Mr. Crookletide’s Tiger

by Henry on July 19, 2010

Saki’s short story, “Mrs Packletide’s Tiger”:http://www.eastoftheweb.com/short-stories/UBooks/MrsPac.shtml, has a wonderful opening paragraph which finishes:

bq. She had also already designed in her mind the tiger-claw broach that she was going to give Loona Bimberton on her next birthday. In a world that is supposed to be chiefly swayed by hunger and by love Mrs. Packletide was an exception; her movements and motives were largely governed by dislike of Loona Bimberton.

If the American left could be substituted for Loona Bimberton, this would stand as an astute psychological analysis of “Clive Crook’s latest effusion”:http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/95af8f36-9295-11df-9142-00144feab49a.html on how Obama could get his mojo back.

bq. He should have chosen centrism unreservedly – as many voters believed he had promised during his election campaign. Then he could have championed, as opposed to meekly accepting, centrist bills that maintained the role of private insurance in healthcare and a stimulus that included big tax cuts. …Had he owned and campaigned for those centrist outcomes, the left would have been no angrier than it is anyway. The anger of the left, like the anger of the right, is always simply on or off: it cannot be modulated. But this fury could then have been co-opted as Mr Obama’s and the Democrats’ best asset going into November – proof to centrists and independents that the president was on their side.

This is yet another piece by Crook in which a blind, unreasoning hatred of the left serves as an entirely inadequate substitute for thought and analysis. Let me turn the mike over to Mark Blumenthal, Crook’s colleague at the _National Journal_ : “actual ‘independents’ make up a small minority of the population”:http://www.nationaljournal.com/njonline/mp_20100219_9614.php.

bq. Most national surveys over the past year show slightly more than a third of Americans initially identifying as independents (although some polls will show a higher number depending on how they handle respondents who offer the name of a third party or who say they are unsure). However, the ANES surveys have always included a follow-up question asked of the independents: “Do you think of yourself as closer to the Republican Party or the Democratic Party?” As Sides point out, “the vast majority” of those who initially identify as independent will “lean” toward a political party, so the number of remaining “pure independents” is typically small — only about 10 percent of the population. Far more important, independents who lean to one party typically “act like partisans,” as Sides puts it. They vote for their side’s candidates as often as those who initially identify with a party but describe their attachment (on yet another follow-up question) as weak.

Now 10% of voters is small – but it would be enough to swing elections if it voted as an unified bloc. The problem is that Crook offers no reason to believe that they will vote as a bloc beyond his own, entirely personal dislike of the left. His chain of reasoning, if that is the right term for it, seems to go something like the following. (1) I, Clive Crook am a centrist and an independent. (2) I do not like it when Obama is wishy-washy on the left, and I like it quite a lot when Obama gives the left a good hearty kick in the Bimbertons, (3) _Therefore_, the swiftest route to getting support from centrists and independents is to kick the left in the Bimbertons as often as possible.

The logical flaws in the Bimbertons-kicking theory are immediately apparent. That _a_, a member of class _b_ has prejudice _c_ does not mean that all members of class _b_ have prejudice _c._ Nor, to my knowledge, is there any evidence whatsoever, from political science research or anything else, to back the good-solid-boot-to-the-Bimbertons story up. However, as “Paul Krugman points out”:http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/07/19/and-so-it-begins/ this morning, there is excellent and voluminous research supporting an alternative theory – that presidential approval ratings are highly sensitive to the state of the economy. This theory, which does not suggest that Bimberton-kicking is a sure route to electoral success, is apparently unattractive to Mr. Crook. I think, given “Crook’s previous form on the topic”:https://crookedtimber.org/2009/10/09/centrism-as-tribalism/, that it is a safe bet that this is because Crook’s column is driven by the inherent satisfactions of the Bimberton-kicking, rather than the imaginary electoral benefits thereof. He hates leftwingers, and he wants the administration to beat up on them. Which wouldn’t be quite as obnoxious were it not that Crook purports somehow to “float above all this angry politics”:https://crookedtimber.org/2010/01/05/swaggering-sneering-incivility/. It’s quite remarkable how regularly his columns reproduce the kind of tribalist hatred that he claims he is opposed to. It is even more remarkable that he still professes to be unaware of this fact.

