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“We Will Not Use A Green Lantern. We Will Use An Emerald Lantern.”

[ 83 ] October 21, 2015 |


Lawrence Lessig had a fascinating new strategery.  He would ask a Republican House to pass a salutary reform package.  Republicans would have no choice but to pass this statute because running a single-issue campaign transforms a campaign into a referendum because something.  And then he would triumphantly resign, perhaps to turn the reigns over to Jim Webb who would also get bored in a couple weeks and turn the White House over to Fred Thompson, and so on.

Alas,  the “take my ball and go home” component of the plan is now inoperative:

The resignation idea was mine, so naturally, I resisted the skepticism. But I was wrong to resist it. And just how wrong was shown to me in the first poll we could run after our campaign was funded.

In a 1,008-person survey about the idea of a referendum presidency, Drew Westen, perhaps the Democrats’ most influential messaging guru, tested both the idea of a campaign focused on fixing our democracy first, and the idea of a president resigning once that work was done.

The resignation idea was a total bust. No one liked it. At all.

But the idea of an outsider making fundamental reform the central issue of the campaign blew the race apart.

After a careful description of the idea, and me, the poll found that my support didn’t just increase. It dominated the field. And while the survey was not designed to test the ultimate strength of one candidate against the other—so the (insanely high) numbers it found supporting me can’t be read as a measure of actual predicted support—the survey did show the astonishing potential for such a campaign in America today. This fundamental issue, properly presented, totally changed the race.

Whoa, back up:

Drew Westen, perhaps the Democrats’ most influential messaging guru

1)Please tell me that the “most influential” assertion is not true.
2)Lessig working with Westen seems over-over determined.

Anyway, I’m sure Westen has created polling data showing that if Lessig focuses on procedural reforms without the resignation idea, Lessig will “blow the race apart.” Good luck with that!

So now what?

That makes sense—for a politician. The data show that from a politician, the message of reform isn’t effective. People don’t believe it. For a politician, the better strategy is to promise the moon—ignoring the truth that the rocket can’t get off the ground.

But I am not constrained in the way the politicians are. Westen’s data shows that. And so if you believe as I do that restoring our democracy is the most important challenge before us—the thing we must do if we’re to do anything else—then it’s time to swallow pride, and follow the data.


If the Democrats won’t take seriously a candidate with a viable, credible, and professionally managed campaign just because it includes a promise to step aside once the work is done, then fine. You win. I drop that promise.

I am running for president. I am running with the purpose of restoring this democracy. I will make that objective primary. I will do everything possible to make it happen first, by working with Congress to pass fundamental reform first.

After we pass that reform, I will remain as president to make sure the reforms stick. I will work with Congress to assure they are implemented. I will defend them against legislative or legal attack.

Lessig has a plan to get a Republican House to pass legislation that would be contrary to both its ideological and practical interests. His previous plan was to force the House to do this because the election would be a REFERENDUM (note: not actually a referendum.) His new plan is to argue that DATA shows that this can happen so long as the president is an outsidery outsider. Data complied by…Drew Westen, a man almost comically ignorant about the most basic details of how the political process functions.

The fact that this all starts out by arguing that for a mere politician “the better strategy is to promise the moon—ignoring the truth that the rocket can’t get off the ground” just makes it extra awesome.


Grand Unified Theory of Green Lanternism

[ 21 ] September 26, 2015 |

Showcase 22.pngEric Cantor is, believe it or not, making sense:

But somewhere along the road, a number of voices on the right began demanding that the Republican Congress not only block Mr. Obama’s agenda but enact a reversal of his policies. They took to the airwaves and the Internet and pronounced that congressional Republicans could undo the president’s agenda — with him still in office, mind you — and enact into law a conservative vision for government, without compromise.

Strangely, according to these voices, the only reason that was not occurring had nothing to do with the fact that the president was unlikely to repeal his own laws, or that under the Constitution, absent the assent of the president or two-thirds of both houses of Congress, you cannot make law. The problem was a lack of will on the part of congressional Republican leaders.

The rest is also worth reading. Cantor makes a good case that the Green Lantern Theory of Governance has resulted not simply in the deep annoyance of people who know better, but in the failure of the GOP to make achievable gains on its key policy preferences. It’s a pretty compelling case, and one that Democrats would be well-advised to keep in mind.

That Green Lantern Won’t Raise Itself!

[ 170 ] July 26, 2015 |


In this confusing, ever-changing world, it’s reassuring to know that Joe Lieberman is always an asshole:

Former Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) is pressuring a top Senate Democrat to buck the Obama administration on its Iran nuclear deal to ensure a safer future for Israel.

