Too Depressing

by Belle Waring on December 8, 2011

I can’t believe the Obama administration caved on this.

For the first time ever, the Health and Human Services secretary publicly overruled the Food and Drug Administration, refusing Wednesday to allow emergency contraceptives to be sold over the counter, including to young teenagers. The decision avoided what could have been a bruising political battle over parental control and contraception during a presidential election season.

Thanks a lot, Kathleen Sebelius. God knows we wouldn’t want one of the groups least likely to use contraceptives properly to be able to easily get their hands on some Plan B. Up next: banning over-the-counter sales of paracetemol. Ha.

Belated Update: Reading below I do see that excerpt is misleading if you haven’t read the whole article; they didn’t take Plan B away from existing over-the-counter-sales, they just refused to extend it to full OTC status which would extend to those 17 and younger.

{ 181 comments }

1

kidneystones 12.08.11 at 12:14 pm

The most surprising dimension of this story is that after three long years Belle and others expect this most political of administrations to make public health decisions on factors such as public health. I agree, btw, that everyone should have unrestricted access to contraceptives. It remains to be seem whether the blame for the capitulation will ultimately fall upon Trig, Limbaugh, or the Koch brothers.

2

NomadUK 12.08.11 at 12:36 pm

I can’t believe the Obama administration caved on this.

You can’t? I’d have been surprised if they hadn’t.

3

sg 12.08.11 at 12:38 pm

Am I wrong in thinking that paracetamol is now a behind-the-counter drug in the UK? Be careful with those cynical comments …

4

bexley 12.08.11 at 12:56 pm

Am I wrong in thinking that paracetamol is now a behind-the-counter drug in the UK? Be careful with those cynical comments …

If this has changed it must only have been in the last few months.

5

belle le triste 12.08.11 at 12:56 pm

You are indeed wrong in thinking that paracetamol is a behind-the-counter drug in the UK.

6

bh 12.08.11 at 12:57 pm

Be careful with those cynical comments …

Also be careful with know-it-all ones if you can’t be bothered to check things.

7

Andrew Fisher 12.08.11 at 12:58 pm

sg@3
You are wrong. Paracetamol can be bought over the counter in any UK corner shop, albeit only in small packets.

8

NomadUK 12.08.11 at 1:06 pm

And you can only buy two small packets at a time (at least at Tesco).

I suppose, given that it has the potential to leave you liverless if you take too much (especially with alcohol in your system, which state is not unknown amongst the UK population), it’s probably a sensible precaution.

9

Steve LaBonne 12.08.11 at 1:12 pm

kidneystones- the infuriating thing is that even from a totally cynical perspective I’m unable to see how this could possibly be smart politics. It can’t conceivably win over enough right-leaning independents to make up for the damage to Obama’s core support.

10

Tom M 12.08.11 at 1:20 pm

kidneystones- the infuriating thing is that even from a totally cynical perspective I’m unable to see how this could possibly be smart politics. It can’t conceivably win over enough right-leaning independents to make up for the damage to Obama’s core support.

Except for the alternatives. Which is the calculation.

11

Steve LaBonne 12.08.11 at 1:25 pm

Which is the calculation.

What I’m saying is that it’s an obviously bad calculation. The wingnuts who can’t tell the difference between RU-486 and Plan B aren’t going to vote for Obama under any circumstances. It’s another in the long series of inexplicable panders to people whose votes are just not there to be gained.

12

Belle Waring 12.08.11 at 1:30 pm

The difference between the therapeutic dose and the toxic dose of paracetamol is relatively small, and a substantial number of people die per year of inadvertent overdoses. It really is a dangerous drug. I don’t, in fact, support making it prescription-only, because I am generally in favor of liberalizing drug laws.

The Obama administration did do something right recently when it took steps to end adding paracetamol to other (often narcotic) painkillers. People who OD on Percoset are always killed by the “set” (the paracetamol) and not the oxycodone. Then drug warriors say this shows the dangers of prescription painkillers. It doesn’t; it shows the danger of putting paracetamol in every damn thing. People can become physically dependent on painkillers and need large doses without becoming junkies. There’s no good reason to try and give them liver failure with an unrelated drug. And people were against the change! Let’s put anti-freeze in bourbon, too, that’ll show those alcoholics.

13

Rich Puchalsky 12.08.11 at 1:30 pm

Is Kathleen Sebelius actually responsible for this in any important fashion? Isn’t this really Obama’s call? People used to be fond of DeLong’s “the cossacks work for the czar”, but that was back during the Bush years.

“It can’t conceivably win over enough right-leaning independents to make up for the damage to Obama’s core support.”

I’ve seen this from various people too. What left-leaning people is this actually going to lose? The left-leaning independents are notoriously low-information voters, and I doubt if anyone who was going to vote for Obama before is going to vote for the Republicans instead because of this. What damage to his core support is he going to take? Even this post, from someone informed and concerned, doesn’t say “that’s it, Obama just lost my vote”. People likely to say that have already said it.

14

Steve LaBonne 12.08.11 at 1:33 pm

What damage to his core support is he going to take?

Not so much in votes as in money and, especially, foot soldiers (which translates to turnout- and Obama is critically dependent on turnout).

15

Matt McIrvin 12.08.11 at 1:35 pm

Note for US readers: paracetamol is what’s called “acetaminophen” here (Tylenol).

While they haven’t done that to acetaminophen, you do have to go to a pharmacy counter and sign something to get pseudoephedrine, apparently because it’s possible to use it to cook meth. It’s not a huge hassle, but it does vastly reduce the number of stores where the stuff can be sold, since there has to be a pharmacy.

16

Belle Waring 12.08.11 at 1:35 pm

Ah, yes, the good old stirring “at least he’s not a Republican” vote motive. The Bush years brought that home rather effectively. But really, I just don’t see the point. It’s a huge fuck you to a big group of supporters and a minuscule feather in the scale of the mind of some imaginary independent voter.

17

Steve LaBonne 12.08.11 at 1:39 pm

Is Kathleen Sebelius actually responsible for this in any important fashion? Isn’t this really Obama’s call?

That should go without saying. Any cabinet secretary who made such a high-profile decision- reversing a unanimous expert recommendation- without marching orders from the White House would suddenly discover a burning need to spend more time with her family.

They’re in full campaign mode, so I suspect the phone call she received was from Axelrod.

18

sg 12.08.11 at 1:39 pm

I’m sure I remember going into Boots in the UK and having to ask for paracetamol at the counter. It was two years ago though, so maybe I’m confusing it with something else. And I agree with Belle, it’s probably not a bad idea to force the pharmacist to talk to you when he/she sells it to you.

Also in the UK, many smaller pharmacists stock the condoms behind the counter, which I’m sure must make some small contribution to the teenage pregnancy rate.

19

Ben Alpers 12.08.11 at 1:44 pm

It remains to be seem whether the blame for the capitulation will ultimately fall upon Trig, Limbaugh, or the Koch brothers.

I blame the Professional Left. If they hadn’t given Republicans a House majority last year, this never would have happened. Indeed, the Obama Administration’s refusal to make science-based policy makes it all the more important to vote for Obama and his party in order to restore science-based policy making.

[/snark]

20

Matt McIrvin 12.08.11 at 1:46 pm

These moments occasionally give me nihilistic fits in which I consider actively supporting Republicans in a bid to break the United States hard enough that some kind of revolution happens.

Then the moment passes. There are real people here, and that kind of reasoning has a poor historical track record.

But at the moment I’m more inclined to be enthusiastic about, say, Elizabeth Warren than about Obama. This is probably mostly because Warren has not yet taken office, so it’s possible to treat her as a symbol rather than a politician who has actually done the things real politicians do. But that kind of symbolic politics is itself useful to some degree. On the whole, I try to concentrate on supporting policies rather than being loyal to specific people, who won’t necessarily do what you want.

21

DCA 12.08.11 at 1:48 pm

I suspect the “foot soldiers” argument, turned around, might lie behind this; namely, to avoid giving the Fox-listening Christian right another issue that would make them more likely to vote. Remember that, barring some very strange turn, the Republican candidate will be either a cult member (Romney) or someone much easier to beat on other grounds.

22

Rich Puchalsky 12.08.11 at 1:49 pm

Obama doesn’t need to be killing teenage Arab bystanders with drones either. It should be pretty clear at this point that no matter how minuscule the benefit to him, he will take it, especially since there is no cost to him. I don’t believe the bit about money and foot-soldiers; he seems to have had quite good fund-raising recently. When it comes down to him or Newt, those people will come back.

I’m not suggesting any alternative. I’ve given up on Obama, the Democratic Party, the Constitution, liberalism, and the state in general, but certainly not because that is any more effective or ethical.

23

bianca steele 12.08.11 at 1:51 pm

I also remember buying paracetamol from the counter in the UK, but I needed the chemist to look up “acetaminophen” in his big book.

Whereas in the US it’s increasingly difficult to get liquid cold medicine without acetaminophen.

24

bianca steele 12.08.11 at 1:53 pm

And like NomadUK, I don’t think it’s necessarily surprising that Obama’s administration would override another part of the bureaucracy that they thought was going too far, on abortion and reproductive health related issues, not based on anything he’s said while in office, and not based on what he said during the campaign.

25

Bruce Baugh 12.08.11 at 1:58 pm

Belle: It is indeed a huge FU, but like Rich, I don’t see that it’ll actually make a lot of difference in many people’s behavior. I seem to have teetered over the edge of the cliff and regard Obama’s administration as bad enough for my concerns that “lesser of two evils”, while true, no longer rouses me to any particular action. But I’m very much in the minority in my social scenes for that outlook, and Rich’s more vigorous disengagement is even rarer in the part of the country I experience. Since the Republicans are worse, and will certainly remain so next year, I anticipate the core doing just as it did in 2010, with more frowns but without much change in actual behavior in voting, campaigning, etc.

Basically, I think, the people most angry about it will continue to underwrite it. It’s people on the margin who will drift away, as in 2010.

26

Matt McIrvin 12.08.11 at 2:00 pm

I tend to shy away from cold medicines that combine a lot of different drugs; I’d rather take the pills separately and control what I get. Probably mostly because cough medicines and expectorants don’t do a damn thing for me, so there’s no point in getting anything that contains them.

And ibuprofen tends to work better for me than acetaminophen/paracetamol, though ibuprofen has its own side effects (as does aspirin).

For parents, the biggest change in recent years has been the results and recommendations indicating that all known decongestants are neither safe nor effective for children. It’s frustrating that you can’t Do Something when your kid is sick, though I suppose it’s better to know that the Something wasn’t doing any good anyway.

27

Matt McIrvin 12.08.11 at 2:09 pm

And it isn’t as if Obama is particularly novel in his capitulations to the right, it’s that he’s not novel. He’s well in the mainstream of Democratic Party behavior, which I’ve lived with for a long time. The trouble is just that we’re in unusual times and we need better.

I think the only thing for it is to keep trying to tug on the frame of political discourse through extra-partisan movements like OWS and the like, and hope the system can eventually accommodate. Conservatives managed to do that pretty successfully starting in the 1960s.

28

Sev 12.08.11 at 2:16 pm

29

kidneystones 12.08.11 at 2:18 pm

Hi Tom. I said the decision was political, not necessarily smart politics.

That said. It isn’t hard to see how the WH arrived at the decision. Liberal tribalism ensures that all the folks huffing and puffing over the latest outrage will still pull the lever for the donkeys at election time. For this group, voting isn’t about issues. It’s about identity. This gang loathes the right as matter of principle.

The Davids understand the phenomena well. They know that the administration can comfortably pander to the right and still collect liberal votes and cash come election time. The left choir is perfectly willing to fashion a fine suit of nothing and call it success.

The proof is in the air pudding currently being touted as manna at various liberal sites right now. Dionne and company are singing hymns over the administration’s recent outpouring of words, this time a bunch of words uttered in Kansas City. As Marc Schmidt famously observed, ” maybe O doesn’t have a lot of experience doing anything. O still ran a great campaign and that’s enough.”

Or, perhaps it isn’t.

30

Bruce Baugh 12.08.11 at 2:20 pm

Matt: I thought that way most of my voting life, but changed in the last few election cycles, and this sort of decision is why. Policies are made and executed by people. So it matters whether the person pitching good ideas actually stands by their commitments in the face of stress, has good judgment in the selection, promotion, and retention of staffers, chooses good counsel, is willing to call the lies of adversaries what they are, and so on.

This leaves me with fewer candidates to be enthusiastic about, or even very sympathetic toward. But it does mean I’m doing less to directly support people who go on to directly attack my needs and interests – what I need, what people I care about need, what I see as the general welfare, in various combos – and that strikes me as a good first step.

31

Witt 12.08.11 at 2:25 pm

I don’t believe the bit about money and foot-soldiers; he seems to have had quite good fund-raising recently. When it comes down to him or Newt, those people will come back.

This is 100% anecdote, but I can name four people I know well who are already behaving differently than at this time four years ago. They’re not ward leaders or committeepeople, but they are committed and thoughtful educated liberals. If over the next 10 months they don’t send their $20 or $30 every few weeks, or talk up Obama to their neighbors, that WILL have an inpact.

Yes, they’ll still vote for Obama in Nov. 2012. But people aren’t islands. Voting is incredibly social. Without these folks’ enthusiasm, a lot of the people whose beliefs boil down to “a pox on both their parties” will stay home.

32

Matt McIrvin 12.08.11 at 2:48 pm

Keep in mind, though: while this isn’t particularly something to be happy about, Citizens United cuts all ways. Obama doesn’t necessarily need the storm of small donations he had last time when his campaign successfully gamed the defunct McCain-Feingold regime. He’s the incumbent, and as long as he has a reasonable chance of winning he’ll get a lot of big corporate money.

33

Belle Waring 12.08.11 at 2:53 pm

Yeah, there’s “voting,” and then there’s “giving money to people.” There’s also just…not voting at all.

34

Matt McIrvin 12.08.11 at 2:54 pm

I have to say, too, since we’re talking about drugs and Obama: health-care reform really was a big deal, even as compromised as it is. It doesn’t seem like it yet just because most of the provisions haven’t taken effect yet (and presumably never will take effect if Republicans can regain enough control to repeal the whole thing).

Now, most voters seem unaware of that, which is a big problem for Obama; all they seem to know about is the purchase mandate, which is unpopular. But I think we’re seeing some people start to realize that they’re benefiting from the stuff that is in effect.

35

nick s 12.08.11 at 2:55 pm

I’m sure I remember going into Boots in the UK and having to ask for paracetamol at the counter.

If it was combined with codeine in a co-codamol formulation, for sure, but not on its own. I think the French are stricter about plain paracetamol: perhaps the reason the US is happy to sell it in 250-tablet bottles is that if people really want to kill themselves, there are guns for that.

I’ve always been more inclined to support some kind of BTC access to emergency contraception — this story from the BBC is useful context here — except that in the US there’s no real BTC system, and you run into the ridiculous ‘conscience clause’ where pharmacists are granted the power not to do their damn jobs.

