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Westen and the Magic Pony Presidency

[ 124 ] November 18, 2011 |

I’m not sure how many times the NYT will invite him to write the same asinine column with similar basic errors and misunderstandings. And, yes, there’s no actual evidence whatsoever that the mythical deal Obama made to kill the public option actually happened. Although since it had no chance of passing the Senate anyway if he had actually been able to get concessions in exchange this would actually be to his credit, so I don’t think that it really matters anyway. It’s relevant only if you think Obama could have turned Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman and Evan Bayh into liberals with some harsh rhetoric.

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  1. wiley says:

    Quit yer goddamned bitching, you pissing, moaning mouth-breathers of the left. You want FDR? Groom a fucking candidate, run a smart campaign, then vote for the son of a bitch. If that doesn’t work, give up, proclaim the grapes sour anyway, and then you will not have made one iota of change in your processes for evaluating the effectiveness of a leader, but at least you can say you really tried.

    Wouldn’t be an effective campaign message, but I wouldn’t blame him for thinking it.

    • The “FDR” they want, or say they want, corresponds to no historically-existing FDR. History is tidy. The world is not.

      • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

        Stupid fucking hippies!

        (Now I feel much more serious.)

      • rea says:

        These guys would all have been supporters of Henry Wallace, back in FDR’s day–or maybe Huey Long. Every man a King! FDR was more compromisng than Barak Obama, any day.

        • laqwguy says:

          I think that FDR was less of an ideologue. Or perhaps it is just that Obama is nothing more than a bag man for Wall Street and other major corporations. Dare I mention (attempted) secret deals with the insurance industry and big pharama or isn’t that allowed in these discussions?

          If you really think he had any intention of getting anything in the ACA that was even remotely progressive then you believe in magic ponys more than I do.

          • Furious Jorge says:

            Obama is a lot of things – both good and bad – but I’ve never thought of him as an ideologue before.

          • Scott Lemieux says:

            Medicaid expansion and bans on pre-existing condition discrimination aren’t “remotely progressive”? Fascinating.

            • wiley says:

              I know I feel a lot better about the best friend I ever had not dying from organ rejection after the six years we went through on the waiting list, the horror of the transplant (nobody just gets a transplant—it’s a profound procedure that includes a team of people taking turns having you read and sign papers describing the ways in which you could die on the table), and the not so great results of that transplant, and all that followed because some idiots were crying “socialism” and other idiots were crying “sell-out.”

              So all those years of so much investment by so many people may not be flushed down the tubes over an ideological spat that is, on both ends, indifferent to so many people, and my friend may finish his degree, get a job, and get on with it. He did see his daughter finish high school, so I’m not the only one who is glad that he’s alive.

            • Medicaid expansion and bans on pre-existing discrimination aren’t “remotely progressive”?

              The line that defines “remotely progressive” was, as in all cases, drawn after the fact, to make sure nothing in the bill would qualify.

          • Or perhaps it is just that Obama is nothing more than a bag man for Wall Street and other major corporations.

            You’ve never read anything about FDR’s political life before he ran for the presidency, have you?

            Dare I mention (attempted) secret deals with the insurance industry

            You mean the one that is disproved in the link you didn’t read?

      • Malaclypse says:

        The “FDR” they want, or say they want, corresponds to no historically-existing FDR.

        Are you saying this was not intended as a factual documentary?

      • Murc says:

        That’s bullshit. I’m the first to criticize people for magical thinking, but Obama could stand to be more like FDR. I don’t mean the mythical FDR who created modern liberalism with the wave of his hand; I mean the FDR who wasn’t afraid to call out the banksters for the shitbags they are and who, upon signing half-a-loaf compromise legislation, would turn around and say ‘This was half-a-loaf compromise legislation. Now we’re gonna get the other half.’

        You know, the class warrior. That guy.

        • Njorl says:

          I agree. Obama got about as much legislatively as he could, but fell miles short of the political gains he could have achieved.

