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Raise the Green Lantern, Health Care Edition

[ 246 ] July 2, 2012 |

Doubling down on her contrarian take on the Supreme Court and the PPACA, Marcia Angell provides as undiluted a version of the BULLY PULPIT fallacy as we’re likely to see:

On July 22, 2009, Obama said in a press conference, “Now, the truth is that unless you have what’s called a single-payer system in which everybody is automatically covered, then you’re probably not going to reach every single individual.” Bingo. Too bad he didn’t hang on to that insight, and use his rhetorical skills to make the case strongly to the American public. If he had fought for single-payer health care at the beginning of his administration, while he had both houses of Congress, and mobilized public opinion behind it, he might have made it. After all, the only thing members of Congress need more than industry money is votes.

Other than the fact there’s absolutely no evidence that presidents can change public opinion in this way, and the fact that Bayh, Nelson, Lieberman, etc. do not in fact need “votes more than money” since they’re not running for anything (and who thinks that winning votes and money are entirely unconnected anyway?) — hard to see any problems with this plan. I mean, this “going public” strategy sure worked well for Clinton, and Obama’s rhetorical skills sure did make the PPACA immensely popular.

The strangest thing about this kind of BULLY PULPIT argument is that people who seem to consider themselves tough-minded leftists have beliefs about American political institutions that are like caricatures of the most naive 1950s-style pluralists. I’m amazed anybody who considers themselves to have a critical attitude towards the status quo could implicitly deny that “[t]he flaw in the pluralist heaven is that the heavenly chorus sings with a strong upper-class accent.” I’m also frustrated that getting a rational health care policy in the United States isn’t viable, but “forgetting” that hegemony exists is not actually going to facilitate change, and to the extent that it requires passing up opportunities to pass useful reform measures it actually makes things worse. Plans to transform American domestic politics that involve heroic presidential daddies imposing major social change on powerful interests by sheer force of will are indistinguishable from having no plan at all.

Comments (246)

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  1. dms says:

    Christ on a f@#$@ing stick.

    You are exactly like my obnoxious, tiresome sister, whose entire raison d’etre (and we’re talking 64 years here) is to prove that she’s the best human being with our family name that has ever existed. Consequently, everything, EVERYTHING, even chopping scallions, becomes a contest wherein she can prove her superiority. I’d give her an engraved plaque, a calligraphic parchment signed in blood, an Oscar, and/or an Olympic gold medal attesting to that “fact”, if it would mean that she would stop, but she won’t ever stop.

    And neither will you.

    All right. You’re RIGHT. We’re WRONG.

    The Bully Pulpit doesn’t work.

    The Bully Pulpit doesn’t work.

    The Bully Pulpit doesn’t work.

    Class, repeat after me:

    The Bully Pulpit doesn’t work.

    Would you give it a rest, already?

    Doug Spirduso
    NEW YORK, NEW YORK

    • Kadin says:

      When all the Lanternists give it a rest, maybe.

    • Halloween Jack says:

      I have it on good authority that Scott is, in fact, not exactly like your sister, as only one of them is the possessor of a vagina.

      Halloween Jack
      TOP OF MANHATTAN CHASE

  2. Kadin says:

    Bayh, Nelson, Lieberman, etc. do not in fact need “money more than votes” since they’re not running for anything

    You mean “votes more than money”.

  3. Yimou Finger says:

    This has become a version of nutpicking.

    Why waste your time on someone who goes full superhero with the most unrealistic outcome?

    Your have a point to make in your last paragraph but leading with Marcia Angell and linking her to “tough-minded leftists” cheapens it.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      I’m pretty sure addressing people of more influence than I doesn’t count as “nutpicking.”

  4. c u n d gulag says:

    I suspect ‘the bully pulpit’ might work a bit better if there weren’t RED Dog* Democrats in Democratic majorities.

    *I call ‘em “Red” Dogs ’cause there ain’t nothing blue ’bout ‘em.

  5. Murc says:

    I’m not Scott, and so can’t speak for him, but as a convert (as late as 2009 I had beliefs about how the system worked that were pretty Green Lanterny; it is largely due to the work of him and others I stopped thinking that way) I would hazard a guess that the reason he keeps harping on this is because he views it as an obstacle to change.

    As a leftist, I would prefer it if the left spent its time and effort on things that will, y’know, work. The President can’t really move marginal votes in Congress around significantly in the short-term, you say? Well, that means our attentions should be focused on Congress. Congress is dysfunctional? Well, then let’s identify the sources of those dysfunction and cut them out.

    Pretty much every Democratic President since, and including, FDR has been either to the left of their Congressional delegation, or squarely within it. While their betrayals have been many, the failure to get progressive legislation passed usually can’t be laid at their feet. I have little love for either Clinton or Obama, but if Congress had presented either of them with a bill establishing a fully socialized system of universal health care, along with massive defense cuts, the re-establishment of Eisenhower-era tax brackets, and a three trillion dollar stimulus plan focused on employment and infrastructure, they’d have signed it without even thinking about it.

    Given this, it would seem that time and effort should be devoted towards attacking the problem at its source; Congress on one hand, and the general fucked-upness of the entire Madisonian system on the other. Opinion makers who spend their time telling people all we need is a President who gives the right speeches and everything will turn out all right will cause people to actually believe that, and they’ll invest literally years of their life in a fools errand. And that’s if they don’t simply become disillusioned and withdraw from politics altogether.

    People should do things that work.

    • John says:

      Eisenhower era tax brackets? You think so? You realize it was Democratic presidents (JFK and LBJ) who moderated those, right? As a liberal, am I supposed to pine for Eisenhower era tax brackets? Because while I certainly think taxes need to go up in the medium to long term, and while I would like them to go up in progressive ways (increasing the top brackets, increasing capital gains rates, etc.), I certainly don’t think a 90% top tax bracket is a particularly good idea.

      • Murc says:

        Well, heck, replace Eisenhower-era with your era of choice, then.

        I’m not sure that my employing a touch of hyperbole in what was meant to be an illustrative example really undermines my point, though. I mean, if you want to talk about what sort of tax policy a Democratic President might or might not veto, that could be an interesting discussion, but it’s not really germane to the thrust of my argument unless you want to try and make the case that most Democratic Presidents, including Obama, would actually veto progressive legislation that Congress sent them.

        And that’s a hard case to make, I think.

        • John says:

          Right – I completely agree with your main point, which is that Democratic presidents have pretty universally been to the left of the median vote in Congress. The one possible exception would be Carter and the 95th Congress.

      • Hogan says:

        You’re thinking of rates. The number of brackets actually went up under JFK; it was under Reagan that they were drastically reduced (at the top).

        • John says:

          I did conflate them, but my thinking was that Murc was referring to “Eisenhower era tax rates for the top brackets”, and he seemed to confirm that this is what he meant in his reply.

      • Furious Jorge says:

        I certainly don’t think a 90% top tax bracket is a particularly good idea.

        Of course it isn’t. Luckily, that was just the top marginal tax rate, which isn’t the same thing that you just said.

        http://www.taxpolicycenter.org/taxfacts/displayafact.cfm?Docid=213

        The difference between marginal and average tax rates is a critical one, and obscuring that difference has been a top priority of GOP propaganda for decades. Don’t make their job easier, please.

      • Cheopys says:

        I don’t think a 90% top bracket is a good idea, either. We didn’t have hedge fund managers back in Eisenhower’s time, so I think we should have a top tax bracket of 99.9%.

  6. owlbear1 says:

    There is more typing involved.

  7. Walt says:

    I am intrigued by this Bully Pulpit thesis. Tell me more.

  8. Rarely Posts says:

    I have a request inspired by your citation to The Semi-Sovereign People: A Realist’s View of Democracy in America.

    Would you (and perhaps your other academic compatriots) consider posting a syllabus of recommended reading for your audience? It’d be particularly cool it you included it under its own heading on the sidebar and if you cited to it when your posts reflect some of the sources. I always find it sad that few smart bloggers recommend books, etc., and I know that some book recommendations have been very helpful to me (when Yglesias recommended Okin’s Justice Gender and the Family, I got it and loved it).

    Obviously, this blog is your hobby, so it’s up to you. But, there may be two rewards! First, if you want to influence people’s thinking, these recommended books might accomplish just that. Second, we clearly drive you crazy with our beliefs in various fallacies and our ignorance of certain academic issues (such as the Bully Pulpit Fantasy), and citing to larger academic works that bring us up to speed could help us realize the ignorance of our ways.

    And, this comment is not meant to be snarky. I really would love a recommended reading list, and I plan to get the linked book from a local library when I get the chance.

  9. Chatham says:

    “Other than the fact there’s absolutely no evidence that presidents can change public opinion in this way”

    So you completely forgot about the Iraq war?

    And keep in mind another option would have been to change the filibuster to the way it was before the 60′s. Then you would probably need only 50 votes.

    But even ignoring all of that – do you know nothing about negotiating? You never start from the compromise position, because the other side will always demand some concessions. The Blue Dogs will always try to find the position between the two parties. And if the ACA was shown to be a compromise against the wishes of the president and those on the left, the narrative wouldn’t be that the ACA represents liberalism.

    But I love this “make big concessions before the negotiations even start” approach. It actually explains a lot about the mess we’re in.

    • Daniel says:

      Those months of negotiating made it pretty clear that anything more liberal than the ACA would never have made it out of committee. The Blue Dogs (who largely wrote the bill) would not have negotiated, they would have walked.

      • Lee says:

        The strangest aspect of the Green Lanternists on healthcare reform is that many of them seem to think that starting with single-payer would be a good thing. Starting with single-payer would result in quick death to healthcare reform.

        • John says:

          Doesn’t Dingell introduce a single-payer health care bill into the House every congress? Astonishingly, even when he was the very powerful chairman of a committee that had partial jurisdiction over health care, this never went anywhere.

          • Hogan says:

            Conyers, actually.

            • Richard says:

              I’ve said it before and I will say it again. There weren’t ten votes in the Senate for single payer no matter what Obama did or didn’t do. If he had introduced such a bill, it never would have gotten out of House or Senate committee, much less have any chance of passage. For anybody to think differently is just delusional

              • Craigo, MARS BITCHES says:

                You clearly do not understand the rules of 11-dimensional chess.

                You see, if you propose a single=payer plan, the GOP will magically drop all of their ideological objections to helping other people and paying for stuff, and compromise with you by creating a government-run health care plan to compete with private insurance, and raising taxes on the wealthy to pay for it.

                Gee, it was all so simple, wasn’t it? I wonder why we never saw that?

    • Murc says:

      Is there any evidence that the Bush Administrations cavalcade of lies actually changed public opinion significantly? I mean, during the year after 9/11 we’d have invaded Canada with only the gentlest of prodding. That would seem to indicate a pathology on the part of the public, rather than that they were led around by the nose by the President.

      And your remarks about negotiation puzzle me. There were certainly a number of big, big mistakes during the year-long negotiations leading up to the passage of the ACA, and the framing of the ACA as a glorious liberal triumph is definitely a harmful narrative to be saddled with… but what’s that got to with the topic at hand, which is the power of the President to get the public to force recalcitrant legislators to accede to his wishes?

      I also call into question your assumption about the Blue Dogs. Those guys are feckless. They’re not dumb. Not giving anything away in public is helpful in a lot of ways, but privately none of those guys were going to vote for anything much more liberal than the ACA. Joe Lieberman basically decided going in that anything progressives liked, he was going to be against, and that’s the entire ballgame right there.

      • Chatham says:

        “Is there any evidence that the Bush Administrations cavalcade of lies actually changed public opinion significantly?”

        Do you remember 2001 – 2003? Sure, part of it was that people were pissed off and wanted to blow up some countries. But something else happened in late 2002 to early 2003 – the idea that something had to be done about Iraq. The same way that they’ve been slipping into the public opinion the idea that something has to be done about Social Security. Few people you talked to in early 2002 felt that there was a strong need to go in and invade Iraq, but by late 2002 they had shifted public opinion so much (or riled them up enough) that congress felt like they had to support Bush’s war.

