Home / General / You Know, Sometimes I Wonder If Evan Bayh Was Really All That Liberal

You Know, Sometimes I Wonder If Evan Bayh Was Really All That Liberal


The basic thrust of the latest Sirota is actually unobjectionable — grand bargains are a terrible idea, Social Security cuts are a terrible idea, and Obama seems receptive to both so it’s fair to attack him on these grounds.   But his assumption about the dynamic between Congress and the White House is bizarre:

Are these depressing assumptions correct? Perhaps – after all, from the Iraq War to the bank bailouts to the public option, congressional Democrats legislators have made a decade-long habit out of rolling over for presidents of both parties.

Leaving aside that a majority of House Democrats and 21 Democratic senators voted against the Iraq war, the bigger problem is the assumption that Democrats in Congress are just “rolling over” again and again for the preferences of the White House. Secretly liberal Democrats in the Senate, apparently, “rolled over” for Obama. And Bush.

In the real world, of course, there’s no “rolling over” to the fearsome power of the White House. There’s a lot better evidence that Obama supported the public option than that marginal Democrats in the Senate supported it. There’s no reason to believe that majorities in Congress wanted the banking system to collapse. And on civil liberties the fallacy is even more obvious; poor as Obama’s civil liberties record is, it’s also to the left of many congressional Democrats, who got off their hammocks to smack him down when he expended political capital to try to close Gitmo. When they “roll over” on civil liberties repeatedly for presidents of both parties, at some point a more skeptical person might start to wonder if the expansion of the national security state is something congressional majorities actually favor.

Obama isn’t using magical powers to turn marginal Democratic votes in the Senate into non-liberals; whatever his issues he’s consistently to the left of the median votes in Congress, as has been true of every Democratic president of the last 90 years with the possible exception of Carter. Members of Congress have their own independent views, and even the most powerful presidents can’t make Congress do their bidding if they oppose what he’s trying to do.

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  • LeeEsq

    Maybe Sirota and other brogressives believes that votes by Democratic politicians against things they don’t like only count if they prevent the things that they don’t like. Since Democratic politicians could not stop Iraq II than the votes against Iraq II don’t count.

    • Cody

      Is brogressives a thing now?

      • Paula

        Please god no. “Clueless asshats” works well enough.

        • nixnutz

          Personally I agree but,

          “Those who find the term “brogressive” offensive are precisely those who seem to have no problem supporting people who would destroy abortion rights, eviscerate the National Labor Relations Board, repeal environmental regulations, and overturn the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Because drones.” Erik Loomis, Mar. 13, 2013

          Disliking puns apparently correlates with all kinds of regressive opinions.

      • Greg

        I prefer fauxgressive. Although I have yet to meet a female fauxgressive. Make of that what you will.

  • Oh, for fuck’s sake, Sirota!

  • janastas359

    I seem to recall that he used to only post every once and a while, but he seems to have daily columns now, so I wonder if his employment status changed.

    Salon really only has a few writers worth reading anymore; 90% of what they have is leftier than thou hackwork.

    • John

      Pareene is pretty great.

      • Jon

        I love me some Pareene, but yeah, otherwise, it’s like Slate is: No Wait, Your Liberal Idea Is ACTUALLY Stupid and Salon is: No Wait, Your Not-Liberal-Enough Idea is ACTUALLY Stupid.

        • sharculese

          Salon also has the excellent Irin Carmon.

        • Joseph Slater

          Sadly, that’s a pretty good summary.

  • Incontinentia Buttocks

    Just a lazy repetition of the spinelessness meme. The anti-public option and pro-Iraq War factions, e.g., in the Congressional and Senatorial Democratic Caucuses were not spineless progressives, rolling over for presidents, but “spiney” “centrists” who voted those ways because they actually opposed the PO and supported the Iraq War.

    • DrDick

      It also completely ignores the presence of significant numbers of conservative Democrats in Congress (Landrieu, Nelson, and Lieberman come immediately to mind).

      • Incontinentia Buttocks

        That’s what I meant by “centrists.”

      • FlipYrWhig

        Also Warner, Carper, T. Johnson, Heitkamp, Donnelly, Tester, Baucus, Bennet, Kaine, Hagan, Manchin, Feinstein, and Reid. Off the top of my head. The senate Democratic caucus is full of non-progressives.

        • Crissa

          Centrists, sure, but the latter two would have voted for the public option, had it been on the table. They’re players, sure, but they do vote on the left side most of the time.

          I totally vote against Feinstein in the Primary, but most of the time, she makes me proud in Congress.

  • Paula

    The idea that Salon was ever worth reading is surprising to me.

    Stephanie Zacharek excepted. Then she left for Movieline.

    • elm

      King Kauffman was perhaps the most awesome sports columnist ever!

      • Incontinentia Buttocks

        He was. Whatever happened to him?

        • Bleacher Report.

          • Incontinentia Buttocks


        • Scott Lemieux

          Edited this year’s BP.

        • elm

          He went into editing, first at Salon itself and now elsewhere. Even his writing for Bleacher Report is about how other people can write better for the Report rather than his own musings on sports. It’s a shame, because I miss his columns.

  • Joe

    To not have it lost in Prof. Loomis’ long comment thread on bromances with Sirota, I appreciate Adele Stan’s understanding of the breadth of the “civil liberties of all American citizens,” which might be lost when it is noted how bad the Obama Administration is in that area.