          The biggest political failing has been his willingness to claim the bad economy for himself. Every bit of obstructionism should have been met with accusations of repeating the failed policies of the last administration. Instead, he wanted to end partisan rancor. Then he started blathering the Republican party line about government being like a household or a business.

          So, here we are in a situation which demands massive government spending, with the government able to borrow at effectively negative interest rates, and we engage in a bipartisan effort to cut spending.

          • Furious Jorge says:

            Then he started blathering the Republican party line about government being like a household or a business.

            Which, considering that governments are completely different types of organizations with different scopes, purposes and goals from both families and businesses, is the dumbest load of horseshit ever. Anyone who really buys into that is a fucking moron.

        • I mean the FDR who wasn’t afraid to call out the banksters for the shitbags they are…

          …and having called them out, turned right around and triggered a second dip, which considered separately from the Great Depression would, all by itself, count as the second biggest economic crisis of the last century.

          More like “I welcome their hatred… but I buy their take on the macro-economic situation.”

          Sort of like ‘Recovery Summer’, come to think of it.

          • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

            The budget-balancing FDR of the mid-second term is the FDR Obama is like…unfortunately.

            • …except that Obama never actually signed on to any budget-slashing in a depression.

              Unlike FDR.

              • Tom Allen says:

                Then what was that “pivot to the deficit” in 2010? Did that not happen?

                My guess is that you’ll say that we weren’t in a depression but a recession, and technically were just starting to inch our way into a very long L-shaped recovery at that, but still — “pivot to the deficit” at that point?

                • Then what was that “pivot to the deficit” in 2010? Did that not happen?

                  No, no budget-slashing actually happened.

                  My guess is that you’ll say that we weren’t in a depression but a recession, and technically were just starting to inch our way into a very long L-shaped recovery at that, but still — “pivot to the deficit” at that point?

                  You guessed wrong. There was no budget-slashing in 2010.

                  There was talk about budget slashing a few years down the road, but talk is cheap, but talking in 2010 about maybe cutting the budget in a few years is not slashing the budget in a recession. Heck, it’s not even talking about slashing the budget during a recession.

                  As opposed to FDR, who actually cut the budget significantly, while the economy was still weak.

                  You have a reality-vs.-talk problem, and a timing problem.

                • If, in 1936, FDR had engaged in some public discussion about how to bring down the deficit starting in 1940, but didn’t actually implement any cuts, we’d have a legitimate comparison to Obama in 2010.

                • Historical Data:

                  Federal Budget in 1936: $8.2 billion

                  1937: $7.6 billion, a 7.3% reduction.

                  2010: $3,720.7 billion

                  2011: $3,833.9 billion, a 3% increase.

              • Tom Allen says:

                And actually I agree, the much more apt comparison, sadly, is with Hoover. Center-right president, much better than Coolidge, governed during awful economic times, tried some half-assed supply-side stimulus and tried to avoid cutting benefits too much because of the Depression. Still, things didn’t get much better.

                I still don’t know where FDR is coming from. I keep trying to recruit Krugman, but I don’t think he’s budging.

                • tried some half-assed supply-side stimulus and tried to avoid cutting benefits too much

                  Um, Barack Obama pushed through the largest Keynesian stimulus package in American history (half-assed?) and didn’t cut benefits at all, but rather, expanded them.

                  Still, things didn’t get much better.

                  Is that your understanding of this country’s economic performance during Herbert Hoover’s term? “Things didn’t get much better?”

                • dangermouse says:

                  Um, Barack Obama pushed through the largest Keynesian stimulus package in American history (half-assed?) and didn’t cut benefits at all, but rather, expanded them.

                  It’s almost like the measure of success is whether it actually prevented four years of massive unemployment.

                • dangermouse says:

                  four years of massive unemployment.

                  Whoa look at me totally discounting the the possibility that things could turn right around in 2012.

                • It’s almost like the measure of success is whether it actually prevented four years of massive unemployment.

