Home / Robert Farley / A Dialogue on Disappointment

A Dialogue on Disappointment


I thought that Jon Chait’s long article on leftist disappointment with Democratic Presidents was interesting, but that it succeeded in identification of such discontent without making much effort to explain it. David Atkins has a nice response with two potential explanations, first the unwillingness/inability of the last three Democratic Presidents to break from the evidently increasing economic insanity of the GOP, and second the existence and continued success of progressive-by-American-standards economic models in other OECD states.

While both of these make a lot of sense, I’m not sure they get us all the way there. For one, Atkins suggests that the primary reasons for discontent post-Carter have been economic; in this vision, although Bill Clinton’s tenure is economically successful on many metrics, it amounts mainly to pursuing GOP priorities competently rather than incompetently. The most vocal critics of Obama, however, have attacked on both the imperial executive/warmaking/etc., and socio-economic grounds (insufficiency of the ACA and the stiumlus). As has often been argued on this blog, on these former metrics Obama does fine compared to other recent Democratic Presidents.

Atkins doesn’t suggest that leftist are implicitly comparing US and European models of foreign policy and civil liberties, and it’s not hard to see why. To my mind, the difference on issues such as warmaking and aggressive foreign policy between the US and major European states is largely positional; many states joined the US in Iraq and Afghanistan, and while Germany and France sat out Iraq, it’s obviously not difficult to find examples of modern French imperialism or German amorality in foreign affairs. On civil liberties questions, I suspect that progressives would have a collective heart attack if anyone proposed London levels of state surveillance in New York City, or accorded US law enforcement many of the anti-terror tools that French and German police take for granted. The case of the intervention in Libya is particularly instructive. Obama’s liberties with the War Powers Resolution are notable only in domestic legal context; by and large, comparable European systems grant warmaking latitude to the executive sufficient to make comparison with the United States moot. Moreover, we have strong recent evidence of European executives (Berlusconi, Aznar) engaging in foreign conflict over nearly unanimous domestic opposition.

And so while I think that Atkins gets us some of the way to explaining the phenomenon that Chait identifies, there’s obviously something left unsettled. It’s hard to disagree with the conclusion that American foreign policy leftists in general are quite correct in the belief that they are effectively unrepresented by either of the two major parties, and that it has been thus for most of the twentieth century. Consistent criticism of Democratic Presidents, up to and including Obama, is from this perspective entirely to be expected, although such critiques could probably benefit from some comparative perspective. The civil liberties perspective is harder, because it doesn’t fit neatly into a left-right divide; many on the right hold views on “civil liberties” broadly conceived that are quite compatible with leftist attitudes, although generally for different reasons. There are also some inherent contradictions between pursuit of a socio-economically activist state and promotion of a strong vision of civil liberties, as the activist state inevitably tramples on some individual rights.

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  • Bill Murray

    I suspect that progressives would have a collective heart attack if anyone proposed London levels of state surveillance in New York City, or accorded US law enforcement many of the anti-terror tools that French and German police take for granted.

    Now, but in 10 years when those type laws are passed, the so-called progressives will be told to shut and vote for the Democrats voting for the law, because the Republican alternative is worse.

  • Hob

    Bill, I think you missed the point of that paragraph. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t that Democrats are wonderful on civil liberties, but rather that in this area “Why can’t we be more like Europe” is not an adequate explanation for our discontent.

    • Bill Murray

      no, I got that, just making a different point

  • LeeEsq

    Jonathan Bernstein in one of his many defenses of the Madisonian System, states that the advantage of the parliamentary system is that it generally allows the governing party to implement their policy desires faster and in a way that they desire. The advantage of our Madisonian system is that our legislatures actual legislate rather than rubber stamp what the Cabinet sends them.

    I suspect that liberal/leftist disappointment with Democratic Presidents relates to both. It takes longer to implement policy desires in the United States, i.e. the 60 or 100 year fight for something like universal healthcare depending on where you put the start date, and when you finally get your policy implemented it tends to come out in compromised form because of the fact that our legislatures will modify bills. There are numerous examples of this.

    For liberals/leftists of the good government bent or as Robert puts it, those that want an activist state, this entire process can be rather frustrating and dispiriting because it seems that you never get what you want. This might be why many liberals/leftists fantasize about turning America into a parliamentary republic. Its the most common fantasy after a “genuine leftist third party” arising.