{ 80 comments }

1

chris 07.19.10 at 4:02 pm

That a, a member of class b has prejudice c does not mean that all members of class b have prejudice c.

It’s worse than that. Crook isn’t even a genuinely gettable independent himself — his continuing desire to see the left kicked is a pretty big tell. He is a nominally independent Republican partisan. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that per se (except, IMO, all the things that are wrong with supporting the Republican party as presently constituted, but Crook certainly has a right to be wrongheaded), but it does mean he can’t use himself as an example of the voter Obama should be appealing to. It would be futile for Obama to attempt to appeal to Clive Crook because no matter what he does, Clive Crook will dislike him anyway. Well, maybe except for a reverse Jeffords/Specter.

2

Steve LaBonne 07.19.10 at 4:12 pm

To put it more succinctly, Clive Crook is a concern troll.

3

geo 07.19.10 at 4:16 pm

Truly an inexhaustible subject: the ineffable smugness of Crook.

4

Bloix 07.19.10 at 5:10 pm

Did anyone else see the concern troll festival in the New York Times yesterday?
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/18/opinion/18obama.html?_r=1&ref=opinion

5

mpowell 07.19.10 at 5:36 pm

If only this Democratic president would act like a moderate Republican I could support him!

6

mpowell 07.19.10 at 5:39 pm

4: If only Obama would take measures to kill the economy and cut payments to seniors he would become popular again!

7

Harry 07.19.10 at 5:59 pm

I only read him through Henry’s campaigns against him, but he always makes me wonder if he was once a member of a sect (SWP, etc). Anyone know?

8

ECW 07.19.10 at 6:22 pm

This is mostly bread and circuses for the political elites. Not only are there very few independents, the evidence from political science is clear that independents are of two types: 1) independents who are consistently MORE partisan the identified voters, primarily because these voters have actual positions on policy that drive their decisions and in the U.S. policy positions tend to cohere ideologically and 2) independents who are independent because they are ignorant and/or apathetic. The real margin comes from weakly identified partisans, who respond almost completely to economic conditions.

In other words, the economy is pretty much the sole factor in elections in the U.S. — everything else is in the margin of error.

9

ejh 07.19.10 at 6:45 pm

he always makes me wonder if he was once a member of a sect

Yes, he went to Magdalen College

10

bianca steele 07.19.10 at 6:47 pm

I’m fed up with the discourse on “independents” and ready to agree with ECW if only on its being bread and circuses for the wonkry. I’ve seen no reason to believe there’s evidence on hir (1) and (2) or for any variant thereof.

I’m so fed up with it that I’m close to ready to believe that the characteristics of the Best Picture winner predicts the president at least as well as the economy.

11

Henry 07.19.10 at 7:28 pm

bianca – I’ve read your linked blogpost, for which thanks. In response – this doesn’t rest on academic authority, but on a lot of analysis of survey data. It’s broadly accepted among political scientists (not just John Sides), because there isn’t any other explanation that seems easily compatible with the data. Now it could be that there is something downright wrong about the way that political scientists study this stuff. Wouldn’t be the first time. But it could also be that (a) that your friends are unrepresentative of the general population, or (b) that they are in fact less independent minded than they think (people tend to be more consistent in their voting choices than their self presentation would suggest). There’s a reason why social scientists “tend to prefer”:http://www.kieranhealy.org/blog/archives/2003/04/11/its-called-sampling-on-the-dependent-variable/ research designs that sample randomly from the general population – our friends are likely to be highly non-random draws upon that population.

12

Doctor Science 07.19.10 at 9:10 pm

Henry:

Is there a reason did you not say “hippie-punching”, which is considered the term of art for this rhetorical trope? Or is “hippie-punching” an exclusively American expression?