                  It’s almost as if you’re ignoring what the discussion was about and intruding irrelevantly into a conversation that has nothing to do with you.

                • Whoa look at me

                  Maybe you should just stop there. It really does sum up what you have to say.

    • dangermouse says:

      Yes, Obama has it so much tougher than all of those unemployed people all over the place.

      Now watch this pivot.

  2. Murc says:

    So what’s the over/under on the length of this thread? I’m gonna say 110.

    I would think if Obama had made a deal to kill the public option, he’d have gone loud with it as a way of burnishing his centrist cred.

    If you want to distrust Obama on core liberal priorities, there are plenty of things he has ACTUALLY DONE that you can hit him over the head with. The public option kerfuffle is kind of silly. There was no secret deal.

    Sidebar: you’ve been keeping very late hours lately, Scott. Or at least you have posts that are going up in the wee hours. You burning the midnight oil on something and making blog posts on your breaks?

    • wiley says:

      Perhaps he has been bitten and is becoming a creature of the night? Ya never know.

    • david mizner says:

      As I understand it, there was indeed a deal to kill a form of the public option, the better one but not all of them. Tom Daschle acknowledged this:

      http://thinkprogress.org/health/2010/10/05/171689/daschle-interview/

      In his book, Daschle reveals that after the Senate Finance Committee and the White House convinced hospitals to to accept $155 billion in payment reductions over ten years on July 8, the hospitals and Democrats operated under two “working assumptions.” “One was that the Senate would aim for health coverage of at least 94 percent of Americans,” Daschle writes. “The other was that it would contain no public health plan,” which would have reimbursed hospitals at a lower rate than private insurers.

      So Obama dealt away a PO “that would have reimbursed hospitals at a lower rate than private insurers” but left open at least the theoretical possibility of other lesser POs.

      And contrary to your claim that Obama would have touted this to play up his centrist cred, he kept this deal a secret for obvious reasons: dealing away progressive priorities to win the support of corporate entities is ugly stuff that would have infuriated progressives and not exactly charmed independents, who also favored the PO in large numbers.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      Midnight is late? What, are you people adults with children or something?

    • Ed says:

      I would think if Obama had made a deal to kill the public option, he’d have gone loud with it as a way of burnishing his centrist cred.

      No, he wouldn’t, as has been noted, because he was making enough positive noises about the public option at the time to make such an admission look more two-faced than a base that had already swallowed a lot could be reasonably expected to stomach. The WH did everything it could to assure worried activists that they had everything under control and let them deal with it, don’t make waves, etc. For the most part the left did that, until it was too late to make a difference, if it wasn’t always too late.

  3. mark f says:

    So did anyone actually click all the way through to the actual Westen piece? Because even though it’s based in his area of expertise (“Drew Westen is a professor of psychology at Emory University and the author of ‘The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation.’”), it’s worse than his straight attempts at policy analysis. It reads like a over-long yet half-assed Dowd column. Obama’s a sucky president because he’s a wishy-washy narcissist who’s just like Westen’s seven-year-old kid (a daughter, of course). It’s also loaded with asides that should make Westen question his premise that everything in DC depends on the size and hardness of the president’s cock (“Does he believe that the rich and big corporations should pay more [as he has repeatedly said] or less [as he ended up negotiating for less than a year ago, when he had a lame duck Democratic Congress behind him]?”), but nope; everything is always decided in accordance with what Obama wants.

  4. Taylor says:

    There was a real chance of extending Medicare to people 55 and over. Lieberman stopped it to piss off the libs, and Obama put no pressure on him to back down, even though Obama had saved his committee chair. Lieberman crowed after discussions with Obama that Obama never brought up the PO or Medicare extension in their discussions.

    If Obama did not make a deal with the insurance companies to kill off the PO, then he’s an even worse strategist than we’ve been left to believe, since that would mean he left it to wither on the vine without getting anything in return.

    If he actually wanted it.

    • mark f says:

      So what could Obama have done to secure 60 votes for either a PO or a Medicare extension?

