Subscribe via RSS Feed

To Explain What Should Be Obvious

[ 311 ] March 26, 2012 |

For reasons I can’t understand, every week or so some number of leftier-than-thou commenters who apparently have very romantic picture of American political history quote me as saying that Obama is the second-most progressive president since FDR as definitive proof that I’m s starry-eyed Obot or something. This is very strange.

Anyway, the reason I said that is that it’s obviously true. I mean, who’s the other candidate? Clinton, whose closest thing to a progressive achievement was a budget he himself described as Rockefeller Republican and who signed a lot of terrible legislation (some of which was crucial to the 2008 collapse?) Carter, the one Democratic president of the last century who was arguably to the right of the median vote in Congress? Kennedy, whose significant achievements consisted of tax cuts and Vietnam? Truman had a decent policy agenda but had notably little success passing it, and couldn’t get even a third of either house to stop Taft-Hartley bu upholding his veto, some of the most important bad legislation ever passed by Congress. And his Supreme Court choices were abysmal.

To reiterate, the point of this is not that Obama has been an incredibly progressive president or something. The points are that 1)when no presidents come close to meeting exceptions of what you think progressive presidents are supposed to achieve one might want to question your conception of presidential power, and 2)if you expect political change to come from the top down you’re going to be perennially disappointed (and that goes triple if you think it will come from presidents “educating the public” by using the Political Capital of the Bully Pulpit to Achieve a Game Changing Mandate on Steroids.)

Comments (311)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Warren Terra says:

    Um, what happened to Johnson? He’s not in your lsit at all, and he’s got a strong case.
    It’s not really clear where Johnson’s heart was (Caro seems to be hinting he was sincere about poor folks, but for all I love reading Caro I’ve heard others criticize his take), but leaving aside his motives and looking at his record, he did Civil Rights, Voting Rights, Medicare, and Medicaid. And probably did other progressive things I’m forgetting.
    And, oh, yeah, Vietnam. And Johnson wasn’t terrific on civil liberties. But foreign and military policy and civil liberties aren’t Obama’s string points, either – and while FDR may not have gotten us into (or, as with LBJ and Obama, escalated) any unnecessary foreign wars, he certainly had his hands full with the necessary ones.

  2. jefft452 says:

    “Carter, the one Democratic president of the last century who was arguably to the right of the median vote in Congress? Kennedy, whose significant achievements consisted of tax cuts and Vietnam?”

    Arent you missing somebody between JFK and Carter?

  3. Bill Murray says:

    well there is this http://voteview.com/blog/?p=317 that pretty well directly contradicts Scott — using DW Nominate scores for when “the president clearly indicates his support or opposition to a particular (often contentious) measure”, Obama is the most conservative democratic president since WW2

    • Ben says:

      Do you really think LBJ was more conservative than Carter?

      • Bill Murray says:

        in some areas absolutely, but really examining the methodology and figuring out why this occurred is much more edifying than an opinion.

        • Ben says:

          I agree, but I couldn’t access the paper which (I think) explains their methodology.

          So, without being able to access the methodology, the only way someone (at least, I) can evaluate this is with the smell test, which it don’t pass. As you say, LBJ was in some areas definitely more conservative than Carter. But this score was used by the authors, and by you, to compare the overall ranking of different administrations. And to say that JFK, Carter and Clinton (and maybe Truman, I can’t quite tell) had more liberal administrations than LBJ is, to paraphrase Scott, obviously false.

          • Manju says:

            And to say that JFK, Carter and Clinton (and maybe Truman, I can’t quite tell) had more liberal administrations than LBJ is, to paraphrase Scott, obviously false.

            I think its that Nominate doesn’t take an actual ideological shift into consideration.

            So, for example, let’s say we have 20 communists in Parliament and 20 Fascists on the other end. DW-Nom scores everyone from -1 (most left) to +1 (most right). A legislator who votes 50% of the time with each faction would score a perfect 0.

            Now lets say, one fine day all the communists get booted but there are still 20 fascists. So the furthest left (-1) is now Socialist. A legislator who does what the previous one did (votes 50% of the time with each faction) would also score a 0.

            But he would obviously be to the right of the first guy. Its just that communism is no longer an ideology to be reckon with.

            In the US context, the vaaaaast majority of roll-calls fall in the economic sphere. Nominate probably doesn’t take into account that the Keynesian consensus used to include the Right, but now the free-market ideology includes the Left.

            • UserGoogol says:

              I don’t think DW-Nominate automatically rescales like that. The particular algorithm seems a little complicated to explain, but it doesn’t seem to involve anything as blunt as just renormalizing the data every new Congress. Drifts in political opinion cause significant problems for the system, but it does seem to be something it takes into account to some extent.

    • Warren Terra says:

      I don’t like the measure: a President that talks big and gets nothing done would score as being very liberal, while a President that is extremely diplomatic in public but oversees the passage of important liberal legislation would appear very conservative.

    • Manju says:

      Re DW-Nominate methodology

      Its really for legislators, not Presidents. They look at every roll-call (including procedural votes) and determine who is really voting with who.

      So they are crunching huge amounts of data here. Their methodology has the advantage of taking judgment calls out of the equation. It also does not take into account “brave talk”. A legislator who says they are for something in public, but votes against it in a procedural vote, gets demasked (very helpful for civil rights). No credit for talk, only walk.

      But for Presidents, such data is limited. They are merely going by Presidential support votes.

      • chris says:

        Support votes are brave talk. They should restrict it to veto/sign. When Obama *vetoes* the public option *after it passes Congress*, then I’ll believe he’s against it. Because that would be actual evidence! See the difference?

        • DocAmazing says:

          See also: NDAA

          • joe from Lowell says:

            Good point: veto/sign doesn’t take into account situations like the NDAA, in which the President signed a bill only after working to make it more liberal. It would treat signing the original bill without a peep and signing an amended version after a fight exactly the same.

            • DocAmazing says:

              Now we get “more liberal” targeted killings of US citizens abroad. Comforting.

              • joe from Lowell says:

                The NDAA has nothing to do with targeted killings. Nothing. The argument over the NDAA was about detention.

                You are remarkably ignorant about policy.

            • Njorl says:

              Even sign/veto on NDAA wouldn’t have been that informative statistically. It passed congress with an overwhelmingly veto-proof majority. Obama’s actions were entirely symbolic, and therefore prone to posturing one way or another.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      That kind of measure is essentially useless, for the reasons already stated — it rewards presidents who don’t get anything passed. If you think that JFK should get more credit for the Civil Rights Act than LBJ, then by all means keep using it.

    • John F says:

      The republican scores look about right, the Dem ones are just wrong, as someone above says they don’t pass the smell test.

      I think that perhaps they are putting things in that really have no bearing on liberal/conservative.

      For instance, LBJ was most definitely a hawk, Jimmy Carter was most definitely not. IMHO that is irrelevant in deciding whether one was more or less liberal/conservative that the other.

      OTOH in many ways Government regulation/interference with the market reached a peak under Carter- I don’t see that as bearing on Carter being a “liberal” what is “liberal” or progressive about price controls on various commodities?

      I think that on what REALLY MATTERS to liberal/progressives their is no doubt that LBJ was well to the left of Carter.

      • Malaclypse says:

        OTOH in many ways Government regulation/interference with the market reached a peak under Carter- I don’t see that as bearing on Carter being a “liberal” what is “liberal” or progressive about price controls on various commodities?

        This is a conservative myth. Carter began deregulation. Regulation was at its height under Nixon, who went so far as to regulate wages and prices.

      • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

        For instance, LBJ was most definitely a hawk, Jimmy Carter was most definitely not.

        Without in any way coming to the defense of the DW Nominate presidential scores (which I agree seem odd), this statement about hawkishness is not quite right.

        First, LBJ’s steadfast support for the Vietnam War was more about a desperate fear of being seen as too dovish as it was about actual hawkishness. Prior to becoming President, the focus of LBJ’s political career had been almost entirely domestic. And the primary lens through which he saw the VN War, at least in the first couple years of his presidency, was his concerns about how his prosecution of it might affect his domestic agenda. One of the tragedies of the Johnson presidency is that measures taken to shore himself up politically ended up destroying his presidency politically instead.

        Second, Carter’s dovishness was largely confined to the first two years of his presidency. Especially following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Carter became quite hawkish (following the lead of his hawkish NSA Zbigniew Brzezinski), massively increasing the Defense budget and reestablishing draft registration.

    • joe from Lowell says:

      “the president clearly indicates his support or opposition to a particular (often contentious) measure”

      Talk is cheap. This is terrible way to judge presidents.

  4. Ben says:

    I totes agree 100%.

    I tend to think this happens because saying “Obama is the most progressive president since LBJ/arguably better than Roosevelt” is a common rhetorical strategy employed to try and win arguments against Obama’s critics. It functions mainly like “More Republicans than Democrats voted for the CRA” does for wingnuts: not as an actual intellectual point but as an attempt to short-circuit criticism with facts that, while true, don’t actually support an argument.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that, in an environment where that tactic is common, a political scientist trying to make an unassailable scholarly point is going to break some tripwires in people primed to associate that point with that tactic, and make them say silly things.

    • John says:

      Actually, more Democrats than Republicans voted for the Civil Rights Act. 46 Democrats and 27 Republicans voted for it in the Senate; 153 Democrats and 136 Republicans voted for the final version in the House.

      • Ben says:

        You caught my inaccurate phrasing. Should be “a higher proportion of Republican Congressmen voted for the CRA”. It was about 80%-20% for Republicans in both chambers, 65%-35% for Democrats, but since there were more Democrats there were more Democratic votes for the CRA than Republican ones.

        • Scott Lemieux says:

          And if you control for region, Dems were more likely to vote for the CRA.

          • John says:

            Yes. There was some northern Republican opposition to civil rights, while there was virtually no northern Democratic opposition. There were a few southern Democrats who supported civil rights, while no southern Republicans did (although obviously there were far fewer of them).

            • Ben says:

              This is central to my point

            • Manju says:

              There was some northern Republican opposition to civil rights, while there was virtually no northern Democratic opposition.

              You’re using only the final vote on the 64-cra as your metric obviously. See DW-Nominate chart below, taking into account all civil rights roll-calls over the years. Northern Dems were more opposed than Republicans.

              There were a few southern Democrats who supported civil rights, while no southern Republicans did (although obviously there were far fewer of them).

              Well, no Southern Republican Senator voted for the 1957 civil rights Act…because there were none!

          • Manju says:

            And if you control for region, Dems were more likely to vote for the CRA

            .

            Scott,

            DW-Nominate (2nd dimension, i.e. civil rights) controlling for party and region. This is not just the final vote on the 64cra, but every single roll-call (including procedural) for every single bill.

            As you can see, Dems…even with their Dixiecrat faction carved out, were less likely to support civil rights than republicans.

            Senate:

            http://voteview.com/images/Senate_Party_Means_46-111_2nd.jpg

            House:

            http://voteview.com/images/House_Party_Means_46-111_2nd.jpg

            Note: You want to focus on the civil rights era from about 1935 to about 1970’s. Before and after are irrelevant.

            Before that, most votes tracked Bimetallism (since they are carving out the regional differences). After around 1970 (I think) there were simply were not many civil rights roll calls.

  5. Thers says:

    Yeah, well, Obama clearly has not made very effective use of the bully pulpit in his term. Scott’s argument is invalid.

    • Evidence says:

      Just because reflexive Obama-haters choose to ignore the content of the town-hall-style speeches he’s been giving, all across the country, non-stop, for the past three years, doesn’t mean those speeches didn’t happen. He’s been out there saying all the things his knee-jerk lefty critics say he should be saying. But they ignore him because it’s more satisfying to moan and to be seen moaning.

