Subscribe via RSS Feed

The Baseline For Presidential Evaluations

[ 221 ] September 5, 2012 |

Evidently, whether you’re “disappointed” with Obama or not depends on the baseline.   I do agree that, compared to other actually existing presidents, his record can’t be considered disappointing at all — somewhat better than Clinton and vastly more accomplished than Carter.   And comparisons with LBJ and FDR do indeed tend to understate the more favorable contexts they were dealing with and (at least in the latter case) tend to airbrush the very substantial errors of his presidency.

But I also don’t think that past presidents should be our only baseline.   I agree that it’s stupid to criticize Obama for not accomplishing things that were impossible to accomplish (single payer is here if you want it!)  But it’s perfectly reasonable to be disappointed in the major failures that were under his control — such as his abysmal civil liberties record — even if it’s true that previous presidents have generally been as bad or worse.   Historical perspective is important, and is important to consider when entertaining fantasies that throwing one more election to the Republicans will finally restore the Really Progressive Democratic Party that never existed — but we should also always be expecting more.  I don’t think Obama should be exempt from criticism for his actual failures any more than LBJ should be given a pass for Vietnam or FDR for the internment.   Some disappointment even in better-than-typical presidents is a good and necessary thing.

Comments (221)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. c u n d gulag says:

    Disappointment is fine – as a teaching tool.

    Disapppintment if fine – to move politicians along the path we believe they should be following.

    And disappointment is fine – as long as it doesn’t cloud your judgement.

    But if disappointment is what will keep you home on November 6th, or has you vote for some 3rd Party candidate as a protest vote, please look up the definition of the expression, “Cutting off one’s nose, to spite one’s face.”

    Or let me know, so I can invest in prosthetic noses.

    • DrDick says:

      I believe that, in the present circumstances, that is better framed as “Cutting one’s throat, to spite one’s face.” I have been rather disappointed in Obama, but not voting or voting third party is a futile gesture that guarantees you will be totally ignored.

    • CJColucci says:

      I’m disappointed with Obama. I expected to be disappointed with Obama. I looked forward to being disappointed by Obama. I knew that a McCain administration would not have disappointed me and I know that a Romney administration — may we be spared — would not disappoint me, because I had and have no reason to expect anything good or decent from them.
      All things considered, I’ll take disappointment.

    • TK421 says:

      Funny, I would have thought voting for a president who believes he can order your death for any reason at all is closer to cutting off your nose to spite your face. So is voting for someone with a worse record on income inequality than George W. Bush.

      Growth of Income Inequality is Worse Under Obama Than Bush

      Better to be murdered by a cool, hip Democrat than by a stiff, awkward Republican, I suppose.

      • Anonymous says:

        Who cares about dead Muslim children though? What’s really important is getting gay married!

        • TK421 says:

          Exactly. And hey, fire enough missiles at innocent people and you’re bound to hit someone who’s guilty of something, right?

          • JL says:

            Apparently in your alternate reality, things like access to health care, the existence of a social safety net, winding things down in Iraq, and reproductive freedom, are completely meaningless, while a Romney administration will somehow commit fewer atrocities on civil liberties and murder fewer Muslim children than an Obama one.

            Look, I get it. I spend enough time wallowing in civil liberties issues to get it. These are serious issues that deserve more concern than they’re getting. And I’ve taken part in three different protests of Obama now that were centered around his war and civil-liberties-intersect-with-the-security-state records (one at a fundraiser, one at his campaign HQ in Chicago, one in front of the White House). But picking somebody who is equally bad or worse on nearly every single issue doesn’t actually make things better, and it probably in fact makes them worse.

            And trivializing issues of justice and dignity and civil rights because they don’t (I’m guessing, given how flippant you are about them) affect you, and pretending like everyone who disagrees with you from a tactical perspective doesn’t give a shit about dead Muslim kids, just makes you look like an ass.

            • “And trivializing issues of justice and dignity and civil rights because they don’t (I’m guessing, given how flippant you are about them) affect you, and pretending like everyone who disagrees with you from a tactical perspective doesn’t give a shit about dead Muslim kids, just makes you look like an ass.”

              Indeed it does.

              • TK421 says:

                I’m not pretending many people who disagree with me don’t care about dead Muslims–because I don’t have to. They have told me they don’t care about them.

            • TK421 says:

              “I’m guessing, given how flippant you are about them”

              I’m flippant? How, by accusing people of being script-spouting robots, or calling someone a “walrus” (whatever that means) or talking about people defecating in their pants? Oh wait, that’s the people who disagree with me.

      • spencer says:

        Right, so it’s better to vote Romney.

      • Scott Lemieux says:

        Not only that, but Obama supports “subsidies from the young and healthy to the old and unhealthy” like the ACA, Medicare, and Social Security. Until we get Ron Paul in office to restore the Articles of Confederation, we will never get real progressive change in this country!

        • TK421 says:

          What does any of this have to do with anything?

          • Malaclypse says:

            [stage whisper] He’s pointing out what an idiot you are.

            • TK421 says:

              What? What does Ron Paul have to do with this? What are you people talking about?

              • Scott Lemieux says:

                I’m saying that your lefiter-than-thou pose would be less pathetic when you didn’t make a lot of right-wing arguments, such as criticizing the ACA on grounds that would apply to most of the New Deal and Great Society or arguing for the ECB’s monetary policies or expressing sympathy for an ultra-reactionary.

                • elm says:

                  Well, we learn from below that he doesn’t support the ECB because he’s a closet right-winger but because he’s an idiot: apparently, he thinks inflation helps the rich and, therefore, hurts the poor. So, anti-inflationary policies would be good for progressive outcomes!

              • Jesse Levine says:

                Scott always starts a reasonable discussion about Obama’s historical position,but always defaults to the Ron Paul reference. At least this time he didn’t dismiss the civil liberties issues as peripheral.

      • UserGoogol says:

        People really get far too emotional about the whole “murder thing.”