      If he really really wanted it.

    • Murc says:

      Obama had no pressure TO put on Joey Joe-Joe.

      Lieberman has been mishandled every step of the way. There’s no argument there. But saying to him ‘Joe, support this or else’ gets you the response ‘Or else WHAT?’ and no bill at all. A Senator in his last term in a caucus that’s unwilling to discipline him (and even were he so inclined, Harry Reid could not muster the votes to discipline Lieberman) is basically immune to pressure.

      • laqwguy says:

        Wait, wait I know this one. The president has no real power to do anything. So it really doesn’t matter because even with a mandate the president can’t accomplish anything.

        Does this give me a passing grade professor?

        • Murc says:

          Well, no, it doesn’t, because its wrong in nearly every respect. If you think the President has no real power to do anything and that political mandates don’t affect his political options you have a deeply flawed understanding of how government works.

          • Njorl says:

            So you’re saying that the president is the omnipotent overlord whose will is manifest? It can only be one or the other you know. Thinking anything else means you’re dishonest.

        • Scott Lemieux says:

          Mandate, in this context, is a Latin word meaning “bullshit.” You have the votes in the Senate or you don’t. You have some actual, concrete leverage that can be specified or you don’t.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      I see. So the fact that Lieberman changed his position solely to piss off liberals means that if liberals put more pressure on Lieberman he would have gone along. Can’t see any flaws in that logic!

      • Rob says:

        The fact that Liberman wasn’t immediately given a job someplace out of the way in the administration (Ambassador to St James would be perfect) is a terrible failing.

        • mark f says:

          That assumes that Lieberman would’ve accepted a crappy appointment and ignores that his replacement would’ve been appointed by Connecticut’s Republican governor.

          • Captain Splendid says:

            Wait, the top diplomatic job in the US is a ‘crappy appointment’?

            I almost got to live in Mayfair once. There’s worse ways to go.

            • mark f says:

              I guess I didn’t read Rob’s parenthetical. I withdraw the “crappy appointment” remark.

              Nevertheless, whether Lieberman would accept that position is immaterial to the ACA debate considering that he would’ve been replaced in the Senate by a Republican anyway.

    • If Obama did not make a deal with the insurance companies to kill off the PO, then he’s an even worse strategist than we’ve been left to believe, since that would mean he left it to wither on the vine without getting anything in return.

      This, too, is discussed in the link. To sum up, he used “…and it isn’t even going to contain a public option” to push back against those who wanted the bill scaled back even further.

      Did anybody read the link?

  5. c u n d gulag says:

    The right wing does a good enough job coming up with baseless and stupid meme’s for the MSM.

    So, thank you, they don’t really need the help of people on the left.

    And this idea that Obama ‘dealt-away/killed-off the PO,’ is, as has been pointed out countless times, not only counterproductive and baseless, it’s actually damaging to him.
    There was no magic Pixie dust he could have spread on the Senate – no unicorns – that would have gotten 60 votes.
    Besides, if I had a Unicorn, I’d shove that horn up Lieberman’s ass and parade him on TV, that self-satisfied, sanctimonious, smug, and worthless POFS.

    And after I get done with Little Boots’ and Darth Cheney’s graves, I want to head on over and piss and shit on Lieberman’s.

    • wiley says:

      Can I help? I have power tools and a Sears card if more power is needed.

    • BradP says:

      The continuing downturn in the economy and growing dissatisfaction we see in political discourse would lead me to believe that a bitter losing battle over a public option would have been a far better long-term strategy.

      I think pushing the public option would have gotten a great deal of public support and put pressure on its opponents to be flexible. Likewise, high public support for the public option would have made it a calling card and cause of future elections were it to fail due to the obstinance of its opponents.

      • You might be right about the politics, BradP. Obama could have probably had a “glorious defeat,” gotten no bill, insured exactly no additional Americans…and a million internet leftists, each of whom currently has excellent health insurance, would have cheered him on.

