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Today in Green Lanternism

[ 280 ] March 31, 2012 |

Robert Wright is wondering why the Affordable Care Act wasn’t just a straightforward use of the tax power, and his analysis is of course focused on the median votes of the Senate and the leverage these conservatives had over the legislative process.

Hahaha, just kidding! When discussing the ACA, as Drew Westen has taught us, we have to consider a fantasy of politics “in which the president in the not only the most important figure, but his most powerful weapon is rhetoric” rather than actual American politics:

If the Supreme Court rules against President Obama on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, there’s a sense in which he’ll deserve it. After all, there was an easy way for him to make the act impervious to this fate, and it wouldn’t have entailed a single change in how the program works.

[...]

I’ve long thought President Obama wasn’t using the bully pulpit creatively enough–particularly on the issue of taxes. As establishment Democrats said the “political climate” didn’t permit him to let the Bush tax cuts for the rich expire, he made no attempt to change the climate by using his considerable oratorical skills. (It seems to have taken Occupy Wall Street to clue him in to the fact that there’s some class resentment out there to be harnessed.)

Granted, it might have taken a bit of extra rhetorical work to sell a health care bill with the word “tax” in it. But the tax wouldn’t have applied to most voters, and, anyway, the upside would have been that the bill would seem less like coercion and more like an incentive. A bit of courage and creativity a few years ago might have prevented what could be a major policy disaster come June

Um, no.

  • There is no evidence that the bully pulpit can shift public opinion, and voluminous evidence that it cannot. Conveniently, Ezra Klein has laid this out in extensive detail in the New Yorker. Whatever Aaron Sorkin or Aaron Sorkin-influenced shows and movies have told you, politics is not a debating society.    It’s nice to think that we’d have public policy outcomes like Denmark had Michael Dukakis just thought up that clever rebuttal you wrote for him after the fact, but this isn’t actually how politics works.
  • But let’s leave that aside, and assume that Barack Obama could change public opinion on the issue.   Perhaps we may want to consider how the American legislative process actually works, and why the architects of the ACA may not have wanted to use straightforward taxing and spending.   It’s not 2 or 3 extra percent of the public you have to worry about.  It’s, you know, Evan Bayh and Ben Nelson and Blanche Lincoln and Joe Lieberman and every other conservative Democrat in the Senate who would love to use the excuse that you’re proposing the Biggest Tax Increase In Recorded Human History to vote against a bill they don’t care about and their corporate paymasters don’t want.    And using public opinion as leverage — even leaving aside the fact that the president can’t move public opinion — doesn’t work against senators who 1)aren’t running for anything again but are planning on cashing big paychecks from the kind of entrenched interests who don’t want the ACA, or 2)are running in states where the president is extremely unpopular.   I agree that this was dumb, but take it up with James Madison.
  • Let’s assume that Barack Obama could have engaged in a Game-Changing Use of the Political Capital of the Mandate and Bully Pulpit on Steroids to Throw Oily Conservative Democrats Who Are Really Secret Socialists Under the Bus to get the funding for the ACA structured as a “tax” rather than a “penalty” and still get 60 votes for it.    Why on earth would you think that this would make the bill impervious to legal challenge?    What’s to stop the Court from discovering that this particular tax is an invalid use of the federal taxing power, or that the use of the federal spending power that would inevitably be involved is too “coercive” to be constitutional?   Yes, nobody would have thought while the plan was first being formed that these arguments would be taken seriously, but then at the time nobody could have thought that the mandate would be considered unconstitutional either.

Comments (280)

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  1. R Johnston says:

    You really need to stop you bully pulpit trolling.

    Yes, the “bully pulpit” has never convinced anyone to change his or her mind. That doesn’t mean that you’re anything other than a flaming moron if you just stop explaining things to people who haven’t formed an opinion yet.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      Your distinction is irrelevant. Presidents have no ability to shift public opinion in the short term. Full stop. Whether people have an opinion already or not is completely irrelevant (leaving aside the fact that most people who don’t have opinions don’t pay attention to presidential speeches.)

      • GKO says:

        So we agree that presidential candidates’ rhetorical prowess and speech making ability are nearly irrelevant when it comes to selecting the best candidate

        • That seems like it would depend on what your selection criteria is. If you’re tying to determine which President would be the most effective at moving legislation through Congress, then yes, their speechifying skills would be irrelevant. I don’t know that there’s any compelling evidence that rhetorical prowess has *no* ability to convince some number of voters to support one candidate over the other in the general election, however (though the election would need to be really close to make that effect meaningful at the margins, and would most likely be reflected in their underlying favorability ratings already I would imagine).

        • joe from Lowell says:

          Rhetorical prowess and speech making ability are good for winning elections.

          I don’t think any of us agree, at all, that skills which give a candidate a better chance of winning an election are “nearly irrelevant” when it comes to selecting the best candidate.

          Scott’s post was about getting legislation passed in Congress.

    • DocAmazing says:

      We all know that advertising is entirely ineffective and no one bothers to do it. That’s why the Democrats don’t bother using it to, say, put forth ideas or sell policies. That the Republicans continue to waste time with clearly ineffective communications methods like FOX News and paid advertisements and so on is just more evidence that they’re always going to lose.

      • Scott Lemieux says:

        Democrats don’t advertise? Fascinating.

        Anyway, I don’t know what this has to do with the bully pulpit.

        • DocAmazing says:

          Coordinated messaging would involve presidential speeches (not given in isolation, but as part of an entire campaign of ideas) as well as other coordinated use of the media, Dems have larg3ely abandoned this; it’s grassroots groups doing most of the pushback at the obvious bias in the corporate media, though you would expect the much-better-funded party apparatus to do some work here.

          Additionally, presidential opinion has moved public opinion in numerous bad ways, notably on the subject of the deficit. Apparently, getting out a coherent narrative can be done–if that narrative is one the donors like. Otherwise, apparently, not so much.

          In any case, presidential speeches don’t exist in a vaccuum–unless you’ve got a really incompetent party.

          • Anonymous says:

            presidential opinion has moved public opinion in numerous bad ways, notably on the subject of the deficit.

            (evidence omitted)

            • chris says:

              That’s because the evidence is that the president *followed* public misconceptions on the subject of the deficit, how to deal with it, and why a national government is really just like a household.

              But I’m sure he could have totally rewritten public opinion if he had just wished hard enough, right?

              • DocAmazing says:

                That’s a pretty scary statement. The President has access to the best minds in economics and is himself an extremely smart guy. if he’s “following public misconceptions”, then he’s not the man we all thought we voted for, but another Dubya. If he’s “following public misconceptions” and repeating them loudly and often in the major media, then he’s making the problem substantially worse.

                Had he decided not to say anything at all on the subject, he might have had no effect on public opinion. As it is, he gets lots o’ media coverage. That’s going to have some effect, like it or not.

                • I don’t think anyone this side of JFL disagrees with the contention that Obama has been consistently and substantively wrong when it comes to the deficit.

                • Scott Lemieux says:

                  That’s going to have some effect, like it or not.

                  [Evidence omitted.]

                • DocAmazing says:

                  You;re right, Scott. No one ever reads the papers or watches TV, and those that do have no opinions of any kind.

                • I did not realize that becoming the editor in chief of all media outlets went along with the chief executive’s job in this country.

                • DocAmazing says:

                  You’re right, Brien. A guy that has weekly press conferences and whose every move is followed by the media can’t possibly be expected to understand that his utterances are being broadcast.

                • Well now you just need to make up your mind. Is the relevant point here that people read newspapers, or that large groups of people are supposedly intensively engaged in watching live press conferences on CNN when they’re at work? These are two very different things.

                • DocAmazing says:

                  Not really, no, not at all.

                  Does media reporting of what a president says have an effect on public opinion? Well, I haven’t bothered to look for the data, because the answer seems fairly obvious to me, but YMMV. The remainder–casual newspaper reading vs. serious geeking out over CNN press conference–is fairly trivial. You’re still talking about getting information out to the populace, and geeks (always a small number) vs. the casually involved (a much large number) is a sideshow.

                • Well no, the difference between a live un-edited broadcast of a Presidential speech/press conference is obviously quite different than a second-hand story reporting on said rhetorical offering that is written and edited by third parties. You wouldn’t think someone would have to explicitly point that out.

                  If you want to argue that the latter plays a big role in shaping public perception, I will agree with you. The disconnect here is that the President has no say over what other people write and/or what editors choose to publish. If the President had the power to order all major newspaper editors to abandon “opinions on shape of the Earth differ” reporting standards tomorrow and chose not to you’d have a point, but he doesn’t, so you don’t.

                • DocAmazing says:

                  As you point out above, the President has a choice in what he says in the first place. Spreading stupidity about the deficit was not the fault of the editors; it originated with the source.

                  Additionally, a guy who has weekly press conferences is in a position to call out those who he feels have misquoted him. Dubya did so repeatedly. It merely requires using the power that you have, not assuming powers that you do not have.

                • A) No one would dispute that Presidential rhetoric has tremendous agenda setting powers, but that is not what this discussion is about.

                  B) I don’t really know why we’re ascribing Obama’s deficit focus to “bad messaging” as opposed to him simply being wrong on the merits.

                • DocAmazing says:

                  Wrong on the merits – public repetition of error=no big deal.

                  Wrong on the merits + repoeatedly flogging one’s erroneous position = bad messaging.

                  See?

                • Well, no, because the right side of the sign in both equations seems wholly meaningless to me. If a President is in favor of a bad policy, he’s in favor of a bad policy, and that is the problem. The implied assumption that a President would decline to push for his favored policy positions because DocAmazing disagrees with it and therefore he just shouldn’t talk about it publicly, or that the real problem isn’t that the President is substantively wrong about a policy matter but merely that he attempted to get his policy preferences enacted into law is…bizarre.

                • DocAmazing says:

                  You’re right, Brien. Noe one rads the papers or watches TV. Thus, the opinions of a president who was elected with a comfortable margin and who enjoys quie a bit of popularity in many demographics are entirely meaningless,and the things he says quickly ignored and forgotten.

                • But again, you’re picking the wrong point. To make this really clear, imagine that the President gets what he wants for a second. Let’s say that Obama has a press conference tomorrow and announces that he’s going to ask Congress to agree to substantial cuts in Medicare/Social Security spending to reduce the deficit and, after a couple of months of campaigning for it, gets a coalition of Republicans and Democrats in Congress to pass his plan and signs it with ~55% of the public approving the plan. Your contention is that this would be bad messaging makes absolutely no sense in this context. If anything, it would be an example of one of the most successful tactical messaging campaigns in modern political history. The problem would be that the President favored a substantively bad policy on the merits. The tactical messaging is neither here nor there at that point.

                • DocAmazing says:

                  Okay, so your contention is that the president is merely wrong. We agree.

                  The president has also helped to advance the other side’s argument. In addition to being wrong (he was), he has helped to push forth a bad message. I’ll certainly agree that pushing bad policy is worse than pushing a bad message, but a public that sees the president as a smart guy who they voted for (and most of them who did vote voted for him) sees a guy who is primarily concerned about the deficit.

                  The policy actions are worse, I concede. The public-relations/messaging actions are also bad.

                • DocAmazing says:

                  after a couple of months of campaigning for it, gets a coalition of Republicans and Democrats in Congress to pass his plan and signs it with ~55% of the public approving the plan

                  That’s the “messaging” part.

                • “The president has also helped to advance the other side’s argument.”

                  But it’s not “the other side’s argument,” it’s his argument. The fact that the President agrees with the other side here keeps going right over your head.

                  Unless I’m missing something, it seems like you’re imaging that politics is a football game and a President is a head coach who cares only about winning the game at hand, and your problem with him is that he’s constructed a gameplan that plays to the other team’s strengths. But that’s not how politics work, and Presidents are not coaches who merely want to make sure their uniformed team comes out on top. They’re individuals with opinions and agency and policy preferences that, by and large, want to enact those policy preferences.

                  For example, if the Republican Party woke up tomorrow and decided that fighting a war against contraception is stupid both politically and substantively and large majorities of the party subsequently became supportive of widespread contraceptive access for all women, do you think a hypothetical President Santorum would not attempt to pursue anti-contraceptive policies in office?

                • “That’s the “messaging” part.”

                  But how would getting the policy you want enacted and making it broadly popular with the public at large in the process be construes as bad messaging?

                • Mme.DocAmazinga says:

                  Okay, I begin to see what you’re saying; you mean “effective messaging”. On that, we agree. Bad policy, bad outcome, effective messaging.

                  Now let’s work on good policy, good outcome, effective messaging.

                • More fun with logical conclusions: if you define “bad messaging” as including “objectively support non-progressive policy goals” then, by definition all conservatives are bad at messaging.

                • “Now let’s work on good policy, good outcome, effective messaging.”

                  I thought you were complaining about the handling of healthcare reform?

                • Mme.DocAmazinga says:

                  Oh, kickass outcomes there. Res ipsa loquitur, y’might say.

                • Well it hits all of the checkpoints, no?

                  1. It was without question good policy relative to the status quo baseline.

                  2. It passed.

                  3. It’s hard to figure how the Democrats writ large could have done a better job of effective messaging given the behavior of the corporate media, the economic backdrop, and the fact that the “moderates” in the caucus were unable to refrain from engaging in their standard douchebaggery.

                • Mme.DocAmazinga says:

                  1. Not even close. Leaving aside the mandate, there’s the loss of Disproportionate Share funding; we will be seeing ERs closing across the country unless that funding is restored pronto. It’s already happening–LA just lost a big one.

                  2. Well, if that’s our bar for entry, then pretty much all laws are good ones.

                  3. “Death panels” should have been a laugh line from coast to coast. Anyone talking about “socialism” should have been mocked ruthlessly by every Dem in or out of office in a coordinated fashion. Jesus, the jokes wrote themselves, and the Dems didn’t tell even one of them. It was a perfect opportunity to turn the game around, and the Dems didn’t even try.

                • 1. Just to be clear, you’re saying that the state of American healthcare prior to the passing of the PPACA was preferable to the system created by the bill?

