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The Damage Romney Can Do

[ 107 ] September 27, 2012 |

I don’t want to repeat myself and I’m reluctant to engage in further conflict with some of the people on the interwebs whom I most admire.    So I’ll mostly let readers judge for themselves about dsquared’s response, which as always is worth reading.  I do, however, want to address one point to make clear what I’m not arguing.   Daniel argues that I’m probably overstating the effects of a Romney win, because:

Recall, Obama’s whole strategy was based around abandoning all other priorities such as carbon tax, an effective stimulus bill, half his nominations, most of the financial sector reforms and so forth, all to concentrate on passing health care. And he only got about half of that – the version passed was something he’d specifically camapigned against as not being anything like radical enough. So given that, how are we to suppose that President Romney would be able to push through an agenda five times as radical, including the ultimate third-rail issue of abortion?

Well, actually, it’s not hard at all.   Let’s return to what I said Romney could do:

the repeal of the ACA, the overruling of Roe v. Wade, the gutting of environmental and civil rights enforcement, massive upper-class tax cuts, etc. etc. etc.

Most of this list, you’ll notice, addresses this problem in advance by not focusing on things Romney can do that require difficult new legislation. On the first — repeal of the ACA — Daniel has a point; in the event that the Democrats maintain control of the Senate (less likely but not impossible in a context where Romney wins) it would be very difficult; if the Republicans take over the Senate, quite likely but not a sure thing. The next three, though, are issues where the executive branch has substantial control. If Ginsburg (turns 80 next year, multiple cancer survivor) or Breyer resigns, all Romney will need for Roe to be overruled is to get a generic conservative Supreme Court nominee confirmed, and Obama was able to get a generic contemporary liberal confirmed twice. At a minimum, it’s a risk you’d be crazy to take. As long as Republicans have the House or 40+ Senators Romney can gut EPA, civil rights and other enforcement very substantially. (Presidents have limited power to pass new legislation, but after-the-fact regulation and enforcement is a different story.) Tax cuts, I will grant, will require new legislation — but since this is an issue that unites congressional Republicans, attracts a handful of conservative Senate Democrats if necessary, and favors the most powerful interests in American society, this isn’t exactly a heavy lift comparable to passing cap-and-trade. I don’t think my description of what Romney is likely to accomplish is in any way unrealistic, particularly if one considers that while ACA repeal is far from a sure thing we can be confident that the remaining list is far from exhaustive.

Speaking of which, a final point. It could be the primary factor explaining why Democrats find it much more difficult to pass legislation adversely affecting powerful monied interests than Republicans do stopping such initiatives or passing legislation desired by powerful monied interests is that Republicans are much more strategically adept. I can think of another, far more persuasive explanation. As I’ve said before, I thought that at a minimum we could all agree with Schattschneider’s observation that “the flaw in the pluralist heaven is that the heavenly chorus sings with a strong upper-class accent,” but apparently not.

Comments (107)

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  1. Luthe says:

    See, if I’m going to be a single-issue voter, my issue is the Supreme Court. Because Presidents change every four or eight years. Supreme Court justices can last for twenty or thirty. And in the meantime, those fuckers can do *a lot* of damage.

    Presidents, however, pick the Supreme Court justices. So the only way to ensure the next twenty years of jurisprudence are on our side is to vote for the guy who will pick justices who aren’t conservative whackaloons.

  2. Robert Farley says:

    Romney can mangle the ACA through executive action without going to the trouble of formally overturning it; doesn’t need either the House or the Senate to do so.

    • Anonymous says:

      Total agreement – the ACA is very complex with many ‘moving parts’ – it is actually easy to gum up the works with no legislative action whatsoever. The concept of exchanges sounds easy – but I see it as trying to create the equivalent of 50 plus Amazons – but with unclear products, differential pricing, and huge computer and administrative infrastructure. I believe fervently in the cause of reform and support President Obama but just don’t think it is possible to build a solid ‘customer service’ experience and as a result there is likely to be significant dissatisfaction with the exchange concept. My argument with the proponents of ACA (or Obamacare, if you will) is that they underestimate the difficulty of building a smoothly functioning system and also underestimate how easy it is for opponents to put down a proverbial “minefield”. Bottom line – see the rollout like the new restaurant that opens after a long wait with much fanfare but the food is not that great, the service is poor, and the competitors down the street will say “I told you so!” Romney, if elected, can easily ‘blow this up’ with no legislation whatsoever. Even with reelection, getting this right will be very difficult if not impossible. (Not happy to make this prediction by the way)

      • Blam says:

        PPACA’s vulnerability, especially the subsidies, was the one area where I thought the criticism of the legislation/framework was on point.

      • Lee says:

        I think this is a bit of strawman. Nobody was arguing that the ACA was the best systme possible. Everybody knew that Medicare for All was the best way to handle our healthcare problem. What the pro-ACA side argued was that ACA was the best possible solution in the context of the American political system. Medicare for All would have been much better but politically impossible to achieve.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      Very true, this.

  3. TT says:

    In terms of pure, nuts-and-bolts legislative mechanics, the Democrats were almost pathetically scrupulous in Obama’s first two years, repeatedly adhering to CBO scoring of their top priorities, carefully separating out those parts of the ACA subject to reconciliation, etc. If the GOP controlled both Houses of Congress under a President Romney they surely would dispense with such banalities as following parliamentary procedure or caring what the CBO thought. They’ve done it before and would do it again, because they, unlike the Democrats, understand that their is exactly zero electoral cost to doing so.

    • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

      The Democrats’ adherence to, e.g., paygo was a self-inflicted wound that hurt healthcare reform. Despite the noises they make, today’s Republicans are significantly less ideologically committed to balanced budgets than the Democrats are. They won’t care what the CBO says about anything.

    • Murc says:

      I like that the Democrats do things ethically. It’s part of why I vote for them.