Yes, nothing would ensure a “safer future for Israel” than having the sanctions regime that is inflicting immense suffering on ordinary Iranian citizens collapse without getting any concessions at all! But, of course, Lieberman is pretending that this wouldn’t be the outcome of Congress overriding Obama’s veto and preventing the deal from going into effect:

Lieberman blasted White House negotiators for a deal that he said would allow Iran to ignore U.S. demands and instead support its own regional allies, which he described as “terrorist.”

“How can you make a deal with somebody who says they want to kill you?” Lieberman asked, reiterating the stance of Israeli leaders and its supporters who oppose the deal. “Pretty impossible in my opinion.”

Israel’s leaders say the agreement will make the country more vulnerable in an already-volatile region.

Instead, Lieberman encouraged the White House to go back to the drawing board to negotiate a better deal.

See, your garden-variety warmongering hack would just stop with saying that Obama should have gotten everything hawks want from Iran in exchange for nothing, using the same powers he could have used to get Congress to pass the Patient Protection, Single Payer, and a Clinic Offering Free Abortions in Every County Act of 2010 only he Didn’t. Even. Try. That Lieberman makes this argument only after asserting that it’s inherently impossible to make any deal with the Iranian state is the kind of thing that makes Lieberman very special.

LBJ’s Missing Green Lantern

[ 40 ] March 13, 2015 |

Julian Zelizer has an excellent new book about the Great Society. I have a review of it up at the Washington Spectator:

But the most crucial factor working for Johnson was that congressional majorities didn’t have to be persuaded to favor civil rights. With the violence necessary to sustain American apartheid being revealed by the civil rights movement, not only liberals but moderates on both sides of the aisle supported the key provisions of the Civil Rights Act, making it easier to break the logjam created by a minority of Southern segregationists. Overcoming this minority obstruction was far from a trivial accomplishment, but it’s much more easily done when large majorities of Congress and the public are already on your side. And powerful social movements are much more likely to persuade recalcitrant legislators than are presidential blandishments.

LBJ wasn’t the only 1964 presidential candidate responsible for the substantial achievements of the 89th Congress. Barry Goldwater deserves some credit for the progressive legislation Johnson signed into law, including Medicare, Medicaid, and major federal educational and anti-poverty spending. Johnson’s crushing defeat of Goldwater brought with it huge and unusually liberal Democratic congressional majorities. The Republicans who survived “were profoundly shaken by the election returns and believed they could no longer afford to obstruct Johnson’s proposals.”

Zelizer also shows that Medicare was not imposed top-down by Johnson, but its shape was largely determined by negotiations within Congress, with LBJ frequently taking a hands-off role. (And the decision not to pursue universal health care reform was in itself a major compromise, particularly since the decision to provide health insurance to those over 65 made getting the necessary support for European-style health care effectively impossible.)

The liberals who built the Great Society also derived some political capital from a darker source: the escalating disaster in Vietnam.

The thing is, the man who more or less invented the modern position of Senate Majority Leader probably does have the highest legislative WAR of any progressive president in history. It’s just that the effects of presidential action apart from agenda-setting in terms of getting new legislation enacted are very marginal. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the White House is where major change ends, not where it begins.

Abortion Green Lanternism

[ 10 ] October 15, 2014 |

Atrios is making sense:

What was especially maddening about Saletan-esque arguments over the years, aside from their clear wrongness, was that he seemed to truly believe that if only pro-choice people would admit it was all so icky and horrible then anti-abortion people would just surrender and go home. It was the position that only a High Priest Of Punditry could take, that the discourse was more important than the policy.

There were a lot of pathologies in the general pundit discourse about abortion in the preceding decade (which, thankfully, seem to be a little less common now.)  But one of the strangest is the idea that there was some rhetorical strategy that could end the underlying conflict. And it’s particularly odd in the context of abortion, where public opinion has been remarkably stable since the issue became politically salient in the mid-60s, all the clever rhetorical strategies of both sides aside.   Framing and messaging are overrated in general, and abortion is a particularly strong case in point even though it’s an issue where people seem to be particularly obsessed with it.

That Green Lantern Won’t Raise Itself!

[ 16 ] September 8, 2014 |

Shorter some random Fox News hack: “If only Mitt Romney had won, we wouldn’t have had all these domestic violence problems over the years, either.”

…BREAKING: Fox & Friends will always be the stupidest show in the history of television. 

Today In Green Lanternism

[ 100 ] August 26, 2014 |

Via Chait, who engages in some entertaining mockery of the embarrassing bad faith summit between Frank and West, we can see a somewhat more measured argument in the same vein from Michael Kazin. To be clear, it’s not nearly as bad as Frank’s Salon hackwork. Nonetheless, my jaw remained on the floor for some time after reading this:

Why has Barack Obama—one of the most eloquent and thoughtful of recent presidents—become such a terrible politician? Midway through his sixth year in office, his ineptitude is pretty clear. He frustrated and demobilized the huge base he built during his campaigns and, unless the polls turn around quickly, will be watching from the White House as the GOP takes full control of Congress this fall. On Tuesday, the Times offered some new evidence in an article about his frosty relationship with Senate Democrats.