36

yods 12.08.11 at 3:25 pm

Story from the BBC @34 contains the following bizar quote from a pro-lifer:

“.. no evidence that emergency contraception reduces the unplanned pregnancy rates.”

37

Belle Waring 12.08.11 at 3:54 pm

“perhaps the reason the US is happy to sell it in 250-tablet bottles is that if people really want to kill themselves, there are guns for that.”
Exactly. It’s part of our magnificent, wide-ranging freedom. Though personally I’d go for the gun any day. Liver failure…shudder.

38

Belle Waring 12.08.11 at 3:56 pm

The NYT article also mentioned that half of all pregnancies are unplanned. I’ll confess that is a bit higher than I would have thought.

39

bianca steele 12.08.11 at 4:07 pm

Even more worrying, from a parent’s perspective–at one point last year, there was no infants’ acetaminophen or ibuprofen to be found, anywhere. I think we finally ended up tracking down some generic acetaminophen, possibly in a bottle for a bigger kid, but this lasted for months.

40

christian_h 12.08.11 at 4:21 pm

It is interesting how Pfizer managed to push an extremely rare side effect of Aspirin (Reye’s syndrome) into the public consciousness to the degree where their product Tylenol – which by any measure is much more dangerous – now is accepted as the safe drug to use, and is contained in virtually everything.

As for this stupid plan B decision, who knows. I can only surmise that Axelrod and Obama are following the hippie bashing strategy. It’s not about the particular decisions at all, it’s about demonstrating independence from the “extremist base”. Alternatively, this might be a concession to the catholic vote Democrats rely on. I don’t know enough to judge how the Latino vote in particular is influenced by official catholic church doctrine and the way it is discussed in churches and by bishops etc.

41

Belle Waring 12.08.11 at 4:21 pm

Here in Singapore there used to be a strange disconnect of selling two solutions of quite varying strength: the stronger, for infants (so as to have to get them to take less liquid) and the weaker for children over 2 because…I have no idea? Reduce the risk of overdose, I guess; the infant bottles were tiny. Looking at the writing on the side a 3am and trying to remember how much your child weighs was…troublesome. They decided to standardize but they still have infant drops at the doctors’/hospitals. There are no intravenous antipyretics, they told me at the hospital some time ago? I was like, you’ve got the drip in, do you really have to try and convince my vomiting child to drink something? Isn’t there something you can just put in that port to her veins which you have recently and with much agony opened? What’s the line for? But no. They can give the dose rectally, too, but it is an even less popular option IME.

42

Belle Waring 12.08.11 at 4:25 pm

Christian, I agree. Aspirin is way, way less dangerous and mere inertia has gotten us to this point.
As to the politics, it’s not hippie-bashing exactly; it’s more like a controlled burn so the opposition can’t set a real fire under the issue closer to the polls. “OMG! Obama wants your 11-year-old daughter to have sex!”

43

Sebastian(1) 12.08.11 at 4:33 pm

I think it’s an indefensible decision.
I don’t think it’s obviously bad politics. Rich is right that this won’t impact independents and it won’t sway pro-life Repubs to vote Democrat. But the idea, I assume, is that the issue would be an ideal issue for Republicans to mobilize and rile up their base – something with which they’re apparently struggling at the moment: http://themonkeycage.org/blog/2011/12/08/graphiti-declining-gop-enthusiasm-advantage/
The flipside of this is of course that you’re also lowering your own sides enthusiasm (plug Belle, Witt et al.) – but that’s a trade-off and which of the two is more important is an empirical question and the consultants in the administration may well be right that this is politically beneficial in the most narrow sense. (Again – this is just to outline the likely thought process of the political operatives in the WH – not to defend it in any way).

44

Tom Allen 12.08.11 at 4:54 pm

These conversations always depress me. Moving to Canada when I did was the best decision I’ve ever made. We’ve had a right wing Prime Minister up here for going on 6 years, and despite the fact that he’s a hard core right winger who admires the Republican Party, he still governs further to the left than the Obama Administration, for the simple reason that he understands that the population is to his left (and he wants to be re-elected). The economic, political and cultural decline of my former country saddens me. It really is hopeless for you all, until such time as someone starts the long term project of taking the country back from the right.

This will not be done electorially–not at first. Something along the lines of the strategy followed by the right down there for the past 50 or so years–slowly building or buying pro-progressive think tanks, pouring money into universities to churn out the workers for these think tanks, starting your own television, radio and social media networks, and having your people staff already existing networks.

The only other likely scenario is to sit back and wait for your reactionary elites to finish running things into the ground. Then you’ll be able to preside over whatever’s left. Either way, we’re pretty much fucked for a good while.

45

shah8 12.08.11 at 5:28 pm

The tylenol/aspirin thing is pretty widespread in pharmaceuticals. I’m kinda surprised about people’s reaction here, though, since this is a pretty far-reaching and endemic phenomenon. Not too many popular drugs are actually the best or the safest, from recreational drugs like tobacco and alcohol, all the way to cancer treatments like taxol.

Shit, for situational depression and anxiety, kava is occassionally more effective and is generally safer than prescription antidepressants. Of course, it got tagged with the whole it’s gonna kill your liver scare that originated in Germany. Not that there aren’t risks, but the majority of that risk is about *really* improper processing.

AAAAaaaanywayz. This looks bad, and should look bad. I’m not sure how meaningful this is in the long run. Or if this was an unsavoury trade of some sort. But given how ad hoc the US’s relationship to drugs are, I’m not sure this is, in the least, surprising.

As far as the whole Obama isn’t better than a Republican, well, I’m from Newt Gingrich’s old congressional district. I have some degree of awareness of his history. I can conscientiously assert that his adulation of the mores of Cinderella’s step-mom is quite normal for him. In other words, were Gingrich liable to be a credible winner in the elections, you all seriously had better campaign for Obama as if your very lives (and oh yes, I do mean that literally) depended on it. The Republican Party, for all intents and purposes, is an undead lich that will suck your marrow given the least opportunity. I seriously doubt, though, that they intend to win this particular election, given that it’s easy to see that any winner will be driven to the economic left by exigent circumstances, and that there will be little loot to spread amongst friends. If things are better in 2016, expect the Supreme Court to install another friendly Republican.

46

mw 12.08.11 at 5:35 pm

It’s not a huge hassle, but it does vastly reduce the number of stores where the stuff can be sold, since there has to be a pharmacy.

It can be a lot more than a little hassle:

http://reason.com/blog/2009/09/30/put-down-the-cold-pills-grandm

As for acetaminophen / paracetemol — I’ve always refused to have any of that stuff in the house, because the non-potentially-fatal alternatives work just fine. The latest news I saw there was many of those who OD on acetaminophen do so by taking slight overdoses over a period of time (which means their symptoms are often not recognized). Nasty stuff.

47

Henri Vieuxtemps 12.08.11 at 5:38 pm

It can’t conceivably win over enough right-leaning independents to make up for the damage to Obama’s core support.

I suspect what they are concerned about (among other things) is the enthusiasm of the opposing side. If BO is merely Antichrist, that’s one thing, but if he turns out to be, in fact, Satan himself, that could, I imagine, produce a phenomenal Republican turnout. Who needs that.

48

Rich Puchalsky 12.08.11 at 5:47 pm

“I suspect what they are concerned about (among other things) is the enthusiasm of the opposing side.”

11-dimensional chess. If I had to guess, I predict that there will be no significant change in Obama’s behavior after he wins his second term and no longer needs to do anything for votes. He cares about how he’s seen by the middle; he doesn’t like progressives and doesn’t care about what they want.

49

mrearl 12.08.11 at 6:08 pm

The next presidential election is about a handful of states, starting with Pennsylvania. The numbers may crunch to microscopic granularity. This decision is about not making any provocative change to the status quo before November, except as to the economy, in order, as noted above, to avoid giving the other side a base motivator.

It doesn’t make any medical sense and is of debatable legality, but politically it’s astute. And crass.

50

Tom M 12.08.11 at 6:24 pm

This, too. Note the not crazy Senator from PA is Bob Casey who has a voting record on social issues the pope can be proud of.
Neither will be getting money or time from this household this cycle. Luckily, the son in Boston gets to work for the Warren campaign.
Isn’t it the case that more people vote against a candidate than for one? I guess we will find out soon.

51

MPAVictoria 12.08.11 at 6:34 pm

“In other words, were Gingrich liable to be a credible winner in the elections, you all seriously had better campaign for Obama as if your very lives (and oh yes, I do mean that literally) depended on it.”

I think this is more true than many posters here realise. Gingrich could blow up the world in a fit of hyperactive glee. Obama is a disappointment but I trust his finger on the button. I do NOT trust Gingrich in the same state as the button.

52

Watson Ladd 12.08.11 at 6:36 pm

Belle, Russian Roulette might be legal but that doesn’t mean you can charge admission to play. We have prescription drugs because most of us cannot diagnose ourselves well enough to use drugs ourselves. Its precisely because paracetemol is dangerous that it should be behind the counter. Plan B doesn’t have that problem: as the advisory committee said it is safe, treats an easy to recognized condition (having sex sans condom), and the dosing is easy. Now, as I don’t actually know this, do doctors write scripts for Plan B that you carry around, or do you have to find a doctor and a pharmacist after unprotected sex?

53

Sebastian(1) 12.08.11 at 7:29 pm

@Watson Ladd:
You don’t need a doctor at all – Plan B is sold OTC to everyone over 18 (since 2006), i.e. if you’re a teenager you ‘only’ need a trusted adult to buy it for you. The current decision refers to people under 18 (technically 17 I think- I can’t quite follow the legal wrangling that took place there).
The problem of course being that there are likely many teenagers who don’t have an adult they trust enough to tell her/him “I got drunk yesterday and had unprotected sex can you get Plan B for me?”

54

nick s 12.08.11 at 7:44 pm

Now, as I don’t actually know this, do doctors write scripts for Plan B that you carry around, or do you have to find a doctor and a pharmacist after unprotected sex?

Planned Parenthood can write and dispense prescriptions for over-17s, and they suggest, like BPAS in the UK, that sexually active women should have it on hand, just in case. For under-17s, it’s more complicated because consent laws kick in.

That’s why I sorta kinda prefer a BTC approach to straight OTC, because it seems like a good way to do sexual health outreach, as opposed to it being yet another self-medication. Yes, it’s potentially condescending in some cases, but Belle’s right that among those seeking EC in the US, there are many who’ve been given inadequate sex education, and BTC offers a chance to guide them to non-emergency birth control.

I don’t know enough to judge how the Latino vote in particular is influenced by official catholic church doctrine and the way it is discussed in churches and by bishops etc.

Perhaps more to the point, the RC Church has a huge presence in the medical sector, particularly in states that feature on the electoral map, and to get its buy-in on healthcare reform, Obama has stuffed its mouth with women’s rights.

55

nick s 12.08.11 at 7:45 pm

And I stand corrected on the situation for over-17s, thanks to Sebastian(1).

56

Tiny Tim 12.08.11 at 8:12 pm

You can get paracetamol even with a bit of codeine in it in front of the counter in england.

And, yes, it’s good that the dangers of it are finally being realized. It’s completely harmless up until the point where it’s toxic and then it’s liver transplant time.

57

Anonymous37 12.08.11 at 8:18 pm

Sebastian(1)> You don’t need a doctor at all – Plan B is sold OTC to everyone over 18 (since 2006), i.e. if you’re a teenager you ‘only’ need a trusted adult to buy it for you. The current decision refers to people under 18 (technically 17 I think- I can’t quite follow the legal wrangling that took place there).

Yes, thank you for pointing this out — I have no idea why the conversation has gone on for so long about paracetamol when the post itself is fundamentally incorrect.

58

Sebastian(1) 12.08.11 at 8:25 pm

I understood the post to get this right. Says Belle:
God knows we wouldn’t want one of the groups least likely to use contraceptives properly to be able to easily get their hands on some Plan B.

59

Watson Ladd 12.08.11 at 8:41 pm

Thanks Sebastian(1) for correcting me. I was waylaid by the quoted paragraph, but this decision is still worrying. The idea that reproductive rights are up for legislative horse-trading has apparently come to dominate the democratic party.

60

Anonymous37 12.08.11 at 8:55 pm

Sebastian(1)> I understood the post to get this right. Says Belle:
“God knows we wouldn’t want one of the groups least likely to use contraceptives properly to be able to easily get their hands on some Plan B. “

Belle’s comment after the quote may have been referring to the under-17 crowd, and she may have correctly quoted the New York Times story. But the part of the story quoted, and quoted uncritically:

For the first time ever, the Health and Human Services secretary publicly overruled the Food and Drug Administration, refusing Wednesday to allow emergency contraceptives to be sold over the counter, including to young teenagers.

Simply gets the facts wrong, as Plan B can still be sold over the counter to adults.

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LizardBreath 12.08.11 at 9:10 pm

I think the Times just phrased the sentence poorly. What HHS refused was “to allow emergency contraceptives to be sold over the counter, including to young teenagers.” What they permit is “to allow emergency contraceptives to be sold over the counter, other than to young teenagers.”

The reading of the sentence that makes the Times look incorrect is the most natural reading of that sentence in isolation, but reading the whole story makes the correct facts clear.

62

Jawbone 12.08.11 at 9:32 pm

#21 the Republican candidate will be either a cult member (Romney)

This sort of casual bigotry is appalling — Romney is no more nor more less a “cult” member than is Obama, Pelosi or (heh) Reid.

63

CJColucci 12.08.11 at 10:09 pm

The NYT article also mentioned that half of all pregnancies are unplanned. I’ll confess that is a bit higher than I would have thought.

I’d say the same, except that “unplanned pregnancy” is weasely, so it’s hard to say what that means. Does it cover only pregnancies that disrupt plans, more-or-less unwanted pregnancies, or does it include pregnancies that a couple is deliberately making no effort to prevent and awaiting the course of events, as my wife and I did until we discovered that that wasn’t going to work. If half of all pregnancies are contrary to plans and more-or-less unwanted, that’s bad; if a large number of those pregancies are more-or-less spontaneous, that’s a different matter.

64

Bruce Baugh 12.08.11 at 10:18 pm

“In other words, were Gingrich liable to be a credible winner in the elections, you all seriously had better campaign for Obama as if your very lives (and oh yes, I do mean that literally) depended on it.”

There are plenty of us whose lives and well-being are already at risk thanks to this administration, and who aren’t wild to keep supporting it until it shows some interest in not stomping us more.

I know people whose quality of life never did recover from the vile “ending welfare as we know it” push of the Clinton administration, and more who are suffering in long-term, probably permanent ways because of all the harm this administration has done and the good it’s refused to do. And many of the people who escaped so far know perfectly well that they’re just one bit of bad luck from going over the edge too, since the people responsible for the current general misery are still in charge, still getting exert power on the global scale rather than the expanse of a jail cell.