        The president being able to kill people without even much of a check of his power is an serious injustice. But it is a procedural injustice. The problem is that it gives him the opportunity to kill people for all sorts of unjust reasons, threatening people’s civil liberties and causing global turmoil. This is indeed a bad thing and I don’t want to sound like I’m excusing that.

        But the “making people dead” part is what gets people really worked up, and that’s the part people need to look at in perspective. The President engages in all sorts of activities which can either cause or prevent people from dying. Nearly every government policy effects life and death in some manner. Health care reform will save far more lives than could ever be killed by drones. It’s hard to make an objective calculation on these sorts of things, but I think it’s quite likely that when you sum up the net effect of the impact his policies have had, he will have extended the total aggregate lifespan of human beings, not decreased it.

        • DocAmazing says:

          I’m not quite sure how to take this.

          Morality depends on who one kills?

          • TK421 says:

            No, I think what he’s saying is President Obama can kill as many brown people on the other side of the world as he wants, as long as he provides UserGoogol with a slightly easier path to health care.

          • Those who obsess over the citizenship of the al Qaeda commanders who are killed in air strikes are the ones making that argument.

            In particular, they are making the argument that morality depends on whether or not the person you kill is an American, with the killing of an American presented as uniquely immoral.

            As I understand it, this is supposed to be a progressive position.

            • DocAmazing says:

              Citizenship isn’t the issue. Combatant status is.
              Al-Awlaki’s son wasn’t any kind of terrorist, but poof! he’s Hellfired. Additionally, we’ve still got the collateral lethality that we had going under The Previous Administration That We Keep Reminding Everyone That We Must Never Repeat.

              How ’bout just ending the Drone War?

          • UserGoogol says:

            Um no, I’m saying the exact opposite of that. If you kill a thousand people but save a million people, on net you’re doing pretty good, regardless of whoever the hell those people are, or why you killed them. (To be clear, those numbers are completely abstract examples.) Precisely because all lives are of equal value, all you can do is add them all up and see which side you fall on.

            Of course, because in this instance there’s no causal relationship between killing the a smaller number and saving the bigger number, the act of murdering a bunch of people is still wrong, regardless of whatever else you do. So Obama did something bad and he should feel bad, and we should tell him that he should feel bad. But the broader act of “Obama being president” is an act which on net has made the world a better place, even though some have been made worse off or dead, so I support the aggregate event that is Obama being president and continuing to be president.

  2. Tom Hilton says:

    “…such as his abysmal civil liberties record…”

    Ohferfuckssake…

    My problem with this is that you’re accepting the Greenwaldian framing in which “civil liberties” is defined as the extremely narrow subset of civil liberties Greenwald cares about. If you want to say the President has a problematic (“abysmal” is gross overstatement) record on, say, certain national security-related civil liberties issues, I would agree with you. When you talk about “civil liberties” in general, though, that includes a whole lot more: LGBT equality, reproductive choice, etc., etc. Issues on which the President has actually been very good, and which become invisible when one uses Greenwald’s dishonest framing.

    • Usually just lurk says:

      Completely disagree with this.

      Oh, I’ll agree Obama has moved along women’s, LGBT, and minority rights just fine. We could argue that he could have done more in some areas – I’d like to have seen more done in response to the anti-choice movement – but a lot has been accomplished.

      But those areas are subordinate to fundamental rights such as habeaus corpus and due process. Basic things.

      It appears you don’t think its such a big deal because only middle easterners are being targeted. And as long as Obama is President that will probably be the case. But the precedent is now set – bipartisan approval – despite Obama very specifically campaigning on reversing those policies.

      • It appears you don’t think its such a big deal because only middle easterners are being targeted.

        I could just as easily reverse this cheap smear, and say that you don’t think the (much larger, much more significant) issues Tom Hilton brings up are such big deal because it’s only women and gay people and people in minority neighborhoods who are being targeted, but that would, like your comment, be merely a cheap smear.

        It may be true that the entire universe of “fundamental rights such as habeaus corpus and due process” are more significant than the entire universe of “LGBT equality, reproductive choice, etc., etc.” But so what? To weigh his policies against each other, you also have to look at the scope and scale of his actions in these areas. There are tens of thousands of people who won’t love their livelihoods because of DADT repeal. There are tens of millions of women whose reproductive choice has been expanded and protected by this president. There are tens of millions of Americans who won’t be disenfranchised because of the aggressiveness of Holder’s Civil Rights Division.

        And against this, we have 0 terrorism suspects who have put into military detention under this president. We have 3 Americans who were killed in air strikes against al Qaeda targets. Even setting aside the huge improvements he’s made in the very realms on which your attention is focused – like the ending of torture – the good he has done on the domestic side of civil liberties is an order of magnitude, or several orders, greater than the bad he has done on the national security side.

    • david mizner says:

      That’s obviously what Scott meant.

      Of course, it’s relatively easy for a Democratic president to be good on choice and gay rights (that’s not to take away from his fine embrace of marriage equality.) Much harder to be good on civil liberties in the realm of national security, and Obama has lived down to expectations and then some. He’s been several notches worse than “problematic.”

    • Jay B. says:

      Sure, if you simply conflate “civil rights” with “civil liberties”, why Obama isn’t that bad! That dishonest Greenwald, with his traditional use of “civil liberties” to describe government infringement on the Bill of Rights!

      You are a fucking parody.

      • Erik Loomis says:

        What I love about Greenwald is that you can’t talk him critically without people going completely nuts, even in a blog comment. The sooner we stop thinking of Greenwald as some kind of progressive hero and the sooner we start evaluating his many merits and many faults critically, the better the conversations will be.

        • It appears that the tiny fraction of Obama supporters who actually did fit the Republicans’ stereotype of star-struck, personality-focused fanbois have modified the target of their adoration, but not its character.

          • Jay B. says:

            That’s hilarious projection coming from the Web’s biggest Obama fluffer.

            I think Greenwald is focused wholly on civil liberties. I usually agree with him, but not always. But the charge of dishonesty — when actively goalpost moving about Obama’s solid Civil Rights record in place of Scott’s obvious disappointment with a terrible civil liberties record is rather much, I’d say.