      There’s zero electoral cost to ignoring such niceties, sure. But I want my legislators to rely on the CBO and to seek its guidance. I especially want them to adhere to the rules as written and to care about procedural legitimacy. I would prefer at least one of our parties not feel like our governing institutions resemble a playground where the strongest bullies rule and everyone else can go pound sand.

      • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

        I’m happy that Democrats are ethical (when they are) and that they seek the guidance of the CBO. I’m unhappy that today’s Democratic Party insists that major reforms like the ACA be revenue neutral (i.e. PAYGO). It does nothing for Dems electorally (they still get accused of bankrupting the government) and it puts a huge ceiling on the kinds of social-welfare policies that get passed.

        • Murc says:

          Well, I also like it when we pay our bills.

          It is generally a good idea to pay for your social welfare programs, either via a dedicated levy or, better but harder, an increase in the general level of taxation.

          That said, PAYGO isn’t really a productive rule.

        • labrat says:

          Insisting that massive parts of the safety net must be paid for prior to enactment while voting for tax cuts or other measures that make this more difficult in reality is neither ethical nor moral.

      • rea says:

        Well, the problem with being the good guys is that being the good guys means following the rules.

  4. Matt says:

    As long as Republicans have the House or 40+ Senators Romney can gut EPA, civil rights and other enforcement very substantially.

    This is important and often under-emphasized. The president has very significant (not unlimited, but very significant) power over most of the administrative state. Since the administrative state controls larger parts, often most, of the day-to-day interactions between government and citizens, the president has the ability to have much more policy impact than the constitution would suggest on its own. This alone is very significant reason to care who is elected president.

    • Offsides says:

      Yes. One of my biggest gripes with Obama was his failure to use this power effectively. He could have used HAMP – as vague a law as there ever was – to help homeowners, but he used it to help the banking industry. Ditto with TARP. He could have done like the GOP did and replace leaders of the various functions – from NPR to the Federal Reserve – with people with his party’s values, but he didn’t.

      You can be sure that when the GOP regains the Presidency they won’t hesitate to bend every executive rule in their favor.

  5. Anonymous says:

    It’s worse than you think. You underestimate the amount of damage Romney could do to the ACA administratively.

  6. Incontinentia Buttocks says:

    Whatever our disagreements about where tactical voting for Obama does and doesn’t make sense, I agree 100% with you, Scott, about the damage Romney could–and would–inflict. dsquared is just wrong about this stuff.

    • Marc says:

      He and the CT crew are simply ignorant about US politics. There is no crime in not knowing about something that you only experience from a distance. There is something wrong about proudly broadcasting your ignorance to the world.

      My opinion of Daniel, Henry, and Chris has dropped through the floor over this. They are impervious to ordinary rules of evidence. The stated positions and actions of Republicans don’t count, the stated positions and actions of Democrats don’t count.

      It’s simply an exercise where the crimes of Democrats are magnified and any evidence to the contrary is dismissed. Obvious objections are raised they’re dismissed Gore would have started the Iraq war, so electing Bush didn’t matter; Obama was forced to withdraw from Iraq, so McCain would have been forced to as well. The enormous differences between Romney and Obama on Iran are dismissed – it’s clear to those paying attention that Obama is working hard to prevent war with Iran and Romney is surrounded with people dedicated to starting a war. But by the same magical thinking Obama will start a war with Iran because his words, like those of Gore, can be twisted if you have the right decoder ring.

      The real achievements of Obama are minimized and dismissed, and it’s simply asserted that Republicans either don’t mean what they say or can’t do things that they demonstrably did in the Bush years.

      This is Fox-news level logic, and it deserves to be called what it is.

      • That’s certainly one interpretation of this debate (ignores the fact that I’m a US citizen, live in Washington DC, teach political science and all of that, but there you go – all hypotheses face awkward facts). Another possible interpretation might be that we might have a quite reasonable understanding of how US politics works, thank you very much, but are (a) a fair bit further to the left than the average LGM poster or commenter, and (b) also, plausibly more interested in the consequences of US politics for places outside the US, so that we therefore (c) have different tradeoffs which make us less enthusiastic about spineless-Democrats-politics-as-usual, and rather greater sensitivity to the kinds of nasty stuff that the Obama administration is undoubtedly getting up to. I know that it’s much more intellectually convenient when the people whom you disagree with are both stupid and ignorant. And it’s certainly more flattering to your own prejudices. But, sadly, it isn’t always the case. Over and out.

        • rea says:

          ignores the fact that I’m a US citizen, live in Washington DC, teach political science and all of that

          Well, then perhaps you could explain the American political system to D2?

        • Charlie says:

          (a) a fair bit further to the left than the average LGM poster or commenter, and (b) also, plausibly more interested in the consequences of US politics for places outside the US, so that we therefore (c) have different tradeoffs which make us less enthusiastic about spineless-Democrats-politics-as-usual, and rather greater sensitivity to the kinds of nasty stuff that the Obama administration is undoubtedly getting up to.

          Aren’t you also d) free from reliance on the social safety net, e) unpossessed of a uterus, f) see yourself as magically untouched by all future SCOTUS decisions g) willfully ignoring the many powers of the executive branch, and h) just seeming to enjoy being leftier-than-thou, facts be damned?

          I’m a US citizen, live in Washington DC, teach political science and all of that, but there you go – all hypotheses face awkward facts

          Each of those “facts” are mere arguments from authority. Your stated expertise is in European politics not American, and furthermore your research interests are a lot closer to economic theory, not policy-making or legislative and executive practice, and plenty of U.S. citizens and Washington D.C. residents are foggy on the workings of American politics.

        • L2P says:

          Besides Rea’s point (a good one), it’d be nice if you’d be upfront about this.