                  2. Well in so much as it’s the most expansive healthcare reform bill to pass Congress, and bills that don’t get enacted into law are functionally useless, this most definitely seems like a pretty important criteria, yes.

                  3. The mistake you continue to make is thinking that Democrats are the ones who will affect this. To the average voter who comes home from work and turns on the evening news, a world where Republicans are screaming “death panels” and Democrats are laughing at them is a world in which “Republicans and Democrats are bickerin’ again” but, if we take out our hypothetical everyman’s pre-existing partisan biases, there’s no actual authority on either side*. What’s important, then, is how the media chooses to frame the squabble. And in a world where the media actively embraces conservative tropes or, at the least, allows that blatant conservative lies might be the truth, simply saying “Democrats need to say Republicans are lying” doesn’t very well accomplish very much.

                  *Indeed, I would note that you have a very Underpants Gnome-like theory of political messaging going here.

                  1. Democrats say Republicans are lying.
                  2. ???
                  3. “The Public” believes the Democrats.

                • DocAmazing says:

                  1. Closing ERs: bad thing. There are other things in the law that are popping up, as well; expect to hear more about all of this in the next six months. The retention of insurance for <26-year-olds and the elimination of preexisting conditions was neat, but time alone will tell us how that balances.

                  2. All laws are bills that passed. Like I said, not much of a bar to clear.

                  3. An overriding meme–say, a joke that succeeds–takes the option of framing out of the hands of the media. Joe Sixpack comes home, turns on the six-o'clock news, and hears about "death panels" at which point he giggles because he already heard that bit that the curly-haired guy from Minnesota said last week and that all the politicians keep repeating. It's still pretty funny, and the look that Sarah Palin gets when she hears it is classic.

                  That scenario is easily achieved. It's what guys like Will Rogers were doing back in the '30s. There is abundant talent available to the Dems. It's a question of using it.

                • “An overriding meme–say, a joke that succeeds–takes the option of framing out of the hands of the media. Joe Sixpack comes home, turns on the six-o’clock news, and hears about “death panels” at which point he giggles because he already heard that bit that the curly-haired guy from Minnesota said last week and that all the politicians keep repeating. It’s still pretty funny, and the look that Sarah Palin gets when she hears it is classic.”

                  Except we’re still stuck on the second step: where does Joe hear all of these politicians making these funny jokes (that, of course, all politicians are well known for) in the first place?

                • DocAmazing says:

                  A senator having a press conference is not exactly a difficult thing to arrange.

                  Media follow-up to that conference is also not difficult. There are whole agencies that exist to take care of things like that.

                • “A senator having a press conference is not exactly a difficult thing to arrange.”

                  1. How often do you see full live coverage of a junior Senator’s press conference?

                  2. Even if an individual Senator could get that kind of coverage, how many non-political junkies are intently watching cable news during the work day hours?

                • DocAmazing says:

                  How many publicists do you have to hire to pick up and pass along a good line?

                  Never mind–ask the Republicans. They’re already doing this.

          • Joe Bohemouth says:

            Coordinated messaging…Dems have largely abandoned this

            The Democrats have not ever in all of world history had coordinated messaging. Never. They are not an ideologically cohesive party, never have been one, and are not likely to become one within the short to medium term.

            Even FDR’s administrations had a right wing.

            Stop acting as if American history did not exist.

        • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

          So your claim is that advertising works, but, uniquely, not if you’re the President of the United States?

          Over the last two years, conservatives managed to move a constitutional argument from the fringes of the right to the legal mainstream and now, quite possible, have captured a majority of the SCOTUS. And let’s be clear: two years ago, nobody outside the libertarian fringe thought that this very court might find the mandate unconstitutional.

          Something changed. And if we’re going to tell a convincing political, or eventually historical, story about the politics of healthcare c. 2009-2012 we need to account for that change.

          Yet “the Left” (heavy quotation marks there) seems, instead, to be grasping for a series of stories about how political change, especially change in public opinion, is essentially impossible: Jonathan Haidt, Chris Mooney and John Quiggan are all grasping at terrible evo psych arguments to suggest that conservatives and Republicans are just born that way, so there’s nothing to be done about it.

          You keep engaging in a bizarre bit of terminological overreach that labels any suggestion that politicians can move public opinion “Green Lanternism” (a term properly applied to the infinitely stronger view that leaders can accomplish literally anything if they will it).

          DocAmazing is clearly not suggesting that you don’t believe that Democrats advertise. What he is suggesting is that, given your apparent view of the President’s potential effect on public opinion, you’d have a hard time justifying Democrats’ continuing to advertise.

          And I agree with DocAmazing entirely on this point.

          • kth says:

            Advertising works, but not to educate people, only to appeal to their basest fears and urges.

            • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

              Agreed.

              Which is why I’m furious that the supporters of the ACA didn’t appeal to people’s basest fears and urges (which surely include not themselves suffering premature disease and death) in order to sell it.

              The problem is precisely the fact that “the Left” these days too foten feel that they somehow can get by appealing only to a largely imaginary and abstract understanding of people’s reason, while leaving the basest fears and instincts to the right.

          • Scott Lemieux says:

            DocAmazing is clearly not suggesting that you don’t believe that Democrats advertise. What he is suggesting is that, given your apparent view of the President’s potential effect on public opinion, you’d have a hard time justifying Democrats’ continuing to advertise.

            This would be true if as many people paid careful attention to presidential speeches as were exposed to advertising. But this isn’t true.

            At any rate, it’s not as if we’re speculating about something for which we don’t have any evidence. The evidence is in — the bully pulpit doesn’t work. It’s just that some people don’t like the what the evidence shows.

            And, again, Clinton did exactly the kind of “messaging” centered campaign for health care reform that you and Doc assure us will be effective, and it was 1)a complete failure to move public opinion and 2)a complete failure in terms of getting votes in Congress. Is this because Bill Clinton was an ineffective politician, or might it be because your pet strategy doesn’t actually work? Might the fact that Republican policies are more likely to favor powerful interests explain more than their allegedly superior “messaging” that hasn’t actually made most conservative policies popular?

            Over the last two years, conservatives managed to move a constitutional argument from the fringes of the right to the legal mainstream and now, quite possible, have captured a majority of the SCOTUS.

            This has nothing to do with “messaging” and everything to do with who appointed the majority of the Supreme Court justices, the assurances of Doc that whether Gush or Bore took office in 2000 was irrelevant notwithstanding.

            • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

              The Green Lantern view–that if a President pushes a policy hard enough he can definitely achieve it–is ridiculous and the fact that Clinton failed to sell his version of healthcare reform is evidence against it.

              Popular opinion on the ACA suggests that most of its measures are popular, but that the ACA itself is very unpopular. This is because the public misunderstands what’s in the ACA. And that misunderstanding reflects a coordinated misinformation campaign from the right that Democrats and other progressives absolutely failed to counter.

              Politically speaking, the most important task now is not finger pointing (who do we blame? the President? Congress? the Media? Ralph Nader?), but rather learning from these mistakes: how could the the public have been better informed.

              Your answer, like Haidt’s and Mooney’s is that it couldn’t have been.

              I think this is not only false, but political damaging going forward.

              As far as explaining what changed in the last two years: None of those five SCOTUS justices have been appointed in the last two years, nor has their jurisprudence altered in some fundamental and unexpected way. Their presence on the court cannot explain what’s changed over that course of that time.

              • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

                Erp…that should have read:

                Public opinion polling on the ACA suggests that most of its measures are popular, but that the ACA itself is very unpopular.”

              • Scott Lemieux says:

                None of those five SCOTUS justices have been appointed in the last two years, nor has their jurisprudence altered in some fundamental and unexpected way. Their presence on the court cannot explain what’s changed over that course of that time.

                When they were appointed is beside the point. If Breyer was the median vote on the Supreme Court all the messaging in the world wouldn’t given the constitutional argument the slightest chance of succeeding. The threat to the ACA isn’t about “public messaging”; it’s about getting a constitutional challenge to a court where a majority disapproves of the policy in question.

                • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

                  But two years ago few observers felt that those very justices would find the mandate unconstitutional. (The Breyer hypothetical is neither here nor there….we all know and we all knew who was on the Court.)

                  Were you and other court watchers just terribly naive about these five justices (and especially Kennedy)? I have a very hard time believing that’s the case.

                  And if that’s the explanation, why should we take seriously the prognostications of court watchers?

                • Scott Lemieux says:

                  DO you really think that public messaging is the explanatory variable here? That the public, a majority of whom can’t name a single Supreme Court justice, could even explain what the precise argument against the ACA is?

                  Court watchers do tend to have an excessively formalist view of how precedent works, in particular, and you should consider that while listening to their predictions.

                • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

                  I agree with Dahlia Lithwick that, on the margins, the Court might be concerned with the public reception of its rulings (i.e. “legitimacy”) and that a Justice like Kennedy would be more likely to strike down a major piece of legislation that is massively unpopular than he would be willing to strike down one that was very popular.

                  Public opinion is not the variable, but it is a variable.

              • “Popular opinion on the ACA suggests that most of its measures are popular, but that the ACA itself is very unpopular. This is because the public misunderstands what’s in the ACA. And that misunderstanding reflects a coordinated misinformation campaign from the right that Democrats and other progressives absolutely failed to counter.”

                This, I think, fundamentally misunderstands the world in which this messaging happens. The Democrats could have moved heaven and Earth from their central communications office, but with Republicans running around lying about the bill without the slightest compunction and corporate employed elite journalists refusing to report that the Earth is, in fact, round and that anyone who says otherwise is not “voicing their opinion” but is factually and demonstratably wrong, the public would still be left without any nice, coherent, heuristics with which to judge the bill and opinions would fall along partisan fault lines, with that certain segment of moderate who thinks that a bill must be bi-partisan to be good and that certain segment of Democrat who likes to prove that they can be the real adults in the room by making sure to meet their quota for agreeing with Republicans falling into that stupid view that stupid people inevitably find to be the height of wisdom: deciding that the bill needs to be torn up and everyone needs to put partisanship aside to do the smart sensible thing and give them everything they want.

            • patrick II says:

              It has a lot to do with messaging. The Supremes do not make their decisions in political isolation. The fact that nearly half of the population has been persuaded to see the mandate as constitutionally questionable — after fox pulpit work for the last year — creates an political atmosphere that allows those conservative judges to vote they way they want without damaging the party they love too badly.

              • Scott Lemieux says:

                But you’re just begging the question — assuming that the relative unpopularity of the ACA is about “messaging” rather than, say, being associated with a president during a time in which the economy is terrible and hence the president isn’t very popular.

                Although, in fairness, Citizens United proves that the Roberts Court would never strike down an act of Congress with substantial public support. If only the infallible Republican messaging machine had made the bill unpopular, they may have gotten their way!

                • patrick II says:

                  I am not sure of your point here. Are you saying that people understand campaign donation laws so well that they were outraged when Citizens United came down? Maybe in the world of liberal blogs and academics, but the average person can’t persuasively give you constitutional reasons why corporations can’t exercise their right to free speech. It has been explained to them that money is speech and corporations have the same rights as people. Fox pulpit again.

                • Scott Lemieux says:

                  Apparently, the “Fox Pulpit” isn’t very powerful, because Citizens United is enormously unpopular.

            • DocAmazing says:

              the assurances of Doc that whether Gush or Bore took office in 2000 was irrelevant notwithstanding

              We do seem to get a lot of these telepathic communications from me these days, don’t we?

              • Scott Lemieux says:

                Well, if you don’t believe this it makes your ongoing defense of the Nader campaign particularly irrational.

                • DocAmazing says:

                  No one voted for Nader to win, and no one could have imagined how badly Gore would fuck things up with the recount or the campaign.

                  Obscure interviews with Nader in Mountain Bike Action Magazine were not a factor in most peoples’ voting patterns.

                  But you already knew that, and you’re trolling your own blog.

          • “Over the last two years, conservatives managed to move a constitutional argument from the fringes of the right to the legal mainstream and now, quite possible, have captured a majority of the SCOTUS.”

            Of course, it was established well before that that the underlying Constitutional theory of modern American conservatism is the notion that any policy they disagree with on the merits is also by definition un-Constitutional…so I don’t know what this proves with respect to a President’s inability to use rhetoric to change the votes of recalcitrant Senators.

        • Mark Field says:

          I guess my question would be this: what is politics? It seems to me that it’s largely a matter of selling yourself and/or your policies to the public at large. The amount of that you need to do will vary according to context, but it’s always necessary to do. Failing to do it is failing to engage in politics at all.

          That doesn’t mean that you’re guaranteed to succeed when you try to sell your policies. There are lots of examples of failure. What it does mean is that you can’t succeed if you don’t try.

          The alternative to this understanding seems to me to be a black box theory in which public beliefs simply rise unbidden from the vasty deep. When the Obama campaign gets in full swing this Fall, won’t it be reminding the American people of all the good he’s done, with specific references like taking out bin Laden, declining unemployment, and, oh yeah, health care for all?

          This isn’t to say that a public relations campaign would necessarily impact the Court (Mr. Dooley notwithstanding). The Court is better explained as a corrupt institution at the moment. But even there a campaign in support of the ACA would pay off if a large majority of the public came to see the Court as illegitimate precisely because it struck down legislation which benefited them.

          • DocAmazing says:

            I deal a lot with city and state politics, and there’s a lot more to politics than selling policies to the public. That part is definitely important–it’s the democracy part, after all–but it shouldn’t crowd out the deal-making and the weird manipulations of rules and the use of law and courts that are also part of politics. Politics is a very mixed art, and for a person to be good at it, s/he must master a great many skills–including, but not limited to, convincing the public of the rightness of his/her position and the wrongness of his/her opponents’.

            That said, a politician who can’t sell a program to the public isn’t much of a politician.

      • Holden Pattern says:

        It’s midichlorians. Not a constant drumbeat of propaganda over decades and the concentrated efforts of lunatic billionaires. Midichlorians are how politics is conducted.