        “Not giving anything away in public is helpful in a lot of ways, but privately none of those guys were going to vote for anything much more liberal than the ACA. ”

        Nothing more liberal than the Heritage Foundation’s healthcare plan? That’s what people seem to not understand. What is and what isn’t liberal is based on what is being fought for, what’s in the acceptable political range. That the ACA is now considered liberal should give you an indication of the horrible mess we’re in. The right has managed a paradigm shift, but they haven’t done it alone. The left, following advice like Scott’s, have mostly shut up about anything that’s actually liberal, and have pretended that center-right policies are policies on the left. The centrists, as always, take a position between the two.

        The Blue Dogs see themselves as being between the Dems and the Republicans. They don’t actually care what the positions are. I know a guy that worked for a Blue Dog congressman, and during the debate over the stimulus the congressman said to him, “$700 billion is a lot of money, we can’t just give Obama everything he wants.” That’s how they think. They want compromises.

        As for Lieberman – the Dems could take away his chairmanship if he did things they didn’t like. They don’t.

        And again, keep in mind – the public option could have been passed in reconciliation. It wasn’t, because it wasn’t wanted by the leadership. And on top of that, Senate rules of the filibuster could be changed to how they were before the 1970′s.

        • Hogan says:

          Few people you talked to in early 2002 felt that there was a strong need to go in and invade Iraq, but by late 2002 they had shifted public opinion so much (or riled them up enough) that congress felt like they had to support Bush’s war.

          Invading Iraq was polling at over 50% months before 9/11. The administration’s sales job didn’t create a majority; it turned an existing majority into a slightly larger majority

          • Chatham says:

            And 2/3′s of Americans supported a public option. Funny, that.

            • Hogan says:

              Yeah, I don’t understand the difference between domestic policy and warmaking either.

              • Chatham says:

                True. You can sell war, you can’t sell domestic policy. Because, you know…yeah…

                • Hogan says:

                  I also don’t understand how veto points work.

                • rea says:

                  Well, come up with an event equivalent to 9/11 in its impact on public opinion, only regarding health care, and you might be able to use the public reaction to sell single payor. Anything short of that isn’t lkely to work.

                • Chatham says:

                  Public opinion in favor of a public option was higher than public opinion in favor of the Iraq war was after 9-11. And we had the economic crisis, and Obama coming in with a sweeping mandate.

                • Richard says:

                  What sweeping mandate? He won by 7% of the vote. Far less than what Clinton won in his reelection victory. Far less than what Roosevelt won in any of his campaigns. 7% is a solid victory but it is no sweeping mandate.

                  And a single payer system doesn’t solve the economic crisis. Instead, it jeopardizes the jobs of the millions of people who work for health insurance companies. I favor single payer but, in the short run, it is not a job creator, would create major job dislocation and is no panacea for the ills of society.

                • Scott Lemieux says:

                  NEWS FLASH: America not governed by plebiscite! Presidents have vastly more powerful over military affairs than over new legislation!

                • Richard says:

                  You’re also conflating two positions. Public support of single payer was never high, much less a majority position. Public support for a public option was fairly high (although most people had no idea what the public option was) but, if you remember, Obama supported the public option during the last days of the negotiations but it was shot down by Lieberman and other conservative democrats. You start out by saying single payer was feasible but the only support you offer is public opinion polls on the public option, which are decidedly not the same thing..

                • Scott Lemieux says:

                  Public opinion in favor of a public option was higher than public opinion in favor of the Iraq war was after 9-11

                  So the public option was popular, and yet was never close to passing despite being favored by Obama and the leaders of both houses of Congress. What does that tell you?

                • Chatham says:

                  “So the public option was popular, and yet was never close to passing despite being favored by Obama and the leaders of both houses of Congress. What does that tell you?”

                  That if you’re a poor negotiator you can snatch defeat from the jaws of victory? Or perhaps that Obama didn’t actually want the public option?

                • numb3rs says:

                  Obama’s victory by 7.27% of the popular vote puts him in the middle of presidential victories since 1968 (10 previous elections) but is also better than the initial elections of everyone not Reagan or HW Bush. Obama’s total percentage of the popular vote was higher than Reagan’s in ’80 and Clinton’s in 96, 2 of the 5 elections, where the victor had larger percentage spread. Not a sweeping victory like 72 or 84 but better than “solid.”

                  In ’44 FDR’s margin was only 7.5%.

                • Richard says:

                  “Obama’s total percentage of the popular vote was higher than Reagan’s in ’80 and Clinton’s in 96, 2 of the 5 elections, where the victor had larger percentage spread. Not a sweeping victory like 72 or 84 but better than “solid.”

                  In ’44 FDR’s margin was only 7.5%.”

                  And Obama’s margin was exactly what I said it was, lower than Roosevelt in EVERY one of Roosevelt’s campaign, including the last one where he was severely ill.

                  And you’re wrong about Reagan’s first win. He had a TEN percent victory over Carter (you’re giving all of Anderson’s votes to Carter which is a bad way of computing popular vote success – the fact that Obama’s share of the popular vote was lower than Reagan’s first election doesn’t mean he had less of a margin over his Democrat rival)

                  I stand by what I said. 7% is a solid victory but nothing more than that and far, far short of a sweeping mandate.

                • numb3rs says:

                  Initially, I thought you were mildly underselling the magnitude of Obama’s victory.

                  After your follow up post, I now realize this was due to your innumeracy and severe comprehension issues.

                  As you work to overcome
                  these mental limitations remember that even the most creative use of capitalization does not impact the validity of a statement.

                  I wish you well in your quest to learn some elementary mathematical concepts.

            • djw says:

              What does that have to do with Evan Bayh and Ben Nelson? They don’t care about public opinion, and even if they did, the relevant public for them is the voting public in their deep red states.

        • Scott Lemieux says:

          The Blue Dogs see themselves as being between the Dems and the Republicans. They don’t actually care what the positions are.

          This is complete nonsense. They care what their major donors think. Conservative Democrats place non-negotiable, arbitrary conditions on their votes all the time.

          As for Lieberman – the Dems could take away his chairmanship if he did things they didn’t like. They don’t.

          Of course, had they done that, no PPACA and no DADT repeal. That would be have been brilliant.

          • Chatham says:

            “They care what their major donors think.”

            Thanks for this brilliant insight, I hadn’t thought of it before. Of course they care what their donors think. And they use that money for votes, and can be pressured as such (something you so blithely dismissed in your original post). But if you don’t think that they intentionally try to take positions that are in the middle of the two parties – and more often than not use such positions to enhance their own power – you seriously haven’t been paying attention.

            “Of course, had they done that, no PPACA and no DADT repeal. That would be have been brilliant.”

            DADT repeal was 65 – 31. But don’t let facts get in your way.

            • John says:

              And the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was 73 to 27. That doesn’t mean it was easy to pass. The whole point of the Senate is that even when things have a filibuster proof majority willing to vote in favor of them in a final floor vote, that doesn’t mean they’ll get passed.

            • Bijan Parsia says:

              Yes, let us not let facts get in the way:

              On December 9, 2010, another filibuster prevented debate on the Defense Authorization Act during the lame duck session of Congress.[15]

              On December 9, 2010, in reaction to the failure to open discussion on the Defense Authorization Act, Senators Joe Lieberman and Susan Collins introduced a bill that included the policy-related portions of the Defense Authorization Act that they considered more likely to pass as a stand-alone bill. The Washington Post compared it to a Hail Mary pass.[16][17] The stand-alone bill was sponsored by Patrick Murphy and passed the House on a vote of 250 to 175 on December 15, 2010.[18][19]

              On December 18, 2010, the Senate voted to end debate on its version of the bill by a cloture vote of 63–33.[20] Prior to the vote, Sen. Lieberman gave the final argument in favor of repealing DADT and Sen. McCain argued against repeal. The final Senate vote was held later that same day, with the measure passing by a vote of 65–31.

              (Emphasis added.)

              I’m certainly no fan of Lieberman, but he (eventually) did vote for the ACA and he was absolutely critical for getting DADT repeal. Ried and Obama were absolutely correct not to have punished him at the start of term (which is what I wanted at the time).

              • Chatham says:

                Perhaps you’re right. One senator can change votes in the senate. One president can’t.

                • Bijan Parsia says:

                  Well, there’s the obvious fact of their own vote which they control absolutely.

                  I’m not sure what you think you’re arguing. As other people have pointed out, the final vote is not necessarily indicative of the difficulty of passage. I supplied some evidence that Lieberman was heavily involved in the passage. If you think it was insignificant that Collins and Lieberman were sponsors of the successful bill, then I’m not sure what to say.

                  But again, by all means, don’t let facts get in your way.

                • NonyNony says:

                  Yes – one senator can change one vote in the Senate. One president can change zero votes in the Senate. This is absolutely true and I don’t think that you will find anyone anywhere who is willing to dispute it.

                  Lieberman not being punished for his decision to run as an Independent probably did lead directly to him being willing to vote with the Dems on ACA and DADT. Had he been punished he would have spent a number of years crying in his beer with Lindsay Graham and John McCain as sympathetic ears and he might very well have voted along with them.

                  This part of politics isn’t rocket science. Most folks have figured THIS much of politics out by the time they’ve finished High School.

                • Scott Lemieux says:

                  Lieberman didn’t change anyone’s vote. He used a procedural technique that allowed the majority to vote. Since you seem to think that legislation is passed by public opinion surveys this might miss you.

                • Chatham says:

                  Cloture vote of 63 – 33. Only 60 needed. Without Lieberman, 62.

                • Bijan Parsia says:

                  I’m not sure what you’re arguing.

                  What’s the scenario where DADT gets passed without Lieberman? Or wherein Lieberman was punished by Ried at the start of term?

                  It certainly is the case that there are possible scenarios, but they also tend to involve a lot fewer accomplishments overall.

                  Lieberman and Collins worked out that separating the DADT repeal would work. (Remember, that it was attached to the omnibus defense must pass bill as a tactic! (DREAM too.) That tactic failed spectacularly.)

                  So, in this case, there was an available tactic and someone willing to pursue it. Reid was overloaded so unlikely to focus on it. Lieberman pursued it. As a matter of contingent, historical fact, Lieberman did the work that made DADT repeal happen.

                  But this wasn’t by magically converting firm no votes. It was by working on a complex space of possibility to the one for which there was sufficient support. It’s hard to imagine that petulant Joe would have done this if he were in a extrapissy state (cf his torpedoing Medicare expansion).

                  In the ACA case, it was pretty clear that even public option wasn’t going to get critical support. That is, you had firm no votes for that. It was a scramble to get the ACA, itself.

                • Chatham says:

                  Sorry, I didn’t understand what your point was merely by reading what you quoted. I thought it was that without Lieberman there wouldn’t be the votes to get DADT repealed. Are you saying that if it weren’t for him there wouldn’t have been the tactics to get it repealed? And that no one else would have been able to figure out a tactic like that? Possible, but I think improbable. Reid said he had the votes, but it was a matter of scheduling, and I personally believe it could have been taken care of, even if Lieberman has some vendetta against the Dems.

                  I’m not saying punishing Lieberman would have produced the desired results. I’m saying that it was leverage, and it’s possible it could have been used. Scott seems to be willfully ignorant of this.

                  Would it have worked? I don’t know. But I don’t think a more robust negotiating method would have given us anything worse, and I think it’s silly to laugh at people that wanted something with a bit more teeth. If I had to pick a problem with the last 30 years of American politics, it wouldn’t be that the Democrats have been too fierce.

                • Bijan Parsia says:

                  Obviously, counterfactuals are difficult, but it’s not at all implausible to think that DADT would have failed but for Lieberman at that juncture. Even if not, he did a good job of making it happen. Resources were limited, esp. congressional time.

                  To put it another way, a pissed off Lieberman would have meant no Lieberman vote on ACA and no Lieberman vote on DADT (plausibly). Both those things were valuable even if the latter wasn’t essential per se. What would we have gotten in return for pissing on Lieberman? Would have being fierce on Lieberman yielded more results in that congress? A different outcome in the next election?

                  What exactly would the benefit have been and when would we have seen it?

                • Chatham says:

                  Threatening Lieberman – or, say negotiating with him (depending on your outlook) – might have gotten us more concessions from him (in which case, they could leave him be). Or it might not of. Then he could be stripped an pissed off. The upshot – he might have worked hard against the Dems. Or he might have licked his wounds and tried to find some compromise with them later (to at least leave some kind of legacy).