For some of us, telling us that we need to support Obama isn’t a matter of “help out a guy who’s done good with limited resources and go do more with more”. It’s telling us to go back to the guy who’s been abusing us, because the guy next door is worse. And he is. But we have some responsibility to ourselves not to stick with the current abuser, too.

65

kidneystones 12.08.11 at 10:24 pm

Rich at #68 is probably right, but I’d call it naked calculation rather than 11-dimensional chess. I’d also substitute “if” for “when”.

MPA Victoria at # 51 provides the “we have no choice but to accept all actions or a Republican president will blow up the world” boilerplate. This despite the fact that Republicans have provided the majority of US presidents since the invention of nuclear weapons, and the fact that the only US president to actually employ nuclear weapons was a Dem.

66

Uncle Kvetch 12.08.11 at 10:55 pm

There are plenty of us whose lives and well-being are already at risk thanks to this administration, and who aren’t wild to keep supporting it until it shows some interest in not stomping us more.

I have no intention of “supporting” it. But I fully intend to oppose its opponents. That’s what it’s come to, and I don’t see any sign of it changing (especially given the enshrinement of “money=speech” in law), so I’m trying to make my peace with it.

Put another way: One side doesn’t give a shit about me and people like me. The other side hates our guts. That puts things in perspective.

67

Steve LaBonne 12.08.11 at 11:09 pm

Gee, who knew that “kidneystones” was Karl Rove’s pseudonym?

68

Bruce Baugh 12.08.11 at 11:26 pm

Uncle Kvetch: I’m not actually super interested in whether the people who cost me and mine everything from the roof over our heads to the medications that make it possible to live, and to live without crippling pain and madness, regard me with apathy or disgust. When they mark me and mine for worse lives, our pain and loss are just as real either way.

At this point someone often brings out an argument involving “sacrifice”, for longer-term goals or whatever. And you know, I believe in sacrifice, in the necessity of giving up X for Y. But this administration hasn’t just failed to act against the people responsible for our current misery, it’s given them more power. And since they are doing the opposite of suffering, we can all count on more of the same. I’d be sacrificing concern over the well-being of people I love and care about for…the chance to make us all keep suffering, and for more folks to suffer the same way.

I’m already paying for the privilege of keeping a Republican out of the White House. People important to me are in pain and dying for it. Other people can take the load from here.

69

MPAVictoria 12.08.11 at 11:48 pm

” This despite the fact that Republicans have provided the majority of US presidents since the invention of nuclear weapons, and the fact that the only US president to actually employ nuclear weapons was a Dem.”

Yeah because the party of Eisenhower and the part of Gingrich are pretty much the exact same. You keep shining you crazy diamond you.

70

David 12.09.11 at 12:20 am

I can.

71

liberal 12.09.11 at 2:38 am

Up next: banning over-the-counter sales of paracetemol.

Heh. Same thing occurred to me at the time.

72

liberal 12.09.11 at 2:50 am

Tom Allen @44 wrote,

This will not be done electorially—not at first. Something along the lines of the strategy followed by the right down there for the past 50 or so years—slowly building or buying pro-progressive think tanks, pouring money into universities to churn out the workers for these think tanks, starting your own television, radio and social media networks, and having your people staff already existing networks.

Agreed. Problem is that there’s a crucial difference—the right had (and has) a lot more money.

73

liberal 12.09.11 at 2:59 am

MPAVictoria @69 wrote,

Yeah because the party of Eisenhower and the part of Gingrich are pretty much the exact same. You keep shining you crazy diamond you.

That’s not exactly the same thing as what you mentioned previously—namely, that it’s possible Newt is unhinged in a way that would make him a dangerous president, completely apart from concerns about his ideology.

I was recently thinking of a Gingrich win and had that reaction. I felt the same way about McCain in 2000 and 2008 (the latter especially in light of the Georgia vs Russia stuff).

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MPAVictoria 12.09.11 at 3:33 am

” Newt is unhinged in a way that would make him a dangerous president, completely apart from concerns about his ideology.”

Newt’s craziness is reflected in the craziness of the modern Republican party. I do not think it is necessary to separate the two.

75

Belle Waring 12.09.11 at 3:42 am

Look people, we have 99 problems, but Newt Gingrich is not one of them. Obama would beat him like a red-headed step-child in the general, and the money guys know it. Some Republican may well win because the economy sucks, but that Republican will not be Newt Gingrich. Who it will be they don’t know, and they’re all shitting themselves, at which we should take a few moments to smile. It’s not that Newt is stupid, though Lord knows he’s stupid. He is ugly and he can’t keep his dumb mouth shut, so crazy stuff dribbles out weakly or spews out forcefully, as circumstances dictate. Sustained attention to that crazy stuff, such as would be provided by a general election, would be fatal. He’s just the not-Romney of the moment, really, don’t sweat it. Well, I mean, be terrified about the future and all, but don’t sweat Gingrich.

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MPAVictoria 12.09.11 at 3:58 am

“Look people, we have 99 problems, but Newt Gingrich is not one of them. Obama would beat him like a red-headed step-child in the general, and the money guys know it. Some Republican may well win because the economy sucks, but that Republican will not be Newt Gingrich. Who it will be they don’t know, and they’re all shitting themselves, at which we should take a few moments to smile. It’s not that Newt is stupid, though Lord knows he’s stupid. He is ugly and he can’t keep his dumb mouth shut, so crazy stuff dribbles out weakly or spews out forcefully, as circumstances dictate. Sustained attention to that crazy stuff, such as would be provided by a general election, would be fatal. He’s just the not-Romney of the moment, really, don’t sweat it. Well, I mean, be terrified about the future and all, but don’t sweat Gingrich.”

You could be right Belle but I think you are underestimating the base urges of the Republican primary electorate. These are bad people who are primarily motivated by pissing off liberals and no one does that better than Gingrich. All those things that Gingrich says that we find awful they love. Additionally he is pretty much the last non-Romney option. If not Gingrich than who?

77

G. McThornbody 12.09.11 at 4:17 am

Post title is apt, but perhaps a different perspective is in order.

“God knows we wouldn’t want one of the groups least likely to use contraceptives properly to be able to easily get their hands on some Plan B.” Look at it this way; it’s not as if “the groups” are good at anything besides baby-making, so my man Newt is fundamentally being pragmatic about the future. How so? you might ask.

First: http://nymag.com/daily/intel/2011/11/fundamentally-newt-gingrichs-favorite-word.html

Second: http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2011/11/newt-gingrich-thinks-school-children-should-work-as-janitors/248837/

Why would anyone want to abort babies that we could exploit as child janitors? We need “those groups” to produce free (and by free I mean slave) labor, so that our tax dollars are not spent paying custodial staff to clean up schools for students that should really be taught to clean up their own facilities. Newt gets so little credit! There are much more depressing things in comparison.

grismcthorn

78

Rich Puchalsky 12.09.11 at 5:03 am

Newt will win the primary, then Obama will win the general. I don’t mean to insult anyone who seriously believes the “oh-god-he’ll-push-The-Button” bit, but it really does sound like Democratic propaganda to give people a reason to vote. Newt is as much of a legislative statesman as the GOP has.

If he did win, I’d expect him to govern essentially no differently from Obama. Most of the people left of center would probably be happier with a Newt administration than a second Obama one; all of a sudden aggressive war, torture, spying on people, environmental destruction or neglect, random attacks on reproductive rights, screwing powerless people over economically etc. would become things to condemn wholeheartedly again instead of to voice disappointment with.

79

Belle Waring 12.09.11 at 1:16 pm

Wait, what? I’m willing to wholeheartedly condemn the Obama administration’s record on “internal security,” keeping Guantanamo open, not prosecuting anyone for torture, killing citizens overseas without a trial, etc. as warrants. It doesn’t mean I won’t vote for him though, that much is true. I guess anything short of pulling off a latex mask and revealing himself as Dick Cheney will do. That sucks.

Actually, no, because I don’t in fact vote often; I am registered to vote at my last US address, in Berkeley CA, in the most leftiest district that ever voted left, so it doesn’t matter whether I vote, and I feel it’s unfair for me to vote on the local ballot proposals and such because they don’t directly affect me. I mean, pull the lever for gay marriage, OK, but I sort of think it’s none of my business right now if Californians want to eat horse meat, or not. Also, California, almost unique among states, will try to claw back state income tax from the years you were working abroad (!) so if I should chance to move back I don’t want to be tagged as a “Californian” expat this whole time or they will demand money from me.

Similarly the US is alone in taxing us as we work abroad; our European friends are mystified. The thing is, they’re confident we’re coming back. It’s an expression of faith in America. Like, “hey, where they gonna go?” California has similar self-confidence. It’s all, “I know you want to move back to California, don’t fight your natural urges to live in the golden state.”

80

MPAVictoria 12.09.11 at 1:51 pm

“I’d expect him to govern essentially no differently from Obama.”

When I read this I can’t help but think that you and I lived in different worlds over the last 30 years.

81

Markd 12.09.11 at 2:12 pm

MPAVictoria@80: I agree with you; one cannot look at Pres. Obama’s nominees– for the justice dept, for health, and just recently for the consumer financial protection bureu–and think that there is no difference between the two parties; substantive change is usually incremental, but pure believers may be impatient.

82

Uncle Kvetch 12.09.11 at 2:24 pm

If he did win, I’d expect him to govern essentially no differently from Obama.

In a great many respects, yes. You might even be able to say in the most important respects.

But speaking as a gay man, the difference between a federal judiciary full of corporate-friendly technocrats and one full of Tony Scalia’s is pretty damn “essential,” as it is for any woman of child-bearing age. If I pull the lever for Obama next year* that will pretty much be the reason.

*Which is not a given — I live in such a solidly blue state that I have the luxury of going the “Don’t vote, it only encourages them” route, should I so choose. Ah, the wonders of our political system.

83

mw 12.09.11 at 2:28 pm

Similarly the US is alone in taxing us as we work abroad; our European friends are mystified. The thing is, they’re confident we’re coming back. It’s an expression of faith in America. Like, “hey, where they gonna go?” California has similar self-confidence. It’s all, “I know you want to move back to California, don’t fight your natural urges to live in the golden state.”

It’s quite a bit worse than that. In order to avoid US taxes on foreign income, you have to actually renounce your US citizenship, and even after that — the IRS will insist on collecting taxes for 10 years if you are a high-earner (or, if I’m reading it right), if you spend more than 30 or 60 days in the US during that year, or are not on good terms with the IRS when you leave). I am a little surprised, though, that European governments haven’t yet proposed similar policies in their efforts to fight ‘tax havens’.

84

Belle Waring 12.09.11 at 2:31 pm

Yeah, you really can’t get out of it. My Italian friends have all suggested lying on the forms. I told them they needed to stop bolstering negative stereotypes.

85

Rich Puchalsky 12.09.11 at 3:02 pm

“I agree with you; one cannot look at Pres. Obama’s nominees—for the justice dept, for health, and just recently for the consumer financial protection “

Obama’s Justice Department has actually beenworse than Bush’s — it codified the worst “secret law” practices of that administration and widened them from torture to assassination. John Ashcroft probably did more to defend civil liberties from his hospital bed than any Obama appointee has. Obama’s lead appointee to the Department of Health is Kathleen Sibellius, who is currently proving that just as only Nixon can go to China, only an Obama appointee can do what this blog post writes about. For consumer financial protection, Obama didn’t support Elizabeth Warren, and now is engaged in a long bout of kabuki over those bad Republicans preventing him from doing things that he has the existing statutory and regulatory authority to do if he actually wanted to.

And yeah, anyone who writes that gets labelled a “pure believer” who “may be impatient.”

86

MPAVictoria 12.09.11 at 3:18 pm

Like I said Rich, different worlds.

87

Watson Ladd 12.09.11 at 3:21 pm

mw, European countries are fundamentally uninterested in collecting taxes from people who don’t use the services of the country they are citizens of. If I live in Switzerland, I pay Swiss taxes and benefit from their institutions. Why should a country who does not provide my police, my water, my fire, my electricity take my income for the simple reason that I was born there?

88

Matt McIrvin 12.09.11 at 4:10 pm

Actually, no, because I don’t in fact vote often; I am registered to vote at my last US address, in Berkeley CA, in the most leftiest district that ever voted left, so it doesn’t matter whether I vote, and I feel it’s unfair for me to vote on the local ballot proposals and such because they don’t directly affect me. I mean, pull the lever for gay marriage, OK, but I sort of think it’s none of my business right now if Californians want to eat horse meat, or not.

A big longstanding problem in US politics is that college students are basically in the same bind. They’re usually not registered to vote locally, in part because the townies explicitly don’t want them to be registered locally and don’t make it easy or tell them they can. So if they vote at all, they’re voting absentee in a distant district, and big national elections are going to be the only ones they’re likely to make the effort for. And that leads into a longer-term habit of youth voter apathy.

89

bay of arizona 12.09.11 at 5:49 pm

MPAVictoria 12.09.11 at 3:18 pm

Like I said Rich, different worlds.

Its continually amazing to me that you guys have no shame. Obama is a passive actor who has no choice but to act Republican, and its always the fault of Jane Hamsher or Glenn Greenwald. Obama is sending the IRS after legal marijuana dispensaries in California, something he is not forced to do by Congress, where medical marijuana has 80% public support, and something he specifically promised not to do before he was elected.

Is it really too much to ask that he act like George W, rather than worse? According to you, yes.

90

MPAVictoria 12.09.11 at 6:17 pm

“Is it really too much to ask that he act like George W, rather than worse? According to you, yes.”

So what is the pop music like in your world? Bet it is great.

91

mw 12.09.11 at 7:55 pm

Watson Ladd: “European countries are fundamentally uninterested in collecting taxes from people who don’t use the services of the country they are citizens of. If I live in Switzerland, I pay Swiss taxes and benefit from their institutions. Why should a country who does not provide my police, my water, my fire, my electricity take my income for the simple reason that I was born there?”

Well, I agree with you — I’m just a little surprised that European governments do. Why might they not? The thinking would be, presumably, that you’re tax evader who moved away just to avoid the taxes that ‘rightfully’ belong to the country whose government paid to educate you and perhaps also provided the environment where you first became successful. And note — the Swiss are on the list:

http://www.stepjournal.org/news/news/main_story/sarkozys_new_blacklist_of_ta.aspx

92

dangermouse 12.09.11 at 8:02 pm

IDK I think it’s as likely an explanation as any that Obama backed this because the thought of his precious darling baby daughters ever having THE SEX gives him dumbfuck panic fits like it does to every idiot parent who can’t handle reality or process the notion that at some point children have to become adults.

93

Scott Lemieux 12.09.11 at 11:24 pm

If he did win, I’d expect him to govern essentially no differently from Obama

The Plan B decision was appalling, but this is nuts. Obama is substantially to the left of George W. Bush, and Romney is likely to govern to Bush’s right. (What Romney “really thinks” is irrelevant. As the leader of the Republican Party he’s committed to the basic agenda of an essentially homogenous coalition.) If you think Romney would do things like signing pay equity legislation, an expansion of health care, the end of DADT, appointing moderate liberals to the Supreme Court, etc. etc., you’re out of your mind.