    • Ed Marshall says:

      Oh, no, it’s a public service and I understand Scott’s frustration. I want to take the entire media and punditocracy and run them through a 300 level Presidential Power class. Not that it would help, they have to tell a story and the crap they produce has an interesting narrative, lecturing people on the institution of the presidency, the power of bureaucracy, and the like isn’t going to sell soap.

  2. kth says:

    It’s conceivable at least that you pick off Kennedy or Roberts if it’s a tax rather than a fine or whatever, but that probability is at least equalled by the likelihood that it doesn’t pass in the first place. And of course hindsight is 20/20, because no one within the legal mainstream seriously argued that the measure was unconstitutional at the time.

    • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

      Are you now trying to tell me that the Solicitor General has a magic Bully Pulpit®? How totally ridiculous. Politics is radically deterministic! Nothing anyone* could have said or done would change anything!

      ______________________________________
      * Other than Ralph Nader in 2000.

      • Scott Lemieux says:

        Yes, clearly the fact that presidential speeches don’t move public opinion or congressional votes mean that no political decisions of any kind make any difference. This is really feeble stuff, IB. (Again, I’m not saying that it’s exactly as likely that the bill Wright prefers would be struck down as the ACA. I’m saying Wright is crazy to think that the “creative use of the bully pulpit” would have made it possible to pass his preferred version.)

        • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

          I think you’re being unfair to Wright’s argument, the burden of which, despite one clause in which he suggests that Obama might change the political climate with speeches, is much more about disagreeing with the “establishment Democratic” view that the political climate was so radically opposed to taxation that nothing Obama could do could be perceived as raising taxes on anyone.

          Look, Scott, I agree with you that Presidents cannot radically transform public opinion.

          But Presidents (and other politicians) can frame policies in ways that successfully appeal to the public opinion climate they find themselves in. Doing so does not make the opposition magically disappear. But it can mean the difference between winning and losing political battles.

          The Democrats (and any political party, really) are at their best (i.e. most successful) when they see politics pragmatically and dynamically. They’re at their worst when they talk themselves into thinking that the course of action that they happened to take was really and truly the only one available to them, that political outcomes are so overdetermined that politics is a waste of time, or that their policies will be so successful that there’s no real need to get one hands dirty and appeal to peoples base desires and fears.

          • Scott Lemieux says:

            You’re missing the whole point. It’s not the public you have to convince; it’s the swing votes in the Senate. Is a once-in-a-generation chance to pass health care reform in which you need every single Democratic vote in the Senate really the time to risk alienating a lot of the swing votes to engage in actions than may or may not move the needle on public discourse?

            • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

              It’s not the public you have to convince; it’s the swing votes in the Senate.

              Actually, Scott, it’s the swing votes in the Senate AND popular opinion.

              • Scott Lemieux says:

                Without #1 #2 is beside the point.

                As I say above, you’re also assuming that the failure of the public to rally around the ACA is about “messaging” rather than “being associated with the president during a terrible economy.” If GOP messaging is so good, why are most of the individual elements of the ACA popular? How do you explain Bush and Social Security — shouldn’t the formidable GOP messaging machine have made “private accounts” more rather than less popular?

                • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

                  Somehow the killing of bin Laden didn’t fall victim to the new “anything a president does during a terrible economy is unpopular” rule…and it appears that the automobile bailout is now becoming popular, too.

                  Also: I’m not at all disagree with the claim that without #1, #2 is beside the point. I’m simply adding the claim: in many cases without #2, #1 is beside the point.

                • Scott Lemieux says:

                  Well, yes, if the public already has a strong view on something and there’s no significant partisan division it will still be popular. Really, the comparison of bin Laden and the ACA is absurd.

                  Was the auto bailout ever unpopular? Assuming that it’s more popular, do you think that messaging made the difference?

                • That might be the single dumbest thing I’ve ever read on this blog. [isnert Billy Madison quote here]

              • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

                I’m disagreeing here with your argument that “being associated with the president during a terrible economy” makes something unpopular.

                In fact, the auto bailout was unpopular (follow the link above), but is now becoming popular.

                The Bin Laden killing was never unpopular.

                In short, the mere fact that something is associated with a president during a terrible economy does not make that thing unpopular.

                • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

                  I’d add: one of the things that can make something that a President does during a terrible economy unpopular is the public belief that the something in question contributed to the economy being terrible.

                  And one of the reason that the public might be led to draw such a causal connection is…wait for it…messaging on the part of the President’s political opponents.

                • Scott Lemieux says:

                  Well, I assume that implicit in my claim is that politically salient issues that break along partisan lines become unpopular when associated with an unpopular incumbent. I can’t believe you think that ObL is a relevant analogy. It’s silly and we all know it.

                  Also, the idea that the president can dodge credit for a bad economy through good messaging happens 1)to be shared by Obama and 2)almost certainly wrong.

            • DocAmazing says:

              It’s not the public you have to convince; it’s the swing votes in the Senate.

              Ultimately, the public elects the Senators. Convincing the public thus changes the composition of the Senate over time. This strikes me as a project worthy of undertaking.

              • commie atheist says:

                Over the long term, sure. Over the short term, no ACA.

                • DocAmazing says:

                  Well, given that we’re looking at a reduced or absent ACA due to SCOTUS’ efforts, might we hope that the national Dems might put just a modicum of effort into a project like this?

                  (Protecting incumbent seats, while usually necessary, isn’t the same thing and doesn’t preclude voter education efforts.)

                • Also, this ignores the flex points Scott was talking about. In a world where three Senators who aren’t going to run for re-election again are the last three votes you need, what difference does the possibility of being voted out make?

                • jil says:

                  A good reason to pass the bill using a method that requires the fewest number of Senator’s approval.

                • DocAmazing says:

                  In a world where three Senators who aren’t going to run for re-election again are the last three votes you need, what difference does the possibility of being voted out make?

                  There are ninety-seven other Senators. Pressure on any of them might well make the Retiring Three irrelevant. Votes are fungible , in this case.

                • Well that’s true…if you presume a world in which you can get enough votes from the ranks of the Republican caucus to make up for the Democrats you lose. This, however, raises two rather obvious questions:

                  1. Given the nature of the current Republican Congressional caucus, why the hell would we assume that is at all possible?

                  2. Given the nature of modern ideological organization between the two parties, how would replacing X number of Democrats with X number of Republicans in your legislative coalition reasonably be expected to do anything but make the proposed bill more conservative in nature?

                • Scott Lemieux says:

                  There are ninety-seven other Senators.

                  Jesus, and people think Obama is naive. Sure, use the bully pulpit on Jim DeMint, he’d probably come out in favor of French health care within the week!

                • DocAmazing says:

                  Republicans are vulnerable to challenge for re-election. While politics tends to be tribal, people also get that there are villains that you don’t want to be associated with. If the Democratic Party were to straightforwardly attack Republican senators in economically depressed places for their cooperation with the malefactors of great wealth, it would go some distance toward making those Republicans vulnerable to challenge. This accomplishes two things: replacement in the long run, and an opponent who might well be willing to deal, given that he’s got something to lose.

                  Of course, as long as the Dems continue to run to the right economically, this strategy is unavailable.

                • “Of course, as long as the Dems continue to run to the right economically, this strategy is unavailable.”

                  Also, in a world where support for a major Democratic legislative initiative on the part of any Republican trying to win re-election that cycle would mean a decisive defeat for them in a Republican primary, as well as the loss of favor with their corporate masters.

                • DocAmazing says:

                  “Their corporate masters” are exactly the point at which they are most vulnerable to attack. Economic populism has been and remains popular in the red states; every utterance about “job creators” has to be accompanied by two or three about “economic elites” and Volvos and Chardonnay and Soros. Scrape away the thin layer of muck that conflates this all with Teh Joos or Welfare Queens, and you’re left with a lot of people who would gladly turn on that set of corporate masters–if it were made an issue, and if they perceived that there was a choice.

                  Of course, this means that the Dems must also confront their own corporate masters, and that they must make an issue of class (or at least economic exploitation) which they have shown little taste for up to now.

                • Heh, that’s cute.

                • DocAmazing says:

                  I know, right? Thinking that the Dems might actually favor, say, organized labor or the poor over corporate interests. But hey, hope springs eternal; they may have gotten tired of losing.

                • “Thinking that the Dems might actually favor, say, organized labor or the poor over corporate interests.”

                  No, that you actually think that “economic populism” is anything more than skin deep/not too subtley veiled racism.

                • DocAmazing says:

                  Yeah, ‘cuz working-class people just love the rich, especially when they can see exactly how they’re getting screwed.

                  Racism plays a role, but even right-wing types are sufficiently class-conscious that they make Che Guevara look like Robin Leach.

                • “Yeah, ‘cuz working-class people just love the rich, especially when they can see exactly how they’re getting screwed.”

                  If you honestly think that working/middle class white people who consistently turn out to vote for Republicans are really secret progressives deep and would totally become Democrats if only Democratic politicians would spend more time attacking the “job-creating” class…I’d say we’re pretty much done here, as you obviously don’t actually know any meaningful number of these people and you’re just projecting your own fantasies onto them.

                • DocAmazing says:

                  Really, a group of people who famously bitch about elites and lattes just loves ‘em some rich people. Of course they do. There is no envy at work in the US.

                  I don’t expect right-wingers to become Marxists. I do expect Democrats to campaign effectively. “Effectively”, in this case, means calling out the R’s corporate sponsors. Ooops, that may mean causing discomfort to the D’s corporate sponsors, though, and that’s apparently worse than losing elections.

                • “Really, a group of people who famously bitch about elites and lattes just loves ‘em some rich people. Of course they do. There is no envy at work in the US.”

                  They also blather on about how the 1% are the “innovative class” who “create jobs” and that the solution to all economic problems is to cut the top marginal tax rates. Or, in other words, there’s no coherent theory here, just ad hoc rationalizations for their own reactionary politics (although research into the matter does tend to support the conclusion that people sympathize with those above them socioeconomically more so than they do with people below them, for what I would assume is the simple reason that pissing on people less fortunate than they makes them feel better about their own situations).

              • Anonymous says:

                the public elects the Senators

                And in this case, most of the problem Senators were either a) retiring, or b) from states where voting “no” would definitely be safer than voting “yes”, even if a moderate to large shift in public opinion could have been achieved.

            • steelpenny says:

              The problem with this “don’t piss off Lieberman or he won’t stick with us for the tough votes” theory is 1) it explicitly empowers them to fuck with you every time and 2) they’re not there for you in the clutch anyway because they know you won’t do shit about it. Fuck it. The Dems suck at party discipline. Obama doesn’t give a shit about this stuff; he just wants to appear “presidential.” Fine. I’m sure the strategy of compromising with people who aren’t acting in good faith will have much better results in his next term.

              • “1) it explicitly empowers them to fuck with you every time…”

                This doesn’t pass the smell test. The fact that the Senator in question has a vote that you absolutely must get in order to pass the bill you’re pushing is what empowers them, not any of this esoteric bullshit that’s really only about giving FDL a collective hard on.

                • steelpenny says:

                  Wrong. Your assumption is that the leadership needs them more than they need the leadership. Which is why point 2 happens. All carrot, no stick means they will always do whatever they want, and you will keep giving them carrots. Take away Lieberman’s chairmanship; kick him out of the caucus. He has nowhere to go. The Republicans have been actively trying to drive out less moderate Republicans and even if they took in the 5 shittiest Dem senators, they wouldn’t have a majority, so they don’t have a lot to offer. It’s like when the owner of the Houston Rockets threatened to move the team if Houston didn’t pony up a stadium. He said he’d take them to Vegas (except Vegas didn’t really want them). Houston built a his arena. You’re like Houston.

                • “Your assumption is that the leadership needs them more than they need the leadership. ”

                  Well of course that’s the case, unless you’re assuming that leadership doesn’t, in fact, give a damn about passing some sort of bill. But if you actually care about getting Bill X passed, and you absolutely need Senator Y’s vote to pass it, then of course you need Senator Y more than he needs you.

                  “Take away Lieberman’s chairmanship; kick him out of the caucus.”

                  Well, nevermind, that is a devastating blow indeed. I mean, he might be a wealthy, powerful individual who gets regularly fellated by the elite media on the Sunday gab fests, but it would certainly be downright crushing to his very being to get kicked out of the Democratic caucus.

                  “He has nowhere to go.”

                  Not that I have any direct experience, but those corporate lobbyist/sinecure corporate board positions seem like awfully fortuitous places to find yourself to me.

              • Anonymous says:

                “compromising with people who aren’t acting in good faith” is an absolutely fundamental requirement of any political achievement whatsoever. If you think anything whatsoever could ever be accomplished in politics by people who resolutely refuse to do this, you’re among the most politically naive people I’ve ever encountered.

          • 50 says:

            reconciliation

            • Scott Lemieux says:

              1)Couldn’t be used to pass the ACA
              2)Is not something Obama can just unilaterally choose to use in any case.

              • As to 1), more accurately, it could not have been used to pass the collection of regulations and insurance market reforms that make up the core of the bill that earned the support of all 59 Democrats in the Senate plus Lieberman, but it could have been used to pass an alternative version of a universal healthcare bill that would have had a 0% chance of getting 50 votes in favor in the Senate.

              • R Johnston says:

                Once again, it was used to pass the ACA. The guts of the legislation were entirely amended by the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act, could have originated in the Reconciliation Act, and the ACA never gets sent to the President’s desk without the HCERA already agreed on.

                If the White House had planned from the beginning to pass whatever crappy bill they could get 60 votes on as quickly as possible and to then fix it in reconciliation that would have actually legitimately earned a reputation for 11-dimensional chess. That they stumbled into passing it by reconciliation through their own incompetence and then failed to take full advantage of reconciliation by wondering what they could add and still get 50 votes means there was no 11-dimensional chess going on but it doesn’t mean that reconciliation wasn’t the primary tool by which the ACA ended up being passed.

                • Scott Lemieux says:

                  it was used to pass the ACA.

                  Jesus Christ, this shit again. No it wasn’t. It was used to pass a series of minor fixes to the ACA. The ACA passed the Senate through the ordinary legislative process with 60 votes. Your assumptions that there would be 50 votes for double-crossing conservative Dems in the reconciliation vote had Obama just wanted them aren’t much better founded.