13

ScentOfViolets 07.19.10 at 9:23 pm

He should have chosen centrism unreservedly – as many voters believed he had promised during his election campaign.

Well, here’s the thing: Obama did campaign as an unreserved centrist . . . if you take the policies that a majority of Americans support. The majority wanted a public option. The majority wanted something done about the depredations of the FIRE sector of the economy – financial reform with real teeth in it, health care reform that actually reformed the system, etc. The majority wanted the U.S. to pull out of Iraq. The majority wanted some sort of cramdown procedure for homeowners deeply in debt and unable to make their mortgage payments through no fault of their own. And so on and so forth. The problem here is that Crook is confusing identifications and issues, because what he really wants is for most Americans to support his policy preferences by hook or by crook.

Of course, that one is also out of Obama’s playbook. Ever notice that the only time this supposedly calm, cool, and collected man exhibits emotion is when he is peeved at the DFH’s for not getting with the program? Somehow Republicans and their hijinks never seem to earn his ire.

14

bert 07.19.10 at 9:24 pm

Magdalen -> The Economist. A well-trodden path.

Who’s the new Charlemagne, by the way?
This week’s column had a sneery, Crookish timbre.
You may find yourself missing Rennie.

15

ScentOfViolets 07.19.10 at 9:31 pm

1) independents who are consistently MORE partisan the identified voters, primarily because these voters have actual positions on policy that drive their decisions and in the U.S. policy positions tend to cohere ideologically

This seems to be a very bad definition of independents then. I’m an independent who votes more often Democratic than Republican (note that I did vote for George Bush rather than Walter Mondale, and I voted against him – not for Clinton – in large part of the first Gulf war.) And I vote on the issues, not the party.

To say that someone can’t be independent because they have various policy preferences doesn’t seem to me to leave a lot of room to be an independent, in fact, it strikes me that you would have to be pathetically uninformed and monumentally disinterested in such issues as employment, the state of belligerence, etc. before you could qualify under this definition of “independent”.

16

chris 07.19.10 at 9:41 pm

financial reform with real teeth in it, health care reform that actually reformed the system

The weasel words in the qualifiers are doing all the work here. Obama (and/or Congress) clearly delivered *something* on each of these issues; whether you consider the something adequate is very much a glass-half-full question.

As you probably know, you can get a majority to agree with a whole lot of stuff if you word it right, including directly contradictory ideas.

Ever notice that the only time this supposedly calm, cool, and collected man exhibits emotion is when he is peeved at the DFH’s for not getting with the program?

No, in fact. I’d like to see some YouTube of that. I haven’t seen him blow up at anyone whatsoever. The closest to anger I’ve seen (IIRC, and it’s more like annoyance really) was the line about driving the country into the ditch and then asking for the keys — which, you’ll note, was directed at Republicans.

There certainly are plenty of people upset at people who attack Obama for being insufficiently liberal, *especially* when those people then go on to say “so I’m voting for a third party/not at all”, since that attitude is (correctly, IMO) perceived as increasing the risk of more Republicans being elected in the future. But Obama hasn’t personally stepped into that particular argument AFAIK.

17

ScentOfViolets 07.19.10 at 11:16 pm

The weasel words in the qualifiers are doing all the work here. Obama (and/or Congress) clearly delivered something on each of these issues; whether you consider the something adequate is very much a glass-half-full question.

This makes no sense. If you campaign on health care reform, for example, and people are angry because they don’t think you followed through on your promise, smarmily pointing out that you really did deliver on your promise and it’s not their fault these people misunderstood what you said isn’t going to mollify anyone. In fact, I’d imagine that most people would become even angrier at such sanctimony.

There certainly are plenty of people upset at people who attack Obama for being insufficiently liberal, especially when those people then go on to say “so I’m voting for a third party/not at all”, since that attitude is (correctly, IMO) perceived as increasing the risk of more Republicans being elected in the future.