    • LeeEsq

      Forgot my conclusion, basically leftists are disappointed with Democratic Presidents because the American system of government guarantees it.

    • Bill Murray

      but is the same true for the radicals from the Republican side?

      • Robert Farley

        Depends on how you define “radical” but I’d say yes.

      • LeeEsq

        If you pay even slight attention to rightist politics in America, you will frequently find that Republican radicals are the same. There were Republican radicals who were at Eisenhower for not reversing the New Deal in its entirety. There are Republican radicals constantly moaning for a true conservative to dismantle the New Deal, Great Society, and Civil Rights legislation.

        The different between Republican radicals and Democratic radicals is that Republican radicals feel much more attached to the Republican party and they would never fantasize about getting rid of the Madisonian system.

      • sleepyirv

        Reagan before he was saint, was a yellow-belly coward who sold us out to the Soviets with his talk of nuclear disarmament.

      • Yes.

        I used to read NRO and Weekly Standard and the old Tech Central Station on a daily basis, just to get a sense of what the Republican radicals were saying.

        They’re always getting betrayed, they never get what they want, the world is going to hell and they feel helpless to do anything about it except howl helplessly about it.

        • Charrua

          But that’s the nature of being a radical; you would not be a radical if your preferences were satisfied by your party.
          The difference is in the scale of the dissapointment.
          My (probably wrong) take is that there is a bigger ideological gap between mainstream Democrats and radical (or liberal) Democrats than between their Republican counterparts; you do not see the same anxiety to “punch the hippies” among the GOP elite (in their case, religious fanatics, maybe), for example.
          There is a bigger tension between a leftist minority inside a centrist party than between an ultra right minority inside a clearly rightist party.

          • My (probably wrong) take is that there is a bigger ideological gap between mainstream Democrats and radical (or liberal) Democrats than between their Republican counterparts;

            You’d be surprised. How happy do you think radical Republicans were when their party went to the mat to pass a Medicare prescription drug benefit? How many federal departments have the Republicans actually eliminated?

            you do not see the same anxiety to “punch the hippies” among the GOP elite (in their case, religious fanatics, maybe), for example.

            This isn’t a function of the distance between the parties’ mainstreams and their radicals, but the size of the radical wing. These days, Republican radicals are something close to half that party. Look at their 2010 primaries.

            Their Democratic counterparts, on the other hand, are numerically insignificant. There just isn’t symmetry here.

  • Mitch Lake

    I know of no European nation (EU member states) that allow for indefinite detentions. I know of no European nation who’s intelligence services operate a prison in a foreign country (Somalia) that allows torture. I know of no European nation that lobbies on behalf of lifting/weakening the ban on cluster bombs.

    So why again wouldn’t we want to look to the pinko/commie Europeans when it comes to foreign policy/civil liberties?

    • LeeEsq

      Mitch, how aware are you of the involvement of European countries in their former colonies. Do some research on France in Africa after decolonization. Its not a very nice history.

      • Robert Farley

        Not to mention the direct complicity of several European countries in some of the activities Mitch describes…

        • Mitch Lake

          Yes, American hegemony over Europe is well documented. European nations have been tacit accomplices to American misdeeds within their borders, but it is not the explicit policy of EU nations engage in such behavior.

          • It wasn’t the “explicit” policy of the American government, even under Bush, to engage in such behavior, either.

            Like the decisions of European countries that hosted black site prisons, it was a covert policy.


      • Mitch Lake

        I was trying to keep the discussion to current events. As far as I know, there are no official European colonies in Africa. If you’re referring to western countries exploiting African countries for their resources, I’d have to agree, but I was referring to the specific list that I enumerated in my comment above. It goes without saying that whatever European corporations do in the third world, American, Russian and Chinese corporations do as well.

        • LeeEsq

          You are being purposefully obtuse Mitch. I stated look at the history of European countries in their colonies after decolonization. Its usually a bit more subtle than what America does, but European countries, especially France, have done their fair bit to promote instability for their gain.

          The difference between how different countries engage in foreign policy as Robert stated is positional. Basically, countries get away with what there level of power lets them get away with. America can be blunter than other countries because it has the greatest ability to project force internationally. France does not have this ability, so they have to be a bit subtler with the bad stuff that it does.

          • Mitch Lake

            Can you give me an example of a European nation doing something on the scale of what we do every day in countries like Pakistan, Somalia or Yemen (I’m referring to drone attacks, without a hint of war declaration)?

