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One More on the Rhetorical Presidency

[ 113 ] September 13, 2011 |

I strongly recommend John Sides’s post, and for that matter I also strongly recommend On Deaf Ears and the Strategic Presidency, the most essential readings about the presidency this side of Nuestadt and Skowronek.

One thing I should add is that — while public opinion is something that quantitative methods are especially well-positioned to evaluate — I would never say that a behavioral social science study is the God’s truth.  I definitely think that careful case studies that show what seems to be the general trends of the data not applying are important.  The impossibility of definitively testing historical counterfactuals and isolating causal relationships makes even the best studies potentially limited.   But one reason I believe Edwards is correct is that he not only has the data to support his hypotheses, he has a much more convincing theory than the Cult of the Bully Pulpit people.    Most importantly, people who believe in the power of messaging to achieve short term results have never dealt convincingly with the fact that 1)most people don’t pay attention to presidential rhetoric, and 2)the people that do are generally high-information voters with strongly entrenched partisan and ideological commitments.   Arguments in favor of the power of the bully pulpit, conversely, in my experience tend to involve pundit’s fallacies, unconvincing ad hoc explanations for obviously disconfirming cases, and other signs of a bad argument.

I haven’t read the Canes-Wrone book, but for similar reasons I find the idea that the appropriation process is an exception to the general rule very plausible.   Whether it’s actually rhetoric or messaging per se doing the work I don’t know — perhaps she has convincing data on this point — but certainly a president can be expected to have more leverage in a context where legislation has to be passed.   With something like the ACA (or Social Security privatization or whatever), the president’s leverage is inherently constrained by the fact that Congress can just walk away from the table.

Which, speaking of theory and counterfactuals concerning the ACA, is the heart of the issue.   The next person who can explain what leverage — via messaging or anything else — that Obama had over Evan Bayh, a greasy conservative not running in a state where Obama isn’t especially popular anyway and beholden to corporate interests for his future career, will be the first.   The Green Lantern position seems to be that it’s massive failure of available powers that Bayh, Nelson, Lincoln, Lieberman et al couldn’t be made to support a much more progressive bill.    My position (which is ironically sometime portrayed as Democratic apologism) is that it’s increasingly amazing in retrospect that Reid and Obama got these people to vote for anything.

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  1. Njorl says:

    There’s one influential, low-information constituency which does pay significant attention to presidential rhetoric – journalists. They are much more likely to pay attention to presidential rhetoric than they are to expert opinion. On the whole, though, I do tend to agree with the limited effect of rhetoric.

  2. TT says:

    Forgive me for besmirching this blog with b-school geek speak, but when you have a negotiation where one side’s BATNA (best altervative to negotiated agreement) is to walk away from legislation that is massively unpopular in their own conservative state, while the other side’s BATNA is a politically crippled presidency and health care reform–any health care reform–consigned to oblivion for at least the next 15 to 20 years, the side that can walk away holds somewhere between 100% and 100% of the cards.

  3. david mizner says:

    I’m still waiting for the pols-can’t-sway-public-opinion people to explain why public support for austerity has skyrocketed over the last couple of years, if not because of the pols’ focus on austerity.

    I’ll grant that this is not a short-term result, but then I haven’t seen many people argue that speeches could change Evan Bayh’s position. (Perhaps you could link us to people who make that case, lest we think you’re attacking a straw man?)

    The people who hold positions opposite yours believe that pols can use the bully pulpit to change public opinion over time — politics can work, that is — and that political hardball might produce better results than pre-compromising. That is, it’s better to try than to not try.

    • david mizner says:

      To be clear, I don’t actually believe that the President usually pre-compromises; rather, as when he killed the effort to break up the big banks, he’s seeking the lesser results. But it’s always nice to have the cover of being able to say, It wouldn’t have passed anyway. Like when he dealt away the public option and then was able to say, those damn conservative Dems wouldn’t have supported it anyway!

    • I’m still waiting for the pols-can’t-sway-public-opinion people to explain why public support for austerity has skyrocketed over the last couple of years

      This will now be the third consecutive thread in which you’ve made this claim, and I’ve linked to the data demonstrating that there has been no skyrocketing public support for austerity.

      Once again, you fallaciously compared two polls asking different questions and treated the difference in the results as evidence of a trend.

      Public support for austerity remains where it was two and a half years ago.

        • david mizner says:

          I’m glad you brought up Gallup:

          President Obama releases his plan to curb the federal deficit with Americans’ concern about the federal budget and deficit growing to its highest level in 15 years. Currently, 17% say it is the most important problem facing the country, the highest Gallup has measured since it began asking the “most important problem” question on a monthly basis in 2001, and the highest in any Gallup poll since January 1996.

          http://www.gallup.com/poll/147086/budget-rises-most-important-problem-highest.aspx

          So the stats have proved me correct; now if you’d like to answer: why has support for austerity grown?

          • Njorl says:

            Well, with 17% of the population, you could … um …

            The point is not that rhetoric can’t shape opinion. It is that rhetoric can’t shape opinion significantly enough to matter to sitting senators and representitives in the short term unless they are in the most vulnerable of positions.