            • How meta: someone projecting by accusing their opponent of projection.

              Don’t worry, Lady Glenn: Sir Jay is here to ride to your rescue!

              What does the fact that defending Grennwald is the only thing you’ve felt motivated to do on this thread, suggest to you?

            • Oh, and Jay?

              The American Civil Liberties Union – you might have heard of them – features both Reproductive Freedom and LGBT Rights on their Key Issues page.

              Because they’re so dishonest and goal-post-movey, I guess.

              • spencer says:

                Not that I disagree with you, Joe, but I wonder if the name an organization gives itself should really be seen as a meaningful representation of what it does or what its values are.

                It sounds very close to Goldberg’s argument that the National Socialist Party was actually a left-wing organization, for example.

                • It’s not the name; it’s the fact that it’s the freaking ACLU.

                  I think the ACLU knows what civil liberties are. For the ACLU to feature gay rights, reproductive freedom, racial justice, and voting rights on its “Key Issues” page is a pretty good bit of evidence that those things are civil liberties issues – not because of the name, but because it’s the freaking ACLU.

                • Jay B. says:

                  Fuck Joe, since you brought it up, I wonder what the ACLU thinks of Obama’s civil liberties record.

                  Funny. Somehow, they find it lacking! But what about Lilly Ledbetter? What about DoMa?

                  It’s almost like they have a different definition of what civil liberties means than you and Tom.

        • david mizner says:

          http://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/2012/06/my-challenge-to-glenn-greenwald

          Yes, people can’t be rational when it comes to Greenwald — says the man who claimed GG is an economic libertarian because he appeared at CATO to talk about the war on drugs.

          You forfeited the privilege of being taken seriously on this topic.

          • Erik Loomis says:

            Hey, anytime someone appears before CATO, it gives them cover for their evil since everyone knows the social policy stuff is just a front for their real power.

            But whatever–go ahead and worship Dear Leader if you want.

            • david mizner says:

              Like I said, when Greenwald’s name’s come up, you turn into a raging idiot — and then accuse others of irrationality. Such a naked act of projection.

      • Tom Hilton says:

        Perhaps you should tell the American Civil Liberties Union that they’ve been wasting a huge portion of their time over the last 90 years on things that aren’t actually civil liberties. I’m sure they’d appreciate hearing that.

    • TK421 says:

      “LGBT equality”

      Which Obama had to be dragged kicking and screaming to, and which the Log Cabin Republicans have done more to advance.

      “reproductive choice”

      Which has moved backward under Obama. He wrote stricter abortion controls into the ACA than he need to to get support.

      • Scott Lemieux says:

        and which the Log Cabin Republicans have done more to advance.

        What?

        than he need to to get support.

        What?

        • TK421 says:

          Don’t Ask Don’t Tell ended not because Obama wanted it to, but because the LCR successfully sued to stop its implementation (which Obama could have done with an executive order any time he wanted). This caused the Pentagon to give the order that DADT must stop on their schedule, not the court’s, so both sides of Congress fell in line and made it happen.

          And when Obama needed anti-abortion Democrats to get the Heritage Foundation’s health insurance reform plan passed, he offered them tighter restrictions on abortion than they asked for:

          Link

          • Scott Lemieux says:

            Don’t Ask Don’t Tell ended not because Obama wanted it to, but because the LCR successfully sued to stop its implementation (which Obama could have done with an executive order any time he wanted). This caused the Pentagon to give the order that DADT must stop on their schedule, not the court’s, so both sides of Congress fell in line and made it happen.

            This is nuts. Not only did the lawsuit not compel Congress to act, it made it easier for Congress not to act. Moreover, anybody who knows anything about American politics would know that legislation is vastly preferable to an executive order.To deny Obama credit for this is ludicrous. (Also, here’s what Log Cabin Republicans had to do with it: nothing.)


            the Heritage Foundation’s health insurance reform plan passed

            The plan the actually existing Heritage Foundation strenuously opposed, right?

            • Don’t you see, Scott?

              Obama has 0% of the responsibility for the implementation of a policy he featured in both of his SOTU speeches, urged Congress to pass, cut a deal to allow to get through the Senate, and promised to pass when he came to office.

              However, he has 100% of the responsibility for a provision of the annual defense appropriations bill that he opposed, used his power to weaken, denounced, and has never once utilized.

            • TK421 says:

              “Not only did the lawsuit not compel Congress to act”

              Obviously. Who suggested otherwise?

              “it made it easier for Congress not to act”

              Which we know because…Congress acted.

              “The plan the actually existing Heritage Foundation strenuously opposed, right?”

              If anyone reading this knows nothing about politics, you’ll be interested to know that politicians and political organizations sometimes flip-flop and oppose something they once supported.

              How the Heritage Foundation, a Conservative Think Tank, Promoted the Individual Mandate

              “to the extent that RomneyCare and ObamaCare are similar, Heritage has every right to take credit for the ideas in ObamaCare. The fact that they don’t want to is another story”

              Etc.

              • Right. The Heritage Foundation advanced a plan as a decoy, and then steadfastly opposed it when it had any chance of passing. What does that tell you about what they really think?

                • When Barack Obama said he supported DADT repeal, actually campaigned for it, cut a deal to get it passed, and then signed it, that means he didn’t really support it at all.

                  When the Heritage Foundation floats an alternative to Hillarycare while it is being considered, and then immediately drops it as soon as the bill fails, and then strenuously campaigns against it the next time it comes up, that means they really, honestly support that bill.

                  Also, I am a wicked awesome progressive, more progressive than you, and less biased, too.

                • TK421 says:

                  “The Heritage Foundation advanced a plan as a decoy”

                  No, they advanced the plan as an alternative to what they worried Bill Clinton would do.

                  Can there possibly be people who run a political issues blog who don’t know that the PPACA is based upon Mitt Romney’s plan from when he was governor, which is based upon a right-wing think tank’s plan? Is that even close to possible?

                • No, they advanced the plan as an alternative to what they worried Bill Clinton would do.