                • Wash, rinse, repeat. Over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over…

                • Scott Lemieux says:

                  Well, in fairness, at least we didn’t hear the stuff about how Biden could have unilaterally abolished the filibuster this time, so that’s something.

                • rea says:

                  People who say this sort of thing have plainly never actually looked up the rules governing reconciliation and considered when those rules permit it to be used.

                • joe from Lowell says:

                  Once again, it was used to pass the ACA.

                  No, not even close.

    • Joe says:

      If it is some big threat to liberty, unconstitutional conditions doctrine could easy kick in. A “fine” or a “tax” for not owning a book would equally be bad, right?

      And, what about the Medicaid thing? That is pure tax and spend, and they seriously seemed concerned with it. I cry ‘bs’ here, myself.

      • kth says:

        The seemingly-unassailable way to have done it would have been to pass a general tax increase, then offset it with a tax credit if you have qualifying medical insurance. Tax credits for broccoli-consumption or Shakespeare-ownership (or “Rules for Radicals” for that matter) would be similarly hard to overturn, because of the plethora of tax credits in existence, even though at bottom it is a distinction without much of a difference.

        • Scott Lemieux says:

          Except that other parts of the ACA involve the federal spending power, and the Court could rule that these provisions are unconstitutionally “coercive” based on the precedent Ad hoc v. Pulled out of My Ass, and these provisions cannot be severed from the rest of the bill.

          But, anyway, even if we assume that there’s a 100% chance the SC upholds this version, since there’s a roughly 0% chance that you could get the votes in the Senate to pass a general tax increase it’s moot.

          • kth says:

            If you’re keeping score, I’m on the “hindsight is 20/20″ side and hence agree. I only was showing how a law might be crafted that met the putative objections of Barnett et al. Obviously passing something like that would have been much harder than a mere tax on the uninsured (though maybe you could call it the “emergency room tax”), but the latter would have landed the measure exactly where it is now.

        • Joe says:

          A tax break dependent on certain ideologically based reading can very well be an issue as would be one based the religion you are. My “book” example was probably too general, but if owning “rules for radicals” instead of “rules for moderates” was taxed instead of “fined,” it would not be acceptable.

  3. Rob says:

    The President sets the agenda. He did not want to discuss taxes so there were no taxes.

  4. Joe says:

    If the word “tax” was in there, other than what in practice is a tax, I’m sure Randy Barnett et. al. would have went home.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      Right. I mean there’s no way the Supreme Court would entertain that this particular use of the federal spending power was unconstitutional by, say, asking arguments about whether the Medicaid expansion was unconstitutional. That’s just crazy talk.

      • John says:

        Do you think that 5 justices will really find the medicaid expansion unconstitutional? It’s remarkably hackish that they went that route at all, but I’m dubious that it’ll actually amount to anything.

  5. c u n d gulag says:

    Whether a Democratic President uses it or not, and whether it’s effective, isn’t really the point.

    The point is, that if he (maybe she in the future) tries, Whoreporatist Democratic/Independent Senators like Lieberman and Bayh, to a greater extent, and Nelson and Lincoln, to a lesser one, are legislative ‘bullies’ who are all too eager to use the ‘pulpit’ that the to Right-center to Republican oriented Sunday bloviation festivals will provide them, to show just how “independent’ they are.

    After all, the only times Democrats are allowed on those shows, is to criticize the Democratic President, his policies, or other fellow Democratic politicians.

  6. Martin says:

    The claim is made in the quoted excerpt that Obama “made no attempt to change the climate by using his considerable oratorical skills.”

    The writer makes a good point. What Obama should have is called a special joint session of Congress in September of 2009 to discuss this issue and this issue alone, using his considerable oratorical skills.

    Oh wait, he did do that.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      As Chait points out in the linked piece, people obsessed with the power of presidential rhetoric often inadvertently disprove their own point by accusing presidents of not doing things they did repeatedly.

      • chris says:

        The funny part is that *they themselves* didn’t notice the president doing those things precisely because it was so ineffective nobody paid any attention.

  7. laura says:

    Well, also I don’t ever recall progressive writers complaining that the stupid Democrats should have called it a tax instead of a penalty to avoid constitutionality critiques prior to the last month or so. When the ACA initially passed everyone more or less agreed and argued that any constitutionality charges against it would be completely incredible and fringe. Now those charges have become mainstream and plenty of liberals have internalized them along with everyone else. (This isn’t about “messaging”. it’s about who’s “winning” at a point in time. The GOP will win this one because they control the SC and so that “message” is stronger even though it’s actually bogus.) The idea that at least four of five (i.e. the exact same) justices wouldn’t have found a reason to strike down a tax rather than a penalty (and that they wouldn’t strike down Medicare for all) is wishful thinking imo. to Scalia et al, and millions of people who think like him, we’re standing on the edge of a socialist abyss and it would be ineffective insanity to let a little bit of legal precedent or consistency get in the way of pulling back from it.

  8. R Johnston says:

    People believe that the ACA establishes “death panels” because someone got on a bully pulpit and told them so. People believe that the mandate in the ACA is the end of freedom as we know it because someone got on a bully pulpit and told them so. People love the individual components of the ACA but fear that the ACA means worse, more expensive health care because someone got on a bully pulpit and told them to be scared.

    People don’t come by their opinions in a vacuum, and just because every Republican in Congress is a tribal asshole who automatically opposes the President regardless of fact and circumstance doesn’t mean that everyone out there who buys into some right-wing meme is a reflexive right-wing lunatic who buys into every right-wing meme and comes to an opinion before knowing or being told anything. Just because you can’t change the mind of Senator Inhofe doesn’t mean you can’t help form the opinion of your average center-right Democratic Senator Squish.

    The President who refuses to fight for what he claims to believe in believes in nothing and allows his opponents to win by default.

    • UserGoogol says:

      “People” don’t believe in death panels. Conservatives do. And conservatives aren’t the ones who sway elections. The belief that Obamacare will have authority to involuntarily euthanize the elderly has always been a minority viewpoint. And what a conservative minority thinks doesn’t really effect politics on a short term basis, since they aren’t swing votes.

      • Scott Lemieux says:

        Yes, this gets cause and effect backwards. Scalia uses asinine conservative buzzwords to disparage the ACA because he’s a conservative Republican who apparently listens to a lot of shitty conservative talk radio. The buzzwords didn’t turn him into a conservative Republican.

    • chris says:

      People love the individual components of the ACA but fear that the ACA means worse, more expensive health care because someone got on a bully pulpit and told them to be scared.

      If politician A gets on a pulpit and tells people to be scared of X, and politician B gets on a pulpit and tells them not to be scared of X, a substantial number, perhaps even a majority, will end up not only being scared, but also thinking politician B is a traitor with a nefarious plan to hide the dangers of X. Even if X is dihydrogen monoxide.

      It’s one of the biggest long-term problems of democracy: fear is easy to stir up and hard to settle down.

  9. Blue Neponset says:

    Is this where I point out that Bush sold us a war from the bully pulpit and then you point out that foreign policy doesn’t count?

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      Well, foreign policy is demonstrably different, yes. But, anyway, do you have evidence that attacking Iraq was inherently unpopular before Bush started giving speeches? Is there evidence that the war rally effect is based on rhetoric? If it is based on rhetoric, why didn’t it work for Bush on anything else?

    • joe from Lowell says:

      Whoa, George Bush managed to convince the public, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, to support a war against a well-known Muslim bad guy?

      Stop the fucking presses. I guess we really don’t need to worry about the mountains of actual research on this subject, since we have this compelling piece of evidence.

  10. Incontinentia Buttocks says:

    When the ACA initially passed everyone more or less agreed and argued that any constitutionality charges against it would be completely incredible and fringe. Now those charges have become mainstream and plenty of liberals have internalized them along with everyone else. (This isn’t about “messaging”. it’s about who’s “winning” at a point in time. The GOP will win this one because they control the SC and so that “message” is stronger even though it’s actually bogus.)

    If it was simply about who was on the Court, then everyone wouldn’t have agreed two years ago that the Constitutional challenges would go nowhere. After all, those five Justices were already on the Court and had very well established records, especially the median vote, Justice Kennedy.

    Yet, somehow, two years ago, nobody thought that this very Court would strike down the law. Now it appears likely that it will.

    Either we have a very, very bad set of professional and amateur Supreme Court analysts, or something really has changed relevant to the Court’s behavior over the last two years. Because the Justices and their legal views clearly have not.

    • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

      Whoops…this was in response to laura.

    • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

      And just to be very clear on this point, here’s Scott himself reacting to Judge Vinson’s ruling against the mandate in January 2011:

      There is a faction of conservative judges who believe the individual mandate is unconstitutional. Unless this view has the support of five members of the Supreme Court — which I still consider very unlikely — it won’t matter; Vinson’s reasoning would have a much greater impact if adopted by the Court, but for this reason it is even less likely to be adopted by higher courts.

      What changed in the last fourteen months, Scott? Obviously not the SCOTUS itself. Has your understanding of the jurisprudence of the five most conservative members of the Court changed over that time (and if so, why)?

      • Scott Lemieux says:

        You’re right — I was wrong not to make the challenge more seriously at that point. Predicting judicial behavior isn’t an exact science. I should have understood sooner than I did that the “federalism revolution” that seemed to stall after Morrison could resume after a Democrat took over the White House. But what I still don’t understand is what this has to do with the bully pulpit.

        • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

          Dahlia Lithwick:

          Will the Court’s five conservatives strike it down regardless? That’s what we’re really talking about next week and that has almost nothing to do with law and everything to do with optics, politics, and public opinion.

          As the kids say, read the whole thing.

          • Scott Lemieux says:

            1)I love Dahlia, of course, but I don’t think she’s quite right. The law permits the Supreme Court to strike down the legislation and do so in a way that doesn’t necessarily have broader implications.

            2)Even if we assume that Kennedy will ultimately vote to strike, and even if we assume that public opinion (rather than elite support) is decisive, you’re still assuming the ability of presidential “messaging” to change public opinion without evidence. Why do you assume that the relative unpopularity of the ACA is about “messaging,” rather than being associated with an incumbent during an awful economy?

            • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

              Why do you assume that the relative unpopularity of the ACA is about “messaging,” rather than being associated with an incumbent during an awful economy?

              The fact that: 1) individual aspects of the ACA poll well; 2) the ACA polls terribly, and 3) polls indicate the public fundamentally doesn’t understand what’s in the ACA.

              • UserGoogol says:

                That’s true of most things. There’s just a lot of things the American public is fundamentally confused about. Most people don’t really pay attention to politics or current events, so their opinion of legislation is based on a vague sense of how they feel about politicians, and their opinion of legislation is based on a vague sense of “well, I guess that could be nice.”

                • Scott Lemieux says:

                  This is correct — there’s no puzzle here. The public is essentially ignorant about the details of all proposed policies regardless of the messaging, and the ACA is about as popular as you would expect for something associated with an incumbent party and administration during a horrific economy.

                  To the extent that any bad choices made by Obama undermined the ACA, it was choices that failed to do all that could be done to stimulate the economy and address the housing conference. MEssaging isn’t the problem.

                • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

                  1) The view that the public is fundamentally confused about everything so why bother messaging is a recipe for failure. And I also repeat my question upthread: why should the Democrats waste tens of millions of dollars on advertising if there’s nothing one can do to affect what the public believes?

                  2) Do you have any data to back up the claim that anything associated with an administration during a horrible economy is unpopular? Obviously polling from the 1930s is spotty, but my sense is that most of the New Deal was very popular at the time, as far as we can tell. I agree that most things associated with _this_ administration have been successfully spun by Republicans as helping to cause or prolong the economic bad times. I just deny that it was inevitable that such spinning would be successful.

                • Scott Lemieux says:

                  1)On the new Deal, see the Westen link. FDR was popular, but this didn’t necessarily translate to making his policies popular. More importantly, the economy showed explosive growth during the time of FDR’s greatest legislative success; it’s not comparable at all.

                  2)Messaging might be able to affect pubic opinion at the margin. Thinking you’re going to make low-information voters aware of the specific details of public policies is highly implausible. I mean, try, but if that’s your magic formula good luck.

                • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

                  1) All that the Westen link above suggests in regard to this discussion is that FDR didn’t convince the public to back the Keynesianism that FDR himself was not wholly philosophically committed to. Both the public and FDR, at some level, preferred balanced budgets. Chait’s article (at that link) says nothing whatsoever about the popularity of particular New Deal programs, let alone providing evidence for the still unsubstantiated general claim that anything an administration does when the economy is terrible is unpopular (though you now seem to have added an epicycle to this theory: if the economy is terrible but growing it doesn’t apply. Some data would remain a nice addition to all these assertions.)

                  2) According to Kaiser Family Foundation polling, very few voters claim not to know how the ACA will effect them. The notion that a law’s complexity means that it cannot be sold is ridiculous. Obviously, voters, including “high information” ones, aren’t going to understand what’s in all 2,700 pages (heck, even Justice Scalia doesn’t ;-) ). But most voters, including low info voters, convince themselves that they understand even complicated bits of important legislation. The point of messaging about the ACA isn’t to assure that voters have a 100% accurate understanding of what’s in it. The point is for them to support it. The fact that, properly understood, the ACA does in fact help most people is a strategic advantage enjoyed by supporters (should they decide to actually climb down off their high horses and engage in the filthy business of politics). Achieving such an understanding is not the goal.

                • “(though you now seem to have added an epicycle to this theory: if the economy is terrible but growing it doesn’t apply. Some data would remain a nice addition to all these assertions.)”

                  This doesn’t even make sense as an attempted gotcha. FDR took office over three years into a Depression that was solidly associated with his predecessor in the public consciousness and his first term saw rapid economic/employment growth. Obama…has not. There’s not disconnect that needs to be explained here, unless you’re just going to argue that no one cares about baselines.

                  “2) According to Kaiser Family Foundation polling, very few voters claim not to know how the ACA will effect them.”