            Rhetoric matters at the extreme margins in the short term, and to a larger extent in the long term.

            • Well, with 17% of the population, you could … um

              demonstrate the the identification of the deficit as the most important problem has fallen since April, when the poll Mizner is citing was taken .

              Unless, of course, you know something about statistics and polls, when you could demonstrate that poll data is noisy, and that a number that bounded from 13 to 17 to 13 to 11 to 16 has basically remained static.

            • david mizner says:

              I agree with this. I think most people do. I’m not sure this argument is really about substance, as opposed to tone and what progressives should want out of a President Obama (and out of themselves.)

              I don’t believe many progressives actually believe that the bully pulpit or proverbial arm-twisting are likely to have a great impact on the likes of Holy Joe or Ben Nelson. (Perhaps you or someone here could link me to some progressives who believe this?)I know I don’t. I believe that fighting for progressive principles and policy is its own reward, that there’s value in isolating conservative Democrats and running against them (as opposed to isolating liberals and running against them), that in special isolated cases (the stimulus) the president can move the center and draw the parameters of what’s possible, that standing up for progressivism over time will affect the political landscape and public opinion, and that for all the above reasons the fact that fighting for progressive bills might not succeed doesn’t justify failing to fight for them.

              That, I think, is the crux of the debate, as opposed to lofty arguments about presidential power. Do we take a look at the President’s repeated failure to fight for progressive principles and positions and say, well, Ben Nelson probably wouldn’t have changed his mind anyway, so no worries, mate.

              • rea says:

                I believe that fighting for progressive principles and policy is its own reward, that there’s value in isolating conservative Democrats and running against them (as opposed to isolating liberals and running against them), that in special isolated cases (the stimulus) the president can move the center and draw the parameters of what’s possible, that standing up for progressivism over time will affect the political landscape and public opinion, and that for all the above reasons the fact that fighting for progressive bills might not succeed doesn’t justify failing to fight for them.

                In other words, you far prefer arguing for progressive positions to running the country, and you are willing to let the other side run the country if it means you get to make ideologically pure arguments.

          • The stats do not prove you correct. Concern about the deficit has not risen.The Gallup poll I linked to, with more recent data than your link, shows concern about the deficit falling over the past year.

            It also shows concern about the deficit falling over the course of 2010 – that is, the first year of the current austerity-talk.

            You’re treating the wobbliness of the data as evidence of a trend, much like global warming deniers circa 2006. Concern about deficits remains a marginal concern, dwarfed by concern about jobs.

          • David Nieporent says:

            Uh, because the deficit has gotten worse? I mean, is this a trick question? One sees that concern about the deficit has grown, and rather than attribute this to to the increasing deficit, one attributes it to political rhetoric?

            • Uncle Kvetch says:

              Uh, because the deficit has gotten worse?

              Uh, the deficit got worse under Reagan and GWB too. The response from the mainstream media and public opinion was a resounding yawn. Thus proving Cheney’s observation half-right: “Reagan proved that deficits don’t matter [under a Republican administration].”

              I mean, is this a trick question?

              Yes. It’s a test to measure which commenters can remember anything earlier than January 2009. You failed.

              • David Nieporent says:

                Uh, the deficit got worse under Reagan and GWB too. The response from the mainstream media and public opinion was a resounding yawn.

                It was? Is that why Ross Perot got 20% of the vote in 1992 making the deficit his signature issue?

                The issue isn’t whether the public cares about the deficit, but about the change in the amount that the public cares about the deficit.

                The deficit has gotten worse, so people care about it more. People cared about it more under Reagan and GWB, too. But the economy was going well, so it wasn’t particularly important. (But recall that a bunch of taxes were raised under Reagan to deal with the deficit, regardless of what Dick Cheney said.)

      • Even Tea Party Members prioritize jobs over deficit-reduction, while overall, the public does so by almost 3:1.

      • david mizner says:

        Really? You’re actually denying that support for austerity has increased? Wow.

        When we inaugurated this question in January, “jobs” won out over “deficit” by a wide 60-34 margin, a spread of 26 points. Since that time, the margin has steadily eroded and now American voters favor jobs by just 12 points, 52-40.

        http://www.dailykos.com/story/2011/08/02/1002208/-Daily-Kos-SEIU-State-of-the-Nation-Poll:-Is-deficit-discourse-changing-public-opinion-about-jobs

        And that’s just over the course of six months. A full 40 percent of American now believe cutting the deficits should be a higher priority than creating jobs.

        • No, David, I’ve answered this already. It’s in the thread I already linked to.

          This is a good teachable moment, though, for those interested in understanding where you went wrong.

          You linked to a poll asking about priorities that allowed the respondents to provide their own answers. A small % answered “the deficit.” You then linked to a later poll in which respondents were given the choices “the deficit” and “the economy/jobs.” A higher % answered “the deficit” than in the first poll.

          This does not demonstrate that there has been an increase in concern over the deficit; it shows that you get a higher response rate for a certain answer when you eliminate other answers.

          • david mizner says:

            ?!

            It’s the same question asked by the same pollster.