  • Incontinentia Buttocks

    While Obama is certainly constantly to the left of the median vote in the House (and the 60th vote in the Senate), there are a number of issues, most notably at the moment his openness to cuts to Social Security, on which he’s pretty clearly to the right of the median vote in his own party’s Congressional and Senatorial Caucuses, for whatever that’s worth.

    • jeer9


    • Scott Lemieux

      I actually doubt he’s to the right even of the median member of the Senate Democratic caucus. The House Dems I’ll buy.

  • Joe

    a majority of House Democrats and 21 Democratic senators voted against the Iraq war

    one of many reasons why one party is better

    • Incontinentia Buttocks

      Indeed, the Senate vote is nicely indicative of the kind of choices the parties give us.

      A solid majority of Senate Democrats, including the caucus leadership, voted for war (29 out of 50 Democratic Senators, or 58%).

      A much larger majority of Republican Senators (48 out of 49, or 98%) voted for war.

      (The Senate’s one Independent at the time, erstwhile Republican Jim Jeffords, voted against the AUMF).

      In short, the Lesser Evil Party is distinctly less evil than the Greater Evil Party. But having 58% of your Senators vote for America’s most pointless and stupid war is hardly something to brag about.

      • David W.

        In defense of some of those Democratic Senators, President Bush called for a vote before the fall election in 2002, and did so in order to put them on the spot for not supporting making America safer after 9/11 given Saddam Hussein’s alleged weapons of mass destruction.

        • Also the dog ate my vote.

          • David W.

            Seriously, given that the Republicans gained control of the Senate in 2002 it’s not hard to understand the politics of that vote.

            • Jon

              Quite a few who were not up for reelection in 2002 voted for it and a few who where (Wellstone, Reed) voted against it.

        • Jon

          So much for the Senate where things cool off like a saucer and blah blah.

        • Chatham

          I don’t doubt that it had some impact. “Rolling over for presidents of both parties” is hyperbolic, but not baseless.

        • IM

          In this case some more war-skeptical senators in red states were probably actually spineless. Or choosing the better part of valour.

        • Eggplant

          Has this sort of defensive voting ever worked? Is there any evidence that voting for war will stop Republicans from attacking a Democrat as weak on defense?

      • Joseph Slater

        At risk of getting OT, Iraq was America’s most stupid and pointless war? I agree that it was both those things, but what about Vietnam? The Spanish American War / Philippines colonization? Heck, any number of military engagements that don’t have “Revolutionary,” “Civil” or “Two” in their names. . . .

        • JoyfulA

          The Vietnam War had that domino rationale that was not realistic or sophisticated, but it was better than any rationale I’ve heard for the Iraq War (I or II). The Spanish-American War had Remember the Maine and seems to have been a late mimicking of the Europeans’ colonial empires; yellow press jingoism and jealousy seem more substantive than a mountain of lies plus bringing democracy (by a president appointed by the Supreme Court) and free markets (like Halliburton contracts) to the Middle East.

          Yes, the Iraq War was our stupidest and most pointless.

        • Say what you will about the Spanish-American War (and even the Philippine colonial war) – they advanced American geo-political interests as that term is traditionally understood. That isn’t to say that was a good idea, but they didn’t harm our national interests the way Vietnam and, especially, Iraq did.

          • Crissa

            How did the Vietnam War hurt our national interests any more than Pinochet, Honduras, Iran, etc?

      • Joe

        The House Dems seems here to be the “in the end, not evil” party, but like “lousy on civil liberties” (except for gays, abortion, health care ….), we can focus on something else.

        The Senate Dems truly split on the matter, a few at least probably credibly believing all was not over in Oct., credulously if you wish. So, even with election fears, a sham job that was so very obvious but convincing many (more so the elites) etc., even there, Dems actually weren’t just lock-stepping tools. “Lesser evil” is a bit much even there.

  • shah8

    One thing taking a close look at Chávez and his political history after his death has done, is to make me think about what Green Lanternism really is. Of course, it also left me with the uncomfortable realization that between Chávez or Obama, I’d pick Chávez–not least because of reading a bit more about Lula and thinking about being beards for conservative interests, no matter how liberal you are personally (and how easily your liberal works are twisted, thinking about the Medicaid decisions of Arkansas and others).

    So, I suspect now that Green Lanternism *can* work, but you have to be pretty shameless, almost to the point of clownish, about getting yourself into the media and stuffing the eyeballs of your populace with your memes. Sorta like being Paul Krugman or Duncan Black, but with a day job of being president. Beppe Grillo is doing the same thing using his blog, not that he isn’t the traditional Latin Europe non-alternative sink for political discontent.

    • burritoboy

      It’s also not at clear that what would work in the context of a comparatively small, oil-rich country would work in a much larger context.

      • LeeEsq

        Chavez had much less effective opposition in the Venezeulan legislature. We also do not have evidence whether Venezeulan parliamentary practice give the opposition any weapons to prevent action they way our parliamentary practice does. Chavez also went beyond Green Laternism and into some very strong arm tactics.

        • Jon

          I thought Chavez had the ability to enact certain things by decree.

          • sibusisodan

            Precisely. Obama would be much more effective if he just did this.

            Seriously, what does Bob Woodward have to do to get an audience with you people?