          Your theory of voting seems to be something along the lines that the American People hold their votes in trust for the entire world. You seem to suggest that American voters should be voting not on what will benefit them, but on what will benefit others. (I am ignoring “psychic benefits” of thinking you’re doing the right thing, but if you want to argue that, feel free.) I doubt that’s a very persuasive case if you make it explicitly, but I’d like to see it.

          If instead you want to much about arguing that it really doesn’t matter whether Obama or Romney is the American president, then you’re going to have to put up with the fact that you’re simply wrong. And as a political scientist, you know that.

          • rea says:

            Your theory of voting seems to be something along the lines that the American People hold their votes in trust for the entire world.

            That can’t be his theory, because it ought to be plain–hell, it’s a Romney campaign talking point–that Romeny is going to be much, much worse on these very issues that matter to the rest of the world.

            • Lyanna says:

              Indeed. What do the Dead Muslims (or the Sadly-Likely-To-Be-Dead Muslims) want more: a protest vote symbolizing your opposition to their deaths, or a vote for the candidate actually killing fewer of them?

              I regard voting as a feeble but necessary self-defense move, not as an expression of principle.

          • Scott Lemieux says:

            Your theory of voting seems to be something along the lines that the American People hold their votes in trust for the entire world. You seem to suggest that American voters should be voting not on what will benefit them, but on what will benefit others. (I am ignoring “psychic benefits” of thinking you’re doing the right thing, but if you want to argue that, feel free.) I doubt that’s a very persuasive case if you make it explicitly, but I’d like to see it.

            Moreover, it’s a non-sequitur. Since Romney would also be far worse for the entire world, the conclusion remains the same. If the election was between Obama and Gary Johnson then this discussion would be more pertinent (although the choice of Johnson would still be wrong.)

        • Scott Lemieux says:

          a fair bit further to the left than the average LGM poster or commenter

          If you’re assuming that my disagreement stems from my political views being reflected by the policy outcomes of the Obama administration, you’re very mistaken. Our disagreement is not over the question of whether these outcomes are greatly suboptimal in an absolute sense.

          The disagreement is about what a left analysis of American politics entails. To some, this seems to mean that the American political system would produce much better outcomes if only the Democratic Party didn’t choose to be so feckless. I, on the the other hand, continue to believe that Madison established a system that would effectively protect powerful entrenched interests and it continues to work very well, and eleven-dimensional-chess strategies that involve putting wingnuts in charge are not a viable solution.

          • rea says:

            There are two arguments here being conflated by the CT folk.

            One is ethical: “I’m not a consquentialist. It was evil for Obama to kill people with drones, and therefore I can’t vote for him, regardless of the consequences.”

            Now, personally, I am a consequentialist. I think that argument is horrible ethics. But at least, it’s an argument.

            But the other argument is practical: “I won’t vote for Obama, because he did bad things, and Romeny will be better, or at least, not much worse, and it is necessary to punish the Democrats for doing bad things.”

            That’s the argument Daniel Davies appears to be making, and it’s a bad argument in a way that the ethical argument is not–it’s based on a prediction of the future that is inconsistent with presently known facts. Romney is, very likely, going to be much, much worse if elected.

            • Lyanna says:

              I’m not a consequentialist, but I have no trouble voting for someone who does evil things. I don’t see the moral problem, even you adopt a strict Kantian perspective, with voting for the lesser evil.

              The only way this could possibly be a problem is if you view the vote as a sacred thing, a full endorsement of the candidate and all he stands for, backed by your own personal integrity or even your soul.

              Which is nonsense. A vote is a tool, and a weak one at that.

  7. Bijan Parsia says:

    I mean, wasn’t Katrina enough to see the evils of even mere neglect? Disasters are going to happen.

    And I think we overstate the terribleness of Democrats in opposition. Part of the problem is the asymmetry of people who give a shit and people who don’t. 2 years of do nothingism is really risky. Crap happens. Bills need to be passed to deal with crap. Risking crashing the system is really dangerous.

    • JRoth says:

      I was just thinking that it;s surprising no one had mentioned Katrina. It’s really a trump card in favor of voting for the party that gives a shit about competent governance.

      If the choice for caretaker is between a well-meaning but possibly overwhelmed squish and a meth head, I’m not sure you need to get into a lot of depth about their respective visions for the property.

  8. Pinko Punko says:

    Where does invading or bombing Iran come in? What about relaxation of financial regulations and an non or sub-TARP response to the next bankster fiasco? What about the gutting of government science spending?

    • Murc says:

      Iran falls under warmaking power, which Congress has cut the President a blank check on.

      Financial regulations will be relaxed, but wondering about a nonexistent TARP puzzles me. If and when their bankster buddies blow up the economy again, the Republicans will write them the biggest check they possibly can. This is a thing that will happen.

      The gutting of science, another thing that’d happen under Romney.

      • Pinko Punko says:

        It will be even more bankster friendly and the rest unfriendly- it will be austerity for the rest. This is where I was going with that- the response would be enough to bail out a-holes, but not the rest. Unless the secret inner Keynesians of the hypothetical administration consider this a route to required 2016 success, and I think I believe that they couldn’t bring themselves to break their hardwiring on such.

  9. Offsides says:

    On the tax cut point, forget the filibuster. Remember that the infamous Bush tax cuts were passed through reconciliation so only 50 votes were needed (assuming the VP breaks the tie). The reason the cuts expired after 9 years were to conform to the reconciliation rules at the time.

    On the bigger point, this whole discussion is silly. I’m one of the charter members of the Disaffected Former Obama Supporter club and of course I’m voting for him this time around. I agree that he’s been horrible in his extension of the permanent military state (yes, I largely agree with Greenwald), has been at BEST neutral in dealing with the #1 issue of our time, global warming by CO2, and otherwise has been basically mediocre on progressive issues – the only reason his list of progressive changes seems so great to his supporters is that it comes after 40 years of nothing but Republican and “Centrist” Southern Democratic Presidents – so ANY movement to the left nowadays is a wonder.