            • No, David, it is not. When you first brought up your badly-sourced point, you linked to and quoted this TPM story.

              By late October 2009, according to Gallup, 14 percent of the public thought the President’s top priority should be the deficit, double what it had been at the end of Bush’s term. The same poll found 41 percent of the country thought the economy should be his top priority — down from 64 percent in 2008, before the stimulus had helped end the country’s employment free fall. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and health care also bested the deficit. Other polls showed similar figures, though many asked questions in different ways, and still others asked respondents to name their top economic priorities. Jobs always trounced the deficit, but public concern was starting to bud. Prior to about 2009, the deficit wasn’t even listed as an option on similar polls.

              In his 2010 State of the Union, Obama announced a discretionary spending freeze. “[F]amilies across the country are tightening their belts and making tough decisions,” he announced. “The federal government should do the same.”

              In the year and a half since, “stimulus” has fallen into political disrepute, jobs have remained a high priority for the country, and anti-deficit mania has climbed. In 2011, Public Policy Polling began tracking support for the latter two as a zero-sum matter: which should be President Obama’s top priority?

              You have been comparing a poll with an open-ended question to one in which all but two answers have been eliminated.

              As I’ve now explained to you four times.

              • elm says:

                In fairness, Joe, David is now pointing to a different piece of evidence to support his argument. That you have demonstrated his last two pieces of evidence (what you link to here and the gallup link above) were wrong and that david has yet to acknowledge either mistake does make me think he has a preconceived opinion that cannot be changed noi matter what the data says. But you have yet to refute the specific data he is bringing up in this series of posts.

              • david mizner says:

                I didn’t to link to that piece in this thread. It’s okay if you think “skyrocketed” is an overstatement; there’s no denying support for austerity has increased dramatically.

        • A full 40 percent of American now believe cutting the deficits should be a higher priority than creating jobs.

          And a full 34% believed that six months before.

          Skyrocketing! For a little while! Before it wasn’t!

    • Murc says:

      I’m still waiting for the pols-can’t-sway-public-opinion people to explain why public support for austerity has skyrocketed over the last couple of years,

      Easy answer; it HASN’T. People don’t support austerity in any meaningful sense except in the vague way they’ve always thought ‘debt and spending are bad’ that completely collapses once you get into concrete discussions.

      I’ll grant that this is not a short-term result,

      That sort of… I mean, isn’t that basically just admitting you’re arguing against a point that Scott did not, in fact, make? When you discard his most important qualifier it seems somewhat disingenuous to me. It’s like if I said “It’s okay to jump out of an airplane if you’re wearing a parachute” and someone else comes back with “Murc is crazy, he says its okay for people to jump out of airplanes. They’d go squish!”.

      I haven’t seen many people argue that speeches could change Evan Bayh’s position.

      Even Bayh specifically was sort of… I think he was both a good AND a bad example on Scott’s part. He was a good example because he was the Democratic Senator that Harry Reid and Barack Obama had the least leverage on, but bad because even the people most incensed about a lack of aggressive messaging on Obama’s part don’t usually cite him as someone who could have been strong-armed.

      What I do usually see are people saying that, say, Joe Lieberman could have been brought to heel by holding his committee chairmanship hostage and threatening to zero out all pork for Connecticut. Both of which are laughable as effective negotiating tactics.

      The people who hold positions opposite yours believe that pols can use the bully pulpit to change public opinion over time — politics can work, that is

      I am relatively certain that Scott believes messaging and politics can change public opinion (and electoral results) over time as well. I hold this belief because of the numerous times he has said exactly that.

      • david mizner says:

        I dispense with your first argument above; your others were too incoherent to rebut.

      • Scott Lemieux says:

        but bad because even the people most incensed about a lack of aggressive messaging on Obama’s part don’t usually cite him as someone who could have been strong-armed.

        As I say above, I agree that people don’t bring up Bayh much — but since every last vote was necessary that’s not much of a defense.

        • david mizner says:

          Nope, untrue, every last vote was not needed. Dems only needed 50 votes. They could have lost Bayh, Nelson, and a few others.

          • Scott Lemieux says:

            Nope, untrue, 1)the bill passed with 60, and 2)I’ve never seen a whip count that showed even 50 votes for the public option, leaving aside the face that the Senate rules require 60.

            • david mizner says:

              See my link down thread to where Bernie Sanders urges the President to use reconciliation to pass it.

              Brien Jackson explains why this would have been risky – but that’s a different issue.

              Your entire argument is premised on the claim that conservative Dems could not have been swayed but their votes weren’t needed.

              FWIW here FDL’s list of 51 Democratic Sens who said the support the PO:

              http://www.commondreams.org/view/2010/01/29-11

              • Well sure, if you’re literally only interested in the public option, and not particularly considered with the vast majority of issues that made up “healthcare reform,” these is a completely viable option. It’s also a completely separate issue, and doesn’t at all answer how magical bully pulpit powers could have achieved something approaching comprehensive healthcare reform that included a public option.

              • Scott Lemieux says:

                Note that this isn’t a list of 51 Senators who said they would support the PO with reconciliation. As far as I can tell, whip counts for that maxed out in the low 40s. It’s easy to say you’ll vote for something you know won’t pass.