        • djw

          Right, and the institutional powers of the executive in the two countries are sufficiently different as to make comparing the effectiveness of their political styles utterly meaningless.

          • Scott Lemieux

            This is like saying that because British Prime Ministers can pass their agenda much more easily, this proves that green lanternism works.

            • spencer

              *Now* who wishes there was an edit feature on these comments? Huh?

            • Joe

              That btw brings to mind Rachel Maddow repeatedly going on and on about how the Republicans lost the election last November when talking about the sequester and all that b.s. They won the House. She’s getting, I know OT, a bit tiresome on this.

              • Crissa

                They retained a House in a year where they lost seats despite having a trifecta of reasons they should have swept deeper: Economy, Incumbents, Gerrymander, and Money. Wait, that’s four… Quadfecta? Quadrafecta?

                They lost the popular vote in the House, despite these reasons.

            • LeeEsq

              If anything Chavez was more like a directly elected Prime Minister in powers than an American President. The Venezuelan legislature really just did what he wanted usually.

    • shah8

      I appreciate the responses.

      One thing though–I’m not sure the big differences has to do with oil (I mean, we produce alot of energy too), the quality of the opposition (do you really think there is a difference in batshit insanity?) or with the nature of the presidency as it has to do with the much easier process of amending the constitution.

      If *we* could have direct referendums on constitutional stuff like many other countries, including Venezuela, I think green lanternism could work much easier since the person with the podium has a direct mechanism that she could publically press for if she needed to get around the institutional blocks in central political structures.

      • LeeEsq

        Actually, I’m pretty anti-Chavez. When I said that Chavez had a less effective opposition, I mean in terms of number of anti-Chavez politicians in elective office, which wasn’t that many. If you don’t have the numbers, than you really can’t oppose anything even with a filibuster. The Venezuelan Presidency seems to come with more inherent power than the American one and Chavez was more open to broad interpretation of those powers than Obama to.

        • shah8

          Hmmm, where was it that was written that you had to like or hate Chavez? I was simply interested in the differentials in the ability to do green lanterns, and I was thinking about the period from Chávez’ inauguration to the end of the oil strike.

          However, to put a note on one thing you said, Chávez didn’t have much of an opposition in the legislative chamber because he was the head of his party and his party had the seats, full stop. The original political parties before Chávez totally collapsed in popularity, and it has been only recently that the right wing even started trying to convince average Venezuelans rather than screech in threatening and reactionary ways (or more than screech, with the attempted coup and oil strike).

          Evo Morales in Bolivia has the same situation with the Santa Cruz folks. Santa Cruz is always muttering about succession because they can’t get anyone else on their side, and the main reason that’s true is because they are very big on white supremacy visávis native folks.

          • Anonymous

            A big reason that Chavez had little difficulty with the legislature is that the opposition decided to boycott the 2005 legislative elections. As a result, supporters of Chavez won literally every seat.

            Chavez himself seems to have been a mixed bag. He implemented several good policies, and did many good things for the poor and underprivileged. It is true that he personally was very popular, and that the opposition at times used tactics that were both morally questionable (to say the least) and politically counterproductive. At the same time, Chavez had a definite authoritarian streak. He did several things that were very questionable, such as shutting down opposition TV stations, and gathered more and more power to himself. Furthermore,he was not a competent manager, and tended to prize political loyalty above ability when appointing people. Predictably, this has resulted in poorly run government services and crumbling infrastructure. Corruption has also been extensive in Venezuela, although this was the case long before Chavez. Finally crime, which was already a serious problem, increased dramatically under Chavez.

            The Venezuelan opposition is also a mixed bag. It certainly had, and continues to have, more than its fair share of wealthy wingnuts, and despised “old regime” figures. Many of those people have subsequently immigrated to the US, However, it also has a substantial number of more moderate people, and even a few on the left. About the only thing that unites the opposition is dislike of Chavez. This does not make for a stable coalition, which is one of the difficulties it has had. If Chavismo loses power, I expect the opposition to splinter into several competing groups.

            Look, I’m no right-winger, and I don’t particularly like the Venezuelan opposition, but it’s important to acknowledge that Chavez was flawed in a number of ways. Furthermore the opposition is not exclusively made up of oligarchs or their dupes. Its not that I think Chavez was evil, or anything like that, I just think it’s important to acknowledge the complexity of the situation.

            • Crissa

              …Yeah, when you opt for stealing rather than voting, you can hardly complain about being locked out of the process. We’re talking folks who decided Coups would be more effective than Elections.

  • Thanks. Sirota is the kind of blowhard who gives the lefty blogosphere a bad name.

  • Manta

    “the expansion of the national security state is something congressional majorities actually favor.”

    Greenwald (among the leftists-Scott-doesn’t-like) makes the same point every few columns…

    • janastas359

      And? You realize it’s possible to agree with someone and still not like them, right?

    • Scott Lemieux

      Greenwald (among the leftists-Scott-doesn’t-like)

      This isn’t actually true, but anyway. I wouldn’t have thought it was hard to figure out that “Scott Lemieux” and “Erik Loomis” are different people, but here we are.

      • Manta

        My bad, then.

    • tt

      I know these distinctions tend to get lost in these factional battles, but Sirota is much, much worse than Greenwald just in terms of using evidence and making logical arguments.

      • I’ve been avoiding reading him, so I’ll ask: how many milli-stollers is he?