                  Well damn, if they say so, I guess that pretty much settles that.

                • Scott Lemieux says:

                  It’s not some ad hoc change; I assumed you have some familiarity with the debate. Economic growth, not just the state of the economy per se, is the key variable. FDR was in an exceptionally good political position in 1934-6.

                  Also, I note that after the post-1936 shift to austerity economics FDR’s success with Congress was much less. How do you explain that? Did he forget how to message? Radios stopped picking up the fireside chats? FDR is a classic example of political success being driven by underlying fundamentals, and messaging being pretty much useless if the fundamentals aren’t with you.

                • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

                  Your argument about FDR is significantly more sensible than your argument upthread about Obama. The fundamentals were, in fact, terrible under FDR during his entire first term, but, as you say, they were getting substantially better.

                  Your claim upthread was that a bad economy itself makes everything an administration does unpopular. You’ve move the goalposts here to a more sensible place.

                  However, you still haven’t remotely shown that everything that an administration does when the economy is bad and not improving rapidly is unpopular.

                • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

                  As far as the complexity of ACA goes, it seems that we both agree that it’s pretty irrelevant to its popularity.

                  You believe that everything that an administration does when the economy is good improving is popular, and everything that an administration does when the economy isn’t good is not improving is unpopular.

                  I argue that the popularity of particular pieces of legislation is based on a variety of factors (including: overall health of the economy, whether the economy is improving or not, what the public believes the legislation does, and, yes, messaging).

                  The complexity of the legislation seems wholly irrelevant to your story and pretty tangential to mine (though I at least admit as much).

              • chris says:

                The fact that: 1) individual aspects of the ACA poll well; 2) the ACA polls terribly, and 3) polls indicate the public fundamentally doesn’t understand what’s in the ACA.

                OK, this proves that lying about the ACA has been more effective than telling the truth about it. Now what? Are you assuming that there’s a more effective way of telling the truth that would have overcome lies and fearmongering? Because that is rarely the case.

              • joe from Lowell says:

                The fact that: 1) individual aspects of the ACA poll well; 2) the ACA polls terribly, and 3) polls indicate the public fundamentally doesn’t understand what’s in the ACA.

                This is not an answer to Scott’s question. In fact, it all counts as evidence for Scott’s point.

                If the public doesn’t actually know what’s in the ACA, then they are making up their mind based on its affiliation with Obama.

                • Scott Lemieux says:

                  Further evidence (from the left) comes in this very thread from jeer9, who is absolutely convinced that this is terrible legislation but has far as I can tell has never had anything to say about its content.

                • jeer9 says:

                  I’m sure the criticism expressed by some dissenters that the ACA may become a tool to eventually voucherize Medicare and Medicaid is unwarranted; and of course the notion that the ACA may be the first step toward shrinking Medicare and pushing more old people onto private insurance exchanges is not worthy of consideration. Lemieux, needless to say, will be shocked if this occurs. But then his heart is in the right place. How could he know a Heritage Foundation plan would lead to such a result? He’s playing the short game and you takes whatever scraps you can get.

                • “I’m sure the criticism expressed by some dissenters that the ACA may become a tool to eventually voucherize Medicare and Medicaid is unwarranted…”

                  Well son of a gun, if “some dissenters” say it “may lead to” a completely independent awful policy outcome, that changes everything!

  11. Rarely Posts says:

    Scott: what is the left/liberal supposed to do to provide th uninsured with health insurance and get prices down? You always talk about what doesn’t work, but what will? Can you point to any strategy that has a reasonable chance of succeeding in the next 30 years with our current populace, elites, and institutions? I understand that you’re an academic-is this just an intellectual exercise? If not, what will work? What does your empirical research suggest?

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      The best you can hope for is a Swiss-style system that provides universal coverage through regulated private insurance. How to make that viable, I have no idea, but it’s going to require either a major change in partisan alignments or huge congressional majorities.

      • Holden Pattern says:

        Shorter Lemieux: What I expect you do do, Mr. Bond, is die.

        • Dirksen says:

          Obviously huge majorities are not enough
          you need Mansfieldian numbers.

        • Rarely Posts says:

          Yeah, the upshot that I take from this is that expressing political opinions and engaging politically should be enjoyed as intellectual exercises, but not with real hope of improving the human condition (except in a limited set of non-stalled-out areas, such as LGBT rights), at least in the United States.

          After all, universal health care has been on the Democratic platform since 1948, the liberals/progressives/Democrats have been fighting for it for over 70 years, they finally managed to pass an imperfect bill to accomplish that goal using the very “free market” approach endorsed by conservatives, and the SCOTUS still will likely strike it down based on reasoning that has no basis in precedent, in the text, in the original meaning, or really anything that they can point to. They’re embracing Lochean substantive due process without the intellectual honesty (which is a real coup).

          • joe from Lowell says:

            Spending many billions of dollars in federal money to subsidize the purchase of something in a heavily-regulated market is the very “free market” approach endorsed by conservatives?

            • Rarely Posts says:

              Umm . . . yes, the plan came from the Heritage Institution, and the “free market conservative” approach to things in the United States is always to channel federal money to major private corporations. Have you not been paying attention?

              Or, answer this:
              Is there a more “free market” approach endorsed by conservatives to address the problems of the uninsured?

              I fully agree that conservatives would prefer to do nothing about the problem of: (1) the uninsured and (2) the steadily skyrocketing cost of healthcare and its drain on our federal budget (through medicare). Only liberals and progressives care about that.

              But, if one is going to do something about the problems identified by liberals and progressives, then the ACA is the conservative “free market” approach to address those problems. I support it because the problems are serious and need to be addressed, but obviously the better, more liberal, and/or more progressive approach would be something more like single-payer.

              Similarly, cap-and-trade for greenhouse gases (or for pollutants that caused acid rain, earlier) is also the “free market” approach to resolving problems of pollution, as opposed to command-control or other things. Conservatives don’t care about pollution, but when they pretend to care, those are the approaches they endorse.

              My point is: liberals and progressives have shown a great deal of willingness to adopt conservatively endorsed “market based” solutions to resolve major public problems, and it gains them nothing in the later political debate. If your point is that, no matter what approach or tactics liberals adopt to address major social problems, those programs are always going to be criticized as liberal socialism, then you’ve proven my point.

              • Scott Lemieux says:

                The Heritage Foundation plan has never been “endorsed by conservatives” in the sense that conservatives actually wanted it implemented. It was a red herring.

                By the way, if the ACA is such a huge win for conservatives, why are they mounting a huge drive to have it struck down after they went all-out to have it stopped in Congress? It’s odd how no actually existing American conservatives share the view of “Perfect or nothing” leftier-than-thous about what their beliefs entail.

                • I’m also not sure what, exactly, the point of arguing over it is. Let’s stipulate, for the sake of argument, that the ACA is “the Heritage plan,” and that Congressional Republicans would have been willing to pass the Heritage plan if Clinton had agreed to it in 1993:

                  1. How does this tell us anything about what Congressional Republicans would have thought of the Heritage plan in 2009?

                  2. What does it tell us about the policy preferences of Nelson, Bayh, Landrieu, etc. in 2009?

                  3. How does it change the fact that, in 2009, “the Heritage plan” still represented a fairly significant step leftward from the healthcare status quo?

                • Rarely Posts says:

                  Honestly, Scott, Brien, and Joe, it’s pretty clear that you’re all so used to having certain arguments over and over again that you’re seeing them where they’re not.

                  My point was simply this: The ACA is as-much of a compromise with conservatives, incumbent interests, and “free market” principles as one can get while still providing universal coverage. I support the ACA, and I recognize that it’s a step to the left, but you can’t compromise any more than the ACA and get universal coverage.

                  But, if the ACA gets struck down, despite being such a compromise, then I don’t see any route to providing universal coverage in the next 30-40 years.

                  I’m not arguing that the ACA is a conservative victory. I’m simply pointing out that liberals and progressives have moved as far to the right as possible without abandoning universal coverage. Now, universal coverage is very liberal, and I’m in support of the ACA because it achieves it.

                  If you want to disprove the point I’m making, here’s what you have to explain: If the ACA gets struck down, how will liberals manage to get universal coverage for people in the USA within the next 30 years? Right now, I think the answer is that they can’t. I’d love to hear why that is wrong.

                • Scott Lemieux says:

                  If the ACA gets struck down, how will liberals manage to get universal coverage for people in the USA within the next 30 years?

                  I have no idea. As I said, striking down the ACA would be a disaster. Not because we’ve compromised too much per se, but because even the compromise was the product of unusually favorable circumstances.

            • Rarely Posts says:

              Or, to follow up: If the ACA is unconstitutional, then it seems likely to me that:

              1) The Social Security Privatization plan pushed by the Bush Administration is unconstitutional;
              2) Arguably, the Ryan Medicare plan is unconstitutional.

              Similarly, those are clear “free market” approaches endorsed by conservatives. In their structure, they are very similar to the ACA.

              • They’re also neither here nor there so far as comparisons go, unless you’re taking the position that the status quo ante is not worth taking into consideration.

                • Rarely Posts says:

                  Um, no, I acknowledge that the status quo ante is very important. But, I don’t think that the status quo ante and the question of smart legislative moves in the short-term are the only interesting things at issue; particularly when one of the issues at stake is constitutionality.

                  You’re right that the comparison is not very helpful to understanding the legislative politics of 2009. I would submit that it’s helpful to understand:
                  1) the amount that liberals and the left have compromised over time;
                  2) the degree to which the constitutional challenges to the ACA are absurd and in bad faith; and
                  3) it highlights that there is almost no more compromise to go.

                  In the 1990s, conservatives wanted to pretend that they cared about coverage, so they talked a lot about a plan similar to ACA. No, they never actually wanted to pass it, but it was a sham that let them pretend they cared.

                  Notably, in the ACA debate in 2009, they had no similar sham. That’s because there is literally no more further right one can go and still provide coverage. They would have talked about a more rightwing coverage plan if one was available, but there literally isn’t one available.

                  I’m in favor of compromise, and so I support the ACA. My argument is not oriented towards second-guessing what happened in 2009. My argument is about what (if anything) we can do going-forward, if the SCOTUS strikes the ACA down. And, thus far, I take it the answer is nothing that is likely to succeed during the course of my career.

      • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

        A serious hypothetical Scott (and one that I’m actually pretty agnostic about the answer to):

        If Mitt Romney had been elected President in 2008, would we have ended up with what is now called “Obamacare,” shorn presumably of a few of the more progressive aspects of it but with its core intact, sold as a conservative solution to the healthcare access crisis, and essentially unchallenged in the courts?

        • Scott Lemieux says:

          If Mitt Romney had been elected President in 2008, would we have ended up with what is now called “Obamacare,” shorn presumably of a few of the more progressive aspects of it but with its core intact, sold as a conservative solution to the healthcare access crisis, and essentially unchallenged in the courts?

          No. Republicans at the federal level have never favored any kind of universal care in practice.

          • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

            Well, Scott, both Nixon and Ford actively worked toward universal care bills, so that’s not quite right.

            Who knows what Romney really believes about anything. But he campaigned on what became Obamacare in 2008. And the experience of Medicare Part D suggests that Republican presidents can cobble together bipartisan Congressional majorities for national healthcare legislation under the right circumstances.

            None of which is to say that Romney would have tried to do so or that he would have been successful (though I suppose it is to suggest that it is not out of the question that he would have).

            (Also: Romneycare / Obamacare is far from “universal care.” It’s, instead, a dramatic broadening–perhaps universalization–of access to insurance, along with regulation that improves the quality of that insurance–at least in the Obama version.)

            • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

              Erp…that should read: “Nixon and Ford actively worked toward universal insurance bills.”

            • Joe says:

              The party as a whole was different in Ford’s day. Medicare Part D was a small thing next to the system as a whole and not done that well at that. The best hope is Romney seeing it as a way to co-opt Democrats and it would be his thing and help him be re-elected with the help of some swing voters.

              • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

                Totally agree about the GOP being very different in the ’70s, Joe. Heck, until ’76, the ERA was a longstanding plank in the Republican platform.

                I was just disputing Scott’s trivially false claim that Republicans have never backed universal health insurance at the federal level.

                • Scott Lemieux says:

                  “Republicans” doesn’t just mean “Republican presidents.” Republicans in Congress have never backed it, and that’s what matters.

                • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

                  In ’71 and ’72, the backing of Democrats was far more important for Nixon’s National Health Insurance Partnership Act. Certainly some Republicans backed it (a February 22, 1972 NY Times article lists Utah Senator Wallace Bennett and Wisconsin Rep. John W. Byrnes, both Republicans, as its chief Congressional sponsors).

                  More importantly for our Romneycare hypothetical, President Romney (Model 2008, Special Serious-About-HCR Edition) would presumably have tried to cobble together bipartisan support for his measure, in a Congress that might still have been controlled by Democrats. At any rate, the path to success for an individual-mandate-based healthcare plan under a GOP President would probably have looked like the coalition that passed Medicare Part D, with a good number of Republicans having their arms twisted by a President of their own party, moderate Democrats, and a few liberal Democrats who figured something was better than nothing voting in favor, and much of the GOP right and Democratic left voting against it for different reasons.

                • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

                  I forgot to add: I wasn’t able to find anywhere that provided a comprehensive tally of who supported and who opposed the Nixon health care plan in Congress.

                  I have seen various references citing widespread GOP congressional support for the Medicare ESRD Act (1972), which provided universal access to kidney transplants for end-stage renal patients. But, again, I wasn’t able to find vote totals.

            • Anonymous says:

              IB,

              Nitxon and Ford were president at a time when there was a lot of apparent progressive energy over the last decade in Congress. Obstruction of progressive ends (rather than making them as corporate-friendly as possible through participation) probably meant they would be delayed rather than scuttled altogether.

              Obviously, in our world (and even moreso in a version of our world where a republican manages to win in 2008), the momentum is clearly in the opposite direction, and Congress and the President knows it. Your hypothetical bears no discernable relation to political reality.

              • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

                Scott says that Republicans have never supported federal healthcare legislation. This is, simply, false.

                I certainly never suggested that the Republican Party today would support such legislation.

                And my hypothetical about Romney winning in 2008 obviously depended on the Republican Party deciding to back a candidate who was making healthcare reform a central campaign promise. And Romney–running as a healthcare reformer in 2008–failed massively for all the reasons you suggest.

                So you’re entirely correct that my hypothetical–like any hypothetical–doesn’t bear a very close relationship to reality. That’s what makes it a hypothetical.

                Romneycare was not seen as a particular progressive policy until it became a Democratic policy. That it was nonetheless too progressive for the GOP, however, is evidenced by the failure of Romney’s 2008 presidential campaign.

                I will disagree with you in one very small way: the Republican Party’s chief interest is in obstructing Democratic policies. I agree that there are, at this point no progressive impulses whatsoever in the GOP. But gainsaying the Democrats is even more central to its M.O. than running further and further to the right. The GOP will stop caring one iota about budget balancing when it comes back to power, e.g.

                • chris says:

                  Scott says that Republicans have never supported federal healthcare legislation. This is, simply, false.

                  Well, not so simply. If you interpret it as “Not a single Republican has ever supported…” then it is false. If you interpret it as “Republicans, as a party, i.e. a collective political force, have never supported…” then it is true, and the fact that some Republican *presidents* have backed it only to be thwarted by their own party’s Congressional delegations only underscores the weakness of presidents in making domestic policy.

    • Davis X. Machina says:

      There is none, not with our current populace, elites, and institutions.

      We’re still processing the outcome of a civil war whose sesquicentennial we are commemorating.

      Incremental, ameliorative, piecemeal solutions, yes.

      What would make more sweeping change possible — 14th c. scale pandemic illness, a second civil war, some other, unforeseen, catastrophe — would come with problems of its own.

  12. jeer9 says:

    Let me know when the Dem-controlled senate decides to do away with the filibuster or when the Party decides to primary the corporate hacks now populating its ranks. Until such time they’re not to be taken seriously as an opposition or an advocate of “change we can believe in” or a team capable of producing a co-ordinated political and advertising campaign in favor of real health care reform. Because that’s not actually what the Party wants. The only type of bill they’re capable of creating is the weak tea currently being disparaged by the SC’s intellectual giants. Lemieux mourns its approaching defeat while continuing to defend the domestically powerless president and the complicit Party that produces such insipid legislation. It’s inspiring stuff, but I believe Lucy always snatches away the football. At least the President is standing tall on surveillance, civil liberties, torture, and the prosecution of banksters and whistleblowers, topics which clearly differentiate him from the bipartisan comity which rules our nation. He’s got my vote. I mean, who else is out there?

    • Bart says:

      Should the Dems lose the Senate I would fully expect Minority Leader Harry “Thin Reed” Reid to forgo the filibuster.

      • chris says:

        Sure, blame Reid for what votes are and aren’t there in the Senate. That makes just about as much sense as blaming Obama.

        There are 100 Senators in the Senate. Each of them has a brain capable of thinking its own thoughts and developing its own agenda. I’m sorry this is complicated to understand, but it’s the truth. There is no shortcut to understanding or controlling 100 people, some of whom agree with you and others don’t. Pretty much they each do what they want and if that turns out in your favor, great, and if not, there’s probably not much you could do about it other than horse trading, which only goes so far.

    • “Let me know when the Dem-controlled senate decides to do away with the filibuster…”

      I know you don’t live in what most of us would consider to be the real world, but why you expect that a Democratic controlled Senate would ever be able to do that short of extremely large majorities being in place? Republicans would line up to oppose it, and you’d need the support of a number of conservative Democrats who would be adversely affected by the change given a typically sized majority. How exactly are you getting to 50 votes here absent a ~58+ member caucus?

      • jeer9 says:

        Yes, it’s very important to keep those conservative Dems happy so that they can undermine progressive legislation and the DSCC keeps supporting them in primaries so that we can have a Dem majority than can do … nothing remotely progressive. How large a majority would it take to do away with the Dem filibuster (even if one wants to entertain the ludicrous notion that the corporatist hack Party wants to eradicate the bottleneck to govern more democratically)? 63? 65? 70? My world may not be “real,” but at least it’s not that of Godot or Pangloss.

        • I genuinely don’t understand what the fascination people like you have with whether someone is “happy” or not. To put it rather plainly, if you have a majority of, say, 53 Senators and every Republican Senator plus 4 Democrats votes to keep the filibuster, it doesn’t make a damn bit of difference what the state of everyone’s fee-fees is, you simply don’t have 50+ votes to change the rule.

          “the DSCC keeps supporting them in primaries…”

          Lieberman, Bayh, and Nelson all declined to run for re-election (and only Bayh was running in the same cycle in which the ACA was passed, for what that’s worth), so you will have to forgive me if I fail to see what the threat of withholding financial support in their next primary would have accomplished.

          “How large a majority would it take to do away with the Dem filibuster”

          Well that’s rather difficult to say, isn’t it? I mean obviously you’d need 50+1 who supported eliminating the rule, but who knows how many others there would need to be? Even if we go back to 2009 and only limit ourselves to Senators we would consider to be on the left side of the caucus you wouldn’t find consensus in favor of changing the rule, either because they were older tenured Senators who were too attached to The Way Things Are Done and would oppose change for the sake of it, or because they wanted to keep the filibuster in place out of the belief that it increased their power in certai cases (Feingold).

          • Scott Lemieux says:

            Jeer9, alas, is apparently unaware that the Senate is not apportioned by population. Primarying conservative Dems in Nebraska and Indiana etc. is not going to produce liberal votes. There are a couple of cases where primaries of blue-state senators could be useful, but that’s not getting you anywhere near 50 liberal votes.

            It’s also immensely amusing to see jeer9 nine of accusing other people of living in the world of Godot.

            • jeer9 says:

              Not as amusing as seeing you lament that “sometimes a devastating defeat is just a devastating defeat.”

              It remains a debating point whether the progressive Left is more delusional than the hackier-than-thou defenders of Obama and this administration. But it’s nice to see that you’re finally owning your admiration of BHO, and not passing it off as a re-appraisal of LBJ.

              • Scott Lemieux says:

                It’s wouldn’t be a defeat for Obama; it would be defeat of good legislation. But I understand, the people who will get insurance and the poor people who will benefit from a Medicaid expansion can piss up a rope until we can get a social democratic median vote in all three branches, which will happen just as soon as we [insert delusional fantasy here.] Oddly, the people upon whom the contradictions will actually be heightened do not wish to wait for Godot with you, but I’m sure he’s coming!

                • jeer9 says:

                  Your notion that the Heritage Foundation plan would be good legislation is quaint, and I’m sure it would possess no drawbacks at all from a progressive perspective if it were ever enacted. We know this because you clearly predicted that ACA would never be challenged on libertarian grounds, and your knowledge of the law is astounding.

                  But then you seem shocked to discover that SC decisions are just a political game of words, the evidence and interpretations as whimsical as a poetry discussion, the final judgment as legitimate and authoritative as that particular teacher’s taste. While I would certainly like to see social democratic forces control both the legislative and executive branches of government (as they sort of did 2009-10), I don’t waste my time defending those politicians and bosses who only pay lip service to the goals of reform (insert delusional hackery’s achievement here.)

                  I am waiting for a Dem party to live up to its stated aspirations and I hope that the ACA passes if only so that your Godot arrives. I suspect he won’t be quite what you expected or wanted.

                • Scott Lemieux says:

                  But then you seem shocked to discover that SC decisions are just a political game of words, the evidence and interpretations as whimsical as a poetry discussion, the final judgment as legitimate and authoritative as that particular teacher’s taste.

                  Do you not read any of my posts on the subject, or do you just not understand them? Hard to say, I suppose.

                  Now, if you start applying the implications of the legal realism you think you’re the first person to have discovered to presidential elections, then we’d have something!

                • HAST says:

                  I hope you just returned from a night out and tipsily thought ‘maybe I should check the blog before retiring.’

                • jeer9 says:

                  Mostly it’s because you’re wrong so often. Best of luck with your next legal prognostication.

                • Scott Lemieux says:

                  Wrong about what? Did I ever say there was no chance that the Court would strike down the legislation? It’s also strange that in all of the (entirely content-free) fulminating you’ve done about the ACA it never occured to you to mention that the Supreme Court was certain to strike it down until the oral argument. But I’m sure you knew all along!

                  Anyway, what’s mysterious is why this is relevant. Do you think the Supreme Court would be less likely to strike down the bill if it had a public option in it?

                • jeer9 says:

                  Earlier in the thread to IB:

                  You’re right — I was wrong not to make the challenge more seriously at that point. Predicting judicial behavior isn’t an exact science. I should have understood sooner than I did that the “federalism revolution” that seemed to stall after Morrison could resume after a Democrat took over the White House.

                  Do you even remember what you write?

                  I have stated repeatedly that the ACA is a Big Business free market solution whose benefits when implemented are less than clear. Nothing that this SC does would surprise me, but then I haven’t the years of specialization that you have. Of course, outsider status has never hindered you from proffering your opinion on topics (Shakespeare) that you know nothing about.

                  I’m sure, if only for the judgment of history, that this SC’s majority will thoroughly justify its decision in this case in the manner of Gush v. Bore, though I blame Nader.

                • Scott Lemieux says:

                  See, the phrase “so often” implies “more than once.” Let’s stipulate your assumption that thinking at one point (like pretty much all observers of the court of all ideological stripes) that Kennedy was unlikely to vote to strike down legislation he hasn’t in fact voted to strike down yet was wrong. What were the many other things about the Court I’ve allegedly been wrong about?

                  Your next actual specific argument on the merits about why the ACA will be worse that the status quo will be the first.

                • jeer9 says:

                  I stand corrected. That is the only error you’ve ever made in your analysis of our legal system that I can recall.

                  I posted this above but you apparently missed it.

                  I’m sure the criticism expressed by some dissenters that the ACA may become a tool to eventually voucherize Medicare and Medicaid is unwarranted; and of course the notion that the ACA may be the first step toward shrinking Medicare and pushing more old people onto private insurance exchanges is not worthy of consideration.

                  I think the Republicans are playing the long game with these goals in mind which is why I believe the legislation will eventually pass; though if it doesn’t, it wouldn’t be the first time one hand of Crazy didn’t know what the other was doing.

                  I wish I had your serenity that this bill was a great piece of legislation, but just the notion that all the conservative Dems approved makes me think otherwise.

                • Jesus Christ, get a hobby. Go take in a baseball game this weekend or something.

                • priceless says:

                  More wisdom from the person who has made over 50 comments on this very thread.

                • Scott Lemieux says:

                  just the notion that all the conservative Dems approved makes me think otherwise.

                  The ultimate Jeer9 argument. Any legislation that can command a majority in the Senate is, by definition, not worth passing irrespective of its merits. I don’t anything more has to be said. Inevitable follow-up: “but when will you offer us a plan for how laws can pass the Senate with only 15 votes?”

          • jeer9 says:

            Am I to understand that the DSCC doesn’t (and hasn’t) supported conservative Dems in primaries when they could have thrown their significant financial backing behind a candidate who at least favored ending the filibuster? Especially if the filibuster is the key obstacle standing in the way of progressive legislation? Or is the DSCC powerless in this matter? That’s the sort of “happiness” they seem unwilling to disturb. (This assumes, however, that the DSCC would ever desire such a goal.)

            At least you seem to recognize that ending the filibuster would be a good thing, even if your reasons for believing in its implausibility hinge upon recalcitrant, independent senators standing tough against the suddenly energized re-election weight of their own party’s bosses. It’s almost as if The Way Things Are Done can never be changed, and certainly they can’t when this new face of Tradition wears a pouty frown of spineless acquiescence.

            • “It’s almost as if The Way Things Are Done can never be changed…”

              Of course they can, but you don’t change the minds of people who have been around for decades and have become used to a certain way of business and likely convinced themselves of a number of truisms about why the state of things they’re used to is the natural order of things (see pretty much all sports commentary offered by former athletes turned pundits for minute-by-minute examples of such psychology). Which is just to say that, if you want to get Democrats to end the filibuster, you need to not only make sure you can absorb the loss of bona fide conservatives in the caucus, but that you also convince Senators like Milkulski to change their views on the sanctity of existing Senate rules.

              In the meantime, I think a much more viable route to eliminating the practice would be for a large minority of progressive/anti-filibuster Democrats to join a Republican majority in killing the rule.

              • jeer9 says:

                The loss of bona fide conservatives in the caucus is a good thing if your goal once you achieve office is to enact progressive legislation (and large electoral mandates will occur because the Republicans are incompetent and only fuck things up worse). The problem is that Dems are viewed as no better (and more than often they’re not). At least then when you get power, you can actually reverse things a bit. Otherwise, the slide right goes on into perpetuity.

                Good luck getting any large group of Republicans to support killing the filibuster. They know their views will not remain in the majority for long, and the bottleneck exists due to the complicity of the Dems.

                • “The loss of bona fide conservatives in the caucus is a good thing if your goal once you achieve office is to enact progressive legislation…”

                  Jesus Christ you’re so obsessed with tribalistic internecine warfare you can’t even follow a simple thread for three whole posts! To point out the obvious, losing the votes of conservative Democrats isn’t a good thing if you need those votes to pass whatever it is you’re after. Assuming, of course, that actually passing what you say you’re after is your primary goal.

                • Scott Lemieux says:

                  The loss of bona fide conservatives in the caucus is a good thing if your goal once you achieve office is to enact progressive legislation

                  Except, of course, that the loss of a conservative Democrat isn’t the loss of a conservative vote, but the addition of an even more conservative Republican vote. But I’m sure Godot liberal senators from Nebraska and Louisiana will come right along as soon as those contradictions are heightened!

                • jeer9 says:

                  Yes, the idea that there might exist an attractive, principled, electable Dem (who also might oppose the filibuster) in a Red state during a period of intense financial crisis and heightened corruption is utterly implausible and not worth pursuing.

                  losing the votes of conservative Democrats isn’t a good thing if you need those votes to pass whatever it is you’re after.

