Murc says:

      He has? Then Scott’s done a terrible job, as I don’t believe he ever made that case or advocated that position in any way, shape, or form, and he certainly never intended to convince others of it.

      Perhaps if you could provide examples of the arguments he used that convinced you the President is powerless in domestic affairs and the economy, so he could avoid using them in the future?

      • Scott Lemieux says:

        The silly response to an argument nobody is making aside, I’m always amused by the idea that “I’ll just vote Nader/stay home until the Dems nominate a Avakian-Mumia ticket” is supposed to be a trump card. Whether any individual stays home isn’t my concern, and if you’re deluded enough to think that a Perry presidency won’t differ in any important respects from an Obama presidency, I’m not going to be able to convince you otherwise.

        • bob mcmanus says:

          “a Perry presidency won’t differ in any important respects from an Obama presidency”

          God I hope so.

          I am no longer interested in heightening the contradictions. This country can go to hell.

          I am now at the point where all I care about is that the Democrats who betrayed and my country…suffer.

          • Davis X. Machina says:

            I am no longer interested in heightening the contradictions. This country can go to hell.

            Isn’t this sentence internally contradictory? Unless the country going to hell is a good per se, that is?

        • Anonymous says:

          The silly response to an argument nobody is making aside, I’m always amused by the idea that “I’ll just vote Nader/stay home until the Dems nominate a Avakian-Mumia ticket” is supposed to be a trump card.

          Scott Lemieux apparently feels the best way to respond to an alleged straw man is to gin up an unambiguous and far more ridiculous straw man.

  15. Manju says:

    Very interesting post. I’d like to add Clinton to the mix, since a lot of Dems are yearning for a return to Clinton’s out-maneuvering of the repubs.

    Clinton came into office with both the House and Senate ruled by his party. He tried to get a stimulus, HCR, and gays in the military. 0 for 3. Obama? 3 for 3.

    But Clinton bested Obama b/c he raised taxes against the will of all the Repubs, we are told. But he had both chambers while Obama only had the Senate. Obama used his monopoly to deliver the 3 things above. Indeed, Clinton had already pivoted to debt reduction by embracing Wall St, Rubinomics, and free-marketer Allan Greenspan.

    Then Clinton loses the House and Senate. Republicans draw up a balanced budget and Dems (including Clinton) resist. Clinton then does a 180 and embraces their plan. His base is pissed and he looks weak. He also goes along with Welfare reform, NAFTA, and the repeal of Glass-Steagel, all generally rightwing ideas.

    So Clinton did not really stand up to the Rs. He acceded to their demands more than Bam did. But it worked out so no one cares.

    To the degree he did resist, it was when he had control of the 2 chambers. In that case, Bam did more under similar circumstances. Only Clinton’s deficit hunting worked, via a tech bubble and huge unexpected revenues from capital gains, while Obama’s stimulus has sputtered.

    The only other time Clinton did resist was of course in regards to perjury and sexual harassment claims. Not much to celebrate there.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      Clinton came into office with both the House and Senate ruled by his party. He tried to get a stimulus, HCR, and gays in the military. 0 for 3. Obama? 3 for 3.

      This. Of course, the legislative context wasn’t as favorable, but I an eternally puzzled by assertions that Clinton was some kind of master legislative strategist because he would fight. It’s odd how this produced such a paucity of good legislation…

      • Davis X. Machina says:

        See my earlier post.

        It’s too late to change these things.

      • Pithlord says:

        I’m old enough to remember all the same arguments under Clinton. There has always been a left that feels betrayed by Democratic politicians. In fact, exactly the same thing happens in other countries with their/our left-of-centre politicians. You think the British Left liked Attlee and Bevin? That Ontario firebaggers in the early 1990s were fond of Bob Rae? It was ever thus, and there is nothing new under the sun.

      • I an eternally puzzled by assertions that Clinton was some kind of master legislative strategist because he would fight.

        I’m sure we’ll be just as puzzled by some future blogger’s references to the golden years of the Obama administration while denouncing the weak, cowardly efforts of President Wasserman-Shultz.

  16. steelpenny says:

    Out of curiosity, how does President’s power to influence legislation compare with that of governors? I wonder because in Erik’s post about Ohio, he writes as though Kasich (and Walker in Wisconsin) was able to push through legislation. Are the situations similar?