        • Greg

          Millistollers is probably the wrong unit. You’d get a better reading in kilostollers.

  • JKTHs

    I’m sure Evan Bayh pines for single-payer and his shtick is just to make centrists look bad.

    • Cody

      Either that or he’s a very charismatic person who realized he’d lose in a primary to a Tea Partier if he went Republican.

  • Paula

    Joe Lieberman totally would have voted for the public option!

  • Sly

    When they “roll over” on civil liberties repeatedly for presidents of both parties, at some point a more skeptical person might start to wonder if the expansion of the national security state is something congressional majorities actually favor.

    I’d only add that they favor it to the extent that it absolves them of any responsibility for taking an affirmative position that may have negative repercussions politically. An expansive national security state, in the end, liberates Congress from making decisions for which they can be held accountable due to the tacit assumption that national security is the first province of the Executive.

    Personally, I’d wager that only a handful of Representatives and Senators actually care about issues of national security; at least care enough to be informed about those issues. For the rest, it’s merely a question of how they are perceived by their constituency, who also don’t much care about issues of national security but like to pretend that they do.

    In such a case, Congressional action with respect to issues of war and peace makes much more sense; by washing their hands of the matter and leaving it solely within the domain of the President, Representatives and Senators don’t have any actual responsibilities and therefor have one less thing to worry about when they run for reelection. This will hold true unless or until the President makes an unpopular decision with respect to national security, or makes a decision that, with a bit of demagoguery, can be made unpopular (see: GITMO), at which point the Legislature is provided with an opportunity to grandstand at the political expense of the Executive.

    It’s always helpful to remind oneself that we’re talking about people whose continued presence within the political class – a membership with fantastic benefits – depends upon the good will of voters, and that its much easier to prey upon the vulnerabilities of the electorate than it is to represent its actual interests. Especially in the House, for which that electorate has been sliced and diced to the extent that all one often needs to do is win a party primary, in which much fewer people vote, to be a Congressman.

    • Manta

      I had the impression that the majority of voters, insofar as they cared about them, were in favor of more wars and more national security apparatus, and that the US policies in this field were actually an example of democracy in action, i.e. representatives following the policies preferred by the electorate.

      Maybe I am wrong?

      • LeeEsq

        No, your pretty much right. Most Americans do not think much about national security issues and when they do, they favor a more vigorous national security apparatus. Support for civil liberties over security is more theoretic than actual for many people.

      • Sly

        You’re not wrong, but the extent to which the majority of voters have an interest in national security policy ends with their own perception of being incinerated by a foreign enemy.

        I’m not criticizing this impulse in and of itself, by the way, because its a pretty good one. But its simplicity allows for a considerable degree of demagogic influence from people with their own crass agenda. One should never romanticize democratic power, because that’s just as dangerous as fearing it.

        • brewmn

          This. I think most Americans oppose war in the abstract, but can be very easily demagogued into supporting a particular war whenever our government decides it necessary.

  • The “he secretly believes” game is never worth anything. You are what you do as a politician. Yes, I know, you occasionally get a spectacle like Obama on gay marriage, where he pretty clearly always believed it but never said it, or Clinton on gay marriage, where he started out much more aligned with the religious right and probably changed his mind. But the bottom line is that what counts is what you do.

    I suspect numerous Democrats voted for the Iraq War who knew it was stupid. Heck, I suspect some Republicans did as well! I suspect numerous politicians vote for the drug war knowing it is stupid. And yes, as a general matter, one reason we get depressingly bipartisan votes is because politicians do sometimes roll over for things that they probably know are wrong but which will play well in their districts or states.

    But the line between that and things the politicians really believe is simply not that important. As I said, you are what you do. The people who voted for the Iraq War for cynical reasons and the people who voted for it for sincere reasons both, ultimately, supported the Iraq War. (Which is why Hillary supporters were never able to make the argument that she voted for it for cynical reasons fly during the 2008 primaries against an Iraq War opponent.)

    I think there’s an argument for more party discipline, but the counter-argument is that it’s gonna really hurt those Democrats in red states who feel they have to cast these votes. And party discipline swings both ways– remember when Tom DeLay turned on the party discipline to ensure the Medicare prescription drug benefit that conservatives hated would pass? That’s gonna happen on the Democratic side sometimes too.

    • Jon

      I agree, but at the end of the day, I’d still rather have someone I think wants to do what I want to do than someone that I think wants to do the opposite unless there is real evidence of some kind of Nixon to China moment.

      • I suspect that many politicians do what you want them to do on various issues despite not believing it.

        For example, and I use this one only because I know about it, the current vice-president almost surely favors substantial restrictions on abortion. Way back when, he used to run on a platform that included substantial restrictions on abortion. And he talked about how his religious faith required him to be skeptical of abortion rights. He doesn’t anymore. Why? Because the party shifted to the left on abortion, abortion rights supporters gained more power, and you can’t be a national politician on the Democratic side without fully and vociferously supporting abortion rights.

        The point is, I completely trust Joe Biden to protect abortion rights if something happens to Obama and he becomes President. He has all the incentives to do it. But it probably isn’t what he believes. I don’t really care, as long as he gets the policy right.

        • dave

          This plus infinity. Our focus on determining the “real” feelings of politicians is a significant impediment to productive political discourse.

          You can’t make it to the highest levels of politics without being substantially vague, phony and misleading about your true beliefs.