                  Yes. As a decoy. Their Republican masters never lifted a finger to support it, and when it had a chance of passing they were extremely opposed to it. Again, what does that tell you?

                  that the PPACA is based upon Mitt Romney’s plan from when he was governor, which is based upon a right-wing think tank’s plan?

                  The health care plan passed by veto-proof Democratic supermajotities in one of the most liberal state legislatures in the country, and that both Romney and the Heritage foundation both now oppose?

                • This repeated “How can you not know this” thing reeks of flop sweat.

                • Decade after decade, there are people who position themselves to the left of the Democratic president and the Democratic leadership in Congress.

                  But Ted Kennedy passionately supported, both in Massachusetts and in Washington.

                • TK421 says:

                  Some “decoy”: the plan was passed into law in Massachusetts. Which, apparently, happened without any conservative politicians lifting a finger.

                • Malaclypse says:

                  Which, apparently, happened without any conservative politicians lifting a finger.

                  We now know that you don’t pay any attention to local Massachusetts politics, and yet feel competent to opine on them!

      • Malaclypse says:

        the Log Cabin Republicans have done more to advance.

        That’s the most walrus-fuckingly ignorant thing I’ve read all week.

    • DocAmazing says:

      Kinda missed all those ICE raids and DEA activity that we’ve been having, huh?

  3. James E Powell says:

    Just yesterday I read an article in which Ed Rendell criticized the president for his failure to use the bully pulpit. He was quoted as using those exact words, I swear to God. One can only wonder what Rendell used his pulpit for.

    I want to meet the people who will honestly say that they did not vote in 2010 because the president did not give enough or good enough speeches asking then to do so. And when I do meet such people, I want to hit them with something.

    • mark f says:

      I know a politically split couple. The husband is the Democrat and, while I don’t think he’s a teacher, works in the public school system. His wife posted one of those “I love the lady in the line who paid for millions of dollars in groceries with food stamps then flew home in a private jet” rants, which led to an argument about politics (which I read but did not participate in). Anyway, her husband jumped in to defend the social safety net — he said he had a disabled brother etc — but couldn’t vote for Obama because he hadn’t done anything “superlative.”

      I guess if I knew how to respond to people like this I’d be a politician myself.

      • Cody says:

        Maybe this is the difference between Democrats and Republicans. Republicans will keep voting the party line no matter what.

        All the Democrats seem to be constantly considering evidence like “He didn’t accomplish x that I wanted, so I should punish him!”

        Republicans are “He lowered taxes on the rich and took all of my money… still going to vote for him because he’s not a cowardly socialist Democrat!”

        Obviously we have to work on our brainwashing.

        • Lee says:

          Chait once had a column where he tried to examine why liberals are always perpetually not happy with their Presidents.

          • I think the answer is in this OP: they’re constantly judging them against some imaginary ideal type, rather than objective reality. See also the indignant response you get from the “OMGZ DEmocrAts Suxorz!!!” crowd around here when you suggest that a party with Nancy Pelosi as a Congressional leader is more liberal than a party with Robert Byrd as its Senate Majority Leader.

    • Hogan says:

      One can only wonder what Rendell used his pulpit for.

      E! A! G! L! E! S! EAGLES!!!

      Also, death to public employee unions.

      • Njorl says:

        He did convince a bunch of fans in the cheap seats to throw snowballs at the Giants bench during a game. It was back at the Vet, so it was a really long throw. Probably couldn’t have reached it without the bully pulpit.

  4. AuRevoirGopher says:

    Lefty-prog Dems seem to be the only political faction that considers losing a viable strategy.The Tea-Partiers, by contrast, may be stupid, but at least they’re not idiots.

    • wengler says:

      If you don’t think that losing is a viable strategy for tea partiers, you must’ve missed the slate of extreme candidates they used to bump off slam dunk ‘moderate’ GOP elected officials last time around.

    • Leeds man says:

      Lefty-prog Dems seem to be the only political faction that considers losing a viable strategy.

      I keep reading about these people. Where are they, and how many are there (really, I have no idea, not having kept up with US sinistral in-fighting)? Does this labeling mean that Dems who consider themselves lefty and progressive, but support Obama, have to find a new name for themselves?

      • Holden Pattern says:

        Those people are in reality very few. Their numbers, are, however, inflated by those who assert that any criticism of Obama other than “he sometimes works too hard and is too smart” is objectively pro-Republican, so you must really want the Republicans to win, is that what you want? Huh? Huh? Is it?

        • Scott Lemieux says:

          those who assert that any criticism of Obama other than “he sometimes works too hard and is too smart” is objectively pro-Republican, so you must really want the Republicans to win, is that what you want? Huh? Huh? Is it?

          Except, of course, nobody thinks you want Republicans to win because you criticize Obama. They think you want Republicans to win because you support third-party campaigns to elect Republicans. Although I can understand why you so frequently conflate these.

          • Holden Pattern says:

            WHEN HAVE I EVER EVER EVER ADVOCATED A THIRD PARTY NATIONAL CAMPAIGN HERE OR ANYWHERE ELSE? EVER? I can’t even remember writing that local third party campaigns might be a good idea (because I think they might be in certain situations).

            Seriously, stop lying about my positions because I disagree with you. I don’t know who you think I am, but I have been commenting under this handle consistently for quite a while now, and the MOST I have ever said is that 2000 shouldn’t have been that fucking close, and that at most Nader was a contributing factor to the Dem loss.

            I know that doesn’t accord with the official LGM position that Ralph Nader is history’s greatest monster, and no Dem has ever been responsible for their own failures (except by being too far to the left), but that is NOT THE SAME AS ADVOCATING A THIRD PARTY CAMPAIGN.

            So, in sum, fuck off.

        • Their numbers are also inflated by right-wing sock-puppets who spam threads on liberal blogs in an effort to gin up intramural fights among liberals.

      • Where are they, and how many are there

        On the internet, and probably a few thousand nationwide.

    • Anonymous says:

      Sharon Angle, Christine O’Donnell, Ken Buck, and (quite possibly) Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock suggest you may not be entirely correct. It’s almost as if the Tea Party doesn’t want control of the Senate.