                • david mizner says:

                  Well at least you’re finally admitting that only 50 votes were needed. Small progress, to be sure, but then I’m a pragmatic incrementalist.

                • Scott Lemieux says:

                  Actually, I don’t believe it would only take 50 votes to pass the ACA. But even if it did, I still don’t see the votes.

                • Well at least you’re finally admitting that only 50 votes were needed.

                  Note how he leaves of the rest of the sentence after “needed.”

                  Needed for what? Needed for the action that they only had low-40s votes for.

      • Ed says:

        He was a good example because he was the Democratic Senator that Harry Reid and Barack Obama had the least leverage on, but bad because even the people most incensed about a lack of aggressive messaging on Obama’s part don’t usually cite him as someone who could have been strong-armed.

        I remember reading that conservatives were often no better satisfied with Bayh than liberals, because he went with his party often enough. I held no brief for the fellow but I didn’t agree with those liberals who cheered his departure.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      I’ll grant that this is not a short-term result, but then I haven’t seen many people argue that speeches could change Evan Bayh’s position. (Perhaps you could link us to people who make that case, lest we think you’re attacking a straw man?)

      To the extent that people aren’t making this argument, it’s because they’re ignoring the implications of their own arguments. Surely you won’t deny that many people have argued that a much better health care bill could have passed if Obama had just “fought for it” or some such. Well, to believe that, you have to believe that he could get Bayh and various other venal conservative Democrats to vote for it. So it’s not a strawman; the counterfactual requires not being concrete about what could actually happen, but that doesn’t make it unfair to point it out.

      • david mizner says:

        Actually, no.

        What I’ve seen people argue on the ACA (and they began making this argument during the debate, in real time, when it was clear that the President didn’t really want a PO) was that given that the public option had widespread public support and that it could be passed through reconciliation (50 votes, not sixty) and that it was the one measure that could possibly threaten our corporate health care system, it was damn well worth fighting for.

        But if you have a post showing me otherwise — a respected blogger arguing that “fight” from Obama would have definitely produced a bill with a PO — I’d love to see it.

        • Scott Lemieux says:

          Well, if your argument is that Obama should have fought for a public option even though it had no chance of passing even an unusually Democratic Senate — certainly not what most Obama critics here have argued — then fine. I care about results; I don’t really care about messaging for its own sake. I also find it hard to believe that the many people emphasizing the need to fight harder didn’t think it would accomplish anything in the short term.

          • Malaclypse says:

            I also find it hard to believe that the many people emphasizing the need to fight harder didn’t think it would accomplish anything in the short term.

            But we can, in the short run, heighten the contradictions. Think of the contradictions, Comrade!

          • david mizner says:

            Still no link hunh? I guess we’ll just have to take you word for it that there’s people making the arguments you attribute to them.

            And no, I didn’t say there was no chance. There was, indeed, a chance given that only 50 votes were needed. The only reason there was no chance was that President Obama had dealt away the PO and was therefore opposed to it.

            But I’d love to see you link to all your blog posts urging the President not to push for the public option because it would be impossible to pass. I know you’re not big on links, but this should be easy, linking to your own posts.

            • david mizner says:

              You should also write a blog post imploring President Obama not waste his time selling his jobs plan, because that (unlike the PO) really has no chance of passing.

              • Scott Lemieux says:

                You should also write a blog post imploring President Obama not waste his time selling his jobs plan, because that (unlike the PO) really has no chance of passing.

                I’ve written several times that “pivoting” to jobs in a legislative context where nothing good will pass won’t accomplish anything, and my post about the speech itself said that nothing was going to pass and it wouldn’t accomplish anything. I don’t know what contradiction you think you’ve caught me in here. Anyway, the public option had no more chance of passing the Senate than a stimulus bill has of passing the House.

            • Once again, the problem with the reconciliation argument is that you simply couldn’t pass the bulk of the ACA through it. You could pass the public option, yes, but conservative Democrats could respond by blocking the rest of the bill. The only conceivable path to getting both is a highly-improbably bait and switch by which, after the House passed the Senate bill, 50 Senate Democrats decided to put the public option into the reconciliation bill. And logistical difficulties aside, I think you have to know basically nothing about the personality of the Senate Democratic caucus to think there would be more than 4 or 5 Senators willing to do that.

              But really, at this point I don’t understand why anyone is even bothering to respond to you. You clearly have no desire to do anything but keep repeating the same nonsensical bullshit over and over again no matter how many times it’s corrected.

            • Scott Lemieux says:

              But I’d love to see you link to all your blog posts urging the President not to push for the public option because it would be impossible to pass.

              SO we agree that the argument that the bully pulpit could have made a difference isn’t a strawman. Anyway, given the actual circumstances a public option required 60 votes, unless Obama has the unilateral power to change Senate procedures. To say that the public option had a chance of passing is to say that the Bully Pulpit could have caused a number of conservative Dems to cross their corporate sponsors.

              I will also repeat again that you can’t extract presidential preferences independently from what they think is viable.