      In other words: he has been using the pulpit. But the pulpit’s power is largely imaginary. And, whatever effect it has on the general public, it has absolutely no effect on members of Congress. And it’s Congress who controls the legislation the President gets to sign or veto, not the general public.

      • DocAmazing says:

        And it’s the public who elects them. And the public sees things other than the town-hall speeches, too, like Geithner and deficit-hawkery and…oh, why go on? 2010 was its own demonstration.

        • Evidence says:

          And to think, the GOP managed that without the awesome powers of the Bully Pulpit. It’s almost as if there’s more to politics than the Presidency.

          • DocAmazing says:

            Yeah, when you’ve got FOX and pretty much the entire corporate media on your side–or at least not questioning you– with no pushback from the White House, you’re riding high.

            Now if you do have some pushback…

        • joe from Lowell says:

          2010 was its own demonstration.

          You heard it here first: the results of the 2010 election were, first and foremost, about political rhetoric.

    • joe from Lowell says:

      Yeah, well, Obama clearly has not made very effective use of the bully pulpit in his term.

      No president has ever “made very effective use of the bully pulpit,” because there is no such thing as “very effective use of the bully pulpit,” and there never has been.

  6. JS says:

    I take it that “most progressive” is relative to where the “center” lies at that time? I don’t think that’s an unreasonable standard. But I think that when people—ok, some people balk at calling Obama “the 2nd most progressive etc.”, they have in mind, e.g., that his signature progressive legislation, the ACA, is modeled after a Heritage Foundation blueprint. So they might at in part be balking at defining “most progressive” against a “center” that’s shifted steadily rightward. And I think there’s a point to that too.

    On the other hand, I entirely agree with your last paragraph. Can’t be said enough I think.

    • Holden Pattern says:

      Some of the balking is because the “center” “moving” “right” wasn’t a passive activity that just happened in the same way that earthquakes do (in non-fracking zones).

      It was the result of a deliberate strategy by a lot of well-funded people, and the Dems ultimately decided that they would not fight it very hard. So yeah, maybe Obama is the second most progressive president since FDR, which basically says that the Dems suck — they made a decision at a certain point that they were going to adopt a corporatist worldview and not try to fight the moving center — which is favorable to impunity for financial and political elites, preserving or even strengthening the rentier classes, and the exercise of unreviewable executive power in a condition of permanent war. And Obama is the result of that.

      • Pepe says:

        And if you want the “center” to stop moving rightward (the ratchet effect), you need to stop voting for Dems, even if they are the least worst choice.

        • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

          This doesn’t follow, Pepe…even if you believe that continuing to vote for the Democrats under these conditions will move things steadily rightward.

          Not voting for Democrats elects Republicans, which ratchets things rightward even faster.

          • Scott Lemieux says:

            I dunno, IB. Without Nader throwing the election to Bush, I don’t see how Kucinich/Mumia could have been elected in ’04.

            • Jesse Levine says:

              Good tactic Scott. Throwing this meaningless chum in the water to get the sharks fighting each other so you don’t have to comment on the Obama administration’s latest bizarre moves. Specifically, and right in your wheelhouse, the ACLU FOIA suit for the kill and drone memos.

              • DocAmazing says:

                It’s a tradition: once anyone points out that voting Blue Dog/DLC helps consolidate Republican goals, Scott trots out the Nader bit.

                It’s good to have things that we can count on in this uncertain world.

                • joe from Lowell says:

                  If it didn’t work, he wouldn’t do it.

                  It’s an unassailable argument, which is why people respond to it by shouting “NO FAIR!” instead of putting together a rebuttal.

                • DocAmazing says:

                  The rebuttal’s easy, and has been made over and over: Gore lost that one all on his own, culminating with the refusal to demand a statewide recount and call out law enforcement on the Brooks Brothers Riot.

                • joe from Lowell says:

                  You can’t even follow the simplest discussion, can you?

                  Scott’s argument wasn’t about Gore’s strategery, but about the effects of his loss.

                  Let me try to get you back on track: Scott is taking exception to the argument, made by Pepe, that people voting against the Democrats and thereby causing them to lose will lead them to move to the left. He pointed out that, when the Democrat lost while being challenged from his left, the result was not a movement to the left among the Democrats.

                  Your feelings about Al Gore are irrelevant. I suspect you’re trying to have a different argument because you agree that there is no real rebuttal to Scott’s point, but I hold out the possibility that you just got lost. Again.

          • Pepe says:

            In the short term, yes. Moving the Dem party leftward is a long term strategy. You need to break the backs of the DLC/3rd Way, etc.

            • Malaclypse says:

              Heightening the contradictions is bound to work this time. What could go wrong?

              • Socraticsilence says:

                Has heightening the contradictions ever worked in a real world setting or is it like Communism something that sound good theoretically but in practice is irredeemably flawed?

                • Malaclypse says:

                  One could argue that heightening the contradictions in Russia in 1914-1917 did result in a more leftwing government from 1917-1922 than would otherwise have resulted.

                  I’m not sure how many tens of millions of people died as part of that process.

            • joe from Lowell says:

              Moving the Dem party leftward is a long term strategy.

              Can you name a single example in the last century of the Democrats moving leftward as a consequence of electoral defeat?

              Did they become more liberal after 2000? 2002? 1980? 1984? 1968? 1952?

              Ever?

              • Furious Jorge says:

                Exactly. Why the hell would they? Electoral defeat tells them that the path to victory *next* time lies in becoming more like the victors *this* time.

                I really don’t get why people like Pepe can’t see this.

                • joe from Lowell says:

                  Going by my own history, when I thought like Pepe, I was driven by a combination of desire to be counter-cultural (instead of being corrupted by the system, man) and a temperamental aversion to compromise in principle.

                • joe from Lowell says:

                  A much better place to start, if you want to move the Democrats to the left, is to ask, “When did the Democrats move to the left?” and go from there.

                  The Democrats were more liberal in the 1930s than before that. The Democrats were more liberal on Iraq after about 2005 than from 2001-2005. The Democrats forced the end of the Vietnam War in the years following Watergate.

                  Thesis: The Democrats become more liberal after the Republicans suffer major political setbacks.

                • That seems to me to require some Broderian middle ground that both parties want to inhabit. Define that middle ground as “the most votes” and yeah sure, but it doesn’t really do much to say why X might favour a policy more than Y.

                • fasteddie9318 says:

                  Exactly. Why the hell would they? Electoral defeat tells them that the path to victory *next* time lies in becoming more like the victors *this* time.

                  Now, see, this is an interesting question all by itself. There is a rational case to be made that the lesson any political party should take from a loss is to try “becoming more like the victors.” For Democrats that is how it seems to work. For Republicans, on the other hand, the lesson they take from every loss is to become less like the victors. Republican loss? Time to lurch to the right! Democratic loss? Time to lurch to the, um, right!

                  Why is that? Do Republican brains not work right? But if that were true, why hasn’t their ongoing march off the right-wing cliff finally wrecked the party? Or is it only a matter of time? Or are the Democrats the ones taking the wrong lessons from their losses?

                • joe from Lowell says:

                  For Republicans, on the other hand, the lesson they take from every loss is to become less like the victors.

                  Hmm. After the 1992 defeat, the Republicans nominated Bob Dole. After their 1996 defeat, they nominated George W. Bush, who (it’s easy to forget in 2012) was best-known for working in a bipartisan manner with Texas Democrats, and who campaigned as a “compassionate conservative.” After their 1964 loss, they nominated Richard Nixon. After their 2008 loss, they’re going to nominate Mitt Romney. (This one gets complicated, because they certainly went full-teabagger for the midterms, but have swung right back for the Presidential).

                  On the other hand, after the 1976 loss, they nominated Reagan. After the 1960 loss, they nominated Barry Goldwater.

                  I see twice as many moves to the center than moves to the right from the Republicans after losses in that list. Perhaps I’m wrong, perhaps it’s actually about 50/50. Nonetheless, there doesn’t seem to be any solid evidence for your thesis about the Republicans moving right after defeats.

                • ironic irony says:

                  joe from lowell (@ 1:37), you make an excellent case. I believe you are forgetting one big unfortunate factor here: the hitching of the Religious Whackadoo Right to the Republican party. Perhaps this can explain why after a loss the Republicans seem to push further and further to the right. Think about it- they are all tripping over each other to appear as reactionary as possible….

                  What say you about this?

                • joe from Lowell says:

                  Irony, I think it makes more sense to postulate that the Republicans are moving to the right (or have been moving to the right) in an overall sense, then to postulate that there is something going on related to electoral defeats.

                • ironic irony says:

                  Please forgive me, as I am more mentally slower than you folks. So what you are saying is that the Republicans are moving more toward the right regardless of real-life political outcomes.

                  Got it.

        • JL says:

          The way I try to stop the center moving rightward is by participating in activism to build lefty coalitions and popular support for lefty ideas. While still voting for Dems, because even if it’s just slowing down the rightward shift relative to what the GOP taking control would do, it’s buying us time, and even making progress in some areas (Obamacare might be flawed and not what I’d really like, but it’s a heck of a lot better than the status quo was).

          Also, being in a well-left-of-center state and congressional district, I support Dems that are left of what would be electable in many other places when it comes to congressional elections.

        • Furious Jorge says:

          Pepe, I’d really like to understand how you think this will actually bring about anything like progressive change in the Democratic Party.

          What is *more* likely to happen is, they notice that the liberal wing of their party (such that it is) isn’t voting anymore. They realize that they’ve got basically two potential courses of action: 1) Work like hell to re-establish their left-wing credentials and woo back the disaffected liberal vote with further-left policy positions, or 2) try to steal some Republican votes by shifting their positions to the right instead.

          Which course of action do you think requires less time, effort and money?

      • chris says:

        It was the result of a deliberate strategy by a lot of well-funded people, and the Dems ultimately decided that they would not fight it very hard.

        Er… they fought the money, and the money won. Weren’t you paying attention?

    • John says:

      I think it’s foolish to take at face value health care plans proposed by Republicans entirely for show in order to come up with an excuse to oppose Democratic health care initiatives that might actually pass.

      Who cares if the Heritage Foundation disingenuously proposed something similar to Obama’s plan? The important thing is that, when in power, the Republicans never make any effort at all to do anything to reform the health care system. Obama actually passed something that makes things better for a lot of people.

      • Holden Pattern says:

        Why do you think the Heritage Foundation plan was disingenuous when proposed?

        It was a long time ago (many vertical feet lower on the wingnut slope), and it was and is a profoundly conservative plan — individual mandates, and preservation of the rentier position of the insurance companies.

        • joe from Lowell says:

          Why do you think the Heritage Foundation plan was disingenuous when proposed?

          Because the Republicans dropped it and anything like completely as soon as Clinton’s health care plan went down, and never lifted a finger to implement anything like it when they held all three branches of government.

          What could possibly be better evidence of disingenuousness than saying you want to do something, then never doing it, and then fighting like the devil to oppose it when someone else tries to do it?

          • mpowell says:

            Some would say it was a political error by the Republicans to fail to introduce their own red-herrring plan this time around. So we finally got healthcare reform after half a century of trying.

            • joe from Lowell says:

              “Some” have a pretty good point. Ben Nelson wouldn’t have been able to jump the fence fast enough.

            • Holden Pattern says:

              Well, if the plan proposed is “the Heritage Foundation plan to force individuals to buy insurance from private companies”, it becomes kinda hard to propose something more conservative other than “the God-market will sort it out.

              • joe from Lowell says:

                People can irrelevantly propose single-payer or an NHS just as easily, and just as irrelevantly, today as they could have in 2008.

                • There’s relevance in continuing to propose an NHS: some countries managed to get it somehow, and my bet is that someone initially made an outlandish proposal. At some point the proposal became relevant.

          • Holden Pattern says:

            Right. That doesn’t mean that the plan itself was disingenuous when proposed by the Heritage Foundation, though it’s possible. That only means that Republicans would kill their own grandmother for partisan advantage and to deny a Dem president a “win” no matter how crappy the “win” is.