Again, this doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense. What who’s talking about “Obama being insufficiently liberal”? Certainly not me or a lot of other people I know. The people I know who are unhappy with him (not a few of who voted for George the Lesser, twice), are unhappy because he hasn’t delivered on his campaign promises. Not because he is “insufficiently liberal”.

Please tell me you’re not defining people who are angry that Obama has gone back on his campaign promises as being ipso facto “liberals”.

18

tanstaafl 07.19.10 at 11:20 pm

“note that I did vote for George Bush rather than Walter Mondale”

Must’ve been in an alternate universe.

19

snuh 07.19.10 at 11:35 pm

it strikes me that you would have to be pathetically uninformed and monumentally disinterested in such issues as employment, the state of belligerence, etc. before you could qualify under this definition of “independent”.

why is it implausible that 10% of voters, the “pure independents”, would be like this?

20

VCarlson 07.19.10 at 11:36 pm

As a proud DFH, I’m pretty tired of the sneers at those of us who have decided we’re tired of the Democratic Party’s habit of assuming we’ll vote for them because where else can we go? Too many years of telling me the Rs are a scary bunch of people who do *not* have my or my country’s best interests at heart (even more true today than before), combined with an ever-increasing love of hippie-punching has finally triggered my “enough” button. Is this a really bad time for this to happen? Yes, very, but when do I stop rewarding bad behavior?

No, I’m not mad at Obama and the Ds for failing to clean up Georgie’s mess fast enough. It’s a horrible mess, and will take longer to clean up than it took to make. I’m mad at Obama and the Ds for actively working to make things worse – claiming the President has the authority to assassinate US Citizens, completely unchecked by any other branch of government, going after whistleblowers, removing single payer from health insurance reform before even beginning negotiations, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

21

ScentOfViolets 07.19.10 at 11:40 pm

it strikes me that you would have to be pathetically uninformed and monumentally disinterested in such issues as employment, the state of belligerence, etc. before you could qualify under this definition of “independent”.

why is it implausible that 10% of voters, the “pure independents”, would be like this?

I have no idea whether that figure is implausible or not. I’m merely saying that if having opinions on the issues of the day automatically disqualifies you from being a “real” independent, well then, it’s not a very good definition you’re using. In fact, it’s almost as if you’re using an idiosyncratic definition in order to get the results you want, and then passing this bit of received wisdom out into the MSM without mentioning the fact that you’re using a nonstandard definition of the term.

22

El Cid 07.19.10 at 11:47 pm

What? There is not a vast and overwhelming mass of Broderian centrist independent voters who vote ever in the middle and whose flood would conquer any election if we but once had a candidate standing in the perfect center of whatever range of policies the current punditariat locates as such upon their imaginary axis? Nay!

23

PHB 07.19.10 at 11:53 pm

Oh lordly, lordy, give me strength.

It is a mode of argument common on fan forums, take Nikon Rumors for example. Filled with folk who threaten to defect to Canon if Nikon does not release a 35mm f/1.4 in the next five minutes.

Basically what this comes down to is that some people know that their fundamental arguments for their case are so poor that the only way they can get traction is to predict bad things will happen if their advice is not followed.

Obama has shown himself to be vastly more capable as a campaigner and political strategist than any of the pundits. While traditionally the President’s party does less well in the mid-terms, traditionally the opposition does not nominate a bunch of kooks, sad cases and wierdos to fight the key seats. At this point the GOP must be seriously questioning the wisdom of forcing Bunning to step down so that Rand Paul could run in his place. It also looks like they have blown their pickup chances in Florida and Nevada.

Taking the House is much harder than the Senate, incumbency has advantages. The only reason the House is more winnable for the GOP is that every seat is up for grabs while taking the Senate requires the GOP to pretty much run the board and win everything as they are 9 seats behind going in.

I would not be at all surprised if the GOP actually looses seats in the fall. People are depressed about the economy, but the GOP has made no effort to put an alternative proposal on the table. Some people can be persuaded to worry about the debt, but the GOP is proposing to spend $700 billion on extending the Bush tax cuts for the ultra-wealthy.