            • Robert Farley

              France regularly conducts military operations (mostly in former colonies) in Africa without a declaration of war. The United Kingdom has also conducted such operations. The difference, as I noted, is positional, which is another way of saying “on the scale”.

              • Mitch Lake

                You’re speaking in generalities, it’s hard to have a discussion without a specific example of what you’re referring to. I know of France’s incursion in Cote d’ivoire, but I that was on the behest of Alassane Ouattara, who was legitimately democratically elected. Once the limited French troops apprehended Laurent Gbagbo, they departed the country.

            • A hit of a war declaration.

              You’re welcome to your own opinions, Mitch. You’re not welcome to your own facts.

  • American leftists are hopping mad primarily because in the last hundred years, they’ve never been numerous to really matter, not even as a coalition partner that eventually swallows its host, as Labour swallowed the Liberals, and they don’t know why.

    Surely being right is enough?

    • Bill Murray

      well not when even you’re supposed allies lie about you and marginalize you because of a lack of money

    • LeeEsq

      There is more than a little truth to this. The Leftists generally have been on the periphery of American politics, primarily serving as a source of ideas for the Center Left and a bogeyman that can be used by both the Far Right, Center Right, and Center Left depending on the occasion. They have rarely been in a position to win elections or serve as coalition partners. When you combine this with a sense that you are right than you get a well that constantly produces better disappointment.

  • ScipioSE

    Atkins doesn’t suggest that leftist are implicitly comparing US and European models of foreign policy and civil liberties, and it’s not hard to see why. To my mind, the difference on issues such as warmaking and aggressive foreign policy between the US and major European states is largely positional; many states joined the US in Iraq and Afghanistan, and while Germany and France sat out Iraq, it’s obviously not difficult to find examples of modern French imperialism or German amorality in foreign affairs.

    I don’t get this. There are broad commonalities between the American economic system and those of the other OECD countries, and it’s not terribly difficult to find examples of social or economic unfairness in those countries, either. There’s a gradient of positions there regarding the role of the public sector, with the US on one end of the spectrum. Why aren’t the differences here “positional” as well?

    Speaking for myself, I most certainly do look at a country like, say, Canada, which was an active member of NATO and NORAD but spends about a third of what we do on the military in per GDP terms and didn’t go along with our more – sorry, but – retarded misadventures in Iraq or Vietnam, and ask: why can’t we be more like that? I know a lot of other people who ask the same question.

    • Robert Farley

      I wouldn’t describe the first difference as “positional” because it doesn’t have anything to do with the international position of the US; the United States could presumably have a social welfare state much more like those of other OECD countries, but doesn’t because of a variety of ideological reasons. Now, I think that you could drill down in some ways to try to ferret out connections between the size and history of the US and its operating ideology, but it’s hard to draw very specific conclusion when you do that.

      It would be better to say that the second is partly positional and partly ideological; the differences between Australia and Canada (the former much more likely to support retarded misadventures and such) are useful in this regard, and international position should never be thought of as everything. But I also think that a fair amount of difference is strictly positional; UK/France especially, but also several other European countries conduct what amount to imperial foreign policies, just on a much smaller scale than the US, and within the context of US security policy.

      • LeeEsq

        I would disagree with the statement that ideology is the main reason that the United States does not have a social welfare state like other OCED countries. This ignores the procedural problems of creating a social safety net through the Madisonian system, where opponents can hinder or water down social safer net legislation. Other countries have had ideological opponents of the social welfare state but these opponents lacked the veto points given to them by the Constitution. Its probably half ideological and half procedural.

        • Robert Farley

          I think that’s fair.

          • John

            On the other hand, the basis of a social welfare state in Germany was created by a very conservative monarchical regime. And Imperial Germany’s governmental structures are actually in many ways comparable to America’s Madisonian system, with the major difference that the Executive was unelected – but certainly it was more like a Madisonian system than a parliamentary one.

            One might add that the massive expansion of European social welfare states after World War II was frequently accomplished by center-right parties – especially by Christian Democracy, a political movement that combined social conservatism with support for an expansive social welfare system that has had no analogue in the United States.

            Structural issues are obviously significant in explaining why the US has tended to be on the right edge of OECD politics, but there’s a lot they don’t explain.