                  In the long run, it would be a sign that the leadership was willing to play hardball, and hopefully keep the members in line. Would it have worked? Again, I don’t know. It would certainly take time, and it may have backfired. And the leadership would have to be on board (I think they lean more towards the Blue Dogs than the progressive caucus). But I don’t think things have been going well the last couple decades, so I think it would have been worth a shot. Johnson took a gamble and lost the south. I think it was worth it, and I think this would have been worth it. You may disagree.

          • Warren Terra says:

            It’s always worth remembering, as part of his catalog of spite and perfidy, that Holy Joe torpedoed his own proposal to expand Medicare once it looked like Progressives liked it, among other barriers he threw up in the path of healthcare reform.

    • Davis X. Machina says:

      So you completely forgot about the Iraq war?

      Rally effect.

      The best — and only — way to sell a war is to fight it. Which is why there’s no cohort of Nicaraguan War veterans who march each November. Not even the Great Communicator could sell that one.

      • bradp says:

        The best — and only — way to sell a war is to fight it.

        Similarly, the best way to sell new entitlements is to just provide them.

        • Anonymous says:

          So you think we should pass an Entitlement Powers Act that allows the President to provide any entitlement he wants for 90 days before Congressional involvement is required?

          Because otherwise it seems like the analogy just breaks down. Congress is in the driver’s seat on domestic policy — that’s how the system was designed to work and how it does work.

          • Bijan Parsia says:

            No, I think the point is that passing the ACA and providing universalish coverage was the best way to move toward, well, universal coverage.

            Once you’ve reset the norm, improving things is a hell of lot easier than if you still stuck in the old norm.

            Note that this isn’t a slippery slope argument per se. Things that exist have and generate constituencies and power blocks in whats that things that don’t exist do not. Thus, passing a watered down thing puts you in a stronger position than not passing one. (Often!)

            • Chatham says:

              The best way to get single-payer now is at the state level. In which case, the ACA may very well have done more harm than good in the long run.

              • DocAmazing says:

                There’s the rub, you see. Those of us who live is states where the politics are to the left of the median on most issues actually have to fight the national Dems on a regular basis just to maintain what we have won. In other words, we don’t just have to mobilize against the Republicans. See also Feinstein, Dianne.

                • Chatham says:

                  I know the pain. I live in a one party city, and we have to constantly fight for the Dems to act like they are on the left. Entrenched apathy on the part of the electorate doesn’t help either.

              • John says:

                My understanding was that the ACA does nothing to prevent states from passing their own single payer plans.

                I’m also not sure how the ACA has put a barrier in the paths of the hordes of states clamoring to pass single payer plans, what with no states passing single payer plans for the many decades they’ve had to pass them if they wanted to.

                • Chatham says:

                  Perhaps look at the ACA? The ACA only allows waivers starting in 2017. So states like Vermont that will implement single-payer have to wait five years to start, and have to set up the ACA system for three of those years. I think they’ll get extra funding though. Hopefully the waivers won’t be too difficult to get.

                  Why have states started to push for single-payer recently? I have no idea. Maybe someone in Vermont or California can chime in.

                • Hogan says:

                  Is there anything to prevent a state from setting up a public option that’s cheaper and more attractive than private plans?

                • Scott Lemieux says:

                  Is there anything to prevent a state from setting up a public option that’s cheaper and more attractive than private plans?

                  No.

                  Also, as to the idea that the “progressive” position is “the uninsured outside of Vermont and maybe California can go fuck themselves,” I’m going to vote “no.”

                • DocAmazing says:

                  As opposed to the reaist position that the poor is Vermont and California should shut the fuck up and take whatever the national party deems adequate.

                • Scott Lemieux says:

                  As opposed to the reaist position that the poor is Vermont and California should shut the fuck up and take whatever the national party deems adequate.

                  As soon as someone argues that, I’ll disagree with it!

                • eclipse says:

                  Just a thought, but maybe California and Vermont are suddenly talking about state single-payer because the federal government is offering a giant pile of money through the ACA.

            • bradp says:

              That’s basically my point, although I would add a couple of qualifiers:

              1) I wouldn’t call such a plan good and/or moral governance. I don’t believe officials should pass legislation on the assumption that “people will come around to it”.

              2) I don’t really think the ACA is a good step towards sustainable universal coverage.

              I do think a public option would largely avoid those two problems, however.

              • Bijan Parsia says:

                Re: 1) I don’t think it’s necessarily a “people will come round” point (e.g.,people already favor a public option), its that institutionally existing things are easier to modify than it is for nonexisting things to come into being.

                Re: 2) well, I think it was the only available step. Compared with status quo ante, it’s significant (and does real good anyway).

                • bradp says:

                  I can buy your explanation for #1, and as far as our disagreements go on #2, we will get plenty of opportunities discuss those in the future.

    • Barry says:

      July 2, 2012 at 7:34 am

      “Other than the fact there’s absolutely no evidence that presidents can change public opinion in this way”

      Chatham says: “So you completely forgot about the Iraq war?”

      Which had 9/11 (remember that?), a cowed Congress, and the elite media (e.g., the Liberal New York Times) lying their *sses off for the war.

  10. bradp says:

    Was the public option never on sale?

    Couldn’t that feasibly reach everybody?

    Why do all of these conversations portray health care reform as “single-payer or bust”?

    • Murc says:

      Was the public option never on sale?

      No. It wasn’t. The votes for that didn’t exist, Period.

      • Chatham says:

        Nonsense. They could have passed it in reconciliation.

        If they had wanted to.

        • John says:

          Who is “they”? The Obama Administration, or 50 Senators + Joe Biden. The latter is probably true, but there were never 50 senators for passing a public option through reconciliation.

          • Chatham says:

            They got 40+ to publicly state they’d support it, without any push from the leadership. You don’t think they’d be able to eke out 50 if there was an actual effort behind it?

            • Bijan Parsia says:

              You don’t get to presume this. It’s very unclear what the actual vote count that would yield this result would have been.

              So, afaict, yeah, there was no way to “eke out 50″, much less parliamentarian support, etc. etc.

              • Chatham says:

                I don’t assume success. I merely suggest that we don’t always surrender before the battle has started. How’s that strategy been working out for you?

                • Bijan Parsia says:

                  Your rhetorical question certain presumes that there was a magic 10 votes for the ekeing. My point is that you need to show your work.

                  Your “mere suggestion” doesn’t help you either because it presumes that there was no actual vote counting going on at the time by Reid et al. Which is, to put it mildly, ridiculously implausible.

                  Thus we’re back to the fact that your rather extreme wishful thinking does not constitute either evidence or analysis.

                • Scott Lemieux says:

                  Anybody who thinks that there were 50 votes for passing the public option in reconciliation — which would have double-crossed at least 10 Democratic senators — has no idea how the Senate works.

                • Warren Terra says:

                  Is it even true Reconciliation was available? I thought it was limited to spending issues in a way that made it inapplicable to the Public Option.

                • Scott Lemieux says:

                  Is it even true Reconciliation was available? I thought it was limited to spending issues in a way that made it inapplicable to the Public Option.

                  It might have been had the leadership been really determined do it. But. obviously, Reid wasn’t going to double-cross the conservative Dems he made a deal with and could make his life miserable.

                • Chatham says:

                  http://www.openleft.com/diary/13334/51-senators-open-to-public-option

                  You can disagree with them, and it never was a sure bet. But to assume it was impossible is silly.

                • Bijan Parsia says:

                  Uh…did you read the analysis? It’s…not good.

                  Putting aside the reliability of Huffington Post we have Open Left saying:

                  It now seems likely that there are enough Senators in support of a public health care option to pass it through the 50-vote reconciliation process….

                  Six members of Evan Bayh’s group have indicated they are open to a public option: Tom Carper (DE), Kay Hagan (NC), Mary Landrieu (LA), Glanche Lincoln (AR), Claire McCaskill (MO), and Mark Warner, (VA). That makes 49.

                  Arlen Specter, who falls into a class of Senator all his own, has also indicated he is open to a public option. That makes 50.

                  Susan Collins is a lone Republican voice who has said the same. She makes 51.

                  Huffington Post:

                  Last week, Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) said they were open to a public plan but undecided. Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Penn.) said much the same in a letter to the advocacy group Health Care for America Now,

                  Let’s see, open but undecided == “likely support”. No wishful thinking there!

                  Since we know where Collins came out in the end, I think.

                  If we poke further, we see that e.g., the evidence for Spector is weak:

                  In a letter to the group Health Care for America Now, the Pennsylvania Democrat backed away from his position weeks ago opposing the plan. Now, under increasing pressure from progressive groups, Specter says he looks forward to “discussing and considering” the issue.

                  Heck, even Nelson is “open”:

                  Even Nelson said he’s listening. “I know he’s making a strong effort here to find something that would work and I’ve talked to him about it and we’re going to continue to talk,” Nelson said.

                  So you’re open to it?

                  “I’m open to listening to him explain to me how this would work and certainly congratulate him for coming forward with something. It’s better than just saying no.”

                  And Collins:

                  “I am looking at all the alternatives at this point,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) of the public option. “I have a lot of concerns about the impact of a public plan. The Lewin Group has estimated that it could cause 119 million people to be transferred from private plans to public plans, which would mean the collapse of the private insurance system which I don’t think would serve our country well.”

                  In this context, it’s the assuming that it was possible that looks silly.

                • Chatham says:

                  I’m not saying it would have worked; I’m saying it could have worked. There wasn’t any major push behind the public option, and these Senators still said they’d be open to it. If Roberts can save the ACA, I’m not prepared to assume that senators who were open to the public option when there was no major push for it wouldn’t have been able to have been won over if the administration and party leaders had really pushed for it.

                  Again, not a guarantee, but I don’t understand why people on the left seem to assume defeat, and act accordingly. I don’t think that’s a good tactic.

                • mark f says:

                  Obama’s address to a joint session of Congress included a four-paragraph section describing and advocating for the public option.

                  Surprisingly, Joe Lieberman was unmoved. Maybe Harry Reid should’ve kicked him out of the caucus.

                • Bijan Parsia says:

                  Again, not a guarantee, but I don’t understand why people on the left seem to assume defeat, and act accordingly. I don’t think that’s a good tactic.

                  If we assumed defeat, there’s be no ACA. Obama, Reid, and Pelosi didn’t assume defeat, but neither did they think it was easy. Health care reform was the goal. Coverage was a subgoal. Bending the cost curve was a subgoal. Everything else is mechanism. The ACA mechanisms are at least plausible, if not ideal. Thus far, it seem to be helping.

                  There wasn’t any major push behind the public option, and these Senators still said they’d be open to it. If Roberts can save the ACA, I’m not prepared to assume that senators who were open to the public option when there was no major push for it wouldn’t have been able to have been won over if the administration and party leaders had really pushed for it.

                  First, you presume (with that nonsense OpenLeft piece) that all those open to a public option that those who were open were open to passing it through reconciliation. C’mon. Collins is on board with a reconciliation bill involving a public option? This leaves the rest of the agenda intact?

                  Reconciliation would have been tricky in the best case, given the rules. (Deem and pass was problematic!)

                  The public option was explored, but I think it’s fairly safe to say given what we now know that there was not sufficient support for a reconciliation passed public option version. I rather suspect that key players knew it then.

                  So, I would say that it’s false that the public option wasn’t tried. After all, that article is part of the trying! If you say that Obama didn’t try enough, well, I’d like to see a bit more evidence than a rather dodgy vote count by someone who can’t even get the details of some articles right…articles themselves which look rather wishful.

        • rea says:

          Assuming they wanted it badly enough to abandon all the rules about how reconciliation works, anyway.

          • Barry says:

            Any analysis which relies on Collins to support a major Democratic bill (against every other GOP Senator) is garbage.

            Please remember that in the real world, she wasn’t even a vote for the ACA as it existed. Anybody who expects her to move several notches to the left, further away from the GOP is no longer trustworthy.

  11. I can imagine a scenario in which Obama, instead of pushing for “compromise” or bipartisanship, instead aggressively pushed for a single-payer system, and the Republicans, as a compromise, might propose a “public option.”