94

christian_h 12.10.11 at 12:00 am

Obama is substantially to the left of George W. Bush

On those issues where he isn’t substantially to Bush’s right. As in, presidential prerogative to assassinate US citizens, or cracking down on medical marijuana (to a much worse degree than the Bush DoJ ever did). (Disclaimer: I know there’s a difference and besides, I also think the left is better off with the Dems in power proving how worthless shits they are rather than being given the opportunity to pretend they are our friends in opposition. Cf. Labour, SPD.)

95

Rich Puchalsky 12.10.11 at 1:03 am

Yeah, “this is nuts”, “you’re out of your mind”, “what is the pop music like on your world”, etc. Charming!

I think that the pay equity legislation that Obama signed had a mostly symbolic rather than actual effect, that Obama’s’ expansion of health care was the largest since Bush’s expansion of health care, that DADT was on its way out before Obama and that Obama delayed getting rid of it, and that the moderate liberals that Obama appoints to the Supreme Court mostly serve to not embarrass the right into ever having to admit that their base isn’t going to get what it wants socially. Obama is happen to take credit for things like DADT, or for preserving health care for the insurance industry, but his main effect was to seize a chance for far-reaching change and reduce to the amount of change that any Republican would have been forced to allow.

But I don’t expect actual arguments back, or anything like that. It’s obvious that Obama is to the left in some worthwhile sense because he says so, and because Bush, and because Newt would go for the nuke button right away.

96

Popeye 12.10.11 at 1:28 am

I don’t really have any interest in defending Obama, but being the guy who cleverly defuses the demand for sweeping changes is not the same as being the guy who works to move the ball in the other direction.

97

Rich Puchalsky 12.10.11 at 1:48 am

Yeah, Popeye, it’s probably worse. If people on the left faced cartoon Newt, they could conceivably beat him and maybe actually win something. They could also conceivably not beat him, and be motivated to try harder next time. Facing Obama, they never can do anything — they can only be disappointed, and then go and vote for him again.

98

Scott Lemieux 12.10.11 at 2:08 am

I think that the pay equity legislation that Obama signed had a mostly symbolic rather than actual effect

It wasn’t the biggest deal in the world, but overruling a Supreme Court decision that made it harder to bring discrimination suits isn’t trivial either. And we know Bush would have vetoed the legislation.

that Obama’s’ expansion of health care was the largest since Bush’s expansion of health care

To compare an expansion of health care to the one class of Americans that already has access to decent health care (Bush) with an expansion of health care to classes that don’t that succeeded where Clinton, Nixon, LBJ, and Truman completely failed is silly. The ACA, flawed as it was, was the most important progressive legislation to have passed in at least a quarter century, and would have had no chance with GOP in control of any veto legislative point (and may be struck down 5-4 on a straight party-line vote even though it doesn’t matter who makes Supreme Court appointments.)

that DADT was on its way out before Obama and that Obama delayed getting rid of it

This isn’t actually true, of course. Maybe the Supreme Court would have struck it down, maybe not, but certainly we’d still have it now if Bush or Romney was in the White House.

and that the moderate liberals that Obama appoints to the Supreme Court mostly serve to not embarrass the right into ever having to admit that their base isn’t going to get what it wants socially

If Roe is overturned, their base will get what they want in a lot of states. If Prop 8 isn’t overturned, they will continue to get what they want on same-sex marriage in the majority of states for the foreseeable future. The Court has allowed them to get what they want in terms of segregated schools. And then we can start talking about federal powers, regulatory enforcement, other criminal justice issues, etc. etc. The idea that it doesn’t matter whether Samuel Alito or Sonia Sotomayor is the median justice on the Supreme Court is not defensible.

reduce to the amount of change that any Republican would have been forced to allow.

The idea that the same kind of agenda would have passed with a Republican in the White House is just bizarre. But it does remind me of 2000; the only people more convinced that George W. Bush was a harmless moderate than Joe Klein were my Naderite friends.

99

Scott Lemieux 12.10.11 at 2:11 am

And by the way, I never said Obama was “on the left,” at least as the term applies across liberal democracies. There’s a long distance between “left” and “indistinguishable from George W. Bush.”

100

MPAVictoria 12.10.11 at 2:21 am

“Yeah, “this is nuts”, “you’re out of your mind”, “what is the pop music like on your world”, etc. Charming!”

Coming from the guy who accused me of being a democratic propagandist i find this comment a little, can we say, Rich?

101

Hob 12.10.11 at 3:02 am

Rich Puchalsky @85: “Obama’s Justice Department has actually been worse than Bush’s—it codified the worst ‘secret law’ practices of that administration and widened them from torture to assassination. John Ashcroft probably did more to defend civil liberties from his hospital bed than any Obama appointee has.”

You don’t like people calling you nuts or asking what it’s like on your planet, so I’ll just say that what you said there is either ignorant or disingenuous, and it’s beneath you.

As I’m sure you’re well aware, John Ashcroft did quite a few things in the Bush years. He was enthusiastically in favor of every spooky provision of the PATRIOT Act in spite of his frequent denials that the FBI ever used its new powers. He repeatedly proposed legislation and executive policies that went so far beyond that awful bill that even Bush and the Congress wouldn’t swallow them. After 9/11 he led a mass roundup of people suspected of being foreign and/or Muslim; friends of mine spent many months standing in protest outside a prison in Brooklyn where those people were being held and (we learned later) beaten. If you think that that, or something worse, is still going on today, please enlighten us. And if you think that I should forgive Ashcroft for all that because he did the right thing one time in the hospital– a bold stand that (a) was the only one legally available anyway since Comey was the acting AG, and (b) we have no reason to believe actually stopped any surveillance from taking place– sorry, I won’t.

Also, there was a second Bush term and Ashcroft wasn’t in it. His replacement, Gonzales, a man without even Ashcroft’s modicum of principles, was the only Justice Department official who can honestly be said to have “codified” illegal practices of torture and rendition. The Obama administration hasn’t done so. The Awlaki memo, hideous as it was, was a different thing and I’m not convinced that it is a significant departure from the hideous behavior of our military and quasi-military agencies in past generations; to call it a “civil liberties” issue is to stretch that term out of recognition– unless you consider American citizenship to be a magical quality that makes it much worse for the CIA to kill one Awlaki than for contractors to torture a dozen anonymous non-citizens to death.

I doubt you’re really interested in what “any Obama appointee” has done to defend civil liberties, but I can think of a couple of things: Holder’s DOJ has sued Arizona to block SB 1070, and has dropped Bush’s bullshit suit against the New Black Panther Party. It’s revived the Civil Rights Division and opened a large-scale investigation into civil rights abuses by police departments, which, even if it never bears fruit, will still be more than Bush (or Bill Clinton) would’ve ever allowed. You can admit those things and still not be happy with Obama.

102

Hob 12.10.11 at 3:09 am

Rich @97: “If people on the left faced cartoon Newt, they could conceivably beat him and maybe actually win something. They could also conceivably not beat him, and be motivated to try harder next time.”

Yes, if it weren’t for the awesome power of heightening the contradictions, eight years of Reagan and twelve years of Bushes wouldn’t have given us the vibrant and effective left that we have today.

103

Anonymous37 12.10.11 at 3:17 am

I hadn’t checked Crooked Timber for the past day, and I am glad to see and appreciate Belle’s clarification in the Update above.

104

christian_h 12.10.11 at 3:52 am

Sigh. To claim that Obama’s record on civil liberties has been superior to that of Bush is, to quote, “either ignorant or disingenuous”. People actually working in the area do not agree (ACLU, CCR, NLG) and there are just any number of examples of Obama DoJ policies and actions that make the Bush DoJ look like anarchists.

If civil liberties were the only issue a vote for Obama would be absurd, that’s not open to doubt outside the circled wagons.

105

Rich Puchalsky 12.10.11 at 3:53 am

“After 9/11 he led a mass roundup of people suspected of being foreign and/or Muslim; friends of mine spent many months standing in protest outside a prison in Brooklyn where those people were being held and (we learned later) beaten.”

No doubt it would have been better if, like Obama, he’d just had them killed by drone strikes. I really like that “unless you consider American citizenship to be a magical quality that makes it much worse for the CIA to kill one Awlaki”. It’s just one guy! I guess the just-one-guy exception also covers his 16 year old son. All right, it’s only one guy and one teenager. Oh and seven other people. All right: one guy, one teenager, and some other teenagers. But that’s just how our “military and quasi-militiary agencies” behave, I guess, and has nothing to do with particular decisions by Obama — and there’s nothing new in the Department of Justice saying that it’s perfectly legal, even when we haven’t even bothered to declare a fake war. I don’t know why Obama even bothered to have that memo written, when everyone should be so blasé about the whole thing. Other Presidents have had people tortured and killed en masse and concealed it, but when Obama claims the legal right to do it it’s like a breath of fresh air.

As for the police investigation — I love that “even if it never bears fruit” part. It’s just like Ketehi! Even if her investigation never bears fruit, she’s doing a good thing by investigating why that police officer pepper sprayed those people.

And I never said anything about heightening the contradictions, or about wanting things to get worse. I said what’s obvious; people were willing to actually oppose misdeeds when they were committed by someone with an (R) after his name. I’m not sure what “I condemn this action by Obama, but then I’m going to vote for him” is, but I hesitate to class it as opposition.

106

Watson Ladd 12.10.11 at 5:16 am

Let’s see: Obama goes and kills a member of an organization we are at war with, and people complain? If the British had offed Lord Haw-Haw when he was in Sweden, would we be hearing these complaints about lack of due process?

107

Bruce Baugh 12.10.11 at 6:06 am

My take on the Obama administration’s place in history begins with my take on the modern Republican leadership, and it’s this: since they’re all either sociopaths or have trained themselves to act like ones, they don’t care about anything but losing the power and control they seek. They relish the hatred of those they despise, and they feel no shame when it comes to the opinion of anyone outside their circle. They want power, as much of it as they can get, to indulge as many of their whims and passions as they can.

I was born in 1965, and the big story of partisan politics in the US for that whole span and then some is of Republican grabs for power and, sometimes, Democratic pushbacks. The Republicans are good at ratcheting; it takes a lot to dig them out even a little, in any lasting way. And as soon as they find a fresh grip, they’re back at it again, pushing and pushing for all they’re worth.

This is the catastrophe of the Obama administration. The Republicans – and their Democratic buddies in catastrophe-making – have lost nothing in lasting terms. Nobody responsible for the war crimes and global financial misery of this last decade paid any price at all. Many of them got rewarded with continuing power, and even more. The rules that Republican obstruction relies on in Congress are intact. There was no purge of crooks and fanatics in the Justice Department or anywhere else in the executive branch. Abusive secrecy remains in place, and in fact expanded and freshly defended. Immunity for the authorities and vindictive punishment for leakers remains the norm. The administration keeps setting up arrangements obviously vulnerable to Republican abuse, and then capitulating.

It’s true that Obama has signed some good laws Republican counterparts wouldn’t have, and opposed some good ones less than they would have. But every major element of Bush’s build-up of Republican power remains in place, and now there are fresh goodies for the new president to abuse. It remains structurally a Republican, or at least entirely Republican-ready, federal government. That’s a catastrophe.

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Glen Tomkins 12.10.11 at 6:15 am

Maybe in more normal times the WH would have had to worry that actions like this would adversely impact the enthusiasm of the people in the D base who need to be enthusiastic in order to maximize contirbutions and volunteering and simple word of mouth. But these aren’t normal times. This cycle, if your motivation is not already maxed out at the prospect of the Rs winning, or even keeping what they already have, it will be by the time they have finished what they are going to do after Greece and Italy default and the Eurozone implodes. It’s a simple hierarchy of needs thing. The WH is relying on our being very clear by the time it matters that the barbarians are already inside the gates.

As to what advantage they perceived in doing this, it clearly has nothing to do with trying to score votes among the fundies. He’s not getting any no matter what he does. I imagine it has something to do with encouraging the perception in swing voters that Obama is not actually a real Democrat. I have to use my imagination, because after years of very active canvassing, in a state where we have 5-6 elections every year whether we need them or not, and I thus get loads of practice talking to swing voters, I understand their thinking less and less every year that passes. What I do understand of it is maddening. I get how this would appeal to these people, whose instinct is to split every difference right down the middle, however insane that general theory might be in its application to particular cases.

This may sound like an exotic point of view to cater to, and it may indeed not be the thinking of all that many people — perhaps nobody that any of us know personally. But these few are literally the only ones who vote regularly, and whose vote is still up for grabs. These people have found the last four years quite stressful because, in addition to the objective problems of the bad economy we all have to deal with, they are much more frightened by political conflict than committed partisans are. They are really going to be basket cases by next summer, so presumably the Obama WH, which has doubtless done all sorts of polling and focus groups on this topic, feels they can position themselves to the center of Romney by doing stuff like this, while maximizing a soothing contrast with bomb-thrower Gingrich.

I don’t condone the morality of any of this, or even have much confidence in the soundness of the strategy. I’m generally wrong about what strategy might be effective, but I do know that the barbarians are already inside the gates, and the consequences of not pushing them back would make the consequences of Plan B not being available to minors the least of our worries, the least of the worries even of minors who might have an unwanted pregnancy without Plan B.

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Bruce Wilder 12.10.11 at 8:13 am

Even if I felt confident that I understood Obama’s political strategy, I would feel confounded by being unable to identify my own.

I find I cannot quite manage to thread Scott Lemieux’s needle, where I am alarmed by the Republican past (Bush) and future (Romney or worse?), but am, somehow, not alarmed by the Obama present. If Obama is to be excused by Republican obstructionism, why is Romney not to be neutralized by Democratic obstructionism? Ah, perhaps, because there wouldn’t be any Democratic obstructionism? That’s seems to be a bigger problem, long-term — that public opinion appears to scarcely matter on any subject of economic substance, while what’s right, or scientifically true, doesn’t seem to matter all that much on any other matter.

It feels to me like democracy has failed to function. Simon Johnson’s bankers’ coup wasn’t just a metaphor; it is political reality, and the state is lost to the mass of ordinary people.

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David Littleboy 12.10.11 at 9:13 am

“why is Romney not to be neutralized by Democratic obstructionism”
First of all, elections have coattails, and we’d have much less obstruction to work with should a Republican win next year.
And even in the face of an obstructionist congress, a Democratic president does a world of good and a Republican one a world of harm. Kagan and Sotomayor vs. Alito and Roberts. Under Clinton, FEMA was revered around the world as a model for emergency response. Rather a different story under Bush II. Even here, we’re having a discussion about two outcomes (freely available to everyone vs. everyone over 17) that wouldn’t even be on the table under a Republican administration.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 12.10.11 at 9:47 am

The ACA, flawed as it was, was the most important progressive legislation to have passed in at least a quarter century

I’m not sure what ‘progressive’ means exactly, but how about this:
Assume a for profit medical insurance industry. It’s completely unnecessary, extremely harmful, and heading for a collapse. Bummer. What can we do? Why, we can regulate it, and thus preserve it, by postponing the collapse, or avoiding it altogether.