            Of graver concern is that the Dem position on healthcare today is basically the official Republican position of 20 years ago. Just like the “reform” of welfare by Clinton was a profoundly conservative move, as was NAFTA. That, of course, is what happens when you’re dependent on huge sums of corporate money and your poorly paid staff is looking forward to lobbying jobs.

            • joe from Lowell says:

              The Heritage Foundation proposed “its” plan in the middle of the political fight over Clinton’s Plan.

              And they, too, completely dropped it once that political fight ended. Then they actively started lobbying against the ACA. You can keep calling this “their” plan, despite their opposition to it, if you want to. You can accept that the timing of their introduction and their rejection of it as coincidence, if you want to.

              But that’s probably not a very god idea.

              Of graver concern is that the Dem position on healthcare today is basically the official Republican position of 20 years ago.

              Where “official” is defined as “that which they never supported, and only brought up as a red herring.” It isn’t the slightest bit worrying to me that the Democrats passed a planned that the Republicans only ever pretended to support.

      • ironic irony says:

        “The important thing is that, when in power, the Republicans never make any effort at all to do anything to reform the health care system.”

        And the vast majority of the American public have redonkulously short political memories and instantly forget that shit. Too distracted by American Idol and Dancing with the Stars.

  7. JohnD says:

    OBRA-93 raised the top rate by 28%, the largest percentage increase since Roosevelt. After 12 years of Reaganomics, it was a major accomplishment.

    • Jackson Hunter says:

      Yeah John, expect crickets on this one, because it’s the President’s weakest spot, that he got punked on that deal. Bill Clinton also got an entire class of assault weapons banned via the Brady Bill (that has since been reversed, but that’s not his fault.) He also didn’t wipe his ass with the fucking Constitution as the current President has (Obama has been WORSE on civil liberties.)

      Clinton did have to comprimise, his own members of Congress didn’t like him because he didn’t kiss their corrupt asses and some of his bills are downright terrible. NAFTA for instance I really dislike him for, but at least it was possible it would work, but I didn’t think so. But Obama has just signed the same exact treaties for Central America for fuck’s sake, and there is heard nary a discouraging word in the Lefty Blogosphere and the few who say anything are derided as racists.

      I could go on, but it is fucking fruitless. Worshipping Obama is the law of the democratic tribe now, especially in an election year. I like what one commenter on Baloon Juice said “Obama’s like Jesus-with drone bombers.”

      Jackson

      • John says:

        I love how saying “in our deeply flawed political system, Obama is about the best we can do, and he’s had significant achievements that make him worth supporting strongly, even in spite of some mistakes and disagreements I have with him,” is defined as “worshipping Obama.”

      • John says:

        I also really don’t understand how anyone who likes Clinton or supported him in 96 has any position to go on about how other Democrats are jerks for supporting Obama. Other than raising taxes on the rich (which is a means to an end, not an end in itself) and gun control (where the Democratic Party as a whole has moved dramatically to the right since the early 90s), there’s not a single issue where Clinton was better than Obama. And I’m certainly not going to give Clinton any credit for civil liberties, since he was a) pretty bad for civil liberties himself, and b) operating under different circumstances from Obama.

        If you want to be leftier than thou and say Obama sucks and we’d all be better off if Dennis Kucnich was president, that’s fine, I guess. It’s a coherent position, at least. But once you start bringing Clinton in as a positive counterexample you’ve lost all credibility.

      • Furious Jorge says:

        Of course, didn’t the use of “secret evidence” in terrorism trials begin under Clinton?

        Not so great for civil liberties, that.

    • joe from Lowell says:

      OBRA-93 raised the top rate by 28%, the largest percentage increase since Roosevelt.

      On the other hand, Clinton signed the capital gains tax cuts later in his term. His 1993 plan was progressive, certainly, but it’s not the sum total of his record on the issue.

  8. Martin says:

    Right on, Scott. I’ve made the same argument here myself, esp. in reference to the rather heated boards on the posts having to do with the nomination of Elena Kagan, in which a lot of otherwise intelligent people were saying that Obama had “no” progressive credentials. It rather made them difficult to take seriously, but I tried.

    In one of those threads, a commenter insisted that the repeal of DADT was probably 10 years off — I asked her (it was a female username) if she would reconsider her whole take on Obama if DADT were to be repealed within 2 years of that time. She promised she would. I’m not holding my breath.

    Anyway, like Scott, I don’t consider Obama terribly progressive, unless the competition is recent American presidents. In that group he rather stands out. He’s a moderate Democrat, always has been. But if your position is that we can agitate for a far more progressive president, it’s incumbent upon you to demonstrate how that could ever happen in our system — which isn’t only a slam on the dysfunctions of our system, it’s also an observation that it’s difficult for strident progressives to resonate with large majorities in this country. It just is. If you think that’s a live possibility, you’re dreaming unless you can produce some compelling evidence, which you can’t.

    • ironic irony says:

      “it’s also an observation that it’s difficult for strident progressives to resonate with large majorities in this country.”

      Any particular reasons as to why this is? Personally, I think we’d have to finally reach “developing nation status” in terms of poverty, health care, accessibility to basic education, etc. before most Americans would listen to a strident progressive, and by then, it will be too late.

  9. Eli Rabett says:

    The place to look at Obama is not the legislative record but the changes in Federal administrative rules. By nature he is a borer rather than a dish rattler.

    • TDL says:

      Which rules implemented by the administration will have greater consequences than the W. rules they replaced?

      Which rules implemented by the Obama administration are more progressive than those implemented by the Clinton and Carter administrations?

      • joe from Lowell says:

        The Clean Air Act rules, and other EPA regs, that are driving the nail into the coffin of the coal industry.

        Lisa Jackson is going to mount that industry’s head on the wall of her den when she leaves her post.

        • joe from Lowell says:

          Speaking which, when can we expect the guy on the environmental policy beat to write about the latest nail driven into the coal industry’s coffin?

  10. soullite says:

    That’s silly. Nobody needs to ‘prove’ that you’re a starry-eyed O-bot, and they certainly don’t need to quote something random for months ago. you manage to prove it for them every day and with the overwhelming majority of your posts.

    But hey, at least you’re not Booman. That mofo is just crazy.

  11. BradP says:

    I want to ask a question of those who are familiar with my political opinions. I am not looking to argue, just looking for other opinions on this matter:

    I am a fairly radical libertarian with a social conscience. I turned 18 in 2000. My political experience has largely been defined by the Bush and Obama presidencies. The Bush presidency was horrifying, and certainly more than a little responsible for my libertarianism. The Obama presidency has been better but it ranges from the disgusting (deportations, drug war, assassinations, NDAA, Bradley Manning and whistleblowers, anti-piracy crackdowns) to “at least he isn’t insane” (gay rights, Iraq). Even his successes (bailouts, health care reform) seem like very expensive attempts to save the economy by solidifying oligarchic corporate interests in certain markets.

    In short, I feel the Obama presidency has been heavily weighted to the regressive side, and even where he has been progressive, he has entrenched certain regressive systematic problems that will be all the more difficult to wean ourselves from in the future.

    Now, that is probably a description of the Obama presidency that alot of the progressives on here would not find much argument with.

    That brings me to the topic at hand. I think there are two things I can take to be true:

    1) Progressive political philosophy is extremely dependent upon good and responsible governance. Even established progressive advances can be undermined and turned regressive by presidents like Bush and Reagan.

    2) A fair consensus on here seems to believe that Obama is the second most progressive president of the last 60+ years.

    So if retirees can only point to two incredibly flawed candidates (both handled their duty in a manner that is unacceptable to me) as being the best of their entire lifetime, and if our society has been on a regressive path for at least four decades, and if the political climate in our country is trending towards myopic idiocy:

    How would you convince a sympathetic libertarian to be a progressive?

    Is there a point where you, as a progressive, would accept libertarian skepticism of government?

    • Guy says:

      My own thought on this challenge is that I do not see any choice but to try to make government work. If you shrink government to the point that it does nothing but protect private property rights and prevent violence, the result is a plutocracy, because there is nothing to prevent the richest person(s) from dominating society and government (and said rich person(s) will then cause government to grow again to benefit themselves in the form of rents, regulations that benefit their own businesses and protect their own monopolies, etc.). In other words, I do not see what stops the libertarian ideal from collapsing into a rentier state.

      If you go further and abolish government completely, you just end up in Hobbes’ world, with the strongest man who is willing to employ violence a tyrant over whatever he can hold.

      It’s similar to the quip about democracy being the worst system, except for everything else. If you’re not going to have a government, how are you going to maintain any structure for society except brute force? (Or brute money, if you have a police force that precludes violence. And the nature of capitalism ensures that, unrestricted, money will become increasingly concentrated in fewer and fewer hands.) What choice do you have, but to try to make government work (or at least to make it less bad than it is, or less bad than it could have been)?

      • BradP says:

        If you shrink government to the point that it does nothing but protect private property rights and prevent violence, the result is a plutocracy, because there is nothing to prevent the richest person(s) from dominating society and government (and said rich person(s) will then cause government to grow again to benefit themselves in the form of rents, regulations that benefit their own businesses and protect their own monopolies, etc.). In other words, I do not see what stops the libertarian ideal from collapsing into a rentier state.

        Thank you for your response. I do have my reasons for believing that something close to the libertarian ideal wouldn’t collapse into a rentier state. But I could probably all day over that, and we’d end up where we started.

        What I can do, though, is rephrase the question in your terms:

        Do you see the last 60 years of government as adverse to plutocracy and rentiers?

        If so, how long and how much would the government policy need to be skewed towards elite rentiers before you question its efficacy?

        • Malaclypse says:

          Do you see the last 60 years of government as adverse to plutocracy and rentiers?

          The first 30 of those 60, yes. The second 30, no. Reagan really did change everything.

    • Malaclypse says:

      How would you convince a sympathetic libertarian to be a progressive?

      Given a choice between things going to shit quickly, or slowly, you should always vote for the one who will slow things down. the Lesser Evil is, well, less evil. They might even do something good along the way. I can name good things Clinton and Obama have done. Many bad things, yes, and I do not wish to minimize that. But some good in there as well.

      Can anybody name one good thing Bush accomplished?

      Always choose the Lesser Evil. People die when you don’t.

      Is there a point where you, as a progressive, would accept libertarian skepticism of government?

      Not while I remember Katrina and the aftermath. Real people died when we decided government did not matter.

      • BradP says:

        Always choose the Lesser Evil. People die when you don’t.

        If given the choice between a small libertarian government and a big George Bush government, which is the lesser of two evils?

        This is especially important, as the Bush to Obama transition has shown how difficult it is to cleanly separate the policies of the bad from the policies of the good.

        Not while I remember Katrina and the aftermath. Real people died when we decided government did not matter.

        See, this might be our irreconcilable difference.

        An event that you blame on people saying the government doesn’t matter is an event that I think helps to prove government doesn’t matter.

        I don’t remember anyone saying government doesn’t matter, and I don’t believe the government was unable to intervene in far more productive ways.

        We have a government that can mobilize to destroy and rebuild entire nations at the whim of a handful of evil foreign policy “experts”. So I don’t believe for one second that the government was handcuffed or couldn’t respond. It simply failed.

        • Malaclypse says:

          If given the choice between a small libertarian government and a big George Bush government, which is the lesser of two evils?

          That has never been, and will not ever in my lifetime be, an actual choice.

          I don’t remember anyone saying government doesn’t matter, and I don’t believe the government was unable to intervene in far more productive ways.

          Two storms, very comparable in strength: Katrina and Andrew. Two very different government responses. And while initial property damage was comparable, FEMA under Clinton minimized death, and rebuilt faster. This really happened, and I refuse to stop remembering it.