    Hypotheticals are dangerous, of course.

    • chris says:

      I can imagine a scenario in which Obama, instead of pushing for “compromise” or bipartisanship, instead aggressively pushed for a single-payer system, and the Republicans, as a compromise, might propose a “public option.”

      You have a great imagination.

      The usual Republican idea of compromise is Democrats doing everything Republicans want. But when it comes to Obama, they’re not so willing to accept that compromise anymore.

      • Chatham says:

        The Dems pass Heritage Foundation bills. Why would the Republicans think they have to give up anything?

        • John says:

          Isn’t it curious how, during the many years of Republican control of Congress, nobody ever made any effort to pass the Heritage Foundation’s alleged bill? Republicans don’t and didn’t want to pass any kind of health reform. The “Heritage Foundation plan” was not one that the Heritage Foundation ever had any intention of seeing passed.

          • Chatham says:

            Now you’re getting it! If the Democrats put pressure to pass something on the left, the Republicans will offer up their compromise solution. If said pressure is gone, so goes said solution.

            • Craigo, MARS BITCHES says:

              Except, again, the Republicans have no intention of actually passing the compromise. It’s like putting a minority on the short list – he’s just there so that you can say you had a minority on the short list and look reasonable.

        • Warren Terra says:

          This works in both directions. The Dems of 2010 pass a Heritage Foundation bill of 1995, and the R’s cheerfully denounce it as pure Stalinism. Any motion towards the Republican position is rewarded with a Republican move away from it – an obvious fact that you seem to ignore with your notion that if Obama had opened debate at the far-left end of the conceivable policy spectrum the Repblicans would have countered with a serious proposal firmly in the middle, a doubtful enough position in itself, and (here’s the truly nutty bit) you seem to think that if Obama then embraced the hypothetical serious, centrist Republican plan the Repiblicans would welcome his support and help pass it.

          • eclipse says:

            Which is exactly what happened to Bill Clinton, if I remember correctly. After watching his own healthcare plan go down in flames, Clinton tried to salvage the situation by moving towards the GOP’s “alternative plan”, which I think was written by either Dole or Lincoln Chafee. Of course, once that happened, all Republicans suddenly wanted nothing to do with that bill. Thereby leaving Clinton with zip.

            And that’s the brilliant negotiation strategy people are angry with Obama for not following?

      • Well, sometimes my imagination fails me. :)

        Perhaps because I’m a wanna-be historian and not a political scientist, I have a bias toward seeing contingency where others might tend to see inevitability or structural determinism. That’s not meant as a jab at political scientists in general or Mr. LeMieux in particular, just an observation about the different biases that tends to accompany practitioners of each discipline.

        But this bias suggests to me that the outcome was not set in stone the moment Obama was elected. (Indeed, quite the opposite of my scenario might have happened, as someone here pointed out: if Obama had pushed for single-payer, maybe all we would have gotten was a tax credit for insurance companies.)

      • Barry says:

        “I can imagine a scenario in which Obama, instead of pushing for “compromise” or bipartisanship, instead aggressively pushed for a single-payer system, and the Republicans, as a compromise, might propose a “public option.”

        We saw that in ’93. Then, when the aggressive option had been defeated, the ‘compromise’ was tossed in the trash.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      Walk into a Porsche dealership and offer the dealer $500 for his best car. He’ll probably sell it to you for $2,000!

      • Walk into Congress in 1994 and offer a health care plan. The opposition will probably offer you their own package that might have a chance at passing.

        In seriousness, as NonyNony pointed out below, I realize that 1994 was not 2010.

        But I fail to find the “fallacy” in the argument you’re critiquing. It’s wrong, but it’s not so necessarily wrong as to be devoid of all logic in support of the conclusion.

        • Hogan says:

          The Republicans had years and years to pass that package they said they supported, and did nothing. One might almost think they weren’t entirely sincere in making that offer.

          • Well, I agree, and that’s partially my point. If the Dems force the issue, the Republicans might panic and come up with their own plan. Of course, things didn’t appear to work out that way in 2009/2010. So, as I stated at the outset, I’m dealing with a hypothetical.

        • Scott Lemieux says:

          Walk into Congress in 1994 and offer a health care plan. The opposition will probably offer you their own package that might have a chance at passing.

          David Broder lives!

          Well, I agree, and that’s partially my point. If the Dems force the issue, the Republicans might panic and come up with their own plan. Of course, things didn’t appear to work out that way in 2009/2010.

          Of after Truman proposed his plan. Or Johnson. Or Clinton. Why, I’m almost beginning to think that Republicans just don’t want to pass health care reform!

          • Warren Terra says:

            The Republicans would happily pass any health care plan that consisted entirely of tax cuts for rich folks and more military spending on hardware.

            They might, in a compromise, concede their willingness to spend more on sick old white guys.

          • Hogan says:

            “Public option?”

            “Mmmm no.”

            “Medicare expansion?”

            “Mmmm no.”

            “OK, what would you support?”

            “Tort reform and interstate competition.”

            “But that won’t get us any closer to universal coverage.”

            “WHY WON’T YOU WORK WITH ME IN A BIPARTISAN FASHION, YOU NAZI?”

          • My “panic” meme is obviously overwrought, but here are few thoughts, offered in my ignorance of the examples you mention:

            Truman: His fair deal encountered significant opposition from Republicans but also from his own Democratic party. Of course, the GOP was in control from 1947-1949. The “had enough’ers” probably indeed had “had enough.” In other words, it was hard to enact any reforms in the post-WWII environment.

            LBJ: He had a Democratic congress. I suspect it wasn’t only opposition from Republicans that prevented him from passing anything more than medicaid/medicare.

            Nixon: didn’t he offer a plan that would have expanded coverage dramatically? It was probably a sop to insurance companies, and probably also an attempt to divert critics from his foreign policy agenda or from his emerging scandals. But it was a plan.

            I don’t really contest the claim that, by and large, the GOP has opposed, and has a bias to oppose (based on ideology and constituency) universal health care coverage. I’m suggesting only that there are/were/might have been alternative paths, and that to deride one of those paths as mere “fallacy” is not particularly productive.

            That’s not all you’re doing. You also provide reasoned analysis why it is probably incorrect to assume that had Obama only bully-pulpitted his way to a single payer system, a single payer system we would have had. But again, it is not “fallacious” to assert otherwise. The truth is we don’t know.

            • That’s not all you’re doing. You also provide reasoned analysis why it is probably incorrect to assume that had Obama only bully-pulpitted his way to a single payer system, a single payer system we would have had. But again, it is not “fallacious” to assert otherwise. The truth is we don’t know.

              Jesus Christ, even I won’t waste my time with this nonsense.

              No, we don’t know that Obama couldn’t have moved upwards of 35-45 Senators on the issue of single payer, and however many members of the House would have been needed. You have truly provided a great public service with this insight. Now kindly help even more by compiling a list of everything else we don’t know in this hyper-technical sense.

              • Well, since you took the time to respond (and so courteously, I might add), it appears you are indeed wasting your time with my nonsense.

                I freely admit that the internet and this blog could probably live a long, happy life without my insights, as evidenced by the single-digit readership at my own blog. However, there was a comments section provided here, and I decided to chime in, and in a way that, I hope, was respectful of those who disagree with me.

              • To answer the substantive portion of your comment, and perhaps to waste your time further before I amble off to work, I’ll suggest that Mr. Lemieux is dealing with an unknown, too. Obama, after all, didn’t aggressively advocate for a single payer or even a public option. To some degree, I am invoking similar terms as he is.

                However, I admit I’m begging the question you raise. Lemieux actually has evidence, and I am raising hypotheticals. I do question the degree to which a president is powerless to shape public opinion. I understand, but am not familiar enough to cite, that there is a literature on charisma and leadership and the interchange of call-and-response among the leaders and the led that suggests that leaders can influence the views of the led (and vice versa).

                I don’t know how credible this literature is in political science. And perhaps Lemieux can explain whether it really contradicts or not what appears to be his categorical assertion that presidents can’t influence public opinion.

                Even your response seems to evade the categorical claim. I infer from your point that whosever minds Obama might have changed, it would have been hard to change enough of them (35-45 senators) to make a difference. I think you’re right.

                However, my point all along has been that if Obama had aggressively pursued single payer, he might (maybe!) have encouraged enough people to endorse another plan that might have thereby more support and be better than the ACA as it is currently written. Again, I might be wrong, and I am engaging in the unknown hypotheticals that you chide me for. But I don’t think my argument is all that frivolous, either.

                • Hogan says:

                  Whatever you do, don’t let U.S. senators hear you referring to them as “the led.”

        • Barry says:

          “Walk into Congress in 1994 and offer a health care plan. The opposition will probably offer you their own package that might have a chance at passing.”

          At this point you’re flat-out lying. The GOP reaction to the defeat of the Clinton plan was to pass nothing.

    • NonyNony says:

      You’re kidding right?

      I can see a situation where a President who wasn’t Obama might push for a single-payer system and the Republicans might have compromised for something a lot like the Heritage Foundation plan that was the basis for RomneyCare because they knew that they didn’t have a choice.

      But it would have required someone who wasn’t Obama – because the Republicans weren’t going to compromise with him about anything.

      And as I recall the “narrative” surrounding the passage of the PPACA – most of the people Obama had to compromise with had a little (D) after their names. Like Baucus and Bayh and Nelson and …

      • You might be right, as might the others who responded to my comment.

        But no, I’m not kidding. I think in 2009 the mood was so pro-Obama that he might have been able to push his advantage. Again and as I admitted, I might be wrong, as you and the others have hastened to point out. I don’t disagree that there is and has been a lot of animus toward Obama.

        • Barry says:

          He *did* push things to his advantage; he pushed it to the point where the final compromise involved getting around the fact that one Senator had died.

      • Incontinentia Buttocks, FILLED TO THE BRIM WITH "ART" AND "THEATER" COLLEGE STUDENTS AND HIP-HOP THUGS says:

        I don’t think the issue is Obama…but saying 2009 ≠ 1994 (or 1995) is entirely correct.

        The Republicans decided that they were going to make no deal whatsoever with Obama, but I think what led them to make this decision is their sense that they got little politically out of the deals, like welfare reform, that they made with Clinton in 1995.

        • NonyNony says:

          I disagree somewhat. I think that if you had a president in that seat who was a white male former Senator you’d have a shot at getting 10 or so Republicans between the House and the Senate to join in passing something that looked very much like the PPACA in the end.

          But yeah – Clinton’s presidency poisoned the well for a lot of compromise efforts. The Republicans got very little out of compromising with Clinton because 1) Clinton got all the credit, even when he was passing legislation that they’d been pushing for years (welfare reform) and 2) their base decided that anything that Clinton took credit for must be a “liberal idea” and therefore not only did they not get credit in the press or from the President, but they also didn’t get credit from their base for passing essentially Republican legislation.

          Then there’s the fact that W and the Republican-controlled legislature effectively destroyed Republican credibility as a governing party. One strategy to get it back is to destroy the credibility of Democrats as a governing party, and that’s what the Republicans have chosen to do. Once they decided to go down that route, there was really no way to get them to agree to anything.

          The one thing that irritates me about Obama more than anything else is that he dug in on the whole “work to decrease partisanship” idea to the point where he essentially unilaterally disarmed in an attempt to get the Republicans to join in and rebuild their own party in a healthy way by moderating themselves. After a year of intransigence you’d think he would have seen what they were doing and changed course, but it seems like it took him three years to figure it out (or to change his approach at least). Maybe he was too busy fighting members in his own party to realize what they were doing – I don’t know.

          • Barry says:

            NonyNony says:

            “I disagree somewhat. I think that if you had a president in that seat who was a white male former Senator you’d have a shot at getting 10 or so Republicans between the House and the Senate to join in passing something that looked very much like the PPACA in the end. ”

            And I don’t. Now, what do you base your belief on?

    • Cody says:

      Indeed, this would assume Republicans were remotely interested in helping the country.

      That’s a fatal assumption from previous exploits in Congress. Democrats would think “we need healthcare reform”, Republicans would think “we can tell everyone that Democrats are stopping healthcare reform with their socialist ideas, and Americans are so dumb they’ll never notice we’re not accomplishing anything!”.

