American electoral politics: a brief introduction

by Michael Bérubé on September 3, 2011

[Now updated for clarity and symbolic reasons!]

I can see from the comments on John’s post below that there is some confusion out there about the way the American political system works.  Specifically, there seems to be some serious misunderstanding of the dynamics of national elections in the US.  So let me try to clear this up once and for all.

You are welcome.

Basically, post-Watergate America works like this.  It’s what you might call a “twelve-step” program.

1.  Democratic president is elected after disastrous Republican administration messes things up bad.  Liberals rejoice, hoping that their long national nightmare is now over.

2.  Democratic president turns out to be liberal–centrist fellow with some degree of cultural conservatism and willingness to echo Republican talking points on a handful of issues.

3.  Democratic president meets with solid Republican opposition in Congress as well as various forms of obstructionism from members of his own party.

4.  Democratic president gives in to Republicans repeatedly on a handful of symbolic (and therefore important to politically active voters) issues, appointments, regulations, etc.

5.  Left wing of Democratic party erupts in outrage at sellout Judas stealth-Republican president.

6.  Portion of left wing of Democratic party leaves party, goes home, fantasizes about awesome third party that will destroy the system and rebuild it from scratch.[1]

7.  Democratic president faces (a) stunning losses for his party in midterm Congressional elections or (b) primary challenger who divides the party and weakens the incumbent in the general election.

[Update: Goodness gracious!  Now I see what all the fuss is about in comments.  People are assuming that I think (7) is caused exclusively by (6).  But that is so silly!  As some of you have been kind enough to point out, there are many other factors at work behind (7), ranging from the state of the economy to the fired-upedness of Republican voters determined to punish the potsmoking/ philandering/  socialist/ Kenyan/ Muslim Democratic president for being president.  Really, the whole point of the post was simply that Obama is hardly the first Democratic president to alienate the left wing of his base.  On the contrary, it is required by the secret twenty-second-and-a-halfth amendment to the Constitution, ratified on November 1, 1960!

Sorry for the confusion, folks!]

8.  Democratic president is up for re-election, or his vice-president seeks the office after president completes two terms.  Disappointed liberal and left intellectuals convince themselves that Republican challenger can’t be all that much worse than Democratic candidate, since Democrat is sellout Judas stealth-Republican to begin with, Republican candidate will surely be more moderate than he appears when he is pandering to his base, and both candidates are working within the very narrow parameters of the corporate duopoly anyway.[2]

9.  Republican president takes office and makes things far worse than disappointed liberal and left intellectuals could possibly have imagined, lurching far to the right, empowering elements of his own party that were once considered “fringe,” and sweeping along one-third to one-half of the Democratic party as well.  It turns out he wasn’t just pandering to the base after all!  Who could have known?

10.  Republican president wipes out previous Democratic president’s modest gains and accomplishments, which are belatedly acknowledged and viewed in nostalgic retrospect by Democratic voters appalled by Republican president, and seeds every tier of the judiciary with radicals whose decisions will hobble next Democratic president’s sporadic attempts to strengthen the social welfare state.

11.  Democratic president is elected after disastrous Republican administration messes things up bad.  Liberals rejoice, hoping that their long national nightmare is now over.

12.  See step 2.  Move three steps to the right and lather, rinse, repeat.

_____
[1]  Just for the record, this would be me in 1979 and again in 1995.  RIP, Citizens Party and New Party.  We had joy, we had fun, we had seasons in the sun.

[2]  This would be me in 1980 but not in 2000.  Fool me once, can’t get fooled again.

{ 218 comments }

1

John Quiggin 09.03.11 at 7:06 pm

Hmm. I was strongly pro-Carter in 1980, and he still gets my vote for best President since FDR, as well as best ex-President since Washington (who gets the win mainly for choosing to be an ex-President at all). And Reagan certainly disdained to conceal his views and aims – he was actually a bit better in his second term than his 1980 rhetoric would have implied.

So (in the fantasy league where I had even a vote to cast, let alone some influence), I wasn’t tempted for a moment by Tweedledum-dee comparisons there. In terms of retrospective nostalgia, I think Bush 41 looks pretty good in retrospect, more so than Clinton. Of course, the Gore that might have been looks even better.

S0, as far as the historical record goes, one big misjudgement in 2000, on a governor with an apparently moderate record. That’s certainly a cautionary example, but I’d still argue that keeping the Repubs from unchallenged control of Congress is at least as important as re-electing Obama over Romney or (most unlikely) Huntsman, if either of them gets the nomination. With Bachmann or Perry (or anyone else in the Repub field) the “not nearly as bad as the other guy” case is overwhelming.

2

Keith 09.03.11 at 7:21 pm

I voted for Nader in 2000 (ducks to avoid rotten cabbage) but did so because I lived in GA, and knew my electoral vote was going to Bush anyway. This was my one time flirt with 3rd party boosterism, in an attempt, as naive as it was, to try and make a viable 3rd party candidate a possibility for the future. Looking back at the joke that Nader became and the damage that was inflicted on the country by Bush, I probably should have voted for Gore, even though he still would have lost GA because of that damned electoral college all-or-nothing bullshit.

3

Steve Williams 09.03.11 at 7:35 pm

A very witty summary. Unfortunately, it seems to concede quite a lot of ground to those miserable, never-to-be-placated lefties who grump and groan all the time. Here’s a sentence from point 4:

‘Democratic president gives in to Republicans repeatedly on a handful of symbolic (and therefore important to politically active voters) issues, appointments, regulations, etc.’

Hmm, we’ll have to agree too disagree on whether Obama’s civil liberties record, merely for starters, is an issue of mere symbolism. That isn’t my issue today. My point, instead, is that a sense of movement is implied in this sentence, from left to right. Here’s another sentence, from point 9:

‘Republican president takes office and makes things far worse than disappointed liberal and left intellectuals could possibly have imagined, lurching far to the right, empowering elements of his own party that were once considered “fringe,” and sweeping along one-third to one-half of the Democratic party as well.’

The movement here is obvious! We’re going from right to further-right. It’s interesting, isn’t it? I mean, the movement which is conspicuously absent, which one might expect to appear at some point, is right to left. I wonder why? It’s almost as if – I don’t know – there were some sort of electoral dynamic at play here. How can we possibly deconstruct that?

4

StevenAttewell 09.03.11 at 7:43 pm

To me the key point is 12 – regardless of how the individual activist feels, I really feel that there’s a baseline of consequentialism one has to have to earn the label of activist. And that baseline is: does the person in question evaluate tactics and strategy on the basis of their outcomes? If not at all, person in question is not an activist.

Steve Williams – I believe the electoral dynamic is “democracies are run by those who show up.”

5

Michael Bérubé 09.03.11 at 7:43 pm

John, you’re right that Reagan didn’t even attempt a soft-sell in 1980. The argument then, iirc, was that a Democratic Congress wouldn’t go along with the tax cuts and the attacks on unions and federal regulations. Nobody could have anticipated, etc.

And sure, Carter looks better in retrospect if you’re thinking about things like US multilateralism and respect for human rights and the Camp David accords and amnesty for draft evaders and normalization of relations with Vietnam and a peaceful handover of the Panama Canal as opposed to things like Iran-Contra and the death squads in El Salvador and the assault on Nicaragua and….

But not if you’re thinking of the Hyde Amendment, which Carter signed in 1977. Or the epic incompetence of the “Georgia Mafia,” the decision to fire the entire Cabinet shortly after the famous “crisis of confidence” speech, the botching of the hostage crisis and the even more botched botching of the rescue (and the refusal to inform the Secretary of State that it would be attempted)….

Still, yeah, I wish I had that one back. I voted for Barry Commoner thinking there was no way Carter could lose New York.

6

Grimgrin 09.03.11 at 7:44 pm

The entire Bush anti-terror program, the Bush tax cuts, and the Federal budget are ‘symbolic issues’ then, NAFTA was a symbolic issue?

What, then, are serious issues?

7

Michael Bérubé 09.03.11 at 7:47 pm

Steve Williams @ 3:

Unfortunately, it seems to concede quite a lot of ground to those miserable, never-to-be-placated lefties who grump and groan all the time.

This is unfortunate why? I think it’s pretty clear that miserable lefties are right to be (continually) disappointed and (continually) wrong to think things can’t get that much worse if the so-called real Republican defeats the so-called Republican Lite….

8

David Kaib 09.03.11 at 7:48 pm

You forgot – politicos and commentators don’t realize that getting people to vote for you is the job of a political party, so you should try to do that. Treating people with contempt makes one feel superior but rarely makes them feel like your ally or encourages them to rally to your cause. The symbolism crack is especially amusing.

The idea that politics is driven solely by the movement of voters, as if institutions and organization don’t matter, is also a nice touch. Not true, of course, but important if you want to place on the blame on the powerless for our predicament.

9

Michael Bérubé 09.03.11 at 7:52 pm

Oops, missed this until Grimgrin made me notice it. Steve Williams:

we’ll have to agree too disagree on whether Obama’s civil liberties record, merely for starters, is an issue of mere symbolism.

You said “mere,” I didn’t. Remember, I work in a field where symbolism is really important, hence my parenthetical about why these things are really important to politically active voters. But is there a massive public constituency for civil liberties issues? Sadly, no. So for us these things are symbolic of — that is, they stand for — important things that most voters don’t follow or care about. But the Hyde Amendment mattered, the withdrawal of Lani Guinier’s nomination mattered, DOMA mattered, Obama’s civil liberties record matters, etc.

I do wish people would stop reading “symbolic” as a synonym for “unimportant.”

10

bianca steele 09.03.11 at 7:53 pm

To be fair, it seems nobody expected Carter.

Should Clinton have been a surprise? The first two disappointments he inflicted on the public were solid centrist, even libertarian policies: recognition of Taiwan and permitting gays to serve openly in the military.

And, incidentally, where were you in 1984 when the consensus among the graduates of Americas best high schools was that Reagan was elected by the working class, who are stupid and illiberal?

11

ScentOfViolets 09.03.11 at 7:53 pm

Riiiiight. Because we all know that those people who stayed home rather than vote for Democrats in 2010 were overwhelmingly the liberal bozos that Berube is setting up as a strawman.

Is this just more of his usual schtick, or are we supposed to take this seriously?

12

C.P. Norris 09.03.11 at 8:01 pm

Is there numerical evidence that Democrats to Carter’s left who failed to vote for him made a difference in 1980?

13

JRoth 09.03.11 at 8:20 pm

Comment 11 is right, frankly. MB’s 7 is just crap. Absolute crap. I voted in the midterm. Atrios voted in the midterm. Krugman voted in the midterm. I”m pretty damn sure that John Emerson voted in the midterm.

You know who didn’t vote in the midterm? Dem-leaning independents who saw jack-shit in actual improvements in their lives between January 2009 and November 2010. Maybe if the smart, realist center-left Dems to whom we all owe blood fealty hadn’t spent fully half of the time between the inauguration and the midterm pivoting from jobs to deficit reduction – which, just to be crystal clear, is objectively the stupidest possible priority they could have had – then hoi polloi would have been excited enough to come out and vote for them in November, 2010.

They shit the bed, we told them not to shit the bed, and now they spend all their energy scolding us for having shit the bed. Fuck them, and fuck you for furthering their bullshit.

14

JRoth 09.03.11 at 8:26 pm

And let me add: if the claim is that the so-called Professional Left failed not to vote, but to be enthusiastic workers for Team D, then that’s an incredibly stupid claim. You don’t get people to work for you by shitting on them. The Obama administration made a conscious decision to publicly shit on the Professional Left. Fine. That’s a political calculation – they bet that they’d gain more votes among centrists (or whoever) than they’d lose among the Professional Left. As I said, I don’t think there’s any evidence whatsoever that the Professional Left failed to show up in voting booths last fall. But if they failed to knock on doors, to man phone banks, to give big bucks, well that’s part of the political calculus. And one that, evidently, Team O completely got wrong.

But, again, Prof Berube (whom I like and whose blog I miss) is here to sneer at the shat-upon for failing to work harder for the shitters. It’s not just insulting; it shows a complete misunderstanding of politics.

15

christian_h 09.03.11 at 8:28 pm

Michael you seem to be missing an important point here. It’s not in fact the left-liberal-commie intellectual activists who lose elections by being crazy left-wingers. It’s the people who are a massive constituency, for example for… I don’t know… having jobs, and stay home because in fact to their lives the little things Democrats still sometimes get right barely matter.

To pick an example, the vast majority of people in the US were not unemployed in 1992. They had jobs. 8 years later, even more people had jobs but many who used to have good middle class blue collar jobs now had much crappier ones. The right has a story line for this – “immigrants took your jobs”, “undeserving welfare recipients took your money”, “national weakness allowed those jobs to go to China”, “affirmative action took your college degree and then your cushy job”. The Democratic party and their neo-liberal media wing have a story as well: “immigrants took only some of your jobs”, “welfare recipients are undeserving but look we ended welfare as we know it”, “we should destroy Mexican agriculture and ship your industrial job to the resulting industrial reserve army of labour south of the border”, “meritocracy”.

And yet, somehow you wonder why what i refuse to call “our side” loses. Weird.

16

dsquared 09.03.11 at 8:32 pm

I think this post would work better if the words “American Electoral Politics” in the title were replaced by the words “Largely Bullshit Democrat Excuses”

17

KH 09.03.11 at 8:33 pm

This hippie punching used to upset me. Then I realized the puncher is concerned his candidate won’t draw 50.1% of the popular vote. Clearly the problem is the candidate and not the hippies. A real leader placed in difficult circumstances – an FDR for example – wouldn’t have a problem being re-elected.

18

Geoffrey 09.03.11 at 8:35 pm

I, for one, did not vote in the mid-terms. First, for technical legal reasons – had not changed my registration after moving earlier in the summer – but my vote wouldn’t have mattered all that much. To be honest, here in IL, we barely managed to re-elect a weak liberal Democratic governor and a weak conservative Republican Senator, and some truly abysmal Republican Congress members.

In point of fact, the horrible whiny lefties are disappointed not least because some of us – like me – fooled ourselves that Obama would be better than his record or his word. He has not been. Obama is, in essence, a Rockefeller Republican, and while that may well be better than the current alternative, that isn’t what the country needs, or who represents my interests. Which isn’t whining – it’s being democratic.

19

Barry 09.03.11 at 8:43 pm

dsquared 09.03.11 at 8:32 pm

” I think this post would work better if the words “American Electoral Politics” in the title were replaced by the words “Largely Bullshit Democrat Excuses””

I’d make it ‘100% bullsh*t center-leftist hippy-bashing punk excuses’, myself, but that’s just me :)

20

Michael Bérubé 09.03.11 at 8:45 pm

I find that when I argue with the voices in my head, I usually win. I see that other people enjoy that pastime, too. I bet I can make those people even angrier if I say for a third time that lefty disappointment is real and well-earned.

21

Michael Bérubé 09.03.11 at 8:49 pm

And just to take one salient example, from the Very Angry Commenter who told me, “fuck you for furthering their bullshit”:

The Obama administration made a conscious decision to publicly shit on the Professional Left.

This is a novel theory that I have never heard before. And it differs from the strategy of the Clinton administration how, exactly?

22

straightwood 09.03.11 at 8:50 pm

The current American political scene is reminiscent of a psychology experiment in which the goal is to see how far the subject’s behavior can be distorted before he/she realizes that something is seriously wrong. I believe that the plutocrats are truly astounded by how far their mob control technicians can push the electorate into believing that they have no choice but to vote for greater concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the plutocracy.

When Reagan came to power, the per capita income of most Americans was effectively capped, and since then most of the wealth generated in our country has been funneled into the pockets of the rich, while middle and working class incomes have stagnated. This happened under both Republican and Democratic administrations, and the process continues to this day. The experiment continues, but some of us are refusing to participate.

23

Steve Williams 09.03.11 at 8:59 pm

StevenAttewell@4

‘I believe the electoral dynamic is “democracies are run by those who show up.” ‘

I agree with this. Turning up is indeed a vital first step to getting the result you want. In Republican primaries, for instance, a majority of those who turn up are committed right-wing activists who are only interested in nominating a candidate who will truly reflect their opinion in Congress, no matter what outside pressure they may face. In Democratic primaries, this isn’t always the case, and often the person people will rally behind is a centrist, deal-making pragmatist who’ll happily ignore her base for the next four years. I’m not saying replacing these people with candidates more afraid of their base than their corporate patrons is a perfect solution to the nations problems; there’s an argument (not one I agree with, but it is real) to be made that it’s a recipe for stalemate and polarization. However, I’m not going to condemn people who feel they’ve been on the losing side for 30 years for believing stalemate to be an improvement to their condition.

Michael@7

‘This is unfortunate why? I think it’s pretty clear that miserable lefties are right to be (continually) disappointed and (continually) wrong to think things can’t get that much worse if the so-called real Republican defeats the so-called Republican Lite….’

There are always going to be Republicans, they are a fact of life. We’re not going to change anything on their side of the aisle. What we can do, is have someone we really support on our side of the aisle. Nobody needs to have failed to realize Republicans are horrible in order to be disappointed by Obama.

Michael@9

‘You said “mere,” I didn’t. Remember, I work in a field where symbolism is really important, hence my parenthetical about why these things are really important to politically active voters . . . I do wish people would stop reading “symbolic” as a synonym for “unimportant.”’

