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Why, Oh Why, Did Barack Obama Turn Mitch McConnell Into A Reflexive Partisan?

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Virtually every word of Christopher Caldwell’s evaluation of Obama’s presidency is an embarrassment. Let’s start here:

Health-care reform and gay marriage are often spoken of as the core of Obama’s legacy. That is a mistake. Policies are not always legacies, even if they endure, and there is reason to believe these will not. The more people learn about Obamacare, the less they like it — its popularity is still falling, to a record low of 37 percent in November. Thirty states have voted to ban gay marriage, and almost everywhere it survives by judicial diktat.

You have to love the bait-and-switch within the same paragraph. Whether the ACA will be enduring is based solely on public opinion surveys, although the GOP isn’t in a position to repeal it and the primary threat to it is “judicial diktat” (although he would never call judicial decisions he likes that.) On the other hand, public opinion strongly trending in favor of same-sex marriage is ignored because in some states same-sex marriage is recognized because of judicial opinions. If Caldwell thinks that same-sex marriage won’t be enduring because the courts took the initiative, all I can say is, care to make it interesting?

It gets worse than this:

These are, however, typical Obama achievements. They are triumphs of tactics, not consensus-building. Obamacare involved quid pro quos (the “Cornhusker Kickback,” the “Louisiana Purchase,” etc.) that passed into Capitol Hill lore, accounting and parliamentary tricks to render the bill unfilibusterable, and a pure party-line vote in the Senate. You can call it normal politics, but Medicare did not pass that way. Gay marriage has meant Cultural Revolution–style bullying of dissenters (notoriously, Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty and the Mozilla founder Brendan Eich). You can call this normal politics, too, but the 1964 Civil Rights Act did not pass that way.

Let’s leave aside the outright factual errors (the “Cornhusker Kickback” was not part of the final ACA, what the hell did Obama have to do with Brandon Eich losing his job and what does it have to do with Maoism?) The argument is still a logical and historical disaster. First of all, Caldwell apparently doesn’t know anything about the passage of the Civil Rights Act or Medicare, both of which involved legislative deals. The EEOC was gutted to get Republican support for the Civil Rights Act; congressional leaders abandoned price controls in Medicare to placate the doctor’s lobby. The idea that there’s something new in making deals with legislators is farcical, and giving some additional Medicaid funds to Louisiana is one of the more trivial examples of the genre.

It is true that major reform legislation passing on a straight party-line vote is relatively unusual. But the obvious problem is blaming Barack Obama for the new conditions of American politics. Let’s go back to the Civil Rights Act. From Julian Zelizer’s superb new book The Fierce Urgency of Now, on getting Senate minority leader Everett Dirksen’s support for cloture on the Civil Rights Act:

Dirksen firmly believed that the job as a legislator was to make the compromises necessary to pass bills. Like so many others in this period of insider politics…Johnson and Dirksen knew each other well, liked each other, and believed in working together…

Johnson was hoping to take advantage of Dirksen’s concern for his legacy. Like Johnson, Dirksen measured his worth by the legislation he was able to move through Congress. (116-7)

So, yes, the ACA was passed through different means than the CRA or Medicare. But the key variable was Congress, not the White House. Johnson was dealing with a Republican leadership that was supportive of some parts of Johnson’s agenda ex ante and, more importantly, believed that it was the job of legislators to pass legislation. The current Republican leadership explicitly believes its responsibility is to prevent legislation supported by a Democratic president from passing, and failing that its job is to not give it any patina of bipartisan legitimacy. The only way Obama could have avoided unified Republican opposition is just to not support any significant legislative initiatives. I’m sure this is Caldwell’s preferred outcome — he’s arguing in transparent bad faith here — but it’s absurd to think that historians will be incompetent enough to think that Obama is to blame for Mitch McConnel’s legislative strategies.

Of course, Caldwell uses similar arguments to call Obama racially divisive:

Mitt Romney won three of five white votes in 2012, and exit polls from 2014 show this to be a floor rather than a ceiling. Obama may be remembered the way Republican California governor Pete Wilson was after he backed the anti-immigration Proposition 187 in 1994—as one who benefited personally from ethnic polarization but cost his party and his country dearly by it.

Sure, Romney may have been beaten convincingly by Obama, but Romney won among real voters, and by definition the candidate that was supported by a more heterogeneous coalition is more racially divisive. (Barack Obama getting 2 out of 5 white votes — divisive! Mitt Romney getting fewer than one in ten African-American votes — inclusive!) I’m sure Caldwell’s views will heavily influence historians — if the Dunning School comes back. Otherwise, while it’s of course unclear how historians will evaluate Obama, the evaluation won’t be this.