            • LeeEsq

              Thats why I said it was half procedural and half ideological. The American Right has always lacked a concept of noblis oblige that other Rights had. The American Right also never thought it had to be just socialist enough to ensure that real socialists never got the vote. Bismarck was able to lay the foundations for the German Social Welfare state on the latter premise, that this is needed to ward off the SDP. It didn’t work, but that was the idea.

      • ScipioSE

        OK, I see that I didn’t know what “positional” meant – you’re saying that France would probably be pulling the same bullshit if it was the superpower. True enough. But I don’t think that means dissatisfaction with Democratic Presidents on war isn’t driven by international comparisons – I hear lefties (among others) draw unfavorable comparisons between our foreign policy and that of other countries all the time, whether that distinction stems primarily from our position as world superpower or not. Certainly the argument about relative military spending gets made all the time.

        • LeeEsq

          What I’d argue is that the lefties who unfavorably compare American foreign policy to the foreign policy of other countries are unaware of the shit that other first world countries do that they don’t like because it rarely makes the news.

  • <emI thought we could approach this subject through a contemporary analogy, that of the Tea Party. It is in some senses a classic 'counter-subversive movement', resembling in many ways the ‘anticommunist network’ of the Cold War. It is, after all, out to neutralise a putative threat to property and free markets from a socialist who has captured executive power. Of course, all of this is suffused with racial affect. Thus, Tom Tancredo argued recently that “People who could not even spell the word 'vote' or say it in English put a committed socialist ideologue in the White House … we do not have a civics, literacy test before people can vote.” In my opinion, though, Dinesh D’Souza gave the argument its most interesting spin, suggesting that while there may be some merits to the charge of Obama’s socialism, matters were in fact much worse. He charges that Obama hates the West and everything it stands for. Far from being driven by MLK’s “dream”, or the “American dream”, the dreams from his father are those of anticolonial radicalism.

    <emWhat to make of all this? Anti-racist liberalism charges that the allegations of ‘socialism’ are coded racial epithets – per Tim Wise, it expresses the white fear that black men are going to elope with their possessions. But this unduly flattens the discussion, reducing the Tea Party’s anti-socialism to a decoy. This is also a problem with most historical writing on southern anticommunism. As with the South's red-hunting, the Tea Party's anti-socialism is not a decoy. It is real. Hayek, who upbraided “socialists of all parties” would have understood the expansive definition of socialism that the Tea Partiers are using. Second, their property concerns may be exaggerated, but the modest reforms proposed by Obama did alarm certain interests – obviously the Koch Brothers among them. Thirdly, D’Souza is a fantasist, but he does understand that there is an historical connection between anti-colonialism and anti-capitalism. The relationship between racism and anti-socialism just has to be theorised a bit more carefully.

    • chris

      I think you’re making it more complicated than it needs to be. Capitalism favors the ones with the capital; it entrenches and intensifies class divisions. And in this country, that pretty much means the white people.

      With the current historical distribution of wealth, making the distribution either flatter or fairer actually would mean, in large part, taking money away from white people and providing either money or useful goods and services to nonwhite people. If you’re the sort of person that can only see race relations as a zero-sum game and only see people as examples of a race, then that looks like bad news for whitey.

      So basically for whites it comes down to a clash between their sense of racial solidarity and their sense of fairness.

  • LosGatosCA

    These discussions on liberal disappointment with Democratic presidents that you don’t see to the same degree on the right (Richard Viguerie excepted) seem to miss a critical point. Republicans know how to deliver emotional constituent service.

    Reagan launched his first presidential campaign in a Mississippi county known only for the murder of three civil rights workers. Every Republican presidential candidate since the late 70’s would visit Bob Jones University, call the annual anti-abortion convention/parade, etc. They let Ron Paul into their debates. There is no doubt that Republicans have no reluctance to embrace the extreme of their party. Watch Faux News everyday. Listen to Mitch McConnell embrace nihilism in order to defeat Obama. They understand the emotional needs of their constituents. In 1995, as soon as they took over Congress they started hearings on how the FBI handled Waco and then impeachment. They always follow through all the way on even the stupidest things if they are emotionally satisfying to their base.

    The difference with Democratic presidents, politicians, operatives, and consultants is that they never follow through on anything to that degree. They almost never fight the lost cause on principle. Consequently, there’s never any prospect of a miracle happening. You dont hear these types of things from liberals: Sure, we didn’t get the public option (it was never realistic) but Obama flogged that thing to death and that made me feel good.
    Or, it’s a shame the Republicans didnt support more stimulus but at least Obama fought like a pit bull trying to get something, anything.

