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Thanks Obama Franken!

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It’s hard for a pundit to make an argument so silly it stands out, but Josh Kraushaar’s attempt to blame Al Franken for Donald Trump being the Republican frontrunner did it:

Look­ing for a cul­prit to blame for all the po­lar­iz­a­tion, grid­lock, and bad feel­ings in Wash­ing­ton? Point to Sen. Al Franken. No, that’s not a joke.

[…]

Ima­gine, for a mo­ment, the state of the 2010 midterms without Obama­care in the equa­tion. Re­pub­lic­ans would have run against the stag­nant state of the eco­nomy with some suc­cess. But without the gal­van­iz­ing op­pos­i­tion to Obama’s health care law—Re­pub­lic­ans net­ted a whop­ping 63 House seats that year—Demo­crats would likely have nar­rowly kept con­trol of Con­gress, and con­tin­ued to press for­ward with Obama’s agenda. There would be tea-party-aligned Re­pub­lic­ans elec­ted, but ab­sent the wave, not enough to form the con­cer­ted op­pos­i­tion that emerged. Vet­er­an Blue Dog Demo­crats like Reps. Ike Skelton, Gene Taylor, and Chet Ed­wards (among oth­ers) would likely have been reelec­ted, and be­come bridge-build­ers between parties

[…]

The no­tion that Obama was fated to face an in­transigent Re­pub­lic­an op­pos­i­tion has al­ways been off-base. [Hails of derisive laughter. –ed.]

[…]

That’s where Al Franken comes in. If it wer­en’t for 312 voters in Min­nesota, Obama’s am­bi­tions would at least have been cur­tailed by le­gis­lat­ive real­it­ies, and the tra­ject­ory of his pres­id­ency would have looked much dif­fer­ent. Franken, the first in­sult com­ic to get elec­ted to the Sen­ate, cir­cuit­ously paved the way for the rise of a much dif­fer­ent type of en­ter­tain­er—Don­ald J. Trump.

Even if the assumptions here were true, the argument has an obvious problem, in that it amounts to a claim that the Democrats could maintain control of Congress as long as they never really did anything. But, of course, neither the causal nor the political logic here makes any sense:

Long story short, by shepherding a major social reform that has cut the uninsured rate in half while coming in well below its projected costs and bringing health-care inflation down to its lowest rate in recorded history, Obama angered Republicans, forcing them to nominate an ignorant, bigoted clown.

And it’s even worse than that. We’ve dealt with this particular pundit’s fallacy from the right before, but the idea that a Democratic Party that promised comprehensive health care reform and settled for Rahm Emmanuel’s piddlyshit half-a-crouton would have been in such a stronger position that it could have retained control of the House in 2010 is about as clearly wrong as a counterfactual can be. And, in addition, there’s no reason to believe that in this scenario that the Republican conference would be an iota less radical. (The Tea Party, after all, emerged from the astroturf over TARP and the ARRA, not the ACA.) So, the idea that Al Franken is responsible for Donald Trump is dumb on every possible level.

The election that eventually produced Franken is important for a lot of reasons. As someone noted in the most recent thread about voting, if 313 people had been persuaded by some variation of  [Econ 101 told me my vote doesn’t matter/Obama will carry Minnesota anyway/why can’t I custom order my candidate on the internet what with today’s technology/Both Sides Do It/elections are a Meaningless Distraction from my Foolproof Plan to eliminate all internal combustion engines from American soil by the end of summer] nonsense, there would be 20 million people without access to health care and those lucky enough to retain it would be paying more for it. There would also be no Dodd-Frank (and hence, among other things, no CFPB). And had Franken won by enough of a margin to be seated immediately, it might have been at least a marginally better ARRA. Your vote doesn’t matter until it does, and what constitutes a vote of historic consequence isn’t always obvious ex ante.
…more from Ezra.

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