                  But they don’t vote for anything but watered-down malarkey.

                  While I’m well aware that you’re both Panglossians, I hadn’t realized just how much each of you enjoy your self-fulfilling prophecies.

                  “We can’t change the Senate’s culture because the culture of Nebraska and Louisiana are at every and all times unalterable, even during periods of great political crisis. Expecting the DSCC to exert its considerable influence to elect better senators is just stupid. This is the best that it will ever get, and I’m reading old Heritage Foundation pamphlets as we speak hoping for some insights on women’s reproductive rights.”

                • Murc says:

                  Yes, the idea that there might exist an attractive, principled, electable Dem (who also might oppose the filibuster) in a Red state during a period of intense financial crisis and heightened corruption is utterly implausible and not worth pursuing.

                  In the abstract, this scenario is plausible and worth considering.

                  Name a currently-existing red state in which it could actually work, either this year, in 2010, or in 2008. I guess maybe Montana counts, but is Jon Tester that liberal a Democrat? Is he opposed to the filibuster?

                  But they don’t vote for anything but watered-down malarkey.

                  This is true, but if your choices are ‘someone who will only vote for watered-down malarkey’ and ‘someone who will only vote for eliminating the New Deal’ which do you pick?

                  Bearing in mind that ‘I want a third choice’ isn’t something that happens in the context of individual elections. I too wish to vote for people who will vote for actual good legislation. And the Democratic party should work to make that more possible.

                  But there are going to be a LOT of elections where your ONLY choices are Bad or Worse. There’s Neither of course (and I will freely admit its possible for both Bad and Worse to be so bad I can’t morally justify voting for either) but Neither tends to be an effective vote for Worse.

                • Scott Lemieux says:

                  This is one reason it’s funny that — although for a long time it was irrelevant because Obama could have raised the green lantern and gotten every senator to back single-payed if that’s what he wanted — jeer9 has suddenly discovered that the filibuster is terrible. For me, the difference between the kind of bills you’d get with the 50th most conservative as opposed to the 60th makes a difference. For jeer9, the 25th most conservative Senator would not be worth supporting at all so it’s not clear why it matters.

                • Anonymous says:

                  Yes, the idea that there might exist an attractive, principled, electable Dem (who also might oppose the filibuster) in a Red state during a period of intense financial crisis and heightened corruption is utterly implausible and not worth pursuing.

                  Don’t be dense. In cases where such a creature exists (rare, surely, but not impossible) they’d be worth supporting in a primary, and no one here would disagree with that. But we can’t will them into existence when they don’t exist.

                  I preferred the previous version of Jeer9, when he was more of a straight conspiracy theorist who argued FDR’s failed court-packing scheme was a deliberate derailment of his public legislative agenda. The whole “two parties aren’t really competing it’s all a scam” was more entertaining than his current incarnation as D-level firebagger.

                • jeer9 says:

                  I am at my core a Karpian conspiracy theorist who thinks the two parties have rigged the game and that the one danger they fear is that an outside populist group will arise to disturb their oligarchic complacency.

                  But we can’t will them into existence when they don’t exist.

                  No one said anything about willing them into existence. I’d like to believe, however, that the DSCC is even interested in supporting them and making the Senate more democratic. But I don’t, which is why the whole D-level firebagger routine rings false.

                  History has shown us that even during periods of intense financial crisis and heightened corruption the parties can still maintain their power by not seeking out candidates who desire real change. Diversions like war and court-packing are also useful for taking attention away from real domestic reform.

                • “Don’t be dense. In cases where such a creature exists (rare, surely, but not impossible) they’d be worth supporting in a primary, and no one here would disagree with that.”

                  Well, with the important caveat that, in the event the beleaguered incumbent opts to trade increased support for the national party’s agenda for the support of prominent party members in the primary, the latter has to hold up their end of the bargain, otherwise you’re just engaging in pointless flesh taking.

              • Anonymous says:

                In the meantime, I think a much more viable route to eliminating the practice would be for a large minority of progressive/anti-filibuster Democrats to join a Republican majority in killing the rule.

                Yes, it’s perfectly obvious to any clear-headed observer that this is how the filibuster will die. (For reasons that are far more boring than Jeer9 would ever consider…)

                • Murc says:

                  And a lot of those Democrats would be immediately pilloried as Republican accomplices.

                • jeer9 says:

                  Again, it’s reassuring to see that both Murc and the host agree that the filibuster is terrible. They haven’t got any solutions for how to get the Dems to eradicate it (trying to elect better Dems isn’t viable), nor have they any ideas on how to turn the party left. They do,however, still have faith in the Dem party and its ability to enact Heritage Foundation plans.

                • Hogan says:

                  nor have they any ideas on how to turn the party left in he next week.

                  FTFY

                • Murc says:

                  nor have they any ideas on how to turn the party left.

                  I don’t?

                  My idea on how to turn the party left is to run the conservative playbook; begin a ground-up, decades long rebuild of the liberal brand focused on taking over or seriously contesting the control of the institutions of civil society at the ground level, coupled with an aggressive coordinated PR campaign.

                  I also disagree that trying to elect better Dems isn’t viable. Just off the top of my head I can think of two or three Senators or senatorial candidates from solidly blue states who either never should have run or should have had their asses primaried. (Feinstein, I’m looking at you.)

  13. bobbyp says:

    Obviously, the Dems need to start an outreach program and round up some more powerful vested interests. The few they have seem to be rather ineffective.

  14. Joe says:

    One thing mentioned by some is that the law is “unpopular” but chunks ARE popular. The part that isn’t popular is the payment part. [It doesn't help that people don't understand what that entails here, but heck, put that aside.] People are happy about getting stuff. Paying for it, less so.

    No, some might say, the problem is being required to pay for insurance we don’t want. So, a “tax increase” would have been different somehow. I’m doubtful, particularly if it is tied to not having insurance!

    And, bottom line, as Scott notes with respect to the Swiss, realistically universal insurance was not credibly in the cards. Obama promoting it some more wouldn’t have changed that. No pony. Sorry. The New Deal only went so far too.

    As to national “Romneycare,” I think that might have been possible, though by 2010, the Republican base was so anti-government that even a conservative “big government” move would have a problem getting off the ground.

  15. R. Porrofatto says:

    Speaking of constitutionality, I’d like to see the SCOTUS take on the Phantom Philibuster, in which an actual supermajority is required to end a completely make-believe debate, resulting in certainly an extra- if not un- constitutional roadblock to the passing of laws, Article I rule making abilities aside. And I doubt if any amount of bully pulpiting is going to do a damn thing about that.

    That said, I sympathize with the view that the President should have used his rhetorical skills blah blah, but as Martin pointed out above, he did just that and more to get ACA written and passed. Sometimes, when they weren’t afraid of their corporate shadows, he was joined in this by actual Democrats. But this stuff needs to be reported… umm, where? In our he said, she said, both sides have a point, Sunday talk show 10 to 1 Gooper ratio national media? Will presidential speechifying overcome the noise of the right-wing wurlitzer, with its own entire broadcast network, in which the truth gets put through a meat grinder of lies and distortions, to where it’s a full time job to just defend against it all (e.g. death panels)?

    I would have preferred Obama and the Democrats to have gone full bore single payer, Medicare for All, or even a feeble “public option.” But I wouldn’t in a million years have expected 60 weak-kneed Senators to have been talked into passing it. ACA was at least doable, and because it actually did pass and was signed into law, I don’t think we’ll have to wait another generation for healthcare to be on the table again, even if Scalia gets his way.

    • “Speaking of constitutionality, I’d like to see the SCOTUS take on the Phantom Philibuster, in which an actual supermajority is required to end a completely make-believe debate, resulting in certainly an extra- if not un- constitutional roadblock to the passing of laws,”

      Welcome to September 2009ish. This is just as stupid now as it was then.

    • John says:

      The Supreme Court has pretty consistently ruled that Congress has the right to set its own rules. They’d not go near that with a ten foot pole, especially this Supreme Court in a context where it would help Democrats.

    • Murc says:

      The Senate has the right to make its own rules. This is ironclad. It could make a rule saying that all Senators must be completely naked during votes. It could mandate the wearing of sombreros as part of their dress code. They could implement a procedure saying that only legislation approved personally by Mitch McConnell may come to a final vote.

  16. Martin says:

    Comparing a mobilized army of right-wing institutions as well as a TV network watched a willing throng of Obama-haters to Obama himself is pretty silly, it rather proves Scott’s point. Was Obama supposed to start a TV network? Hire a dozen TV commentators to debate the evils of Republican obstructionism for the better part of a year? As Scott would say, to state the position is to refute it.

    It seems almost superfluous to point out that Obama’s approach did lead to the ACA, even without those things…….

    • DocAmazing says:

      Y’know, Obama’s the head of this party, this big group of people with resources and money and stuff who are supposed to be organized for just this kind of thing.

      If it comes down to the performance of one guy and one guy only, then we really are hosed.

      • rea says:

        I’ll quote Will Rogers at you. We belong to no organized political party; we’re Democrats.

      • chris says:

        Obama’s the head of this party

        Is he? I thought he had another job. The party is an organization and that organization probably does have a head, but I would actually be rather surprised that Obama was it.

        Unless by “head” you mean “figurehead”, I guess. Because he is that, for what it’s worth.

      • joe from Lowell says:

        Y’know, Obama’s the head of this party, this big group of people with resources and money and stuff who are supposed to be organized for just this kind of thing.

        Wow, a step forward in your thinking.

        Now take the next one: if Obama doesn’t have a reliable and organized party pushing his agenda and message, the way Republicans did, then what does this tell us about the Bully Pulpit Theory?

        • DocAmazing says:

          That we need to stop giving money to the Democratic Party because they clearly don’t know what the fuck they’re doing. If they can’t handle mass communications any better than they are with a multimillion-dollar budget, then what is it that they do again?

          • But, again, you’re merely begging the question of which similarly large and diverse political entity does a substantially better job of “messaging” than the Democratic Party does, in your mind?

            • DocAmazing says:

              You’re asking the wrong question.

              Messaging is subordinate to goals.

              What is the goal? In the short term, to pass legislation; in the medium term, to win elections; in the long term, to decrease poverty, to ameliorate or eliminate inequality, to feed the hungry, und so weiter. So we have to look at how effective the Democratic Party is at acheiving its goals and how it can improve that. Leaving aside the diversity of the party, no one can dispute the medium-term goal–winning elections. Yet the Dems suck at that. Part of the reason is that their opponents’ greatest weaknesses are left untouched.

              Lakoff has written extensively about this. There’s a whole body of literature on advertising and public opinion. Solving this problem in a comment thread is absurd; however, the persistent incompetence of the Dem media apparatus needs to be addressed, and right quick.

              • No, I asked the question that I wanted to ask, thank you very much. Your contention is that the Democratic Party is ineffective at messaging, and my question to you is “ineffective in relation to whom, exactly?”

                • DocAmazing says:

                  In relation to the voting public, inasmuch as they aren’t being convinced to vote Dem.

                  In relation to the candidates, inasmuch as they keep losing to morons and lunatics with better media support.

                  In relation to the traditional bases of the Dems, as they keep getting clobbered by shitty legislation that the Dems either can’t stop or actively participate in, due to their failure to oppose it.

                  I’m not too clear on what you’re asking, here. Do you contend that there is a group within the diverse precincts of the Dem party that is well-served by the Dem media apparatus? Are you referring to the donors?

                • No, I’m asking which comparable organizations you think do a more effective job of political messaging than the Democratic Party does.

                • DocAmazing says:

                  Are you trying to scrounge up an alibi for them, or to demonstrate that they don’t actually suck?

                • I’m asking you a pretty straight forward question, though, as usual, your energy for aggressively not answering direct questions posed to you is impressive.

                • DocAmazing says:

                  1. There is no organization in the US comparable to the Democratic Party. The Republicans have a much less diversity, and similarly large and diverse organizations are usually corporate, like General Mills or RJ Reynolds. Thus, meaningless question.

                  2. We’re not talking about the Special Olympics, Brien. There are no points to be made for making the attempt. The Dems fail, period. That they fail more or less than some hypothetically comparable organization is entirely irrelevant. They need to change what they are doing, as they are wasting huge amounts of resources to accomplish squat. Real people suffer as a result.

                • It’s not a meaningless question. If you want to stick with the idea that we have no other organization that we can compare them to, then we have no real idea whether they’re any good at it or not, in the same way we wouldn’t have any sort of basis to determine if a football team was good at football if they were the only football team in the world.

                  For what it’s worth, I don’t think that Democrats are particularly bad at messaging at all. They’ve certainly done a reasonable job making quiet a few of their actual policy proposals/broad goals popular with the public where Republicans have not, but they have a weakness on some issues. By and large, those are either issues where self-interest plays a huge role (tax cuts, aversion to large scale climate change mitigation), or where the media allows them to lie with impunity and/or carry on in some sort of make believe land. There’s not a whole lot Democrats can do to change that, though.

                • DocAmazing says:

                  Oh, yeah. The Dems have been real winners at convincing the public that the Republicans are conniving to shaft them–which has the advantage of being demonstrably true–and getting the public to vote Dem.

                  We know if they’re good at it, Brien. We have real-world results. We could play social-science games all day long, but that doesn’t help the people who are getting hurt by Dem inaction and failure. If you truly think that the Dems have been effective at the use of mass media, I shudder to think of what you would consider ineffective.

                • Well, again, relative to what? The Republican Party has a large, corporate funded media network that’s on the radio 24-7 in all corners of the country and a 24/7 cable news network with the explicit goal of advocating for conservative policy goals and Republican politicians, both of whom spend a large amount of time shouting that Democrats are evil fifth columnists that want to turn the United States into the Stalin era Soviet Union, burn your church down, turn your sons gay, and force you to abort your five minutes old daughter…and the Republican Party still got whomped in back to back elections (2006 and 2008) and failed to win control of the Senate in 2010 due in large part to coming up short in winnable races.