      • Njorl says:

        The bulk of uninformed independent voters don’t like losing. A politician can support a popular bill, but if he fails, those who would have benefitted from it’s passage are likely to vote for those who defeated the effort.

        Elections are decided by the kind of people who will vote for someone who successfully screws them because they like winners.

  6. Ken Houghton says:

    It’s relevant only if you think Obama could have turned Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman and Evan Bayh into liberals with some harsh rhetoric.

    Or if you remember that the final PPACA was passed under reconciliation.

    • rea says:

      You need to go look up how reconciliation works, before spouting off on the internet about it.

    • mark f says:

      That was the conference committee version, meaning it had already passed the Senate, and that was only done because of the unusual circumstance of Kennedy’s death after initial passage and Scott Brown’s assumption of the seat and pledge to filibuster in the interim.

      • mark f says:

        My timeline is muckled. Kennedy died in August 2009, but he was temporarily replaced by Paul Kirk via gubernatorial appointment until the special election could be held (don’t ask), and PPACA passed the Senate in December with a 60-40 party-line vote. Brown won the special election and replaced Kirk in February 2010, and pledged to filibuster final passage of the bill. Since the seat had switched parties that left only 59 votes. The House then scrapped its version of PPACA and passed the Senate version. Reconciliation was then used to force final passage of what had already been passed with a supermajority.

        The point stands that there’s no evidence that reconciliation could’ve been used to pass a different bill, if indeed it was even technically possible.

    • Or if you remember that the final PPACA was passed under reconciliation.

      No, it wasn’t. This mythical beast you’re calling “the final PPACA” was a brief list of minor changes. The actual PPACA could not have been passed under reconciliation.

  7. sleepyirv says:

    I had a physical yesterday and the doctor yesterday was complaining about Obama’s use of executive orders. I did not argue with him, on the principle you should never argue with someone who has their hands around your throat, but it hits me magic pony Presidency is really a reasonable right-wing talking point (they need to blame Obama for the past 11 years) but makes absolutely no sense for a leftie. What’s Westen’s best-case scenario with this editorial? Obama grows a thick beard, smokes cigars, and declares the US to be a socialist paradise?

  8. actor212 says:

    Wouldn’t a simple prima facie analysis prove that, if Obama had kow-towed like that, the HMOs would have supported HCR and the Tea Party wouldn’t even exist?

  9. david mizner says:

    What’s weird about Westen’s pieces that in assessing Obama’s crappy presidency, he scratches his head and tries to come up with explanations yet never acknowledges the obvious: that Obama has cast his lot with the corporate wing of the party. That fact pretty much explains his presidency. From his pushing a Grand Bargain to his killing the effort to break up the big banks to his dismal bank-friendly approach to the foreclosure crisis to his concern about deficits that led to his failure to push a significant stimulus to his bad environment decisions to his casting aside the public option…he’s pulling straight from a playbook that has dominated the Democratic Party since the nineties. No mystery here: this is still Robert Rubin’s party.

    • Sharon says:

      Winner!

      You may argue that he’s the best that this system can generate, but don’t ask m cheer on the DLC win of the party.

    • Obama did not ‘cast his lot’ with the corporate wing of the Democratic Party. He is and has been a member of that wing. Also too, so are almost all the Democratic senators. What a shock, then, that their policy choices on health care issues are consistent with their policy choices on other issues.

  10. BradP says:

    The New York Times reported two deals:

    Drug industry lobbyists said they negotiated a deal to contribute $80 billion over 10 years toward the cost of an overhaul with Mr. Baucus, under White House supervision, before taking it to the president for final approval. House lawmakers have said they were caught by surprise when it was announced.

    Hospital industry lobbyists, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of alienating the White House, say they negotiated their $155 billion in concessions with Mr. Baucus and the administration in tandem. House staff members were present, including for at least one White House meeting, but their role was peripheral, the lobbyists said.

    Several hospital lobbyists involved in the White House deals said it was understood as a condition of their support that the final legislation would not include a government-run health plan paying Medicare rates — generally 80 percent of private sector rates — or controlled by the secretary of health and human services.