    But if you agree with the progressive values that Obama campaigned on in 2007-8 then you’d be absolutely crazy not to vote for the only candidate who can keep Romney out of office.

  10. Murc says:

    I will admit that I sort of wonder what the actual PLAN is for the next four years beyond “watch as things get worse more slowly.”

    Theoretically, if they hold the Senate the Democrats could nuke the filibuster and spend four years fully staffing the judiciary and the federal government. That would be a tremendous thing.

    But I haven’t seen Obama speak to that on the campaign trail. He mostly speaks about things the Republicans absolutely will never, ever let him do so long as they control even one veto lever.

    • commie atheist says:

      It’s called a campaign strategy. Pushing bipartisanship to get votes, then, after the lame duck Congress refuses to budge, Obama throws up his hands, says “I tried the best I could, but Republicans refuse to compromise,” and then plays hardball in 2013.

      • Murc says:

        Plays hardball how?

        The Republicans don’t care if the country catches fire and sinks into the ocean. If they control even a single veto lever nothing they don’t like that has to pass that veto lever will get done, absent compromises so severe as to make them not worth it.

        Given that, there needs to be a plan, an agenda for either eliminating that veto level (usually you do that by winning an election, but not always) or for what you’re going to do instead of deal with it.

        I’d like to know what that agenda is, please and thank you.

        • It’s possible – I wouldn’t want to give percentages – that the “obstruct, deny, confuse” tactic used against Obama’s first term may be abandoned, at least by some leadership, since denying Obama a second term will no longer be possible, and they’ll be trying to build up some accomplishments for the next rounds of elections. At least that’s the optimistic scenario I’ve heard whispered about.

          I don’t really believe it myself: I think the Republican party has to splinter to exorcise itself; which wing survives will determine a great deal about the future of this nation.

          • Murc says:

            I actually rather doubt this as well.

            Something that keeps me up at night is a two part thought. The first part is that maybe, just maybe, structural elements in politics really ARE king. That is actually does not matter how badly you fuck up or how crazy you are; after a certain amount of time, often a very short amount of time, out of power, you will be back in power regardless of if you’ve changed or not.

            The second is that, if this is right, the Republicans realize it and are acting accordingly.

            • Chester Allman says:

              This is exactly what I’ve been thinking quite a lot lately. Our system, with its two coalition parties, has generally tended to marginalize the extremes. However, the conservative movement, having taken over the GOP, have been able to defy the laws of political gravity – they’ve run their party well out of the mainstream, but it survives because, ultimately, there will always be years when people are ready to pull the lever for the other guys. The fact that 2010 was one of those years helps even more, since the other guys then got to draw the district maps.

              There’s an interesting piece at Am Con mag exploring a version of this argument in more nuance – making the case that conservative activism has stimulated GOP/conservative success in local & congressional elections, while at the same time making the the party unappealing to the broader electorate that votes in Presidential elections. It’s a powerful regional party, but it has lost the popular vote in 4 of the last 5 (God willing, soon to be 5 of the last 6) presidential races.

              The whole piece ties in interestingly to LGM’s threads over the last week or so.

        • rea says:

          And you know, if the Republican control a veto lever and want to wreck the country rather than give Obama a success, there may not be much that can be done about it other than beating them in elections until they give up the tactic as counterproductive. And that will be a bad thing, but preferable to the alternative.

        • Mrs Tilton says:

          Well, in the fantasy world in which (i) the Democrats have the House and Senate but the GOP still controls some key veto point, and (ii) the Democrats as a party have evolved into vertebrates and the Dem leadership has evolved into Patrolman Jimmy Malone, my plan would be to ensure that, to the greatest degree possible, not one penny of federal money flows to any congressional district that has returned a Republican congressman. There is a heavy cost to the nation when Republicans are elected; make GOP voters bear more of it.

          Red staters could scarecely have a principled objection to that. After all, unlike those moochers in the net-taxpayer Producer States, the sturdy Galtians in the net-recipient Parasite States are agin all that gummint spendin’.

          • rea says:

            my plan would be to ensure that, to the greatest degree possible, not one penny of federal money flows to any congressional district that has returned a Republican congressman.

            This is a plan that has my grandkids doing without medical care, so I’m less than enthused.

            • It’s also not too much different than pro-torture arguments, and is certainly not particularly likely to endear Democrats to voters in those districts.

              • Mrs Tilton says:

                Democrats have spent far too much time trying to be endearing to Republicans, Brien. Republicans never make the converse mistake.

                And their strategy has been richly rewarded. For years now, Republicans have for the most part got what the minority whose interests they serve want. For the most part, they’ve effectively kept Democrats from serving the interests of the majority. And they’ve violently shoved US political discourse far to the right in the process.

                If Democrats wish to govern effectively when they are in the majority, they need to communicate that… what is the phrase I am looking for? Oh, yes: that elections have consequences. You think this is similar to a “pro-torture argument”. Emmm… I suppose that could be one way to look at it. Personally, I’d say it’s a rational approach to political transactions.

                But then, your thinking seems far more in line with that of the actually-existing Democratic leadership (I did explicitly label my comment a “fantasy world”). Why not seek high office in the Party? Your future would seem assured.

            • Mrs Tilton says:

              Do note that phrase “to the greatest degree possible”. It’s not there simply to pad out the word count. When (for example) the ACA Satan’s Own Muslim Socialist NihCLANG Healthcare Act is fully implemented, its benefits Death Panels will flow to all, as they should. I’m not suggesting that Washington refuse to allocate resources to disaster areas that vote Republican, nor that elderly teabaggers have their Medicare-provided Hoverounds confiscated.