              But I’d love to see you link to all your blog posts urging the President not to push for the public option because it would be impossible to pass.

              I would certainly have done this, if I cared about the president’s pubic messaging over short-term issues either way. Since I don’t, I don’t know why I would blog about it.

              • david mizner says:

                You’re conflating bully pulpit with simple priority-setting. If the president had said the bill must include the public option (he actually said this once before backing off the demand) and following up behind the scenes to push for it, that would have increased the chance that the final bill would’ve have included it and conversely, his failure to do so guaranteed that it wouldn’t. He fought behind the scenes to save his deal with PHrMA and demanded that the bill not cost more than a certain amount.

                There is, I realize, a related debate about the power of the bully pulpit but when people argued that he should have fought for the PO, they generally weren’t talking about speeches.

                You’re getting your favorite hobby horse confused.

                • “d following up behind the scenes to push for it, that would have increased the chance that the final bill would’ve have included it”

                  No, it wouldn’t.

                • Scott Lemieux says:

                  that would have increased the chance that the final bill would’ve have included it

                  How?

                • david mizner says:

                  How would demanding it have increased the chance that it would have passed?

                  Well, I should have said “might have.” There were 51 Senators on record supporting the P0; if Obama had said from the beginning ‘The bill I sign must have the PO and I’ll use reconciliation to pass it’ the politics surrounding this issue would have been different. Would it have succeeded? Well no one knows, BECAUSE HE DIDN’T TRY.

                  As I sad above, I think there are political advantages to this kind of principled politics (you dismiss it as messaging) because I think Democrats should not merely look to pass bills, the more the better, is what some favor)but should also run against corporate sponsored pols and corporate sponsored positions in their own party.

                • gmack says:

                  To my mind, there is only one way the public option could have passed, and that’s with a groundswell of public support for it, manifested in major turn-outs at the town hall meetings, public protests, and so on. It still may not have worked, but as I see it, that was the only effective course action. As we all know, this didn’t happen, and all of the action was on the other side. I’ve seen many people blaming Obama for not supporting such grass-roots activism, but frankly, I find that critique to be pretty wrong-headed too. If leftists and progressives need some idealized daddy-figure in order to start acting on behalf of their own causes, then things are far worse than I had imagined.

                • There were 60 Senators on record supporting EFCA at one point or another as well. How’d that work out?

                • Scott Lemieux says:

                  There were 60 Senators on record supporting EFCA at one point or another as well. How’d that work out?

                  It’s clear that every last one was a committed supporter of labor, but they were thwarted by Obama’s ineffective messaging.

                • david mizner says:

                  So in an attempt, Brien, to defend the President’s failure to seek a progressive measure that had majority support, you cite another of his failures to seek a progressive measure that had majority support. You’ve found a pattern, alright, just not one that supports your position.

                • No, I’m saying you’re a fool if you’re taking nominal support for a progressive measure that has no chance of passing at face value. There were a lot of Senate Democrats willing to vote for EFCA when President Bush would vetoed it, and they turned tail the minute there was a President who would have signed it. In other words, they never really supported it.

                • Scott Lemieux says:

                  If you think there were 60 votes for card check under any circumstances up to and including Obama going on a hunger strike over the issue, I have some subprime Countrywide mortgages to sell you.

                • If the president had said the bill must include the public option (he actually said this once before backing off the demand) and following up behind the scenes to push for it, that would have increased the chance that the final bill would’ve have included it and conversely, his failure to do so guaranteed that it wouldn’t

                  Note that the word “pass” appears nowhere in this statement.

                • This makes me wonder why the president would deliver a jobs bill to a hostile house and try to pump it up with a big speech, knowing he wouldn’t get what he wanted.

                  Was there some point in asking for more than he could get?

                • This makes me wonder why the president would deliver a jobs bill to a hostile house and try to pump it up with a big speech, knowing he wouldn’t get what he wanted.

                  It’s election season.

                  Public messaging is a very good way to influence elections.

                • My bad: perfectly plausible.

        • rea says:

          given that the public option had widespread public support and that it could be passed through reconciliation

          You don’t seem to understand how reconcilation works.

    • Bijan Parsia says:

      Here’s an explanation for why austerity might poll better than it should. (I think Joe’s right that support for austerity hasn’t actually increased significantly, but one might ask why it hasn’t cratered.)

      First, it’s important to note that it’s not Just Pols who are championing austerity: It’s the whole establishment. If nearly all your information sources give essentially variants of the same theme, it’s not too surprising that that theme has legs. Given that it fits in with standard anti-government themes that have been cultivated (top down and bottom up) for generations, it’s even less surprising.

      Second, and most importantly, austerity fits in with ressentiment. It’s not enough that one is suffering, other people must suffer and especially the wrong people must not benefit.

      Given that austerity is, perhaps surprisingly, a fairly natural trend in many polities…what’s the surprising phenomenon we must attribute to rhetoric?

  4. Ken Houghton says:

    Uh, Scott, do you really want to claim that Blache “I became a Liberal the minute there was a primary challenge to me” Lincoln is an example for your position?