This is, I gather, what the main role of the Democratic party is now: to preserve the most harmful institutions (for-profit medicine, the empire, the big finance, etc.), by containing the overwhelming enthusiasm of the other party for expanding and empowering these institutions beyond a sustainable limit.

At this point, I think one should ask oneself: is the notorious “heightening the contradictions” really as bad an idea as the common wisdom says it is? What’s the alternative?

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David Littleboy 12.10.11 at 10:14 am

Henri@111
Sure, it’d be nice to switch to a single-payer national insurance funded by a progressive tax that everyone can afford (one of the many things the Japanese get right). I’d support that 100%. But it’s not going to happen. This is exactly and purely an “and a Pony” sort of wish list.

Of the things that possibly could happen, ACA is a seriously wonderful one. There’s a ton of really really good stuff in there. Like making hospitals take responsibility for their own errors instead of just charging medicare for fixing them. (My father would still be alive if this had happened 5 years ago; nurses are now busting their butts to prevent hospital-acquired infections.)

Lots of lives are going to be saved by ACA. It’s friggin wonderful.

If you really want single-payer national insurance, the only way to get there is to vote Republicans out of office. It won’t happen without big majorities in both houses of congress and a Democrat in the WH.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 12.10.11 at 10:35 am

But it’s not going to happen.

It sure is not going to happen now, with this ACA thing enacted. Like I said, all it does is preserving the status quo, including some of the most harmful aspects of it. Patching it up, without addressing the underlying causes.

Lots of lives are going to be saved by ACA.

Compared to what? Sure, as an alternative to, say, a total nuclear war it is just outright wonderful.

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Tim Wilkinson 12.10.11 at 12:14 pm

Glen @108: these people, whose instinct is to split every difference right down the middle, however insane that general theory might be in its application to particular cases

Yeah, this is the key constituency for all those opinion-marshalling, window-moving strategies filed under ‘agnotology’, e.g. http://crookedtimber.org/2010/05/08/ignorance-is-strength/#comment-316587 ff.

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Matt McIrvin 12.10.11 at 1:45 pm

At this point, I think one should ask oneself: is the notorious “heightening the contradictions” really as bad an idea as the common wisdom says it is?

I guess we could get some of that H5N1 ultra-flu going.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 12.10.11 at 1:58 pm

Sure, for some of us (certainly including myself) the idea of a collapse followed be a radical change is about as attractive as a hole in the head. But I suspect it’s getting more and more attractive to more and more people.

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Rich Puchalsky 12.10.11 at 2:19 pm

Whenever anyone points out that health insurance pre-ACA was headed for a collapse, someone else brings out the rhetorical “you like heightening the contradictions, maybe we should give people ultra-flu”.

What did “headed for a collapse” mean? It meant that health care was getting more and more expensive for businesses, which had gotten stuck with paying for it as a standard worker benefit for local historical reasons. The Wal-Marts of the country got around this by evading having to pay for it in various ways, and business in general liked certain aspects of it, such as the way in which it discourages people from changing jobs or agitating for better pay or conditions. But the cost of it was increasing more quickly than anything else, and they couldn’t continue to pay for it indefinitely.

What would have “collapse” meant? Not mass die-offs. After all, all of the doctors and hospitals and so on would still actually be in existence. It would have meant that finally everyone would have had to admit that the system was broken, and that European models were doing fine. And we would have gotten some kind of European model in a crisis atmosphere.

With Obama, we got the beginnings of the crisis atmosphere, and this was diverted into a situation in which business is no longer on the hook, but in which the health insurance industry still exists. That is superior to a Mad Max apocalyptic die-off. But it is not superior to just about any other way in which the situation could have turned out. Since everyone can see that, people who defend how it turned out pretty much have to pretend that the alternative was the Mad Max die-off, just as people pretend that the alternative to Obama is Dr. Strange love.

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Uncle Kvetch 12.10.11 at 2:40 pm

This is, I gather, what the main role of the Democratic party is now: to preserve the most harmful institutions (for-profit medicine, the empire, the big finance, etc.), by containing the overwhelming enthusiasm of the other party for expanding and empowering these institutions beyond a sustainable limit.

That’s a great way of putting it, Henri. I couldn’t agree more.

At this point, I think one should ask oneself: is the notorious “heightening the contradictions” really as bad an idea as the common wisdom says it is?

I think it is, yes (and I say that as someone who was a longtime fan of the concept). Given the state of our political discourse, the corporate stranglehold on the media, and the unbridled power of money in electoral politics, the notion that heightened contradictions will lead to some kind of lefty awakening strains credulity. I think the much more likely outcome is just a further lurch towards right-wing, hypernationalistic pseudo-populism: Putin’s Russia with a happy face.

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Scott Lemieux 12.10.11 at 3:41 pm

What would have “collapse” meant? Not mass die-offs. After all, all of the doctors and hospitals and so on would still actually be in existence. It would have meant that finally everyone would have had to admit that the system was broken, and that European models were doing fine. And we would have gotten some kind of European model in a crisis atmosphere.

This is profoundly mistaken. There is absolutely no shred of a groundswell in the American business community (or any other powerful constituency) for European-style health care; whether it would objectively be in their interest is beside the point. The destruction of the private insurance industry was not going to happen, period. Legislative change in the United States, because of the high number of veto points, has always involved buying off existing interests. In a period of even greater crisis, when there was a genuine leftist groundswell, the major New Deal programs involved far worse and far more immoral compromises than the ACA (benefits that would be considered too stingy by Mississippi Republicans, African Americans largely and intentionally excluded from benefits.) To think that Republicans would happily support single-payer if Obama had just allowed the continuation of a system that works perfectly well for the wealthy is delusional.

Although, I must concede that the last exercise in heightening-the-contradictions worked brilliantly. Who can forget the period after Nader threw the election to Bush, in which we had a progressive Republican administration, an extremely effectual organized left, and a Democratic Party to the left of the Swedish Green Party. I’m sure it will work even better next time!

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Rich Puchalsky 12.10.11 at 3:51 pm

“the notion that heightened contradictions will lead to some kind of lefty awakening strains credulity”

At some point you have to ask yourself what you really believe. I used to think about this when middle-to-right-wingers would get themselves all scared about China’s growth and major power status. Do you really believe that it’s possible to run a major power indefinitely without democracy? Or do you believe that it’s actually necessary, in the long term? Can Putin’s Russia continue to be Putin’s Russia even once the oil runs out?

I’ve never thought it was a good idea to purposefully make things worse so that people will find the situation intolerable. But a lot of the drivers of making-things-worse aren’t under anyone’s control. Environmental or resource constraints, or the shocks of having crony capitalism control everything, are going to get us eventually. At that point, if you don’t think that some kind of “lefty awakening” is going to be required, why believe in the left? I don’t mean “required” in the sense that “I would be very unhappy living in that society”. I mean “required” in the sense of “That society would break down and be unable to sustain the level of development of any society that did embrace leftism, so it would get conquered or propagandized out of existence sooner or later.”

Note that the neoliberals and old-time Marxists already had that argument over the precursor to Putin’s Russia. The neoliberals won, in the most demonstrative and final fashion. We’re now having the argument over whether neoliberalism is going to be replaced by something else. If fthe U.S. becomes Putin’s Russia with a happy face, it certainly sucks to be us, as people living in the country, but it also means that neoliberalism has lost. If whatever is going to do better than that isn’t a “lefty awakening”, what is it?

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Popeye 12.10.11 at 4:03 pm

Yeah, Popeye, it’s probably worse. If people on the left faced cartoon Newt, they could conceivably beat him and maybe actually win something. They could also conceivably not beat him, and be motivated to try harder next time. Facing Obama, they never can do anything—they can only be disappointed, and then go and vote for him again.

They could conceivably beat cartoon Newt by what, electing Obama or some other Democrat to take his place?

I for one am greatly relieved that Gore didn’t become President in 2000, because after 8 years of losing to ridiculous nonsense from Bush, the left was finally motivated to push for real change, and we finally broke the vicious circle of right-wing politics.

I have no interest in defending Obama, but I really do have to wonder about certain person’s phenomenological experience of pop music.

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Rich Puchalsky 12.10.11 at 4:25 pm

“They could conceivably beat cartoon Newt by what, electing Obama or some other Democrat to take his place?”

Weirdly enough, Bush didn’t get rid of abortion rights. He didn’t even do a lot of the things that Obama has been doing that have already been mentioned in this thread. Either he was a really benevolent guy, or maybe electoral politics are not the be-all and end-all of everything, and it’s possible for a populace to control a politician rather than the reverse.

The left was really motivated to push for change after Bush. Not in the cartoon fashion that the straw leftist that Scott Lemieux is channeling would have it, in which people rise up immediately. But after 8 years, there really was widespread support for change. The Democrats got the Presidency, the Senate, and the House. Obama took that energy and made it come to nothing. That isn’t the fault of the straw leftist’s.

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Bruce Wilder 12.10.11 at 6:01 pm

SL: “The destruction of the private insurance industry was not going to happen, period.”

RP: “I’ve never thought it was a good idea to purposefully make things worse so that people will find the situation intolerable. But a lot of the drivers of making-things-worse aren’t under anyone’s control. Environmental or resource constraints, or the shocks of having crony capitalism control everything, are going to get us eventually.”

Compare and contrast, I guess.

It is remarkable to me how much of Scott Lemieux’s political worldview consists of emphatic statements, which replace choices made, with the inevitability of “it was never going to happen”. As if politics was not about making choices, but, rather, was an wholly overdetermined, predestined process.

At least Rich makes his “drivers” more genuinely exogenous to political choices.

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Popeye 12.10.11 at 6:09 pm

I’m sorry, Obama is a f@ing useless politician like all the rest but this line of reasoning is incoherent. Bush was held in check by the populace and also created the demand for real change, while Obama is unchecked by the populace and has eliminated the demand for real change? Not only that, but only Obama can be blamed for this state of affairs, and not an apparently idiotic populace that gets righteously riled up by the lesser evil and goes to sleep when the greater evil is around? Are you looking for a job at Slate?

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Bruce Wilder 12.10.11 at 7:00 pm

Popeye @ 124

Maybe, you are missing the thread: public opinion doesn’t matter; electoral politics doesn’t matter.

Some of us think it should matter, that electoral democracy, in principle, can be a useful check on the tendency of government to drift into kleptocracy, where the oligarchic elite grabs pretty much everything, without regard to how the mass of people are made to suffer or, in less dramatic language, how well the nation-state functions..

As a matter of fact, it doesn’t matter. The U.S. has become a kleptocracy. And, democracy doesn’t offer any obvious route back from kleoptocracy.

Is that coherent enough for you?

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Hob 12.10.11 at 7:12 pm

Rich @105: “No doubt it would have been better if, like Obama, he’d just had them killed by drone strikes”

We’ve been killing civilians in air strikes for a long time. It’s just as indefensible now as it’s ever been, but for some reason a lot of people only give a shit about it when there’s a new technology involved. I don’t know if that’s because people are easily distracted by shiny objects, or because a lot of people’s anti-war rhetoric is selective and partisan and not indicative of any general concern about war.

I see that my reference to “one Awlaki” was easy to misconstrue and you didn’t disappoint. I’m fully aware that the U.S. killed a lot of other people in that attack. But your statement that I was directly responding to there was about the Awlaki memo being a civil liberties Rubicon, and that was entirely about the citizenship status of one man. I realize there are convincing legal arguments as to why that makes a big difference— and the Obama administration bothered to get an ass-covering memo from the OLC about it because they have a legalistic bent, a quality that can be admirable in some contexts but is creepy in this one. If you think they weren’t just covering their asses, but were laying the groundwork for new secret police actions to execute American dissidents— well I can’t disprove that, but I think it’s not true, based on the fact that no police state in history has bothered to ask permission in that way. But in every other aspect, this was the same kind of violent act that we’ve committed routinely in war for the last 40 years. It’s just as bad as every other air strike on civilians, which is to say, awful and sickening and shamefully acceptable to most Americans, regardless of which politician is signing off on it.

My point is that if you want to rank politicians by how bad they are on civil liberties, you can’t do it on the basis of their actions where bombs are involved, because then they really are all terrible. So then you have to decide whether other kinds of things are important to you too. There are clear differences between the last few administrations in terms of how they regard civil rights in areas where bombs are not involved. You may find those differences trivial, but I don’t think you can honestly say that they make Obama equal to or worse than Bush.

Also, I don’t know why you think people can’t organize against bad things without believing that Obama is equal to or worse than Bush. Judging only from my knowledge of people who are involved right now in Occupy, that’s not the case. Some people certainly do believe that and others don’t. The latter are people who think the election of Obama was the first positive sign they’d seen in national politics for a long time, and that even if the guy is disappointing, there’s more of an opening for change now– in the government and in people’s awareness– than there’s been in a long time. I think it’s wrong to reduce this all, as you’re doing, to the idea that if you’re willing to still vote for a Democrat then you can’t make any other kind of statement at all.

Anyway, this is the last time I’ll respond to you. Carry on.

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Popeye 12.10.11 at 7:23 pm

As a matter of fact, it doesn’t matter. The U.S. has become a kleptocracy. And, democracy doesn’t offer any obvious route back from kleoptocracy.

Is that coherent enough for you?

Yes, the thing about an incoherent perversity/futility/jeopardy argument is that if you step back and focus on only 1 leg (in your case futility), you gain coherence. As you might imagine, I wasn’t responding to your argument, as it wasn’t posted at the time I was commenting.

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Hob 12.10.11 at 7:32 pm

I’m sorry to have contributed to hijacking this thread. I did read Belle’s original post and I fully agree with it. Unfortunately, I don’t think this was politically irrational; I think there are a lot of not-very-political-but-sorta-liberal people out there who agree with Obama’s idea of what constitutes “common sense” in this case. When you say “11 to 17 years old”, those people are just going to hear the “11″ part, and it pushes a think-of-the-children button which overrides further thought. Not necessarily permanently– I’ve seen some people start from that point of view and then come around, after some patient argument with reference to medical and social reality. But it’s a strong enough effect that I can easily believe Obama and Sebelius either succumbed to it themselves, or made a cynical political calculation that this hill would be too hard to defend in the short term.

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Scott Lemieux 12.10.11 at 7:48 pm

Weirdly enough, Bush didn’t get rid of abortion rights.

He did everything he could to get rid of abortion rights, by putting the two most consistently reactionary Supreme Court justices since World War II on the Supreme Court with the two vacancies he had. The fact that it will take the Republican president you’re hoping for in 2012 to finish the job doesn’t really prove anything.

He didn’t even do a lot of the things that Obama has been doing that have already been mentioned in this thread.