  17. Pithlord says:

    It’s actually pretty simple. Presidents can *veto* legislation, so they aren’t powerless to *stop* legislation. However, they don’t get to pass it all on their own. I believe this was made clear in the Saturday morning “I’m just a bill on Capitol Hill” cartoon, but the young people won’t know what I’m talking about.

    • elm says:

      Actually, the young people will know what you’re talking about. I show that cartoon in one of my undergrad classes when talking about the legislative process and I always ask the students how many have seen it before. Usually about 75% have. Apparently, it is quite common for elementary and middle school teachers (who grew up watching schoolhouse rocks on Saturday morning) to shows the cartoon in their classes. The real test will be whether the kids today will show the cartoons when they become the teachers of tomorrow.

  18. charles pierce says:

    Without taking sides, Scott, I think both you and Matt are fudging the history on the Bush tax cuts — which were, in the days pre-9/11, the only things he truly cared about. To cite them as evidence of a president’s inability to get something done, is to ignore the facts: a) that this was a president who was only three months removed from the most hotly contested election in history, and one whom EVERYBODY said had to “govern from the middle,” whereupon he did not, whereas the current president had all kinds of wind behind his back, and b) for all the “trimming” that Snowe forced, and it wasn’t much, the tax cuys completely reversed the highly successful economic policies of the previous eight years, not an insubstantial achievement, given the perceived “weakness” of GWB when he was sworn in.
    And if you want an example of a president’s program passed in spite of “united partisan opposition,” I might cite the Clinton budget of 1994, which passed the House without a single R vote.

    • JRoth says:

      I’ve brought up the Bush tax cuts. If Presidents have no effect on domestic policies, then Scott et al. need to argue that essentially the same package would pass under Gore. Which would be a laughable argument, so Scott just handwaves that tax cuts for the rich are an easy sell to Congress, so they’re somehow exempt from his declarations about the power of the Presidency.

      • Scott Lemieux says:

        But, of course, for the millionth goddamned time nobody is saying “no effect.” Presidents have agenda-setting and veto powers, and hence the same tax cuts would not have passed with Gore in the White House.

        • I would add that Presidents also do in fact have the ability to leverage and bargain with Senators, they just don’t have unlimited arm twisting power that lets them get whatever the hell they want regardless of Congressional opinion.

        • And again, I believe the fact that the President has a great amount of power to preserve the status quo by means of his formal power to veto legislation was explicitly stated.

      • Murc says:

        Which would be a laughable argument, so Scott just handwaves that tax cuts for the rich are an easy sell to Congress,

        How is that a handwave?

        No snark, legitimate question. It seems like Congress is ALWAYS eager to pass tax cuts, especially for the rich. Are you saying they’re not?

        • It’s not even about tax cuts specifically. In the general sense, Scott’s point was that a President can rather easily get something passed Congress when majorities in both houses support his position and no powerful interests oppose it. There’s no hand-waiving to it.

    • Neither of those examples are compelling. The Bush tax cuts have already been addressed: they united Bush’s Congressional co-partisans, to say the least, they were supported by powerful interests, and a handful of members of the opposition in the Senate genuinely supported at least the first round of tax cuts. This simply isn’t an example of a President getting Congress to approve a domestic policy Congress didn’t want to pass. (And even here, marginal “moderates” like Snowe and Collins insisted on extracting their pound of flesh and making the cuts arbitrarily smaller).

      As for Clinton’s budget, it really strikes me as very similar to Obama getting the ACA passed: a totally unified opposition, and a Democratic majority in both chambers who ultimately passed the measure without any Republican support because they wanted to pass that version of the budget.

      I’m just not sure how either of these examples are proof that the President can will Congress into passing a new domestic policy that it fundamentally doesn’t want to pass.

      • Scott Lemieux says:

        And while it was a good bill on balance the first Clinton budget was a compromise with conservative Democrats that Clinton himself was very dissatisfied with.

        • charles pierce says:

          The goalposts seem to be dancing a little here. Just as nobody is arguing that presidents have “no effect,” neither are they arguing that they always get everything that they want. Clinton wanted that budget passed, and it got passed, just as Obama wanted ACA passed, as you said. They got what they wanted, in the face of “united congressional opposition.” So, it’s possible — certainly more possible than this president has made it look. See also, Voting Rights Act.
          And the obvious rejoinder elsewhere is that the tax cuts would not have been PROPOSED with Gore in the White House, so that point is really rather silly. I dunno, maybe it’s because we all had to read Neustadt, that fathead, in college in the ’70′s.