You’re correct here, and I owe you an apology. I over-reached with ‘mere’, which was a rhetorical flourish that mis-characterized your argument. I’m no professor myself, but I am the grateful recipient of a tertiary education in a humanities subject where an appreciation of symbolism was imparted – I didn’t mean to diminish it. Symbolism is, indeed, very important. In fact, one of my very first disappointments with Obama came on an issue of tremendous symbolism (and also real legal significance, but the symbolism is key).

24

Cranky Observer 09.03.11 at 9:09 pm

> 4. Democratic president gives in to Republicans repeatedly on a
> handful of symbolic (and therefore important to politically active
> voters) issues, appointments, regulations, etc.
>
> 5. Left wing of Democratic party erupts in outrage at sellout Judas
> stealth-Republican president.

I have yet to receive any explanation from an Obama apologist, much less a good one, as to how inviting Peter G. Peterson into the inner economic councils of a Democratic Presidency and speaking in Peterson Foundation tropes about Social Security needing to be “fixed” (i.e. slashed and put on the road to termination) is a good liberal progressive Democratic idea. Please do tell, in detail, how signing on to the Republican campaign to destroy Social Security is “symbolic”.

Cranky

25

bcgister 09.03.11 at 9:10 pm

“It’s what you might call a “twelve-step” program.”

Unlike the prototypical ‘twelve step program,’ American politics leaves its participants drinking, binging and purging, smoking crack, going on shopping sprees… Choose your poison: it looks like its gonna be a long night.

26

Charles S 09.03.11 at 9:11 pm

2010 was NOT decided by the broad Dem-leaning populace staying home because the economy/their lives had not improved enough. Dem-leaning moderates did stay home above 2006 levels, but not enough to throw the House to the Republicans.

2010 was decided by the Republicans managing presidential election turnout levels in a mid-term election. Turn-out by conservative Republicans in particular was above 2008 levels.

2010 was not the fault of the professional left. It was not even the fault of the Obama administration or the congressional Blue Dogs or Senate Dems disastrous decision to not change the filibuster rules in 2009 (the main driver of the legislative failures of 2009-2010, consider all the legislation that passed the House and then died in the Senate). It was a positive success of the Republican turnout machine.

If the Republican turnout machine figured out how to get presidential turnout in a midterm election, that is one thing, but if they managed to figure out how to boost turn-out by 10% period, we are well and truly fucked.

27

Michael Bérubé 09.03.11 at 9:11 pm

Steve–

In Republican primaries, for instance, a majority of those who turn up are committed right-wing activists who are only interested in nominating a candidate who will truly reflect their opinion in Congress, no matter what outside pressure they may face.

True! Perhaps if I’d added step 6(b), “While Democratic president alienates supporters, crazed hard-right and Christianist voters show up in droves to repudiate the illegitimate pot-smoking philandering socialist Kenyan usurper in the White House,” the dynamic would have been clearer, even to people who think I should have chosen a different title for the post.

28

christian_h 09.03.11 at 9:12 pm

Shorter Michael: “it’s okay to be upset with the Democrats, but please, don’t do anything about it! Even the mildest form of disapproval (primary opponent) could let the devil incarnate in!”

So since primaries, third parties, staying home, and spending your activist time on anything but working to get Democrats elected no matter what are apparently illegitimate in the face of supreme evil, how do Michael and those who share his view suggest those on the left go about getting anything done? Emigration?

29

Michael Bérubé 09.03.11 at 9:16 pm

Shorter Michael: “it’s okay to be upset with the Democrats, but please, don’t do anything about it!

You are clearly not aware of all internet traditions. The “shorter” is supposed to be a witty paraphrase of the original post.

Even the mildest form of disapproval (primary opponent) could let the devil incarnate in!”

And how exactly did that work out for you in 1980? Please, go ahead and primary Obama if that’s what you want to do. I may even vote for you!

30

Barry 09.03.11 at 9:19 pm

Adding onto Charles S, what decided 2010 was that the economy still s*cked the big one, and Obama was not putting the onus on the GOP.

31

Cranky Observer 09.03.11 at 9:24 pm

> And how exactly did that work out for you in 1980?

Either the “- – – – – – – stupid” lefties were responsible for the losses in 2010 or they weren’t. If they were, how did the strategy of hippie punching work out for Obama/Emanuel in 2010? If they weren’t, then why are they so deep into the head of Obama and his full-time apologists [1]? Guilty conscious perhaps?

Cranky

[1] Borrowing a bit from Ezra Klein.

32

Henri Vieuxtemps 09.03.11 at 9:24 pm

Mark Twain had the right idea about American politics; after that it’s all downhill.

33

charles pierce 09.03.11 at 9:24 pm

First of all, MB, Happy Belated Beliveau’s Birthday to you and yours.
(Le gros Bill is 80. Time marches on.)
The late Walter Karp wrote a terrific essay years back on how it wasn’t so much the left that sold out Carter as much as it was the establishment Democrats in DC and in the Congress, including our own sainted Tip O’Neill. I’m inclined to believe that, especially having attended in my youth the 1982 Democratic Midterm Convention, presided over by a bagma…er…banker named Charlie Manatt, at which you could see the DLC encrustation of the party begin.

34

Martin Bento 09.03.11 at 9:31 pm

So assassinating US citizens abroad is symbolic? Imprisoning without trial is symbolic? If “symbolism”, mere or otherwise, is to mean anything, there have to be some things that cannot be considered purely symbolic, and if the manufacture of stinking corpses or the placing of men into cages do not qualify, nothing does. This is certainly not, for me, something I care about because it represents something else – I’m not even sure what that something else would be. It is true that I look to the longer-run consequences of these practices and precedents, but that is not symbolism, it’s prediction, and prediction is always uncertain, but is still concerned with something real is a quite narrow sense, and is unavoidable in evaluating political policies of any sort.

Can you really call something symbolic because it has no significant political constituency? 50 years ago, there was no constituency for gay rights. Does that mean gay desires to stop being beaten and imprisoned were “symbolic” issues. “Mere” does not matter, although it is hard to see how one applies “symbolic” to such a thing without implying “mere”.

35

Michael Bérubé 09.03.11 at 9:34 pm

Cranky, you seem very cranky. You know, reading comprehension can be your friend. But only if you let it.

Hi, Charles! Great to see you here on this most sacred day. And yes:

it wasn’t so much the left that sold out Carter as much as it was the establishment Democrats in DC and in the Congress, including our own sainted Tip O’Neill.

Yes indeed. As I recall, the feeling among Democratic congresscritters in the late 1970s was that presidents come and go, but House and Senate committee chairmanships were forever. That’s what I meant by “obstructionism from members of his own party.”

And before I sign off the computer and go live my life again, I need to walk back a bit from comment 20. Lefty disappointment is not always well-earned, as I’ve noticed from the people who think Obama betrayed them by doubling down in Afghanistan. I’m agin’ that policy too, but I never heard the guy say anything different on the campaign trail. Nor did I ever hear him say he would press for single-payer. On the contrary, the only move I can see on that front was that he adopted the individual mandate proposed by his opponent, whose name I forget.

36

Ed 09.03.11 at 9:37 pm

“Still, yeah, I wish I had that one back. I voted for Barry Commoner thinking there was no way Carter could lose New York.”

Reagan did in fact carry New York in that election, and if you had voted for Carter instead of Commoner, Reagan still would have carried New York.

Or are you concerned that your constant advocacy of voting for Commoner convinced so many people who otherwise would have voted for Carter to vote for Commoner, costing Carter’s New York electoral votes? I haven’t checked the vote totals for 1980, but I strongly suspect this didn’t happen.

Carter in fact would have lost the election even if he had carried New York. There were in fact three presidential elections where New York’s electoral votes going to the other candidate deprived the Democrat of victory, in 1848, 1880, and in 1888. In at least one of them a minor party candidate was a factor.

Are you sure you understand American electoral politics?

37

Michael Bérubé 09.03.11 at 9:40 pm

Oh, and since I won’t be back for a while (travel w/Jamie tomorrow through Wednesday, punching hippies in seven eastern states), just remember — when I say something is “symbolic,” I mean it represents something important, and when I say “it represents something important,” I mean it doesn’t really matter very much. As some of you have already divined.

38

christian_h 09.03.11 at 9:41 pm

So now if the Democrats didn’t promise anything we should (a) still vote for them and (b) not be upset they didn’t deliver any progressive change either – after all they didn’t promise to. Am I getting that right? Also, Michael apparently won’t make any suggestions about how progressives should go about pushing for their policies. It’s just another drive-by lefty blaming. Now he didn’t promise otherwise but somehow I’m still disappointed.

39

straightwood 09.03.11 at 9:44 pm

@34

The staggering illogic of re-electing someone who is killing, torturing, and imprisoning “terrorists” without any legal sanction, because that is the only way to preserve the right of abortion for American women ten years from now seems to be of no concern to Team Obama.

In the here and now, Obama has turned the CIA into his personal assassination bureau, using flying drones to kill anyone deemed a “threat” irrespective of their location or citizenship. Over 2000 people have been killed in this way. This is so deeply evil that the composition of the Supreme Court shrinks to insignificance. How long before the summary execution of domestic “terrorists” becomes a matter of routine?

40

christian_h 09.03.11 at 9:53 pm

Commoner received 23,000 votes in NY in 1980. Reagan’s lead over Carter was 160,000.

41

John Quiggin 09.03.11 at 9:53 pm

@7 I wasn’t even then interested in Cabinet reshuffles, routine incompetence, or bad luck (the whole Teheran fiasco being an epic example of the latter). I don’t think you needed to look forward to Reagan to support Carter’s emphasis on human rights. And even Reagan was constrained by Carter precedent relative to previous US presidents. He had to dump Marcos for example. And that really shows the workings of luck. Carter dumped the Shah and got Khomeini. Reagan dumped Marcos and got Cory Aquino.

42

ScentOfViolets 09.03.11 at 10:01 pm

I find that when I argue with the voices in my head, I usually win. I see that other people enjoy that pastime, too. I bet I can make those people even angrier if I say for a third time that lefty disappointment is real and well-earned.

Chuckle. Don’t you just love it when they double down on the stupid?

But thanks for letting us all know that yes, you were deliberately trying to be provocative.

43

ScentOfViolets 09.03.11 at 10:06 pm

Cranky, you seem very cranky. You know, reading comprehension can be your friend. But only if you let it.

What a twerp.

44

Cranky Observer 09.03.11 at 10:11 pm

>> Cranky, you seem very cranky. You know, reading comprehension
>> can be your friend. But only if you let it.

Well, I _am_ cranky without a doubt! And the Modest Proposal aspect of your post did go over my head on first reading. But the problem is that your 12 steps are exactly what the extreme Obama apologists offer as their analysis, so it is hard to separate fact from satire.

Cranky

45

bcgister 09.03.11 at 10:16 pm

Since I was a youth (and voted for Commoner in NYS,) the parameters of acceptable political discourse in this country have continually moved to the right.As an example, the only reason I was aware of the John Birch society as a teen ager was because they were repeatedly made an object of fun in the early 70’s National Lampoon. Now, with the Tea Birchers, they are supposed to be taken seriously as a legitimate element of contemporary American politics. If the Overton window moves any further to the right, it’s going to kill someone on the sidewalk.

Allowable left wing politics in this country have undergone a corresponding rightward shift, possibly to the point where Lowell Weicker, Nelson Rockefeller, and certainly Jim Jeffords and Lincoln Chaffee, would no longer be able to effectively seek elected office as Republicans: they’re too liberal. Bt the same token, on the basis of what they’ve voted for, most of the Democrats in the Senate (my choice because they must stand in statewide elections) would have been comfortable in the Northeastern Republican Party of the 1970s.

This is NOT to justify the reprehensible hippy punching that our Rockefeller Republican president’s administration has indulged in. But, given the choice between Nelson and Tom Coburn, Jesse Helms, Jim DeMint, Rick Perry, Strom Thurmond and their ilk, I’d hold my nose and vote for Rockefeller. And that looks how it’ll be this year: I’ll vote for Obama and, as per my previous comment, drink.

46

b9n10nt 09.03.11 at 10:24 pm

Jesus H. On A Hanging Chad:

Perhaps if Michael B could recuse himself and let Todd Gitlin circa 1999 take his place hereafter. 1/2 of the commenters here apparently would like a word with him.

…as for electoral advise: primary local dem’s in uncontested seats while voting against any possible chance of republican victory. Yes the center right Dem’s have progressives by the short and curlies. Why are lefties of all people engaging in a debate which assumes the necessity of top-down politics?

47

ScentOfViolets 09.03.11 at 10:38 pm

This is NOT to justify the reprehensible hippy punching that our Rockefeller Republican president’s administration has indulged in.

It’s not so much the omnipresent hippy punching I object to, it’s lumping any- and everyone who is critical of this administration on any point with their caricature of a hippy.

I know a barful of people – rednecks and good 0l’ boys every man jack of them – who voted for Obama and who might want to have a little chat with Berube concerning who he’s calling a hippy ;-)

Really, trolling your own blog is just pathetic.

48

Seth Ackerman 09.03.11 at 10:56 pm

I’m a little confused — after each cycle, the whole of American politics moves three steps to the right, yet the next Dem president always turns out to be “a liberal-centrist fellow”?

49

Tom Hurka 09.04.11 at 12:34 am

Ah, Beliveau’s birthday! My favourite player as a kid.

The good old days when a) you could see the players’ haircuts and b) some of them, especially #4’s, remained completely unmussed through the game.

The part in his hair was as perfect as his stickhandling.

50

CWhitehead 09.04.11 at 12:40 am

Charles S – agree with your assessment:
I am not completely sure on exact results stats, but arent mid-term elections typically favored towards the non-incumbent party anyway? So, other than the “Tea Party” factor which are basically habitually non-voting far-right libertarians, how are the results any different then 2006, 2002, 1998, etc., etc.? It seems any notion from the far-left or the right in general to sell 2010 as anything other then electoral business as usual, is consensus-building for 2012.

So, I wouldnt say that the Republican messaging machine managed to get a 10% boost in base, although like I say, that Tea Party effect will be anything close to creating those numbers. Its why no one in the news will speak the Republican candidate who shall not be named (Paul) but LOVE talking about his voters, because they wouldnt be showing up at the polls as usual, otherwise. Its also why there are so many choices in the early Republican field; its not because any of them actually want to be the executor, but because they want to keep the broadest base possible riled till next year which means there wont be mass names dropping out until well into the cycle no matter how debt-ridden their campaigns become.

But the thing is, as I see it, the Tea Party folks are basically a counter-rupture to the 2008 rupture of habitual non-voters from the left who were either first-time voters (the young) or non-voters (mostly racial minorities and lefty third partiers). For 2012, you can probably count off a fair number of the young which were not a huge group anyway (even considering 2012 first-time voters as well as the 2008 first-timers) so the question is can Obama bring back the habitual non-voters of 2008. That will be the key question depending on how batshit the Republican candidate (or their vice) are framed at that time.

This post reminds me of Lasch’s Agony of the American Left.

51

Kevin 09.04.11 at 1:12 am

@47 “Really trolling your own blog…”

When did SoV purchase CT?

52

b9n10nt 09.04.11 at 1:35 am

But the thing is, as I see it, the Tea Party folks are basically a counter-rupture to the 2008 rupture of habitual non-voters from the left who were either first-time voters (the young) or non-voters (mostly racial minorities and lefty third partiers).

That’s plenty intuitive. Obama’s Team acts as if they think elections are about “independents”. Why their neglect of base turnout?

Bankers, I’m thinking.

53

Brett Bellmore 09.04.11 at 1:55 am

“But is there a massive public constituency for civil liberties issues? Sadly, no. “

Sure there is: The NRA runs to several million members.

Oh, wait, you meant civil liberties liberals like….

54

CWhitehead 09.04.11 at 2:00 am

b9n10nt
I think its more Obama believes the public and even the political power structure will be better served by bipartisanship then unilateralism. I think he sees himself as a practical politician who is trying to mend fences between parties rather then pleasing constituents (although within the confines of the executive he is doing what he can to do that, whether they recognize it or even know it). So its a miscalculation according to the twelve step program above and referenced by the notion that Obama is basically a Rockefeller Republican (commented above) even if it may be the right thing to do….

I dont see it as Obama trying to please bankers by any means, even the attempt of Dodd-Frank let alone what actually made it through suggests otherwise. The Fed is pretty much beyond his control but even then QE3 is probably more of a carrot then a reality. So if he is trying to please bankers in any demonstrable way, its merely to get an economy started to a level he can claim success come next November rather than a stagflation repeat or the new buzzword double dip.

55

David 09.04.11 at 2:04 am

Far be it from me to have the temerity to take exception to the estimable Berube, but have at it I will. Point 4 is an epic fail and everything after that is pretty much meaningless. As it didn’t take too long for someone else to observe, it far from obvious that Obama’s “caves” have been on symbolic, trivial issues of little or no import. Obama has caved across the spectrum. I don’t call the EPA reversal — and that is what it is — symbolic or trivial. Berube, much to my surprise, strikes me as someone trying mightily to convince himself that up to your nose is shit is somehow substantively better than up to your eyebrows in shit. I’ve been doing that too long. It isn’t.

56

David 09.04.11 at 2:13 am

I am also amazed to see that Berube’s always enjoyable talent for invective seem to have utterly deserted him on this thread.

57

left reach 09.04.11 at 2:16 am

Have to embrace President Obama because of the extreme ideology of Republicans, and we certainly want to retain the social net for the elderly, poor, disadvantaged, disabled, for retirees our pensions, social security and medicare.
I fear the Perry’s and Bachmann’s. Truly.
We underestimate the difficulty of Obama’s job.
I used to run a building at a huge psychiatric facility. It was endless minutiae and drama.
It overwhelmed us all. That’s just one building. Imagine dealing with an entire country.
He has my respect and support.