          Government could have worked when Katrina happened, just like it did work when Andrew hit. It did not, because we decided to turn government over to people who believed government to be useless. And real people died.

          • BradP says:

            That has never been, and will not ever in my lifetime be, an actual choice.

            Considering how much either the Obama or potential McCain presidencies were defined by the preceding administration, I think it is more of an actual choice than you wish to admit.

            Obama isn’t overseeing massive deportations, aggressively prosecuting a counter-productive and plainly unjust drug war, or taking an open position on war with Iran if not for the actions of his predecessor.

            It did not, because we decided to turn government over to people who believed government to be useless.

            The Bush administration was remarkable in its aggressive expansion of executive powers. He pushed some of the most expensive (and poorly thought out) health care and education reforms and entitlements of recent memory, helped inflate a massive housing bubble, pushed major tax breaks as stimulus, and started two wars.

            He clearly thought government was useful. He just obviously had no clue on how to use it (and evil intentions).

            I’m sure you’ve seen one of the many charts showing how government spending skyrocketed under the presidents that you say believed government was useless, yet fell under the other presidents.

            • Malaclypse says:

              Nobody who cares about government being run well appoints Michael Brown to head FEMA. Bush thought government had a use, fair enough – it was useful for making his friends richer. To that extent, I concede the point.

              • Davis X. Machina says:

                Not the night-watchman state, but the driving-the-get-away-car-en-route-to-the-Caymans state.

              • BradP says:

                Nobody who cares about government being run well appoints Michael Brown to head FEMA.

                And I will concede that point. W never took his responsibilities as seriously as he should have. Of course anyone with a clue could have seen that comin from a mile away.

                Bush thought government had a use, fair enough – it was useful for making his friends richer. To that extent, I concede the point.

                I think you draw too much of a difference between the motivations of Bush and Obama.

                I think Obama’s economic policies are largely informed by a group of close advisors whose personal economic well-being and their opinions on what is good for the country are very closely intertwined. For example, I think Geithner honestly believes the economic health of this country is better provided for by having a nearly untouchable and quasi-public financial sector.

                I think Bush had advisors that thought very much the same thing.

                • Malaclypse says:

                  For example, I think Geithner honestly believes the economic health of this country is better provided for by having a nearly untouchable and quasi-public financial sector.

                  Okay, but the choice is between someone who will appoint someone who believes in competent crony capitalism, and someone who will appoint a goldbug who believes we are far on the right-hand side of the Laffer Curve. Yes, Geithner sucks. Things get worse, just more slowly.

                • BradP says:

                  I respect your opinion Mal, but it still seems to me like you blame non-governmental factors for problems that you admit our government officials are also pushing for.

                  You surely can understand my difficulty in accepting this:

                  Progressive: Free markets and handicapped government are responsible for growing inequality, centralization of power, and unacceptable levels of corporate influence over government policy. The trend has been continuing in that direction for three decades and will only get worse under a free market.

                  Me: But the government and its officials have been actively intervening in the economy over those thirty years (and significantly prior to that time period) to promote inequality, centralization of economic power, and a corporatist meld of big business and government.

                  Progressive: Yes they have, even the decent ones. But we need the government to prevent inequality, centralization of economic power, and corporate oligarchy.

                  Me: ????

                • Malaclypse says:

                  Brad, here’s the thing: libertarians have about as much chance of gaining a working majority as my preference, the Socialist Workers of America. So if we want to play Fantasy Politics, then I demand you address my argument that we should rework our system to mirror Scandinavia.

                  In real life, Ron Paul voted for John Boehner as Speaker. In real life, libertarians support Republicans. In real life, they back the Greater Evil. And I persist in believing you are better than they are.

                • mpowell says:

                  I am still confused as to who you think represents the small libertarian government option on the national tickets? We’re deciding between Democrats and Republicans. Democrats try to use the government to help the people, though they frequently do this poorly. Republicans use the government to help their friends, period. Neither is actually interested in smaller government. And in particular, I’m not aware of any Republican president cutting spending (though they do cut taxes). Since Reagan, they have all been responsible for large increases in spending. Are you aware of this highly salient fact?

                • Me: But the government and its officials have been actively intervening in the economy over those thirty years (and significantly prior to that time period) to promote inequality, centralization of economic power, and a corporatist meld of big business and government.

                  Well, this is as the people appear to demand it in the form of their votes, stupid as they may be. It should be noted though, that where Wal-Mart would pull the plug on the things that cost them money, the government has the power to throw money willy-nilly at various problems and that the US citizenry is far far better off with their stupid government than they would be without it.

                • BradP says:

                  A few points to Mal:

                  I call myself a libertarian not out of an allegiance to a movement, but because my ideals fit best with what is called “libertarianism”.

                  Similarly, because I am an idea libertarian and not a movement libertarian, I often support Ron Paul’s rhetoric, but I have always been mistrustful of his political ambitions. I have stated in comments before that I will not be voting for Ron Paul. Oftentimes, however, I am pulled into defending Paul because he is the go-to guy for the “libertarianism = callous disregard” argument. He can make it tough, and I would love to pick better subjects to defend, but the “Gary Johnson’s a Racist Libertarian Prick” posts are few and far between.

                  I actually reside in a tiny little niche on the libertarian left that call themselves agorists. Its basically the libertarian form of putting your money where your mouth is.

                  Also, I haven’t exactly been critical of Scandanavian governments. They tend to have far less elaborate and expensive regulatory schemes, and their social programs are administered far more locally than in the US.

                • BradP says:

                  I am still confused as to who you think represents the small libertarian government option on the national tickets?

                  My libertarianism goes so far as even give me pause when it comes to voting. I tend to think of it as an aggressive act morally, especially with candidates like these.

                  It would take a rather remarkable candidate to get me vote in support.

                  Given some of the republican candidates, I am getting close to considering a “self-defense” vote for Obama. I am a registered Georgia voter, however, so not much point.

              • ironic irony says:

                I was just about to bring this up.

                Dubya was all about teh moneyz.

          • ReinWeiss says:

            Two storms, very comparable in strength: Katrina and Andrew. Two very different government responses. And while initial property damage was comparable, FEMA under Clinton minimized death, and rebuilt faster. This really happened, and I refuse to stop remembering it.

            I think it may be worth noting that Brad here, assuming he was telling the truth up thread, was all of 11 when Andrew hit, just like me.

            I actually remember a lot about Andrew, I lived close enough that it actually delayed my starting 7th grade by a few days, however I’m willing to bet that Brad knows squat about the response to that storm.

    • Taj Mahalo says:

      Is there a point where you, as a progressive, would accept libertarian skepticism of government?

      What do you mean by this?

      Because most progressives are skeptical of the government. Contrary to what many conservatives continue to believe, progressives do not have some kind of devotion to the idea of larger, more intrusive government for its own sake. Nor are they blind to the dangers of a government given too much power (see, for example, the progressive criticism of Obama’s civil-liberties record).

      Progressives do, however, accept that fact that government is inevitable. They further claim that government can be used to make people’s lives better, and that this is a legitimate purpose of government. That’s a broader view of what government is “for” than libertarians have. It doesn’t follow that progressives are not skeptical of the uses to which the government’s power are sometimes (often) put, just that they believe in the possibility of government working well.

      And if you look around, there are in fact lots of examples of government working well, so empirically it’s true that government can work well going beyond the nightwatchman state that libertarians idolize. But just because something can work well doesn’t mean that it always does or that it’s not the proper subject of critical analysis and reflection.

      • BradP says:

        What do you mean by this?

        Briefly and simply:

        Progressives are skeptical of what government and officials will do, libertarians are often skeptical of what government and officials can do.

        • pete says:

          Beware of lexicographical controversies. There are both statist lefties and anarchic lefties, speaking very broadly indeed. My instincts are anarchic, which makes me somewhat sympathetic to some aspects of some libertarian thought; but more importantly, my base is communitarian, which militates against many aspects of libertarian thought. And egalitarianism is really important to me. Since I am fairly smart, I struggle to balance competing interests all the time.

          Damn straight I am skeptical of what govt can do, but it does get complicated. I hate video surveillance, for instance, partly for that reason but mostly because I do feel harm — a small harm — every time some official sees me on tape in public; and those small harms add up. I believe in taxes and government services and regulations, and yet I am concerned about intrusive government. I am comfortable with the contradictions in this, it’s just a human attempt to muddle through.

          • BradP says:

            There are both statist lefties and anarchic lefties, speaking very broadly indeed.

            Socialistic Letter
            [Le Radical]

            There are two Socialisms.
            One is communistic, the other solidaritarian.
            One is dictatorial, the other libertarian.
            One is metaphysical, the other positive.
            One is dogmatic, the other scientific.
            One is emotional, the other reflective.
            One is destructive, the other constructive.
            Both are in pursuit of the greatest possible welfare for all.
            One aims to establish happiness for all, the other to enable each to be happy in his own way.
            The first regards the State as a society sui generis, of an especial essence, the product of a sort of divine right outside of and above all society, with special rights and able to exact special obediences; the second considers the State as an association like any other, generally managed worse than others.
            The first proclaims the sovereignty of the State, the second recognizes no sort of sovereign.
            One wishes all monopolies to be held by the State; the other wishes the abolition of all monopolies.
            One wishes the governed class to become the governing class; the other wishes the disappearance of classes.
            Both declare that the existing state of things cannot last.
            The first considers revolutions as the indispensable agent of evolutions; the second teaches that repression alone turns evolutions into revolution.
            The first has faith in a cataclysm.
            The second knows that social progress will result from the free play of individual efforts.
            Both understand that we are entering upon a new historic phase.
            One wishes that there should be none but proletaires.
            The other wishes that there should be no more proletaires.
            The first wishes to take everything away from everybody.
            The second wishes to leave each in possession of its own.
            The one wishes to expropriate everybody.
            The other wishes everybody to be a proprietor.
            The first says: ‘Do as the government wishes.’
            The second says: ‘Do as you wish yourself.’
            The former threatens with despotism.
            The latter promises liberty.
            The former makes the citizen the subject of the State.
            The latter makes the State the employee of the citizen.
            One proclaims that labor pains will be necessary to the birth of a new world.
            The other declares that real progress will not cause suffering to any one.
            The first has confidence in social war.
            The other believes only in the works of peace.
            One aspires to command, to regulate, to legislate.
            The other wishes to attain the minimum of command, of regulation, of legislation.
            One would be followed by the most atrocious of reactions.
            The other opens unlimited horizons to progress.
            The first will fail; the other will succeed.
            Both desire equality.
            One by lowering heads that are too high.
            The other by raising heads that are too low.
            One sees equality under a common yoke.
            The other will secure equality in complete liberty.
            One is intolerant, the other tolerant.
            One frightens, the other reassures.
            The first wishes to instruct everybody.
            The second wishes to enable everybody to instruct himself.
            The first wishes to support everybody.
            The second wishes to enable everybody to support himself.
            One says:
            The land to the State.
            The mine to the State.
            The tool to the State.
            The product to the State.
            The other says:
            The land to the cultivator.
            The mine to the miner.
            The tool to the laborer.
            The product to the producer.
            There are only these two Socialisms.
            One is the infancy of Socialism; the other is its manhood.
            One is already the past; the other is the future.
            One will give place to the other.
            Today each of us must choose for the one or the other of these two Socialisms, or else confess that he is not a Socialist.”

            -Ernest Lesigne

        • Taj Mahalo says:

          OK. Then the answer to your question is “No, there is not a point at which I, as a progressive, would accept libertarian skepticism of government.” I think government can and should benefit the people it serves. IMO, that’s what the business about “promoting the general welfare” in the Constitution is all about. We have mountains of evidence that businesses (to take one example) are not interested in regulating themselves for the greater good. To take two pertinent examples, absent government regulations, our water and air would be dirtier and our food would be less healthy. No amount of libertarian theory or actual government misconduct in other areas is going to change the empirical evidence that I live better today than I would have fifty years ago thanks to the government.