          We must elect politicians based on what we believe they will actual do and we must judge them based on what they actually do. What they secretly believe or want is truly unimportant.

          Even what they say is mostly irrelevent.

        • Greg

          I work in my state’s legislature, so I’m very familiar with how politicians reconcile their personal views with their political incentives, and you’ve got it all wrong. By and large, they and their leadership work to avoid votes that would cause these conflicts. When such a vote is unavoidable, they usually either vote their conscience, or they talk themselves into an intellectual position that justifies their vote. That’s how lobbying works. They don’t just write campaign checks and subtly imply that they would like something in return, they give arguments in favor of their position, tailored to help members in difficult spots resolve their cognitive dissonance.

          To use the example of Joe Biden, it’s more likely that the political incentives that forced him to vote pro-choice and explain his switch caused him to actually believe in pro-choice values, so by now, he authentically believes them. There’s also the fact that simply being around a bunch of people who believe something and talk to you about it all the time gives you a lot more sympathy for that position.

    • sharculese

      Weird, it’s almost as if politicians are elected represent their constituents, and make sacrifices sometimes to keep their constituents happy or something.

      • I’m not particularly condemning it. It is, in part, about representative government. I’m saying whether you like it or hate it, though, there’s no reason to sit around worrying what people believe in their heart of hearts on issues where there are political checks against what they can do.

        • sharculese

          That I can get behind.

      • janastas359

        This is one of those things I don’t get about opponents of the WOT. Hey, I oppose it too, but we’re in the minority on this. This is why I think it’s misguided to attack politicians this point – politicians don’t lead public opinion, they follow it. You’d be better off trying to convince your fellow citizens that the various state actions during the WOT or the war on drugs are wrong.

        • Well, the slippery parts are (1) that sometimes taking a short term political risk can pay off in the long term (do you think more politicians would have opposed the Iraq War if they knew that opposing it would help you win a presidential primary in 2008?) and (2) the representative theory becomes more difficult to accept the closer you get to moral bright lines. For instance, we don’t want our representatives to support torture just because it polls well. And I think behind a lot of the intra-left disputes on war on terror type issues is that for many anti-war types, the issues of stopping American warfare and reducing American military power and influence are very much moral issues, and it kind of ticks them off that not only do a lot of people disagree with them and support the sort of “rah-rah America good let’s go bomb some brown people” principle of foreign policy, but that even some of the people who are more skeptical don’t really see the issue in the same moral terms.

          There’s no real answer to this. The people who feel really strongly about war are going to continue to criticize this, and as long as they are members of the Democratic Party coalition, some of that criticism is going to be directed at Democratic Party leaders who support or don’t sufficiently oppose American imperialism.

          • chris

            do you think more politicians would have opposed the Iraq War if they knew that opposing it would help you win a presidential primary in 2008?

            If they knew WHY it turned out to be helpful in 2008 — namely, that the war would turn into an utter disaster that the American people would come to hate — then I think even some Republicans would have voted against. And I’ll even go so far as to say it wouldn’t just be self-interest — some of them voted for the war because they believed in it, and if they had known its actual consequences, they really would have tried to steer the country away.

            For instance, we don’t want our representatives to support torture just because it polls well.

            Er… if it polls well, then that is exactly what we (the people) want, isn’t it? *I* don’t want it[1], but to say that “we” don’t requires careful definition of who you are including in “we”.

            [1] At least at first glance — but the long-term ramifications of the representatives overruling the people may be even worse than following “us” into a particular bad decision; they didn’t run for philosopher-king.

        • Joe

          You can still attack them if you think they are wrong, there are various levels of WOT & the public is open various options there (drones are likely popular; people will also likely be willing to have more protections before their use) … also at some point people like to have a face for their opposition. It works for sports teams too. A certain general manager, imho, isn’t the problem for my team, but he’s a usual target, since he’s the face of the franchise. It’s unfair at some point, especially at some level of emotion, but understandable.

    • Murc

      The “he secretly believes” game is never worth anything.

      I actually disagree. Being able to figure out what someone actually, or secretly, believes is useful if you think they’ll ever be put in a position where they can act without constraint and/or are the last decision point on something you care about.

      Lyndon Johnson, for example, didn’t actually believe in the cause of white supremacy. If I were a party functionary in the Democratic party who was deeply committed to the separation of the races as a matter of public policy, figuring that out prior to him running for President would have been DAMN useful.

      (It also, of course, would have been wrong and evil.)

      • Joe

        That rarely happens though. LBJ not being a dye in the wool segregationist also wasn’t news in 1960, was it?

      • As Joe says, it rarely happens. And even in the case of LBJ, I’m not sure the politics are as cut and dried as the conventional story holds. It is of course true that LBJ understood there was going to be a huge Southern white backlash to what he was doing, and that the fact that he did it anyway had something to do with the fact that he was probably more personally supportive of the cause of civil rights than Kennedy had been.

        But there were political upsides to it too. It isn’t as though the Southern racists who were beating up black people on television were particularly popular in the rest of the country. Indeed, the association with Southern racism has cost the Republicans votes as well as gaining them. And the rising support for civil rights within the Democratic Party coalition probably meant that someone was going to have to make LBJ’s move sooner or later. Finally, LBJ was bucking his base on another big issue– Vietnam– and he very well may have felt he couldn’t afford to stonewall civil rights if he wanted to continue to escalate the Vietnam War.