              What Speaker Malone (D-Chicago) should put his big flat foot down on, though, is things like building Bridges to Nowhere, opening new army bases (or sparing old army bases from closure) and similar district-specific projects. Will that cause some economic hardship? Sure. Let that be a lesson to the district’s residents to keep the feral-sociopath component of the local voting population below a critical mass.

              And yeah: if your grandkids want the sort of thing I’d ban, they should vote Dem.

        • I think that, in the event that Democrats come away with control of all three points of the legislative tree, there’s a reasonably good chance that the filibuster/hold rules will be substantially modified, if not eliminated outright, in the Senate.

          • Mrs Tilton says:

            Come away with me, Brien, to a magical time called January 20, 2009 to January 3, 2011, and then tell me more about this fascinating theory of yours.

            • JRoth says:

              Back in ’09, there were about 3 Senators who’d publicly stated that they were even open to eliminating the filibuster. There are now IIRC 30 or so who’ve signed on to Merkeley’s (?) filibuster reform proposal, which wouldn’t kill it, but would severely curtail its abuse.

              I’m not holding my breath or anything, but I’d have to think that Reid, in particular, would like to lead a functioning body for a couple years.

  11. Aaron says:

    Shouldn’t people complain about Democrats not being liberal enough during House, Senate, and Presidential primaries? If you’re concerned about making the Democratic Party less evil, why are you waiting until the end of September to speak your mind?

    Pat Robertson didn’t wait until the week before October to force the Republican Party to the right, that’s for damn sure.

    • Davis X. Machina says:

      Shouldn’t people complain about Democrats not being liberal enough during House, Senate, and Presidential primaries?

      The quiet may not be accidental. Not perceived as a big enough problem, not by numerous enough people.

    • Erik Loomis says:

      This is so goddamn right, all the way around.

    • Murc says:

      Shouldn’t people complain about Democrats not being liberal enough during House, Senate, and Presidential primaries?

      Well, a lot of people do do this. I don’t recall the usual suspects exactly being quiet during the primary for the Walker recall.

    • Holden Pattern says:

      Golly, yes. And primaries of Dem incumbents from the left are generally met with joyous cries of “Hail, Fellow, Well Met!”. Or the party organizations backing the incumbent (in the CT Senate race, even after he’d lost, which was nifty) and endless bitching by the usual suspects about how it will just weaken the incumbent, why are you doing this, you must be objectively pro-Republican, you fucking purity trolls.

      It’s really all the same thing in the end, innit?

  12. djw says:

    I suspect D2 finds American politics too silly to pay much attention to procedural details like whether a particular change can be made administratively/judicially or would have to run the full gauntlet. I can sympathize, but it doesn’t do much for plausibility of his commentary on the subject. I’m genuinely flummoxed by Farrell, though.

    • Marc says:

      Fox News isn’t the only sealed belief system where you can filter out or reject all information contrary to your most excellent beliefs. They appear to be getting all of their news on American policy and politics from Greenwald.

  13. Visitor says:

    abandoning all other priorities…

    Um. I don’t know whether this is one of the folks claiming to cherish the lives of Muslim and other types of civilians still getting killed in our wars. Either way, I think that one of BHO’s amazing accomplishments was not only persuading a potentially bitter opponent not only to join his cabinet but to use her international popularity to pull the USA’s position in the world out of the toilet. He followed that up by persuading this powerful competitor-turned-cabinet member to move substantially to the peaceward side of her former positions, AND WE NEGOTIATE WITH THE TALIBAN.

    Has he completely righted the ship of state, a ship where he has to fight for control of the wheel with the likes of Boehner and McConnell and people who can listen to Glenn Beck without retching? No. Has he done more than I thought possible to bring down the death toll year by year? Yes. How much time have these other writers spent lobbying their own representatives?

    And I’m sorry, but I cannot believe that anyone who suggests that BHO ended the Iraq war, however imperfectly, bc he “had to” did much to GOTV for Kerry. Either that or they have total amnesia about the national climate.

    This is the problem with lesser-evilism – it’s very vulnerable to strategic behaviour. If all you care about is the gap between parties…

    The problem with anything other than lesser-evilism is that lots of children (and grownups) inhabit this reality you (not you SL) like to write about, and they don’t have time to wait for those perfected models…

    Dunno if anyone will read this rant, but thanks to the hosts and to Bijan Parsia and others…

  14. Thers says:

    Beg pardon, but trust Mitt Romney’s judgment regarding sensible as opposed to utterly crazed uses of American military force…?

    I’m disgusted with Obama’s reckless bomb-tossing, but Romney would nuke Paris if Matt Drudge told him to.

  15. thebewilderness says:

    People have perhaps forgotten one of the first things President Obama undid when he took office. Undoing the “conscience clause” that Bush inserted just before he left office. The bad Samaritan rule required Hospitals and Clinics to uphold the rule, that health care workers could refuse treatment on religious grounds, or risk losing federal funding.

    I find it astonishing that anyone could possibly forget the nightmare signing statements of the Bush Administration.

  16. Angry Geometer says:

    how are we to suppose that President Romney would be able to push through an agenda five times as radical, including the ultimate third-rail issue of abortion?

    Because Bush. Reminds me of an old SNL sketch, “bad idea jeans”. “I was going to wear a condom, but then I figured, when’s the next time I’m going to be in Haiti?” Mixed with a little Stalin saying one death is a tragedy and a million are a statistic.

    Can we please send all the dumb fuckers in this country from both the right and the left who have completely fucking forgotten about 2000-2008 on an island with no internet connection, please? The idea that:

    (a) Bush didn’t in well documented fact do a bunch of radical shit “five times worse” than whatever they’re butthurt over Obama doing or not doing

    (b) Obama was magically able to clean up all of the radical shit that Bush did, and this is a clean slate election with no ties between Romney’s stated policies/cronies and Bush’s, so we don’t need to think about the cumulative effect of having radical shit-doers in the presidency for 12 out of 16 years would mean

    is insulting to anyone who was fully conscious at any point between January 2001 and January 2009. It’s fucking insulting.