24

ScentOfViolets 07.20.10 at 12:00 am

Basically what this comes down to is that some people know that their fundamental arguments for their case are so poor that the only way they can get traction is to predict bad things will happen if their advice is not followed.

I have no idea who you are talking about here. A lot of people who voted for the Democrats in 2008 aren’t very happy with them now. But they aren’t threatening to vote for the other guy; they’re just saying they don’t have a lot of reasons to go out and vote, and they’ll probably sit the 2010 mid-terms out (“Vote for us or the Republicans win!” doesn’t seem to be very inspiring, especially to those who’ve voted for Republicans in previous elections.)

The people you’re talking about? Well, I’m sure they exist somewhere. But I don’t have any reason to believe that their numbers are large enough to effect electoral outcomes this fall.

25

bianca steele 07.20.10 at 12:06 am

Henry,
I’m not saying academics make their decisions based on arguments from authority, I was trying to begin to contrast the way, say, John Sides thinks about his own arguments from the way non-academics do (and, further, the way journalists think about them from the way political partisans and other non-journalists do).

As for what you say about polling, all that makes perfect sense. I’ve always thought carefully designed data- and statistics-based social science was more promising than the subjective kind, but that means the definitions used are not necessarily the same as what anyone would think based on their experiences talking to their own friends. If someone’s going to draw broader conclusions, however, or describe specific people, getting the definitions to match seems important, and so does understanding what statistics is (and isn’t).

As I understand what John Sides has posted of the research, among the large number of people who say they are independents (about 1/3 of those polled), only a view actually behave as an independent ought to behave when it comes to voting. The rest are said to be “really” Republicans or Democrats. The conclusion is that only 10% of voters don’t fall cleanly on one side of the Republican/Democrat split. There is thus a discrepancy that has to be interpreted.

(Brooks is still wrong because he usually assumes independents all generally lean Republican.)

Personally, I think it is useful to be reminded that people who call themselves independents may only think politicians are corrupt, and share all the ideas attributed to “the base,” just as some are antiwar, prochoice, prowelfare, pro-same sex marriage, pro-immigration, atheist libertarians who think repealing the income tax is ridiculous. It is also useful to be reminded that research based on these polls probably does not speak to this level of detail w/r/t definitions.

26

paul loatman 07.20.10 at 12:30 am

Sincce all of you are posting comments reflecting as much as three hours into the future, could you quickly tell me what the NY State Lottery numbers [came out/will come out] tonight so I can bet on them?
Oh yes, Brooks is ALWAYS wrong; such a BOBO.

27

Tom T. 07.20.10 at 1:10 am

I’m entirely ignorant of the studies of independent voters other than what’s written above, but I guess I have a methodological question: How do we decide which poll responses are creditable? In other words, if a respondent says “1. I’m independent” and “2. I have a consistent political leaning,” I understand that those responses are at odds. But how do we decide that this makes them actual partisans who are mistaken in their perception of their independence, as opposed to actual independents who are mistaken in their perception of their consistent political leaning? There’s their voting record, but that is self-reported as well, presumably.

28

Jamey 07.20.10 at 1:12 am

In reference to ECW at #8, it’s been my personal experience that most self described independents fit into category 1. They are either liberals or to the left of that, but refuse to identify with the Democratic Party because they see Democrats as a sort of mainstream center-right party which they will only vote for because they don’t want the far right wacko GOP to win. OR They are libertarians who consistently vote for the Republicans but refuse to be identified with Republicans because they don’t like to be associated with Christian fundamentalists or jingoistic nationalism.

Confusing things even more, it seems like people continually use the word moderate and independent interchangeably when they don’t mean the same thing. Again, just personal experience, but I know plenty of moderates who wouldn’t hesitate to identify themselves as a Democrat or Republican. Although the ranks of self-identified moderate Republicans appears to be on the verge of extinction.

And to add even more confusion, it seems like independent is one of those words that people attend to apply rather loosely as just a general term of approval (amongst the general public as opposed to political scientists). The magic of the term independent meaning someone of a free thinking temperament, a nonconformist, seems to rub off on the word independent as used in a political context.