    That’s the difference. Republicans do emotional constituent service while Democrats dont. Republicans defend Pat Buchanan – Democrats embarrass Sista Soulja.

    • You mean like Chris Rock’s character who ran for president in that movie I can’t remember the name of right now, where he went to a Player’s Club and such?

    • Republicans defend Pat Buchanan – Democrats embarrass Sista Soulja.

      Remind me again, who actually won the ’92 election?

      • Murc

        Am I the only one who thinks this is all… well, a little bit too much?

        As someone who is pretty disenchanted with Democratic politicians in general, my reasons are threefold and very simple; they govern further to the right than I’d like, they do so because they actually hold beliefs that are further to the right than I’d like, and they take full (and sometimes smug) advantage of the fact that we live in a political system where I can’t vote to the left of them without empowering people even further to the right.

        Why does it have to be more complicated than that? All the ‘comparative’ and ‘positional’ stuff kind of baffles me. Yes, previous Democratic icons are often viewed through rose-colored lenses. Yes, other OECD countries are often viewed the same way.

        So fucking what? What’s that got to with the price of tea in China?

        • Murc

          This was meant to be a new thread, rather than being posted in an existing one. I apologize for the cognitive dissonance.

        • Incontinentia Buttocks


        • elm

          This is an important point: the left in the US is often more disappointed than the left in other countries because most other democracies do not have the strict two-party system we do. Germans who dislike the Social Democrats can vote for the Greens with little concern that it could empower the Christian Democrats so it matters less to them if the Social Democrats are wet noodles.

          • They may have more than two labels, but they just have two parties. We’ve got just as many parties, and only two labels.

            The SDP governs on its own, or with the FDP, or the Greens, the occasional grand coalition aside. The CDU/CSU, governs on its own, or with the FDP, the occasional grand coalition aside.

            We form coalitions, call them parties, and then fight the elections. They form the parties, fight the elections, and then form the coalitions.

            • elm

              And you don’t think the difference matters? Leaving aside whether it matters for policy outcomes, I think it clearly matters for voter satisfaction: you can express you displeasure with the center-left party by voting for the leftier party without throwing the vote to the other side. This makes them more interested in politics (voter turnout is higher in multiparty democracies than two-party democracies, even controlling for all the other things that tend to influence turnout) and, though I know of no studies on this, more tolerant of the center-left party because it’s not “their” party.

            • elm

              A follow-up. I’m frankly confused by your opening paragraph. I think you’re right that the difference between the pre-electoral coalitions in the U.S. and similar systems and the post-electoral coalitions of multiparty parliamentary systems can be overblown (though I think you’re underblowing it here.)

              But do you really think there are only 2 parties in Germany? France? Italy? Belgium? That’s a very odd view of either politics or ideology, unless I’m completely misunderstanding you.

              • Lee

                What I think Dave is saying is that the main difference between American and European politics is that American coalitions are formed before elections within a party and European coalitions are formed after elections through many parties. Otherwise, both governments are coalition governments.

                I think Dave is wrong on this. The Democratic Party never feels compelled to give the liberal/leftist faction Cabinet positions. The GOP does not give much to their libertarian faction.

              • There’s a left. There’s a right. Both are spectrums — or spectra. The difference is whether the different portions of the spectrum carry different labels or not.

                Do you get different policy — I don’t think so.

              • How many effective blocs are there in France or Germany? That can deliver a majority, and supply a government?

                (Belgium’s so riven by ethnic issues, I’m not sure it’s a good case…)

            • Lee

              I think the multi-party way of doing it is a better way than the American system. The advantage of the European system is that it generally allows people to find a party that advocates their views or at least something relatively close to them. This means that it is rare for a person not to believe that they lack a political voice unless they adhere to some really fringe beliefs like voluntary human extinction or something like that.

              Since most people could find a party that they like, they feel that somebody is speaking for them. This leads to a somewhat greater sense of satisfaction and willingness to make the compromises necessary in everyday politics.

    • BrianM

      That rings true. Thanks.

    • Uncle Kvetch

      That’s the difference. Republicans do emotional constituent service while Democrats dont.

      Great comment — I think this is crucial.

    • When you actually believe that governing is important – that politics and government aren’t just an arena for acting out an ideological crusade or to satisfy cronies – you aren’t as free to go skylarking on dead ends. You’ve got a job to do.