Like what? He did crack down on medical marijuana dealers. He did believe that the United States could declare anyone an unlawful combatant and once this was done the actions of the executive branch could not be controlled by anyone. There is no issue on which Bush was to Obama’s left.

Now it is true, of course, that Bush — like all presidents — is subordinate to Congress when it comes to domestic policy, hence the failure of his Social Security privatization scheme. And it is also of course true that all presidents are subject to political constraints, and that electoral politics is merely a subset of politics writ large? All of this is completely irrelevant to your transparently erroneous assertion that a Gingrich administration would be indistinguishable from an Obama administration.

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Salient 12.10.11 at 8:07 pm

There is absolutely no shred of a groundswell in the American business community (or any other powerful constituency) for desegregation; whether it would objectively be in their interest is beside the point.

True, but some of us feel much more optimistic than you about the chance for new constituencies to emerge and solidify. There’s not much reason to be optimistic about the Montgomery Improvement Association, sure but even if the mobilization Rosa Parks has inspired is currently terribly small and localized, there may be a galvanizing effect over time, with other Improvement Associations forming in other cities as expressions of support and solidarity.

I can understand and even sympathize with concerns about the MIA’s attempt to criticize, and demand radical change from, the less-right-wing party. It could very well cause us to lose a huge swathe of the rights hard-won by organized labor this past half-century, as disaffected voters withhold their support and votes while a galvanized base of right-wing voters pour in. Even colored workers are enjoying some of the many privileges won by white labor.

If we dare to demand more, it might scare away people who tepidly support us, tip the political balance solidly toward the right, and cause a self-evidently severely evil party to win elections and gain more power than we’d ever like to see them have. We might end up so much worse off than we are now.

But dude. You are asking people to tolerate conditions that they find intolerable.

I perceive that you judge those people harshly for finding the conditions intolerable, when they could be so much worse than they are now. I can understand experiencing terror and desperation at the thought of losing what little we’ve managed to win.

And I can even understand your desire to disparage those folks who aren’t even directly subjected to segregation, folks with comfortable lives who are protesting entirely out of sympathy for others, most of whom are far-away ‘foreigners’ who don’t even live in the same region, much less the same state or neighborhood.

After all, screaming on others’ behalf is so inherently phony. I mean, nobody on Earth actually feels solidarity, especially not with colored folks who live far away. ‘Solidarity’ is just a pretension that underpins the moralistic holier-than-thou preening of folks like Rich and that insufferable Salient person who bangs on about this stuff at obscene length any time it comes up. And even if their feelings are as genuine and intense as their loud mouths would suggest, why the heck should we care about their pwecious wittle fee-fees? What right to they have to jeopardize our partial success so far, to satisfy their affectations of conscience, complaining about its unsatisfactory less-than-ideal treatment of people in far away places? Sure, the treatment of those people sucks, but that’s life; we know all too well just how much worse their lives could become if we dare to play Oliver Twist and stridently demand better of the people.

While I acknowledge the reasonableness of your perspective, the cheekiness with which you are expressing it does not reflect well on you. You are exhibiting a total lack of empathy for people who are expressing either suffering or sympathy with the suffering of others. (Granted, that suffering and sympathy might be utter bullshit, but to be perceived as dismissive of it is bad optics.) And you’re going so far as to dismiss a subpopulation of voters as “delusional” because they feel a deep sympathy toward those who are suffering at the hands of people they had provided support to, and helped vote into office.

Maybe you’re right to speak so stridently. By analogy, how stupid is a patient with a gangrenous finger who screams about the impropriety of cutting off their arm, when the only conceivable alternative is to let the gangrene get worse?

Eh, sorry, not the best analogy. I’d make other, better analogies if I could think of them. Who knows, maybe at some point the rise in institutionalized militarization we just witnessed under Eisenhower will push this country into a kind of permanent state of war, and we’ll see tens of thousands of civilian deaths per year resulting from our ongoing military occupation of countries. It might even begin within our lifetimes; that’s not entirely implausible. Heck, we can practically imagine the arguments that would be made in its defense: “we have a moral duty to help protect those countries from the surely far greater danger of communism. Given the horrors Russia could inflict on them, by comparison they should welcome us.”

And maybe those arguments are in the right. Faced with the prospect of subordination to either us or Russia, it’s pretty clear which option those populations should openly embrace, regardless of whatever harms they perceive we’d inflict on them.

After all, we’d be the lesser evil.

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Bruce Baugh 12.10.11 at 8:10 pm

Rich, I have to agree with Scott that you’re under-evaluating Bush’s level of pushing the reactionary agenda. Obama’s big problems are mostly a matter of staying the course with reactionary people and policies. But Bush get a lot of them rolling in the first place. It wasn’t, for instance, Clinton’s Justice Department that stacked the ranks with Federalist Society moral defectives. Bush’s people purged vigorously and vigorously filled the gaps with their own kind.

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Salient 12.10.11 at 8:20 pm

Agh, it’s probably for the best if my comment in moderation never sees the light of day. Ain’t nothing quite as tempting as hammering out another round in the endless fight over whether ‘lesser’ or ‘evil’ is the more important word in ‘lesser evil’ but in a discussion of a domestic policy flub I really shouldn’t dredge up complaints about Iraq.

Shorter and more relevant to OP: “You ought to vote for Obama and encourage others to do so, because the alternative President is so much worse” and “You ought to keep your complaints about Obama’s administrative decisions to yourself, because the alternative President is so much worse” are very different statements, and many arguments made in defense of the former provide no defense to the latter.

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Rich Puchalsky 12.10.11 at 8:38 pm

“was about the Awlaki memo being a civil liberties Rubicon, and that was entirely about the citizenship status of one man. “

Nope. There’s an assassination list, and the memo was about justifying it. Awlaki was only one case. His son, and the others mentioned, weren’t killed in the same attack as you seem to think. The Awlaki memo, as far as anyone knows, justifies the killing because “the Justice Department concluded that Mr. Awlaki was covered by the authorization to use military force against Al Qaeda that Congress enacted shortly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001″. That covers anyone who the administration wants to kill who is Muslim, basically. And even before that, we knew that it wasn’t just Awlaki — “Although he was not the focus of the strike and was not killed, he has since been added to a shortlist of U.S. citizens specifically targeted for killing or capture by the JSOC, military officials said. “

“My point is that if you want to rank politicians by how bad they are on civil liberties, you can’t do it on the basis of their actions where bombs are involved, because then they really are all terrible.” So you can say that they are all just terrible when it comes to bombs, and effectively excuse them from any personal responsibility for their decisions, but I can’t say that they are all just terrible when it comes to civil liberties. The distinctions that would make Obama look good are *important*, and the ones that would make people say there’s no difference have to be ignored because everyone knows there’s no difference. OK.

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Sebastian(1) 12.10.11 at 8:43 pm

Like Salient, I have no intention of getting into this well-worn debate.*
But I’m curious, Salient, who you see as making the argument that “You ought to keep your complaints about Obama’s administrative decisions to yourself, because the alternative President is so much worse” – I complete agree that’s a terrible idea, but if you look at mainstream liberal heroes like Krugman, they’re certainly not reluctant to criticize Obama (nor are Yglesias, Klein, Cohn, Drum etc.)

(for the record, I’m on team “lesser,” – though I agree with christian_h that in terms of civil liberties Obama has been no noticeable improvement over GWB – I think in other fields, including reproductive rights, his administration has been disappointing – but much much much better than a real past or imagined future Republican one) .

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Rich Puchalsky 12.10.11 at 8:52 pm

“Rich, I have to agree with Scott that you’re under-evaluating Bush’s level of pushing the reactionary agenda. Obama’s big problems are mostly a matter of staying the course with reactionary people and policies. But Bush get a lot of them rolling in the first place. “

I disagree, Bruce. If Bush had done everything that he did, and then Obama had repudiated those things, Bush’s 2 terms would now be seen as a historical anomaly. Obama didn’t just stay the course, he actively asserted that he was going to do all the same things. By doing so, he made those things bipartisan. There is now no way to say that Republicans have a theory of law in which the President gets to send people to black sites, and have them tortured or killed, but the Democrats hold otherwise.

For that matter — and to get back to the more narrow subject of this thread, since some people seem to want to complain about that — Bush never had HHS overrule FDA. That’s an Obama original, a way in which Bush was to Obama’s left, as people above insist that he never was. If Bush had done this, people would be talking about the war on science. When Obama does it, they’re disappointed, but…

Obama has normalized Bush’s agenda, made it firmly mainstream. And yes, that is worse for all of us than getting it started in the first place.

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MPAVictoria 12.10.11 at 11:24 pm

“(for the record, I’m on team “lesser,” – though I agree with christian_h that in terms of civil liberties Obama has been no noticeable improvement over GWB – I think in other fields, including reproductive rights, his administration has been disappointing – but much much much better than a real past or imagined future Republican one) .”

Well said!

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bob mcmanus 12.11.11 at 12:02 am

The evil I vote for, affirm and support, has to be very “lesser.” In fact I think it has to be net good. Obama is not, IMO.

Here’s the guy killing three kids and there’s the guy killing ten kids. I save seven kids by voting for the former? Or I validate the killing of three kids?

Y’all go ahead, and feel pragmatic and righteous or whatever. I’m staying home.

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shah8 12.11.11 at 12:12 am

So says the guy who pretends to more power than he actually has…

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bob mcmanus 12.11.11 at 12:50 am

Look the center-left has been incompetent at least since 1976, and by giving us a standard-bearer who couldn’t even win his home state in 2000 not only gave us George Bush, but couldn’t even with manage any meaningful resistance to Bush’s horrific policies and appointments. Their failures are accelerating.

They deserve no attention. They have earned marginality.

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Rich Puchalsky 12.11.11 at 12:50 am

Shorter my own moderated comment (and back on topic): Bush never had HHS overrule FDA. Sticking only to reproductive rights, what’s lesser about this? Yeah, I know, Supreme Court justice appointments. Isn’t it odd that they somehow never quite get enough right-wingers in to do what both the right and the left always say they’re going to do?

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kidneystones 12.11.11 at 12:59 am

The question of who might make a better president is a good one. Those interested in learning something about the Right’s view of the issue may wish to vote in a poll over at Pr. Satan’s website. Anyone can skew/contribute to the poll and then view the comments. The few I read don’t provide much fodder for the “all right-wingers are cult members” meme, but there’s enough group-think on display to satisfy the hostile.

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Popeye 12.11.11 at 2:17 am

They deserve no attention. They have earned marginality.

By this line of thought, if the center-left is a bunch of losers then the real left is even more pathetic.

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Sebastian(1) 12.11.11 at 3:03 am

Here’s the guy killing three kids and there’s the guy killing ten kids. I save seven kids by voting for the former? Or I validate the killing of three kids?

That suggests the difference comes down to a different answer in the Trolley Problem (or a different interpretation of which version of the problem this represents). I would flip the switch in the classical formulation of the problem. I sounds like you wouldn’t. I would partly blame you for the 7 unnecessarily lost lives, you’d (partly) blame me for the 3 lives lost. That makes sense as an explanation at least.

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Salient 12.11.11 at 8:08 am

I’m curious, Salient, who you see as making the argument that “You ought to keep your complaints about Obama’s administrative decisions to yourself, because the alternative President is so much worse”

…that was an odd summary of my own point for me to make, and relies on an unfair / uncharitable interpretation of why folks push back so strongly in response to others’ expressions of surprised disgust at whatever is the latest horrible thing Obama has authorized. (And it’s not like “keep shining you crazy diamond you” is even particularly strong pushback or like “Notnottherepublican could blow up the world in a fit of hyperactive glee” is particularly disproportionate hyperbole.)

In making the ought-to-keep comment, I was interpreting the observed instances of pushback as “how dare you voice complaint” when it’s probably better to interpret them more like “I feel there is insufficient cause for the complaints you are registering here.”

What I have seen as a general pattern (and, it seems on a review read, not really in evidence here) is one group of people getting really angry at another set of people for refusing to support Obama any further, as if that latter set of folks have any moral obligation whatsoever in the matter, as if Obama has done anything whatsoever to warrant that support. Granted, to their credit, most folks in the former group at least acknowledge that Obama has not done squat to deserve that support other than fill space that a hypothetically even-more-destructive Republican could be occupying (this acknowledgement is becoming standard these days, thankfully, as it’s very painful to be head-pattingly lectured about how the Affordable Care Act is a step up from the Go Die In The Streets Act [true but would be true of a lot of other awful ideas] and how it’s super awesome that we now have some token liberals on the Supreme Court again so there’s someone to write dissents for Citizens United [yay?]).

Nowadays the usual push back is some combination of “Sotomayor >> Roberts” (not disputed) and “ACA is actually not that bad and it beats what we have now” (factually true) and “how can you possibly claim there’s parity between the parties” (my sanctimonious reply here, but also sg / Brian / ajay’s sensible responses) and “your failure to endorse or support Obama is effectively an endorsement of the far worse alternative” (this is Tugger-of-War’s Disease, a.k.a. the ‘because your politics are to the left of mine, and the plausible alternative to my politics is to the right of me, it is morally imperative that you lend your support to that which has my support’ virus).

One thing I’d like to hear from folks like Scott, MPAVictoria, et al, is: suppose we team evil folks send representatives to negotiate with you all on team lesser. Suppose you’re a team lesser representative, speaking for yourself. How much support from us evil-ists would you feel is fair and appropriate? Assume we’re willing to hear you out and provide the bare minimum that you feel is acceptable. Approximately what would that be? What do you feel you need us to do differently? What do you feel you need us to stop doing? What do you feel you need us to start doing?

I’m sort of pissed at my own lack of rhetorical proficiency, not being able to ensure the questions above sound as sincere and entirely snark-free as I mean them to be. And ok, it’s not like I have any right to request a conversation in good faith after having been so pissy (and disproportionately pissy). But still, they’re the only questions I can think of to use to move the ball forward and break less well-treaded ground in this ongoing argument, and the answers are something I could at least try to learn from team lesser before I set off disparaging their arguments as no better than hypothetical pro-segregationist screed…

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Rich Puchalsky 12.11.11 at 1:40 pm

“most folks in the former group at least acknowledge that Obama has not done squat to deserve that support other than fill space that a hypothetically even-more-destructive Republican could be occupying “

That’s not my experience. I haven’t yet met someone who argues for voting for Obama on pure lesser-evil grounds; generally there’s a lot about ACA, DADT, etc. going all the way down to investigations of police agencies that may hypothetically bear fruit.

To clarify what I’m saying, which may be a bit different than what Salient is saying: I’m not claiming any greater effectiveness. As far as I can tell, being involved in electoral politics and rejecting it are equally totally ineffective unless you’re very rich. I’m not claiming any that rejection is ethically better. Lesser-evilism is, arguably, ethically more responsible than disengagement (the whole concept of “disengagement” is complicated, since I spend a lot more time on Occupy than I ever did with electoral politics, but whatever).