          • Scott Lemieux says:

            I didn’t see my Clinton point as disagreement, just emphasis. I will say that I don’t think it’s a strawman to say that many people seem to believe that Obama dropped the ball on the ACA, for example.

          • Murc says:

            And the obvious rejoinder elsewhere is that the tax cuts would not have been PROPOSED with Gore in the White House, so that point is really rather silly

            This is only half-true. Gore, if you recall, campaigned on a tax cut package that was pretty massive, although weighted substantially different from Bush’s.

            I feel confident in asserting that had Gore been elected, a tax cut package somewhat to the right of what he ran on but signficantly to the left of what Bush gave us would have been passed by Congress and signed by him.

          • So, it’s possible — certainly more possible than this president has made it look.

            In point of fact, this president got a larger package of legislation passed than any since LBJ, if not FDR.

  19. JRoth says:

    I think it matters quite a bit whether or not Barack Obama wishes to significantly reconfigure Social Security and Medicare. The evidence is that he does. I’d like Scott to explain to me why this could have no possible effect on policy, and also why Democrats should support such a President.

    As has been pointed out, what Presidents need to have impact is (usually) members of the opposition who agree with their positions/goals – Kennedy on NCLB, Gingrich on welfare reform, in some sense Lieberman on HCR. Well, if Obama’s goal is to fuck up the safety net for the elderly, he’s got plenty of company across the aisle. The reason the Professional Left succeeded (with Pelosi’s leadership, of course, but there was a massive grassroots effort by JMM and Atrios and their readers, among others) in stopping Bush’s SSI privatization push was that virtually no Dem would go along – no plan was counteroffered, no one in leadership was willing to play ball (“Is ‘never’ good for you?”). And without bipartisan cover, privatization was dead.

    Well, Obama IS bipartisan cover. He didn’t get to slash SSI and Medicare in the debt ceiling negotiation because Rs were unwilling to give up an inch on revenues (because they had created a bizarre situation in which voting for the debt ceiling increase was, itself, a concession). But there will be more opportunities for Obama to offer SSI and Medicare in exchange for tiny concessions of tax reform or whatever. If Rs won’t take those offers in this term, perhaps the hard work of progressives in getting BHO reelected will give them a chance in the next.

    • Manju says:

      I think it matters quite a bit whether or not Barack Obama wishes to significantly reconfigure Social Security and Medicare. The evidence is that he does. I’d like Scott to explain to me why this could have no possible effect on policy, and also why Democrats should support such a President.

      Because everyone who is serious knows Medicare could ruin us:

      Yet US solvency depends hardly at all on what happens in the near or even medium term: an extra trillion in debt adds only a fraction of a percent of GDP to future interest costs, so a couple of trillion more or less barely signifies in the long term. What matters is the longer-term prospect, which in turn mainly depends on health care costs.
      -Paul Krugman

      Medicare truly is the budget-buster of our time
      -Tyler Cowen

      If Obama touches this 3rd rail and survives, he can lay claim to a truly transformative Presidency. Having said that, he’s cleverly positioned the Dems to do this the right way by touching another 3rd rail.

      Defense takes the bulk of spending cuts in the trigger scenario. In contrast, Medicare and Social Security are shielded (with some very minor exceptions). This means defense is now the hostage. The terrorists have to negotiate knowing that its either a Joint Commission Bill or one that kills Defense. Thats some serious leverage for liberals, except of course when dealing with Ron Paul.

      Think about that. If Dems do nothing then the default is Ike’s farewell speech. A progressive wet-dream has quietly entered the room without anyone noticing.

      • charles pierce says:

        And if those defense cuts ever happen, I will buy you a beer. And is there any indication that this WH, or the congressional Democrats, know anything about “leverage” and how to use it. Please.

        • And is there any indication that this WH, or the congressional Democrats, know anything about “leverage” and how to use it.

          Does the passage of the most extensive legislative agenda of any president since LBJ, if not FDR, count?

          What am I saying? Of course not!

    • The evidence is that he does…. He didn’t get to slash SSI and Medicare in the debt ceiling negotiation because Rs were unwilling to give up an inch on revenues

      And the special carve-out for Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare benefits from the trigger cuts were…what? Eric Cantor’s doing? Perhaps Mitch McConnell’s?