    • Evidence says:

      So if retirees can only point to two incredibly flawed candidates … as being the best of their entire lifetime

      All candidates are flawed. Nobody will ever represent your preferences 100%, except you – and if you were to become elected preference, you’d immediately discover that the limitations of the office make your preferences almost irrelevant, since Presidents don’t write legislation and they don’t control Congress.

      and if the political climate in our country is trending towards myopic idiocy

      It has always been this way. People are myopic idiots, in general.

    • Furious Jorge says:

      Is there a point where you, as a progressive, would accept libertarian skepticism of government?

      The government we actually have? (By which I mean, structure and personnel.) Absolutely.

      The concept of government in general? No way.

      I see libertarian critiques of government as being motivated by a skepticism of the very idea of government, with the overreaches of our own government trotted out as supporting evidence.

      Honestly, the best way forward in my opinion is to basically start over. Our system of government doesn’t seem to work that well when you get one side doing little more than applying simplistic forms of game theory while the other sometimes actually tries to govern responsibility.

      In other words, it’s the system and not the concept. Which, in practical terms, means we are fucked.

      • Evidence says:

        one side doing little more than applying simplistic forms of game theory while the other sometimes actually tries to govern responsibility

        Does it matter that you can hear the same critique from conservatives ?

        • mpowell says:

          I’m not going to say this is irrelevant, but I can actually investigate the claims of both sides. After thorough investigation I have concluded that conservatives are full of sh*t, so no, I’m not dissuaded by this observation. The Republican’s biggest problem at this point is that to be a conservative is to hear so many false and misleading claims made repeatedly and by people on your side that it is impossible to develop a reasonable opinion on anything in the world of politics. A Republican really has to start questioning their political identify before they can start to have reasonable opinions again, so this is why it is so uncommon on the right.

        • joe from Lowell says:

          Truth and lies, valid and invalid arguments, often sound the same.

          That’s why it’s a bad idea to try to discern truth from lies, valid from invalid, from how something superficially sounds.

    • joe from Lowell says:

      Is there a point where you, as a progressive, would accept libertarian skepticism of government?

      Libertarians aren’t skeptical of government. Skepticism is a refusal to draw a conclusion without additional, solid information. I’ve never once seen a libertarian demand more information before concluding that government is bad.

      Uni-directional skepticism isn’t skepticism. It’s bias, or prejudice. Ever see a “climate change skeptic” who held off on endorsing a global-warming-denial argument on the grounds that there wasn’t enough evidence to support it?

      • BradP says:

        Libertarian theory includes extreme takes on subjective value, information problems, moral hazards, and incentives that implies a sort of policy agnosticism. I think skepticism is an apt term.

        • joe from Lowell says:

          Agnosticism?

          “Say, Mr. Libertarian, do you think this regulatory scheme could work?”

          “Hmmm…I just don’t know. It might.”

          Yeah, I see a lot of that from libertarians. Agnosticism.

  12. Sherm says:

    Put me in a room with Albert Pujols and a paraplegic, and I’m the second best baseball player in the room. But what does that prove? I like Obama and will vote for him again, but he’s not a progressive. He’s a pragmatist and a moderate.

    • chris says:

      Put me in a room with Albert Pujols and a paraplegic, and I’m the second best baseball player in the room. But what does that prove?

      That it’s hard for baseball players to get into the room? I think you’re missing the implications of having a moderate be the second most progressive in 70 years. Actual progressives getting elected president are extremely rare! (Johnson, in fact, got there by succession; I don’t know if he could have won at the top of the ticket as a non-incumbent, but it’s historical fact that he didn’t have to.)

      • Sherm says:

        I am painfully well aware of that fact, but I would greatly appreciate it if, just once in my lifetime, a strong candidate actually tried to run as a progressive and defended liberalism in the process. My point was that the “second most progressive president” label is more a reflection on the other presidents, than on Obama himself. Its a complete misnomer. In light of the lack of any truly progressive presidents during the relevant time frame, you could also say that he is the “second least conservative” as well.

        And it also proves that I’m really bad at drawing analogies.

        • Holden Pattern says:

          The system is structured so that person can’t actually get into the room. The institutional incentives (both visible to all and hidden, like the pricey campaign consultants that you have to hire to be “serious”) are all skewed corporatist — again this was the result of a deliberate campaign by some very wealthy wingnuts and corporate CEOs and the capitulation of the Democratic Party leadership to the worldview of that campaign.

        • John says:

          Kennedy defended liberalism:

          What do our opponents mean when they apply to us the label “Liberal?” If by “Liberal” they mean, as they want people to believe, someone who is soft in his policies abroad, who is against local government, and who is unconcerned with the taxpayer’s dollar, then the record of this party [the New York Liberal Party in this case, not the Democrats] and its members demonstrate that we are not that kind of “Liberal.” But if by a “Liberal” they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the people — their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights, and their civil liberties — someone who believes we can break through the stalemate and suspicions that grip us in our policies abroad, if that is what they mean by a “Liberal,” then I’m proud to say I’m a “Liberal.”

          Is that speech (which is, indeed a nice speech, and one that I wish a presidential candidate today could say) a more significant progressive achievement than passing a health care reform that will allow millions more people to have health insurance?

          • Jesse Levine says:

            I was very active in the Liberal Party from 1964-1973. I joined it to help keep the Democratic party focused on the liberal agenda (which was pretty well defined in those years) in light of Goldwater’s opening up the center for exploitation in the ’64 election. The Liberal Party did turn out hundreds of thousands of votes statewide. The party turned increasingly rightward and into a political patronage machine. It disappeared after it endorsed Giuliani for Mayor of NYC. If the reports of the SCOTUS arguments today foretell the result, then Obama’s compromise from the get-go acheived nothing.

      • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

        I think you’re missing the implications of having a moderate be the second most progressive in 70 years. Actual progressives getting elected president are extremely rare!

        Actual people getting elected president are extremely rare. In the last seventy years it’s only been a dozen.

        We’re dealing with very small numbers here.

        More importantly, one of the reasons that during the 19th-century, and much of the 20th, historians tended to be political conservatives is that it is far too easy to study the way things happened to have turned out in the past and to conclude that it was the only way they could have been. After all, the past keeps coming out the same way.

        As a man who might have been elected President, but was not, used to like to note, George Bernard Shaw (not an historian) famously wrote:

        Some men see things as they are and say why.
        I dream things that never were and say why not.

        So long as you look at the past and conclude that the way things turned out was the only way things could have turned out, you will reach conservative conclusions. And doing so says much more about your use of history than about what you’ve discovered by looking at the past.

        • chris says:

          Some men see things as they are and say why.
          I dream things that never were and say why not.

          That’s fine, but are you actually asking why not in good faith, and with the understanding that there may be a perfectly good reason why not?

          If I say, “Why can’t I get to the moon by flapping my arms?”, you would probably explain something about gravity, or the lack of atmosphere, or how far away the moon is; all of which are perfectly valid reasons why I *can’t* get to the moon by flapping my arms. But I would be absolutely nuts to dismiss all that as past-looking defeatism and say that just because nobody has gotten to the moon by flapping their arms *yet*, doesn’t mean I won’t do so tomorrow. Why not?

          It may be reasonable to say that there are ways the past could have turned out but didn’t, but there are also ways the past couldn’t have turned out, and history narrowly viewed can’t tell one from the other.

          P.S. I also find your overall argument a bit bizarre; despite the lack of progressive Presidents, the overall story of the last century is one of huge victories for liberalism. Interracial marriage: totally legal now. Civil rights: protected by law. Women: can vote and have many more rights than they used to (even if still not quite 100% equal in some areas). Wages and working conditions: much more regulated in pro-employee ways than they were in 1912. Why would looking at this make historians conservative because they assume it couldn’t have turned out any differently?

      • John says:

        Johnson in 1960 was widely viewed (and not without reason) as more conservative than Kennedy.

  13. R Johnston says:

    The point about Obama isn’t that he’s failed to “us[e] the Political Capital of the Bully Pulpit to Achieve a Game Changing Mandate on Steroids;” it’s that there are all kinds of good, mainstream policies that shouldn’t be controversial at all and that are opposed only because of misinformation and outright lies from the right-wing propaganda machine, and when Obama sees such a policy he announces without any particular basis that implementing it is politically impossible, never actually testing to see whether it’s politically impossible or even attempting to educate the public about why the policy is good policy and the lying wingnuts are lying so that the next time around the realm of the possible might be expanded a bit. When propaganda renders good policy difficult to implement you never just roll over and play dead.

    When word comes from the Obama administration that a matter is politically impossible the administration is making up an excuse for dismissing good policy, not offering a genuine analysis of why good policy can’t be achieved or doing anything to make achieving good policy outcomes more likely in the future.

    It’s not about the bully pulpit; it’s about the fact that at heart Obama doesn’t give a shit about good policy and buys into a whole lot of right-wing lunatic views of the world.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      The point about Obama isn’t that he’s failed to “us[e] the Political Capital of the Bully Pulpit to Achieve a Game Changing Mandate on Steroids;”

      [...]

      never actually testing to see whether it’s politically impossible or even attempting to educate the public about why the policy is good policy and the lying wingnuts are lying so that the next time around the realm of the possible might be expanded a bit.

      OK then.

      • Murc says:

        This is being unfair to Johnston, Scott. It would seem he’s making the fairly straightforward and uncontroversial argument that Presidents can play for the long game without compromising the short game (over which they often have limited influence) and that Obama has completely fallen down when it comes to such things.

        I am in great sympathy and agreement with the proposition that even had he wanted to, there is little Obama could do to move a recalcitrant Congress in 2009, 2011, and probably in 2013. But as the leader of the Democratic Party he is responsible for trying to make it possible for future Congresses to be better Congresses.

    • joe from Lowell says:

      that are opposed only because of misinformation and outright lies from the right-wing propaganda machine,

      If the right-wing propaganda machine is the problem, then discrediting the right wing propaganda machine, making it look extremist, untrustworthy, and out of the mainstream is playing the long game.

      • ironic irony says:

        How does one do this when the right-wing propaganda machine controls practically everything?

        • joe from Lowell says:

          It doesn’t.

          It’s influential, but it’s not the whole ballgame.

          How is Rush Limbaugh’s show doing these days, anyway?

    • John says:

      What are these “mainstream policies”? It’s hard to assess your argument if you don’t clarify what you’re talking about. Obama certainly did test to see if the public option was politically possible or not, and discovered that it was not. Single payer is not, within the context of American politics, a “mainstream policy,” alas. What exactly were you thinking about?

  14. scott says:

    I’ve always understood the point Scott is making. Obama is the most progressive occupant of a powerless office that can achieve little, and if you don’t like that it’s your own fault for (1) not understanding how hamstrung our poor presidents are and (2) for not generating change from below. So blame yourself rather than Obama, OK?

    • Sherm says:

      Except that the office doesn’t seem so powerless when occupied by a republican.

      • Scott Lemieux says:

        How has Bush been more powerful than Obama? Keeping in mind that tax cuts unite the Republican Party, conservative Democrats, and society’s most powerful interests, what conservative policy did he ram down Congress’s throat or whatever?

        • Sherm says:

          Massive tax cut ($1.3 Trillion), Iraq War, Patriot Act, No Child Left Behind (conservative in its intent to decrease the public’s faith in public education by naming “failing schools”), Medicare Part D (conservative in that it was a huge giveaway for Big Pharma), and the 2008 Bank Bailout. Granted, many of these things were hardly “rammed” down Congress’ throats, but Bush’s presidency was clearly a powerful one. The real question I think is why is that Republican Presidents are able to get unfettered support for their initiatives from republican “moderates” (Snowe, Collins, etc.) and some bi-partisan support as well, whereas it is just assumed that a Democratic President can never count on support from democratic “moderates” such as Nelson, Bayh, Lieberman, etc..?