      And it’ll work. We really need to improve our political game.

      • I’ll advance the possibility that some elected Republicans might in good faith believe that at least some of what they support is in the best interests of the country as they understand those interests.

        I find it somewhat naive/cynical to claim that the other side is so bad and the only thing wrong with “our” side is that “we” aren’t good enough at pushing our message.

        *Disclosure, I don’t identify as a Democrat.

        • P.S. Please don’t take this as a defense of all Republicans or of the party. It has serious issues, not the least of which is its saner party members’ near pathological fear of denouncing the racists and sexists in their midsts.

        • Craigo, MARS BITCHES says:

          “I’ll advance the possibility that some elected Republicans might in good faith believe that at least some of what they support is in the best interests of the country as they understand those interests.”

          Where are they?

          More importantly, where were they from 2003-2007, when they could have done the things you say they wanted to do?

          • I don’t know. I cannot see into anyone’s hearts, and I imagine any example I might mention would fall prey to one of the following objections:

            1. But they oppose the program/policy I like; therefore they’re not sincere.

            2. But they support the program/policy I like only to get votes or stave off further reform; therefore they’re not sincere.

            At base, I’m not trying to defend the GOP. Its best members–if we stipulate that there are some members who are not pure evil incarnate, but people acting out of a mixture of self-interest, venality, and public-spritedness–lack conviction and its worst are filled with passionate….you know the rest.

            I am trying to urge people to reconsider the assumption I see frequently on this blog, and elsewhere, that we are engaged in a glorious battle of great moment. The right and wrong are clearly defined, and the enemies must be overcome.

            On any given issue, there may be truth to that assumption. I’m not saying that “both sides do it, too, so we’re all basically the same.” But it might be possible that the us-vs.-them strategy doesn’t always work, for at least two reasons:

            1. There may be people on the fence who might be brought over to one side.

            2. While the “us-vs.-them” rallies the base, it doesn’t necessarily rally all the base. Some members of the base might not appreciate being condescended to, being told that the issues are black and white when there are at least some shades of gray. I count myself as one of these members of the “base” (albeit not a Democrat, I do support the gist of their platform), and perhaps my role is so small it’s worth the cost to antagonize people like me and encourage us to throw our vote away on some nonsense independent as a protest. But it might actually be a cost.

          • Just to be clear, and to answer your “where were they” point, I think what the GOP did to the country in the first 8 years of this century–and, indeed, the last six years of the last century–was disgusting.

        • mark f says:

          And yet, at a moment when the bill’s chances were uncertain, not a single Republican vote was to be found when only one or two would’ve guaranteed passage.

        • Cody says:

          I may have engaged in a little hyperbole! I sincerely believe Republicans think they’re doing what’s best for the country.

          They think being rich is identifying as being a good and intelligent person; therefore, giving all the power to the rich (corporations) would be what’s best for the country.

          Sort of like the robot in iRobot.

        • Barry says:

          Please ask a friend to clue you in on the history of ’09-’10.

          There actually were 0 such Republicans.
          Literally, 0.

  12. erik says:

    Are you saying that there is nothing at all that can be done to influence public opinion? Or that public opinion has no effect at all on political outcomes?

    I mean, I assume your view is more nuanced than that, but if so, why is it so wrong to claim the President could have done more (or done something different) to acheive a better health care outcome?

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      Are you saying that there is nothing at all that can be done to influence public opinion?

      By presidents? Not really.

      • elm says:

        I assume you mean “by Presidents alone.” “By Presidents as part of a larger elite effort with the participation, or at least acquiesence, of the media,” then the evidence would suggest that this is one of the primary influences on public opinion. (The others being ideology, state of the economy, and presence of war as far as I know.)

      • Chatham says:

        Man, you need to go tell that to everyone on the left. They’ve been talking about Bush selling the Iraq war for years!

        • Craigo, MARS BITCHES says:

          The key differences being

          1. In 2001-2203, Americans didn’t need any selling

          2. Unlike domestic legislation, there are few, if any, real veto points over a President’s foreign policy powers.

          • Chatham says:

            1. More Americans favored the public option than the Iraq war.

            2. The Bush administration tried to make that authoritarian argument before the Iraq war too, but met a large amount of opposition and went to congress first. No, the president doesn’t have unlimited power to wage war. They just pretend that they do.

            • Craigo, MARS BITCHES says:

              1. Large majorities of Congress did not. (Also, there’s the classic intensity fallacy.)

              2. See #1.

              • Chatham says:

                So the key difference is that “Americans didn’t need any selling”, but if that’s not true we can say that it actually is “Large majorities of Congress did not”. Instead of rhetorical twister why not just come out and say “I’m a shill for Obama”? At least it’d be consistent.

        • elm says:

          Wait, have we on the left been complaining that Bush’s “selling” of the Iraq war led to a significant increase in public support for the war which enabled Bush to wage the war that he would not have been able to if support had not increased?

          Or are our complaints that the war was bad regardless of whether it was popular or not and that Bush lied while selling it, which is wrong whether or not it was effective?

          I’m pretty sure our complaints are the latter, because much of the former is untrue and nonsensical. (Support did not go up very much; Bush could have started the war even if support had dropped during his ‘selling’.)

        • Bijan Parsia says:

          As I recall, one thing was that support for the war was much stronger if there was UN sanction. Low and behold, the Bush administration spent a bunch of time getting UN support.

          It’s almost like they had to work with the structure of public opinion, rather than against it.

          • Chatham says:

            True, it’s almost as if he had to actually fight for something to get it. Imagine that.

          • Bijan Parsia says:

            ??

            The point was that Bush had to rearrange his war so as to get public support, not that Bush rearranged public support to get his war.

            You seem very confused about causality.

            • Chatham says:

              Bush did what he had to do to get the Iraq war going. I know you say that he had to bow to public pressure, and there are other people here that say that he didn’t have to do anything because people already wanted the war, and still others that say that he didn’t do anything because the president can do anything he wants (…eh?).

              We have different opinions. Here’s mine:

              Bush wanted to go to war with Iraq. He knew he should move popular, political, and international support in order to do that. Popular support was moved by a massive propaganda campaign, and also by trying to get congressional and UN approval. Congressional approval was achieved by using the campaign for the war as a political campaign going into the 2002 elections – all those “Dems soft on terrorism and Iraq” ads. That succeeded. Brinksmanship at the UN succeeded, because (again, in my opinion) diplomats felt that it would make it easier to contain Bush with a resolution to their liking than let have him go it alone. I don’t think any of this was certain from the start; I do think that all the effort the administration put into getting us to war lead us to war, and not that it didn’t matter one way or another.

              And I think this is true for other things. Why did Obama switch to focusing on the deficit? Like Iraq, it became a problem that suddenly emerged from nowhere. I don’t think it’s a mistake that Republican messaging was hyper-focused on it. Or Social Security. Bush didn’t get what he wanted, true. But now the third rail of American politics is something that “has to be taken care of.” The overton window has been shifted.

              You may disagree, but personally, I don’t think it’s laughable to believe that such shifts were at least influenced by those in power making them an issue. In fact, to me that seems pretty plausible.

              • Bijan Parsia says:

                You may disagree, but personally, I don’t think it’s laughable to believe that such shifts were at least influenced by those in power making them an issue. In fact, to me that seems pretty plausible.

                Unfortunately that plausibility is rather undermined by the evidence in the literature.

                Look, no one is saying that effort isn’t required to make things happen. We are disputing what sorts of efforts accomplish what and what sorts of things can happen.

                There is very little evidence, if any, that the propaganda campaign e.g., demonising Iraq altered public opinion substantively (as people have pointed out). In the case of the Iraq war, as with a lot of foreign policy, the President has a lot more levers to pull (including saying, “Fuck it, let’s go in”; though that’s a pretty hard one to use without strong buy in from the military and other key actors).

                In the ACA case, there are far fewer such levers and e.g., individual senators have a lot more power and a lot fewer constraints in using it to block legislation.

                The Obama administration put a huge amount of effort into health care reform and they succeeded where generations of Democratic administrations did not. It’s pretty hard to imagine that a much better bill was available in this situation, esp. if you take the risk of failure into account. If you don’t take into account the risk of ending up with nothing (and fear thereof), I’m not sure you can make any reasonable analysis.

                • Chatham says:

                  I used the Iraq war as an example simply because I’ve seen it taken as a matter of fact that Bush sold the war to the American people. It’s something my personal experience backs up, something that most people except for those on the far right seem to believe. This is, honestly, the first time I’ve seen people disagree with that argument. I’d like to think it’s merely a coincidence that the first time people on the left are saying the selling of the Iraq war didn’t affect American opinion is the time they’re trying to say that Obama couldn’t have sold anything better than the ACA. But that strains credulity, to be honest.

                  Take your pick, if you want. The pivot on the threat of the debt, the pivot on social security, people on the street suddenly having strong feelings about the Keystone XL, the threat that Iran poses – do you honestly and truly believe that these things are disconnected from the rhetoric of national politicians? Have you ever noticed how there are some issues that suddenly jump onto people’s radars, and not because anything related to the issue has happened? I don’t think anyone is suggesting that all the president has to do is give a speech and then everyone will like something and it will get passed. But there are a number of people suggesting that the rhetoric that a president uses doesn’t have an impact.

                • mark f says:

                  people on the street suddenly having strong feelings about the Keystone XL

                  A small minority of people who already have strong partisan feelings suddenly had strong feelings about Keystone XL; those feelings tended to coincide with their pre-existing partisan identification. Which is the point: a president’s ability to influence public opinion is limited by the public’s opinion of the president himself. Whatever “bully” influence his pulpit affords him is counteracted by his political opposition’s pulpit.

                  I don’t think anyone is suggesting that all the president has to do is give a speech and then everyone will like something and it will get passed.

                  Actually, that’s exactly what the Huffington Post column argued: President endorses single-payer -> massive riots in the streets -> Ben Nelson turns pinko. The idea that Obama endorsing single-payer now to move the “Overton Window” and get it passed in 20 years is far-fetched, never mind the idea advanced in the article Scott criticized that it could’ve passed in 2009/2010.

                • Bijan Parsia says:

                  I used the Iraq war as an example simply because I’ve seen it taken as a matter of fact that Bush sold the war to the American people. It’s something my personal experience backs up, something that most people except for those on the far right seem to believe. This is, honestly, the first time I’ve seen people disagree with that argument. I’d like to think it’s merely a coincidence that the first time people on the left are saying the selling of the Iraq war didn’t affect American opinion is the time they’re trying to say that Obama couldn’t have sold anything better than the ACA. But that strains credulity, to be honest.

                  I would urge caution in generalizing from your lack of knowledge and experience.

                  Seriously, if you just read through Scott’s past blog posts you’ll find plenty of references to the polysci literature. In particular, check out “On Deaf Ears”
                  by George C. Edwards.

                  The polysci comes first.

                • Chatham says:

                  I’ve heard a number of people that don’t follow the news say things about the Keystone XL, debt, entitlements. Your opinion is that national rhetoric has no impact on public opinion?

                  I agree with you that single payer wouldn’t have been passed. I disagree that Obama’s rhetoric makes no difference (wasn’t his powerful rhetoric one of his selling points?), or that there was no way to pressure any of the Democrats that opposed things that the party claims to stand for.

                • mark f says:

                  Your opinion is that national rhetoric has no impact on public opinion?

                  My opinion is that individual politicians have a limited persuadable audience. If you have Barack Obama saying one thing on a particular topic and John Boehner arguing the opposite, most people are going to base their opinion on that topic on whether they already support Obama or Boehner.

                  no way to pressure any of the Democrats that opposed things that the party claims to stand for

                  Again, limited. Obama and other public option supporters made their case again and again. Yet a public option-less ACA barely made it through the Senate even after further concessions to the most recalcitrant members. That should indicate that your position is on shaky ground.

                • Bijan Parsia says:

                  I agree with you that single payer wouldn’t have been passed.

                  ?? Then what’s the point of your entire line of argument?