    • Ed says:

      Well, Obama IS bipartisan cover.

      And he’s still out there making a connection between cuts to Social Security and the deficit. There’s just no reason, none, for a Democratic president to be doing that.

  20. The Fool says:

    You haven’t really responded to Greenwald’s arguments. He was a lot more responsive than you let on, but you have to follow the 2 links he provides in the very first paragraph of his original post to get his full argument. There, as I’m sure you know, he lays out a fairly detailed description of the presidential levers that allow a president to exert considerable influence over Congress. The point is that, while no one ever claimed that the President can dictate domestic policy to Congress, the President can certainly influence Congress using the many levers that Greenwald describes.

    And, as Greenwald made clear, his problem is not simply with Obama’s failure to pass more progressive legislation, it is with Obama’s failure to make a good-faith effort to pass more progressive legislation. You yourself essentially concede this point when you say, “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 not just minor examples of domestic policy failures – what you have conceded are central examples of what angers progressives.

    And there is a lot more to progressive anger over this failure of Obama’s than disingenuous “Green Lantern” theories or merely wanting symbolic action. You, Scott, have a very narrow focus on currently existing preferences and ideological distributions. Granted, they are relatively fixed in the short term, but we progressives are not solely focused on the short term. We’ve been watching our country slide into its current disgracefully reprehensible state for at least the last 30 years.

    We want a medium-term strategy that attempts to persuade both Members of Congress and the public in a more progressive direction. These things can work synergistically as the President uses the bully pulpit to lead public opinion and then uses public opinion 9along with all of his other levers of influence) to try to influence members of Congress. In many cases, public opinion is on our side – not to mention logic, morality, and the interests of the far larger number.

    The Republicans’ great success in persuading people to think differently about fiscal policy (i.e. tax cuts for the rich and budget cuts for the non-rich) over the last 30 years is a great example of the ability of politicians to change opinion. They did this by relentlessly driving home the same points over and over and sticking to it, no matter what. They showed that the best strategy – in the long run – is not to try to outmaneuver oneself but just keep it simple, aim for your goal, and let the chips fall where they may.

    Now just as the Republicans have enjoyed great success in persuading people to change their minds on fiscal policy, we progressives want this reversed. We have the great advantages of having logic, morality, and the interest of the far greater number on our side. Granted there are powerful, concentrated interests on the other side, but there is a great case to be made that could be effective in the medium to long term if it were consistently made. We want Democratic presidents and members of Congress to push that case – consistently. We would rather make that case, lose now if we must, but still have a live case to make as we continue to push to persuade people to change their minds. We would much rather do that than concede much of that case for a few crumbs now. You’ve got to take a somewhat longer view and look past the current state of the system.

    There is another word for this approach. It’s called having principles and being willng to fight for them.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      The Republicans’ great success in persuading people to think differently about fiscal policy (i.e. tax cuts for the rich and budget cuts for the non-rich) over the last 30 years is a great example of the ability of politicians to change opinion.

      Amazingly, you conceded in the previous paragraph that conservatives have not won the battle of public opinion. Upper-class tax cuts are not popular. The problem is that politicians don’t respond to national public opinion per se; they respond to likely voters and especially donors. Like the Senate’s strong tilt towards conservative interests, these are structural problems that aren’t going to be solved by the president giving some speeches that for all intents and purposes nobody pays attention to. The powers of the “bully pulpit” just aren’t very powerful and just don’t do very much to affect politics. Which is why I prefer judging results than symbolic efforts.

      • charles pierce says:

        Are you honestly arguing that the triumph of crackpot economics in this country was not achieved through strong messaging and 30 years of conservative rhetoric. See Reagan, Ronald.

        • Scott Lemieux says:

          I am actually quite skeptical of this, yes. Crackpot economics hasn’t triumphed because it’s captured public opinion — it hasn’t. Much more important is the work of Grover Norquist et al making Republican pols willing to support tax increases toxic in Republican primaries.

          • The Fool says:

            And how do you think Norquist bent them to his will? You really think public opinion had nothing to do with it?

            • Scott Lemieux says:

              You really need to figure out whether upper-class tax cuts are popular or not, because your position on this shifts depending on what you’re trying to argue. (The answer — which you get right below without noticing the contradiction — is that they’re not.)