58

ScentOfViolets 09.04.11 at 2:21 am

I am not completely sure on exact results stats, but arent mid-term elections typically favored towards the non-incumbent party anyway? So, other than the “Tea Party” factor which are basically habitually non-voting far-right libertarians, how are the results any different then 2006, 2002, 1998, etc., etc.? It seems any notion from the far-left or the right in general to sell 2010 as anything other then electoral business as usual, is consensus-building for 2012.

So, you’re “not sure” about the actual data, but you’re going to go ahead and give an opinion based upon your prejudices, eh? Sigh. There’s this thing called “Google” you might want to acquaint yourself with:

The Republican Party gained 63 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, recapturing the majority, and making it the largest seat change since 1948 and the largest for any midterm election since the 1938 midterm elections.

That’s from the wiki. The article goes on further to say:

Political analysts in October 2010 predicted sweeping Republican gains this election, but despite a reported “enthusiasm gap” between likely Republican and Democratic voters,[6] turnout increased relative to the last U.S. midterm elections without any significant shift in voters’ political identification.[7] The swaying views of self-declared independent voters, however, were largely responsible for the shift from Democratic to Republican gains.[8]

Never give an opinion without trying to get a handle on the facts first, son. And it’s not like there’s a paucity of analysis out there:

Independent voters, white working-class voters, seniors, and men broke heavily against the Democrats due to the economy. Turnout levels were also unusually low among young and minority voters and unusually high among seniors, whites, and conservatives, thus contributing to a massively skewed midterm electorate. The Democrats therefore faced a predictable, and arguably unavoidable, convergence of forces. Incumbent Democrats suffered a genuine backlash of voter discontent due to a weak economy with considerable concerns about job creation, deep skepticism among independents, poor turnout among key base groups, and strong enthusiasm among energized conservatives.

The 62-to-64-seat loss in the House and reduction of the Senate majority is a serious rebuke to the Democrats and the political status quo but this was not an endorsement of a conservative agenda. Data on voter opinions expressed in pre- and post-election polling confirms that the 2010 election was neither a mandate for antigovernment and Tea Party ideology, nor an endorsement of GOP policies on taxes and regulations. And the election did not turn on a repudiation of President Barack Obama’s health care plan despite staunch GOP opposition.

Is that good enough for you? Or would you like something else? As I’ve said four or five times now, this was easily predicable (I’m on record for making this prediction . . . in January of 2010) and in fact hundreds or thousands of people did the same as well.

So please. No more of this “this wasn’t an unusual election result” or “who coulda known” or whatever. The facts are what they are – and they are easily researched and searchable facts at that.

59

weaver 09.04.11 at 2:36 am

Democratic president turns out to be liberal–centrist fellow

There’ve been Democratic presidents to the left of liberals? Oh, wait, I forgot. Michael doesn’t comprehend the difference between a leftist and a liberal, or know where the centre of the political spectrum is.

It should always be remembered that liberals who tell leftists to vote strategically won’t themselves be doing so. Voting Democratic for them is not lesser-of-two-evils stuff; they’ll be voting for a party the policies of which they agree with. The rest is a grift.

60

b9n10nt 09.04.11 at 2:36 am

David

Berube says

“symbolic does not equal trivial”

61

David 09.04.11 at 2:41 am

In the context of both this thread and the actual policies and actions, what the hell does “symbolic” mean? This is a fine point devoid of meaning, reeking of cover your ass.

62

b9n10nt 09.04.11 at 2:41 am

weaver:

Berube says left’s alienation well earned (Obama sells out left wing)

Dudes, read the thread, or read the OP carefully. This is Crooked Fucking Timber :)

63

b9n10nt 09.04.11 at 2:44 am

David:

Symbolic might mean: a policy regime in which the ideological context or framing of the policies diverges from the first order economic effects as intended by the executors.

64

ScentOfViolets 09.04.11 at 2:47 am

It should always be remembered that liberals who tell leftists to vote strategically won’t themselves be doing so. Voting Democratic for them is not lesser-of-two-evils stuff; they’ll be voting for a party the policies of which they agree with. The rest is a grift.

With suitable modification of the word “liberal”, eggsaktly.

Funny isn’t it, how voting quid pro quo is totally unremarkable . . . except when “leftists” (who are more often than not better served by the label populists) do it, at which point they’re exhorted to vote like “grownups”, i.e., like their political betters tell them to.

What it comes down to is a power struggle. Nothing more. But nothing less.

65

ScentOfViolets 09.04.11 at 2:52 am

In the context of both this thread and the actual policies and actions, what the hell does “symbolic” mean? This is a fine point devoid of meaning, reeking of cover your ass.

Another bulls-eye! This was an attempted smear, nothing more. With the usual CYA escape clause. Berube has done this one so often that I think of him as a female Camille Paglia.

66

David 09.04.11 at 2:56 am

Ouch, indeed!

67

David 09.04.11 at 3:07 am

@b9n10nt @63: care to explain what that actually means? Again, in the context of both this thread and polices and actions of the Obama administration that have very real consequences, “first order economic” or otherwise. Symbolic is clearly meant to denigrate. A stirring defense: it was wrong when they did it but not as wrong when we do it, so don’t get your symbolic knickers in such a twist.

68

CWhitehead 09.04.11 at 3:13 am

ScentOfViolets
I am reminded of the statement “a person can build a wall of facts between themselves and anything real.” The data you provided doesnt show much to me beyond commentary, no different than mine (other than voter turnout being greater than 2006). If the info you cite without any source, at that, is accurate it only makes sense but doesnt explain anything beyond Republicans won handily.

As I stated, it was basically the pendulum swing from 2006/2008. Republicans and far-right non-voters who are basically Tea Party folks (not being a defined movement by design its hard to say what a Tea Party member would even be, but as I say, its generally far-right libertarians who would not self-identify as Tea Party) aghast at the outcome of 2008 were activated in droves by conditions themselves (and a well-oiled propaganda machine as always) while disaffected voters from 2008 on the left stayed home. Most folks saw it coming, you are not the only one, but again, how is it different than any other mid-term other than as you say there were more seats picked up than ’48 (which again only makes sense if enough key districts had an activated base on the right and a disaffected one on the left) and higher voter turnout than 2006.

Your desperation in citing all these sources as being a right-wing tide cresting once again only reaffirms my statement that you are consensus-building (or in the case of this site, trying to, whats the term, tamp down hope).

69

Western Dave 09.04.11 at 3:16 am

Here in Pennsylvania, we did what we were supposed to do. We primaried the conservative Dem (former Rep.) Sen. Specter and got a legit liberal (Sestak) to run when he was hugely down in the polls and Sestak got the nod. But unlike ’08, Sestak didn’t get a ton of NY cash and labor while his opponent (Toomey) who was flush with movement conservative cash had it. Look, nobody is” hippy” bashing here. In 2008, an army of college kids from NY came down and helped carry Penn for the Dems. Where the heck were they in 2010? Where was the money? These folks split or stopped giving money because why? And Toomey beating Sestak improves the situation how? All this FDR nostalgia seems to miss the fact that he struggled a hell of a lot and didn’t get a lot of what he wanted either. And that some of what he wanted didn’t work or was actually bad for the people he was trying to help. But FDR was pretty damn good at blaming others when something went bad.

70

CWhitehead 09.04.11 at 3:21 am

Retract the statement on sources mostly, I see you state the first part is from wikipedia. Certainly read that before posting, but I am talking about demographic election results data or something a little beyond wiki’ed blurbs. You did not source the commentary quotes, though.

Obviously I am giving my opinion which I dont just create out of thin air but from my own sources which I do not feel compelled to cite as you did and instead merely add the basic disclaimer IANAW(onk) which apparently you are….

71

Bruce Wilder 09.04.11 at 3:27 am

“Symbolic” distinguishes some electorally important issues, from other issues, which entail a substantial resource cost or substantially affect income and wealth distribution.

That’s all.

72

Anarcissie 09.04.11 at 3:33 am

Speaking of symbolic matters, it seems to me that voting for a candidate who has deliberately and knowingly killed numerous innocent people, or assisted in the killing, makes one a symbolic, although not an effective, accomplice to murder. That is, it has moral although not practical force — one might say selling one’s birthright for not a mess of pottage but the illusion of one.

73

b9n10nt 09.04.11 at 3:40 am

As I understand the term used by Berube, I would say Obama’s foreign policy is symbolic. Obama can’t care about victory in Afghanistan, and he can’t reasonably think that dropping bombs on Afghans is somehow related to the defense of the US, so what is his policy? It’s symbolic. His political team has decided that Obama should probably be at war, in several places preferably. He doesn’t want to look weak domestically. Who cares about Afghibya? The point is that independent voters (hat tip Scent) won’t see any daylight between Conservative and Liberal on imperialism. Thus protecting Obama’s standing with independents.

Scent et al, wouldn’t you agree that research indicates that independents are an uninformed, not ideologically motivated yet highly suggestible group? Punishing incumbents for bad economic conditions (and natural disasters!). That level of nonideologically motivated voting that merely reflects corporate propaganda?

Uninformed voters therefore vote according symbols -conflicting, warring for attention- not substance. Symbolic policies are important as a matter of political expediency.

But it should also be contemplated that symbolic communication is desirable among humans. If my wife says tomorrow am “I don’t love u anymore”, what has she in fact done? Ah, but I have a lot of info about what she will do!

74

skippy 09.04.11 at 3:48 am

dudes, berube has punked 2 out of 3 commentors here. always read berube w/a grain of salt towards his narrative voice, if not his salient points. someone above referenced “a modest proposal.” most everything berube writes is a modest proposal.

75

David 09.04.11 at 3:57 am

Skippy: went back and reread it. Nope, far too subtle for me. Therefore, I can only conclude the only ones punked are you ant the rest of the 1 out of 3. Reference his second footnote. b9n10nt: oh, I dropped a bomb on you but no worry, it was only for the symbolic effect on voters who care. Doesn’t even matter what they care about it. Symbolic foreign policy we can believe in and vote for again. Sure.

76

b9n10nt 09.04.11 at 4:28 am

I know. We agree it sucks.

77

heckblazer 09.04.11 at 4:31 am

Not mobilizing because you’re disappointed with Obama is foolish, because that’s exactly what the Republicans want. I say that because the GOP is actively working to prevent liberal constituancies from organizing and voting. Going after ACORN and now unions is part of a deliberate plan to cripple and defund Democrats. New laws to combat “voter fraud” disproportionately disenfranchise blacks, the poor and college students, groups that not coincidentally tend to not vote for Republicans.

It would be nice to think that Big Business was pulling the Republican strings, since that would mean someone with a plan is running things. Instead I think they’ve created a monster they no longer control. The debt ceiling debate is exhibit A for this theory. Wall Street wanted the debt ceiling raised, and thought default was unthinkable. The US Chamber of Commerce wanted the debt ceiling raised and thought default was unthinkable. From my impression every businessperson outside the US thought even making the debt ceiling an issue was unthinkable, and frankly insane. Tea Party Republicans by contrast thought default was no big deal.

78

ScentOfViolets 09.04.11 at 4:39 am

If the info you cite without any source, at that, is accurate it only makes sense but doesnt explain anything beyond Republicans won handily.

Sigh. Use the Google. Highlight any bits I’ve quoted and put them into the query.

It’s really not that hard ;-)

As for the rest, no, you didn’t give any facts, merely an opinion. No, I am not a “liberal”. And finally, what happened in the 2011 (contrary to your spin) is exactly what people have been telling you. In fact, what people like me predicted.

Let’s see your predictions for the 2010 elections, as opposed to your Monday morning quarterbacking. What? You don’t have any that you want to share? Thought not.

I’m guessing your one of those people wedded to narrative as opposed to the type that likes evidence, testable predictions, that sort of thing.

So later. Unless you want to get down off that horse of yours and allow as maybe you were wrong about a thing or two there. Otherwise, what’s the point in speaking to a ‘bot?

79

ScentOfViolets 09.04.11 at 4:46 am

dudes, berube has punked 2 out of 3 commentors here. always read berube w/a grain of salt towards his narrative voice, if not his salient points.

Skippy, you may not be aware of this, but this is standard Berube: post something inflammatory and when it becomes apparent that it’s seriously crashed and burned, claim it was all high pomo that the rest of us just didn’t get.[1]

Funny, isn’t it, how either way it goes he gets to declare a win ;-)

As I said, he’s a female Camille Paglia; this schtick’s sell-by date expired sometime in, oh, maybe 2002. 2003 tops.

[1]Why would anyone make the effort to post this sort of tripe time and again? Seriously. He wants to be called on it, just so he can razz people for being rubes. Strikes me as being kind of sick, frankly.

80

ScentOfViolets 09.04.11 at 4:56 am

Obviously I am giving my opinion which I dont just create out of thin air but from my own sources which I do not feel compelled to cite as you did and instead merely add the basic disclaimer IANAW which apparently you are….

Next time, I suggest you read the material your commenting on before posting. The other bit, well, what did you say:

I am not completely sure on exact results stats, but arent mid-term elections typically favored towards the non-incumbent party anyway? So, other than the “Tea Party” factor which are basically habitually non-voting far-right libertarians, how are the results any different then 2006, 2002, 1998, etc., etc.?

If you don’t know something that was widely aired at the time – among other things, that relentless 24/7 pounding on the fact that this was the biggest upset in more than fifty years – and then you go ahead and give your opinion anyway without doing any research, expect to get a few raspberries.

Really, this sort of laziness might have been excusable even twenty years ago, when you’d have to go to a physical library for information. But not now. Not when you have tools like Google that can run down any of a number of good references in seconds. And no – to forestall the usual whining – this isn’t something that could only be expected of some professional researcher; this is your basic think before you start talking through your hat.

81

Grombleur 09.04.11 at 5:00 am

On the other hand, a lot of this discussion might be just another example of holy shit we’re Democrats/liberals/progressives the sky is falling isn’t it way past time when we should all be puckering up our assholes about Rick Perry? Obama is doing everything all wrong just the same way he did all through his whole presidential campaign!

82

Peter Hollo 09.04.11 at 5:34 am

Amazing how many people just don’t get Bérubé, even after reading him for years.
Of course, this post was designed to push the buttons it’s pushing. As a non-American, I’m missing a fair bit, but thanks anyway. (MB: “You are welcome.”)

83

Grimgrin 09.04.11 at 6:47 am

‘When I use a word,’Michael Bérubé said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

84

bread & roses 09.04.11 at 6:58 am

SoV@ 65- take your loathsome gender-policing 3rd-grade sexist bullshit somewhere else, please.

85

Chris Bertram 09.04.11 at 7:20 am

What’s missing from this analysis is the long-term relative decline of the US which makes it certain that each successive president has to deal with things getting worse for ordinary people (and getting the blame for same), a problem that would probably be difficult to mitigate much and is surely impossible given the US political system. The last decade now looks like an expensive exercise in global lashing out to prove (to self and others) that America is still strong and great and all the rest of it. Those of us who live elsewhere can only hope that the lack of money will do something to restrain further lashings in the future, although ressentiment-driven domestic demand for blaming the foreigners and “doing something” will remain high. From our pov the difference is likely to be small, because though Republicans will be authentically keen on such lashing out, Democrats will be out to prove they too have the balls etc.

(I’m still waiting for the US’s 1956 moment, by analogy to the time that the US called a halt to British post-imperial lashing in Egypt, but with the Chinese being the guys with the money this time. I wonder how that will play out?)

86

Charles S 09.04.11 at 8:00 am

CWhitehead,

For a really good analysis of the 2010 election and of the nature of the increased turnout, I highly recommend this Pew report (for 2010, the key graph is mid-way down page 3).

There was also a Daily Kos thread a while back that looked at comparing exit polls from 2006 and 2010 that was really useful.

The increased turnout was similar (+5 relative to 2008!) across the 3 main Republican sub-categories (fundies, libertarians, and rich people).

87

ejh 09.04.11 at 8:03 am

88

Thomas Jørgensen 09.04.11 at 8:14 am

Chris: That is nonsensical – Imperial stature has fuckall to do with the quality of life for your citizens. The UK crashed from being the unquestioned world hegemon to “Typical european country” and proceeded to enjoy decades of rising prosperity and equality. If anything, the way excessive military spending the US is engaging in to keep the strategic edge on third world shitholes of no particular importance is a millstone around the neck of the country.

89

Charles S 09.04.11 at 8:28 am

SoV,

Was “He’s just a female Camille Paglia” a typo? If not, I second bread & roses.

90

Chris Bertram 09.04.11 at 8:34 am

Thomas: I respectfully suggest that relative economic strength has quite a lot to do both with global dominance and how well-off people are back home. In addition, I’d note that whilst being a “typical European country” might have been a sensible option for the UK, we too have overspent significantly in order to retain a capacity to project power overseas – a big millstone around the neck of the UK.

You’re right of course that the US could give up its military power AND improve the life of its citizens by making sensible policy choices (reining in the super-rich etc). But that’s not going to happen given the political setup there. Given that things will remain massively dysfunctional domestically, and presidents won’t be able to anything to fix that, there’s the further point that they’ll try to bolster their stature by acting in the only arena where they have discretion: ie by chucking their weight about militarily. (Which of course needs a military, which has to be paid for, by taxes that can’t be levied on the rich … etc etc)

All downhill from here.