        So even with LBJ, I’m not sure how much value there was to knowing LBJ’s “real” position on civil rights. He made his decision in a very specific political context and it went way beyond the fact that he was personally more sympathetic to the cause of civil rights than JFK was (even though that was clearly a part of it).

    • re: Clinton. His move to try to ban discrimination against gays in the military that ended up with Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell to me suggests that he was initially pro-gay rights in the context of the 90s and then abandoned it as a losing issue.

      • I don’t doubt that he was somewhat pro-gay rights. But I was around in the 1990’s and NOBODY was pro-gay marriage. OK, I was. But lots of people I knew weren’t. Heck lots of GAY people I knew weren’t.

        And that was the basic reason why most politicians didn’t want to touch it with a ten foot pole.

        Clinton was from Arkansas. He was pretty conservative. He was religious. There’s no reason why he would have particularly thought gay marriage was a good thing to do, and indeed, he was pretty emphatic about his opposition to it (and even ran ads on Christian radio stations bragging about signing DOMA).

        My reading is he came around later. He wasn’t like Obama, who was pretty much a social liberal who grew up in very liberal places and went to very liberal churches. But it doesn’t matter; operationally, Clinton was a disaster on gay marriage and has an enigmatic record on gays in the military.

        • rea

          an enigmatic record on gays in the military.

          It was not all that enigmatic. He came out in favor of full equality in the military, and got his ass handed to him on the issue–his own party didn’t really support him. Then he went into damage cotrol mode, and tried to make the best deal he could, which turned out not to be very good.

  • max

    In the real world, of course, there’s no “rolling over” to the fearsome power of the White House.

    If he said that the D party tends to wind up rolling over for conservatives a lot (particularly on economics issues), I’d think he’d have something.

    There’s a lot better evidence that Obama supported the public option than that marginal Democrats in the Senate supported it.

    Oh, no doubt.

    There’s no reason to believe that majorities in Congress wanted the banking system to collapse.

    I expect that were quite massive majorities for bailing out the banks, consequence-free, (they’ve got skin in that game after all) but I am sure some of them couldn’t sell it to their constituents.

    When they “roll over” on civil liberties repeatedly for presidents of both parties, at some point a more skeptical person might start to wonder if the expansion of the national security state is something congressional majorities actually favor.

    Is there not an overwhelming majority for a police state in Congress? (Except on guns.) Because it sure looks like one to me. Granted, they don’t want anybody coming after them personally, but they support all that National Security State stuff because they don’t want anybody coming after them.

    If I were going to pick on Obama it’d be for his exceedingly weird deficit fetish. That has caused no end of problems. (I don’t mean that he’s forcing legislation through, I mean he keeps trying to solve it, which is not politically possible without feeding his own to the machine for no discernible gain.)

    [‘And he could use that damn veto pen occasional, too.’]

    • JKTHs

      If I were going to pick on Obama it’d be for his exceedingly weird deficit fetish. That has caused no end of problems. (I don’t mean that he’s forcing legislation through, I mean he keeps trying to solve it, which is not politically possible without feeding his own to the machine for no discernible gain.)

      This. I don’t understand, even on the 11-dimensional level, the benefit of this at all. Either he’s actively negotiating with himself and harming the economy or he’s wasting time with fruitless negotiations that he knows will produce nothing. Neither is attractive.

      • David W.

        I don’t think Obama cares much about the deficit, any more than the Republicans really care about it, but since the GOP has decided to make the deficit an issue he’s stuck having to at least make an offer to discuss it, or otherwise cede the issue in the public mind to the Republicans. So Obama has made a counter-offer of insisting on tax hikes as part of any deal to reduce the deficit, which is the best he can do given Republican control of the House. So the standoff will continue until both sides make yet another temporary deal, just like they’ve been doing for the past two years already. The real game is of course positioning each party for the next election, as usual.

        • slightly_peeved

          he said that deficits weren’t the US’s biggest problem in his meeting with congressional republicans earlier this week. so i certainly wouldn’t describe him as having a fetish about them.

          • He strikes me as a pretty standard Keynesian – unconcerned about short-term deficits during economic bad times, but supporting of budget-balancing over the long term (meaning, he doesn’t want to run deficits during expansions).

            Might I remind everyone that this is not only the traditional liberal fiscal policy for decades, but also the policy we so loudly condemned George W. Bush for violating by “putting two wars and a drug program on a credit card?”

        • FlipYrWhig

          This is where I am on the question too. I think Obama has decided that if deficits are going to be what’s talked about, we should come up with the most liberal-friendly deficit reduction plan there is, while also being open to some bait-and-switch kinds of things like chained CPI-plus-guaranteed minimum benefit for Social Security (which would essentially be a big hike in retirement benefits for people at the bottom paid for by people in the middle and top, but wrapped up in a Deficit Reduction package), on squeezing medical providers to produce savings in Medicare. And he definitely knows that deficit reduction is not the same thing as economic development, and has been saying so more and more, though I don’t think it’s making an impact either on the media or the public.

      • chris

        Either he’s actively negotiating with himself and harming the economy or he’s wasting time with fruitless negotiations that he knows will produce nothing. Neither is attractive.