              • The Fool says:

                No contradiction — and I’m surprised a guy as smart as you failed to see this.

                The Lemiuexians may minimize the significance of public communication and public opinion but the incredibly successful Republicans sure don’t!

                You see Scott, they don’t sell it as “tax cuts for the rich.” They sell it as tax cuts that do amazing wonders for economic growth! Magic tax cuts that take your money back from the incredibly wasteful liberals in the federal government who are wasting it all on foreign aid and poverty programs for welfare queens and strapping young bucks in the ghetto. So on the one hand, in reality, it’s tax cuts for the rich that people don’t like. But in the political virtual reality that the Republicans generate and the Democrats consistently fail to counteract, its magical economic panacea.

                Yes, they are amazingly sucessful at the Big Lie strategy. You want to know the worst way to combat the Big Lie strategy? Validate it by buying into it in the hopes that you can thereby establish your reasonable, moderate, bipartisan, compromising bona fides and appeal to the median voter.

                Doesn’t work that way. Now that’s political naivete for you.

            • Murc says:

              Er… it does, but maybe not in the way you’re thinking?

              Norquist bends politicans (assuming they aren’t fellow travellers already) to his will using his ability to fund successful primary challengers. This involves public opinion in that he can often gain the support of a majority of Republican primary voters in a given race, or at least strongly influence said primary voters.

              That’s not quite the same as public opinion at large, tho.

      • The Fool says:

        Trust me, bro. I know a thing or two about likely voters. Their opinions are not greatly different on these fiscal issues than the general population. And given the huge numbers we have seen in recent polls in favor of tax increases on the rich, protecting Medicare, protecting Social Security, using a balanced approach to debt, etc. I believe my point about where public opinion is on fiscal matters still stands and I’m quite surprised you tried to call it into question.

        Of course you are right that public opinion is not determinative of anything all on its own — but it counts. Trust me bro, there’s not a federal level politician out there who doesn’t poll public opinion on a regular basis. And there is not an organized interst group that doesn’t use publi opinion polling to help make their case on the Hill.

        I’m not appealing to any Green Lantern theory of public opinion but are you saying public opinion has no influence on our political system at all? That’s a “fact” clearly not in evidence.

        Of course public opinion doesn’t directly drive legislation. That’s why we progressives hoped a guy like Obama would get out there and drive it for us.

        And again you are sadly disingenuous when you attack the straw man of “giving some speeches that for all intents and purposes nobody pays attention to”. I was more than clear that I was talking about a long-term, consistently fought effort. Not just a couple speeches and not just in one year. There are ways to get attention for your ideas and no one is in a better position to do so than the President of the United States. We’re talking about running campaigns, which do get some attention, on these ideas. Making the arguments in your State of the Union. Making an all out effort to make your case. Hammering it home over and over. And maybe — just maybe — picking a fight with your opponents and getting into a real spirited debate (something we now know Obama will never do).

        You know. It’s called fighting for your principles. Or is your head so buried in charts of the ideological spectrum that have you forgoten what that is?

        • Murc says:

          The thing is, Fool, you have just laid out an argument substantively different from the one Scott has been rebutting for ages. Let me pull a quote:

          I’m not appealing to any Green Lantern theory of public opinion but are you saying public opinion has no influence on our political system at all?

          He is not. He’s made this clear. Multiple times, in numerous posts and comments and long elaborations.

          Let me pull out the thread for you. Scott makes what should be a relatively uncontreversial point that on issues of domestic policy that Congress has its own preferences on, backed up by powerful constituencies, the President has extremely limited abilities to get shit done. Not ‘nonexistent’ but ‘limited.’ And that mounting strong, forceful campaigns in the realm of public opinion can maybe move the needle a little, it is unlikely to translate into immediate vote changes from the 520+ people who actually control policy.

          People, including myself, have a tendency to respond with ‘well, what about playing to the medium and long term? Shouldn’t Democrats, led by, you know, their President, get out there and fight and push and kick back and do what they can to influence future elections and the political environment? Can’t the bully pulpit be used for that?’

          And Scott responds with ‘Yes, absolutely. And the Democrats have been total shit in that regard. There is merit in your position and I endorse it broadly. Care to discuss specifics?’

          This would seem to be a relatively straightforward back and forth that could have been resolved in like ten exchanges twenty-odd threads ago. And yet.