    Everybody loves to get on their high horse, but if you morally equate the thousands of innocents Obama has killed to the millionish innocents Bush killed, you’re either a sociopath or a moral retard, and at least a little bit of the blood of those people is on your hands.

    Hey, quick math quiz, wankstain purity trolls. If I have 1% of the blood of 1,000 people on me and you have 1% of a million on you, which one of us is drowning in blood?

    You know what I’ll vote for? The not drowning in blood option.

    The innocent who have died because of Obama’s policies don’t matter to you, which means the deaths Obama has caused don’t really matter to you, either. They’re just an occasion to feel like a sanctimonious prick. You’ve done no math, no critical thinking. You’re high on your own truthiness.

    80% of world religions were founded for that same reason, so I get it, but nobody that morally and mathematically retarded gets to call themselves a liberal, a freethinker, or a friend of science and reason.

    How do you forget that Bush killed a couple more orders of magnitude of innocent civilians in four years?

    Seriously. One of you little spirochetes explain it to me, please. How do you forget?

    Or do you just not give a shit? How do you not think about what Romney would do to millions of innocents in Iran and Syria and keep mindlessly babbling about Obama blowing up wedding parties? You know how many wedding parties are in a million, jacknuggets?

    Do you forget the liberals in 1999 with their Gush/Bore bullshit? Do you forget how fucking wrong we were back then? Or do you not care? I was wrong. We were wrong.

    But it’s orders of magnitude worse to still have this rosy “Washington is so gridlocked, conservatives can’t do that much damage if we give them at least 2 branches of government” after 8 years of Bush. I have blood on my hands, but you’re drowning in it, shitweasels.

    Do dsquared or Conor or the rest of the troll brigade have kids? Do you get them vaccinated? Why? Isn’t vaccination the lesser of two evils? It would be better to just never get sick. After all, some people do die of vaccinations.

    If you give enough of a shit about their kids and basic math and “we live in the real world, not a perfectable one” to get them vaccinated, why don’t you give enough of a shit about their kids and basic math to vote for Obama?

    • You know what I’ll vote for? The not drowning in blood option.

      Yup.

      • Bijan Parsia says:

        I always like to have a not-drowning-in-blood option. It’s a sad state of affairs where merely not-drowning-in-blood comes as a blessed relief.

        • Ya know, I’ve been thinking about this a little and I’ve sort of come to the conclusion that we often overstate how awful the current political conditions are for progressives. All told, it’s actually something of a miracle that we even got the PPACA, considering how hard it is to pass progressive policies during economic downturns. And yes, the New Deal is something of an outlier here, but to put that in context, imagine how different things would be today if Wall Street had collapsed in October 2005 instead of 2008, which is basically what FDR walked into.

          • Scott Lemieux says:

            Right. It’s important to remember that the economy during FDR’s first term, while terrible in an absolute sense, was also growing at a furious clip, which is actually a very politically advantageous position. (And, even so, a lot of the legislation didn’t work and the good stuff was generally inadequate and/or compromised with evil in numerous ways.)

    • Ben Hosen says:

      Uh, yes I tend to agree.

      Can’t help but notice that the Purest among us are relatively wealthy white folks whose lives wouldn’t change much either way. determined to Teach Lessons, though like they did in 1968.

      Reminds me of how and when Occupy lost me, when they suddenly discovered that NYPD is often brutal and unfair.

      I might still be a soft white boy from the outer borough in CT (06511, yo!), but that revolting sense of privilege coming from the left make my blood boil.

      Maybe I am enough of an asshole that if I hadn’t come to personally know and love some black, brown, gay, etc. people I wouldn’t give a shit about Them either.

      For better or worse, I did and I do. I understand that our politics can hurt them in many stupid, cruel and all too real ways. Glad I don’t have an ideology that is OK with that on an underpants gnomes basis.

      I mean we all know that this politics shit is for real, don’t we? Me, I’d rather have good policy outcomes than feel good about myself for changing nothing at best and idiotically heightening contradictions at worst.

      Every election ever is a choice between evils.

    • Anonymous says:

      Awesome (and correct) rant.

      I vote, not drowning in blood.

    • Halloween Jack says:

      You selling T-shirts for the Not-Drowning-In-Blood Party yet? I’m imagining something in an ash grey, with the bottom half a solid maroon and little wavelets in the middle with a stick figure thrashing around.

      Also, I’m totally stealing “One of you little spirochetes explain it to me, please.”

  17. tt says:

    The CT bloggers as a group seem to be quite deficient in understanding of US politics (perhaps because as Europeans they are unable to comprehend how insane our politics can be?) . The idea that Democratic weakness in opposition represents a strategic play to convince they tiny number of Americans who care about issues like drone strikes to vote for them is absurd.

    • Lee says:

      Its not likely European politics is remarkably better at this point. They might be better on international issues but thats only because most of them lack the ability to project force. Domestically, a lot of European politicians seem keen on severe austerity issues.

      Radical politics in Europe are even worse. The Hungarians elected a party that is officially Jew-hating and anti-Roma. The rest of the European Far Right makes ours look positively cosmpolitan by their rhetoric. The European Far Left seems to care more about Third Worldism and foreign afairs than domestic issues. The European Center Left is as even less effective than the Democratic Party.

      • Sullivan Hyde says:

        I once spent a long afternoon having tea with some aged Tories of the Monday Club persuasion. It is not an experience I would choose to repeat. But I am grateful for the fact that whenever someone brings up how cool European conservatives supposedly are, I can call bullshit from personal experience.