    Remember, Bayh didn’t (officially) announce his intention not to run for re-election until a day or two before IN nominations closed. Now, if you want to argue that your buddy BarryO knew that was going to happen and therefore treated him with kid gloves because he wanted to f*** Hoosier Democrats if his negotiations with SonofaBirch failed, you’re welcome to do that. But I don’t see why you think we should see this as a positive thing.

    (The alternative–that he was completely ignorant of any possibility it would happen and was completely caught off-guard–does not bode well for an Administration whose first move was to dismantle the “50-state strategy” and consolidate almost all of its Power Brokers in DC, where they would be neutralized. [It was that move, btw, that started me using the phase "failed Obama Administration" in earnest, and not in a January-1993-Dave-Barry-at-the_National-Press-Club type of way.])

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      I have absolutely never said that primary challenges can’t change behavior. They certainly can! What this has to do with the topic is unclear.

      The rest of your argument, as is typical, is a lot of words that give us absolutely no basis for thinking that anything could have convinced Bayh to vote for a public option. Maybe you believed him when he said he’d rather be a teacher than a lobbyist? That seems to be the level of credulity required…

    • Murc says:

      How would he be expected to know, exactly?

      I’m Evan Bayh, I don’t tell ANYONE who isn’t my wife that my next term will be my last until everything is locked in. Not my political allies, not my poker buddies, not my advisers, consultants, long-term fund raisers, not ANYONE.

      Blanche Lincoln is a better example than either Bayh, Lieberman, or Nelson, because the WH could in fact have said ‘Hey, Blanche. Play ball or we’ll be campaigning for Bill Halter in the primary.’

      That’s super risky, tho, and it shatters some norms that I think have value. I don’t WANT the Democratic Leadership picking favorites in contested primaries. Primaries should be a bottom-up process.

      You’re pretty bang-on about Obama’s complete disregard for the success of the fifty-state strategy and his dismantling thereof, tho. That’s either breathtakingly stupid, damning, or both.

      • Scott Lemieux says:

        I think that the Democratic Party would probably benefit from more well-selected primary challenges. Given the malapportionment of the Senate, though, Republicans will have more opportunities than Democrats. Primarying Ben Nelson would be cutting off your nose to spite your face.

        • Murc says:

          I think that the Democratic Party would probably benefit from more well-selected primary challenges.

          Oh, absolutely, Scott. No question.

          But I really think primary challenges should come from the bottom up, from party activists and the rank-and-file, rather then being orchestrated by and/or meddled in by the party leadership.

          There’s something of a prevailing norm now in both parties that if you are, say, Senator X, Chairman of Committee Y, you’re free to go help your buddy Congressman Z with his hotly contested primary (or help Challenger A take down Congressman Z, because you’ve always hated that son of a whore) but that if you’re the President (the party leader) or the Senate Majority Leader or the current head of the DNC/RNC, you stay the fuck out of it and say things like ‘the issue will be decided by the good people of the State of Whatever.’

          And I like that. I think it’s healthy.

    • Now, if you want to argue that your buddy BarryO knew that was going to happen and therefore treated him with kid gloves because he wanted to f*** Hoosier Democrats if his negotiations with SonofaBirch failed, you’re welcome to do that.

      I have no idea what any of this is supposed to mean, but just a heads up: referring to a black person that isn’t a close friend by the juvenile nickname of his first name, when he doesn’t use that, has some bad connotations.

      No, I did not call you a racist. I think you just didn’t know this.

  5. Lee Hartmann says:

    So:
    Ben Nelson forced Obama to pivot from stimulus to deficit reduction however long ago.

    Max Baucus forced Obama to institute a Catfood Commission with Simpson and Bowles.

    Joe Lieberman forced Obama to choose Geithner as Treasury Secretary and fashion a completely ineffective mortgage rescue program.

    etc.

    Although many people seem to be focused on “rhetoric”, isn’t the problem simply that Obama has championed a lot of (let’s limit this to economic issues) wrongheaded ideas/initiatives/policies? And has talked about them in terms that he thought would bring R’s on board? And has also continued, until recently, to put (and his administration as well) shiny happy faces on what is substantively a disaster? Isn’t not simply that he hasn’t plumped hard enough for his positions; isn’t the problem that he has pushed, rhetorically, actually bad ideas that are identified R themes? This makes no difference whatsoever? As Atrios says, if you promote themes that are historically the perceived strength of the opposing party… why would voters not then prefer the opposing party, for those reasons?

    • Ed Marshall says:

      If you had read Nuestadt (referenced in Scott’s post), he lays out the real costs to the ability of the president to enact legislation if they go for a goal and lose. It’s very obvious that the administration is familiar with the work by the way that they operate.

      I’m very glad they read Nuestadt instead of taking advice from angry, bitchy, people on the internet who don’t know what they are talking about.

      • Scott Lemieux says:

        But I’m glad that you continue to argue against the zero people who believe that the president has no power over appointments, and against the zero people who believe that since nothing Obama could have done would have gotten a public option through the Senate that therefore he should be exempt from criticism from stuff that he actually has more control over.