          • The Fool says:

            The thing is, Murc, long term strategies have to be implemented starting in the short term. As you seem to agree, Obama has been total shit on that score.

            So Obama goes out, gets into some specific policy fight at time t, fights like a pussy, and gets his ass handed to him. Progressives say “There you go again Obama. Wouldn’t know how to fight your way out of a paper bag.”

            Then guys like you and Scott come along and say “Oh, don’t be silly, you can’t get mad at Obama because the 59th senator blah blah blah…”

            The we say, “yeah, no, he could have fought a lot harder and in the long run it might work out better.”

            Then you guys come along and say, “Oh you’re so naive about how government works. He couldn’t have won because he didn’t have the votes etc etc”

            Then we say, “Yeah but he didn’t even try very hard and set things up for the long run.”

            And you say, “What’s the point when the 59th blah blah blah.”

            And then we say, “Yeah but waht about the long run?”

            And then you say, “Oh, the long run? We weren’t talking about the long run!”

            • Murc says:

              This is… mmm… I would say this is somewhat unfair, but not entirely. It breaks down fairly early in your back-and-forth. Let me address the points directly.

              So Obama goes out, gets into some specific policy fight at time t, fights like a pussy, and gets his ass handed to him.

              Okay, I’m with you so far. I’d say ‘fights like a pussy’ is a little unfair. I would say its more like he fights on a purely tactical level without much regard to the strategic future, coupled with having policy preferences that are, in some areas, substantively wrong. But so far I’m with you.

              Progressives say “There you go again Obama. Wouldn’t know how to fight your way out of a paper bag.”

              Okay, here is where we diverge. From my perspective, this statement is often accompanied by claims that if Obama had only done x, Y, or Z, the votes he needed would have materielized. There seem to be a lot of people (some of them right here on this thread!) who claim that things like single payer, a clean debt ceiling vote, the closing of gitmo (even the repeal of the Patriot Act) could totally have happened if Obama had just ‘used the bully pulpit’ or ‘twisted some arms’ or whatever.

              And it is that point that people are rebutting when they say

              “Oh, don’t be silly, you can’t get mad at Obama because the 59th senator blah blah blah…”

              And yes, we stand by that. If someone says ‘If Obama had gotten tough with Ben Nelson he’d totally have voted the way Obama said without needing any cornhusker kickbacks at all. If he didn’t do that he must not have wanted to’ that person is wrong, and is being silly.

              The we say, “yeah, no, he could have fought a lot harder and in the long run it might work out better.”

              This isn’t how it goes in my experience. What happens at this point is that people start talking about how FDR ruled the nation with an iron fist or how LBJ used his Senate mind-control powers to get what he wanted (yes, I’m using hyperbole) and how it is totes possible for Obama to do the same thing and if he isn’t doing it he must not want to.

              If people actually are blowing off your concern that Obama isn’t playing for the long game, then that is a wrong on them. But typically discussions of this nature revolve around specific battles being fought right now, rather than future ones.

              Then you guys come along and say, “Oh you’re so naive about how government works. He couldn’t have won because he didn’t have the votes etc etc”

              I wouldn’t say ‘naive.’ I call people WRONG. And this devolves into a discussion about how government works because quite often the people ivolved demonstrate they do not know. There was a very recent thread in which a commenter confidently asserted that Obama had the power to order Joe Biden to take to the Senate floor and declare filibusters out of order, with the implication being that by not doing so he doesn’t care about passing bills. That’s just wrong, and ignorant, and needs to be corrected.

              I think I can skip the next few back and forths and go right to…

              And then you say, “Oh, the long run? We weren’t talking about the long run!”

              And, well, no, we weren’t. Typically these arguments are about tactics, not strategy. And when it comes to the long game, yeah, I think the Democrats in general and Obama in particular are blowing it.

              The thing is, there’s a difference between thinking a politican should rant and roar because it will make people vote the way he wants on whatever the bill of the moment is, and shaping a decades-long public narrative. There’s overlap but they aren’t the same at all. I want people to agitiate for the latter, not the former, because the latter will WORK and the former will not.

              • The Fool says:

                The point is: the tactical becomes strategic over time.

                Progressives wouldn’t complain if Obama went down as a result of fighting in good faith and without giving away the store in the process. It’s the weakness of his response and the resulting cumulative effect that angers us.