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  • Aimai

    Christ that point about Mitt and Pete Wilson is a veritable worm ourouborous of stupid. How can a multi racial coalition, including whites as well as non whites, lose the future of the party in a country that is becoming more non white by the year? Pete Wilson’s problem arises because his party failed to capture new, young, non white voters and they were the rising majority. If anyone is in that position its Mitt’s party.

    • c u n d gulag

      Don’t confuse the stupid with logic, Aimai.

    • DrDick

      I think I lost several IQ points just from reading those excerpts. That is a toxic level of stupidity.

      • joe from Lowell

        It’s an interesting little system he set up:

        The argument is so dumb that the mind rejects it at first, so you have to go back and read it again to make sure you understand it, which lowers your IQ. After a few rounds, you become dumb enough to understand the argument.

    • jmaharyt

      Ourouborous. What a colossally fantastic term and image. Thank you!

  • Rob in CT

    Oh for fuck’s sake.

    The first paragraph you quote consists of two lies:

    1) That “the more people now about” the ACA the less they like it. Yet when the actual components of the ACA are polled, they do better. Why? Because “Obamacare” has been demonized, whereas the actual existing PPACA contains a bunch of reforms, some of which people like quite a bit, and some of which they do not (mostly this means the mandate).

    2) The assertion that gay marriage is some sort of passing fad propped up by “judicial fiat” is ludricrous, given poll data (especially the trend).

    The guy is just a liar, and effectively demonstrates it right off the bat. Circular file.

    • Joe_JP

      and some of which they do not (mostly this means the mandate).

      free lunches tend to be more popular … who knew!

      The “it isn’t popular” b.s./lie continues. Very annoying.

      • Joe_JP

        And, “the mandate” itself tends to be exaggerated & people are misled up to things like how the law was explained at places like SCOTUSBlog. I in fact flagged the issue to them personally. There is talk about how “everyone” needs insurance. “Everyone” doesn’t need to buy it. Millions are exempt and/or get if free via Medicaid or some other route. Others have to pay something like $15 a month after the subsidy kicks in. That is also about the tax you have to pay if you choose not to have insurance and make enough money to be required to be covered out of pocket. Then, you get into WHY it’s there in the first place. Of course, some oppose it since they rather a BROADER single payer system etc.

    • NonyNony

      mostly this means the mandate

      And what’s hilarious is that everyone I know actually affected by the individual mandate is happy that they can finally buy insurance (since it wasn’t a choice to go without insurance that kept them from getting it.)

      I’d love to see some polling specifically about the hatred of the individual mandate – polling along the lines of “do you like this part of the law?”, “are you actually affected by this part of the law?”, and “do you have employer-sponsored health insurance?” (to find out how many people THINK they are affected but are actually really aren’t). Maybe a few other questions in there to suss out what people who didn’t have insurance before the PPACA and have it now think of the mandate – especially whether they think it’s a worthwhile trade for affordability.

      I suspect that many people hate the individual mandate from a purity theory of what freedom in the USA is supposed to be like, but from a practical perspective aren’t affected by it much at all. But I’d love to see some data either refuting that or backing it up.

      • Rob in CT

        Plus the mandate is a key leg in the three-legged stool. You can’t have guaranteed issue w/o it.

        Way back in 2007, I was anti-mandate, for exactly the reasons you suspect! I had employer-provided health insurance and would be unaffected, but it just sounded unfreedomy and stuff, being “forced” to buy health insurance. Then I learned a little bit about health insurance and the reform effort and realized that you can’t have anything that looks even remotely like the PPACA without it. I’m for a more comprehensive (single payer) system, like pretty much everybody here at LGM, so I quickly realized that it was accept the mandate or give up (as single payer in 2008 was a pipe dream).

        Thing is, voters always want to have their cake and eat it too. Always.

      • JKTH

        Calling it a mandate is terrible labeling, but everyone has accepted that for some reason. It’s a tax penalty…basically the reverse of the fact that if you don’t have a mortgage, you’re being “penalized” by not being able to take the mortgage interest deduction.

    • StellaB

      In last week’s NYT story about the ACA in Kentucky, the woman who was getting her rotten teeth fixed courtesy of the ACA didn’t even mind the mandate. She wanted the ACA repealed because she didn’t like the fact that it denies cancer treatment to the elderly. She wasn’t even concerned about any real parts of the ACA.