      • Jesse Ewiak says:

        The thing is, Tea Partiers thought all these people could win (OK, maybe not Christine O’Donnell), but every other person you list was seen as a possible winner when they won their primary.

        • Anonymous says:

          Possible winner, yes. But in all of these cases the nomination of the tea party candidate obviously decreased the Republican chances of winning, even if it did not eviscerate them. That’s, at best, an indifference to actually winning elections.

          • Jesse Ewiak says:

            Well, one could make the argument that nominating a half-term black Senator with a Muslim middle name from deepest darkest Chicago instead of the known wife of the previous popular President lessened the chances of the Democratic Party winning in 2008.

          • obviously decreased the Republican chances of winning

            Obvious to you. Obvious to me. Obvious to Harry Reid. Obvious to the Republican establishment.

            But obvious to the Tea Partiers? I don’t see any reason to think that.

  5. Malaclypse says:

    Completely off-topic, but someone needs to send this to Mickey Kaus.

  6. wengler says:

    Being personally disappointed in Obama is irrelevant. Austerity is in the water and the Democratic Party leadership doesn’t seem to be particularly concerned about stopping it.

    • I don’t know what “in the water means,” but austerity is nowhere to be found in any policy or bill that has actually been adopted.

      • TK421 says:

        So how did US federal spending reach its lowest level in 50 years?

        Obama Orders Pay Freeze for Federal Employees – NYTimes.com

        After spending binge, White House says it will focus on deficits

        The second link comes from 2009. What have you been paying attention to for three years?

        • How about some numbers instead of more blah blah blah?

          The 2012 non-military federal budget is larger than the 2011 version, which was larger than the 2010 version, which was larger than the 2009 version, which included the ARRA.

          Austerity! If you’re an idiot!

          • TK421 says:

            Oh wow, Obama is beefing up the military budget! Great! That really makes me want to support him!

            Obama says domestic spending headed to lowest level since Eisenhower

            Isn’t that just what we need: less domestic spending and more military spending?

            • Hogan says:

              The 2012 non-military federal budget is larger than the 2011 version

              Oh wow, Obama is beefing up the military budget!

              Just. Stay. Down.

            • Malaclypse says:

              Did you read the thing you linked to?

              Riedl also argued that White House projections for discretionary spending beyond Obama’s presidency are largely meaningless. Discretionary spending is set by the president and Congress each year. “Any number after 2012 is just a placeholder,” Riedl said.

              “I’m more interested in the numbers for next year,” Riedl said.

              In 2012, non-security discretionary spending under Obama’s proposed budget would come to 3.4 percent of GDP. According to the White House graphic, that percentage would rival the highest levels in the last 20 years or so.

              • Sherm says:

                In 2012, non-security discretionary spending under Obama’s proposed budget would come to 3.4 percent of GDP. According to the White House graphic, that percentage would rival the highest levels in the last 20 years or so.

                To be fair, that’s only because GDP has been depressed by the recession.

                • Malaclypse says:

                  In round numbers, GDP would need to go up by 50% to knock non-security spending down to 2.2%. While Bush did indeed fuck up royally, GDP is nowhere near 50% below trendline growth.

                • To be fair, that’s only because GDP has been depressed by the recession.

                  Just a reminder, the question on the table is whether Obama has implemented austerity.

                • TK421 says:

                  Well, GDP just needs to rise enough to provide people with good-paying jobs so they are paying taxes rather than collecting aid from automatic stabilizers like unemployment or welfare.

                • Malaclypse says:

                  Well, GDP just needs to rise enough to provide people with good-paying jobs so they are paying taxes

                  The amount of taxes paid is a completely separate issue from spending as a percentage of GDP.

                • TK421 says:

                  Edit my statements to leave out the relevant part all you want.

                • Malaclypse says:

                  Quoting the whole thing doesn’t change the fact that you failed to understand that low tax collections is irrelevant to the topic of spending as a percentage of GDP. I was assuming you were not quite so pathetic as to hold the existence of automatic stabilizers against the Democrats. My apologies for the apparently incorrect assumption.

                • TK421 says:

                  “I was assuming you were not quite so pathetic as to hold the existence of automatic stabilizers against the Democrats”

                  I did no such thing. You do not understand what I am saying. Try to do so.

                • Sherm says:

                  According to the White House graphic, that percentage would rival the highest levels in the last 20 years or so.

                  I was simply objecting to this statement in the link because it ignores the role of the denominator in the equation.

                  And tk421, your valid points have all been obscured by your hyperbole.

            • Nope, the growth in the annual budget is unrelated to military spending. In fact, cuts to the military budget – both in the first round, and in the sequester – were the administration’s contribution to the debt ceiling deal.

              But keep trying!

              • david mizner says:

                Dave Dayen recently wrote a post about Obama’s austerity, showing that it wasn’t just rhetorical — not Greece but not great either.

                The best expression of the austerity that has been implemented at the federal level for the last two years can be found in this chart from Goldman Sachs. It shows pretty clearly that fiscal policy at the federal level turned negative in mid-2010. This doesn’t just mean that fiscal policy, after the stimulus began to run out, was relatively speaking less powerful. It means that federal fiscal policy, not combined with state and local but just confined to the federal level, dragged on growth starting in mid-2010, before the 2010 midterm elections. It really never recovered, save for a couple quarters of near-zero growth from fiscal policy in the middle of 2011.

                And there are policies that correspond to this. The White House froze federal employee pay; it was one of the first items touted from their budget in 2010. They cut food stamps twice to pay for other priorities. They cut unemployment benefits in the most recent extension, so that the 99-week benefit has been reduced to 73. They cut $39 billion from the 2012 budget and imposed a spending cap for the next ten years. The Administration will tell you proudly that they have inaugurated the lowest rate of discretionary spending since the Eisenhower era.

                http://news.firedoglake.com/2012/08/20/yes-michael-grunwald-there-has-been-short-term-austerity/

                • TK421 says:

                  And the coup de grace is, Obama wanted more austerity, but the Republicans wouldn’t go along because his plan would include slight tax increases.