                  I disagree that Obama’s rhetoric makes no difference (wasn’t his powerful rhetoric one of his selling points?),

                  It’s a thing people like about him. It’s not something that makes him more able to produce progressive legislation.

                  Presidential rhetoric can serve other functions. I, qua Iranian American, found his first Noruz address incredibly moving. I never imagined having a president of the US do such a thing. (I was ten during the hostage crises and it wasn’t pleasant to be Iranian-American at that time.)

                  But I don’t think that means that he won’t bomb if the circumstances are right.

                  or that there was no way to pressure any of the Democrats that opposed things that the party claims to stand for.

                  They did! And we have ACA, DADT, etc. etc. Health care reform was what the party stood form, not any particular mechanism.

                  I sincerely doubt that they could have gotten enough senators to vote for my personal fantasy programs. So…?

                • Chatham says:

                  “If you have Barack Obama saying one thing on a particular topic and John Boehner arguing the opposite, most people are going to base their opinion on that topic on whether they already support Obama or Boehner.”

                  In general, yes, but that oversimplifies things (ignoring swing voters, people with soft support, etc). You think all that time politicians spend on their rhetoric is a waste?

                  “Again, limited. Obama and other public option supporters made their case again and again. Yet a public option-less ACA barely made it through the Senate even after further concessions to the most recalcitrant members. That should indicate that your position is on shaky ground.”

                  You seem to assume that the failure was one of possibility, and not one of tactics. Keep in mind that those on the left were bemoaning the tactics from the beginning, saying how poorly they would work.

                  It’s like the stimulus. We say it’s too small, it gets passed, and it doesn’t work. So the reaction is…stimulus doesn’t work. It’s possible that these things work, they’re just poorly implemented.

                • Chatham says:

                  “In particular, check out “On Deaf Ears”
                  by George C. Edwards.

                  The polysci comes first.”

                  Huh:

                  “Occasionally Edwards’ rightward bias damages his analysis, however. For example, he never admits the possibility that there were holes in Reagan’s allegedly simple, conservative “philosophy”; the immense power of industrial lobbying groups used to take down Clinton’s moderate health care plan is not even mentioned. ”

                  I’ll pass, thanks.

                  “Then what’s the point of your entire line of argument?”

                  That presidents can exert pressure on members of their own party and impact public opinion?

                  “They did! And we have ACA, DADT, etc. etc. Health care reform was what the party stood form, not any particular mechanism.”

                  So then we agree on the basics but disagree on the extent that these things are possible?

                • mark f says:

                  The Self-Appointed Left was bemoaning? You don’t say.

                  Let’s say, though, that a public option really was attainable by other tactics. On what basis do you assert that public rhetoric would’ve been the key?

                • Bijan Parsia says:

                  You seem to assume that the failure was one of possibility, and not one of tactics. Keep in mind that those on the left were bemoaning the tactics from the beginning, saying how poorly they would work.

                  It’s like the stimulus. We say it’s too small, it gets passed, and it doesn’t work. So the reaction is…stimulus doesn’t work. It’s possible that these things work, they’re just poorly implemented.

                  There’s a key difference: There was and is evidence (and good associated theory) about the stimulus…not so much about the bully pulpit.

                  Bully pulpitism is more like the austerity “cure” than the stimulus.

                  Seriously, it’s not just guessing. Look at the recent gay marriage kerfluffle. People claimed it was an example of prez rhetoric moving public opinion (at least among Blacks), but not so much.

                  The bully pulpit theory fails time and again.

                • Bijan Parsia says:

                  I’ll pass, thanks

                  On the basis of an Amazon review you won’t engage in the evidence.

                  I wish I could say I was surprised.

                • mark f says:

                  On the basis of an Amazon review you won’t engage in the evidence.

                  A four-star review that accepts Edwards’s premise and makes odd minor criticisms around the edges, no less.

                • Bijan Parsia says:

                  I’m not sure why I’m catering to your know-nothingness, but here’s an article that summarizes some of the dicussion.

                • Chatham says:

                  “On the basis of an Amazon review you won’t engage in the evidence.”

                  So he does talk about the intense campaign from the industry? Is the review wrong?

                • Bijan Parsia says:

                  A four-star review that accepts Edwards’s premise and makes odd minor criticisms around the edges, no less.

                  It’s almost as if Chatham didn’t want to encounter evidence contrary to their preconceptions and has useful epistemic strategies* to enact that preference!

                  *Yes, “la la la, I can’t HEAR you!” is an epistemic strategy. Of sorts.

                • Chatham says:

                  Seriously, it’s not just guessing. Look at the recent gay marriage kerfluffle. People claimed it was an example of prez rhetoric moving public opinion (at least among Blacks), but not so much.”

                  Huh? Make a difference does not mean that the president making one speech will bounce public opinion polls up 5%. That would be ridiculous.

                • Chatham says:

                  “A four-star review that accepts Edwards’s premise and makes odd minor criticisms around the edges, no less.”

                  I tend to think that not mentioning an intense lobbying effort when talking about polling is a major flaw. Sorry, one of my quirks.

                  And yes, I use reviews to decide what I read, because I don’t have time to read everything people on the internet recommend to me. I know, crazy.

                • Chatham says:

                  “It’s almost as if Chatham didn’t want to encounter evidence contrary to their preconceptions and has useful epistemic strategies* to enact that preference!

                  *Yes, “la la la, I can’t HEAR you!” is an epistemic strategy. Of sorts.”

                  Seriously man? Because I want to check the reviews of something you recommend first, instead of saying, “random internet guy said it was good, must listen to him”? Yes, I use reviews to make judgements about what I read. And yes, if they seem to have a gaping flaw in them, I will avoid them. What about that pisses you off so much? I shouldn’t listen to random internet review, but I should listen to random internet guy? Get over yourself man.

                • Bijan Parsia says:

                  Seriously man? Because I want to check the reviews of something you recommend first, instead of saying, “random internet guy said it was good, must listen to him”? Yes, I use reviews to make judgements about what I read.

                  It’s the quality of the judgements that’s amusing, and, unfortunately, of a piece with your other judgements.

                  And yes, if they seem to have a gaping flaw in them, I will avoid them.

                  You might look at bit more around about the book. Or the literature in general. I’m not sure what else to say to you.

                  What about that pisses you off so much?

                  Nothing. I’m a bit sorry that I engaged with you given your know-nothingism, but since I was participating because I enjoy the topic and found a few new nuggets, no worries.

                  But, if you look over your comments in this threads, esp. the few times you even tried to appeal to evidence or the several times you made interesting negative inferences about your interlocutors, you might find that if you come to them with a fresh eye that they do not form a very respectable performance. You may want to adjust.

                  I shouldn’t listen to random internet review, but I should listen to random internet guy? Get over yourself man.

                  Yes, that is exactly the implication you should take from what I wrote. I will take your suggestion on board with all due consideration, thanks!

                • Chatham says:

                  “But, if you look over your comments in this threads, esp. the few times you even tried to appeal to evidence or the several times you made interesting negative inferences about your interlocutors, you might find that if you come to them with a fresh eye that they do not form a very respectable performance. ”

                  This from the man that wrote:

                  “*Yes, “la la la, I can’t HEAR you!” is an epistemic strategy. Of sorts.”

                  “I’m not sure why I’m catering to your know-nothingness”

                  Yes, I refrained from ad hominem attacks. Sorry. Fortunately enough, you brought some!

                  Still waiting to hear why I’m a “know-nothing” if I use reviews to decide whether or not I read books, instead of just listening to you.

              • Scott Lemieux says:

                But now the third rail of American politics is something that “has to be taken care of.” The overton window has been shifted.

                Given that Obama opposes privatization while Clinton was open to it, I assume you’re saying that Bush’s failure moved the overton window to the left?

                • Chatham says:

                  Clinton’s failure closed it, which is why Bush wouldn’t touch it.

                • Hogan says:

                  Oh dear:

                  Bush began his second term by outlining a major initiative to reform Social Security,[148] which was facing record deficit projections beginning in 2005. Bush made it the centerpiece of his domestic agenda despite opposition from some in the U.S. Congress.[148] In his 2005 State of the Union Address, Bush discussed the potential impending bankruptcy of the program and outlined his new program, which included partial privatization of the system, personal Social Security accounts, and options to permit Americans to divert a portion of their Social Security tax (FICA) into secured investments.[148] Democrats opposed the proposal to partially privatize the system.[148]

                  Bush embarked on a 60-day national tour, campaigning vigorously for his initiative in media events, known as the “Conversations on Social Security”, in an attempt to gain support from the general public.[149] Despite the energetic campaign, public support for the proposal declined[150] and the House Republican leadership decided not to put Social Security reform on the priority list for the remainder of their 2005 legislative agenda.[151] The proposal’s legislative prospects were further diminished by the political fallout from the Hurricane Katrina in the fall of 2005.[152] After the Democrats gained control of both houses of the Congress as a result of the 2006 midterm elections, the prospects of any further congressional action on the Bush proposal were dead for the remainder of his term in office.

                  Is that what “not touching it” looks like?

                • Chatham says:

                  That was sarcasm, my good man. Read the whole discussion before making comments.

                • Hogan says:

                  My experience in discussing things with you is not such that I am eager to continue.

                • Chatham says:

                  Well, then don’t?

                • Chatham says:

                  Actually, I don’t mind insults. And my last post probably come off as passive agressive. But to be honest, we have been going around in circles and aren’t getting anywhere now – and I doubt we will.

                  So, thanks for the chat. We can try it again another time, but I think this one has gone as far as it can.

                • Bijan Parsia says:

                  I suspect this is to me…this thread is too big ;)

                  Fair enough and no worries.

                  I strongly recommend you look at the literature on this. If you don’t like “On deaf ears” at least look at the related literature. Or look at some of the case studies in more detail (Bush’s social security campaign is a good one).

                  There really is a pile of evidence against the efficacy of presidential rhetoric to effect legislation, as depressing as that is. I certainly don’t find it happy making.

                • Chatham says:

                  Will do. It is an interesting topic. I just feel it’s also a relatively complicated one, and hard to understand completely.

              • Bijan Parsia says:

                Yes, I refrained from ad hominem attacks. Sorry. Fortunately enough, you brought some!

                I suspect you are trying to imply that I made the ad hominem fallacy. That is false. I do judge that you are systematic resistent to evidence contrary to your preferred narrative based on your posts. I did express them in an insulting, snarky way. I didn’t, however, do the same for your consistent factual failure, poor, tangled, reasoning, and other issues in this thread.

                And, as for your innocence:

                Instead of rhetorical twister why not just come out and say “I’m a shill for Obama”? At least it’d be consistent.

                is at least insulting, albeit in a weaselly way, and,

                This is, honestly, the first time I’ve seen people disagree with that argument. I’d like to think it’s merely a coincidence that the first time people on the left are saying the selling of the Iraq war didn’t affect American opinion is the time they’re trying to say that Obama couldn’t have sold anything better than the ACA. But that strains credulity, to be honest.

                Is pretty straightforwardly an ad hominen. You attempt to cast doubt on the content of the argument by accusations of bad faith. You never retracted that even when it was pointed out to you that the powerlessness of presidential rhetoric is standard polysci.

                By the by, I don’t think you are know-nothing based on the mere fact of using reviews to guide what you read, but for the particular way that you did so. Note that I provided you a short form alternative. Note that you were free to look around more to find out about this general line of argument. Note finally that that very review gives evidence against your earlier ad hominem. Any of these would have been somewhat responsive and more than sufficient to avoid the blatant la-laism that you evidenced.

                • Bijan Parsia says:

                  Oops! Slipped on the wrong reply button. Sigh.

                  By the by, I’m by no means personally offended or anything, so no need to feel bad! However, you do have an unrealistic view of your own behavior.

                • Chatham says:

                  Well, Bijan, it’s possible we just don’t match. You think I’m insulting to others, but that “la la la I can’t hear you” is fine (thought my comments were at the very least on topic, but ah well). Then you think you should criticize the way I interact with others, while calling me a “knownothing” (though if you intended that to be ironic, I commend you!).

                  Yes, I could have spent a lot of time researching what you said, but I usually limit my time spent researching what people on the internet recommend, or else I’d be running around reading up on hundreds of Ron Paul/Libertarian literature. If a major flaw comes up after looking at something for a few minutes, I decide not to pursue it. You seem to think that makes me a “knownothing”.