          • joe from Lowell says:

            Actually, if most of his most significant accomplishments were not “rammed down Congress’s throat,” but were actually quite popular among Congress, then that eliminates them as evidence that he was powerful.

            There isn’t a single item on your list that wouldn’t have passed overwhelmingly if we’d elected a package of shrimp ramen.

            • Hogan says:

              But the shrimp ramen would have made better judicial appointments.

              • joe from Lowell says:

                No, but it would have made more.

              • Malaclypse says:

                Why are you, and other so-called progressives, refusing to discuss the beef ramen’s anti-imperialist agenda? I mean sure, Stormfront in in favor of beef as being more American than shrimp, and beef ramen does have a track record of goldbuggist economic policies, but I would prefer we wave that aside. At least the beef ramen brings something important to the discussion. I personally blame Scott for not admitting that beef ramen has an important point.

            • Sherm says:

              The 2008 bailout was not popular, but Bush (and Paulson) got it through. And even that great fiscal conservative Paul Ryan supported him on Medicare Part D. My point, I guess, is that republican congressional members always support their president, whereas the democrats don’t and aren’t expected to. If moderate democrats supported Obama like moderate Republicans supported Bush and Reagan, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

              • joe from Lowell says:

                The 2008 bailout was not popular, but Bush (and Paulson) got it through.

                Public opinion is not a house of Congress.

                My point, I guess, is that republican congressional members always support their president, whereas the democrats don’t and aren’t expected to.

                Did Republican members support Bush on Social Security privatization?

                Bush picked issues that were very easy to pass through Congress. When he picked ones that weren’t, they bailed on him.

          • Hogan says:

            Because there aren’t enough mobilized, politically active progressives to change that. See also “Senate, U.S., malrepresentation in.”

      • Davis X. Machina says:

        Republicans can count on a majority coalition in Congress, composed of all the Republicans who are Republicans, and all the Democrats who are Republicans, so long as they bring out projects (Cut taxes! Blow up swarthy people who worship the wrong God!) that the people who elect the Republican Republicans and the Republican Democrats support.

        Which is why we’ve got privatized Social Security today…

  15. chris says:

    The points are that 1)when no presidents come close to meeting exceptions of what you think progressive presidents are supposed to achieve one might want to question your conception of presidential power, and 2)if you expect political change to come from the top down you’re going to be perennially disappointed

    And, surely, (3) The American people are far less progressive than your friends and like-minded fellow travelers. The people who make the threads you’re talking about are probably to the left of Sanders. Which is fine, but when they expect their personal preferences to immediately become policy, they’re ignoring the 95-99% of the country that is to their right.

    • DocAmazing says:

      Once again, this is reductionist and incorrect. It is certainly true that most Americans tribally identify as conservative, but it is also true that many, many progressive policies are very popular on their own and many, many conservative policies are very unpopular on their own. What a guy like Obama has to do–and what he is actually very well-positioned to do–is to sell the popular policies (Social Security without the bullshit, Medicare expansion, tightened restrictions on insurers, ) decoupled from the label–and that means actually confronting and dismantling wingnut lies. Unfortunately, he has proven far too susceptible to picking up and re-transmitting wingnut lies (his deficit-flogging being a particularly foul example).

      Dr. Phil may be a joke, but he made himself rich with a useful meme: “How’s that workin’ out for ya?” That approach could be very successfully employed to get around conservative tribalism to advance specific policies, or at least to oppose the extension and expansion of regressive ones–but I’m not seeing it from Dem Central.

      • Ben says:

        I can honestly say this is the first time I’ve heard someone claim the problem with Obama is that he doesn’t model his rhetoric on Dr. Phil.

        • DocAmazing says:

          Got a more popular, more accessible model?

          • Ben says:

            This suggestion is both too specific and too vague.

            It’s too specific because Obama is, in broad strokes, doing what you want him to do: saying that Republican policies are disastrous and he has to fix them. In a folksy manner. From 2009:

            “I don’t mind cleaning up the mess that some other folks made, that’s what I signed up to do,” Obama said. “But while I’m there mopping the floor I don’t want someone saying ‘You’re not mopping fast enough or you’re not holding the mop the right way.’ Grab a mop! Why don’t you help clean up?”

            And a few days ago:

            “Well, you know, what I’d say is that for the last three years, I’ve been cleaning up the mess that resulted from the same policies that the Republican candidates for President are currently advocating . . .I think the American people understand the last thing we need to do is to go back to the same policies that these folks are promoting that got us into this mess in the first place.”

            Unless you come up with a specific argument why the exact words “how’s that workin out for ya” hold awesome rhetorical power, Obama is already doing what you’re suggesting.

            Your suggestion is too vague because Dr. Phil’s loveable brand of folksy wisdom lays side-by-side pithy quips like “how’s that workin’ out for ya” that wouldn’t be out of place at an Oxford debating session with garish awfulness like “you’re a big fat goony bird”. Unless you can give an argument why that special Dr. Phil magic can be bottled by only saying the former and not the latter, then you, sir, are the big fat goony bird.

            • DocAmazing says:

              The specific words might have some resonance with a television-saturated populace, much as “Where’s the beef?” did two decades ago–but that’s not the important thing.

              You’re right about the too general/too specific problem. Talking about mops is real neat, but bringing up specific republican policies that work to the detriment of the public and specifically pointing out how they are detrimental and specifically pointing out the lies told to get the public behind those policies would go a hell of a long way. Low-information voters can be informed. It just requires the doing of the thing.

              • Ben says:

                The ellipsis in that second quote replaced this:

                “Policies of tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, stripping away regulations that would have prevented Wall Street from taking all the outlandish risks that resulted in a major financial crisis. And systematically, what we have been able to do is to create jobs across the economy over the last two years, almost four million jobs, save the auto industry, create jobs in manufacturing for the first time since the 1990’s, and we are on the right track.”

                I actually think you’re right in that recent presidents have been leaving options for shaping the public discourse unexplored. But I don’t think exploring the nuances of Dr. Phil’s rhetoric would be a fruitful endeavor.

            • joe from Lowell says:

              Thank for this, Ben.

              It’s become an article of faith in certain circles that Barack Obama did not advocate for liberal economic policies during the 2010 elections, when in reality, that was the core element of his platform. Remember “pull the car out of the ditch?” Remember “Recovery Summer?” Far from not flogging liberal, Keynesian policies, he hyped their performance far beyond what the evidence at the time suggested.

              But because it didn’t work, people want to pretend it didn’t happen.

      • Hogan says:

        That’s already been taken up by Sarah Palin, who certainly has the smug, annoying smirk for it.

      • ironic irony says:

        “It is certainly true that most Americans tribally identify as conservative…

        ….I respectfully submit that this has increased (and reinforced) since 9/11. Do with that what you will.

      • chris says:

        but it is also true that many, many progressive policies are very popular on their own and many, many conservative policies are very unpopular on their own.

        And it is also also true that this means bupkis in the voting booth, and voters that say they support a laundry list of progressive agenda items — and maybe even actually do! — will still pull the lever for the guy who endorses the Ryan budget because they feel better about him.

    • david mizner says:

      Sigh. Economic populism — fair trade, progressive taxation, government provided health care, regulation of Wall Street, opposition to off-shoring, protecting Social Security and Medicare — is extremely popular. Some of those items are supported by a majority of Republicans.

  16. rea says:

    We are not auditioning for fearless leader. We don’t need a President to tell us what direction to go […] We just need a president to sign this stuff. We don’t need someone to think it up or design it. We have a house and a senate. The leadership now for the modern conservative movement for the next 20 years will be coming out of the House and the Senate so focus on electing the most conservative Republican who can win in each House seat, and the most conservative Republican who can win in each Senate seat. And then pick a Republican with enough working digits to handle a pen to become President of the United States.–Grover Norquist

  17. david mizner says:

    I can’t see much daylight between Clinton and Obama — both foreign policy hawks and orthodox neo-liberals who’ve had many of them same people working for them. What has President Obama done that President Clinton would not have? President Obama is Clinton 2.0, adjusted for 9-11 and the financial crisis.

    Clinton, though, actually raised taxes on the rich — something Obama has so far refused to do.

    If Obama has been marginally tougher on Wall Street — a big if — it’s became he came in during a crisis caused by the Banx. A populist moment if ever there was one.

    But Scott, I mostly lost confidence in your capacity to read this current Wall Street-dominating era when you disputed that it was even desirable to break up the big banks. Someone who holds that position is unlikely to understand the fundamental ways in which President Obama has failed.

    • Malaclypse says:

      But Scott, I mostly lost confidence in your capacity to read this current Wall Street-dominating era when you disputed that it was even desirable to break up the big banks

      When did Scott do that? Not saying he didn’t, mind you, just saying I have no memory of it.

      • david mizner says:

        A while ago during one of our Green Lantern debates. He didn’t merely say that breaking up the big banks wouldn’t do much to lessen the potential for a crash (a reasonable position held by Krugman and others, disputed by many prominent progressives); he said it wasn’t a progressive goal, not even as a way of decreasing the political power of the banks. I found it surprising coming from a smart, savvy writer like Scott.

        It may seem nit-picky on my part but I brought it up because I find it emblematic of a trend in the liberal blogsophere where, aside from econ blogs like Naked Captialism and the rare blogger like D-Day, there’s little discussion of bank issues: the (ongoing) bailouts, the foreclosure crisis and bogus settlement, the gutting of Dodd-Frank. etc. If they’re mentioned at all, it’s usually to parrot some Zombie lie like: ‘TARP made money.’

        If you don’t pay attention to and make an effort to understand these issues, you will necessarily miss the core way (on domestic policy) that President Obama has failed.

        • Scott Lemieux says:

          I did say it, and it’s still not obvious to me that small banks are inherently better. Canada has an even more centralized banking system and it works a lot better. It may be in the American context smaller banks are better but it’s not self-evident; one has to make the case.

          • Malaclypse says:

            Okay, since I called this position silly, I’ll make the case: big banks are better equipped to capture regulators, and concentrate risk in a way that smaller banks do not. Regulation can work, yes, as Canada shows, but it is harder, particularly in a political environment that has come to define almost all regulation as “job killing red tape.”

            • Meh, I don’t think there’s a lot of evidence for that (mostly for the idea that the small banks can’t just pool their resources in the name of industry wide lobbying and glad-handing), and you certainly can’t just hand waive away the difference between Canada and the U.S. in this regard. There are some positives to both models, but I do think it’s worth keeping in mind that many of the problems that precipitated the financial crisis were a result of the banking industry getting less centralized, not more.

              • Malaclypse says:

                I do think it’s worth keeping in mind that many of the problems that precipitated the financial crisis were a result of the banking industry getting less centralized, not more.

                Got to disagree. Securitization was primarily a big bank phenomenon. CRA-covered banks tended not to make bad mortgages.

                • But by “big banks” you mean “large banks relative to other financial firms at the time, but smaller than the largest financial firms prior to deregulation/the rise of the shadow banking industry, and much smaller relative to the overall size of the economy than the more regulated Canadian banks.

              • joe from Lowell says:

                I don’t know what you mean, either. What problems that precipitated the financial crisis were the result of “decentralization?” And was that decentralization about smaller banks?

          • david mizner says:

            Well, one has to make the case in the sense that one has to make the case that progressive taxation and single-payer health care are preferable. That is, one doesn’t have to expect to make it here.

            Even Paul Krugman — the leading liberal proponent of the view that regulation, not breaking up the big banks, is the key to preventing another crisis — supports breaking up the big banks because he understands that, as Dick Durbin says, they “own” DC. So even if you don’t think breaking up the big banks is necessary to protect the real economy, you should support it to protect our political economy.