        • jeer9 says:

          Obama keeps promoting deficit reduction/austerity and the usefulness of the Super Committee because he understands that these economic positions are not popular – yet nothing he says from the bully pulpit really matters anyway. He’s clearly aware of the vaunted political science and wants to achieve some goal, no matter how minimal, rather than lose by refusing to entertain the notion that this empirically unsound fiscal approach is cruel and unjust. If there are enough zero people refusing to exempt him from criticism (even the mildest), progressives might begin to make some headway against this slanted discourse.

          • Obama keeps promoting deficit reduction/austerity

            No, he doesn’t. Obama keeps promoting short-term stimulus at the cost of higher deficits, and long-term, Keynesians deficit reduction once the economy improves, which has nothing whatsoever to do with austerity.

            • jeer9 says:

              Silly Robert Reich.

              Here’s another odd thing.

              The deficit-reduction plan the president will present Monday to Congress’s special Super Committee on the debt (now struggling to come up with $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction) will also propose some $2 to $3 trillion in additional deficit reduction over the next ten years — including changes in Medicare.

              According to the president’s plan, those tax increases and spending cuts would go into effect in 2013.

              But there’s a strong likelihood the American economy will still be anemic in 2013, if not on life support. Even if we avoid a double dip the jobs picture we’ll almost certainly be terrible. Even if by some miracle job growth soared to the average monthly growth over the past decade, the unemployment rate wouldn’t get back down to 6 percent until 2024.

              When unemployment is still in the stratosphere, it would be insane to start cutting the deficit by $3 trillion to $4 trillion. That would push unemployment into outer space.

              And in proposing such a huge deficit reduction package, the president continues to reinforce the Republican lie that the budget deficit is our biggest challenge — indeed, that we’re in the fix we’re in because government has become too big.

              If the president wants to show his creds on deficit reduction, at least put in a trigger that begins to lower the deficit only when unemployment falls to 6 percent.

        • Charrua says:

          Well, are you arguing that, yes, when Obama had more control over policy he made several important mistakes but on issues where he had less control he did better? It seems to me that it should be assumed that legislative negotiations were conducted with as much competence as everything else.

      • That list is incredibly silly. The most likely response if Lieberman was threatened of being stripped of his committee chair would be that he would want to screw hippies even more, with the result being no vote for ACA at all and no DADT repeal either. The idea that Obama campaign for Lincoln in Arkansas would be some major plum is dumbfounding. And, as you’ll note at the link, the general myth about FDR and LBJ is also wrong. They weren’t particularly successful getting more Democrats to vote for their initiatives; they just had more to work with.

        • mark f says:

          Heh:

          7. Don’t offer Ben Nelson a Nebraska Compromise unless he voted for ACA with a public option. All or nothing. (And by the way, offering that sort of direct bribe proves that Presidential arm-twisting of Congress really is possible if you want it badly enough.)

          This is like a textbook example of where reductio ad absurdum could be really clarifying . . .

          • What’s especially important to remember is that there’s no chance Nelson could respond to an ultimatum based on a legislative bribe that he distanced himself from and was later rescinded anyway by just refusing to vote for anything. It’s all upside! Surely Nelson would rather have a legislative provision that would prove worthless rather than the support of his state’s insurance interests! If only Obama had this level of sophistication…

  6. Walt says:

    Maybe just the way that Evan Bayh’s behavior is a fixed and unchangeable part of the landscape, the beliefs of the Cult of the Bully Pulpit are a fixed and unchangeable part of the landscape. So why keep coming back to it? The world will finally submit to reason?

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      Well, some people clearly believe that Evan Bayh Is A Liberal If You Want It and aren’t interested in evidence to the contrary, but other people have generally accepted assumptions about the power of the bully pulpit without thinking a lot about it and might be interested in actual evidence.

      • Walt says:

        Those people have probably seen the 80 previous threads on this very topic.

        • Scott Lemieux says:

          But without a useful discussion of specific political science texts. Which, I agree, won’t be of interest to the many people who will believe in the Bully Pulpit Fairy no matter what, but may be of interest to people who hadn’t seen it.

          • Walt says:

            Do you really believe this account of your motivation? For some reason, this one particular point is really important to you, so you keep trying to pick a fight over it. Most of your post is judicious, but read the last paragraph of your post — that’s not the writing of someone laying out the evidence. That’s someone who wants to punch someone else in the head. Or your comment here. The Bully Pulpit Fairy? Really?

            • Ed Marshall says:

              It’s a proxy for a debate that normally is had between warring factions who believe that Obama would have voted for a single payer system if Congress had sent it to him, but was constrained by political realities vs a belief that Obama would have vetoed such a bill because he’s a crypto-conservative agent of big pharm.

              This is fucking horribly disastisfing as you can’t peer into his head and find out, but you can use some data from political science to knock the various theories about *how* the conspiracy to give them an unhappy outcome has a much more simple explanation.

              • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

                Though of course, there’s a middle ground in which Obama would have signed a bill with a public option into law if he had to, but actually didn’t really care very much about a public option in the first place.

                I’d add that politicians do get credit (and take blame) for the stands that they take on many issues. The bully pulpit may not make a difference on capitol hill, but politicians can win (or lose) votes based on the stances they take, whether or not those stances become law.