                  Nowhere to go from there, really. Shame, I feel like we kept _almost_ having a conversation.

                  But we just don’t match. I’ll refrain from responding to your comments, I suggest you do the same for me. No use in us wasting time.

                  Good luck.

                • Bijan Parsia says:

                  You think I’m insulting to others, but that “la la la I can’t hear you” is fine (thought my comments were at the very least on topic, but ah well).

                  You think that making an actual ad hominem argument is a good thing?

                  Did you notice that your insulting comments were prior to mine?

                  Did you notice how many times you made factual errors?

                  Then you think you should criticize the way I interact with others, while calling me a “knownothing” (though if you intended that to be ironic, I commend you!).

                  I’m sorry to have missed your commendation.

                  But really, it doesn’t take a lot of internet research to establish that “On Deaf Ears” is a standard, classic work of PolySci. That should have been enough for you to at least pull back from your ad hominem. But you didn’t.

                  It’s not even clear how this is a major flaw given that the reviewer didn’t paint it as such. I should think that that should give you at least some pause.

                  Given that you were willing to speculate quite negatively on people’s motivations on the admitted basis of your own, obviously quite limited, personal experience (you’ve NEVER SEEN a lefty dispute Bush’s rhetorical power except when defending the ACA….this is quality evidence?), one might think that your easy dismissal of contrary evidence on flimsy grounds wasn’t particularly sound.

                  I do think insults are ok. Why not? If they get in the way, then they are a problem, but they don’t need to. You seemed comfortable enough with them…I’m not sure why my mild, descriptive ones are so beyond your pale.

                  Would it help if I just said that you are pretty clearly engaged in motivated reasoning, etc.?

        • mark f says:

          Man, you need to go tell that to everyone on the left.

          Pretty sure that’s the purpose of all these blog posts.

        • Scott Lemieux says:

          Man, you need to go tell that to everyone on the left. They’ve been talking about Bush selling the Iraq war for years!

          If people on “the left” think that it was Bush’s rhetoric that allowed him to invade Iraq, they’re wrong. And if people think that the rally effects around wars can be translated to domestic policy initiatives, they’re delusional.

          • rea says:

            Carter memorably tried that, claiming that solving the coutnry’s energy problems was the “moral equivalent of war.” Which, of course, is why we have a sensible energy policy today . . .

          • Chatham says:

            You said that Secretary of State Powell might have been able to have stopped the war. Wrong, or delusional?

            • Scott Lemieux says:

              He might have stopped it by preventing military buy in I don’t know. That’s different than saying that he could have rallied public opinion against it.

      • John says:

        They can get public support for wars by starting said wars.

  13. david mizner says:

    On a related note, Adolph Reed Jr. — who btw correctly pegged Obama as a neoliberal in 1996 — has a good, sobering and I think truthful piece in the Nation–

    The left has been a solipsistic fiction in this country for years. It lives in an echo- chamber universe of actions, critiques and debates that have no institutional connection to anyone outside our own ranks and no capacity to influence the terms of national political debate. Reluctance to face up to that grim reality is understandable, and the relentlessness of the right’s increasingly bloodthirsty attacks – on multiple fronts simultaneously — also understandably inclines progressives to look ever more desperately for hopeful possibilities. That in turn fuels a tendency to discover magic bullets, single interventions that will knock the shackles from the people’s eyes, spark popular outrage and mobilize it into action. The Democrats’ fecklessness in responding to these attacks and their acquiescence and, often enough, active collusion in supporting a regime of intensifying regressive transfer of income and wealth only exacerbates the problem…

    there are no shortcuts to building a movement capable of responding effectively. The Spark is a myth, and the tendency to believe in it – consciously or not – will generate unreasonable expectations and then dash them. There is no ready-made constituency out there waiting to support a left political program if only it were properly announced. That constituency has to be built, and it can’t be built in the heat of a fight, least of all when we’re on the defensive.

    http://www.thenation.com/blog/168435/opinionnation-labors-bad-recall#

    • david mizner says:

      I meant to blockquote everything beginning with “the left…”

    • Brautigan says:

      I have no quarrel with this. But, it seems to me, the President, as leader of the party, has some responsibility to lead this (r)evolution – to help move the Overton Window, as it were, and build the constituency over time.

      • Joshua says:

        Well, yea. Isn’t that was Saint Ronnie did? He might have passed a bunch of tax increases but he wouldn’t have done it with 1995′s Congress. Obama, faced with a left-wing Congress, would undoubtedly had a much different presidency. He has also capitulated on a few things, like the Bush tax cuts, that would’ve helped push that window.

        The core issue is that the Democrats bought into right-wing economics in the late 1980′s while running on social issues. We’ll help break the unions but make sure gays are treated like human beings. Etc. Now we are seeing what is happening. Faced with an economic collapse brought about because of right-wing economics, both parties are equally clueless and untrustworthy.

  14. Andrew says:

    Off topic, but look at this:

    http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/304451/limiting-general-welfare-clause-andrew-c-mccarthy

    NRO’s Andy McCarthy is arguing for an incredibly narrow definition of the General Welfare Clause that would prohibit all social spending by the federal government.

    • John says:

      Wow, Andy McCarthy advocates something crazy? Who’d have thought?

    • rea says:

      McCarthy doesn’t know much about history:

      the position that is generally credited to James Madison but was shared by Thomas Jefferson — the one I believe is correct. It holds that the preamble’s General Welfare Clause, right before the Constitution’s exacting enumeration of Congress’s powers, merely makes clear that Congress has the authority to raise revenue and spend in furtherance of those specified powers

      What he forgets is that Jefferson and Madison abandoned this view once they got into office and actually had to govern–for example, they purchased Louisiana, even though under a so-called “Madison/Jefferson” view of the spending power, Congress didn’t have the power to spend money to buy it. In other words, as soon as McCarthy’s preferred view was put to a practical test, it was abandoned as unworkable.

      Spending, he inferred, had to be for the general welfare: It could not be a redistribution of wealth strictly for the benefit of local or regional interests; it had to accomplish some legitimate national interest. To be more concrete, Eastman recounts that one early Congress declined to fund the dredging of the Savannah River but approved an appropriation for a lighthouse at the entrance of the Chesapeake Bay: The latter was valid because it benefited coastal trade for the nation, the former invalid because it would solely benefit Georgia and South Carolina.

      Here, McCarthy fails basic economics, by failing to grasp how a functioning port of Savannah benefits the whole country.

      Note McCarthy’s mode of constitutional interpretation. He’s not particularly interested in what the founders themselves meant. He’s also not particularly interested in what works–if anything, he diapproves of government working. No, his starting point is that federal power ought to be more limited than it is–for the perfectly sound reason of becasue, that’s why–and then he tries to think up a theory of some sort that will acheive his preferred results.

  15. G. Angeletti says:

    Anyone who reads the Marcia Angell piece to which Scott links will notice that her main argument is that ACA won’t work as a matter of policy. That Obama might have done something that resulted in a plan that had a better chance of working (as a matter of policy) is quite minor by comparison. Scott ignores the main argument and focuses on this one minor point. Why? If it’s incorrect, as Scott maintains, does Angell’s main argument collapse? No. And that argument, if sound, should be taken very seriously. So I’m puzzled by Scott’s focus. It looks like a distraction.

    • Lee says:

      There is little evidenceof whether the ACA will work or not as a matter of policy until its actually implemented. The ACA sets up an overly complicated system by comparison to what exists in other countries but that doesn’t mean it won’t work.

      Lets assume that the ACA won’t work as a matter of policy and the only healthcare systems that do work are either Bismarckian, single-payer, or national-healthcare. None of the three working systems are politically implementable in the United States because of vast opposition among corporate interests, large swaths of the population and the politicians that represent them. The Constitution gives the opposition the power to prevent said reforms and makes things like the ACA somewhat inevitable.

      We all agree that single-payer would work better than the ACA as a matter of policy. However, just because something works better as a matter of policy doesn’t mean its politically implementable. Thats why Scott is focusing on the Green Lanternism. You need a way to get Congress to pass something before it can be implemented.

    • Walt says:

      This is a douchy gotcha comment that doesn’t really deserve a response, but I’m working hard at procrastinating here.

      Scott addressed the point that he’s expert on. The rest of the article is just authorial speculation. It’s not impossible that the ACA will enter a death spiral like the author outlined, but it’s less likely than the existing system. Since Scott’s position is that no better system was politically possible, what is there for him to say?

      The only thing more likely to work would be stronger cost controls. How do you suppose stronger cost controls would have gotten through a Congress controlled by lobbyists?

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      The problem is that the transparently erroneous political analysis infects the policy analysis. The implicit comparison Angell is making is not between the ACA and the status quo but the ACA and her ideal plan, so it’s not terribly useful.

    • bob mcmanus says:

      “So I’m puzzled by Scott’s focus. It looks like a distraction.”

      Because he is a fan and producer of Sheldon Wolin’s (Jouvenal, Talmon, Carr, Engdahl) Managed or Totalitarian Democracy, not in the sense of something to be resisted but of something to be embraced and celebrated.

      Frustration, impotence, confusion, disillusionment, and despair leading to disinterest is how the system is made to work.

      • elm says:

        Hey, Scott, apparently you’re now a producer of Totalitarianism! How much does that gig pay?

      • Scott Lemieux says:

        The odd thing is that Bob seems to think his vision of the American state as a fundamentally fair system that will produce just outcomes if only a benevolent presidential daddy wishes it so is a left analysis. It really, really isn’t.

        • Lee says:

          The desire for presidential daddy among is weird because its so monarchal. If only the President/Tsar really knew about our troubles, he’d solve them for us and everything would be okay. Its infantilizing and not really democratic. Which is ironic at this time of year.

        • bob mcmanus says:

          My vision of the Bully Pulpit is Desmoulins before the Bastille. Lenin greeting Stalin at the Station.

          Look, if rhetoric and public reason are useless and pointless, and we have no idea how to change people’s opinions, positions, affects…then we adopt some kind of ultra-materialist Blanquist Leninist strategy of changing the material conditions first…or a liberal paternalism, or some other radically anti-democratic ideology. We certainly will never admit to such a program. Wolin’s Managed Democracy or dictatorship of technocrats.

          But I honestly do not believe that for instance Barack Obama believes he can never convince anyone of anything, never persuade, never sell an idea. It is, I think, exactly that “false and mistaken belief” that he could persuade that not only inspired him to run for office but was the primary instrument of his success.

          A Holy Fool, that Obama. Now do I believe that believing in Weberian Charisma can make it so? Obviously not everyone can be Napoleon or MLK. I damn well can’t.

          Do I believe that given sweat, time, conviction, and the right words I might convince one worker to join a union? That discourse matters? I am not even sure about that, but I kinda believe that faith makes blessed, and utopianism does create possibility, if nothing else the possibility of happiness and peace of mind.

          “Patience and irony” said the communist.

          • bob mcmanus says:

            I will now be accused of “strawmanism”

            Obama might be able to move one Senator an inch, but in the specific conditions…blah blah blah.

            Or sure discourse and public reason matter, we are all democrats after all, but it is very limited and takes a long time and a lot of work. Conversion and radical change are rare, and most often have unforeseeable and bad consequences even if they could work, which they actually can’t.

            Whatever. People are trying to nail you down, Scott, but I have become convinced you don’t want to be nailed down to a strategy or ideology, or will only admit to one that is utterly dispiriting and enervating.

            Only when we have 65 very progressive Senators and 300 very progressive Congresspersons can we have nice things. Now quit yer bitching and get to work. It will take a century, and if we fail, it is your fault, not the fault of your representatives.

            Looks around at America.

            I’m going fishing.

            • Scott Lemieux says:

              Whatever. People are trying to nail you down, Scott, but I have become convinced you don’t want to be nailed down to a strategy or ideology, or will only admit to one that is utterly dispiriting and enervating.

              What am I resisting being nailed down about, exactly? I think my ideological commitments as someone who favors a European-style liberal democracy (preferably Scandinavian as opposed to a more dirigiste German model) are pretty clear. It is absolutely true that I have no strategy for bringing this or a similar kind of transformation about under extant conditions,but then neither do you.