    • Scott Lemieux

      The assertion that gay marriage is some sort of passing fad propped up by “judicial fiat” is ludricrous, given poll data (especially the trend).

      And complaining about “judicial diktat” in the same goddamned paragraph in which he complains about the ACA is particularly rich.

      • Rob in CT

        Well, yeah, that too. It’s a target-rich environment.

  • Malaclypse

    Obama may be remembered the way Republican California governor Pete Wilson was after he backed the anti-immigration Proposition 187 in 1994—as one who benefited personally from ethnic polarization but cost his party and his country dearly by it.

    In 1984, Reagan got 9% of the black vote, while Mondale got 91%. It isn’t like Obama created this trend.

    • Rob in CT

      I love how Romney getting high % of the white vote isn’t “benefitting from ethnic polarization.”

      It’s always projection, isn’t it? The party that whines and whines and whines about “identity politics” engages in it 24/7.

      • Scott Lemieux

        I love how Romney getting high % of the white vote isn’t “benefitting from ethnic polarization.”

        Exactly.

        • Rob in CT

          It’s like Lee Atwater never existed.

          • Oh, if only…

            • Rob in CT

              So what you’re saying is that things would be better if the wingnut memory hole was real!

      • LeeEsq

        Tribalism is only tribalism if it is done by other tribes.

      • MAJeff

        I love how Romney getting high % of the white vote isn’t “benefitting from ethnic polarization.”

        They don’t call whiteness “unmarked” for nothing.

    • Davis X. Machina

      Well, in December of 2000, George W. Bush got 100% of the black vote, so there….

      • timb

        I would like to buy this comment dinner and luxuriate in its wisdom and insight

        • witlesschum

          I’d be worried about what might turn up in the Coke, but I agree.

      • mikeSchilling

        I am going to steal that.

  • Origami Isopod

    It’s not that NY Mag never runs objectionable columns (some of Chait’s in response to TNC were dreadful), and I’m not comfortable saying that conservative opinion pieces should simply be banned from their site, but Caldwell’s was an odd choice for them. His article is pitched at wingnut true believers, not affluent liberals or centrists who buy into respectability politics. The only commenter who’s convinced is the resident wingnut troll.

    • Rob in CT

      Could just be “see, they are who you think they are.”

    • Phil Perspective

      Some? 85% of Chait’s stuff is dreadful.

      • Rob in CT

        Massive overstatement. Chait is very good at skewering Conservative bullshit, which is most of what he does. He has a major blindspot on race that the exchange with Coates highlighted. He really showed his ass on that one. The other area where he reliably fucks up is foreign policy. Those are major things, it’s true, but they’re not 85% of his output, or even close to it.

        With some pundits or media outlets, I get the feeling we’ve reached this point where either they’re perfect or they suck. It’s like the Sam Adams thing: being solidly above average is no longer acceptable or something.

        • rea

          So, in other words, he’s right on everything other than foreign or domestic policy. Cool.

          • Malaclypse

            A modern-day Lieberman.

          • Rob in CT

            Yeah, that’s a totally reasonable interpretation of what I wrote!

          • Pat

            He’s pretty good on economic issues. He’s also pretty acerbic against stupid arguments. I avoid him on diversity issues.

            He’s a good debater, he just doesn’t get out much.

            • Rob in CT

              That’s it exactly.

            • Aimai

              Is it really possible to be admired as any kind of public thinker if you just don’t understand the massively important role Race and Racism play in modern American politics and society? “Just doesn’t get out much” doesn’t seem to cut it.

              • Cheerful

                His latest, which spends considerable time discussing how the Reconstruction has been misremembered in U.S. history, including by liberals, is not too bad:

                http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2015/01/obama-and-the-unfairness-of-history.html

              • Pat

                I like to think that people who are capable of learning will do so in a supportive environment. Chait’s been learning. He really is a good debater, which is evident in his recent Romney article.

                A big problem all of us have is that we don’t know what we don’t know. High-profile bloggers get to do it in public.

    • altofront

      It’s a “both sides” event: they had Chait write the opposing piece.

      • Bob Loblaw Lobs Law Bomb

        I was kind of disappointed in NYMag for stacking the deck in favor of their own writer by getting such a craptacular essay for the Counterpoint.

    • Barry_D

      “…but Caldwell’s was an odd choice for them. …”

      The real answer is probably because he’s In the Club. Note the TNR fiasco, where a bunch of alleged liberals spouted vast amounts of bullsh*t to defend virulent right-wing racists.