  • One thing I’ve barely seen mentioned is the fact that this is a representative democracy and most Americans don’t identify themselves as liberals, much less as leftists. If many of those citizens agree with a whole lot or even most liberal prescriptions while not identifying themselves as liberals, I don’t think that’s the President’s fault.

    The Progressive movement in the U.S. is just now budding, so to expect sweeping change right now is childish. One of my favorite things about President Obama is that he is thinking about the long term.

    If you want the leftist reform that you want, you have to convince a critical mass of Americans that they want that too and it’s o.k. to call themselves “liberals” or “leftists” or “progressives” because those are good and legitimate labels that are as American as apple pie.

    This is how I would have liked to see the banking crisis handled: Arrest all the relevant bankers on charges of fraud, extortion, and racketeering; nationalize the banks, start a debt free monetary system. That is a far left position, and whether or not it is right, or makes sense, or would have a superior effect is not the issue. To most Americans that is a radical leftist and scary idea.

    In order to reach most Americans, the left is going to have to overcome a lot of snobbery and learn how to talk to people who don’t have a college education, who think quite differently from the educated people of the left, who have adopted an attitude of hostility to the left, who have quite different and valid concerns than the left, and who aren’t used to being heard. If we can establish such a long term dialogue of mutual respect then perhaps, in ten years, we can start seeing a lot of the changes we want.

    • Holden Pattern

      Which won’t be possible, because the reality is that the only two parties who can have power in the United States are willing and able to do exactly fuck-all to help working people in a meaningful and structural way.

      So when the only meaningful outlet for politics to the left of Ben Nelson is to try to work through a party that has to knuckle under to Ben Nelson’s cramped conservative worldview and Chuck Schumer’s fealty to hedge fund managers, it will be damn near impossible to convince those people you’re talking about that the left has anything to offer them. It’s “What’s the Matter with Kansas” but with Democrats.

      • LeeEsq

        Well, whats your solution? Hold a constitutional convention and turn the United States into a unicameral, centralized parliamentary republic with proportional representation by freezing out every delegate that has alternative ideas? Waive your fist bitterly in the air in a state of rage and do nothing but demand purity?

        Electoral politics are how things get done even in flawed democracies, you can’t expect change without going out and convincing others that you are right and getting similarly minded politicians elected into office. Its harder in the American system because our system was designed to allow also sorts of entry and veto points that make good government a bit hard but thats life.

        • Incontinentia Buttocks

          1) The role of money in US politics is at least an important a factor as the Constitutional / structural factors.

          2) Why does Holden need to have a solution? Perhaps there is none, absent fundamental change in our political system.

          • Lee

            1. The role of money in our system is a Constitutional issue because the Supreme Court keeps holding that its a freedom of speech issue. This means that we can’t solve the problem of the role of money without amending the Constitution. This makes money in politics a Constitution/systematic factor

            2. Because waving one’s fist in the air in frustration is not likely to lead to solutions. If earlier liberals did what Holden did than we wouldn’t have Social Security, Medicare, the FDA, unemployment insurance, and a host of other goodies. Also, a fundamental change in our system is a solution even if it is implausible.

            • Lee

              By the way, I’m the same person as LeeEsq. I use different names on different computers.

            • Incontinentia Buttocks

              Re: 2….

              No, waving one’s fist in the air isn’t a solution. But my point above was that not all political problems have solutions. And noting that there aren’t solutions doesn’t make those problems any less serious or less worth pointing out.

              See Christopher’s comment downthread about gulags and Stalin.

            • Holden Pattern

              Also, a fundamental change in our system is a solution even if it is implausible.

              Right, because proposing fundamental changes to the system in this venue is never met with ridicule. And of course, criticism of the Dems from the left is ALSO never met with equal parts ridicule, STFU, and apologia. Why would I even bother to engage with this demand?

              But since you’re asking so very very nicely:

              I used to think that US electoral politics had some chance of managing a meaningful course correction before we hit a significant resource constraint (energy, climate). I am at best skeptical that it’s possible now, and I think that the end game is, if not catastrophic, a potentially irreversible decline in fortune for everyone except the moneyed aristocracy (which is, let us be clear, basically who runs our country).

              When the answer to “We know that the course of action you propose is not going to do what you say it will because we’ve seen this proposal fail many times before in practice” is “Yeah, but X is all that’s politically feasible,” well, we’re all pretty much bien jodido, aren’t we?