              More generally, talking about “strategy” is odd since it’s contingent on what one is trying to accomplish and the circumstances. I can assure you, however, that your 1.Elect Mitt Romney 2.??????? 3. Presidential daddy will give me everything I want! strategy is doomed.

              • Holden Pattern says:

                So your entire schtick is shooting down idealists, then, with absolutely no alternative? I thought that was Rahm Emanuel’s job.

                Wow. Why not just do one GBCW post entitled “We’re fucked, there’s no way out”.

                Also, why fucking bother to study political science at this stage? Are you just documenting the fall in a nice nerdy hopefully-tenure-collecting academic way?

                • Scott Lemieux says:

                  This is all a massive non-sequitur. First of all, “alternative” applies that you do have a viable plan, which you don’t. Second, politics doesn’t stop mattering once you realize that you may not be able to obtain everything you want. I understand that you’re committed to the belief that there’s no difference between “getting slightly better” and “getting much worse.” I think your position is not merely wrong but immoral. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis died because of this kind of puerile logic.

                • Bijan Parsia says:

                  So your entire schtick is shooting down idealists, then, with absolutely no alternative? I thought that was Rahm Emanuel’s job.

                  Er…is it “idealistic” (at least in a good way) to claim that or act as if Obama could have bully pulpited single payer? Or just wrong?

                  Is it idealistic (in a good way) to take an amazing (if flawed) win like the ACA and treat it as if it were a massive failure?

                  Is it idealistic (in a good way) to go from Obama’s rather poor civil liberties record to conclude that he is as bad as Bush was or Paul would be?

                  These don’t seem to be interestingly idealistic points of view or to flow from one. They seem rather bonkers in the first instance and as tending toward a rather destructive cynicism.

                  You can be idealistic in your aspirations while being realistic in (or, at least, not deluded or hopelessly naive about) the situation.

                • Pseudonym says:

                  I’m sure that if Scott had a foolproof solution in mind he’d either be advising Obama or running for president himself (although I can’t imagine someone with an un-American name like “Lemieux” ever getting elected here). His schtick seems to be shooting down ideas he sees as unrealistic or inaccurate. I am curious what longer-term strategy he’d advocate (outside of voting for the so-called “lesser evil”) to move the country closer to his preferred Scandinavian-style model. (By criticizing “dirigisme” are you advocating more neoliberal economic policy?)

          • Bijan Parsia says:

            (See, elm? It’s actually a difficult notion to get across.)

            Look, if rhetoric and public reason are useless and pointless, and we have no idea how to change people’s opinions, positions, affects…

            This is a tricky bit, but you really are misreading the situation.

            Things we know about presidential rhetoric: 1) it tends not to have significant effect on the overall balance of public opinion, 2) it tends to polarize (i.e., announcing support for something tends to make people who support the prez already to support that thing and those who oppose the prez to oppose it), 3) it doesn’t provide significant leverage against strong (esp. legislative) opposition in policy making, and 4) it doesn’t make a significant difference in elections.

            1-3 really make it hard to argue that the bully pulpit is an at all effective, much less very powerful, presidential lever.

            (Note the mechanisms can be complex. For example, the public is generally rather low information and most often don’t hear or remember speechs. Polarization affects things. Fundamentals strongly affect things. Etc.)

            I think this does mean that, for example, changing material conditions is more helpful, as is changing institutional factors, as is winning elections with more like minded people. If a presidential speech happens to convince a senator to change their mind (by making a good argument), then that speech was effective.

            • Chatham says:

              So your opinion is, even though Presidents and other politicians spend a lot of time on rhetoric, it’s mostly a waste? The politicians think that has an effect, but they’re wrong? People suddenly care about the debt now, because…?

              • mark f says:

                “Suddenly”?

              • Bijan Parsia says:

                I think you really need to read up on the literature.

                Presidential rhetoric serves a lot of purposes, but it’s not a powerful tool to force policy changes esp. against opposition.

                It’s not the worst thing, I’d imagine, for achieving relative saliency of an issue (if supported by events, other players, etc.) But it’s not tremendously more powerful than other agenda setting entities (sunday morning talk shows, etc. etc. etc.).

                The debt is a long standing, central trope in American politics. I’m not sure where the “suddenly” comes from. Please point to an Obama speech on the debt with before and after polling showing that it radically changed public opinion. Better yet, sketch a scenario wherein Obama goes barnstorming in support of the idea that short term deficits don’t matter.

                Heck, explain why so many think he’s a (long term) deficit raiser in spite of his actual record? I mean, why doesn’t he mobilize his rhetoric in support of getting recognition for accomplishments he’s very proud of?

                • Chatham says:

                  Well, I agree with the first half of what you wrote.

                  Do you think people were as worried about the deficit in 2006 as they were in 2010? Though I do think it’s tapered off a bit as people realize that the economy does indeed suck.

                  “Heck, explain why so many think he’s a (long term) deficit raiser in spite of his actual record?”

                  I’d say a large part comes from the rhetoric on the right – no?

              • Hogan says:

                People suddenly care about the debt now, because…?

                And your answer is “presidential rhetoric”?

                • Chatham says:

                  My answer is “political rhetoric.” There wasn’t much during Bush’s presidency (some, but not as much as now). There’s been a ton recently, to the extent that Obama has adopted GOP talking points and wants to make cuts while we’re in a recession(ish).

              • elm says:

                Baseball managers spend lots of time playing “small ball” even though we know it reduces the chances of winning. Football coaches punt a lot when they objectively shouldn’t. That politicians spend their time on an activity does not mean that said activity is worthwhile for their stated goals.

  16. BigHank53 says:

    But the bully pulpit totally worked for Michael Douglas in that movie. Plus he got to sleep with Annette Bening, right?

    BigHank53

    TURGID OVERSTATEMENT, VA

    • Joshua says:

      I was talking to my girlfriend this weekend about the hilarious crap that Hollywood passes off in presidential portrayals. Like George Clooney the atheist frontrunner in that movie with Ryan Gosling. A gay Muslim marxist has a better shot of being elected president than an atheist.

      People do yearn for the big daddy Presidents, reality just can’t give it to them. Bush strutted like one and look at how the Village swooned for him.

    • IM says:

      Actually the first half or so of the movie was quite realistic: How the president made his gun control bill weaker and weaker to get the votes and how he dropped his other big environmental bill to get the votes of the senators from Michigan.

      Only then the movie entered magic realism or whatever.

      • elm says:

        Well, we never do see what happens after the President decides he’s going to “get the guns.” For all we know, the President ‘s proposal goes down in flames as all of the legislators who were on the fence about a weak gun bill decide to vote against a strong one. And then Bob Rumson gets to say, “I am the President!”

        That politicians believe rhetoric matters is still realistic. The only magical part is when they think it will translate to votes in Congress. (In fairness, Sorkin clearly believes this latter point, too, though he didn’t show it in the movie because he ended the movie before the voting began.)

  17. firefall says:

    Plans to transform American domestic politics that involve heroic presidential daddies imposing major social change on powerful interests by sheer force of will are indistinguishable from having no plan at all.

    Sure they are – unlike having no plan at all, they get in the way of actually formulating a plan

  18. Incontinentia Buttocks, FILLED TO THE BRIM WITH "ART" AND "THEATER" COLLEGE STUDENTS AND HIP-HOP THUGS says:

    A few observations:

    1) As someone who regularly says that virtually nobody actually makes BULLY PULPIT arguments (i.e. suggests that the President can simply make policies happen by magically convincing the public to follow whatever he says), I readily admit that the passage quoted in this post is such an argument. And it’s ridiculous.

    2) As is usually the case, most of the discussion in the thread isn’t about the ridiculous BULLY PULPIT thesis, but rather weaker claims about presidential negotiating powers.

    3) There’s a lot of confusion in this discussion between public opinion and Congressional votes…and the President’s potential to move one or the other. Obviously Congressional votes have something to do with public opinion, but they are not the same thing. The public overwhelmingly favored a public option; it got nowhere. The public was divided about 50/50 on the Iraq War; it received overwhelming, bipartisan support in Congress.

    4) Those who say that one cannot magically make Ben Nelson or Joe Lieberman not act like Joe Lieberman are absolutely correct. But doesn’t the premise of the hypotheticals in this discussion involve Barack Obama not acting like Barack Obama?

    • Incontinentia Buttocks, FILLED TO THE BRIM WITH "ART" AND "THEATER" COLLEGE STUDENTS AND HIP-HOP THUGS says:

      I meant to write “not act like Ben Nelson or Joe Lieberman.” I didn’t mean to suggest that the two act exactly the same. Senatorial idiocy comes in many flavors!

  19. Jakers says:

    I don’t mean to be the liberal “it pains me to say” troll, but all talk of “what if Obama had pushed for single payer Price-is-Right-style” commits the flaw of being completely and utterly deluded. You seriously have to be crazy or uninformed to think that single payer was ever possible. And for all the “well, maybe single payer couldn’t be done, but had Obama pushed…”–one reason for Obama NOT to push for single payer–no matter what he personally wanted–is that everyone on earth that isn’t burning up the keyboards at FireDogLake would know it was a fantasy position with no weight behind it.

    Seriously, I’ll echo what Josh Marshall said this weekend: thinking that insurers, pharma companies, and hospitals are the sole impediments to single payer is an egregious error. The left has this notion that because Medicare is popular, single payer is an easy lift once you get past the lobbyists. That’s unbelievably stupid.

    You don’t have to be that clever to think up some of the attack ads that single payer would encounter. The reason they don’t happen is because everyone knows it has no chance of happening. And yeah, that’s depressing.

    • FlipYrWhig says:

      Agreed. And, to put it another way, just because it’s a smart policy doesn’t mean that it’s persuasive to politicians or voters.

  20. FlipYrWhig says:

    I’ve made many comments on this set of issues here and elsewhere, so I won’t rehash the whole thing but distill it down to this: even if the President could rally public opinion in support of an issue, there’s still a huge difference between wanting your local candidate to support it and having it be an absolute deal-breaker or deal-maker. People may truly like the idea of a public option, for instance, but are they prepared to make that a key determinant of how they vote locally? I don’t think so. I think the number of issues on which voters base their vote is minimal, and, if anything, declining. So if it’s not going to win votes, even when people support it, why put yourself on the line to vote for it — especially when doing so opens up a potent line of attack about taxes, welfare, and entitlements so-called, which _do_ determine people’s votes?

  21. [...] idea that single-payer was up for grabs in 2009, if only Barack Obama were to stand up and take it. This is about right. The votes for single-payer weren’t there, just like the votes for [...]

  22. So I got to this way late (thanks, Verizon, for your incredibly reliable service and always pleasant and competent customer service department!), but as an observation I’ll just note that, as per usual, the Green Lantern position (here represented by Chatham and Holden) are long on conjecture and wishful thinking, and quite short on, ya know, actual research into the dynamics of public opinion.

    Truthy!

  23. [...] I’m sorry, but the same logic applies to people who opposed the PPACA from the left because they would prefer that the uninsured continue to be held as hostages. This seems based on a [...]

  24. [...] always involved baselines that were (in the context of deciding whether the bill was worse passing) completely irrelevant. Indeed, in my experience very rare attempts to try to make the case that the status quo ante was [...]

  25. [...] to ram health care reform right down Congress’s throat in 1993.  We’ve been through this silliness before and I won’t reiterate the arguments [...]

  26. [...] this year. But perhaps the House Republican leadership could use the same techniques that Obama could have used to force Congress to support single payer but HE DIDN’T EVEN TRY. But Ted Cruz could definitely raise that green lantern: Here’s how [...]

  27. [...] universe of 2010, the idea that Obama could have “chosen” to enact Medicare for all is just absurd. As always, such arguments abjure history and structural limitations — the requirement to make [...]

  28. [...] the sole inhabitant of the American political universe — must be obstructing it. I’ve already said enough about this line of argument, but [...]

  29. [...] point, the argument that the choices of Barack Obama are the reason single payer didn’t pass should by all rights be a strawman, but it’s not. (In fairness, I assume that given more space to elaborate, Collins would have phrased it in the [...]

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