91

J. Otto Pohl 09.04.11 at 8:37 am

I hope the Democratic Party is paying Dr. B a satisfactory amount for his propaganda efforts on their behalf. Usually political lobbiest get huge sums of cash. But, excuse me if I do not fall down and worship the Dems. I voted for Nader in 2000 as well because I was convinced with Bush and Gore trying to out do each other on who can be more pro-Israel I was convinced that if either of them won we would be involved in a war in the Middle East. I was right, Bush invaded Iraq in no small part due to decades of heavy Zionist and anti-Arab influence in US politics supported more by Democrats than Republicans. Just look at who the progressive Democrats have been. Anthony Weiner, Dershowitz (the iconic liberal for decades), Nancy Pelosi, Bill and Hillary Clinton etc. all of them are pretty typical of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party.

92

Chris Bertram 09.04.11 at 8:37 am

Relatedly: John Gray on Friedman and Mandelbaum

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/059dda68-d30f-11e0-9aae-00144feab49a.html

93

ejh 09.04.11 at 9:34 am

http://www.truth-out.org/goodbye-all-reflections-gop-operative-who-left-cult/1314907779

Barbara Stanwyck: “We’re both rotten!”

Fred MacMurray: “Yeah – only you’re a little more rotten.”

94

roger 09.04.11 at 11:09 am

I notice that in this program, the Republicans don’t figure. That is, there will never ever be a Rockerfeller wing to the Republican party again. Ike is dead, and all that.
Which I imagine means that American politics shifts continually right. In the twentieth century, conservatives had no problem voting Democratic, in the South, and creating a very rightwing faction in the Dem party. Southern liberals, now, are encouraged to stick with the Dems and never try the policy of moderating the Republican party in the South.
Longterm, it is easy to see that this has led, and will lead, to disaster. It is also odd, as the Republican party in the South contains a lot of working class whites who are very amenable to certain liberal economic policies, are violently opposed to, for instance, catering to the financial services industry, would be happy with an industrial policy formed on patriotic grounds, etc., etc.
I’d suggest the problem with the 12 step program goes back to step one. Instead of: Republican administration messes things up, it is more like: “Republican administration meets a feckless opposition in the Democratic part of the legislature that is ruled by Daschle-ism – too crooked to oppose any of the economic “reforms” put in by the Rep administration., is too cowardly to oppose obviously insane aggressiveness on the part of the Rep. administration” and so has the leisure and pleasure of messing things up. Dems mount in numbers in the Senate and House, on calls that they do something, and then sternly remind supporters that there are parliamentary procedures, handed down on Mt. Sinai by Jesus Christ and Helen Keller, which would make it irresponsible to do anything – but look! there’s social security! Liberals ignore evidence that this is exactly how Democrats act, elect Democrat president, and watch in amazement as this is exactly how Democrats act.

95

Rich Puchalsky 09.04.11 at 12:56 pm

I can see why there has been so much comment-box misreading of this one: it’s a narrative in which Presidents and Republicans get to do things (and occasionally Democratic Presidents even get to face Congressional opposition from within their party), and in which liberal and/or left-wing people get to have various impotent fantasies (footnoted for identification) about how it could be better.

Isn’t it better to just admit that the system is broken and go on from there? By “the system” I mean the whole American apparatus of electoral politics and Constitutionality. Intellectuals are always really powerless, aren’t they? The only thing that they can really do is come up with ideas that other people take up. What ideas can people take from a narrative in which everything is broken but the system somehow isn’t? Only that the person making up the narrative isn’t facing something.

Anarchism is right for these times. Not that I have yet another hopeless fantasy about some kind of left anarchy springing up all over. But if you’re going to have no effect no matter what you do, why not at least support something that seems to match the actual facts of what’s going on? We’re in a declining empire in a period of racist reaction which is itself empowered by an antiquated governmental document that gives undemocratic power to rural and conservative areas. We’d be better off without the whole thing.

96

Hidari 09.04.11 at 1:31 pm

This article in Salon might provide some context:

‘Obama has ruined the Democratic Party. The 2010 wipeout was an electoral catastrophe so bad you’d have to go back to 1894 to find comparable losses. From 2008 to 2010, according to Gallup, the fastest growing demographic party label was former Democrat. Obama took over the party in 2008 with 36 percent of Americans considering themselves Democrats. Within just two years, that number had dropped to 31 percent, which tied a 22-year low….If would be one thing if Obama were failing because he was too close to party orthodoxy. Yet his failures have come precisely because Obama has not listened to Democratic Party voters. He continued idiotic wars, bailed out banks, ignored luminaries like Paul Krugman, and generally did whatever he could to repudiate the New Deal. The Democratic Party should be the party of pay raises and homes, but under Obama it has become the party of pay cuts and foreclosures. Getting rid of Obama as the head of the party is the first step in reverting to form.’

http://www.salon.com/news/politics/war_room/index.html?story=/politics/war_room/2011/09/04/favoritesonsanddaughters

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Kaveh 09.04.11 at 1:48 pm

Why are y’all even having a conversation about whether the Dems brought this on themselves or not? As if the Democratic Party is a fixed quantity, as if the only primaries are presidential ones.

One of the only posts in this entire thread that gave me pause was Western Dave @69, about how they did what they were supposed to do in PA. It’s true, they did, and it didn’t work out, and I think the larger population of leftists and/or liberals and Democrats in the US could have done something to change that. You simply can’t blame Sestak’s loss on Obama.

I thought this was obvious, but all the comments here make me think otherwise: the real tragedy is people continuing to arguing about whether Obama/the Dems sold them out, instead of how to push the party/American politics to the left at the level of local, less glamorous races? Where is the nation-wide conversation about how to Tea Party the Democratic party, in spite of Obama? Where is the nation-wide conversation about getting Greens or another third party elected to local office–mayorships or whatever?

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Rich Puchalsky 09.04.11 at 2:01 pm

Kaveh, that’s been tried, and really the idea that everyone should put on their game faces and organize the local level one more time is not very different than the idea that we should try a third party again. (Which your last sentence also buys into.) I’ve written about this here, for instance, in a post that mentions what happened to the netroots and Stephanie Herseth. People organized, and then they discovered that once their local candidates went non-local, the two-party system mathematically implied by our system meant that there was no way to discipline those candidates. Hey, Obama was a community organizer once upon a time. Did that help?

99

soullite 09.04.11 at 2:04 pm

Argument masquerading as analysis.

Here’s how it really works, for people interested in learning and not in bashing the left:

1. Republican President either serves two terms, resulting in a Recession, or one, which also results in a recession.

2. People elect Democratic President in time of economic distress owing primarily to their perception of having ‘solved’ the great depression.

3. Modern Democratic Party not being the party of FDR, they essentially give bankers and financiers whatever they want because in America, the Democratic party is subsidiary of the Financial industry.

4. As a result, the economy either doesn’t recover at all, or recovers too slowly to help them in the mid-terms.

5. Union voters (as opposed to the organizations themselves), which have been moving away from Dems for a while see the degredation of their life style and the fact that the Democratic party keeps voting for ‘free’ trade issues, decides to vote based on cultural issues because those are the only issues actually up for debate in America.

6. Democratic President loses one or both houses of congress.

7. Democratic President and Party uses this as an excuse to move to the right, just as they would have had they won (winning would ‘confirm’ their terrible policies).

8. The Democratic establishment and their wannabes scream blooding murder at how they were ‘stabbed in the back’ by ignorant leftists.

9. The financial industry either manages to inflate a bubble, in which case the Democratic President wins, or they fails, in which case he loses.

10. More screaming bloody murder either way, because it isn’t about reality, it’s about suppressing all activity on the left by making them seem insane or out of touch.

11. Democratic President uses his remaining time in office engaging in deregulation and free trade deals, as well as attempting to eliminate a major section of the social safety net.

12. Republican President is elected, Democratic President becomes mysteriously rich and trots around the worst saying right-wing things for a couple hundred thousand dollars a pop.

Thats how this really works.

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soullite 09.04.11 at 2:15 pm

Really, The people who deserve blame when Presidents don’t get reelected aren’t voters, they are the people working on reelection campaigns, staffing the whitehouse, and sitting in the oval office. Articles like this have never been about thoughtful analysis. they have never been about helping Obama win or making an argument about why anyone should vote for him. They are only ever about one thing: Making sure that nobody ever listens to those dirty, filthy hippies, even if they’re right, because that would result in some small amount of lost power for the Democratic elite.

Even now, when you’re about to lose the whole enchilada, you are far more concerned with the notion that someone might take a left-wing critique seriously than you are about attempting to discredit the right-wing ideas that are about to become dominant.

Even if you somehow managed to brow-beat every last leftist in this country to support Obama, he would still lose the 2012 election because Independents only vote on the economy and they hold the balance of power. That’s why I know all of these ‘blame the left’ arguments are BS. You know full well that we aren’t the ones who will decided whether Obama wins or not.

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Uncle Kvetch 09.04.11 at 3:23 pm

I’m a little confused—after each cycle, the whole of American politics moves three steps to the right, yet the next Dem president always turns out to be “a liberal-centrist fellow”?

The most perceptive comment in a 100-comment thread.

102

someguy 09.04.11 at 3:54 pm

Business Cycle

103

Michael Bérubé 09.04.11 at 4:38 pm

Hi, Rich P, good to see you again after all this time. As for the misreading of this one, I think it’s simpler — I managed to provoke the StupidandVirulent wing of internets loudmouths whose seekrit pomo-decoder rings told them that this post really said “never ever criticize Democrats” and “symbolic politics are meaningless” (extra credit to Dave @ 55 and 61! truly awesome neutron-star-quality density at work there) and “punch a hippie for Obama today.” But at least no one said anything mean about Jean Beliveau.

And everyone, I’m so sorry I forgot to tell you what the left needs to do now. But I have discovered a most marvelous formula, which the margin of this blog is too small to contain.

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Michael Bérubé 09.04.11 at 4:39 pm

I’m a little confused—after each cycle, the whole of American politics moves three steps to the right, yet the next Dem president always turns out to be “a liberal-centrist fellow”?

Relative to where the center has moved, yes.

105

christian_h 09.04.11 at 5:14 pm

Well from time to time Michael writes posts like this. It’s a three-step process:

1. Write post designed to provoke some class of people, employing very clever double-secret irony.

2. Class of people is duly provoked. Michael points out they are StupidandVirulent unable to grasp his brilliant double-secret irony.

3. Michael’s vast intellectual superiority is once again confirmed.

I think I’ll start a campaign to draft Michael’s ego for president. Surely no Republican can beat that.

106

kidneystones 09.04.11 at 5:25 pm

Democrat does not equal “liberal, left” or “conservative, right.” American electoral politics works by identifying a constituency unhappy with candidate “A” and then driving a wedge between that candidate and this constituency. One example of this occurred when a political up and comer “mistakenly” recruited a “reformed homo-sexual” recording artist and avowed Christian to MC a fund-raiser in a community that lo and behold espoused Christianity and viewed homosexuality as a sin. This conservative constituency flocked to the up and comer and continues to vote Dem and oppose gay marriage. There’s an awful lot wrong with most democratic systems. The US model is no exception. But it beats not being able to vote.

The election campaigns over the next year are likely to make 2008 appear a model of civility. If your issue is registering breast implants, the choice could not be more clear.

Dems screwed this up bad. They tried to knock it out of the park with HCR and ended up reviving the zombie corpse of the Republicans. I preferred anyone to O, including McCain. Dems controlled the entire apparatus for all but the last 8 months. But none of the current disaster is their fault. Excellent!

107

LFC 09.04.11 at 6:04 pm

I think Chris Bertram @90 is a little too pessimistic about the state of the American political system. Yes there are very dysfunctional, inequality-enhancing elements (cf Pierson and Hacker, Winner Take-All Politics etc.). But if there were truly no hope for improvement of any kind, I’m not sure why people here are having this debate about Romney and Obama and US electoral politics at all. Are presidents really helpless to do anything except in the realm of foreign policy — is this structurally built into the system? I’m not convinced. TR busted the trusts, FDR engineered the New Deal, LBJ enfranchised tens of thousands of African-American voters, etc.
The demographic changes in key parts of the US in the last several decades, and esp since 2000, are striking, and I think in the long run the fact that ethnic and racial ‘minorities’ will make up the majority of the population will have a salutary effect on US politics. Perhaps wishful thinking, but one must hope.

108

Uncle Kvetch 09.04.11 at 6:33 pm

Republican president wipes out previous Democratic president’s modest gains and accomplishments, which are belatedly acknowledged and viewed in nostalgic retrospect by Democratic voters appalled by Republican president

I’m confused by this part. I’ve seen lefties express some retrospective nostalgia for the Big Dawg’s political savvy, but “gains and accomplishments”? I’m having a hard time coming up with any. At least not insofar as those terms refer to concrete improvements, as opposed to “things the Republicans would have fucked up even worse.”

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Lee A. Arnold 09.04.11 at 6:49 pm

Michael, I think you hit the ultimate absurdity in each of the 12 steps just right. What is amazing is how well the conservatives whom I know would build an analogous 12 steps of complaints about the Republicans. They definitely think the country has moved three steps to the left.

110

Andrew F. 09.04.11 at 7:02 pm

What this 12-step summary leaves out is that some of the most important factors in an election are not political, and can’t necessarily be controlled politically. And these apolitical factors do not arise in neatly defined 4 year increments.

Stagflation, among other things, got Reagan elected in 1980. The results both of the deregulation begun under Carter and of the Fed’s successful slaying of inflation (also begun during Carter’s term) led to Reagan’s re-election in 1984.

The early 90s recession that ended just too late for Bush, and the growth that started just in time for Clinton, caused Clinton to win reelection in 1996.

Financial deregulation and changes in mortgage lending practices begun during Clinton’s term, and continued in Bush’s, eventually led to the financial crisis and recession – which pushed Obama to victory, but may also push him out in 2012.

Overall, I see a much more gradual ebb and flow of American policies – and much smaller impact from the decisions and moods of various party factions.

111

Henri Vieuxtemps 09.04.11 at 7:14 pm

@110, so, it’s just a game of musical chairs.

112

ScentOfViolets 09.04.11 at 7:16 pm

Well from time to time Michael writes posts like this. It’s a three-step process:

1. Write post designed to provoke some class of people, employing very clever double-secret irony.

2. Class of people is duly provoked. Michael points out they are StupidandVirulent unable to grasp his brilliant double-secret irony.

3. Michael’s vast intellectual superiority is once again confirmed.

Yep. Pure trolling in other words. The icing on the cake is that Michael doesn’t realize (or pretends not to realize) that pointing out the stupidities of his little bon mots is not being “angered” or “provoked”[1]. They are pointing out the stupidities in a poorly executed piece. Judging by his content, Michael – as most people already know – is really rather a dull sort. He doesn’t realize (or pretends not to realize) that for this shtick to be carried off, it has to be executed with some degree of competency. “A Modest Proposal” his stuff ain’t. In fact, it’s poorly executed and gives every appearance of being dashed off in a matter of minutes with no attempt at editing and no thought given to voice, tone, or any of a number of technical details.

[1]Again, typical troll behaviour, as most of us know all too well.

113

ScentOfViolets 09.04.11 at 7:23 pm

I managed to provoke the StupidandVirulent wing of internets loudmouths whose seekrit pomo-decoder rings told them that this post really said “never ever criticize Democrats”

Chuckle. No, troll; they’re mostly pointing out – as I did right up around #11 – that you’re writing unsubtle, unfunny, trollish dreck. It’s about on the level of execution of pro-life types scribbling horns on Hillary Clinton and calling the result high satire.

I’d suggest getting another schtick, but I suspect you just don’t have it in you.

114

nick 09.04.11 at 7:35 pm

I find most of MB’s parodic news articles, for example, very nicely turned: this piece, on the other hand, does suffer from insufficient attention to tone, and from a certain pointlessness: it has the trappings of satire, but it’s not really clear who/what the target is; it seems both rueful and accusatory.

Michael, if I could ask: granted that certain folks may be misreading you and imputing a hostility to the left that you don’t actually hold–isn’t it true that the only Democrats who DO SOMETHING WRONG, in your analysis, are the “portion of the left wing” you characterize in #6? Would it not be fair for a reader, then, to assume said Democrats were the primary target of your criticism?

Also: taking the piece as an analysis, the problem is that a phrase like “post-Watergate” tells you that a certain kind of analysis that focuses exclusively on electoral politics is coming: , eg, with respect to the changing relationship of the two parties to capital, “post-Watergate” is irrelevant. Is that relationship really the same in 1980 as it is in 2010? But you know this, obviously, so…..

115

Ed 09.04.11 at 8:08 pm

“Union voters (as opposed to the organizations themselves), which have been moving away from Dems for a while see the degredation of their life style and the fact that the Democratic party keeps voting for ‘free’ trade issues, decides to vote based on cultural issues because those are the only issues actually up for debate in America.”

I agree with the comment on the whole, I just wanted to point out that cultural issues really aren’t “up for debate” in America.

For example, for all of the “think of the Supreme Court!” posts we are getting, seven out of the nine Supreme Court justices have been Republican appointees continuously since 1975. And during all that time, Roe v. Wade is just one vote away from being overturned. The Republican establishment is just as good at playing Lucy and pulling the football away from the Charlie Browns of the cultural, anti-immigration right as the Democratic establishment is for the economic left.

116

David 09.04.11 at 8:14 pm

I’t’s David, Berube. Purely symbolic, of course.

117

ScentOfViolets 09.04.11 at 8:37 pm

SoV@ 65- take your loathsome gender-policing 3rd-grade sexist bullshit somewhere else, please.

Was “He’s just a female Camille Paglia” a typo? If not, I second bread & roses.