            • John says:

              I’m not sure how you can propose a policy as impossible to realize in the real world as breaking up big banks, and argue that this is a pragamtic response to the actual existing situation rather than an ideal solution. If big banks “own Washington,” then surely the most difficult policy to pass would be one that breaks up the big banks?

              • david mizner says:

                I didn’t say it was easy to do, only desirable. Same with public financing and any number of important goals. But there was, in fact, genuine juice behind the effort. According to this Treasury official, it would’ve actually happened if Obama had gotten behind it.

                “Another was the Brown-Kaufman Amendment, which became a cause célèbre among lefty reformers such as former IMF economist Simon Johnson. ‘If enacted, Brown-Kaufman would have broken up the six biggest banks in America,’ says the senior Treasury official. ‘If we’d been for it, it probably would have happened. But we weren’t, so it didn’t.’”

                http://baselinescenario.com/2010/05/26/wall-street-ceos-are-nuts/

                • John says:

                  But it would arguably be more desirable to just regulate banks in a sensible way. Your argument seems to be “Well, in theory it might be better to just regulate banks well, but in practice the regulators get captured by the banks. Therefore, we need to break up the big banks.” But in practice breaking up the big banks is no easier than insuring decent regulatory oversight. One might even argue that it is much harder.

            • “Even Paul Krugman — the leading liberal proponent of the view that regulation, not breaking up the big banks, is the key to preventing another crisis — supports breaking up the big banks because he understands that, as Dick Durbin says, they “own” DC.”

              Aside from the rather obvious paradox here, I’m not sure why you or, apparently, Krugman would assume that smaller banks would equal lessened political influence. The obvious likelihood, as I said above, would simply be a stat in which more banks cooperated together to lobby for industry wide goals, with the same overall clout. If you wanted to lessen the influence of the financial sector on Washington, the answer would be to shrink to overall size of the entire industry relative to the rest of the economy, not simply increase the number of slices in an identically sized pie.

              And your first paragraph is just fucking priceless.

              • Malaclypse says:

                The obvious likelihood, as I said above, would simply be a stat in which more banks cooperated together to lobby for industry wide goals, with the same overall clout.

                Thousands of small banks cooperating have a free rider problem of a type that four ginormous banks do not.

                • “Thousands” of small banks is a pretty unrealistic (and terrible) idea of how small you’re going to make the biggest financial institutions.

                • Malaclypse says:

                  Massachusetts had 141 banks operating on Dec 31, 2011. That’s down quite a bit from three years ago. Break up BoA, and restore to 2008, and you are probably above 200.

                  I’ll admit that I should not have pluralized thousands, but 1,000 is not an unreasonable number.

                • But all of those banks are not all going to be the same exact size, and arbitrarily limiting their ability to grow in size just for the sake of keeping them small is going to create a lot of inefficiency and deadweight loss for no particular reason.

                • joe from Lowell says:

                  For no particular reason?
                  Here’s just one, and there are plenty of others.

                • Community sized banks are, quite obviously, not going to form the backbone of a national financial industry in a modern economy the size of America’s.

                • joe from Lowell says:

                  I disagree. While there must, obviously, be nationwide banks playing certain roles, an enormous amount of what is currently being done by large banks could be spread out.

                  In addition, advances in information technology should make it possible for collections of small banks to join forces to accomplish larger tasks. See, for instance, the SUM network of ATMs.

          • joe from Lowell says:

            Big banks have much less of on interest in the well-being of individual communities in which they operate, leading them to engage in irresponsible behavior in those places – either starving them of capital or making reckless loans.

            Small banks’ bottom lines depend upon how their business behavior harms or helps the communities in which they operate.

        • Malaclypse says:

          He didn’t merely say that breaking up the big banks wouldn’t do much to lessen the potential for a crash (a reasonable position held by Krugman and others, disputed by many prominent progressives); he said it wasn’t a progressive goal, not even as a way of decreasing the political power of the banks.

          Well, that would be fairly wrong. I definitely do not remember Scott arguing that Big Banking was good, as that seems a fairly silly position.

          It may seem nit-picky on my part but I brought it up because I find it emblematic of a trend in the liberal blogsophere where, aside from econ blogs like Naked Captialism and the rare blogger like D-Day, there’s little discussion of bank issues:

          Well, it does not seem unreasonable to find most banking discussion on econ blogs. And, now as always, damn I miss Tanta.

          • Scott Lemieux says:

            I definitely do not remember Scott arguing that Big Banking was good, as that seems a fairly silly position.

            So you’d prefer our banking system to Canada’s?

            • Malaclypse says:

              Come now, that is a false dichotomy and you know it.

            • Malaclypse says:

              And if I wanted to erect a strawman dichotomy like that: So you’d prefer we adopt the sort of system that led to the Royal Bank of Scotland?

            • Murc says:

              I would recommend that you restate your position as being that big banking isn’t necessarily evil and that there are real-world examples of it working well, rather than trying to sell the idea that big banking is a good thing in and of itself.

    • david mizner says:

      Also your focus is, as always,domestic policy. If we focus on foreign policy, Carter (and, for that matter, Eisenhower) were both less bad than President Obama.

      • Malaclypse says:

        Eisenhower directly caused avoidable disasters by overthrowing democratically elected governments in both Guatemala and Iran.

        • david mizner says:

          Well, all U.S. presidents have foreign policies that are brutal and stupid. I think Chris Floyd is essentially correct when he says Obama’s term is the 16th term of the Truman administration. (Truman, dropper of nuclear bombs and founder of the National Security State, was especially bad.)

          • david mizner says:

            You’re right, though, about Eisenhower’s role in the Iranian coup, which has haunted the world ever since. I retract my mild praise for him.

      • John says:

        I don’t think “progressive” is a term which makes much sense in the context of foreign policy. And I’d also say that the CIA sponsored coups in Iran and Guatemala are enough to make Eisenhower a worse president on foreign policy than Obama, although in other ways Ike was a good foreign policy president.

        As far as Carter goes, maybe. The mess in Afghanistan can arguably be laid at his and Brzezinski’s door.

        • Malaclypse says:

          And let us not forget East Timor and Indonesia.

        • John says:

          I’d add that, on the whole, every president since World War II has done some pretty awful things in foreign policy. I’d say Obama’s been less bad than most.

          • david mizner says:

            It’s too soon to fully judge President Obama’s foreign policy. My guess is historians will see it as largely a continuation of Bush response to 9-11. Obama’s massive escalation in Afghanistan and his dirty wars — relying on a huge expansion in Special Ops and drones — in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and who knows where else will haunt the United States and the world for generations to come. His mostly dictator-friendly response to the Arab Spring is par for the American course. Is he more or less bad than the American norm? I’m not sure.

            • Murc says:

              His mostly dictator-friendly response to the Arab Spring

              Wait… what?

              Obama launched a war to topple a dictator, and withdrew support from three other dictators just about the instant massive popular unrest sprang up in their countries. Of those three, one of them was a longstanding American ally and the other was a useful tool.

              • david mizner says:

                No, not even close. His administration continued to back the Mubarak regime as long as he could (and even supported replacing him with his crony,) and it continues to back repressive regimes in Bahrain and Yemen (where Obama called the one-candidate race a “model” for transition.)

                The notion that Obama has supported the democratic uprisings is simply hogwash. If you don’t believe me, go read the opinions of people in the Middle East, where in some countries — Egypt among them — Obama’s popularity is as low if not lower than Bush’s.

    • John says:

      Obama, though, actually passed a major stimulus package and a major health care reform, both of which Clinton proved unable to do. Clinton’s biggest achievement was the great progressive achievement of balancing the budget. “Higher taxes on the rich” is not actually a progressive goal. It’s a means to an end. If we raise taxes on the rich in order to fund good, progressive government programs, that’s great. If we raise taxes on the rich in order to finance, say, wildly unnecessary defense spending, that’s less great.

      • Steve LaBonne says:

        However, I feel pretty certain that Clinton could have passed the Heritage Foundation plan if he had wanted to, so my enthusiasm for Obama relative to Clinton on health care is somewhat muted.

        Basically, I view Obama as the third term of Clinton- which is currently as good as it can get, sadly. My conclusion has long been that liberals need to put relatively more effort and resources into ground-up party building, as compared to presidential politics, than they do now. Gotta walk before you can run.

        • John says:

          But Clinton did not pass the Heritage Foundation plan.

        • Holden Pattern says:

          Seen it tried; the institutional barriers are astonishing in ways that I think most people don’t understand. Basically, a few people at the top control the flow of all of the money, and all of the money that counts comes from very wealthy people and corporate interests.

    • rea says:

      Clinton, though, actually raised taxes on the rich — something Obama has so far refused to do.

      Refused? You make it sound like Congress was all eager to raise taxes on the rich, and Obama somehow blocked them from doing it. He never had the votes in Congress to get that through.

      • david mizner says:

        He could have let the Bush tax cuts expire.

        • Malaclypse says:

          Along with the unemployment extension.

          • Steve LaBonne says:

            But that’s not what rea implied- which, as I read it, was that Obama could not have raised taxes on the rich. That’s simply false. The merits of what he actually did are a separate discussion. Suffice it to say that there are always tradeoffs and that weighing them against one another is never very easy (so I certainly do not condemn the deal Obama made out of hand).

          • This. Anyone who refuses to so much as acknowledge that the Bush tax cuts were extended in exchange for unemployment insurance extension as doggedly as Minzer refuses to do so time after time is proving they’re nothing more than a troll not worth taking seriously at all.

        • Murc says:

          He could have let the Bush tax cuts expire.

          I flatly believe that wouldn’t have happened. If Obama were to announce that he planned to do nothing and simply let the Bush tax cuts expire, there would be a massive bipartisan bill retaining much of them passed over his veto SO FAST. There are Congressional supermajorities in favor of retaining at least some of them.

          • Steve LaBonne says:

            Well, of course there would have been. And it would have looked like what Obama wanted in the first place, which was to let only the cuts for the highest earners to expire. Obama chose to let all the cuts be extended in exchange for getting other things. That may well have been the right choice, but it was a choice.

            • Murc says:

              Uh… so you’re saying that no matter what he did, at least some of the Bush tax cuts get extended, and that this represents him having a choice as to whether or not said tax cuts get extended?

              • Steve LaBonne says:

                I’m saying that not letting all the cuts expire, i.e. raising taxes on the rich, was a very reachable outcome. You appear to agree, so what are you arguing about?

          • Anonymous says:

            If Obama were to announce that he planned to do nothing and simply let the Bush tax cuts expire, there would be a massive bipartisan bill retaining much of them passed over his veto SO FAST.

            But if this were true, the leadership of the Republican party is incredibly stupid. In reality, they gave a number of concessions to get what they wanted. You’re positing that they could have given up none of those concessions, still achieved the same goal, and brutally fractured the Democratic caucus in the meantime. Since I don’t find remotely plausible the claim that this outcome was certain and Boehner and McConnell were somehow unaware of this, I don’t really believe they would have handled the politics so badly.

      • Sherm says:

        He agreed to an extension of the Bush tax cuts through 2012 in return for an extension of unemployment benefits and a reduction of payroll taxes.

        • rea says:

          And repeal of DADT, and ratification of an arms treaty with Russia.

          • joe from Lowell says:

            And an overhaul of the food safety system. Remember when there were food-safety stories on the front page of DKos every single day?

            • Steve LaBonne says:

              Still, I would have to say that the jury is still out. If at least the upper-bracket cuts are allowed to expire next time, then I will cheer the whole outcome as a clear win-win. If however it turns out that we missed our only opportunity to get rid of any of the tax cuts, the long-term impact on progressive programs will surely be a stiff price to pay, making the judgment significantly more difficult. And everybody knows that precisely this is the GOP’s long game.