          • Uncle Kvetch

            Why does Holden need to have a solution? Perhaps there is none, absent fundamental change in our political system.

            Indeed. My personal “solution” is to vote for the Democrat while remaining fully aware that 9 times out of 10 the result will not be “good” from the perspective of my personal political beliefs, but merely less awful. Because that’s how it works in this country, and I see no prospect of that changing in my lifetime.

            • grouchomarxist

              And it should be noted that the people screeching “What’s your solution? Huh? Huh?” have absolutely no solutions to offer, either.

              For the record, neither do I. But that’s not my job. I know it’s naive of me, but I thought this is why we elect representatives as well as the head of the executive branch. (At least in principle, anyway.) And why we have a government in the first place.

              No one put a gun to Obama’s head and forced him to run for President, or to promise hope and change. If he really believed he could deliver these things, then maybe it’s his disconnect with reality that should be the issue. After all, by that point he’d had plenty of opportunity to study Beltway politics up close and personal. How could he not have been aware of all the impediments to progress inherent to the system?

              If he was just saying these things to get elected, fine, but that too has some negative implications. Especially when legitimate complaints about the increasing hopelessness and change (for the worse) on his watch are now dismissed with the equivalent of “You fucked up: You trusted him!”, or “He’s simply a helpless victim of the system.”

    • grouchomarxist

      Arrest all the relevant bankers on charges of fraud, extortion, and racketeering …

      So the rule of law is now a position of the “far left”? Real Americans would be disturbed by the notion that wealthy criminals who crashed the economy were being prosecuted?

      You’re acting as though the only way to do this was by mass arrests during his first days in office. I won’t offend the intelligence of most commentors here by going through all the options available to the administration, if Obama had wanted to build a public case against the banksters. He simply doesn’t care pick a fight with some of his deepest-pocketed donors and their hordes of lobbyists, period.

      So let’s not blame what long ago crossed the line from inaction to outright collusion on some mythical concern for the tender sympathies of the public at large for Wall Street. Which, last I checked, ranked somewhere in the neighborhood of painful rectal itch in popularity.

      • Yes. That’s right, Groucho. The rule of law is the position of the far-left and anything shy of what I want is nefarious and criminal.

        Jesus Fucking H. Christ on a pogo-stick. I suppose I’m the stupid one, and you’re the one who excels in the rational, linear argument. Is that correct?

        • grouchomarxist

          Nice way to completely avoid answering my point, Wiley.

          If I understand your argument, you were saying actions A, B and C would have been the optimal solution, but people weren’t ready for them. As for B and C, I happen to agree with you, but not so for A. I believe the polls have shown for some time that a solid majority of the public wouldn’t have much problem at all with some of these MOTUs taking a perp walk.

          So I gave what seemed to me the most logical and realistic explanation of Obama’s and the DOJ’s blatant foot-dragging, which in the case of the MERS scandal has become outright collusion.

          I’m terribly sorry if this caused you to get your knickers in a knot. Next time, I’ll try to be smarter, and contradict someone who can make an actual argument in reply.

    • Murc

      One of my favorite things about President Obama is that he is thinking about the long term.

      … one of my least favorite things about him is that he’s doing the exact opposite.

      Obama continually adopts frames and positions that as little as fifteen years ago would have been considered right-wing and re-brands them as bold progressive initiatives, rather than adopting frames and positions that are actually progressive. That moves discourse further to the right over the long term. When you do that EVEN IF the critical mass of people you want (who, by the way, already mostly agree with liberal policies but don’t want to call themselves that) emerges, they will be endorsing something called progressivism that is further to the right than the Republican Party was within living memory.

      he left is going to have to overcome a lot of snobbery and learn how to talk to people who don’t have a college education,

      … most political speeches are already given at the level of someone who not only doesn’t have a college education, but who didn’t graduate high school. Obama’s speeches average to something like a ninth-grade level, which means he’s speaking as if to people who could barely GET INTO high school.

      You want them dumbed down MORE? Go the full McCain and talk to people like they’re in primary school?

      • Uncle Kvetch

        Obama continually adopts frames and positions that as little as fifteen years ago would have been considered right-wing and re-brands them as bold progressive initiatives, rather than adopting frames and positions that are actually progressive.