    • mpowell says:

      No kidding. Coming from Dsquared it’s understandable because 1) he lives in the UK and 2) this is not his day job. Although surely he must recognize that he’s talking out of his ass when he adopts the stance that the behavior of a democratic minority is a strategic attempt to influence him in this debate. Everyone involved in this debate would love it if the Dems would fillibuster right-wing SCOTUS nominees! The fact that they can’t or won’t is indeed part of the problem but it is up to you to prove that not voting for Dems will improve that situation.

      Meanwhile Henry Farrell’s position mystifies me.

  18. SatanicPanic says:

    Did these people sleep through the Bush years? The Republicans don’t play by the same rules that Obama does. It’s easier to do things when you have no scruples.

  19. Evan says:

    On Davies’ old blog, the dsquared digest (which is lost and not on web.archive.org) he had a post arguing for working outside the Democratic establishment. The idea was setting up a 2×2 table where one axis was Outsiders vs. Insiders and the other was Results vs. No Results.

    In that post he used gay marriage activists as an example of outsiders who had won important victories, and anti-DADT activists as people who had worked within the system and failed. Besides being before DADT was repealed, it showed a pretty poor understanding of American LGBT activism to treat the two groups as wholly separate in the first place.

    Davies is one of my favorite bloggers ever but he makes kind of silly arguments when this subject comes up.

    • Rogers says:

      This practice (Naderite/Friedersdorfian nonsense) should be accurately called “Vanity Voting”, as pure an exercise of pinhead narcissism as one could hope to find.Apologists for it simply can’t clear the bar that their folly amounts (at the end of the day)to throwing in with the enemy, but HEY! It just FEELS so right!MY hands are clean!I’d like to know what powerful cleanser rinsed the Iraqi blood off of them.It isn’t merely that their reasoning is off–it’s that it should rightly be seen as an embarrasment for any sentient adult to admit to in a public forum.Do as you will in the privacy of the voting booth, but don’t expect absolution for such monstrous solipsism.

  20. I don’t want to repeat myself and I’m reluctant to engage in further conflict with some of the people on the interwebs whom I most admire.

    Thank you for doing it, anyway. It’s appropriate, too, because engaging in constructive conflict with those you admire (or, more generally, with “your side”) is an important part of this debate. One of Friedersdorf’s premises is that progressives softpedal the president’s cruel and anti-constitution actions.

    Too bad he had to drive his point home with self-indulgent moralizing—how can you treat the human tragedy that gives my point it’s emotional edge as anything less than your prime moral consideration as a voter? I appreciate the way you and many of the commenters here have been pushing back.

  21. John says:

    If you go to the comments, you’ll note that Davies categorically dismisses the idea that Romney’s appointments power should be taken into effect in determining how to vote. Apparently it is “trivially easy” for the Democrats to obstruct any Romney nominee in the Senate if they want to, and their failure to do so in the past is just symbolic of their general failure as a worthwhile party. The fact that a concerted campaign to filibuster Romney nominees, even if possible, would absolutely certainly lead to the end of the filibuster for appointments is, of course, ignored.

      • Bijan Parsia says:

        Yeah, that’s weird.

        Putting aside that the Democratic coalition wouldn’t go for that (it’s not exactly a matter of spine, but of diversity), that they would be savaged by everyone (e.g., the press), etc., shouldn’t we be voting the parties and situations we have rather than what we wished to be the case?

        If I have an employee whom I know is bad at one thing and good at another, I don’t stick them them with with the thing they hate and suck at because, by gum, they should be better at it. I put them where they can be maximally productive.

        If Democrats out of power suck at being an effective opposition, then we shouldn’t put them in the opposition.

        But even here it’s wacky. Mitigating stupendously bad policies (and govt appointments, etc.) is far worse than evil people trying to mitigate good policies (appointments, etc). ACA is much better than the last two years. The stimulus was much better than the last two years.

        I mean, isn’t a common complaint about Obama is that he doesn’t stake a far left enough ground and then negotiate? Starting with Republicans in control cedes way more ground than Obama ever has!

        • Malaclypse says:

          I mean, isn’t a common complaint about Obama is that he doesn’t stake a far left enough ground and then negotiate? Starting with Republicans in control cedes way more ground than Obama ever has!

          One must be purer than Obama in order to Heighten the Contradictions.

      • mds says:

        Well, he does have a smidgen of a point. Alito is an intellectually-bankrupt monster who should have been kept off of the Supreme Court if at all possible. Senate Dems “keeping their powder dry” so that Janice Rogers Brown could also get a lifetime federal judgeship, but a couple of other deranged witless reactionaries couldn’t, might not have been the best strategery.

        But yes, especially with the current state of the Congressional GOP, Senate Dems blocking a Romney SCOTUS replacement means the nuclear option. Which would be a useful precedent for progressives someday, if it still mattered by then.

        • he would really only have a point if it weren’t also the case that the Senate GOP didn’t mount any sort of credible attempt to filibuster Obama’s SCOTUS nominees. All told, it’s just not politically feasible to do that from the minority.

      • Anonymous says:

        I think it is safe to say that he just doesn’t have the slightest clue as to how the US government functions. I don’t blame him for this – it isn’t his country – but he should stick to subjects he understands. His posts are childishly ignorant.

      • JRoth says:

        Thanks, I was wondering if he’d deign to respond to it, and his response is risible. Good to know. We should base all of our votes on the premise that unprecedented things will occur to keep them from producing any harm.

        I voted for Nader in 2000 because I assumed that Clinton would refuse to leave office unless Gore was elected. It’s not my fault that he was too spineless to protect abortion rights.

        Wow, that felt great!

    • L2P says:

      It’s even worse because he ignores the administrative state.

      Davies literally doesn’t understand that the President can just say, “OK. Starting in January, Pharmacists don’t have to give out prescriptions to black people because Religion.” And that’s it. Then someone gets to sue, and 8 months later a district court issues a ruling (maybe), and in the interim tons of people suffer.