—-begin—-

What!?!?!?! Neither of you got my fine satire? You were actually literal-minded enough to take it at face value rather than the truly fine post-modern critique it really was? What a pair of nitwits. Read for comprehension next time.

I can’t believe you fell for this hook, line, and sinker.

—-end—-

Okay, this part’s for real.

You didn’t like my little sally, did you? Probably thought that it was – at best – completely tasteless.

Do you see now how corrosive this style of dialogue really is? How sick and trollish? Any fool can post something inflammatory and then after collecting enough hits on the piece claim that it was all in fun – high irony in fact that those thickwits Just Didn’t Get.

I’m afraid Berube has gotten a bit of a reputation for this sort of thing. And it’s not clever or “thought-provoking” at all. It’s being a tosser.

118

ejh 09.04.11 at 8:39 pm

I think I’ll start a campaign to draft Michael’s ego for president

I see it as a kind of separate, gigantic entity, a bit like the planet in Solaris only less broody. (But more brilliant, obviously.)

119

b9n10nt 09.04.11 at 8:44 pm

It looks like there’s really only one rational way that incumbent Presidents can seek to win (re)election: capture independents and centrists. Primaries are obviously all about whipping up the base, but even then with Democrats, the electoral base considers themselves fairly conservative and loves the hippie-punching. The ideological base is small due to endogenous factors (low turnout, historical disenfranchisement and WELL-EARNED apathy) and exogenous ones (corporate propaganda, influence of big finance).

Obama comes to power at the onset of a economic calamity. He doesn’t own it, in the minds of independents, but he is vulnerable: if there were a transformative progressive agenda enacted ‘tween ’08-’10, and the effects are not more or less immediately awesome, then it becomes Obama’s recession. Game over.

Imagine a Krugman-esque ARRA with effects that don’t show up before the mid-terms. It’s plausible that R’s walk into Congress in ’11 denouncing progressive stewardship of the economy, and become associated among independents with economic recovery. Obama could have doomed progressive politics for a long time to come.

So Obama agrees with his political team (and the pleas of every Democrat from a swing state’s staff) that, under these dire economic conditions, he absolutely needs to seek bipartisan cover for EVERYTHING he does. That’s how you keep this Bush’s or Wall St’s recession for 2-4 years. If R’s don’t play, then you’ve driven them away from independents.

Politically you can’t lose, policy wise you can’t win. Of course, if you lose elections, policy wise you can’t win either.

Now I would have said, “nationalize the banks, stimulate full throttle, and go for a robust HCR bill. We’re to make things better, not simply keep our jobs”. But your fellow congress critters will not agree. It does seem likely that you’d end up without good policy, and you could end up owning the recession and dooming the progressive cause for a long time to come.

Obama might be a real progressive who saw the necessity of selling out.

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CharleyCarp 09.04.11 at 8:59 pm

@107 — TR, FDR, and LBJ didn’t actually do those things by themselves. They had working majorities in Congress.

121

Lee A. Arnold 09.04.11 at 9:11 pm

@119 — It isn’t just incumbent elections, it’s any national election. The Repubs voters vote reliably Repub, the Dems go Dem, and the independent voters swing almost all elections. One reason the Dems were destined to lose big in the last midterm is because so many reliably red districts went blue in 2008 in frustration with Bush’s Iraq War. So 2010 was bound to swing back beyond the historical norm of the president’s party losing in the midterms. On top of that, trying to overhaul the medical system with more gov’t oversight was enough to lose many independents, and then letting the Repubs blame you for cutting back on Medicare was enough to lose many seniors.

If Perry wins the nomination, it will be quite a campaign, because he is unlikely to be reticent. Since many independents appear to care more about leadership personality than about the details of actual policy, this next election may go down to the wire. Perry will fire up the left in oppostion — so Obama won’t have to worry about catering to his left flank — but Perry will also fire up the right, and to a degree that Romney can never ignite. So in terms of left/right balances of the bases, Perry will be a wash, as a savvy friend of mine points out. What is unclear to me at this point is (1) whether Perry can tack back toward the center to win the general election, and (2) whether Obama’s developing narrative of Republican obstructionism can make a whiff of difference to the independent voters, who of course specifically voted in favor of that obstructionism in the 2010 midterm.

122

Henri Vieuxtemps 09.04.11 at 9:20 pm

b9, 119: excuses, excuses.

Bush 2 gets in at the beginning of a recession, and getting fewer votes than the other guy. Immediately, he pushes through a huge tax cut, top income bracket, cap gains, estate tax, the whole nine yards. How does that fit into your theory? Now, he could, of course, lose the re-election campaign, but so what: either way his constituency would benefit, to the tune of a couple of trillion dollars. That’s what competent politics looks like.

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b9n10nt 09.04.11 at 9:30 pm

Lee A. Arnold:

So 2010 was bound to swing back beyond the historical norm of the president’s party losing in the midterms.

Exactly the point I meant to make last night when some posters were citing Obama’s historical loss of Dem-affiliated voters.

Perry’s work re: your point 1) is made all the more difficult by Obama’s relentless efforts to embody post-partisan centrism.

Of course, this is a whole bunch of Suck from the progressive pov, but there it is. If we want change, it won’t be from a Fearless Progressive Leader in the White House. They wouldn’t (shouldn’t?) listen to us; they’re too busy listening to the their political team telling them how it plays in Peoria.

Yes we’re fools for voting in Dem’s, but we’re knaves for throwing our vote (effectively) to Republicans. The more we can primary centrist liberals down ticket (and this doesn’t need to succeed, it only has to effectively threaten to succeed), and the more we can get in the streets, the better chance we have of pushing things forward.

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b9n10nt 09.04.11 at 9:48 pm

Henri,

I think you mean “explanations, explanations”

I think Bush got a fair number of Dem’s to support the Bush’s tax cuts, no? The Medicare Part D was also bipartisan. As was the foreign policy debacle. As was No Child Left Without a Scantron. When Bush fully came out with a no-doubt right wing policy with no cover from Dem’s (Social Security privatization) it died. Quickly.

Now, what Bush did do well was sneak in staunch right-wing policy that independents could like (or be told to like). But hegemony and $$$ gave Bush far greater room to maneuver here than it does Obama. Tax cuts play better in Peoria than infrastructure spending. “Govt is wasteful” is hegemonic; “capitalism sucks” isn’t.

Maybe I’m wrong. Show me. But if I’m right, then these aren’t excuses. I’m trying to be descriptive.

125

Bruce Baugh 09.04.11 at 9:57 pm

b9n10nt: You can get people who haven’t voted in the past to vote, when properly motivated. Obama’s campaign was staggeringly successful at this in 2008, and then frittered the entire advantage away.

126

Lee A. Arnold 09.04.11 at 10:03 pm

I see it a little differently. In the long term I think the left has already won the welfare state, and we are seeing the long death-throes of the dinosaur Republican Party. My basic premise is that the welfare state is here to stay, and that all the Republican effrontery is to get power, not to end Medicare. Obama’s embodiment of the center has him running more popular than Congressional Republicans, and that is nice, but it is not enough. On the other hand, Perry’s move toward the center will be difficult because of things he has already said, (a task which eastern seaboard Republicans appear to be happy to point out, the Washington Post for example). Perry has already made strong statements against Social Security, so he needs to start to spin it as changing the terms for the future recipients only, by setting up a different system for the youngest workers. It’s absolute nonsense of course, and it would cost a lot more than business as usual — in attempted privatisation-putsch under Dubya, this was called the “transition cost”: at least $5-6 trillion more over 10 years, and ongoing afterward. Here is a refresher course: http://www.youtube.com/user/leearnold#p/c/8AC650E4705BC0D1/1/Tts2uTWt6e8

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b9n10nt 09.04.11 at 10:18 pm

Bruce Baugh:

Obama ’08 motivated nonvoters AND won independents handily. motivating nonvoters is probably a strategy that excludes winning over independents. So you would have to choose. Yeah, maybe it’ll work. But it probably wouldn’t. For one thing, getting nonvoters to vote is really hard in our atomized, apolitical, anti-communitarian polis. And then there’s the media. Grassroots organizing on the right is apparently a democratic ground swell whereas on the left it’s either non-existent, a constant to be dismissed, or a radical threat to the republic.

I think the better bet is to go after independents and conclude that ’08 was indeed a historic, nonreproduceable result.

I don’t like it. But I think the case here is pretty strong.

128

ScentOfViolets 09.04.11 at 10:24 pm

Exactly the point I meant to make last night when some posters were citing Obama’s historical loss of Dem-affiliated voters.

Oh really? Do tell. Especially when you go on to say things like this:

Maybe I’m wrong. Show me. But if I’m right, then these aren’t excuses. I’m trying to be descriptive.

Me and mine predicted how the election in 2010 would go in terms of certain voting blocks and why. You’re giving an after-the-fact Monday morning quarterback analysis that conveniently support your beliefs.

Ergo, what I say trumps what you say. Unless you can provide a quote where you made a such a prediction as well.

Do you have such a quote? Or is this yet another instance where Narrative is supposed to trump Scientific Method?

No, until you can convince me otherwise ;-) it seems pretty obvious that Obama frittered away any electoral advantage he may have had by not coming through for people on his election promises.

It really is just that simple for most people.

129

ScentOfViolets 09.04.11 at 11:02 pm

I’ve never understood this resistance to political models that invoke populism as a driving force.

Look, Obama didn’t win in 2008 because he ran a liberal campaign; he won because he ran a populist campaign. Those self-styled “politically aware” types that manned the phones and put signs in yards, the ones who were concerned about international law and human rights abuses? Yeah, those are important issues.

Just not the issues that motivated most people to vote the way they did.

Most people voted for Obama because he said he would do something about their foreclosures and underwater mortgages. They thought he would do redress our collective abuse at the hands of the banksters and take it out of their hides.

They thought he would do something about jobs. And for the most part, they didn’t give a fig for any drivel about rule of law.

Two and half years later, these same voters have been severely disappointed by this administrations lack of action on issues they find important. He’s coddled the banksters to the point of putting pressure on AG’s to cease and desist any investigation into their multiple crimes. TARP was a disaster. He refused to let a Bush-era law expire which raised taxes on them’s that could afford it and the class from which most Bush-era criminals sprang. And he didn’t do diddly when it comes to unemployment.

So why are people surprised at the turn of events right now, and why are they trying to make this into a liberal vs. conservative thing when the correct axis is clearly elites/populists?

130

b9n10nt 09.04.11 at 11:07 pm

Scent:

from the Pew Typology report cited up thread:

Barack Obama won the 2008 presidential election by solidifying the backing of not only the Solid Liberal and Hard-Pressed Democratic groups, but also by activating and appealing to New Coalition Democrats and Post-Moderns. Fully 87% of Obama’s votes came from these four key coalition sources, though he attracted a respectable 13% of his overall vote total by reaching out to Disaffecteds, Libertarians and Main Street Republicans as well. (Obama won virtually no support from Staunch Conservatives.)…

…The 2010 midterms revealed the fragility of this electoral base. While both Solid Liberals and Hard-Pressed Democrats remained solidly behind Democratic congressional candidates in 2010, support slipped substantially among New Coalition Democrats and Post-Moderns – not because Republicans made overwhelming gains in these groups, but because their turnout dropped so substantially. Where two-thirds of New Coalition Democrats came out to vote for Obama in 2008, just 50% came out to back Democrats in 2010. The drop-off in the Democratic vote was even more severe among Post-Moderns, 65% of whom backed Obama, but just 43% of whom came to the polls for Democrats in 2010.

So the drop off in turn out was NOT among “hard-pressed democrats” and “solid liberals”. It was among the centrists.

from the dkos link from Charles S @ 86 last night:

Once again, liberals made up 20% of the electorate, but only voted 87% for Democrats. Between 2006 and 2010, liberals made up the same proportion of the electorate, and yet actually voted even more strongly Democratic in 2010 than their historical norm. This is remarkable given that 2006 was actually a Democratic wave, and 2010 a Republican one – and 2010 actually had higher overall turnout, 41% versus 36% in 2006. It’s not even that the same liberals from 2006 showed up, but in fact some new ones came out too. But they weren’t enough.

So we agree that the left didn’t leave Obama over neglected election promises. It doesn’t seem obvious that the center left and center right left Obama over election promises seeing as:

1) it was the economy

2) these centrists are the least informed about election promises and are the least ideologically invested in seeing them fulfilled (see the Pew Typology report) and

3) see 1).

So, a smell of your own Scent:

You claim independents left Obama over broken election promises. There’s I’ll-call-it prima facie evidence against this interpretation. Care to counter with any evidence? Or will you play the game of “you can’t force me to prove myself wrong so I win”? (I realize you have a more elegant formulation but it escapes me at the moment.)

131

Jim Demintia 09.04.11 at 11:07 pm

Lee, you’ve got to be kidding me. While I would love to believe that the remnants of the welfare state are secure, all the movement is towards chipping it away through “entitlement reform.” Obama is poised to make a public call, following his jobs speech, for the Congressional Super Committee to raise the Medicare eligibility age and to make de facto cuts in social security. Far from tottering on their last legs, the republicans are quite close to getting what they’ve struggled for decades to achieve without success–the slow dismantling of the two pillars of the U.S. welfare state–which looks more and more likely thanks to the financial crisis and Democratic fecklessness. Whether Obama wins next year or not, it is frankly hard to see anything but disaster looming on the horizon.

132

JJ 09.04.11 at 11:08 pm

“And everyone, I’m so sorry I forgot to tell you what the left needs to do now. But I have discovered a most marvelous formula, which the margin of this blog is too small to contain.”

Let L equal the set of P(x,y,z) in R cubed such that: x = sin t, y = cos t, z + 1 = t/pi and 0 is less than or equal to t which is less than 2 pi. Label z sub 1 = (0, 1, -1) as communist, z sub 2 = (1, 0, 1/2) as liberal, z sub 3 = (0, -1, 0) as centrist, z sub 4 = (-1, 0, 1/2) as conservative and z sub 5 = (0, 1, 1) as fascist, and you’ve got a (normalized) graph of political progress which winds around from z sub 1 to z sub 5 and crashes back to z sub 1 again in an infinite loop of axial oscillation.

133

Barry 09.04.11 at 11:34 pm

Michael Bérubé 09.03.11 at 9:34 pm

” Cranky, you seem very cranky. You know, reading comprehension can be your friend. But only if you let it.”

BZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZT! And Michael is disqualified for inability to reply with anything other than a casual insult!

134

The Fool 09.05.11 at 12:00 am

Michael, Michael, Michael: You go badly, badly off the rails with Step #4, “Democratic president gives in to Republicans repeatedly on a handful of symbolic (and therefore important to politically active voters) issues, appointments, regulations, etc.”

Tax cuts for the rich?
Social Security?
Medicare?
Medicaid?
Health insurance?
Wars?
Hello?

Those are hardly symbolic issues of interest only to activists.

But, hey, you seem like a fine fellow (despite your tin ear for policy and politics) and I would like to subscribe to your newsletter.

135

Lee A. Arnold 09.05.11 at 12:16 am

Jim Demintia #131, Any changes discussed in Medicare eligibility or Social Security cuts are so far into the future as to be meaningless for all intents and purposes, other than to transform CBO long-term projections. Were they passed (a big “if”), the cuts would then be reversed upon future necessity. I’m trying to imagine any politician in his/her right mind throwing Social Security retirees or Medicare recipients off the rolls. One day the economy will do better, and another Congress would raise all benefits as soon as the voters raise a squawk. The Republicans under Bush passed Medicare Part D holding the vote open several hours to twist arms, — and held the costs secret, until after passage. The game is over. The welfare state is going to grow as big as necessary, and it is even going to cover universal medical care.

136

b9n10nt 09.05.11 at 12:21 am

Nate Silver on Friday, nytimes 538 blog:

The relationship between Mr. Obama’s approval ratings and the economic performance of each state has been either neutral or somewhat inversely correlated.

and:

Based on the evidence from the state level, it’s not entirely clear that “hard” economic data, like the high unemployment rate or the slow growth in income, is driving the decline in his approval rating.

So there’s some more evidence against the idea that R’s gains in 2010 were the result of economically distressed voters sick of Obama’s breaking election promises.

137

ScentOfViolets 09.05.11 at 12:28 am

You claim independents left Obama over broken election promises. There’s I’ll-call-it prima facie evidence against this interpretation. Care to counter with any evidence? Or will you play the game of “you can’t force me to prove myself wrong so I win”?

Chuckle. You do the willfully obtuse thing pretty well don’t you? No, that’s not what I claimed. And you obviously don’t get my bolded reference; who said this:

Maybe I’m wrong. Show me.

That’s right, Tuds: You did. What did you think I was mocking with that bolded bit?

Now, you want to allow as to maybe you’ve been popping off a bit? Or do you want to double down on the stupid? That seems to be a fairly popular – though losing – strategy around here.

138

ScentOfViolets 09.05.11 at 12:36 am

Btw, Let’s go back to b9’s own quote:

Barack Obama won the 2008 presidential election by solidifying the backing of not only the Solid Liberal and Hard-Pressed Democratic groups, but also by activating and appealing to New Coalition Democrats and Post-Moderns. Fully 87% of Obama’s votes came from these four key coalition sources, though he attracted a respectable 13% of his overall vote total by reaching out to Disaffecteds, Libertarians and Main Street Republicans as well. (Obama won virtually no support from Staunch Conservatives.)

Kind of proves my point, no? And of course, we now know in fact that b9 did not make a prediction about the 2010 elections, though he feels free to chatter on after the fact. Stick a fork in him.

