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

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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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