      I don’t understand Farrell, he should know better.

      • Scott Lemieux says:

        Right. So let’s say Democrats were to follow dsquared’s advice and just refuse to confirm any executive branch appointments. Does he think that this mean that liberals will be in charge of these agencies by default? Does he not know about recess appointments?

        • L2P says:

          Actually, it’s worse than that. You don’t even need recess appointments.

          Let’s say there’s no HUD secretary and the Senate filibusters your appointee. Then the President just tells the chief of whatever branch “Do this.” If they don’t, he fires that guy, or ignores him, until they get the guy they want. There’s no legislative review of “employee” positions.

          It’s not like the administration shuts down because there’s no secretary. Nobody really confronts this because it’s never been an issue, but really Secretaries are window dressing in a way. I worked in the treasury department for years and was pretty high up in savings and loan regulation stuff, and I never saw even an assistant to the secretary of the treasury.

  22. Joseph Slater says:

    Please also to not be forgetting the National Labor Relations Board and the Department of Labor. Democratic appointments make things significantly better for working people and unions. Compare the NLRB under Clinton, Bush II, then Obama. Night and freakin’ day. And that’s something easy for the Prez to do.

  23. mds says:

    in the event that the Democrats maintain control of the Senate (less likely but not impossible in a context where Romney wins)

    I’m not seeing a scenario right now where Romney gets enough of a boost to make it to 270, yet people still vote Dem downticket sufficiently. I suppose if, e.g., Republicans flip North Dakota, Nebraska, Ohio, and Virginia, while Dems pick up Massachusetts and (effectively) Maine, and everything else stays status quo ante. Hence Democrats get to 51 by means of a caucus which contains a vain “above the fray” independent and Joe Manchin. And they’re going to obstruct what, now?

  24. Even if we make the (almost certainly false) assumption that Romney and Obama are more similar than they are different we nevertheless also know that (a)Congressional Republicans are the ones who will control the agenda if Romney is elected; (b) the Republican agenda is far more reactionary and dangerous than the media pretends; and (c) the likely policies which would be put into place– across the board– would resemble the policies of the Bush crowd which have been demonstrated as failures. Seriously, who could make the argument to the contrary?

  25. SpaceSquid says:

    Whilst I realise this simplification doesn’t do dsquared justice, it still struck me that his post contained at heart an argument that the problem with the lesser of two evils is that they’re not willing to be as evil as the greater of two evils. If only the Democratics were as viciously, fecklessly thuggish as the Republicans, the thought goes, we could really get some shit done, and anyone who doesn’t like that idea is offering a “nightmarish” vision of how the Democratic party operates.

    The fact that the difficulty in resisting the Republicans and the reasons one opposes the Republicans stem from precisely the same source never seems to permeate.

    Or, too simplify the simplification, dsquared might as well have started his piece by saying “So long as we assume a level playing field”, at which point all that follows becomes simply noise.

  26. mpowell says:

    You really ought to separate Dsquared and Henry’s comments because Dsquared is not a professional political scientist and is less informed. But Henry doesn’t do himself any favors from the very beginning:


    But it isn’t at all clear that the consequences of voting 1 for Romney over the longer term, would be any worse than the consequences of voting for the guy who was supposed to be better on these issues, and was not. Indeed, the unwillingness of American left-liberals to criticize the opprobrious foreign policy of a Democratic president (and the consequent lack of real public debate over this policy, since most of the right tacitly agrees with the bad stuff) weighs the balance in favor of voting against Democrats who you know are going to sell out. Personally, I’m on the fence, if only because the current Republican party is so extraordinarily horrible. But I think that there is a very strong case to be made for not voting for Obama, and I wish that there were more publicly prominent lefties making it.

    This is not a moral purity argument, which might actually be an argument that can be made to work given the minimal to truly nonexistent (in many states) impact of a single vote. It is fundamentally a pragmatic one. The problem is that it is offered without a single bit of evidence to support it. And even worse, Farrell backs away from defending his own argument with his, “I’m on the fence but I wish someone would make this arugment” gambit. What the fuck does that even mean?

    We have to define the terms of this debate better. If you want to talk about the insignificance of single votes, fine. But usually when people start talking about how they think people should vote, what they are implicitly doing is attempting to build a movement that will vote in a similar manner to themselves. They don’t need to get 51% of the vote, but they need enough to move the needle. Nader’s campaign in 2000 was certainly sufficient to qualify. So if someone is talking about who people on the left should vote for, they damn better mean something like, “I wish the 1% of eligible voters who share my views would vote for x in this campaign”. Otherwise they are just talking out their ass.

    And on those terms, where’s the defense of sitting this one out? Will it move the country to the left? Let’s hear the argument if you think so. I think this one is pretty simple. Where the left can have an impact is downticket and in the primaries (but not the presidential primary most of the time quite frankly). I haven’t seen any actual evidence in favor of the contrary. And in my view, the last 12 years of history support my position pretty damn well. Again, if you disagree, what is your actual explanation?

  27. “a vote for a candidate who promotes actions or behaviors that are intrinsically evil and gravely sinful makes you morally complicit and places the eternal salvation of your own soul in serious jeopardy.”Roman Catholic Bishop John Paprocki (R-Il)

    I don’t know if he’s going to get the results he wants with this, but it’s interesting in the context of our moral/ethical discussions

  28. [...] missed this until it was pointed out by a commenter, but dsquared had actually already addressed Romney’s executive branch powers in a comment: Nuh uh on anything that requires judicial or regulatory nominations, which are [...]

  29. [...] serial comma?), went ballistic, putting up post after post after post after post after post after post denouncing Friedersdorf’s position, sometimes taking on other, perhaps less partisanly united [...]

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