But it also helped him win the 2008 Democratic primary, and then boosted minority and young voter turnout to give him an easy victory in the general election. And if Obama is indeed as arrogant some say he is, then so were some of the more consequential chief executives who preceded him—Andrew Jackson, Woodrow Wilson, Lyndon Johnson, and Ronald Reagan.

Each of those four presidents—as well as greater ones like Lincoln and FDR—built loyal followings and retained them for nearly their entire time in office.

Yes, I’m afraid that as an example of someone who was (unlike Barack Obama) able to retain the strong support of his party, Kazin is citing…Lyndon Johnson. You know, the sitting president presiding over a party so united he did not seek a nomination for which he was eligible. If only Barack Obama had that kind of unifying force. (That “nearly” is sure doing a lot of work.)

In addition, it’s worth noting that in the 1938 midterm elections, the Democrats lost 7 seats in the Senate and 72 seats in the House.  And, perhaps even more to the point, these elections marked a point at which Congress was controlled not so much by the nominal Democratic majorities as by a coalition of Republicans and conservative Democrats.  If FDR had some kind of magic formula that allowed Democrats to maintain support in midterm congressional elections, he apparently declined to use it.

Midterm elections tend to be bad for the party that controls the White House, and this is a particular problem for Democrats, whose less affluent constituencies generally have lower vote turnout. This isn’t a trend caused by Barack Obama being a “terrible politician.”

For a comic conclusion, Maureen Dowd has still “learned” far too much about politics from Aaron Sorkin. And is she in on the ultra-hacky “Obama, unlike any other president ever, plays golf!” trend? I think you know the answer to that.

Lindsey Graham’s Green Lantern Foreign Policy

[ 47 ] July 21, 2014 |

Lindsey Graham is a very serious and intelligent man. After all, he believes this is what John Kerry and Barack Obama should be doing about Russia:

Host David Gregory then asked Graham how the Kerry has failed in addressing the Malaysian plane and evidence that pro-Russia separatists likely shot down the plane with Russian weapons.

“One, he didn’t call Putin the thug that he is. He didn’t call for arming the Ukraine so they can defend themselves against rebel separatists supported by Russia,” Graham responded.

“President Obama is trying to be deliberative. It comes off as indecisive. He’s trying to be thoughtful. It comes off as weakness,” he continued.

Oh yes, I’m sure calling Putin a thug will not only stop the arming of Ukrainian separatists but also give Crimea back to Ukraine. I mean, we all see how Reagan defeated the Soviet Union by calling it “The Evil Empire” instead of negotiating with Mikhail Gorbachev over the desire of the conservative foreign policy establishment. And using the term Axis of Evil has absolutely destroyed the governments of Iran and North Korea; the fact that such language helped cause the invasion of Iraq on false pretenses at the cost of 500,000 Iraqi lives and 4000 American lives is a benefit, not a bug. Why doesn’t Obama give a big speech telling Putin off. Now that’s effective American power!

You Can’t Remake Another Country’s Political Culture Without A Green Lantern!

[ 240 ] June 24, 2014 |

You may remember Peter Beinart from such a atrocities as “endorsing Joe Lieberman for the 2004 Democratic nomination” and “writing in December 2004 that opponents of the Iraq War should be ejected from the Democratic coalition.” He has shown increasing signs of rationality since then, but he’s now back to show that he doesn’t really seem to have learned anything:

Obama inherited an Iraq where better security had created an opportunity for better government. The Bush administration’s troop “surge” did not solve the country’s underlying divisions. But by retaking Sunni areas from insurgents, it gave Iraq’s politicians the chance to forge a government inclusive enough to keep the country together.

The problem was that Maliki wasn’t interested in such a government. Rather than integrate the Sunni Awakening fighters who had helped subdue al-Qaeda into Iraq’s army, Maliki arrested them. In the run-up to his 2010 reelection bid, Maliki’s Electoral Commission disqualified more than 500, mostly Sunni, candidates on charges that they had ties to Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party.

For the Obama administration, however, tangling with Maliki meant investing time and energy in Iraq, a country it desperately wanted to pivot away from. A few months before the 2010 elections, according to Dexter Filkins in The New Yorker, “American diplomats in Iraq sent a rare dissenting cable to Washington, complaining that the U.S., with its combination of support and indifference, was encouraging Maliki’s authoritarian tendencies.”


Finally, last Thursday, in what was widely interpreted as an invitation for Iraqis to push Maliki aside, Obama declared, “that whether he is prime minister or any other leader aspires to lead the country, that it has to be an agenda in which Sunni, Shia and Kurd all feel that they have the opportunity to advance their interest through the political process.” Obama also noted that, “The government in Baghdad has not sufficiently reached out to some of the [Sunni] tribes and been able to bring them into a process that, you know, gives them a sense of being part of—of a unity government or a single nation-state.”