        There’s a substantial number of people who want our leaders to compromise, and don’t really know or care what they compromise ON. To those people, the spectacle of Obama offering compromise proposals to the Republicans and getting repeatedly shot down has quite an effect — on their opinion of Republicans.

        IOW, the fact that the negotiations don’t produce *legislation* doesn’t mean they produce *nothing*.

    • brewmn

      If I were going to pick on Obama it’d be for his exceedingly weird deficit fetish. That has caused no end of problems.

      Seriously? The only opinion maker that gets any air time while minimizing the seriousness of the deficit is Paul Krugman. And recently, the Very Serious thinkers have been pretty much siding with a not-very-bright talk show host against that Nobel Prize-winning economist on the deficit question. Obama would find himself completed isolated politically if he didn’t consistently acknowledge the seriousness of the deficit. Whether it’s a bogus issue to people who know anything about economics is irrelevant.

      I think Obama has played the deficit question masterfully; the focus is increasingly on how favorable our tax code is to people who exploit it for their own benefit. As long as the Republicans want to argue in favor of cutting Social Security and Medicare instead of closing tax loopholes for the obscenely rich, all I can say to the Republicans is “Please proceed.”

      • Cody

        I agree with these, though it’s in the realm of Dilan’s post about regarding discerning politician’s “true beliefs”.

        Obama’s deficit reduction deals so far seem to be clearly be “make Republicans look dumb”. This is about the best he can do, as I see no way he can avoid addressing the deficit. Many Democrats who are centrists are big into a balanced budget. Obama needs them. He knows this, and will keep up the parade of negotiating. Some of his proposed deals have gone too far, but even those have been rejected!

        (P.S.: I found Obama meeting with Republicans for dinner amusing. CNN was alight with “OBAMA FINALLY LEADING!!!!!!!!”. Nothing happened. Of course nothing happened, why the fuck would this make a difference? Betting people start harping on Obama’s dinner skills unable to make Republicans become reasonable at dinner)

        • This is about the best he can do, as I see no way he can avoid addressing the deficit.

          As it turns out, when a party wins a national election by a mile and gains controls of the House of Representatives, they get to influence policy and the national political discussion.

          Apparently, it is “increasingly weird” for Barack Obama to deal with this reality.

  • JRoth

    Wait, what? Doesn’t the change in Congressional Dem response to civil liberties issues* under Bush and Obama suggest something about how they react to having one of their own in the White House? And you can’t just point at the Blue Dogs as the culprits here – Senate Dems were 100% united against Rand’s filibuster, even though, were the presidential party ID reversed, a dozen or more Dem Senators would have been in favor of it. There has been considerable pushback on civil liberties – before 2009, that is.

    I don’t know why you insist on this childish, black and white argument that, since the President can’t force Joe Lieberman to support single payer, he therefore has no effect whatsoever on Congress.

    The dynamic here isn’t mysterious. A Republican president proposing CCPI would be loudly denounced by a majority, perhaps a large majority, of Dems in both houses. But since their party leader is the immoral asshole postpartisan visionary proposing it, it’s left to Bernie Sanders and Alan Grayson – influential Dems, to be sure – to lead the charge. This seems noteworthy when assessing blame for the push for CCPI.

    If you’d like me to save you some time, I can just copy and paste GREEN LANTERN a few dozen times here.

    *yes, there was far too much support for Bush’s civil liberties depredations, but if you see no difference between then and now, you’re not even trying to look.

    • Scott Lemieux

      There has been considerable pushback on civil liberties – before 2009

      Like when?

      he therefore has no effect whatsoever on Congress.

      It’s good I didn’t say that then!

      The dynamic here isn’t mysterious. A Republican president proposing CCPI would be loudly denounced by a majority, perhaps a large majority, of Dems in both houses.

      If Obama was proposing CCPI as a stand-alone policy, he would also be loudly denounced by a large majority of Dems in both houses. At any rate, what matters is the marginal votes, and I see no reason to believe that the marginal Democratic votes in the Senate don’t support Grand Bargains.

      • bob mcmanus

        Not the Marginal Members Lemieux likes to talk about.

        Not that I believe they’ll stick when Pelosi and Obama (and Lemieux) start hammering. Because it will be an end-of-the-economy omg crisis bill, the onliest chance ever

        • bob mcmanus

          And for the record, I wouldn’t impoverish the most vulnerable members of society (little kids get cared for more), intentionally murder 80-year-old black women counting on their SS checks, even for my favorite dream of guillotines lining I-40 from coast-to-coast, let alone for a freaking 10% surcharge on corporate jets.

          Other people have a different value system. I don’t respect that.

          • Scott Lemieux

            I wouldn’t impoverish the most vulnerable members of society

            Actually, you would — IIRC you opposed the PPACA and its Medicaid expansion so that the most vulnerable members of society could be held hostage for the Unicorns and a Pony Act of 4025.

            • Paula

              Well, you know, to make an omelet …

            • bob mcmanus

              How’s Medicaid doing down here in Arkansas and Texas?

              Obama laid out a hanging curve-ball for the Republicans. That’s how he works.

              I predicted how the PPACA was going to end up at the beginning. Mandates remain for the insurance carnivores, all the benefits and subsidies slashed. And Medicare and Medicaid privatized. Ezra admitted that was the plan all along.

              Oh, you’ll find somebody else to blame.

              • BTW, bob, I wonder if you saw that you were very wrong about Coates.