        That’s because he’s not “actually progressive.” For the umpteenth time I find myself asking, what is it about him that ever made anyone believe otherwise?

        • Uncle Kvetch

          Oh, and I have to take issue with this:

          and re-brands them as bold progressive initiatives

          That’s just weird, because to my mind he does the exact opposite. Obama has consistently branded both himself and his initiatives as post-partisan and post-ideological. I think if you asked him whether a given initiative of his was “progressive” you’d quickly find yourself in a meta-discussion about getting beyond the worn-out labels of the past. The last thing in the world he would do is embrace a label that had the slightest tinge of ideology.

  • LosGatosCA

    Remind me again, who actually won the ’92 election?

    The person who set the agenda for the ’90’s was Ross Perot. He ran on balancing the budget in 1992 and by 2000 the budget was balanced. An even more impressive feat than reaching the moon in 8 years since he only had the bully pulpit of an unelected citizen representing a third party.

    Here are his values from the 1992 election:

    The people are the owners of this country. Everyone in government works for the people.
    All of us must take personal responsibility for our actions and for the actions of our government.
    We are a single team. We are all needed in the rebuilding of America.
    We can’t keep living beyond our means. The size of government must be permanently reduced. The deficit must be eliminated.
    Our greatest challenge is economic competition. Our governmental policies should be redirected to stimulate growth, to create jobs, and to open opportunities for all Americans.
    Source: United We Stand, by Ross Perot, p.111-13 Jul 2, 1992

    But then getting about 19% of the vote was quite a motivator to the other parties to try to attract his base.

    I doubt the Sista Soulja moment had as much impact as the 7.7% unemployed on the electorate at large, but it remains part of a larger pattern of the Democratic Party elite always thinking they have the ugly date at every party.

  • Christopher

    I don’t really understand Atkins’ response to Chait, nor your response to Atkins.

    The way I read it, Atkins is responding to this bit of Chait’s article:

    The various theories of disconsolate liberals all suffer from a failure to compare Obama with any plausible baseline. Instead they compare Obama with an imaginary president—either an imaginary Obama or a fantasy version of a past president.

    by arguing that liberals are in fact comparing him to plausible liberal baselines.

    I don’t understand this, really, because what the fuck do we need with plausible baselines? If our political system is incapable of realizing certain goals, it might mean that our goals are too big, but it might also mean that the system is fucked.

    Who would respond to a criticism of, say, Stalin’s Russia by saying, “Well, unfortunately taking an anti-gulag, anti-purge position is just not feasible in Russian politics. Let’s focus on what Stalin’s doing right“?

    A good deal of Liberal anger comes couched in moral terms, and morality has nothing to do with plausibility. I believe that murder is wrong, despite the fact that no society has eliminated it or even plausibly come close to doing so. If you think of drone strikes or health care or whatever as moral issues, you’re going to approach them the same way.

    • Incontinentia Buttocks

      I think this is pretty much on the ball, though we should always be careful about using “liberal” and “left” interchangeably (a bad rhetorical habit inherited from the right).

  • GregMc

    Murc said something similar to what I would have said (at 3.55am, according to the timestamp I see), but there’s a thing Robert said in the main piece that troubles me (although it doesn’t take away from the main point):

    He mentioned “many of the anti-terror tools that French and German police take for granted”. I don’t know much about French police powers (although I gather they extensive), but I can’t imagine what German police have that would fit. German foreign policy is a bit too much of the have-ones-cake-and-eat-it-too variety for my taste sometimes, but I certainly haven’t noticed overly powerful police being a problem.

    • elm

      I assumed Rob was referring to the anti-Nazi laws that allow police to arrest people for praising the Nazis or denying the Holocaust. Stupid positions to take, to be sure, but the civil liberties left would probably view similar laws in the U.S.– that is, taking extreme positions was in and of itself criminilized–as a horrible development.

      • GregMc

        That may be what he means. I’ll grant that’s power (perhaps not used enough, say some lately). I go round and round about it myself as a member of the (American) civil liberties left residing in Germany. Unless I’m missing something, however, I’m pretty convinced that Germany is a civil liberties paradise compared to the States (with that glaring exception). Hell, people are even allowed to have guns!

  • grouchomarxist

    Here’s one major difference between the parties: The Democratic elite’s attitude toward their restive base is “Clap louder, you DFHs!”, while the Republican elite at least has the sense to keep their real opinions to themselves.

  • Whoosh very interesting!

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