That’s certainly true. The problem is that it took Obama five years to publicly say so—or do anything about it—despite pleas from numerous Iraq experts, some close to his own administration. This inaction was abetted by American journalists. Many of us proved strikingly indifferent to a country about which we once claimed to care deeply.

The first sentence of the second paragraph gets right to the heart of the matter. Unfortunately, it’s surrounded by vague claims that somehow if Obama didn’t give Maliki a “free pass” Iraq would have better government. Because nothing would have increased Maliki’s authority like it being challenged by a country still occupying the country or something. The argument is just the purest green lanternism; Beinart can’t identify any specific source of leverage, it’s just that Maliki would be running a better government if Obama wanted him to because something, and if he won’t deliver Iraqis will replace him with someone more to Obama’s liking because look, balsa wood nuclear drones of terror!

Among the many fallacious assumptions of Iraq War supporters was their complete inattention to state power. Even supporters who weren’t naive enough to think that Iraq would be immediately transformed into a stable multiparty democracy seemed to have the misunderstanding that a strong, effective state is the natural order of things and the invasion of Iraq just transferred leadership of that state to someone better than Saddam at least. But that’s not how things work. Even if Maliki wanted to, he’s not in a position to just cut a deal with Obama and enforce it. Presiding over a very weak state, he’s reliant on various other actors to maintain some semblance of authority. It’s not at all surprising that this would result in a sectarian government, and this isn’t a fact that the American president can just will out of existence.

And that’s the hubris that affected Iraq war supporters then, and still affects Iraq dead-enders today. The idea that the course of another nation’s destiny is shaped by the verbal “invitations” of the president of the United States is bizarre, and tends to go along with the even worse idea that there’s nothing American guns and bombs can’t accomplish if one just wants to badly enough.

Raise the Green Lantern: Millionaire Pundit Edition

[ 71 ] June 24, 2014 |

Shorter Verbatim Chris Matthews: “I’m telling you, I don’t hear you getting it done. The Democrats control the U.S. Senate. The Democrats control the White House. When are you going to do what you just said you’d like to do? Just when? Give me a date. Is it 2017, 2023? … You’re blaming it on the Republicans, but you control the Senate and you control the White House.” It’s a mystery!

Chris Matthews is paid several million dollars a year to opine about politics.

Speaking of America’s plutocrats, I forgot to look into Yves Smith’s claim that Hank Paulson, Republican and hence good guy unlike the perfidious Barack Obama, “lived modestly.” This is generally not how I would describe someone who paid $4.3 million for a house, but anyway. If Gordon Gee ever attacks Obama I’m sure Smith will claim he lives modestly because he never demands more than 20 free bow ties a year.

You Can’t Address Climate Change Without A Green Lantern

[ 168 ] June 23, 2014 |

Shorter Verbatim Yves Smith: “Paulson, who has long been an ardent conservationist (and in contrast to his alpha Wall Street male standing, lives modestly), made a forceful pitch for carbon taxes. The irony of this proposal is that we have a Republican showing what a right-winger Obama really is.”

I know! I will never forgive Obama for vetoing the carbon tax that the Republican House and red-state Senate Democrats rammed through Congress. It’s a complete mystery why Obama would act through EPA regulations rather than causing a carbon tax to appear, and certainly the only explanation can be that Obama considers cap-and-trade-like regulations optimal public policy.

These two sentences manage to hit almost every Green Lantern trope: conservative Republicans treated with far more charity than moderate Democrats, complete obliviousness to the realities of the American political process, policies not actually favored by any American conservatives in positions of any authority described as “conservative,” and an implicit assumption that if it’s not possible to accomplish everything then it’s preferable to do nothing. It’s a Bully Window the Overton Pulpit superfecta.

Will the Green Lantern Work In Iraq? Give Me Six Months

[ 160 ] June 15, 2014 |

I don’t disagree with Erik that Tony Blair is the person I least want to hear from about Iraq. But surely Tom Freidman is in the top 5. Some selected insights from Mr. Suck On This:

  • “in Iraq today, my enemy’s enemy is my enemy.”
  • “In a word, Maliki has been a total jerk.”
  • “Maliki had a choice — to rule in a sectarian way or in an inclusive way — and he chose sectarianism.”  [Nobody could have predicted! –ed.]
  • “Believe it or not, it’s not all about what we do and the choices we make. Arabs and Kurds have agency, too.”
  • “Leadership matters.”

At least Friedman, unlike Blair, is skeptical about intervention, although if the president was inclined to I’m sure he’d come up with some rationalization to support it.  But that thinking this puerile can be so influential explains a lot about how the Iraq fiasco happened in the first place.

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