It’s just that becoming an anarchist at this point does lead to not having to tie yourself up in frankly silly rationalizations. Newt will press The Button? We can’t say that there’s no essential difference between how Obama and (generic GOP) would govern because every President kills people with bombs anyways? It’s perfectly possible to condemn the actions, in some meaningful sense of that word, of someone who you plan to vote for? The ACA was inflexibly determined as the best we could do, and Obama went out there and got it for us? Obama just rejected science in favor of politics in a way that’s never been done before, yet he’s never been to the right of Bush on anything?

It’s nonsense. If we’re going to be ineffective, I’d rather not also have to believe this stuff.

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Uncle Kvetch 12.11.11 at 2:38 pm

Newt will press The Button?

I’d say there’s a very strong probability that a President Gingrich would have us at war with Iran within a year. The repercussions of that would dwarf our invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq combined. Whether that’s sufficiently cataclysmic to qualify as “pressing The Button” is up to you, but it’s not some silly hypothetical.

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Rich Puchalsky 12.11.11 at 2:56 pm

Uncle Kvetch, I was referring specifically to #51, with “Gingrich could blow up the world in a fit of hyperactive glee. Obama is a disappointment but I trust his finger on the button.” I’m not really sure why you think the repercussions of war with Iran would dwarf those of war with Iraq, but that’s sort of a different question. Obama did go out and have us conquer Libya to spread democracy, and he was admittedly canny enough to pick a smaller target, but I don’t see much difference between the quality of the pro-war lies between the two cases. We were assured, right here on CT, that the war in Libya was to protect people, not to overthrow the dictator, and that was openly abandoned about as quickly relative to the length of the conflict as Saddam’s WMDs were. Obama also ginned up the odd Iranian terror plot flap. I pretty much assume that a second Obama term is likely to have us at war with Iran anyways, based on that.

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kidneystones 12.11.11 at 3:07 pm

@147 writes…

I’m not confident Newt will get the nomination. However, war with Iran is a virtual certainty, irrespective of who ends up as president. Indeed, a number of people believe that the battle began some time ago with the cyber attacks, assassinations, and accidents.

I opposed all the oil wars including the US supported Iraq attack on Iran. “Push the button” has a unique meaning for people of a particular generation. We associate the term with the virtual annihilation of mankind from a nuclear war involving thousands and thousands of nuclear weapons. If you mean war, then please say war. War is bad enough.

My guess is that the range of choices available to the US has diminished in the last three years. Pulling all US troops out of Central Asia simply isn’t in the cards.

Iran will either “get the message” and abandon its nuclear weapons program, or get hit. Part of the problem with electing O is that nobody seems too scared of him no matter how many people he kills. And he’s certainly killed a lot. Those who doubt his resolve or willingness to pull the trigger should look at the evidence.

If Newt wins the nomination and wins the election, he won’t take the US into a war with Iran. He’ll continue an ongoing conflict or escalate the conflict. It’s frankly much easier for me to imagine O attacking Iran in 2012 or 2013. Newt has to win the opportunity to start killing people, he hasn’t done that yet.

Anyway, the question is almost moot. The Right already has their guy next to the button. Folks here helped elect him three years ago. I would have thought you’d have figured out that much by now.

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Uncle Kvetch 12.11.11 at 3:27 pm

Obama also ginned up the odd Iranian terror plot flap. I pretty much assume that a second Obama term is likely to have us at war with Iran anyways, based on that.

Point taken, Rich (although of course I hope you’re wrong about the war part).

I do think that there’s a decent argument to be made that Gingrich is not just your garden variety venal Republican, but something much more potentially destructive, given his massive delusions of grandeur. I would guess that you disagree.

On the broader question of lessers and evils, I see you and Salient and others here making good points in both directions, and I remain agnostic…but I still lean towards the position that there’s a real-world difference between “really shitty” and “even shittier,” even if that’s not the range of choices we would like to have available to us.

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MPAVictoria 12.11.11 at 5:23 pm

Just to clarify Salient I was not trying to come across as demanding that people support Obama. What I was reacting to was the statement that Obama is no better than a Republican to be named later. I can disagree with a lot of Obama’s policy and political choices (and lord knows I do) and still believe he is better than the alternative. I cannot understand how someone can look at the modern Republican party and not see them for the sociopaths they are.

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Sebastian(1) 12.11.11 at 5:30 pm

@Salient – that’s a good summary. I don’t think all of team lesser will agree with me, but all that I’d ask of a member of team evil is to a) vote and b) don’t claim it doesn’t make any difference who wins the election. I would very much not expect donations, volunteering, flaming defenses of Obama to neighbors etc. (for people from team evil with more of a public platform I’d add c) don’t form alliances with the uber-dark side ala Naomi Wolf (tea-party) or Jane Hamsher (hc-reform opponents) . I’d frame this very narrowly – I think it’s perfectly fine to join with libertarians, even Cato-types, when it comes to civil liberties and drug policy, e.g.)

@Rich – “I haven’t yet met someone who argues for voting for Obama on pure lesser-evil grounds” I think that’s generally a correct observation – two points, though. If one says “I think Obama appointed some good people to executive and judicial positions” (which I think he did) – is that already making an active case for Obama, or is it just making a case for “lesser”? In other words – how much is arguing for “lesser” vs. arguing for “Obama” really in the eye of the beholder?
The other point is that the debate really gets confused when political feasibility comes in. I actually think ACA was a tremendous achievement because it was the maximum that was politically feasible and from what we know from insider accounts, Obama personally played an important role in getting to this maximum. So yeah, I think leftist criticisms of ACA are misguided – but that obviously hinges on my assessment of what’s feasible, with which you clearly disagree when looking at a medium run (I don’t buy your collapse argument at all).
On the other hand, I think progressives and leftists are absolutely right to be angry about civil liberties and decisions like the Plan B or smog regulations: They’re executive decisions and there are no sixty senate votes to take into account, all there is in terms of political constraint is a rather dubious political calculus that relies on your voters not getting too angry at you.

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Rich Puchalsky 12.11.11 at 5:31 pm

“I cannot understand how someone can look at the modern Republican party and not see them for the sociopaths they are.”

Obama just asserted his right to kill a specific 16 year old without trial or presentation of evidence. He then went ahead and had him killed. Not in a war, but as part of a continuing assassination-by-drone program in Yemen. Nor was he or is he the only child killed in this way.

When Bush had one prisoner after another executed in Texas, people called him a sociopath. But at least those people had, in theory, the protection of law. No one is saying that the Republican Party doesn’t do what it does. But you’re saying that the Democratic Party is better. I don’t see how it is better, except insofar as people assert with no evidence that it is better and that its own propaganda says that it’s better.

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Watson Ladd 12.11.11 at 5:51 pm

Rich, you’re assuming away the part where the 16 year old was a combatant in a war. The AUMF clearly authorizes the president to use military force, and that means killing people because they wear a particular uniform. All a member of al-Queda has to do to avoid being killed is not associate with al-Queda. This is no more or less due process then any soldier in a war receives. The Yemen operations are authorized under the AUMF for al-Queda. So I don’t see what the issue is unless it is with the AUMF.

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Rich Puchalsky 12.11.11 at 5:56 pm

” all that I’d ask of a member of team evil is to a) vote and b) don’t claim it doesn’t make any difference who wins the election.”

In other words, you’re asking people to be members of team lesser … since those are the defining elements of it. There are certainly a lot of people in team lesser who don’t contribute money, volunteer for candidates, or go out of their way to flame neighbors. As for telling people who they can or can’t make alliances with? No thanks.

At this point, I believe that we’d be better off without a state entirely. Certainly without the American state, as defined by the Constitution, a hopelessly badly drawn document that no other contemporary state has copied, and which predictably leaves people with the non-choices that we’re seeing now. But really, it’s not like there is some model state out there that’s doing a lot better. I don’t expect (or want) a revolution, but I am hoping for gradual replacement of an increasingly less relevant state with more local activity.

I’m not asking the people in team lesser to do anything. You’ll be inevitably worn down. Ten years from now, you’ll be wondering why you ever thought this distinction between parties was so important. Whether you vote or contribute or whatever will not matter.

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Watson Ladd 12.11.11 at 6:27 pm

Rich, that American state which you so recklessly condemned to the flames is the only thing standing between the black southerner and the noose. Localities are the most venial of dictatorships: the lord of the mannor is the worst tyrant in history, since his power is exercised with no checks or rationale. Do not forget: the flag that flies today before every courthouse flew over Shiloh and Gettysburg.

156

Donald Johnson 12.11.11 at 7:00 pm

“I haven’t yet met someone who argues for voting for Obama on pure lesser-evil grounds;”

I’ve argued that.

But I agree that most people who argue in favor of voting for Obama or Democrats in general usually don’t make the lesser of two evils argument. I guess it’s some psychological need many people have to think that they aren’t just making a rather depressing choice to avoid something worse–rather, they prefer to think they are supporting something positive.

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Sebastian(1) 12.11.11 at 7:47 pm

“You’ll be inevitably worn down. Ten years from now, you’ll be wondering why you ever thought this distinction between parties was so important.”
that’s just silly. You’re the one who apparently thought Obama was going to channel some type of fundamental change, driven by the newfound revolutionary spirit of some imaginary powerful left that had arisen during the Bush years. I never had that type of delusion, which is why I’m not terribly disappointed. You’re the one who is worn down because you apparently had a naive and dewy eyed view of politics pre-Obama. I didn’t then and I don’t now – I never thought that fundamental change was going to come about by voting for a Democrat.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 12.11.11 at 8:34 pm

I don’t think this has anything to do with any lesser or greater evils. Democrats and Republicans will play the game and trade places with or without your help; the media will sell one candidate or the other, as they see fit. All you can do is to choose or refuse to participate in the kabuki dance.

159

Rich Puchalsky 12.11.11 at 8:50 pm

I thought that Obama had the opportunity for change of a type which would differentiate the two parties, just as FDR did. That opportunity is gone. The rest is the usual “delusion” “naive” “dewy eyed” verbiage that always makes you people so convincing. Strangely enough it didn’t work when Obama called the people who disagreed with him sanctimonious purists either.

160

Bruce Wilder 12.11.11 at 9:08 pm

Watson Ladd @ 154

Al Qaeda is not a state, is it? So, we cannot be at war with it. Do they wear uniforms? I don’t think so.

“All a member of al-Queda has to do to avoid being killed is not associate with al-Queda.”

And, what is someone, who is not a member, to do?

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Watson Ladd 12.11.11 at 9:35 pm

Bruce, the Geneva Conventions cover the case of war against armed groups that are non state actors in Article 3. It’s not a great stretch to apply that article to a worldwide terrorist organization. Violations of the laws of war do not determine whether something is or is not a war. Anyway, even if we can’t be at war the question is about the AUMF, not the actions undertaken by Obama. That’s where Rich’s quarrel lies, not with the specific and time honored tactics of aiming for the guy with the big hat.

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Rich Puchalsky 12.11.11 at 9:47 pm

Oh, Bruce Wilder, don’t give Watson Ladd a hard time about whether we can be at (undeclared) war with a terrorist group rather than a state, or whether there is in fact any evidence that the 16 year old was in the terrorist group, or whether the 9/11 attack means we can kill Muslims forever, or whether he was in the (imaginary) uniform of the terrorist group when he was killed. Watson Ladd is exactly the person who I would write if I was sock-puppeting someone to argue with to make the people on the other side look ridiculous, and I appreciate his presence here.

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Uncle Kvetch 12.11.11 at 10:06 pm

I thought that Obama had the opportunity for change of a type which would differentiate the two parties, just as FDR did.

While I hesitate to call you “naive,” Rich, I’m with Sebastian(1) @ 158: I never saw an inkling of that kind of potential in an Obama presidency. His rhetoric from day one was explicitly post-partisan. He ran and won as a triangulating, DLC-type technocrat, albeit with a heavy overlay of inspirational but calculatedly vague evocations of “change.” I’ve been consistently frustrated by his administration, but not all that surprised.

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Rich Puchalsky 12.11.11 at 10:24 pm

It’s not a matter of rhetoric, it’s a matter of opportunity. Obama had a serious crisis, popularity, and his party controlled the legislature. I thought that there was a good chance that self-interest, if nothing else, would lead him to take actions that would actually make things better for people. FDR didn’t run as the person who we now think of him as either; he campaigned on ‘”immediate and drastic reductions of all public expenditures,” “abolishing useless commissions and offices, consolidating departments and bureaus, and eliminating extravagances” and for a “sound currency to be maintained at all hazards.”‘ (to quote wiki). But he had the ability to change and lead.

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Uncle Kvetch 12.11.11 at 11:15 pm

FDR didn’t run as the person who we now think of him as either

Fair enough, but did he run as a Democrat? I’m not being flippant here; it’s an honest question. Obama has consistently hewed to the line that partisanship is part of the problem. Look at his big speech just last week: “These aren’t Democratic values or Republican values. These aren’t 1% values or 99% values. They’re American values.” When he refers to party labels at all, it’s almost always in the context of saying that they shouldn’t matter.

And that plays well with a wide swathe of American public opinion, which has bought into the faux-centrist notion that politics as struggle, as the clash of competing interests, is some kind of avoidable tragedy, instead of being…well, politics.

This was the core of Ross Perot’s schtick–it’s not about Democrats and Republicans, it’s about getting all the smart people together in a room and saying “fix everything.” It still has currency with a large number Beltway dimwits like Tom Friedman. And it’s been an integral part of the Obama brand since he’s been on the national stage.

Maybe the same was true of FDR back in the day…I honestly don’t know. But I doubt it.

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Sebastian(1) 12.11.11 at 11:46 pm

@Rich – you’re misunderstanding why I’m calling you naive and you falsely assume that you’re to the left of who disagrees with you on this.
I think like much of the American left, you are (or were?) ultimately subscribing to the idea that pluralist democracy works and we just have to elect the right guy(s). That’s a misguided idea. The fact that you expected Obama to be a leftists leader, in spite of both the structural factors – decline of organized labor, no other significant organized left, turn of the Democratic party towards Wall Street, etc. – and personal factors – his rhetoric, his economic advisors (yes, he hired Summers/Geithner after the campaign, but Goolsbee – who, if anything, is to the right of Summers was with him from the start, as was Cass Sunstein), his actual proposals (remember that he didn’t even have an insurance mandate as part of his original hc plan?) – I don’t know what that was if not dewy eyed and naive. As for FDR – same thing – you’re acting as if FDR happened in a vacuum, ignoring timing and severity of the depression, rise of organized labor, shifts and divisions within capital etc.

And you know, if someone with such a poor grasp of the reality of US politics, someone who within three years went from a believer in the transformative power of Obama to an anarchist, feels like he has to tell me where I am going to be in 10 years, yeah, I’m going to make fun of that.

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Rich Puchalsky 12.12.11 at 1:02 am

I expected him to be a leftist leader? No. A self-interested leader? Yes.