139

b9n10nt 09.05.11 at 12:38 am

Scent:

yeah I suck. Anyway, you said this:

it seems pretty obvious that Obama frittered away any electoral advantage he may have had by not coming through for people on his election promises.

Evidence?

140

b9n10nt 09.05.11 at 12:42 am

Kind of proves my point, no?

You’d have to show that disaffecteds, libertarians, and Main Street Republicans were looking for Obama to get them out from underwater on their mortgages, stick it to the bankers, etc… The Pew description of these groups, however, strongly suggests they are NOT economic populists.

141

ScentOfViolets 09.05.11 at 12:49 am

You’d have to show that disaffecteds, libertarians, and Main Street Republicans were looking for Obama to get them out from underwater on their mortgages, stick it to the bankers, etc

And you’re the guy accusing others of playing the “If you can’t make me say I’m wrong I win” game?

Real big of you to admit what an ass you were being, btw. Oh, you didn’t.[1]

When you operate on that level, I have difficulty taking you seriously. Come back when you’re interested in having a conversation as opposed to pushing your own personal brand of talking points.

[1]Also really big of you to admit that you didn’t have the stones to make a prediction before the 2010 elections. Oh, you couldn’t come out and acknowledge that either.

142

b9n10nt 09.05.11 at 1:00 am

Scent,

I was attempting lighthearted kidding. Genuinely sorry for improperly impugning your chops on this blog and my poor attempts at expressing myself. I am also genuinely a fan of your posts here on CT.

What evidence do you have that shows Obama has lost support because of his breaking of campaign promises?

143

Lee A. Arnold 09.05.11 at 1:40 am

It depends which independents you talk to. A slight majority were against a universal health system, and voted in the midterms against the Dems for KEEPING a campaign promise.

144

LFC 09.05.11 at 1:45 am

CharleyCarp @120:
True, but I think the point re CB’s somewhat restricted view of what a president can do stands.

145

CharleyCarp 09.05.11 at 1:58 am

I don’t want to get into the middle of this spat, but really, I don’t remember candidate Obama promising to whack bankers. Maybe I’ve just forgotten. Or maybe it’s like the promise to end the war in Afghanistan, which, the way I heard it, took the form of constantly promising to escalate in Afghanistan.

146

b9n10nt 09.05.11 at 2:14 am

I think Scent would read something like this as confirming evidence:

http://www.americanprogressaction.org/issues/2010/11/election_analysis.html

What motivated the swing toward the GOP?

The clearest message from the exit polls about what motivated the swing toward the GOP is, unsurprisingly, the economy. More than three-fifths (62 percent) selected the economy as the most important issue facing the country today and Republicans received 54 percent to 44 percent support among that group.

About half of voters said they were “very worried” about economic conditions, and these Americans voted Republican by 68 percent to 30 percent. Similarly, 41 percent of voters said their family financial situation was worse than two years ago, and this group voted Republican by 61 percent to 35 percent. And 37 percent described the state of the national economy as “poor,” and these voters supported the GOP by 68 percent to 28 percent.

More voters (35 percent) blamed Wall Street for today’s economic problems rather than President Bush (29 percent) or President Obama (24 percent). But these Wall-Street-blaming voters supported Republicans by 57 percent to 41 percent. The Obama administration’s association with bailing out Wall Street bankers, who are heavily blamed for the bad economy, apparently had a negative effect on Democratic performance in this election.

But the author is letting “apparently” do a lot of work here. There’s a lot of distance between “blaming wall st” and centrist voters (who tend to support safety net programs but otherwise are pro-business and skeptical of government involvement in the economy) wanting Obama to nationalize banks, force a restructuring of mortgages, more forcefully stimulate the economy, etc…

147

b9n10nt 09.05.11 at 2:15 am

sorry, all but the last graph should be italicized.

148

David 09.05.11 at 2:49 am

It still boils down to exactly why I, as a longtime progressive and now farther than ever left of the so-called center, should give a flying fuck whether or not Obama is reelected. I don’t. His reelection would scarcely be less disastrous for the country than electing someone who doesn’t hesitate to call him or herself a Republican. Nothing Berube, b9n10nt or anyone else has said has come remotely close to making the case that it would. Symbolically or otherwise.

149

Omega Centauri 09.05.11 at 4:21 am

I think a better description of the dynamic is that of that most American sport the football game. But with an infinitely long field. And the goal is not just to win, but to move the ball as many miles in your identity groups direction as possible, policies, and consequences be damned. We have team left, and team right. Team left is somewhat constrained by internal ethics. Team right has better organizaton, and makes great use of techniques any academic would consider below-the-belt. Impressive use of psychological brand marketing techniques, to gradually tilt more and more voters minds in the proper direction. Finding all sorts of apparently secondary issues which sound like unimportant technical details (voter IDs, rules to impede unions etc.), but which their research has shown will introduce a rightward tilt to the playing field etc. Then relentlessly pushing them. So when the right team takes the field, the ball is moved a long way. When the left team gets on the field, they either lose ground, or gain little yardage before the ball is turned over to the other side. As time progresses, we spectators gotta move, because the time averaged motion of the ball is rapidly towards the right. As long as the right team is stronger operationally, this is how its gonna go.

And now, we have the worst possible coach. Obama is a one trick pony. Triangulate to determine the center of noise, and go there. Of course team right, has an outstanding noise making machine, team left, simply prefers silence, so they hardly make a peep. So the compromise is to give in to ninety percent of team rights demands. Even those that are designed as traps to make team left look bad in the near future, by for instance NOT doing enough stimulus, and letting the weakened economy further weaken team-lefts continuing support.

150

Anje Jonker 09.05.11 at 10:27 am

Why not make it easier for everyone to vote. The hurdles one has to take before one can vote are unbelievable. I makes me question the level of democracy.

151

Done 09.05.11 at 11:37 am

So all of us were called commies by the right because we hated the wars when they were republican wars. Now I am being marginalized as a commie lunatic by this middle class starbucks left because they now need my vote? I hate war and violence, fuck pragmatism. Democrats don’t care about the poor or people of color, just like republican tea party whatevers don’t. Fuck your votes, fuck your calculations, fuck your nihilism.

152

ehj2 09.05.11 at 12:26 pm

Professor Berube is one of my heroes, and as Hemingway said, at my age they are hard to find but “sort of necessary.”

I have four of his books, and I’m biased, yet he probably does more to further social justice and promote progressive issues than a thousand like me. I dream of being as smart and effective as Berube.

I’m a little saddened by this commentary. While we are arguing over the meaning of the word “symbolic,” corporatists are sitting in smoke filled rooms sipping $1000 wines figuring out how to kill health care and end social security checks for little old people who worked half a century to grow those wine stocks, build those hardwood rooms, and fill the pockets of their soft linen suits with gold.

I’m heartened that we can even have this conversation, because it wouldn’t be tolerated on a right wing blog (and I follow a few of them in the vain attempt to understand what to me is an utterly alien world view), but really, we make all of Berube’s points for him in everything we’ve said here.

153

The Raven 09.05.11 at 12:38 pm

The new party just might work this time, with the Republicans self-destructing. I don’t see how the Republicans can hold it together, with their Tea Party and Wall Street factions in conflict.

Oh, a new party is not going to work in 2012. If it happens at all, we may see rumblings in 2016 and some real power in 2020. But with the Republicans split, the Democrats turning into a conservative party, and the huge constituencies of women and young people being ignored by the Republicans and Democrats, it’s difficult to see how there will not be a shift.

154

Obviousisobvious 09.05.11 at 12:39 pm

Obvious liberal is obvious. Anje Yonker, that is a truly widespread misconception. The US is not a true national democracy. It is a Democratic republic and always has been, hence the Democrats and Republicans. If you’d like to see a true democracy in action take a look at Sweden’s slow-as-molasses and can’t-even-agree-on-if-we-disagree model. I hear its super effective, hence their prominence in global policy decisions. Everyone knows the Swedes are the real power house on the security counsel.

155

Red 09.05.11 at 1:28 pm

Ok, in response to David@148. Lord knows I’ve been exasperated by Obama, but House and Senate Democrats are ten times worse (does anybody remember O’s speech on Guantanamo, and the Senate’s simultaneous–and virtually unanimous–decision to cut off funding for the transfer of those prisoners?), and the GOP is of course a million times worse.

Let me give a concrete example. I have several family members without health insurance. Pre-existing conditions. With Obama as president, they have a chance of getting insurance in 2014. With the current crop of Republican candidates as president, they can forget it. And they’ll die. Never thought I’d say this, but I’ll quote Biden here.

156

Ben Alpers 09.05.11 at 2:27 pm

The new party just might work this time, with the Republicans self-destructing. I don’t see how the Republicans can hold it together, with their Tea Party and Wall Street factions in conflict.

Sorry, but people have been saying this about the GOP since at least the early 1980s, when the “social” and “fiscal” conservatives were supposed to start squabbling with each other any minute. Never happened.

The Wall Street Wing and the Tea Party will get along just fine, not least because the Wall Street Wing will be willing to concede all by their core economic issues to the ‘baggers.

You can certainly argue with Bérubé’s details, but he’s 100% correct about the lather-rinse-repeat aspect of recent US politics. In the short run, I agree that the least bad option is supporting the lesser evil. In the long run, all that gets us is more of the same, steady descent to the right. What’s most depressing about these threads is how familiar all the arguments on all sides are. In fact, both the hold-your-nose-and-vote-Dem crowd (in which I reluctantly count myself this time around) and the heighten-the-contradictions-until-something-actually-good-shows-up faction (where I’ve been in the past) have long records of failure. Surely there must be some less pre-discredited take on how to address our political situation!

157

b9n10nt 09.05.11 at 2:41 pm

Ben,

How ’bout

“hold your nose and vote, move the party left down ballot” AND “get in the streets”.

158

geo 09.05.11 at 4:15 pm

I’m so sorry I forgot to tell you what the left needs to do now

Someone a couple of months back — was it Steve Attewell? — made a strong argument here that what the left needs to do is what the right did so well: contest local and state elections on a large scale, build up strength within the Democratic Party by holding local and state offices, and build up strength outside the Democratic Party by forming issue-based organizations that need to be courted for their support. Sounds simple, and requires a lot of money and boots on the ground, but what’s the alternative?

159

Shelley 09.05.11 at 4:29 pm

Sigh. No matter how disappointing Obama may be, remember how disastrous it would be to have a Supreme Court opening filled by the alternative….

160

Ben Alpers 09.05.11 at 5:42 pm

@157 and @158: Yes to both these suggestions. The problem is how you organize such movements. Because, though all the strategies you suggest involve a lot of individual activism, they only really pay off if they’re organized. I can (and have) gotten involved in local politics. I can (and have) taken part in countless issue-based organizations and demonstrations. And though I don’t think I’ve wasted my time on either, none has remotely improved the Democratic Party. What’s missing from b9n10nt, geo, and Steve Attewell’s perfectly sensible suggestions is any sense of what the vehicle would be that would convert a lot of individual good intentions and efforts (and more potential individual good intentions and efforts) into a coordinated and effective effort to change the Democratic Party. Without such coordination, the notion that my individual efforts to, e.g, change local politics or protest cuts in Social Security would in any way change the Democratic Party is as much a fantasy as the hope that Obama would govern as a left-liberal.

161

geo 09.05.11 at 5:51 pm

Ben: yes, very true. Steve (?) made the case more persuasively, managing to convince me that from a large number of local efforts, coordination would ensue. His main point was that, chronologically, the more likely direction of movement building was from the bottom — local efforts — up rather than the top — national organization — down.

162

Bruce Wilder 09.05.11 at 5:57 pm

@161
Let’s recognize that what’s wrong with the Democratic Party is the top.

163

piglet 09.05.11 at 6:37 pm

I thought Bérubé is the guy who usually writes satires (often quite entertaining). I’m missing the irony if any in this post and apparently I’m not the only one. Has anybody figured out the intention of that post yet?

Obviousisobvious you are right, Sweden is not a republic. It’s a monarchy. Am I again falling into an irony trap too well concealed?

164

piglet 09.05.11 at 6:44 pm

Irving Kristol back in 1980 provided a more convincing account of US politics:

When in office the liberals (or social-democrats, as they should more properly be called) will always spend generously, regardless of budgetary considerations, until the public permits the conservatives an interregnum in which to clean up the mess — but with the liberals resuming their status as the activist party, the party of the “natural majority.” The neo-conservatives have decided that two can play at this game — and must, since it is the only game in town … And what if the traditionalist conservatives are right and a Kemp-Roth tax cut, without corresponding cuts in expenditures, also leaves us with a fiscal problem? The neo-conservative is willing to leave those problems to be coped with by liberal interregnums. He wants to shape the future, and will leave it up to his opponents to tidy up afterwards.

Good analysis: http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/feature/2010/03/23/dick_cheney_was_right_about_deficits

165

christian h. 09.05.11 at 7:05 pm

Ben, geo, Steve: Here’s something I think is crucial – the way issue campaigns, local campaigns and other organizing efforts are captured by the Democratic party at least 18 months out of every four years in order to not let the Republicans in severely weakens those organizing efforts. The organizing has to be independent of the Democratic party if it wants to have any chance to influence it (as a bonus it may pay off in some way even if it doesn’t succeed in creating such change). That’s my fundamental problem with the lesser evil approach – the way it subordinates left politics to electoral efforts.

166

Rich Puchalsky 09.05.11 at 7:06 pm

The people who are saying that we should organize the local level one more time would benefit by looking at the recent failures to do just that. Quoting Ben Alpers:

“In fact, both the hold-your-nose-and-vote-Dem crowd (in which I reluctantly count myself this time around) and the heighten-the-contradictions-until-something-actually-good-shows-up faction (where I’ve been in the past) have long records of failure. “

The organize-locally crowd is yet another perennial. But more damagingly, I don’t think that any of these really qualify as “crowds”. Individual left-of-center people try a third party, supporting the Dems, taking over the Dems through local organization, and heightening the contradictions in turn, meanwhile telling other people who are at a different part of the same cycle that they should try whatever their current focus is. If there were distinct crowds, they could negotiate with each other and try to cooperate. But there are just desperate individuals trying different things with more or less experience.

None of these things will work because the system does not work. Nor will heightening the contradictions take it down. It may well die from natural causes and/or imperial overstretch. But if it does, nothing that we do will make much of a difference.

Nor, for that matter, did the Tea Party take over the GOP by organizing locally. The people who say this are just unfamiliar with how much of the Tea Party was created by corporate interests. Nixon’s Southern Strategy bears no relationship to what a left-of-center person thinks of as “organizing locally”, and what the GOP has none has nothing to do with what we can do.

167

Rich Puchalsky 09.05.11 at 7:08 pm

er, last sentence should end with “what the GOP has done” etc.

168

Lee A. Arnold 09.05.11 at 7:10 pm

@164 — We are entering a new era. Leaving fiscal problems to be coped with by liberal interregnums only works UNTIL the rest of the polity understands the strategy. Because by providing more spending too, neo-conservatives are building the welfare state too. And they, too, have to look Granny in the eye and deny her. Thou shouldst not have been old till thou hadst been wise. Yeah, that ought to work! The Repubs are the party of King Lear.

169

Andrew F. 09.05.11 at 7:57 pm

Although – for all the importance that non-political factors have – Obama is truly faced with a critical moment.

If he fails to propose the right kind of stimulus – infrastructure spending, unemployment benefits, and payroll tax holidays – the outlook for the economy will remain darker, and his re-election hopes in 2012 will shrink.

If he proposes the right kind of stimulus, then – though it will undoubtedly fail to pass Congress – his chances at re-election improve, as he can hammer home the theme of the do-nothing, obstructionist, politics-playing-while-jobs-burn Tea Party/Republicans with the helpful momentum of truth.

My hunch is that he proposes some insufficiently minor but nice-sounding measures, perhaps including a proposal to pay for them with eliminations of certain deductions and credits, and perhaps even some increases on certain income, that Republicans will not be able to criticize with much force.

This will backfire – the Republicans will attack not “tax-and-spend” but “weak and indecisive” – and Romney or Perry will weather a negative Democratic campaign to achieve victory in 2012.

Obama cannot run the safe course here. His political future, and the short-term health of the economy, require bold measures. In some ways, this is Obama’s surge moment. Bush, for all his shortcomings, rose to the occasion.

If Obama doesn’t – well your 12 steps have left out this one: Democrat lacks balls, plays it safe, and loses. And this won’t be the first time.

170

Ben Alpers 09.05.11 at 8:54 pm

@165:

The organizing has to be independent of the Democratic party if it wants to have any chance to influence it (as a bonus it may pay off in some way even if it doesn’t succeed in creating such change). That’s my fundamental problem with the lesser evil approach – the way it subordinates left politics to electoral efforts.

I think you’re right about how the lesser-evil approach to elections has often sucked the air out of the sails of left politics, but I don’t think it need do so. Having spent many years working in the Green Party, I know through hard experience that the most obvious alternative to the lesser evil approach (trying to build something actually good) is not helped by having the greater evil win. Republican victories suck even more air out of left politics (in part because many manage to convince themselves during periods of Republican Presidencies and Congresses that Democratic politics are left politics).

So I guess I’d say the questions of how one treats the poor electoral choices one has today and how one builds a better politics for the future should, in most cases, be answered separately. I do think that it takes a certain act of will to keep one’s focus on the medium-to-long run and on non-electoral political work, when so much national attention is on short-run, electoral politics. But we should be able to walk and chew gum at the same time…and stay aware that the walking (building for the future) is ultimately more significant and worthy of effort than the chewing gum (voting for the lesser evil in the meantime).