  7. david mizner says:

    It’s a useless adjective because as Chait makes clear, one’s degree of disappointment depends on one’s expectations. I’m not disappointed in Obama because I knew he was going to be a pro-Wall Street, hawkish Clintonite president.

    • TK421 says:

      That’s ridiculous! Now, let’s see who will speak at the Democratic Convention, held in the nation’s second biggest banking hub in an anti-union state.

  8. David W. says:

    A historical footnote now, but I’m curious about how you rate Jimmy Carter for what he did for the Panama Canal and Egypt/Israel treaties.

  9. Usually just lurk says:

    Count me as disappointed in this administration. Forget for a moment about what could or could not have gotten through Congress as those are debatable. But his administration has too missed opportunities to help those who voted him into power – notably the HAMP program for mortgage relief, as a top example, has been utterly deplorable.

    But my disappointment in this administration is really just part of a wider despair. Austerity is still the dominant philosophy of the ruling classes worldwide, evidence to the contrary. Elite reaction to evidence of climate change ranges from disparaging to lip service. And the systems have now been restored to the gilded age setup. The performance of the Obama administration, in this global climate, is unfortunately to be expected.

    • If Austerity is still the dominant philosophy of the ruling classes worldwide, evidence to the contrary, then Barack Obama deserves a great deal of credit for the fact that we haven’t implemented any austerity, even after the GOP won the House, and for making the passage of a giant stimulus package his first legislative priority.

      • TK421 says:

        “Barack Obama deserves a great deal of credit for the fact that we haven’t implemented any austerity”

        Just out of curiosity, why do you not consider a pay freeze for federal employees to be austerity?

  10. Stephen says:

    Projecting all of our nation’s problems and policies onto the president is part of the problem here. Why are we sitting around discussing what Obama should have done, could have done, hasn’t done, or might have done? The facts on the ground are that, whether or not Obama is a particularly good or bad president, things are worse than they have been at certain other times in US history. Corrupt bankers used to get prosecuted. Anti-choicers used to be on the fringe. Wages used to rise with productivity.

    Things are better in terms of racial equality (if only barely) and gay rights (a little less barely), but worse in pretty much every other way unless you’re a 1%er. Is that Obama’s fault? Of course not. I do know he hasn’t done a thing to make it better. Is *that* his fault? Frankly, I don’t give a shit. We could put the most liberal person in the world in the Oval Office and it wouldn’t change that we live in a plutocracy, any more than putting premium gas in your Honda Civic will make it a race car.

    • Stephen says:

      For the record, I know Scott’s not the one conflating all of US policy into Obama. I’ve read his posts on the subject before. Mostly I’m just tired of this whole stupid argument about Obama. You’re not going to solve the Village’s many, many inadequacies from inside the Village. You’re just not.

      • rea says:

        So, what ought we to do, then? Look for a Second Amendment remedy?

        • Stephen says:

          Acknowledging that the system is broken makes me equivalent to a militant right-winger now?

          • Holden Pattern says:

            You must want the Republicans to win. Is that what you want? Huh? Huh? Is it?

          • rea says:

            Not at all. But what do you propose to do? Is it your position that we’re screwed, and there’s no help for it?

            • Uncle Kvetch says:

              But what do you propose to do?

              Maybe there’s really and truly nothing to be “done.” Quite honestly, this blog has made a very compelling case that for progressives, resignation (or despair, if you prefer) is the only sensible position. I’m about 80% of the way there, myself…I keep following politics (and reading blogs like this one) more out of habit than anything else.

              Certain things can indeed get better, and have been — as a gay man I’d be an idiot not to acknowledge that. But on the big picture stuff — climate change, inequality, casino capitalism run amok, the prison- and military-industrial complexes, the impending gutting of what passes for a safety net — we’re fucked. There is quite literally nothing to be “done.”

            • Stephen says:

              As long as a sufficient number of non-1%ers remain complacent, yeah, we’re pretty screwed. I don’t see the problem as unfixable, but it also doesn’t look like we’re actually moving in the direction of fixing it (rather the opposite, in fact).

              The very least we should do is gets as many people informed and involved as possible, but I don’t begin to know how to do that. Maybe in a few decades demographic shifts that take away the white assholes’ numerical advantages will help? I hope so. In the meantime we should just keep Romney out of office. Any liberal who thinks letting Romney win is a good strategy is probably a privileged asshole who won’t be one of the groups (women, minorities, the poor) who will be hurt most severely by his inhuman policies.

            • firefall says:

              That seems to be a pretty defensible position, really, if a tad depressing

        • wengler says:

          I don’t think joining the National Guard will change anything.

        • JL says:

          There’s an awful lot of activism out there, suiting a wide range of viewpoints and tactical preferences, that is neither electorally-focused nor taking up arms. Sometimes it’s even effective.

          (Not that I’m saying we should ignore the electoral stuff – elections have consequences – just that by itself it’s inadequate and there’s other stuff that can and should be done.)

    • actor212 says:

      The facts on the ground are that, whether or not Obama is a particularly good or bad president, things are worse than they have been at certain other times in US history. Corrupt bankers used to get prosecuted. Anti-choicers used to be on the fringe. Wages used to rise with productivity.

      Try reading a history book, please. Our nation has survived worse economic and more polarized times than this.

      This isn’t the 90s, no, but it’s not the Great Depression and it’s not the pre-Civil War meltdown (altho it might get there).

  11. A man’s reach should exceed his grasp.

    Wanting more, demanding more, than Obama has delivered is appropriate.

    Counting it as a black mark against him that he “only” hit 70 home runs instead of 75 is not.

    • TK421 says:

      So what is “hitting 70 home runs” your metaphor for? Signing a bill giving him the right to lock up people forever without any charges being filed or trial held? Assassinating his own citizens? Starting a war without Congressional approval? Making the income gap worse than his predecessor? Continuing the war on drugs?

      Oh, I bet I know what you mean: passing the Republican Party/Heritage Foundation health insurance reform plan. Yes, when Democrats pass Republican plans for them that’s like a grand slam.