  • sibusisodan

    believed that it was the job of legislators to pass legislation

    I miss that belief so much. Can we have it back, please?

    • Davis X. Machina

      Well, that was before “That government is best, that can’t…” — or is it “…won’t”? — became the fundamental philosophy of half the political nation.

      • sibusisodan

        In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem

        Somehow, the first four words got dropped. Can’t think why.

        • Rob in CT

          Setting aside the idea that America in 1980 was in crisis, which strikes me as pretty ridiculous, yeah, that.

          • Hogan

            Are you kidding? In 1980 Democrats controlled the White House and both houses of Congress. What could be a bigger crisis than that?

            • Manspreading.

              • Aimai

                You joke but how long before “Dem-spreading” is also considered a public health danger?

                • I never joke.

    • Murc

      It’s still around.

      I’m more and more thinking that we’ve been misreading the conservative movement. Sure, they’re vandals. But they don’t see themselves as vandals. They have big legislative projects they want to shepherd into law, same as we do.

      The key difference is that they care about passing legislation, but their legislative priorities are so divergent from ours there’s no real room for compromise AND many of them involve tearing down rather than building. Lots and lots of Republican Congresspeople and Senators care about passing legislation; they care about that deeply, with a fiery passion.

      What they don’t care about is passing legislation they consider useless. Look at how many times the House voted to repeal the ACA. That’s a legislative goal! They consider the ACA an abomination. Why would they work towards modifying it? Any compromise the Democrats approach them with regarding it will be aimed at making it work better or be more stable. They’re not dumb. They know that. So why cooperate?

      The Republican Party uses eminently sensible and rational means towards insane ends.

      • Rob in CT

        John Cole’s “tire rims and anthrax” joke is appropriate here:

        http://www.balloon-juice.com/2009/02/05/youll-never-get-this-21-minutes-of-your-life-back/

        I really don’t understand how bipartisanship is ever going to work when one of the parties is insane. Imagine trying to negotiate an agreement on dinner plans with your date, and you suggest Italian and she states her preference would be a meal of tire rims and anthrax. If you can figure out a way to split the difference there and find a meal you will both enjoy, you can probably figure out how bipartisanship is going to work the next few years.

        • Murc

          I have that’n bookmarked, yup.

          It’s actually, because of their names, right next to my link to John Rogers’s “Crazification Factor” post. which is next to John Scalzi’s “Being Poor” and “Being a White Dude Is Easy Mode” posts. There are a lot of smart people named John!

          • Rob in CT

            Good posts, all!

            Reading some of that 2009 comment thread was painful. Oh, what could have been done, before the jackals took the House in the 2010 election.

      • sibusisodan

        The key difference is that they care about passing legislation

        They do? I may be insufficiently informed, but aside from the ‘repeal’ part of ‘repeal and replace’, which legislative proposals have a consistent base of support within the Republican caucus?

        I can think of plenty of budget proposals, and one or two healthcare bills which have been put forward. But they generally tend to get dropped as soon as anyone starts asking how they’re going to work in practice/ get funded.

        • Murc

          I may be insufficiently informed, but aside from the ‘repeal’ part of ‘repeal and replace’, which legislative proposals have a consistent base of support within the Republican caucus?

          Federal abortion ban.

          Balanced budget amendment.

          Dismantling the Departments of Energy and Education. Probably also the EPA.

          You could probably assemble a majority in favor of an unrestricted air campaign against Iran.

          That’s just off the top of my head.

          • sibusisodan

            Fair enough. I now am slightly less insufficiently informed. Thanks.

          • gusmpls

            Don’t forget

            Keystone Pipeline.

            Opening all federal land to mining, logging, etc.

            • Rob in CT

              Giving away all federal land to mining, logging, etc.

              It’s one thing if one proposed to charge properly for it. I might still oppose a given project, but that’s never the deal. It’s a giveaway.

              • Pat

                Even better, give it a time limit. If they don’t develop it, take it away, keep their money, and sell the license to their competitors.

          • Malaclypse

            Insurance across state lines.
            Capital gains tax to zero.
            Inheritance tax to zero.
            Tort reform.

            • Lee Rudolph

              Inheritance tax to zero.

              Why not negative, hmm?

          • stryx

            Don’t forget the Medicare Part D expansion and upright and transparent way it was enacted.

      • Scott Lemieux

        The key difference is that they care about passing legislation

        But you’re misreading the obvious context of the quote. Dirksen believed in passing legislation even if the other party controlled the White House; if you were the minority party, you made the best deal you could. Contemporary Republicans have rejected this completely. Sure, they believe in passing legislation if they control everything, but that’s not the argument.