              (In Obama’s place, though, I probably would have cut much the same deal he did given the Congress he had to work with, so I still wouldn’t fault him.)

              • joe from Lowell says:

                That’s fair.

                Though I suspect that most of the people who have been critical of the deal will not change the minds to the slightest degree “if” the upper-income tax cuts expire, despite having spent years basing their denunciation of the deal on that very point.

                After all, how many people who spent three years listing “Didn’t end the Iraq War” at the top of their Obama Failure List modified their opinion to the slightest degree in January 2012?

                • Just the Facts says:

                  We still have tens of thousands of Blackwater mercenaries in Iraq and an embassy the size of the Vatican. Obama has done nothing about it.

                • joe from Lowell says:

                  We do have tens of thousands of Blackwater mercenaries in Iraq.

                  We do not have tens of thousands of anything in Iraq.

                  There are roughly 10,000 contractors total in Iraq, the majority of whom are not security contractors.

                  Blackwater doesn’t exist anymore.

                  And even if your comment wasn’t riddled with easily-refuted errors, the claim that this situations means “Obama has done nothing about” Iraq is like a parody of a hysterical internet progressive.

                • Just the Facts says:

                  I didn’t say he’s “done nothing”. I said he’s done nothing to stop the fact that we do, in fact (as you admit) have tens of thousands of Blackwater mercenaries in Iraq and an embassy the size of the Vatican. Greenwald has covered this again and again.

                  Yeah, Blackwater changed their name to Xe in a re-branding. Big fucking whoop. Were you the kind of guy who thought when Kentucky Fried Chicken became KFC that that suddenly made them healthier?

                • joe from Lowell says:

                  I did not admit that. I left out the word “no.” You should have been able to figure this out from the rest of the comment, in which I accurately point out that we have about 10,000 (not tens of thousands) contractors total, only a small minority of which are “mercenaries.”

                  We do not have tens of thousands of Blackwater mercenaries in Iraq. That is a lie or, more generously, ignorance.

                  It is certainly not a fact, as it is false.

                  Oh, and I’m the guy who can fucking count, and who doesn’t consider “But Glenn Greenwald said so” to be evidence.

                • It might be fair, but it’s also pretty obviously foolish, both from a progressive and a policy standpoint.

                • joe from Lowell says:

                  After “Just the Facts,” Brien, I will be happy to settle for “fair,” and hope to someday see them work their way up to “not foolish from a progressive or policy standpoint.”

              • Sherm says:

                Agreed. He could have let them expire, which would have scored points with his democratic base and would have helped with the deficit, but it would have required him to call the republicans’ bluff to screw over the unemployed. Its a lot easier to bitch and moan about him on the internet and over drinks with friends, than it is to actually have to make such decisions. I don’t envy the man, with the congress and the media with which he had been forced to deal.

    • joe from Lowell says:

      You can’t tell the difference between the President who signed Glass-Steagel repeal and was the architect of financial deregulation, and the President who pushed through Dodd-Frank?

      • DocAmazing says:

        Kindly don’t mention Dodd-Frank when I’m drinking a beverage. Now I have to clean my keyboard.

        • joe from Lowell says:

          Elizabeth Warren says hi.

        • joe from Lowell says:

          Hey, I know this game!

          Why don’t Muslims ever denounce terrorism?

          Uh, they do. Here’s an example.

          Well, ok, but why don’t they do it more.

          Oh, look, a guy who doesn’t want to believe something struck a pose when confronted by evidence. I’m impressed.

      • david mizner says:

        Not really. Overall, given the context, President Obama has been soft on financial institutions. You don’t even have to dive into the weak tea of Dodd Frank or look at the foreclosure fraud settlement. Just read today’s papers.

        http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/jobs-act-white-house-democrats-at-odds-over-pro-business-bill-set-to-pass/2012/03/26/gIQAfnq3cS_story.html

        And since you brought up Glass Steagall.

        Here we are, surrounded by still-smoldering financial wreckage, and almost everyone in Washington is falling over themselves to repeat exactly the same kinds of actions that got us into this mess. Last time around it was the repeal of Glass-Steagall, introduced by Republican Sen. Phil Gramm and enthusiastically signed by President Clinton in the presence of Treasury Secretary Larry Summers.

        This time it’s the deceptively named “JOBS Act,” introduced by the far-right Republicans in Congress and passed overwhelmingly by members of both parties. The President indicated his eagerness to sign the bill early on. Once again basic protections for investors, including individuals and families, are being recklessly overturned in a deregulating frenzy. Some of those protections were enacted in the wake of the Enron scandal, in which sociopathically unscrupulous business people conducted a hoax that ruined thousands of families and deprived many of their life’s savings.

        We haven’t learned a damn thing.

        http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rj-eskow/the-dumbest-bipartisan-mo_b_1374301.html

        • joe from Lowell says:

          Oh, NOW you’re all about context.

          And then, in the next paragraph, you’re not.

        • joe from Lowell says:

          I just want to draw attention to this:

          Asked if he understands the difference between increasing and decreasing regulation in the financial industry, Mizner’s reply is “Not really.”

          OK, if dramatically reducing regulation on the banks, and increasing regulations less than david mizner would like appear indistinguishable to you…well, that’s some useful context to readers to keep in mind as they peruse your opinions.

          • DocAmazing says:

            In other words, joe’s got nothin’. Again.

            • joe from Lowell says:

              Oh, look, another point zooms over your head.

              “Derp, I don’t understand what yer sayin’. You must be stoopid!”

              • DocAmazing says:

                And again, joe offers us more joe-isms.

                • joe from Lowell says:

                  LOL, everyone can still read the comment about bank deregulation, and everyone can still read your in-depth reply “In other words, joe’s got nuthin.”

                  Posing as someone who’s making the better argument doesn’t actually convince anyone you have the better argument. You actually have to make an argument.

          • Malaclypse says:

            But, the JOBS Act really does decrease regulation on public companies. He’s right about this – it is a very very bad bit of law. Don’t believe him, or me? Then look here.

            • joe from Lowell says:

              We were talking about Dodd-Frank and regulation on financial companies.

              Just looking at Glass-Stegel repeal and Dodd-Frank, David Mizner can’t see any difference.

              • david mizner says:

                Joe, you’re not arguing honestly.
                I never compared Glass Steagall repeal to Dodd Frank. I was talking about their overall records (Clinton’s and Obama’s) on issues related to Wall Street.

                • joe from Lowell says:

                  You are talking about their “overall” records while conveniently leaving out Dodd-Frank, as if the end of decades of deregulation and the implementation of the strongest financial regulation since the New Deal is not part of Obama’s overall record.

                  If we’re to take you at your word – that you aren’t comparing Dodd-Frank to Glass-Steagall – then you are ignoring the most important action of the Obama administration in the field of financial reform, and then judging his record on financial reform. Oh, and then accusing me of not arguing honestly.

                • david mizner says:

                  I haven’t ignored Dodd Frank. You’ll see I pointed out that Obama helped kill the effort to break up the big banks — that was during the debate over Dodd Frank.

                  In any case, it was not a detailed assessment of theit entire records. It was a generalization about their undeniable friendliness to Wall Street.

                • joe from Lowell says:

                  OMG.

                  I’m just going to let this stand here, and remind everyone that you accused me of arguing dishonestly.

                  “I haven’t ignored Dodd-Frank.” I zeroed in on one disputed process question during its passage.

          • Furious Jorge says:

            The question asked if he could “tell the difference,” not “understand.”

            Similar, yes, but distinct enough.

  18. Just the Facts says:

    Really. Want kind of progressive upholds that neoliberal piece of crap as an example of a progressive achievement?

    Well, I can take a guess: the kind that sees fealty and loyalty to their political Leader as their first duty, even if it means sacrificing their beliefs.

    Orwell was right: the nationalist cannot even see.

    • Just the Facts says:

      Meant to be in response to DocAmazing. Fucking wordpress.

    • joe from Lowell says:

      “Neoliberal” is the new “literally.”

      It is almost always used incorrectly, and it marks the speaker as overly impressed with dramatic flourishes.

      • DocAmazing says:

        Except that in reference to Dodd-Frank, the banker-written legislation to regulate bankers, it is fairly accurate.

        You could look up the circumstances under which Christopher Dodd and Barney Frank wrote the thing, but that would harsh your mellow.

        • joe from Lowell says:

          Elizabeth Warren doesn’t seem to think so. Barney Frank doesn’t seem to think so.

          Gee, who’s opinion should I value more?

          • scott says:

            An opinion based on an accurate assessment of the underlying facts, regardless of whose it is.

            • joe from Lowell says:

              An opinion based on an accurate assessment of the underlying facts

              You mean, the opposite of:

              Except that in reference to Dodd-Frank, the banker-written legislation to regulate bankers, it is fairly accurate.

              You could look up the circumstances under which Christopher Dodd and Barney Frank wrote the thing, but that would harsh your mellow.

              I’m left to decide whose opinion is based on an accurate assessment of the underlying facts: Elizabeth Warren or “DocAmazing.”

  19. Just the Facts says:

    And with the Heritage Foundation healthcare plan about to be struck down by SCOTUS (Jeffery Toobin says it “doesn’t look like” the mandate will survive) Obama will have had a failed first term, a big disappointment for progressives.

    • Lee says:

      Do you care to explain to me how a more liberal version of HCR could have passed the House and Senate? Specifically, how do you get Nelson, Lieberman, Bacchus, and the usual suspects to past a more liberal version of HCR. The ACA barely made it pass the Senate. How could anything more liberal get passed.

    • John says:

      And Jeffrey Toobin has never been wrong about anything ever. The general consensus seems to be that it was a tough day for the Solicitor General, but that there’s some reason to think both Kennedy and Roberts are at least open to upholding the mandate, and that Toobin’s was overreacting.

  20. scott says:

    When you’re having a debate within your own group, sometimes it’s fun to get the views of someone who isn’t invested in your group at all. Here’s Daniel Larison giving his take on Obama from a conservative perspective (this is about missile defense, but Larison has said the same thing in other areas as well):

    “Obama accommodates entrenched interests, he usually acquiesces when confronted with significant resistance, and he cultivates a fairly bland center-left persona. This is what makes the hysterical Republican reactions equally absurd and irritating. This episode with Medvedev is somehow supposed to reflect Obama’s latent radicalism, but all it does is draw attention to how supportive of Washington consensus views he has been all along.”

    If all Scott wants to say is to agree that Obama is a fairly bland, risk-averse center-left guy, I agree. Making more extravagant claims for him, however, is strained and silly.

    • joe from Lowell says:

      Scott’s claim is that Obama is more progressive than Kennedy, Carter, and Clinton, and more successful at passing legislation than Truman.

      This is hardly extravagant. “Strained and silly” is to pretend that Scott’s argument is implausible.

  21. Steve S. says:

    I’m very late to this thread and can’t read through the hundreds of comments, but I was wondering if anybody had commented here on this study.

    • Hogan says:

      Yes. Thread starts here.

    • Steve S. says:

      Thanks for the responses. I have not analyzed it closely so that’s why I ask about it, and at the risk of sounding impertinent I didn’t find the discussion above very helpful.

        • Steve S. says:

          Yeah, I read that part and didn’t find it particularly helpful.

          Assuming its methodology is sound the study measures what it measures. It doesn’t settle abstract questions like, “who is the most progressive President” and I’m a little disappointed that the authors didn’t use more temperate language when describing it on the page I linked to. By the same token, the statement that “Obama is the second-most progressive president since FDR” isn’t particularly meaningful or helpful to me, it says more about its utterer than Barack Obama. I find discussions of this sort somewhat akin to arguing whether Kurt Warner was a better quarterback than Johnny Unitas. Or whether Tebow is better than Sanchez.

Leave a Reply




If you want a picture to show with your comment, go get a Gravatar.

  • Switch to our mobile site