                And one of the worst parts of that involves his buying into the Republican frame on issues, thereby having precisely the opposite of the long term effect we are looking for. For example, he has completely bought into the Republican frame that what we need now is cuts, not stimulus. And he has done very little to argue that it is not his spending which is the problem but the tax cuts and stupid wars. Because of his cravenness, we are even worse off in the long run rather than maybe better off. And because Obama and other weak Democrats have been doing this for decades now, it becomes a partially self-fulfilling prophecy of ongoing weakness. Another unacceptable and unnecessary part of his weakness that pisses off progressives is that he is the world’s crappiest negotiator — making concessions first like a fool. It’s pathetic to watch.

                A good example is the stimulus and the debt ceiling debate which even Lemieux agrees he was weak on. If he had come into office and made a point out of repeatedly blaming Bush for the economy (like Reagan did with Carter) until no one could possibly have missed his message, and then fought for a stimulus large enough to work, and argued that we needed it because regular people were hurting and the rich need to pony up, he may have won. Then the economy could well be doing a lot better and that would be the clear result of his policy that the Republicans opposed. And then the whole debt ceiling debate would have happened in a completely different environment. But even as it happened, if he had gotten up in the debt stimulus debate and argued that cuts were just the wrong thing for the economy now and especially unfair cuts that put all the burden on the non-rich, he may have won in the short term. But the KEY point is if he still lost, then he has a great story to tell for the next election: “I tried to help the economy but these country club Republicans shut me out.” And then even if he had lost the next election, the next Republican President X would be one sitting there with the crappy economy. He’d try some spending cuts and tax cuts for the rich, which would fail, and then the economy would suck even worse. And then a real progressive could along and say, “We told them we needed stimulus, not more boondoggle for the rich. We tried their way under Bush and president X and the failed completely, now let’s try the progressive way. “ Then the economy gets better and the Progressives get the credit and progressives become stronger and stronger while conservatives become weaker and weaker… You get the picture? The long run.

                And you know, sometimes it IS just possible that he might win even in the short term. If not, then why bother debating at all? Just go look at your most recently updated ideological spectrum chart, count down to Senator 60 or Mr. Median Member and say, “Doh! Can’t win. Game over.”

                • Murc says:

                  The point is: the tactical becomes strategic over time

                  .

                  This is true, although it seems to have only tangential relevance to what we were talking about in this specific sub-thread.

                  Progressives wouldn’t complain if Obama went down as a result of fighting in good faith and without giving away the store in the process. It’s the weakness of his response and the resulting cumulative effect that angers us.

                  100% true. Although I wouldn’t ascribe it to craveness. More like a baffling inability to perceive that being the only adult in the room doesn’t count for shit, a desire not to present his deals as the flawed compromsies they are but rather as victories (sometimes they ARE victories, but the debt ceiling thing was messed up), and policy preferences that, while light-years better than Republicans, are still way too far right.

                • jeer9 says:

                  “Forget about fiery principled economic speeches with charts depicting the accumulation of wealth in the top 2% bracket over the last thirty years. Forget about developing a narrative which involves real shared sacrifice and squirrelled-away fortunes rather than the Faux News story that the rich are god-like job creators. What we need to do to shift the political discourse leftward is empower a Dem Grover Norquist who threatens to primary with a more progressive candidate every incumbent who doesn’t sign on to greater tax increases for the top 2%. Funding might be a little tighter on our side than the Republicans in this strategy (I don’t know why), but we could make it a litmus test. No need to educate the public or embellish the conversation with facts and graphs. Then find yourself a nominee who doesn’t surround himself with Geithners, Summerses, Bernankes, and Emmelts, and you’ve got yourself the beginnings of a movement.”
                  “You know, Jimmy, sign me up for that one.”

  21. Pete says:

    Most of the cited evidence goes to establish a point — that in foreign policy the president is dominant — that isn’t in any dispute.

    Oh yeah well if it isn’t in dispute then why did Obama not get out of Iraq in 16 months as he initially promised? Why is Obama now even extending Bush’s Iraq timeline and pressuring the Iraqis to let US troops stay beyond Dec 2011. Why is Obama not able to close Gitmo and other similar sites? Why has Obama morphed into Bush, much in contradiction to his own 2008 posturing?

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      Well, on Gitmo Congress has in fact passed legislation with veto-proof majorities preventing it from being closed (oddly, something that is never brought up by people asserting that they’d like to see Obama try and fail to accomplish things.) On Iraq, Obama isn’t the same as Bush but if you don’t like his policy then he’s certainly responsible for it.