        • Murc

          Dirksen believed in passing legislation even if the other party controlled the White House; if you were the minority party, you made the best deal you could. Contemporary Republicans have rejected this completely.

          Here’s the thing, Scott. I am really unsure that they have.

          What if you can get the best deal possible by your own standards by digging in your heels and not giving an inch? If so, then you do that… right?

          I’m thinking about it, and, well… what can Obama offer the Republicans that they actually want? I mean, that they really, truly want, not just minor policy tweaks around the edges. And even if he could up with some of those things, would they want those things more than they wouldn’t want whatever he wants in exchange to happen?

          I mean, let’s take the ACA. Anything Obama wants to do with the ACA will be aimed at stabilizing and strengthening it. Republicans know that. They’re not dumb. What on earth could he ever offer them that they want more than that?

          A similar dynamic, I think, is at play amongst other issues. The Republicans, I don’t think (I could be wrong here, that’s why all the weasel words) are cutting off their nose to spite their face. They just… have legislative priorities that the White House can’t possibly meet, which means there’s no deal to be made.

          • Scott Lemieux

            What if you can get the best deal possible by your own standards by digging in your heels and not giving an inch? If so, then you do that… right?

            Only on the ACA, for example, they quite clearly didn’t do that. Given the desperation of many Senate Dems they absolutely made the bill significantly less progressive if they wanted to. They also could have taken the ludicrously tilted-to-the-right “grand bargain” Obama offered in his first term — they didn’t.

            And, again, it’s not like we have to speculate. McConnell was entirely explicit that refusing to collaborate with Obama was an end in itself.

  • tsam

    Why don’t you cry about it, Caldwell?

  • c u n d gulag

    This article probably reads better in the original Cracker-White Supremacist.

    • Rob in CT

      Seems to me it is in the original CWS. Maybe I’m so fluent now I just auto-translate…

  • Murc

    They are triumphs of tactics, not consensus-building.

    You know what, I’m proud to say that I don’t give a fuck about consensus building. I care about winning. I don’t want to come to a consensus with the conservative movement; I want to smash it in the head with a maul until its brains spill out, and then drag the corpse behind my car until it’s an unrecognizable slab of oozing meat before throwing it to some dogs I don’t particularly like.

    The only reason you try and establish consensus is if you don’t have the power to actually do what you want and need to coax others on board.

  • LWA

    What the Beltway hacks have refused to admit is the reality that the present GOP is a revolutionary party, one that refuses to accept the other side as legitimate representatives of the rest of the country.
    That’s why only white conservatives are real Americans, only their votes are legitimate, and only their reality is accepted.
    Its also why for them, Cleek’s Law rules- opposition, always opposition, regardless of outcome.

    • Murc

      I would characterize them as counter-revolutionary.

      • dn

        Corey Robin in The Reactionary Mind is very good on this – the whole gist of his argument is that the line between revolutionary and counter-revolutionary is very thin. Conservatism, as an intellectual phenomenon, can come into being only in response to a challenge to the old order from the left; but the very fact that such a challenge could arise at all implies that the old order must suffer from radical weaknesses. The right is forced to make inventive or novel arguments to cover these weaknesses, and therefore tends to become radical and revolutionary in spite of itself, even as it proclaims itself resolutely traditional. That’s how a throne-and-altar guy like Maistre comes to be recognized in the 20th century as a not-too-distant precursor of fascism.

    • Davis X. Machina

      Revolutionary, in the way the CSA was a revolutionary state. Not a Tea Party, a Confederate Party.

      The essence of the Confederate worldview is that the democratic process cannot legitimately change the established social order, and so all forms of legal and illegal resistance are justified when it tries.

      That worldview is alive and well. During last fall’s government shutdown and threatened debt-ceiling crisis, historian Garry Wills wrote about our present-day Tea Partiers: “The presiding spirit of this neo-secessionism is a resistance to majority rule.”

      The Confederate sees a divinely ordained way things are supposed to be, and defends it at all costs. No process, no matter how orderly or democratic, can justify fundamental change.

      When in the majority, Confederates protect the established order through democracy. If they are not in the majority, but have power, they protect it through the authority of law. If the law is against them, but they have social standing, they create shams of law, which are kept in place through the power of social disapproval. If disapproval is not enough, they keep the wrong people from claiming their legal rights by the threat of ostracism and economic retribution. If that is not intimidating enough, there are physical threats, then beatings and fires, and, if that fails, murder.