171

spyder 09.05.11 at 11:19 pm

One tiny point to which i need to call attention, is the all too common practice of addressing the activist left as hippies. When the last hippy was buried in 1967, the dreams of a few hundred folks to live completely outside the political, economic and social system of the US were dashed upon the rocks of war, greed and crass consumption (Thomas Frank’s Conquest of Cool?). The hippies of the 60s worked very hard to extract themselves from the rentier world, but proved unable to do so. To this day, there are some who have acquired certain degrees of freedom (living off the grid, growing their own food, rejecting much of the outside world), but most do so with guns in their hands rather than pitchforks or plows. Thus hippy-punching is a misnomer.

The active progressive left, of whom MB speaks, is no more hip than most of those on the conservative right. The further-to-the-left folks, those who get arrested on coal roads or stand in front of chainsaws and timber trucks, usually go home to quaint rural homes (driving cars, shopping for consumables, paying the rentier elites) in the mountains or valleys and feel that they did their tiny little parts. They aren’t hippies either, nor are they eco-terrorists or environmental thugs; they are mostly the usual suspect Americans. That the hard-core fundamental right wants them to be jailed says more about the politics of the right, than the politics of the left. So please, can we agree to not call the attacks by the left on those to their left hippy-punching?

172

piglet 09.06.11 at 1:37 am

Here’s another account of “how the political system works” that I think is worth reading. It concentrates on GOP tactics.

http://www.truth-out.org/goodbye-all-reflections-gop-operative-who-left-cult/1314907779

173

mclaren 09.06.11 at 2:10 am

Since we’re concerned with symbolism here, Obama ought to crank up some serious symbolism for his next speech.

Obama can line up some Americans who have criticized him and kneel them down in front of a slit trench. Then he can walk down the line shooting them in the head while he explains how he honors the rule of law and the constitution.

“What we need,” Obama can intone, “is a set of adequate constitutional safeguards to protect individual liberties, while at the same time not compromising the global war on terror.”

Boom! Obama shoots another American child in the head and she tumbles into the slit trench.

“The crucial point here involves the limits of government,” Obama can explain. Boom! He shoots an old man and he falls into the pile of corpses in the slit trench. “Government must not overstep its bounds. We must cherish the value of the founders of this country, who understood all too well the dangers of granting unlimited powers to any one branch.”

Then Obama can work the joystick on a drone flying over Pakistan and murder some women and children in a wedding party before he returns to his praise for civil rights and the basic foundations of limited government in a free and open society.

Yeah, baby!

Now that’s symbolism!

174

LFC 09.06.11 at 2:56 am

piglet at 164: thanks for linking that Lind piece at Salon, which looks to be worth reading.

mcclaren at 173:
Then Obama can work the joystick on a drone flying over Pakistan and murder some women and children in a wedding party before he returns to his praise for civil rights and the basic foundations of limited government in a free and open society.
The drone campaign is open to serious criticism, but comments like this, which imply that the drone strikes overwhelmingly kill women and children in wedding parties, do not constitute such criticism. There is no consensus on how many civilians vs “militants” (an umbrella term here to cover a range of groups operating in the border regions) have been killed by the drones, but there is some consensus that the strikes have killed a fair number of mid-level and low-level fighters. At this point the strikes should probably be scaled back since, among other things, it’s not clear that the military benefits have been worth the costs (both human and in terms of generating anti-US sentiment). At least, as some experts have proposed, control of the drone strikes in Pakistan should be transferred from the CIA to the US military.

175

Josh 09.06.11 at 2:56 am

Mclaren, I think you’ve hit your nail on the finger, to use a mixed metaphor of my Mom’s. That strategy would totally win over the Rick Perry “it takes balls to execute an innocent man” enthusiasts.

176

mclaren 09.06.11 at 3:19 am

LFC @174:
The drone campaign is open to serious criticism, but comments like this, which imply that the drone strikes overwhelmingly kill women and children in wedding parties, do not constitute such criticism.

Current estimates place legitimate terrorists at 6% of Pakistan drone casualties and innocent women and children, including wedding parties and the funerals of people killed in previous drone strikes, at 94% of Pakistan drone casualties.

For example, see this report.

A new report from the Conflict Monitoring Centre (CMC) has reported that 2,043 Pakistanis have been slain in CIA drone strikes in the past 5 years, with the vast majority of them innocent civilians.

As always, the scholarly and astute response to the hard numbers cited by official reports is: blanket denial. These facts are just wrong, because WOW they can’t be right.

Inspiring.

177

b9n10nt 09.06.11 at 5:00 am

Killing militants in Pakistan is far removed from securing the welfare of the US populace and it’s republic. Killing of innocents while pursuing this unnecessary campaign is depravity.

It is the ideology of formal political allegiance (to a sovereign) that has desensitized us for centuries to the elites’ regard for wanton slaughter. We are still waking up from peasantry. As we do we will realize we were dreaming that our rulers somehow lay beyond the simple moral intuitions that make our communities possible.

178

LFC 09.06.11 at 12:36 pm

On drone casualties:
Estimates of civilian and other casualties differ b/c there is no “official” or precise count. The CMC cannot possibly know that exactly “2,043 Pakistanis” have been killed in strikes in the past 5 years.
See Bergen & Tiedemann, here.

179

LFC 09.06.11 at 12:40 pm

P.s. I realize this is quite off the topic of the thread. Sorry.

180

Barry 09.06.11 at 2:03 pm

piglet 09.05.11 at 6:37 pm

” I thought Bérubé is the guy who usually writes satires (often quite entertaining). I’m missing the irony if any in this post and apparently I’m not the only one. Has anybody figured out the intention of that post yet?”

It’s the classic end-state of the cute, ironic, snarky, with-it Kewl Guy.

181

Michael Bérubé 09.06.11 at 2:54 pm

No, the real end-state of that guy comes when he has to post an update telling everybody what the (fairly obvious) point was.

182

gman 09.06.11 at 2:55 pm

When a plurality of voters chose to get their “information” from FOX new or worse talk radio outlets and chain e-mails not much can be done. This whole thread is mental masturbation. Prepare for more retreats.

183

gman 09.06.11 at 3:09 pm

I love this blog, but from ivory towers outside the US it is hard to realize the extent to which reactionary religious/ corporate messaging control the epistemology of the public here. I don’t see any way out.

It can be as simple as going into a Mcdonalds in poor or working class areas and having a huge HD flat screen TV showing Fox all day long. Attractive looking people giving plausible enough explanations about the happenings of the day that make me as a downwardly mobile white person feel good about myself..

184

Michael Bérubé 09.06.11 at 3:30 pm

Last try. Let’s take an honest question from Nick @114:

Michael, if I could ask: granted that certain folks may be misreading you and imputing a hostility to the left that you don’t actually hold—isn’t it true that the only Democrats who DO SOMETHING WRONG, in your analysis, are the “portion of the left wing” you characterize in #6? Would it not be fair for a reader, then, to assume said Democrats were the primary target of your criticism?

No, and no. Democratic presidents giving in to Republicans repeatedly (# 4) are doing something wrong, and producing # 5 and # 6. Sometimes # 5 and # 6 are overblown, because liberal voters didn’t realize they were going to get # 2. But the reason #5 and # 6 happen is because # 4 happens. # 6 in and of itself, however, does not produce # 7, as the update explains.

And you know what? I thought that the people who come out looking bad in these 12 steps are the liberals in # 11.

But I did misjudge two things, it seems. One, I did not anticipate that people would insist on reading “symbolic and therefore important” as “symbolic and therefore unimportant.” Nor did I imagine that they would continue doing so over 100 comments into the thread, long after comment 9 made things extra extra explicit. I have to hope that people would have readily understood that when I speak of “Democratic presidents giving in repeatedly to Republicans,” I am criticizing said Democratic presidents, if not for this pervasive and really boneheaded reading of “symbolic.” But then, I am talking about the subset of CT commenters who read in good faith (thanks, Nick!), which brings me to thing two.

Thanks to the fact that I don’t post here very often, I was unaware of the extent to which people like ScentofDoritos now dominate the comment threads (almost 900 comments since May 2010! this poor lad needs a hobby. I wonder why he talks so much about “trolls”?). There were a bunch of such people here when I started out in early 2007 — all of them with that distinctive Mark-Steyn’s-had-a-few-too-many-again-and-wants-to-wrestle odor, which “ChrisJisamoron” displays in another form in this thread. I have my theories about these people, but it is probably best that I keep them to myself.

185

piglet 09.06.11 at 3:34 pm

“No, the real end-state of that guy comes when he has to post an update telling everybody what the (fairly obvious) point was.”

“Really, the whole point of the post was simply that Obama is hardly the first Democratic president to alienate the left wing of his base.”

I still don’t detect any irony. He must be serious.

186

JJ 09.06.11 at 3:46 pm

Political Progress, Take Two:

Let L equal the set of P(x,y,z) in R cubed such that: x = sin t, y = cos t, z + 1 = t/pi and 0 is less than or equal to t which is less than 2 pi. Label P sub 1 = (0, 1, -1) as Communist, P sub 2 = (1, 0, -1/2) as Liberal, P sub 3 = (0, -1, 0) as Centrist, P sub 4 = (-1, 0, 1/2) as Conservative and P sub 5 = (0, 1, 1) as Fascist, and you’ve got a (normalized) graph of political progress which winds around from P sub 1 to P sub 5 and crashes back to P sub 1 again in an infinite loop of axial oscillation.

The operative metaphor is axial oscillation.

187

Charles Peterson 09.06.11 at 4:28 pm

1) I don’t believe primary challenges are necessarily destructive to the outcome. Primary challenges are not necessarily disloyal to party, it depends on how and why they are conducted and how they are ended. Primary challenges can help save a sinking brand. Republicans have used primary challenges and even more potentially party-damaging tactics to “principled” (assuming wacko principles) and electoral benefit. Unless something changes, I think primary challenges would be a good tactic to try to stop the abyssward motion of the Overton window.

2) Political “parties” don’t actually exist much anymore, and we would be better served if they did. We need to bring back the smoke filled rooms; those smoking had lots at stake, unlike the typical primary voter. Emphasis on electoral primaries and internal party quotas are two among many culprits which have destroyed parties, helping to turn electoral politics into little more than advertising wars. The candidate with the most corporate cash wins. And “the party” has no mechanism to enforce its brand or principles.

3) We need more focus on why one party has turned insane to the point of being treasonous, while at the same time considering itself the only patriotic voice. The more extreme, the better. This doesn’t fit with Alinsky’s analysis. What gives?

188

geo 09.06.11 at 5:30 pm

OP, #8: Disappointed liberal and left intellectuals convince themselves that Republican challenger can’t be all that much worse than Democratic candidate, since Democrat is sellout Judas stealth-Republican to begin with, Republican candidate will surely be more moderate than he appears when he is pandering to his base, and both candidates are working within the very narrow parameters of the corporate duopoly anyway.

Very late to the party, I know, but this does sound like an unflattering description of Nader voters. “Can’t be all that much worse” sounds like a reference to something Nader once said in 2000 about Democrats being as bad as Republicans. And “corporate duopoly” is a trademark (and entirely accurate) Nader phrase.

Campaigning dumbs everything down. If Nader had said “the Democrats are probably not quite so bad as the Republicans, but they are very, very bad indeed,” no one could possibly have objected. But then, no one would have noticed, and so he would have had to go on endlessly answering the same stupid question from the press: “Aren’t you afraid you’ll help elect the Republican?”

He should have patiently explained to the journalists (and did, of course, in print) that every strategy has its cost, and that the cost of halting the steady slide of the Democratic Party to the right and gradually forging an alternative that actually defends the public interest and expresses the popular will might be a lot of defeats on the way. But an explanation of this sort would have far exceeded the press’s attention span.

It does sound, Michael, as though you’re condescending a little to Nader voters in this paragraph — as though we were clueless enrages rather than fully conscious of being caught in a painful dilemma not of our making. It might have been more fruitful to harp on the absurd and undemocratic character of the American electoral system.

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chris y 09.06.11 at 6:10 pm

I don’t believe primary challenges are necessarily destructive to the outcome.

But with the only experiences of primary challenges to incumbent Democratic Presidents in living memory being those to Johnson and Carter, you can see how people would think otherwise.

We need more focus on why one party has turned insane to the point of being treasonous, while at the same time considering itself the only patriotic voice.

Umm – The candidate with the most corporate cash wins. And “the party” has no mechanism to enforce its brand or principles. You answer your own question before you pose it. The only requirement under the present dispensation is a small coterie of irresponsible billionaires.

190

LFC 09.06.11 at 9:33 pm

Charles Peterson @187:
We need to bring back the smoke filled rooms; those smoking had lots at stake, unlike the typical primary voter. Emphasis on electoral primaries and internal party quotas are two among many culprits which have destroyed parties.

What makes you think that moneyed interests (to use a somewhat archaic phrase) had less influence in the days of the smoke-filled rooms? The intent of the reforms that opened up the nominating process, at least in the Democratic party, was laudable; there have been some unintended consequences, but mostly driven by developments that the original reformers of the McGovern-Fraser commission probably could not have foreseen. Rather than bringing back the smoke-filled rooms, the primary process itself could be changed in ways that might make it more democratic. Why does everything start with two states, one quite unrepresentative of the country’s population, the other quite small, except that it’s been done that way for a long time and some people will scream very loudly if anyone attempts to change it?

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Michael Bérubé 09.06.11 at 9:47 pm

It does sound, Michael, as though you’re condescending a little to Nader voters in this paragraph—as though we were clueless enrages rather than fully conscious of being caught in a painful dilemma not of our making. It might have been more fruitful to harp on the absurd and undemocratic character of the American electoral system.

OK, George, I take the point, though I don’t see that I’m attributing any rage to Nader voters. I thought I was suggesting merely that they were pretty much right about Gore (and totally right about Lieberman) but very wrong about Bush/Cheney. As for why I shared Nader’s exasperation with the Democratic ticket but would not support Nader himself, it wasn’t just a question of lesser-evildom. It was also things like this:

When asked if someone put a gun to his head and told him to vote for either Gore or Bush, which he would choose, Nader answered without hesitation: “Bush.” Not that he actually thinks the man he calls “Bush Inc.” deserves to be elected: “He’ll do whatever industry wants done.” The rumpled crusader clearly prefers to sink his righteous teeth into Al Gore, however: “He’s totally betrayed his 1992 book,” Nader says. “It’s all rhetoric.” Gore “groveled openly” to automakers, charges Nader, who concludes with the sotto voce realpolitik of a ward heeler: “If you want the parties to diverge from one another, have Bush win.”

Um, he was wrong about that last part. And this was an interview with Outside magazine, not a sound-byte snippet from CNN.

192

House Carl 09.06.11 at 11:39 pm

Red at 155: “Never thought I’d say this, but I’ll quote Biden here.”

Really? ‘Stop whining’? Funny, it’s crap like that (in other words, unconcealed bits of utter disdain towards one’s potential voters) that has made it completely impossible for me to pull that lever for Democrat these days. Maybe I’m part of an insignificant minority but Democrats seem to think their voters have no right to their own dignity. I held my nose and voted for Clinton in ’92 and ’96 but simply cannot do that any more. Things in the party have got significantly worse, and that’s absolutely not the Republican’s fault.

193

Salient 09.07.11 at 12:18 am

…what I learned from this thread is that I could have lost a lot of time and energy and love for the universe if I had inflexibly continued to interpret “symbolic” as meaning “pretty much consequence-free” instead of something more like “supersufficiently hyped and publicized and celebrated by talking-heads media types, relative to the absurdly meager gains in public welfare even hypothetically achieved by the compromise.” Symbolic is quite a trigger word.

I have my theories about these people, but it is probably best that I keep them to myself.

Thank you; it’s a kindness. There was a CT thread quite a while back in which someone (Worstall? Wilkinson? I forget) … someone linked to a study fairly credibly ascertaining that a surprisingly large number of regular blog commenters are sufficiently wracked by illness and/or chronic pain/suffering type problems to prevent them from taking on very many other socially interactive hobbies (socially interactive + essentially sedentary or sharply limited mobility + requires no difficult-to-initially-obtain knowledge of wheres and whens –> Internet blog-commenting, especially for folks who are retired or who can complete almost all of their work duties on a personal computer). Several forms of nastiness in tone track vaguely proportionately with ongoing difficulties/sufferings/life dissatisfaction. Wish I’d bookmarked it. It might not really apply to any of the cases who concern you; it certainly doesn’t cover every blockhead, but keeping it in mind certainly helps me feel a lot more sanguine about the state of humanity when I press page down one too many times on a local-newspaper online article and accidentally expose myself to its comments section…

194

JanieM 09.07.11 at 12:20 am

Seconding House Carl about the disdain, and adding in condescension for good measure as a surefire way to turn away potential allies.

Obama lost me last December with this:

And we will be able to feel good about ourselves, and sanctimonious about how pure our intensions are…. This is a big, diverse country. Not everybody agrees with us. I know that shocks people. (From here and about a million other places where it was quoted.)

Pot, meet kettle.

Obama was the first non-local politician I ever gave money to. That won’t happen again.

195

Ben Alpers 09.07.11 at 12:40 am

But with the only experiences of primary challenges to incumbent Democratic Presidents in living memory being those to Johnson and Carter, you can see how people would think otherwise.

Not if they look closely at presidential politics in either 1968 or 1980. Absent the primary challenges, neither LBJ nor Carter would have won reelection.