I have known more than a few people who claim, “I never vote for the party, I vote for the man or woman.” But I’ve never had any doubt that these people always voted for the candidate of the same party in every Presidential election. As far as I can tell, using the word independent in that way seems to be nothing more than a hedge against the inconceivable to the effect of “If my party nominated a horrible candidate, of course I wouldn’t vote for them. But my party would never do that.”

29

MQ 07.20.10 at 1:15 am

Of course, that one is also out of Obama’s playbook. Ever notice that the only time this supposedly calm, cool, and collected man exhibits emotion is when he is peeved at the DFH’s for not getting with the program? Somehow Republicans and their hijinks never seem to earn his ire.

come on, Obama slams Republicans plenty. It’s precisely because he’s more comfortable attacking Rs that he blows his cool a little more with liberals.

30

Jamey 07.20.10 at 1:35 am

Also, I don’t think it would be over psychoanalyizing it to suggest that Obama gets angry at attacks from liberals because he knows there is some truth to them while Republican attacks are mostly just nonsense.

31

Ebenezer Scrooge 07.20.10 at 2:15 am

I think that Clive Crook is completely correct–for 1988. Back then, the Democratic Party turned off a lot of people who had some sympathy for its policies. It appeared to be in thrall to its crazy wing and its more hidebound and parochial interest-group factions.

But that was over 20 years ago. Democratic hippie-bashing had a point back then. (Heck, I bashed a few of them in my time.) Such hippies really don’t matter much any more. No sane person is worried that the Democrats are in thrall to Earth First! or the New Black Panther Party, or Andrea Dworkin. The current DFH wing of the Democratic Party is pretty wonkish in its choice of policies, if not its choice of expletives.

It’s okay for geezers like me and Clive Crook to look with longing at the good old days of hippie-bashing. It is a form of dementia to think that today’s hippies are the same as those of yore.

32

AlanDownunder 07.20.10 at 2:16 am

mpowell 07.19.10 at 5:36 pm

If only this Democratic president would act like a moderate Republican I could support him!

… as Crook says in response to a Democratic president acting like a moderate Republican.

33

PHB 07.20.10 at 2:51 am

@SoV

So because Obama didn’t deliver quite the health care bill you really wanted you are going to vote for Sarah and the Wingnuts?

I really don’t get the GOP strategy here. When your opponent is having a tricky economic situation through no particular fault of his own the logical approach is to swing into the breach looking more competent and more sensible than the incumbents.

Instead they are pulling out every last bizarro idea they can think up to improve their standing with their own base.

34

ScentOfViolets 07.20.10 at 3:07 am

So because Obama didn’t deliver quite the health care bill you really wanted you are going to vote for Sarah and the Wingnuts?

Would it be impolite or uncivil for me to point out that you cannot read and understand very simple sentences? Why don’t you point out where I’ve said any such thing; if you can, I’ll take those words back. If you can’t, you apologize for trying to put words in my mouth that I never said.

Deal?

35

afu 07.20.10 at 4:23 am

(“Vote for us or the Republicans win!” doesn’t seem to be very inspiring, especially to those who’ve voted for Republicans in previous elections.)

I don’t understand why people always say this. Personally, “Vote for us or the Republicans win!” is incredibably motivating. Bush v Gore actually happened and we saw the result of 8 years of republican rule. How can people’s memories be so short?

36

bobbyp 07.20.10 at 5:26 am

How can people’s memories be so short?

Yes, I too wonder the same thing. I wonder how people forget that single payer was not even allowed to be debated. I recall something about a ‘surge’ in Afghanistan. Vague recollections of targeted assassination of US citizens wake me at night. There is some cat food commission out there that could do bad things to me, and now I hear the national debt is an existential crisis.

Tell me how long ago was that?

37

alex 07.20.10 at 7:06 am

Because they’re people, a.k.a. stupid. Next question?