    • Oh yeah well if it isn’t in dispute then why did Obama not get out of Iraq in 16 months as he initially promised?

      Because he was convinced that a 24-month schedule would be better. BTW, if you think Bush wanted to get out of Iraq at the end of 2011, you’re a fool.

      Why is Obama now even extending Bush’s Iraq timeline and pressuring the Iraqis to let US troops stay beyond Dec 2011.

      He’s not. The Iraqis are having a debate among themselves, and Obama is staying out of it.

      Why is Obama not able to close Gitmo and other similar sites?

      In point of fact, Obama closed dozens of prison sites around the world.

      It’s difficult to have a conversation with someone with such a shaky grasp of the facts.

  22. Why is Obama not able to close Gitmo and other similar sites?

    Because he never really wanted to, as we proved by geometric logic upthread.

  23. Pete says:

    Because he was convinced that a 24-month schedule would be better. BTW, if you think Bush wanted to get out of Iraq at the end of 2011, you’re a fool.

    I never said what Bush wanted. I said what Bush signed up for. Regardless of whether or not Bush wanted it, he did sign an agreement with the Iraqis.

    If Obama wanted a 24 month schedule he should have clearly stated so when he decided to run. Obama – when Bush was President – wanted Bush to get out at that time.

    And BTW – if you think that Obama got us out of Iraq in 24 months of his Presidency, the epithets you use for others would be too kind for you.

    He’s not. The Iraqis are having a debate among themselves, and Obama is staying out of it.

    Obama is not staying out of it. His administration is pressuring the Iraqis to let US troops stay longer. The Iraqi people have consistently wanted the US troops out, as poll after poll there has indicated. Furthermore polls indicate that a majority in the US also want us to get out of Iraq.

    In point of fact, Obama closed dozens of prison sites around the world.

    It’s difficult to have a conversation with someone with such a shaky grasp of the facts.

    I never said that Obama did not close any. I said that many were still open. Including Gitmo. Now if the President is so as powerful on foreign policy as Scott Lemieux states, why is Gitmo not closed?

    • Pete says:

      Scott Lemieux says:

      August 19, 2011 at 11:24 am

      Well, on Gitmo Congress has in fact passed legislation with veto-proof majorities preventing it from being closed (oddly, something that is never brought up by people asserting that they’d like to see Obama try and fail to accomplish things.) On Iraq, Obama isn’t the same as Bush but if you don’t like his policy then he’s certainly responsible for it.

      Nothing prevented Obama from closing Gitmo before that legislation was passed.

      Nor did Obama shut down all prisons.

      And it was you who asserted that in foreign policy the President is dominant.

  24. pt bridgeport says:

    I just wandered over here from The Dish. I only want to say, I’ll have to wander over again. I’ve never seen such a substantive comments section, with both sides dealing in genuine argument. Veering regularly into strawmen, perhaps, but then pulling right back and engaging with the other team’s real points again.

    More of this, please.

  25. [...] Greenwald and Lawyers Guns and Money debate more about whether Obama’s positions are the result of his limits or his choice (some [...]

  26. [...] 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 [...]

  27. [...] that these don’t belong in a critique of Obama’s foreign policy (though I was just told by Scott Lemieux that these issues don’t belong in a discussion of Obama’s domestic policy), but surely [...]

  28. ongo says:

    Murc, et al

    To argue that radical change is not possible, based on the assumption that radical change is not possible, is merely to chase one’s tail in a circular argument.

    Obama was elected with a ‘change’ mandate. Instead of change, he not only embraced the status quo (neocon foreign policy, bank bailouts, triangulating right every time the Republicans say ‘boo!’, etc.), Obama has expanded its scope.

    A president who truly wanted change would have demanded it, and gotten much of what he demanded. Had Obama done after acceding to office what he had promised to do during the campaign, the last election cycle would have been an overwhelming victory for the Democrats.

    Obama and his advisors haven’t pushed for real change, not because it isn’t possible, but (Greenwald is right on the money :)) because he doesn’t want it. Obama is a neocon hawk in the pocket of corporate interests and lobbies. Face it– there just isn’t much difference anymore between Democrats and Republicans. They bash “The Beltway” at home, and wallow in pork when they return to D.C.

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