                  Is that your idea of “real world results” that would indicated being good at messaging? Or maybe it’s the way that this large, mostly coordinated media network has been completely unsuccessful in convincing the public that Medicare and Social Security are evil government monstrosities that we’d all obviously be better off having privatized? Or the way they made “let them die” such an amazingly popular organizing principle for healthcare provision in this country?

                • DocAmazing says:

                  You make my point for me. The Republicans have FOX News et al; the Dems have…nothing but a very large budget. They could have been more supportive of Air America, but it’s gone. They’ve left challenging Republican lies toe Media Matters For America and similar groups, who operate on a shoestring, without (as far as I can tell) any support from the party; indeed, Kos, ActBlue, and so on soldier on with donations from their readers, but no apparent support from the party. Why, then, are we expected to assist a party that clearly doesn’t care to assist itself?

                  Once again, no points for being brave in the attempt. The Dems have fallen down on the job consistently. That’s got to change.

                • I’m not really sure what “being supportive of” is supposed to mean in that post, but the fact that you’re equating Fox News with Air America most certainly does not prove the point you seem to think it does.

                • Mme.DocAmazinga says:

                  Really? The instituitonal Republicans are not openly supportive of FOX News? The institutional Dems were supportive of Air America?

                  Since you’re a fan of comparisons, what’s the liberal equivalent to FOX that the Dems might put a little effort toward assisting?

                • “Really? The instituitonal Republicans are not openly supportive of FOX News? The institutional Dems were supportive of Air America?”

                  Again, what exactly does “supportive” mean in this context? Obviously they aren’t giving them money to stay in business or anything.

                  “Since you’re a fan of comparisons, what’s the liberal equivalent to FOX that the Dems might put a little effort toward assisting?”

                  Um…nothing. That’s kind of the whole fucking point.

                • DocAmazing says:

                  Indeed it is. The Dems have donors, money, and organization, and they have…nothing to match FOX. The Republicans have clearly taken the high ground entirely unopposed.

                  The grassroots have plenty, but underfunded, unsupported (and yes, there are plenty of ways that that R’s support FOX, the simplest being to talk it up) and underutilized media outlets taking on bias and lies. it would be nice if the institutional Dems did something to lend a hand.

                • “Indeed it is. The Dems have donors, money, and organization, and they have…nothing to match FOX. The Republicans have clearly taken the high ground entirely unopposed.”

                  You completely misunderstand what the conservative media complex is. It isn’t literally a wing of the GOP media created and run from RNC headquarters, it’s a big money business that exists to agitate for the interests of corporate America. A “progressive Fox” is almost by definition impossible, and that’s before you consider the fact that progressive audiences have never demonstrated that they have the same appetite for nakedly partisan media that conservatives have.

                • DocAmazing says:

                  Given that Air America was allowed to wither on the vine, I guess we’ll never know. Clearly FOX has massive corporate donors; the Dems also have donors, and pools of money. Unions have been trying to get their material on TV, and have been stymied. The FCC–you know, that Democratically-controlled office– could help with that, but isn’t. Again, I point you to the many other media outlets that would benefit greatly from nothing more than a little help with publicity or fundraising.

                  But I guess it’s better to curse the darkness than light candles.

                • “Given that Air America was allowed to wither on the vine, I guess we’ll never know.”

                  Again, what the fuck are you talking about? Yes, Air America went out of business. How, exactly, could Democratic politicians/the DNC have made them a profitable business instead?

                  “Clearly FOX has massive corporate donors; the Dems also have donors, and pools of money.”

                  No. No, no, no, no. Fox News does not have “corporate donors,” Fox News is a very profitable element of the NewsCorp business empire.

                  Honestly, are you under the impression that Fox/Rush are sustained by financial contributions from the Republican Party/the philanthropy of wealthy donors?

                • DocAmazing says:

                  As a matter of fact, yes, FOX News operates at a loss and has for some time. Rush has been operating at a loss for some time, too, and the loss of almost all of his advertisers nails that down.

                  Other arms of FOX/Murdoch are profitable, but not FOX News–not for some time.

                • Says who?

                  When it came to financial indicators for the year, according to market research firm SNL Kagan, revenues were projected to grow 9% at Fox News Channel, 8% at MSNBC and 7% at CNN and HLN, whose finances are combined for reporting purposes.

                  And Fox continued to widen its lead over the other channels in both total profits and in news investment, which was estimated to top $700 million in 2011, a first for the channel.

                  http://stateofthemedia.org/2012/cable-cnn-ends-its-ratings-slide-fox-falls-again/?src=prc-section

  17. FlipYrWhig says:

    The thing that people who say they oppose “Obamacare” actually oppose is the notion of giving away free healthcare to black people. They don’t object to the part that helps them, they object to unearned “welfare” that “we can’t afford.” That’s what the headwinds have all been about. Screaming about lost liberty is just the politer version of screaming about Negroes. The “bully pulpit” can’t stop that.

    And, yes, calling the whole thing a tax would be a guarantee of its never, ever passing in Congress.

    • Manju says:

      Hmmmm…along those lines, maybe Obama could’ve messaged this better if he called the Individual Mandate the John Galt Anti-Freeloader Looting-Stopage Amendment.

      You could opt-out, of course…this is America. But you have to sign a doc saying that Hospitals have the right to deny you emergency services unless you pay upfront.

      And before you sign, you have to go thru a 3 hour medical check up that includes something anal. That would be followed by a 12 hour Fellini Film marathon with no popcorn. Then you’re out.

      If Dems behaved like Repubs, this is how they would do it.

  18. Alan in SF says:

    IMHO, the problem here is that we talk about “President Obama” and “The Democratic Party” as if they were two separate entities. Obviously, we don’t have a parliamentary system, but neither do we have a “two party plus some President guy” system.

    And somewhere in my LBJ-rememberin’ brain, I’m thinking, “No President could ever hope to subdue the mighty political juggernaut that is Ben Nelson” isn’t a very noble defense.

    • “And somewhere in my LBJ-rememberin’ brain, I’m thinking, “No President could ever hope to subdue the mighty political juggernaut that is Ben Nelson” isn’t a very noble defense.”

      You are under the impression that LBJ enjoyed the support of every single Democrat in Congress for his every legislative goal?

    • Also, this has been covered before, some of LBJ’s more successful tactics have since been made federal crimes.

      • DocAmazing says:

        I remember when I first picked up Caro’s Master of the Senate: every page I turned to had something shocking on it. LBJ’s reputation is as an effective politician, not a clean one.

        • Davis X. Machina says:

          If Obama were to actually pull some of that stuff, the left of his own coalition would leave first, and complain loudest.

          When you get right down to it, a substantial fraction of the left doesn’t basically believe in politics.

          When that’s gone, you’ve got biography, and theater, and theatrical criticism left.

          • Holden Pattern says:

            You are SO CORRECT. Whatever happens, it’s always the fault of the “Left”. I’m glad we finally established THAT!

          • DocAmazing says:

            Yeah, telling the Left to fuck off and then wondering what happened when they did: a winning Dem strategy for years now.

            • jeer9 says:

              It’s what the tough-minded realists do. Heading northeast is almost like going west – except that it isn’t.

            • joe from Lowell says:

              Maybe they should learn to be as profoundly respectful as you always are to other Democrats.

              Oh, wait, I forgot: that only works in one direction.

    • Murc says:

      And somewhere in my LBJ-rememberin’ brain, I’m thinking, “No President could ever hope to subdue the mighty political juggernaut that is Ben Nelson” isn’t a very noble defense.

      If Ben Nelson had been Senator in the mid-sixties, LBJ likely would have either had some dirt or some leverage on him.

      Sadly Ben Nelson was Senator in the oughts, and Obama had NOTHING on him. Obama didn’t spend years as an operator in a political machine that gave him an opportunity to collect dirt on people, and the party structure is significantly less top-down than it once was.

  19. Murc says:

    Scott, something I’m legitimately curious about; what are your thoughts on the medium and long term?

    Thanks largely to you and a few others, I’ve largely come around to the view that there isn’t much to be done by Presidents in the short term re: their legislative priorities. They have the Congress they have, and the leverage they have, and those two variables don’t change much except between elections.

    But what about the medium and long terms? A lot of your comments upthread seem to suggest that messaging is just flatly irrelevant, period, and I just can’t see how that’s the case. My primary criticism of the Obama administration and Democrats in general with regard to their messaging has been that they seem to have no medium and long-term goals at all; they should be out there fighting battles with an eye, not to the current Congresses, but the Congresses of 2018, of 2025, of 2030.

    You know, like the Republicans and conservatives do. Republican strategy for the last thirty years or so has very clearly been focussed on the long term. When they win an incremental conservative victory, it is presented as just that; an incremental victory in a long-term project that sets the stage for the next step. When forced to compromise, they present it as just that; a compromise, with an enemy, that they will undo or skirt around the second its remotely feasible. When defeated (Clinton’s tax package back in the 90s come to mind) they speak of it as a defeat, that they need the help of their partisans to overcome. And the entire time this is going on they’re just pushing, pushing, pushing on the needle in general.

    And THAT translates into the slow and steady strengthening of the conservative caucus and conservative views in the populace.

    Democrats, by contrast, speak of their incremental victories as VICTORIES, rather than incremental ones. They’re presented as having crossed a finish line. When forced to compromise, they TRUMPET this fact, presenting it as a prima facie good thing, without presenting it as a deal with an enemy. And when defeated they just… get defeated.

    It really does seem like in the medium and long term, messaging DOES matter, and that Democrats and the left in general are BAD at it. Nobody with a brain in their head thinks yelling at Evan Bayh or threatening to primary him was going to be productive, or that even in extremely favorable circumstances a liberal Democrat could have been elected in Nebraska anytime in the past decade or anytime in the near future. But it is the responsibility of the party to fight to try and MAKE it possible at some point.

    And the party, and Obama, have, it seems to me, failed in that responsibility.

  20. Joe says:

    “no medium and long-term goals at all”

    I’m not sure what this means. The Democrats have certain values and long term, they protect them. Let’s say reproductive rights. This is a basic value. The contraceptive fight, which Obama handled rather well imho, was a “battle” in it, but the “long term goal” of continuing to protect reproductive freedom continued.

    The PPACA itself is part of a long term goal. Universal coverage is the long term goal. There isn’t an ability to do it. There was a moment where a big starting point was possible. They seized it. I don’t think they think they’re done. In fact, the nature of the law is that the provisions are spread out, some (though many seem to not know this) already in place.

    Gay rights is another “long term goal.” Certain victories — end of DADT, hate crime law — were accomplished. Dems, like with women’s rights, continue to defend the value. And, they are still fighting. Obama is in federal court fighting for heightened scrutiny.

    Obama overall seems to be looking to the future, the plan to change the way we do things and put in place certain legislative victories, the art of the possible requiring compromising. Of course, if we ignore the successes, as some do, it doesn’t seem like he did anything.

    • Joe says:

      Basically, if you say Dems are bad at “messaging,” I wish to know “in what context”?

      For instance, Republicans are continually seen, even by members of their own party (down to McCain’s daughter), as anti-women. It’s a major problem for them. Bad messaging.

      In other ways, including some matters of monetary policy, Republicans have a better ability.

  21. scott says:

    Oh, good God, is Lemieux doubling down on his The President Is Powerless and Political Advocacy Is Useless memes again? For an otherwise smart guy, he really does have the most obsessive attachment to one of the dumbest and most self-refuting theories of political action currently (and lamentably) still alive. I strongly urge his friends to conduct an intervention, because otherwise we’re likely to hear very soon about little green men and the incredible value of tinfoil hats…….

    • Well, since you say so…

    • Murc says:

      The President Is Powerless and Political Advocacy Is Useless memes again?

      I’m not aware that Scott has ever promoted either of those ideas, as memes or otherwise, Other Scott. Perhaps you could provide some sort of link or citation? Because those ideas both seem pretty silly and not at all in keeping with the general thrust of opinions promoted by our host.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      Well, I would rather argue against the “president is powerless” strawman than actually try to explain the power of the bully pulpit or explain how Obama could have turned Evan Bayh into a socialist too. I also don’t know when “political advocacy” and “presidential rhetoric” became interchangeable.

  22. JohnR says:

    Disregarding all the argy-bargy for a moment, the first thing that strikes me is that you’re seriously using Ezra Klein’s article in the NYer as a support for an argument?! I happened to be in the bathroom at home this weekend for an extended time and worked my way through that this weeekend, and a couple things struck me:
    1. That Mr Klein must be source of despair for his logic, philosophy, history and science teachers (presumably he either did not go to a liberal-arts school, or he wasted his time there),
    and
    2. That the Procrustean ‘simple-answers-for-complicated-questions’ approach continues to be the human favorite. More support for my contention that we humans are built to avoid having to think as much as possible.
    So, Klein’s contention is that Presidential involvement simply hardens opposition based on partisan political ‘zero-sum’ considerations, eh? No thought that we might have a multi-factorial situation? No thought for other possible alternatives to his brilliant contrarian flass of insight? Off the top of my head, and therefore to be taken for what it’s worth, how does he know it isn’t something like this – one party coalesces around partisan considerations because “Party First, last and always” is the only way. The other party puts patriotism over party, and opposes those measures pushed by the leader of the other side which are clearly designed to harm the country while benefitting some small group. Wouldn’t that show the same pattern Klein detects? Also, it would be interesting to see the data set Klein uses, and perhaps it would be interesting (as delicately hinted at above) to consider the actual legislation involved. Certainly that would complicate the analysis, but simple is not always better in these matters. There’s a reason for the invention of statistics (and multi-variate statistics particularly). A simple, appealing wrong answer can lead you into trouble, where a more complicated, but more accurate answer may steer you straight. Surely history has demonstrated that over and over and over again. Only fools prefer simplicity just because it’s simple.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      Could you try it next time with an actual argument about what, specifically, got wrong in the article, which was describing the existing social science and not analyzing the data itself?

  23. Merle Z. Ternswallow says:

    You tried your best, and you failed miserably. The lesson is: never try.

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