So let’s see what you’re saying: we have to vote for Obama, and not tell people that there’s no difference between the parties. Even though anything substantive is in fact dependent on the strength of the left, “shifts and divisions within capital”, etc. We can’t expect anything out of Democratic Party leaders, or that pluralist democracy will work, but nevertheless it’s important not to tell people that pluralist democracy won’t work, because… And we never should have expected anything from Obama, yet you “actually think ACA was a tremendous achievement because it was the maximum that was politically feasible and from what we know from insider accounts, Obama personally played an important role in getting to this maximum”?

Well, 20-20 hindsight and sarcasm about anyone who can’t discern exactly what is structurally possible and calibrate their expectations of politicians to that effect is what I associate with a certain branch of the left, that’s true. Of course, since it’s hindsight, what is structurally possible always turns out to be what actually happened.

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tib 12.12.11 at 1:22 am

Caved to whom? I find, when trying to understand why a politician does what he does, it is useful to listen to what he says:

“I will say this, as the father of two daughters. I think it is important for us to make sure that we apply some common sense to various rules when it comes to over-the-counter medicine,” Mr. Obama said. The president’s daughters, Malia and Sasha, are 13 and 10. “I think most parents would probably feel the same way,” he said.

This attitude towards women, and young women specifically, is historically consistent for Obama. Obama didn’t cave to any constituency (there is plenty of evidence from polling that this decision hurts him in the general election), he stepped in to set the policy he desired. Obama’s attitude toward extra-judicial killing is also nothing new, as he made clear in the primaries when he stressed his willingness to pursue bin Laden into Pakistan, regardless of the risks.

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Salient 12.12.11 at 3:02 am

a) vote and b) don’t claim it doesn’t make any difference who wins the election.

The b) makes me nervous, since asking one another to withhold statements is a strong thing. All we really have is our voices.

What I was reacting to was the statement that Obama is no better than a Republican to be named later.

Ok, we might be falling into a language trap. I might say, “there’s no difference between my distance from Tokyo and my distance from London.” You might say, “not true, look at this map, there are thousands of miles difference!” And I say, “so? if a place is already thousands of miles away from me, what’s a few thousand miles extra?” You might say, “One is nearly twice the distance of the other! That’s a huge difference!” And I might say, “Not really. They’re both too far away.”

Obama is a far distance from us, and the hypothetical Republican somewhere even further along the ray. Team evil says “Ugh, look how horribly far away they both are!” Team lesser says “but look at how much further away the Republican is!” Team evil says “But look how horribly far away they both are!” Team lesser says “but look at how much further away the Republican is!”

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Watson Ladd 12.12.11 at 3:24 am

Come on Rich. Here you argue the targeted killing of persons involved with al-Qaeda isn’t part of any war, and when I point out there is a war you decide that it’s “ridiculous”. What I said above is exactly what the Justice Department has been saying about these cases: just as the President can kill US citizens in a foreign army, he can kill citizens in a group which the US is at war at when they are combatants. How else do you propose dealing with groups which move from country to country with which we have bad relations? Clinton decided to just go ahead and launch missiles without a declared war, rendering the legality of his actions even more dubious.

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Sebastian(1) 12.12.11 at 4:50 am

Rich: there’s absolutely no contradiction in what I’m saying – I don’t think one should have reasonably expected Obama to bring about any fundamental change in the structure of the economy, in the way the country is governed, in the way it conducts its foreign policy etc. So within the relatively small policy space that is left once you take that away, I think ACA was a tremendous achievement. And while I don’t think the outcomes of pluralist democracy US-style has a reasonable chance to turn the US into a just&fair society, I think they can help make it a bit less shitty (e.g. by giving about 20million people a chance a getting somewhat decent medical care) and I think there’s nothing wrong with expending a limited amount of energy on that.
And my sarcasm isn’t about your inability to _exactly_ predict what’s structurally possible (who can?) but by you being _completely_ wrong about what was structurally likely and possible. (As an aside – you complain about other people’s tone in every second post – you do realize that you sound at least as condescending and smug, right?)

@Salient – I obviously don’t want to tell anyone to say something they don’t believe is true. This is about your other point – I think it’s unhelpful (and – at least in your example – objectively untrue) to claim that New York – London is the same distance as New York – Tokyo, even though they’re both far apart. But I think the difference really matters if you want to get from A to B – I’d much rather not be in a long distance relationship at all, but if I have to be in one, I’d much, much rather have it be NY-London. The same is true if you insert Democrats and Republicans back into the example.

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kidneystones 12.12.11 at 5:32 am

It’s quite interesting watching the Republicans flit from isolationism (Paul), corporatism (Romney), Reaganism (Gingrich). I just watched a clip of the last GOP debate.

Gingrich threw a big chunk of red meat before the audience. Only about a third clapped. Most sat on their hands. If Romney is the nominee and manages to thread the foreign policy/domestic policy needle, Dems are going to have play the race card and the cult card for all their worth. If either Gingrich or Romney manage to make the election about the last three years, Dems are toast.

The political calculus of the WH seems pretty clear. Reagan on foreign policy – more killings, targeted assassinations, regime change. Clinton on domestic policy – preachy moral populism and select, solid improvements on fiscal and social issues. Could work, if the WH can make voters forget the first term, or grant O a free pass. He’s had plenty in the past.

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Cranky Observer 12.12.11 at 12:05 pm

> Rich: there’s absolutely no contradiction in what I’m saying – I don’t
> think one should have reasonably expected Obama to bring about
> any fundamental change in the structure of the economy, in the way
> the country is governed, in the way it conducts its foreign policy etc.
> So within the relatively small policy space that is left once you take
> that away, I think ACA was a tremendous achievement.

Where this line of argument can been seen to fall down is in the mortgage fraud “settlement” currently being pushed by the Treasury Dept. Whether to vigorously prosecute those who engaged in widespread and blatant financial fraud at the expense of the small homeowner and taxpayer, or to ram through a “settlement” including ex post facto exoneration of those who committed the fraud, was entirely within the Administration’s power to decide. And they chose the latter. As Duncan Black noted, why is it only the dirty smelly hippies who point out that a stable, law-abiding financial system in which those who commit fraud are identified and punished is a critical underpinning of the capitalist system that we all claim to love so much, yet Obama chose to allow those who committed massive fraud to keep on keepin’ on.

Cranky

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Rich Puchalsky 12.12.11 at 2:06 pm

The difference is that I don’t think you’re wrong because you’re dewy-eyed or naive or a pure believer — or any of the other staples of Democratic Party propaganda directed at people to the left — I think that you’re wrong because you’re wrong. The ACA was not in fact anywhere near the most that was structurally obtainable. Those insider accounts that you like to rely on indicate that Obama magically got the most possible, sure, because of course insiders always report the most unbiassed version of events and not one that makes themselves and their boss look good. But you and me and all of us were there too, in real time, watching it happen from outside. I remember Obama shooting down single payer. I don’t want to rehash the whole thing, but if he’d pushed for it rather than sabotaging it, we’d have gotten it. And on any other issue that is purely regulatory, in which Obama does have full control, like smog or financial enforcement or the subject of this thread, Obama does not in fact push for what is structurally possible. Why should we assume that he did so for ACA, when people who I guess don’t get the coveted status of “insider” but who had been working on health care issues for decades said that he didn’t?

The structural argument is a dodge. It’s a way to make anyone you’re arguing with sound like they don’t know what they’re doing, because you magically know what’s possible and they don’t. Well, you really don’t. I’m not saying that on the basis of who is nebulously more to the left of who, as you’d have it, and who mysteriously understands the arcana of shift and divisions within capitalism; you’re misrepresenting the history of what happened just a couple of years ago.

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Sebastian(1) 12.12.11 at 5:05 pm

Rich (and partly Cranky) – again, you’re misunderstanding me.
When I say “structural” I don’t mean “not within the legal powers of the President of the US” – many of the things that Obama has done he would have legally had the power to do differently. While even on that I completely disagree with you on ACA – I have no idea why you think there was ever a chance on earth to get 60 Senate votes for single payer, I doubt there were 50 – your other examples (and Cranky’s) are perfectly fine examples of where POTUS could have legally acted differently. But that pretends POTUS is elected and acts in a power vacuum, which is simply not the case – the fact that he was elected with huge amounts of WS support, that the entire DC power structure is dominated by corporate interests, that the only reason he was able to become a serious candidate was support from oligarchic power brokers like Jarret and Pritzker etc. matters. You seem to know quite well what a structural explanation actually is, yet your last reply suddenly makes it sound like “structural = legal constraints” which we both know is not what that word actually means – it’s certainly not what I mean by it.

I realize there is a Democratic party line defense of Obama that says to progressives “he did everything he could give the evil Republican obstructionism”. I think that’s true for health care and _maybe_ for a larger stimulus, but it’s obviously bullshit for any of the other things we’ve been talking about here and it’s not my argument. My argument is “look at US politics over the last 40 years, look at the structures of DC, look at the platform Obama ran on, look at his donors, look at his early supporters – what would have give you reason to believe he’d be a transformative president of the left???”

(And, again – I started calling you “dewy eyed and naive” after your condescending remark about how me (and others) were finally going to see the light in 10 years: “You’ll be inevitably worn down. Ten years from now, you’ll be wondering why you ever thought this distinction between parties was so important. ” – I just think it’s rich that you feel you can lecture people about what they’ll be wondering about in 10 years when you were so disastrously and predictably wrong three years ago.)

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Rich Puchalsky 12.12.11 at 5:34 pm

I felt free to lecture because you had, after all, just told everyone else which alliances were permissible and which weren’t. But the reason I keep harping on what you call tone isn’t because the tone is unique to the people here — it’s the standard line, from Obama’s sanctimonious purists speech on down. The bit about how the GOP candidate was so scary that he was going to use nuclear weapons to blow up the world and “The stakes are too high to stay home” isn’t original to this thread either. It’s an intrinsic part of what you’re saying.

The chance of getting single payer didn’t rely on getting 60 Senate votes. In fact, there is nothing magical about 60 Senate votes. That limit is broken all the time, when people want it to be, and it could have been broken in this case, either through various maneuvers within the existing informal system or through getting rid of the filibuster as it currently exists, something which is probably going to happen in any case. Sixty votes was Obama’s excuse for killing it.

I am fully aware that Obama was never a leftist, that the system is dominated by corporate interests, etc. However, if you want to know why I thought he might act to help people anyways, I tend to think that the people who become Presidents are primarily interested in personal power and glory rather than defending class interests. I thought that Obama might see that he could become one of the big-time Presidents, lauded by history like FDR, by actually taking steps to help people — why shouldn’t he betray his actual oligarchic supporters, just as he betrayed his supposed progressive supporters? He doesn’t need them anymore; he’s already got the maximum reward which our system can give to someone interested in power. But he chose otherwise, like the rest of our elites, by ineptly believing in his own propaganda.

At any rate, I don’t think that any near-term future President is going to have that same opportunity — “opportunity” defined as political power-in-hand, not rhetoric. Of course I could be wrong. But I think that the mostly likely next result is that the system freezes until something from outside breaks it.

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Salient 12.12.11 at 7:01 pm

But that pretends POTUS is elected and acts in a power vacuum

…doesn’t arguing to us that it crucially tremendously matters incredibly much which party controls the POTUS kinda sorta contradict this?

Maybe “there’s strong tension between X and Y” is more accurate than “X contradicts Y.” I realize there are ways to thread the needle to make the two claims technically non-contradictory, but it’s also not something to rush through or presume settled. A lot of team lesser’s claims depend upon convincing us that there is a set {A, B, C} of horrible things that will happen under POTUS-R that won’t happen under POTUS-D, and those claims fall to pieces unless we are safe to presume the horrible things are things the POTUS is empowered to independently do or make happen. I’m not saying it’s impossible to build and support such a claim; I’m suggesting I don’t feel I’ve seen plausible blueprints.

People got me to shut up about this a couple years ago by proposing a Republican President would start wars in Iran and Syria. In light of Libya (as well as the mysterious transition to operations conducted by contracted private-sector forces instead of military in Iraq), I no longer have any faith that POTUS-R would bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran any more readily than POTUS-D, not because I think POTUS-R is going to be any kind of responsible steward, but because it seems our POTUS-D is rather eager to provide plenty of “humanitarian” bomb bomb support.

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Salient 12.12.11 at 7:09 pm

Also

what would have give you reason to believe he’d be a transformative president of the left???”

There’s tension between this and the claim that we should support Obama. “He won’t do anything sufficiently different to please or satisfy or even mollify you! You’ll be infuriated with his unconstrained choices at least as much as the constraints he accedes to! What would have given you reason to believe otherwise? … Now go vote for him!”

The two claims in concert look a lot like Tugger-of-War’s fallacy: since you are to the left of me, and my candidate’s opponent is further to the right of my candidate, you should be pulling for my candidate! Tug!

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Sebastian(1) 12.12.11 at 7:48 pm

@Rich – I’m going to leave it at this – I think I have a good idea of what you’re saying/thinking and I think our exchange has been helpful in clarifying that for me, but we’re not going get any further.

@Salient – yeah, I’m a foreign policy skeptic: I think the US foreign policy takes up a very narrow ideological patch, so that going from one party to the other doesn’t make a huge difference – I think there was a brief moment when the craziest neo-cons had disproportionate influence in the GOP where that wasn’t the case, but I think that’s pretty much over.
On domestic policy, though, as I say above, I think the party in power and the President matters in small-ish but important ways. To circle back to the OP, take reproductive rights. On the one hand, yes, Obama/Sebelius have caved on Plan B (and as I’ve said repeatedly here, they should be called out on that). On the other hand

The Obama Administration has done plenty to protect reproductive rights and access to contraception. Abroad, it rescinded the Mexico City directive prohibiting federal assistance to global health organizations that promote or perform abortion services. At home, it has poured significant new money into family planning clinics.

(from Jon Cohn here, who also mentions some other things. These things directly reversed developments under Bush.
Or take the environment, because Obama’s disgraceful smackdown of Lisa Jackson and the EPA on ozon/smog regulations is still fresh in mind. I think Obama’s environmental record is overall one of the more disappointing parts of the administration. But even there – he reversed Bush on mercury emissions, he reversed Bush on several wildlife protection issues, he instituted car fuel efficiency standards – too little, too weak, no question – but still, I’d argue that these things matter.
Those are the types of issues {A,B,C} that I think team lesser has a very strong case saying would be worse if the current administration were Republican and will be worse if the next one is.

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Sebastian(1) 12.12.11 at 7:51 pm

@Salient – I have a longer comment waiting in moderation, but as for the “tension” – isn’t that the definition of “lesser evil”? If I thought Obama was awesome I wouldn’t be on team “lesser” I would be on team “awesome”.

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MQ 12.12.11 at 8:05 pm

177: basically, Rich had the idle hope that Obama would be something vaguely approaching what Republican propaganda depicts him as. The truth is that when you compare the parties only the Republicans are likely to produce a President who will energetically stretch the limits of tradition in the way Rich proposes.

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