                Some sizable chunk of Obama’s base believe that he didn’t pursue a PO as vigorously as he might have. It’s possible that some of those folks would be happier with Obama today if he had tried harder for one, even if the Senate refused to budge and we didn’t end up with one.

                • Ed Marshall says:

                  What makes a difference on Capital Hill is pushing an issue and losing. Once the President start losing, he keeps losing. I can’t really do this justice, but read Nuestadt if you want to understand how this works.

                  It’s more complicated than this, but the idea that the president should present plans that he knows doesn’t have congressional support and that there is some sort of sweet spot where you get extra shit because you started bargaining with a more extreme position is simply wrong.

                • Michael Drew says:

                  Some sizable chunk of Obama’s base believe that he didn’t pursue a PO as vigorously as he might have. It’s possible that some of those folks would be happier with Obama today if he had tried harder for one, even if the Senate refused to budge and we didn’t end up with one.

                  This is indeed beyond dispute. What is unclear is what those people believe that the pursuit they’d have been satisfied that did not result in a PO being signed into law would have consisted of, what it would have looked like on the outside to the electorate and populace at large, and what its real-world effects actually would have been, for good AND for ill.

  7. soullite says:

    At this point, blogs like this aren’t about making an argument, because there is no way you all can think that saying the same thing you’ve said 100 times before is actually going to make a difference.

    No, this is all about glimmering your remaining hanger’s on and hoping they don’t notice the bullshit until after they’ve already stepped in it.

  8. dr says:

    I’m confused by one of the arguments in the post, to the effect that a focus on messaging misses the point that most voters aren’t paying attention. I’m a lowly organizer, so I don’t know what the science says, but certainly I’ve always understood that messaging is important precisely because most people aren’t paying attention most of the time. The campaigns I’ve been associated with emphasize coming up with a clear concise message and then repeating that message over and over and over and over again. The idea is that by repeating the message so many times it will eventually get through even to those who aren’t invested in paying attention.

  9. virag says:

    is this post in response to digby’s kid smacking the apologist axis around yesterday?

  10. virag says:

    one thing the apologist axis pretends not to understand is the shallow vanity of the people involved. evan bayh? what leverage could obama have had over such a piece of human filth? certainly bayh and politicians like him have been rock-ribbed defenders of principle throughout history and could never be pressured on anything. yeah, that’s it.

    • Ed Marshall says:

      You are a keen student of the human scene. You know who Evan Bayh’s wife is? You know he was planning the whole time to parachute out to McGuireWoods? Get it now?

  11. In fairness, Joe, David is now pointing to a different piece of evidence to support his argument.

    As a matter of fact, I did.

    The Gallup poll he cites shows the answer bouncing around from 13 to 17 to 13 to 11 to 16 over the period – that is, no discernible change outside of the margin of error of the median result.

    The other poll he cites – the one where the answers are limited – shows an increase of a whopping 4 points – from 36 to 40% – in the number of people who select the deficit. He attempts to fudge this by treating the meaningful, significant movement from “jobs/economy” to “don’t know” as if it was an increase in the “deficit” answer.

  12. In fairness, Joe, David is now pointing to a different piece of evidence to support his argument.

    I’m not sure which one you’re calling a “new piece of data.” One of his “new pieces of data” is just a subset of the older data. It’s the limited-answers poll that was the second data point in his misreading.

    Even on its own, that poll shows, as I’ve pointed out, a whopping increase of four points – from 36 to 40% – in the number of people who gave the “deficit” answer.

    The other is the old Gallup poll from April, that captured an upward wobble in one month, to which I responded by linking to more recent data showing that it wobbled back down in subsequent months, all within the margin of error of the median.

  13. norbizness says:

    For some reason, these 290 comment/5 commenter threads remind me of how Monty Python strategically grouped people to make a relatively small set of people look like a full-scale Briton invasion of Castle Arrrrrggg.

  14. mark f says:

    Sides:

    Q: So forget public opinion then. What’s really important is whether the speech helps get his policies passed. So do speeches influence Congress?

    A. The short answer: presidents don’t often succeed in persuading reluctant members of Congress to go along with their views.

    Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware, where “the Democratic presidential candidate won there in 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004, and 2008 [and where] President Obama got 62 percent of the vote”:

    “I think the best jobs bill that can be passed is a comprehensive long-term deficit-reduction plan,” said Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), discussing proposals to slash the debt by $4 trillion by overhauling entitlement programs and raising revenue through tax reforms. “That’s better than everything else the president is talking about — combined.”

  15. Hofnarr says:

    Its great to see the rhetorical political scientist at work in the hands of a master! Lemieux simultaneously maintains the faux triumphal tone while unceremoniously walking back the extremist position into which corner he had painted himself on previous posts. But, hey, at least he’s learning!

    And Scott there is much more to learn yet!

  16. [...] expand a bit on what I’ve said before, On Deaf Ears evaluates the evidence with respect to the “bully pulpit” effect in [...]

  17. [...] our debates about the bully pulpit, “messaging,” and health care reform, commenters recently asked [...]

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