      That was the victory plan of Reconstruction.

      Doug Muder.

      • Rob in CT

        There is a really, really revealing angry comment (way down towards the bottom, begins with how the post is the most offensive thing they’ve ever read) that basically says Yes, the Democrats were elected fair and square in 2008 but then they did illegitimate things so resistance is called for and it’s terribly rude to suggest that said resistance is neoconfederate in nature. Never once does the commentor explain what the Dems did that was illegitimate, of course. It’s perfect comfirmation of this bit:

        The Confederate sees a divinely ordained way things are supposed to be, and defends it at all costs. No process, no matter how orderly or democratic, can justify fundamental change.

        • Jackov

          Since at least FDR, there is a segment of conservatopia that deems any Democratic president as illegitimate primarily because they win elections with votes from those people – leftists, the poors, minorities, Catholics and Jews, young people, women and/or gays – though it is framed as concerns about election fraud (Kennedy,Clinton – not winning a majority/campaign finance, Obama), unconstitutional policies (FDR, Clinton, Obama) or “buying” votes with social welfare measures (FDR, LBJ, Clinton, Obama).

          When was the last election Democrats won fairly according to wingnuts? Maybe Carter since was a southern evangelical and is labeled incompetent instead of illegitimate.

      • LWA

        Thank for the link.

        I thin whats important for us liberals to consider, is why this worldview is so stubbornly persistent and how to counter it.
        For instance, much of the liberal response to issues of conservative culture has been with the language or relativism and liberty, that:
        1. There does not exist a universal order and;
        2. Even if there were, the Confederate vision sure ain’t it.

        #2 seems easy to hold firm on, but #1 is more interesting.

        That even the liberal vision leans on the idea of a universal moral order (e.g. that all humans are equal; all humans possess dignity and agency), which does NOT need to accommodate its opposition.

        That is, we don’t need to frame these values solely in terms of objective ideas of liberty and harm.

        • Pat

          These days I’m thinking that we should classify Confederatism as colonialism. It’s pretty much the same thing. Identify a group of people, rob them of their stuff, and then claim justification (they aren’t really people, they weren’t using it, we’re improving their lot by taking their stuff, etc.)

          The question is, how do we distract people from colonial thinking? Or educate them into abandoning the viewpoint?

          • Rob in CT

            Shhh! D’Souza is still at large.

            • rea

              76 trombones led the Big Republican Parade.
              110 cornets right behind.
              And a guy on the D’Souzaphone bringing up the rear . . .

        • Davis X. Machina

          …even the liberal vision leans on the idea of a universal moral order (e.g. that all humans are equal; all humans possess dignity and agency), which does NOT need to accommodate its opposition.

          The ‘not accommodating the opposition’ part is hard. Nobody wants to be Robespierre, or Danton, though.

  • timb

    I read Chait’s article and found it convincing and grounded and I am very familiar with reading wingnut pieces on the internet from the like of Patrick Frey and, even, Jeff Goldstein, but Caldwell lost me with “medicare wasn’t passed that way” which displays such a lack of knowledge that I immediately decided a) he was dishonest or b) too stupid to be worth my time.

  • mud man

    The only way Obama could have avoided unified Republican opposition is just to not support any significant legislative initiatives.

    He could resign. Like Republican presidents do.

    • Murc

      ?

      Name a Republican President who resigned in order to avoid unified Democratic opposition.

      • Scott Lemieux

        Dhat’s da joke.

  • sleepyirv

    I nearly tapped out at the subtitle. When did the flipping Republicans turned against Gorbachev?

    And how can human being with any sense of perspective at all, in an analysis of a PRESIDENT’S standing in HISTORY bring up the guy from Duck Dynasty? AND WHEN DID OBAMA CENSOR THE DUDE FROM DUCK DYNASTY!?!?

    • humanoid.panda

      The only way is that reference makes sense if that he started this story during the fall when IsisEBolaBorder crisis doomed America, so the comparison to Gorbachev, who after all presided over Soviet collapse, made sense from within the bubble. Even two months later, that looks insane, and conservatives already started tippy-toeing from damning Obama to congratulating the free market for the American rebound, but he already had the framing and was too lazy to change it.

    • Tybalt

      They prefer Putin now.

    • Scott Lemieux

      I disagree. I think historical evaluations of the Obama presidency will be dominated by Obama ordering the Duck Dynasty guy killed a guy on a reality television show being criticized while Obama was in the White House.