      • So what is “hitting 70 home runs” your metaphor for?

        Passing the most extensive and the most progressive body of legislation of any President in the last 45 years, successfully withdrawing from Iraq, dealing a fatal blow to the coal industry through his EPA, and oh yeah, finally passing health care reform after a century of trying.

        And killing bin Laden.

        And crippling al Qaeda.

        And bringing back nuclear arms reduction.

      • Karate Bearfighter says:

        Assassinating his own citizens?

        Either drone strikes are a bad policy or they aren’t. Either they’re immoral under the circumstances in which they’ve been used, or they aren’t. Citizenship has fuckall to do with it.

        When you frame the issue in terms of citizenship it is very hard to take you seriously. Then again, someone willing to claim Log Cabin Republicans have done more for LGBT equality than President Obama probably doesn’t really care about being taken seriously.

        • TK421 says:

          Nonsense. The US Constitution says that US citizens will not be deprived of life without due process. And pressing a button at a drone control center is not due process.

        • TK421 says:

          Look, I don’t know what point you’re trying to make. I’ve found that many Obama supporters simply don’t give a damn about the lives of people in the Middle East if those lives are endangered by their favorite politician (exhibit A: Balloon Juice). So I’ve taken to focusing on the Americans Obama has murdered rather than the Yemeni children or the Pakistani police officers. But I’m learning that Obama supporters don’t care if their fellow citizens are assassinated by the government, either.

          So, okay, argue your little point, whatever it is.

          • Karate Bearfighter says:

            My “little point” is that you can’t be bothered to even think about the issue you claim to care about. You’ve spent this entire thread accusing anyone who disagrees with you of not caring about dead muslim children. There is a serious discussion to be had about whether we should be engaging in drone strikes, but the only time you’ve even come close to engaging in that discussion was your comment about “gunning down criminals in their homes”. You want to claim that terrorism is a criminal issue rather than a military issue, please feel free to make that argument. Pretty clearly you’d rather demonstrate how morally pure you are than actually engage in a discussion of ideas.

            • TK421 says:

              “You want to claim that terrorism is a criminal issue rather than a military issue, please feel free to make that argument.”

              I thought I was doing so when I brought up Nuremburg. If you don’t know what that means, feel free to google it.

              “Pretty clearly you’d rather demonstrate how morally pure you are than actually engage in a discussion of ideas.”

              He said, from atop his high horse, after talking about the arguments he could be having but not actually starting said arguments.

              • Karate Bearfighter says:

                Ok, extraterritorial actions of the American government are limited not by the Bill of Rights, but by treaties and customary international law. Under international law, anyone who engages in military actions is a legitimate target at all times. Are you claiming that, for example, Osama bin Ladin did not engage in military actions?

              • Nuremberg, which was officially known as the Nuremberg Military Tribunal.

                Nice own-goal.

      • Scott Lemieux says:

        Making the income gap worse than his predecessor?

        You may wish to learn the difference between correlation and causation. We don’t all have to be as silly as Matt Stoller.

        • TK421 says:

          Right, quantitative easing, free trade agreements, and interest-free loans to too-big-to-fail banks are there for the middle class, not the rich financiers.

          And why are you bringing up Stoller? You’re the one who revealed yourself to be a hack when you attributed to him statements that he never wrote:

          http://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/2012/06/i-told-you-obama-should-have-been-impeached-as-soon-as-he-appointed-william-rehnquist-and-forced-the-beatles-to-break-up

          • Banks runs and deflation are awesome for the middle class! They love ‘em!

          • Malaclypse says:

            Right, quantitative easing, free trade agreements, and interest-free loans to too-big-to-fail banks are there for the middle class, not the rich financiers.

            Quantitative easing is an inflationary measure that, pretty much by definition, works against the interests of financiers.

            TARP happened in 2008. You might want to google who exactly was president then.

            But you are not completely wrong about free trade, making this a surprisingly low-on-stupid comment from you.

            • TK421 says:

              “TARP happened in 2008″

              It was approved in October 2008 and mostly overseen by the next administration.

              “Quantitative easing is an inflationary measure that, pretty much by definition, works against the interests of financiers.”

              Well, some people disagree, like Robert Reich, but what does he know?

              Link

              And we all know how good free trade is for working people. Just look at how great America’s manufacturing base is after NAFTA.

              • spencer says:

                Well, some people disagree, like Robert Reich, but what does he know?

                Perhaps it would be better to actually learn about a particular policy yourself and formulate an opinion and argument based on that, than to simply rely on arguments from authority.

              • Malaclypse says:

                It was approved in October 2008 and mostly overseen by the next administration.

                “mostly overseen” Nice weasel wording.

                Well, some people disagree, like Robert Reich, but what does he know?

                Pointing out the difficulties of monetary policy at the zero bound does not mean, nor does Reich begin to imply that it means, what you think it means.

                And we all know how good free trade is for working people.

                Which is why I admitted that you got one point out of three correct. Well done!

                • TK421 says:

                  “Nice weasel wording”

                  It happens to be the truth, which is what matters to me.

                  “Pointing out the difficulties of monetary policy at the zero bound does not mean, nor does Reich begin to imply that it means, what you think it means.”

                  I’m saying that quantitative easing helps big corporations become bigger, and costs working people their jobs. In the article I linked, Robert Reich says the same thing. So what’s the problem?

                • Malaclypse says:

                  The problem is that you know a whole lot of things that are not so.

                  The naive (or deliberately misleading) version of Fed policy is the claim that Ben Bernanke is “giving money” to the banks. What it actually does, of course, is buy stuff, usually short-term government debt but nowadays sometimes other stuff. It’s not a gift.

                • TK421 says:

                  I never claimed that QE was “giving money to banks”. What I said was that QE helps the rich and no one else.

                • Malaclypse says:

                  I do understand that you don’t understand that inflationary measures do not help creditors, but do help debtors.

          • spencer says:

            quantitative easing

            Which you clearly do not understand in the slightest.