    The block on reimportation angers me as more than the death of the public option.

    But to the point of this post, how does the second deal not kill the public option?

    • Hogan says:

      As Mizner notes above, it kills one possible version of the public option.

    • This, too, is addressed in the link. The deal with the drug makers is openly acknowledged. The “deal” with the hospitals was not a deal, but a reassurance Obama gave them late in the process after realizing he didn’t have the votes for a public option.

      Once again, did any of the critics actually read the link?

      • BradP says:

        Neither the WaPo article linked or the NYT mentioned a time frame, although that NYT article was published in Aug 2009, which seems far too early for Obama to determine he didn’t have the votes.

        The Bernstein piece even says this:

        The second, with the hospitals, limited how much ACA would cost them.

        That is misleading at best. In the deal the hospitals took on greater costs in order to make sure that there would be no government ran program that paid less than market insurers and wasn’t administered by the HHS.

        I would like for you to present a version of the public option that wouldn’t be administered by having the HHS controlling reimbursement rates.

          • BradP says:

            Do you have a link to some sort of estimate showing how effective these co-ops would be?

            I also noticed that that program apparently got defunded by the recent budget deal.

            • BradP says:

              And I should add that I love the idea of health insurance co-ops. I tend to use lodge practice systems of the early 20th century as a model of my preference.

              With that said I have two problems with them:

              1. I expect them to be ruled and regulated to death until the only ones that exist have some sort of government favor. And generally only entities that support corporate profit margins tend to get government privelege in this country.

              2. I don’t believe any consumer-lead health insurance that is so large to overcome the transaction costs and put itself in a good bargaining position.

            • Do you have a link to some sort of estimate showing how effective these co-ops would be?

              I was answering your question. Should I take your effort to change the subject as an acknowledgment that I did, and that your thesis was wrong?

              • BradP says:

                History has not been kind to these sort of ventures, and saying “Obama left the door open to this historically unsuccessful option” isn’t a very convincing answer.

                If that is the length you are willing to go in your answer, that is fine, but I’m still not happy with the deal Obama cut, and I still feel that it undermined the possibility of any sort of public option that might serve to undercut the priveleged margins and rents enjoyed by private health insurers.

      • david mizner says:

        “Late in the process”?

        July was late in the process?

        • Yup. The process for putting the bill together began when there was still snow on a ground, and it had been mostly fleshed out by the times the leaves had started falling.

          July was relatively late in the process of crafting the bill. You might remember ranting and cursing Max Baucus around that time for how long he was taking.

  11. Lee says:

    Shorter liberal ACA critics: But this time after several
    past failures, we could have gotten single payer
    if Obama tried.

    • If you have even a fourth-grade understanding of how our government works, it is exactly as easy to “buy” the observation that the President has limited power over the Senate on days when he issues an executive order as on days when he does not.

      • Uncle Kvetch says:

        Joe, the point of the link was that Obama caved on the issue in question in response to a smear campaign. He was not powerless before the irresistible force of right-wing radio talk show hosts and viral emails, but he chose to capitulate to them anyway.

        Sometimes the balance of institutional forces really does make presidential action impossible. This wasn’t one of those times.

        In anticipation of a spittle-flecked volley of insults regarding my intelligence and comprehension of the US political system, I remain faithfully yours,

        UK

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      I’m glad you’re keeping up the fight against the zero people who think that the president lacks the power to issue executive orders.

  12. [...] If only Obama were a leader with leadership capabilities, he would show leadership by issuing a firm, hard presidential statement that would immediately get everyone to agree with him, especially congressional Republicans.   Westen was right! [...]

  13. [...] of its virtues, as you have seen, is that it counteracts the Drew Westen view of the presidency that remains so common. FDR had a greater influence on the trajectory of American [...]

  14. [...] not sure why the Times didn’t just go directly to Drew Westen if it wanted this terrible argument made [...]

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