      • jim, some guy in iowa

        i thought the story was obama was going to get a bunch of his thug friends together and forcibly clear-cut mr duck’s facial foliage

        • Pat

          That’s more Romney-style, forcibly cutting someone’s hair.

  • humanoid.panda

    What I like found fascinating about the piece is the fact it was clearly not intended like a crazy screed, but a respectful presentation to an away crowd by one of the best voices of conservatism, and yet came out reading like a long blog post on the Corner. This means one of two things: either Obama is truly so great a President that any systematic critique of him is rooted in lies (I am skeptical) or that the intellectual degeneration of the Right is so complete that even its ambassadors to the rest of the world are now so immersed in the bubble that they cannot no longer commmunicate in a significant manner with anyone outside it (ding, ding,ding!).

    • humanoid.panda

      Now, the question is whether, in the medium to long run, will Republicans a real price for this degeneration? I want to think so, but the evidence so far is unconvincing.

      • LeeEsq

        In the long run, yes. We had parties collapose on themselves or suffer continual loses until they recovered in the past in this country. It can happen again. It is going to be very long term though. Many people agree with the current Republican ideology and many others vote Republican out of self-interest or tribal loyalty without really being aware of Republican nuttiness. Many Democratic voters are not that aware of Republican nuttiness. There needs to be widespread knowledge of how degenerate they became before Republicans suffer.

      • jim, some guy in iowa

        you know how conservatives are- privatize the gain, socialize the risk. they never pay full price

    • erick

      I think there is a third possibility. Obama is overall an above average president who under the circumstances has done really well (the one historian who said eventually he’ll probably rank at the bottom of the top 3rd seems right to me). So any criticism is going to be pretty small bore stuff and not live up to the “worst president ever, Maoist, fascist ” story the fight has been selling

      I think it is a combination of your 2nd point and that.

    • Bob Loblaw Lobs Law Bomb

      I’m skeptical that NYMag thought it was getting “one of the best voices of conservatism” when it rang up the Weekly Standard.

    • Barry_D

      “What I like found fascinating about the piece is the fact it was clearly not intended like a crazy screed, but a respectful presentation to an away crowd by one of the best voices of conservatism, and yet came out reading like a long blog post on the Corner.”

      There are niches in propaganda; this is the niche where the liar pretends to be an objective intellectual presenting historical facts.

    • Warren Terra

      This means one of two things: either Obama is truly so great a President that any systematic critique of him is rooted in lies (I am skeptical) or that the intellectual degeneration of the Right is so complete that even its ambassadors to the rest of the world are now so immersed in the bubble that they cannot no longer commmunicate in a significant manner with anyone outside it

      Paul Krugman had a great blog post over the weekend (see also today’s follow-up post). His basic point is that Conservatives don’t want deep or serious thinkers, that they instead promote lazy and dishonest hacks, people who in your formulation can be relied upon to keep the discourse safely within the bubble, even if deep or serious thinkers broadly aligned with their viewpoint might be available.

      • humanoid.panda

        I have no doubt about that, but the question is whether a political movement can survive without any kind of intellectual brainpower. I want to think that the answer is no, but I am not sure I can make a good argument in favor of that position.

        (The best one is I can think o is that all politics aside, if you don’t have neither sane policy intellectuals nor people selected for their competence, you end up with Bush 2 and give your opponents a chance to push through real structural changes).

        • Aimai

          Why does a political movement need brainpower at all? A political movement is a movement to seize power, which needs no theorizing, and to use it for the benefit of those in your own party. You need absolutely no theories to do that.

          • burritoboy

            Seemingly so, but it quickly becomes difficult to tell who actually is in your own party, and so deserves benefits. It’s quite simple to claim to be a good party member. And it’s infinitely easier if there was nothing to assent to. Further, even if that issue is clear, it’s never clear how to divide up the benefits. Should Comrade X or Comrade Y receive more benefits? Both may be good members of the party, but their contributions or future contributions cannot be exactly equal. Even more fundamentally, what is power? The party cannot seize all power everywhere – the party cannot control every human action. So what power is important to the party? Why is this power important but that other power unimportant?

            • Lee Rudolph

              The party cannot seize all power everywhere – the party cannot control every human action.

              Comrade, you will report to re-education camp immediately.

              • When I was sent there, they called it “summer school.”

              • burritoboy

                How will you know how to educate, or re-educate me, since you have no theory about what is good for a party member to know?

                • Lee Rudolph

                  I haven’t?