In 1968, Humphrey almost certainly did better than Johnson would have. He almost won the presidency when, in the campaign’s last weeks, he finally began to separate himself from Johnson.

And Carter cleaned the floor with Kennedy before his inability to respond successfully to a series of domestic and foreign crises caught up with him.

196

Michael Bérubé 09.07.11 at 2:07 am

Ben, Charles Pierce looked closely at the 1980 election, and he comes to a different conclusion, one that accords with my memory of that debacle.

197

Poicephalus 09.07.11 at 2:09 am

Dr. B,
thought of you when I read this

http://www.thenation.com/blog/163119/end-jerry-lewis-telethon-its-about-time

Reasonable accommodation and all.

Love,

C

198

Michael Bérubé 09.07.11 at 1:09 pm

Thanks, Poicephalus! I happen to be in the world capital of Jerry Lewis Protests, Charleston, South Carolina — where Harriet McBryde Johnson got the ball rolling many years ago.

And in the course of trying to figure out why this thread went so very wrong, it appears that I made yet another mistake: I seriously misunderestimated the malevolence of my old friend Christian H. I should have realized that something was amiss when he responded to my very simple observation that Obama did not campaign on single-payer healthcare or withdrawal from Afghanistan by saying “Democrats didn’t promise anything,” which constitutes a pretty awful misreading of my point about some liberals’ misreading of Obama. And comment 28 is pretty bad, too. But it’s his comment 105 that really goes over the line:

Well from time to time Michael writes posts like this. It’s a three-step process:

1. Write post designed to provoke some class of people, employing very clever double-secret irony.

2. Class of people is duly provoked. Michael points out they are StupidandVirulent unable to grasp his brilliant double-secret irony.

3. Michael’s vast intellectual superiority is once again confirmed.

I think I’ll start a campaign to draft Michael’s ego for president. Surely no Republican can beat that.

I’m genuinely surprised by how totally wrong this is. It’s untrue about this post, obviously; nowhere in this thread have I said, “ha ha, only kidding folks, I was just trying to provoke you and I didn’t really mean it, it was all a big joke and the joke was on you, ha ha.” Rather, I have tried to explain time and again that when I wrote “symbolic and therefore important,” I did not mean “symbolic and therefore unimportant.” And I have tried to explain time and again that no hippies were actually harmed in the writing of this post. That’s really not the same thing as saying “I was only kidding.” I do hope most people can tell the difference.

More important, Christian’s remark isn’t true about anything I’ve ever written. I just don’t do that kind of thing. If you have an Internet near you, you could check this for yourself. Why, this very blog keeps an archive of everything I’ve posted here, and my own blog’s archives are still up, as well. You’ll find that Christian used to be a regular at my old place, and though he was always a bit too quick to accuse me of killing Palestinian children with my bare hands, and though he is a charter member of The One True Left Has Never Been Wrong! Club, he never behaved as badly as he has in this thread.

Now, it’s true that sometimes I write things that people misread, and it’s true that sometimes I am “ironic” in a way that people don’t get. But I have never deliberately sought to provoke Internet trollishness the way Christian claims here. I am sorry to see that my old friend Christian has said this, and perhaps someday, when he regains his senses, he’ll realize that he owes me an apology.

199

Uncle Kvetch 09.07.11 at 2:18 pm

Lefty disappointment is not always well-earned, as I’ve noticed from the people who think Obama betrayed them by doubling down in Afghanistan. I’m agin’ that policy too, but I never heard the guy say anything different on the campaign trail.

On the other hand, he did promise to withdraw from Iraq, completely and totally and unequivocally.

Guess what?

200

Rich Puchalsky 09.07.11 at 3:23 pm

Obama did promise hope and change — the two things that he spent his term systematically destroying. Now, if he’d promised to condescend to his supporters as sanctimonious purists, then mission accomplished.

Michael B, I of course think that the people who’ve been going off on you in comments here are wrong. But, tangentially, I have trouble with the ironical style as well. I used to have more trouble with it when John Holbo was arguing about philosophical matters with other people who cared to argue about them, and it became clear that communication was pretty much impossible. Whenever there was serious disagreement, other people would think that he was being more ironic than he was, or he would confess to a kind of passive-aggressive ironicism, or something. The whole thing was complicated by the people arguing against him being determined and annoying misreaders, but really, irony is always difficult to decode on the Internet. And the fear of writing too seriously often leads to ways to get around a habitual ironical style that sound condescending. (If I’m never addressed as one of the “Plain People of the Internet” again because I don’t understand something, that will be fine with me.)

Basically, why is this post in a mock-ironical style? It’s pretty horrific that nothing changes, isn’t it?

201

Salient 09.07.11 at 3:47 pm

I do hope most people can tell the difference.

Yes, all the moreso when quickly prompted in the right direction by an early comment — but what you meant by symbolic in that sentence is still completely opaque (to me). To be a pedantic bore for a bit, it can’t really be synonymous with important because saying “important and therefore important” would be weird, outside of a silly logic course lesson on what tautologies are. (And we all know you never ever say weird things.)

I’d describe a ‘symbolic victory’ as one which sounds cool but doesn’t improve life conditions for hardly anybody, and a ‘symbolic capitulation’ as one which sounds uncool but doesn’t worsen life conditions for hardly anybody… so my defn of the word conflicts with important, because changes in people’s life conditions are precisely what’s important to me. I gave meeting your request in #9 my best shot, but failed — but whatever, curiosity about your usage of the word aside, understanding your statement is as simple as blanking out the words -symbolic and therefore-. (And, of course, the resulting statement is blazingly obviously true and remains undisputed here.)

But holy spaghetti god 200 posts now, and the plurality of them about three words that a quick swipe of the mind’s Sharpie could remove without loss of meaning, guided by the clearly stated intentions you almost immediately provided. … I blame leftist voters!

202

chris9059 09.07.11 at 7:00 pm

“4. Democratic president gives in to Republicans repeatedly on a handful of symbolic (and therefore important to politically active voters) issues, appointments, regulations, etc.”

In re to Obama, one can hardly say that his surrender to the Republicans (whether or not Obama actually desired these outcomes) occurred on merely symbolic issues. In fact these were mostly issues of real substance. Such as; the elevation of deficit reduction over jobs, extension of the Bush tax cuts, the public option, failure to investigate and prosecute criminal behaviour in the financial sector, and a stimulas package that was both too small and improperly targeted.

203

Ben Alpers 09.07.11 at 10:58 pm

@169:
Ben, Charles Pierce looked closely at the 1980 election, and he comes to a different conclusion, one that accords with my memory of that debacle.

Thanks for the reply, Michael.

I’m afraid both you and Pierce are working on memories of the events of 1980. All of us old enough to live through that election season doubtless have such memories (though Pierce’s were apparently as “a baby reporter for the alternative press”).

However, the one scholarly historical study of the 1980 Democratic primary race and its aftermath, Timothy Stanley’s Kennedy vs. Carter (University of Kansas Press, 2010) reaches different conclusions.

In that comment you link to, Pierce writes that “Come the general election season, people were fleeing from Carter in droves. I believe, if nothing else, the primary gave them a kind of psychic permission to do that.”

The polls actually tell a different story. Carter got a healthy convention bounce, despite the contentiousness of the Democrats’ meeting. And the President and his party were initially very successful at exploiting public fear of Reagan. Reagan didn’t pull away from Carter immediately after the general election campaign began, though he eventually won a landslide victory (in part because the networks called the election while the polls were still open in some states).

Certainly Reagan’s victory, like Kennedy’s primary challenge (and Anderson’s independent candidacy, for that matter) reflected Carter’s problems with his base. But Kennedy didn’t create those problems. And like Anderson, but unlike Reagan, he proved utterly incapable of successfully exploiting them. There’s no question that a good chunk of the “Reagan Democrats” of the fall of 1980 were Kennedy Democrats during the primaries (just as some Nixon voters in 1968 were RFK voters earlier that year). But that hardly proves that the primary challenge caused these voters to abandon Carter (or Humphrey). Take a look at Carter’s poll numbers prior to the Kennedy candidacy if you have any doubt how he stood in the fall of 1979.

I take it you agree with me about 1968, i.e. though Humphrey was hardly an ideal candidate, he had a better chance of winning that fall than LBJ would have?

204

JP Stormcrow 09.07.11 at 11:08 pm

Not sure what really to believe on the Carter not primaried contrafactual, but I always thought his early concession speech “gaffe” was a microcosm of so much of his administration and relationship with the party.

White House press secretary Jody Powell had tried to get the soon-to-be ex-president to delay his speech until eleven o’clock Eastern time, when the California polls would close, but Carter didn’t want anyone to think he was sulking in the White House and insisted, “It’s ridiculous. Let’s go and get it over with.” Many in the Democratic establishment were furious with Carter for conceding more than an hour before the polls closed on the West Coast, thus hurting other Democratic candidates in the Pacific time zone. “What in God’s name is wrong with you people?” Speaker of the House Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill fumed by phone from Boston to Carter’s congressional liaison, Frank Moore. When Moore told O’Neill that Carter just wanted to “get it over with,” damn the western Democrats, the speaker exploded with rage, yelling, “You guys came in like a bunch of jerks, and I see you’re going out the same way.” Representative Tom Foley of Washington State put it more succinctly: “It was vintage Carter at its dead worst.”

205

ezra abrams 09.08.11 at 12:32 am

torture is wrong
Has Obama done everything he can to minimize and avoid torture ?
No
PS: I’m jewish, and I have met people with numbers tattooed on their arms; I assume you know what that means…

Social Security is not in a “crisis”; this is a myth manufactured by the right wing, which has been against the program from the beginning
Has Obama made it clear that he thinks this is a myth, and he is committed to strengthing the program ?
PS: obama’s payroll tax holiday will do whta 60 years of the gop was not able to do: destroy the program; I assume you understand the dots here

For the last 40 odd years or so, the upper 1% or so has been doing well, and the bottom 50% or so have been treading water, at best
Has obama made it clear that there is an imbalance in *power* in this country, and that we need to restrain the wealthy from devouring us (I don’t think I’m being excessive here)

etc

206

Michael Bérubé 09.08.11 at 1:20 am

In re to Obama, one can hardly say that his surrender to the Republicans (whether or not Obama actually desired these outcomes) occurred on merely symbolic issues. In fact these were mostly issues of real substance.

The fact that this is comment 202 is totally and completely amazing and makes me never want to use language again. But for now I’ll simply assume that people are using software programs that automatically insert the word “mere” (or some form thereof) before the word “symbolic.”

Certainly Reagan’s victory, like Kennedy’s primary challenge (and Anderson’s independent candidacy, for that matter) reflected Carter’s problems with his base. But Kennedy didn’t create those problems.

Yeah, Ben, but Kennedy was symptomatic (I almost said “symbolic”) of those problems. As an Obama challenger would be, as well — if anyone could find a plausible candidate.

Basically, why is this post in a mock-ironical style? It’s pretty horrific that nothing changes, isn’t it?

Where I come from, Rich, people have many ways of expressing despair. I was simply looking for something other than “ow, despair,” but now I have just that much more of it.

207

FHD 09.08.11 at 1:44 am

I would have gone with “flagship” rather than “symbolic” there, because I’m good at saying things and having people understand what I mean.

208

David 09.08.11 at 2:01 am

207, now. You can sneer at me again, Prof. Berube. Doesn’t change the fact (Salient was close, here) that it is highly likely that it is your use of language that is deficient (in this case, giving you the benefit of the doubt).

209

Ben Alpers 09.08.11 at 12:03 pm

@206:

Yeah, Ben, but Kennedy was symptomatic (I almost said “symbolic”) of those problems. As an Obama challenger would be, as well—if anyone could find a plausible candidate.

Absolutely. Serious primary challenges are canaries in the coal mine of presidential politics. And, despite the Ted Kennedy & RFK examples, they can also come from unexpected places (e.g. Gene McCarthy in ’68 or Pat Buchanan in ’92), so in this regard Obama can take little comfort from the utter lack of plausible options in his own party this year. If things get bad enough for Obama, a serious primary challenge will emerge.

I should add that I’m totally opposed to a primary challenge to Obama, in part due to the lack of plausible options. Despite the fact that I don’t think primary challengers always injure a party’s chances of holding on to the White House, they are nonetheless usually unhelpful to the cause that they represent, even in the long run (a major exception to this is Reagan’s ’76 primary bid….but Reagan was already an established national political force who had been mulling over a run for the presumably open ’76 nomination before the Nixon presidency destroyed itself).

210

Red 09.08.11 at 12:29 pm

House Carl @192: wrong quote. I was talking about ACA. Remember what Biden said at the signing? (Not really quotable on a polite blog.)

211

Ed 09.08.11 at 4:06 pm

“Reagan didn’t pull away from Carter immediately after the general election campaign began, though he eventually won a landslide victory “

This is a purely pedantic point, but Reagan’s popular percentage vote margin over Carter in 1980, about 8%, was the same as the average margin of victory in post-World War II presidential elections. It wasn’t a “landslide” unless you are one of those political scientists who have managed to redefine the term to apply to almost every presidential election. Both the popular vote percentages and the popular vote margins of the winning and losing candidates in 1980 were close to the same in 1996, for example.

The election is viewed as a landslide because alot of people say it was, and partly because voting in the three 1980s elections was remarkably uniform across the country, with the nationwide popular vote percentages duplicated essentially everwhere. This meant the winner, even in 1984 when the popular vote margin was genuinely sizable, carried more states than their margin would have enabled them to do given the usual standard local deviations.

Also, people on the West Coast were perfectly capable of looking at the TV and seeing all those states in the rest of the country called for Reagan, even if Carter had not conceded. They were also free to decide that there were races on the ballot other than the presidential race that mattered and were worth turning out for. Local pols could have built a good enough turnout operation to get there supporters to vote early, or their supporters to vote for them, despite what was happening at the presidential level. I don’t think Carter should be criticized for conceding early.

Myths about old elections seem to have a big impact in how people, think about future elections, including people educated enough to know better, but often they are just myths.

212

Chris Bertram 09.08.11 at 4:18 pm

So three threads (211 comments on this one) and no-one has said anything about the possibility of Bloomberg as a 3rd party candidate. Thoughts?

213

Daragh McDowell 09.08.11 at 4:28 pm

@Chris – I think that’s just an indicator that none of these 211 posts are from Mark Halperin, Thomas Friedman or John Avlon. Which, frankly, is why I read them.

214

Uncle Kvetch 09.08.11 at 5:17 pm

What Daragh said.

Or, to put it less compactly, I’ll recycle a comment I left at LGM last week:

“Irene’s passage through town last weekend was a salutary reminder of the fact that Bloomberg is the epitome of good ol’ fashioned big, activist government. I’ve got no problem with that, of course, and I was actually pretty impressed by the way the city mobilized for what turned out to be a fortunate near-miss. But then I’m a DFH.

Elsewhere in the political sphere, candidates for president can call for the dismantling of FEMA without being hauled away in a straightjacket, and Very Serious People will stroke their chins in response and say “Hmmm, maybe he’s on to something.”

The notion that Bloomberg could ever hope to get national political traction in a climate where even Democrats pay lip service to the vacuous nostrums of Reaganism is beyond hilarious. Just imagine him in a debate with a teabagger like Perry or Bachmann, patiently explaining the critical role of government in getting people to eat fewer trans fats.”

215

Ben Alpers 09.08.11 at 7:08 pm

@Ed:

Carter’s victory was an electoral landslide, but you’re right to point out that it was, in popular vote terms, entirely average. (I should add that the main argument of the Stanley book on the Kennnedy-Carter primary race is that it’s entirely wrong to see the 1980 result as a conservative realignment. Rather, he argues, it was a rejection of Carter’s version of centrism more than an endorsement of Reaganism. I think he has a point, but that the conventional wisdom that America swung to the right in 1980 eventually developed a life of its own. )

I really intended to criticize the networks for calling states before the polls had closed , not Carter for conceding early. As you correctly note, once those states (and the election) was called by the networks, Carter’s concession just made sense.

The larger point about myths about elections is entirely on the mark. Indeed, I think the idea that Kennedy cost Carter his reelection is just such a myth.

216

JP Stormcrow 09.09.11 at 2:35 am

Ed@211: They were also free to decide that there were races on the ballot other than the presidential race that mattered and were worth turning out for. Local pols could have built a good enough turnout operation to get there supporters to vote early, or their supporters to vote for them, despite what was happening at the presidential level.

Please don’t ever run a political campaign for any candidate I care about winning.

217

Lanre Akinsiku 09.09.11 at 6:24 pm

Michael,

Really enjoyed the piece. Not really interested in the micro-arguments surrounding each individual point because a) a satirical piece gives so much interpretative power to the reader that it’s hard to see where other people are truly coming from and b) I just don’t care that much. It was insightful commentary on the predictably cyclical nature of American politics. I imagine many people listen to a politician, any politician, and have a brief moment of deja-vu before telling themselves “That’s bullshit. Where have I heard that before?” Most of the time, they actually have heard that before. From a purely campaign perspective, campaign consultants (I used to work in the field) know exactly what types of ethos resonate with voters (there are, after all, a finite number of ways to feel about something) and will recycle them without shame, regardless of how many times they’ve been used before.

Anyway, I just wanted to know if you planned to do one of these from a Republican angle. I could use another good laugh.

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sean matthews 09.09.11 at 10:10 pm

This was presumably intended as intelligent, insightful and funny. It does not strike me as being any of them. Odd, since you are usually pretty intelligent, insightful, and even somewhat amusing.

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