                Perhaps this is a good time to retract your calumny?

              • Scott Lemieux

                How’s Medicaid doing down here in Arkansas and Texas?

                Thanks to the Supreme Court, implementation will be delayed until the hospital lobby compels the state to take the money. Just like the original Medicaid. The good news is that in a lot of states the expansion will go forward immediately.

                Obama laid out a hanging curve-ball for the Republicans. That’s how he works.

                Christ, what horseshit. Please point to your contemporaneous prediction that there would be an unprecedented federal spending power decision by the Supreme Court.

                And Medicare and Medicaid privatized.

                The PPACA makes this vastly less likely, to state the obvious.

              • I predicted how the PPACA was going to end up at the beginning. Mandates remain for the insurance carnivores, all the benefits and subsidies slashed. And Medicare and Medicaid privatized.

                And despite none of these things coming to pass, bob feels totally vindicated.

          • FlipYrWhig

            If you add a guaranteed minimum benefit to SS, you end up with many instantly happier 80-year-old black women. And that’s part of the SS reform proposals, even Bowles Simpson, at least last time I checked. Chained CPI takes some benefits away, yes, but CCPI-plus-minimum benefit protects the vulnerable people you say you’re concerned about–who get, BTW, badly hosed by current SS structure, which is predicated on paying poor people poorly.

    • even though, were the presidential party ID reversed, a dozen or more Dem Senators would have been in favor of it.

      A Republican president proposing CCPI would be loudly denounced by a majority, perhaps a large majority, of Dems in both houses.

      Isn’t it funny how these people are so incredibly certain of the existence of a trend that they can’t actually support with any real-world examples, and have to rely on this “You just know they woulda” language?

      The dynamic here isn’t mysterious.

      “Babies are delivered by storks” isn’t mysterious, either. It’s also not true.

      • Here are some real-world examples: Congressional Democrats were nearly unanimous in their support of the Afghan War throughout Bush’s presidency, even urging him to commit more resources and make it more of a priority. Since Obama did exactly that, support among Congressional Democrats has eroded significantly.

        Congressional Democrats were virtually silent on the issue of drone strikes, and other uses of military force, against al Qaeda throughout Bush’s presidency. Today, that is…quite distinctly NOT the case.

        • Eggplant

          Horrible examples. People, even politicians, get tired of decade long wars, and drones are more of an issue now because their use is much, much more common.

      • Jesse Levine

        Gee, Joe, I thought Obama wasn’t proposing CCPI. Please explain the brilliance of this proposal from a policy or political perspective.

        • Anonymous

          Well, you could look at FlipYrWhig’s comment above. I mean I don’t think its a good policy, but you could defend it if it were paired with something else.

  • Bernard

    lol, offering up Social Security seems to be a popular Obama gift to the Republicans, even though SS has nothing to do with the Budget Deficit hysteria.

    and watch Obamacare do away with Medicare and Medicare. just follow Arkansas, a Dem Governer will lead the way to priviatizing Medicare. sharks like blood in the water.

    reading the excuses for Democrats who never stand up the Sharks can be quite amusing. the Lesser evil has quite effectively abetted teh Greater Evil for the last few Presidents, both R and our now “socalled” D Obama. lol. that 11th level chess is perfect cover for the “long run.”

    watching the rhetoric doesn’t change the reality,lol. the speed at which we go down the road to HEll really shouldn’t be our only concern, not going down the road seems to be more important, at least to me.

    i guess living in a bought and paid for kleptocracy, not being the “really” bad bad evil can be a way out of responsibility.

  • Bernard

    watch Obamacare do away with Medicare and Medicaid

    • Smells like pancakes.

      We all remember this person, right?

  • gcwall

    While one will not find many democratic representatives who will admit that they were duped into voting for the Iraq War, the fact is that they were.

    Former President George W. Bush advanced the AUMF as a tool that he needed to leverage Saddam Hussein into compliance. Many politicians felt it unwise to engage in a war of choice with an uncertain outcome. Others believed that Iraq had not yet acted as a belligerent that would cause an American war against Iraq. Iraq may have been considered a threat by some on some level, but the danger of an attack was never thought significant or imminent.

    The democrats believed that they gave the Bush administration a negotiating tool, not the right to commit America to a foreign war against essentially a nobody. To refer to the aggression against Iraq as a war was a real stretch. Iraq had no Navy, a tiny and quickly abandoned air force, an ill fed and a poorly supplied unorganized military. For America Iraq was a “turkey shoot” with targets scattered everywhere. If not for a stubborn resistance Iraq would not have been able to inflict much harm on American troops.

    The neo-cons, smug from the success of their gambit over Congress, set about their ill-conceived, expensive and illegal Project for the New American Century regardless of critiques offered by the government’s own senior analysts and foreign affairs professionals. The potential to profit on the Iraq War was so great that it blinded otherwise reasonable men and women into a war so poorly designed, as evidenced by a non-existent exit strategy, that many man-hours and money were spent on selling pro-war propaganda to Americans.

    The real struggle of the Iraq War for elected officials and business leaders was if they could force Americans to accept and comply with an irrational elective war. Cynically, they believed that if the cost of a stupid war could be foisted upon a future generation, Americans would not have to make sacrifices more significant than attaching plastic ribbons on things during the war and if the cannon fodder losses were less than the murder rate in any major metropolitan area the suckers would follow forever.

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