  • Translation: Ooo, that Obama! Who does he think he … Ooo, he’s just so … He makes me … Hmph! No sir, I don’t like him!

  • brewmn

    Third sentence in:

    It showed that there had been no boom at all, only a multitrillion-dollar real-estate debauch that Clinton’s and Bush’s affordable-housing mandates had set in motion.

    I bailed right there. I don;t need to read a greatest hits parade of the fact-free rightwing nonsense that I’ve been hearing nonstop for the last six years.

    • joe from Lowell

      Needz moar Barney Frank.

  • n00chness

    If only Obama had just worked the phones a little to build consensus, our institutions would not be in shambles!

    • Bob Loblaw Lobs Law Bomb

      You forgot dinners and cocktails with senators!

  • Warren Terra

    This isn’t precisely topical, but I think it shares a certain “we make our own reality through the power of denial and wishful thinking” mindset: there’s a bill in the Texas Lege to penalize any county clerk who issues a marriage license to a couple with matching whatsits. So far, so unremarkable – but then they add a few bits that are like the infamously silly Facebook privacy assertion: they put in text declaring that the US Constitution doesn’t apply to their bill:

    The State is not subject to suit in law or equity pursuant to the eleventh amendment of the United States Constitution for complying with the provisions of this section, regardless of a contrary federal court ruling

    And to top that off, they declare that the bill automatically wins any lawsuits and the losing plaintiffs must pay costs:

    A court of this State shall dismiss a legal action challenging a provision of this section and shall award costs and attorney ’s fees to a person or entity named as a defendant in the legal action

    If only the Democrats had thought to put such language in the ACA we could have been spared all these legal challenges! Pure genius!

    • Four Krustys

      I believe this falls under the legal principle of “He who smelt it, dealt it”, originally decided in Finders v. Keepers (1831).

    • witlesschum

      A lot of them really do believe in magic words.

      • Hogan

        But your honor, that law specifically says “no backsies”!

      • Invocation of the Magic Words works so well for the Sovereign Citizens / Freeman on the land / Admiralty Law loons.

    • Malaclypse

      I’m amazed they have not thought to make Fundamentalist Protestantism the official religion, and simply exempt that law from the pesky First Amendment.

      • Murc

        The more likely way of doing that would be to try and elide Amendment 14. Amendment 14 is easier to get around because the language is more ambiguous and the incorporation doctrine is built mostly out of caselaw. If you can get around that you put a bullet in the head of not just the Amendment 1 but the entire pesky bill of rights at the state level.

        Only downside is it would also obviate Amendment 2.

        Also too, “protestantism” isn’t really a religion. I suspect that if it actually were possible to make sectarian laws in this country, the cozy alliance between various evangelical protestant denominations would detonate explosively. It wasn’t too long ago that even the mainline denominations, in many parts of the country, viewed each other through narrow, slitted eyes as hell-bound heathens.

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  • IM

    But the lesson Johnson offers for Obama’s own eventual vindication is not quite so encouraging. LBJ’s political career was defined by his singular failure in Vietnam. The hatred this spawned blotted out his massive and more enduring achievements. The current film Selma inaccurately depicts Johnson as an opponent of the civil-rights struggle he had, in reality, thrown all his energy behind. Five decades on, Johnson still has not escaped the feelings he engendered — indeed, he still requires rehabilitation by figures like Obama.

    Chait is almost reaching the LGM level here. I thim, whatever you can say about Chait of yesterday, Chait of the present isn’t so bad.

    Obama isn’t so bad either.

    • Vance Maverick

      It’s not yesterday vs. today — good Chait alternates with bad in a given week, depending mainly on topic. In this one, he overdid the formality of tone, but like you say, his points are good.

  • kayden

    I wish that Scott would write a comment to Caldwell’s b.s. article in NY Magazine. That would be so sweet.

    Interesting that Caldwell completely ignores the fact that the GOP held a meeting on President Obama’s inauguration in 2009 vowing to do everything in their power to oppose him and destroy his presidency. How the hell can you work with such people?

    • Malaclypse

      He could have given them a legitimate pretext for impeachment, but Obama Won’t. Even. Try.

    • Davis

      One of the commenters linked to Scott’s article here.

  • mikeSchilling

    Dirksen didn’t just want to pass legislation in some abstract sense; he was genuinely excited about being one of the fathers of the CRA (which he was, and deserves to be remembered for.) Given the ideological sorting that the parties have undergone, it’s vanishingly unlikely that anything a Democratic president thinks of as an achievement is anything a Republican member of Congress would want to be known for

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