            • TK421 says:

              You’ll have to pardon me for not simply taking your word for it.

              • spencer says:

                I couldn’t possibly care less if you do or don’t. You’ve embarrassed yourself all over this thread and are clearly impervious to learning.

              • Malaclypse says:

                You’ll have to pardon me for not simply taking your word for it.

                Okay then.

                • TK421 says:

                  Alright then. So, which part of that shows how QE as carried out these days doesn’t help the rich and not everyone else?

                • Malaclypse says:

                  Do you even understand what inflation is? Because I’d like to assume that you just don’t know what inflation is, because otherwise I’d need to believe that you think inflation helps the rich, and I’d like to believe that nobody is that fucking stupid.

                • Scott Lemieux says:

                  QE as carried out these days doesn’t help the rich and not everyone else?

                  Holy shit. He really seems to think that inflation is good for creditors and bad for debtors. Jesus.

  12. From the “oh, fer chrissakes!” file:

    When JFK faced an integration crisis at the University of Mississippi in 1963, he gave an Oval Office speech

    If your criticism of a President’s record is that he didn’t give a big speech, you should just keep watching the West Wing and leave the rest of us alone.

    The domestic reforms embedded in the stimulus alone — the scope of which is described in Michael Grunwald’s book The New New Deal — did more to reshape the face of government in areas like education and energy than Clinton managed in eight years.

    Indeed. When the Republicans complained back in 2009 that the ARRA was “a grab back of old Democratic wish list items” instead of short-term, shovel-ready stimulus, they were largely right. The public transit spending, the energy-and-conservation projects, the research projects – that bill was chock full of flying ponies, but it had to be sold as a team of draft horses, so few people noticed.

  13. Anonymous says:

    JFL shows up once again to defend his idol from even the most mild forms of criticism. What a surprise. Yawn.

  14. actor212 says:

    As I imply here, the single largest reason to be disappointed with President Obama is his lack of audacity and gross misreading of the political climate.

    This is one circumstance where I believe a more seasoned politician could have negotiated his way through a first term with a lot less animosity from his base. He knew, or more, should have known he was going to get kicked from the other guys.

    • Obama’s approval among self-described liberals is approaching 80%.

      It is only by overestimating the significance of a tiny number of internet voices that you can conclude that he has gotten any measurable animosity from his base.

      • FlipYrWhig says:

        And self-described liberals are, what, 30% of the electorate, or something like that? If that’s the ballpark, the overall percentage of disapproving liberals is 6%, and the number so consumed by disapproval that they would refuse to vote for Obama even grudgingly is a lot smaller than that. To me it’s really not that surprising that such a small segment of the public would be so little stroked.

    • FlipYrWhig says:

      Decade after decade, there are people who position themselves to the left of the Democratic president and the Democratic leadership in Congress. And they LIVE for “animosity.” I have a garage full of issues of The Nation from the 1990s, chronicling the many disappointments and failures of Bill Clinton. Remember that? It’s an attitudinal thing. There will always be liberals, leftists, and progressives who want a president to be closer to them than he (or she) is. And they will always kvetch about it. To someone in the country, President TK421 would be a craven sellout who just doesn’t fight his adversaries hard enough and doesn’t act with enough urgency on Epoch-Defining Issue X. There’s no overcoming that. It’s the nature of radical critique that it cannot be satisfied.

      • Erik Loomis says:

        Although this is all actually a good thing. When the left develops its own Tea Party strong enough to pull politicians to the left, a lot more good things will get done.

        • FlipYrWhig says:

          Agreed, but that’s where movement-building comes in, and in the blogosphere bellyaching about how the movement ought to be built by now far outruns the building of the actual movement.

          Or, to put it another way, it’s not terribly surprising that American politics gets transacted somewhere well to the right of the leftmost people in the political spectrum. That’s going to keep on happening until there are millions and millions more lefties than there are now. Making that come to pass is hugely important and tremendously difficult.

          At this point, there aren’t enough people to Obama’s left to make it all work, while there are quite a lot of registered Democrats to Obama’s right. (Think of Democratic governors in places like Arkansas and Missouri.) That balance has to be shifted quite dramatically before a president clearly to Obama’s left can get elected. I think it’s going to be a long time coming.

      • Decade after decade, there are people who position themselves to the left of the Democratic president and the Democratic leadership in Congress.

        You know, the Democratic base. Oh, wait….

        • FlipYrWhig says:

          The most vexing thing about this suite of conversations since 2008 is the all-too-ready equation of “the left,” “the blogosphere,” and “the base.” IMHO “the left” is not “the base.” Would that it were so, but it’s not. That has no bearing on the legitimacy of the critiques offered — say, on civil liberties — but it has a lot of bearing on why the politics plays out the way it does.

  15. Anonymous says:

    People, people, people!

    Sure, Obama assassinates people with flying death robots (often incinerating innocent children of color at the same time), assassinates Iranian scientists, engages in illegal cyber-warfare, escalated the illegal occupation of Afghanistan, signed a bill giving him an unlimited right to idefinite detention anywhere, any time, for any reason, abandoned not just single payer but the public option, had a stimulus half of which as tax cuts for Republicans, instituted a “spending freeze”, etc etc…

    But hey! Michelle Obama sure looked stunning in that dress huh? And aren’t their daughters so cute?

  16. TK421 says:

    Ladies and gentlemen, your champion of reproductive rights:

    WASHINGTON — President Obama, noting that he was the father of two daughters, threw his wholehearted support on Thursday behind a decision by his health and human services secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, not to allow emergency contraceptives to be sold over the counter to young teenagers.

    Obama Expresses Support for Plan B Decision – NYTimes.com

  17. Murc says:

    This thread sort of makes me want to drink.

    And that comes from someone who has whiled away many a day happily arguing with JFL.

    • DrDick says:

      There truly is a monumental level of stupid going on here, isn’t there?

      • Murc says:

        The only thing keeping me from being more snarky about it is the knowledge that I’ve humiliated myself here with my own stupidity more than once, and those episodes are EASILY found out.

Leave a Reply




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

  • Switch to our mobile site