38

Steve LaBonne 07.20.10 at 12:35 pm

How can people’s memories be so short?

How can people like you not notice what is going on in front of their noses RIGHT NOW? Namely, pretty much the continuation of all of Bush’s policies with a little bit of window dressing applied. Wars, assaults on civil liberties, continuation of the obscenely bloated and useless spy apparatus currently being described in the WaPo, continued ignoring of scientific advice by regulatory agencies, trillions for Wall Street and the shaft for Main Street, well-laid plans to gut Social Security- you name it, and Obama and the Democratic-controlled Congress are still doing it.

I’m tired of being lectured by people who can’t see what’s happening right in front of their noses, and who confuse kinder, gentler rhetoric with actual policy. The two major parties have a LOT more in common than you’re willing to admit; the Democrats are just a lot more polished in pursuing pretty much the same conservative aims, which do not at all fit the seriously bad situation the country is actually in, and serve the interests only of a tiny minority. I will only vote for the rather small minority of Democratic candidates who give some evidence of not being crypto-Republicans. And sneering at me won’t change my mind.

39

Nathanael 07.20.10 at 1:06 pm

You need to publish this somewhere where Clive Crook will READ it.

40

Nathanael 07.20.10 at 1:07 pm

“I don’t understand why people always say this. Personally, “Vote for us or the Republicans win!” is incredibably motivating. Bush v Gore actually happened and we saw the result of 8 years of republican rule”

In other words, “Vote for us and we may let the Republicans steal the election anyway”. Rather demotivating, dontcha think?

41

PHB 07.20.10 at 2:04 pm

@SoV

My point being that everyone is worried about how other people are going to vote. When you ask individual people the GOP is no more electable now than it was in 2008.

These tea party folk are scary even when they are not marching about with automatic weapons in hand. The GOP attempt to play the racist card against latinos my gain them some votes from their base, but they are permanently alienating the people they are targeting with their hate.

Statements of enthusiasm in polls mean absolutely nothing. When someone is being asked to respond to a poll they are being given an opportunity to send a message. Republicans take the opportunity to send the message that they are fully behind whatever Fox News tells then to think. Liberal Democrats take the opportunity to tell Obama to make fewer compromises with the blue dogs and the Republicans. Neither is any indication of likely voting intention.

42

Salient 07.20.10 at 2:39 pm

The two major parties have a LOT more in common than you’re willing to admit

Democrats of today more or less hold steady with the existing level of crazy; Republicans of today push the extreme as hard as they can… “Vote Democratic: we won’t let policy slide into unprecedented crazy nearly as fast as the other guys!”

Republicans of today won’t even vote to extend unemployment insurance. It feels like we have the choice between a center-right party that seems like it might care about policy, albeit from a fairly conservative pro-big-business orientation, and a breathtakingly crazy opposition party that seems actively destructive, and doesn’t seem to care about coherent policy nearly so much as opposition-punching.

Maybe if I lived in Pelosi’s district I’d feel differently, but I look at the voting record of the Blue Dog in my district and take very little interest in attempting to save his arse. Let ‘im go. Then I look at what the Republican candidate has said recently, and feel suddenly motivated to donate, canvass, GOTV, anything…

43

chris 07.20.10 at 2:41 pm

If you campaign on health care reform, for example, and people are angry because they don’t think you followed through on your promise, smarmily pointing out that you really did deliver on your promise and it’s not their fault these people misunderstood what you said isn’t going to mollify anyone. In fact, I’d imagine that most people would become even angrier at such sanctimony.

I’d imagine that most people would accept that most campaign promises are about issues that aren’t completely in the candidate’s control after election and that the outcome of political processes rarely *completely* satisfies anyone; and therefore when the candidate does deliver health care reform, the fact that it doesn’t have every detail that particular voter might have wanted it to have is not a justification for saying it doesn’t exist or that the candidate “didn’t deliver” on the promise.

But then, I’m kind of an optimist when it comes to democracy. If most people really do abandon an officeholder who delivers partial or equivocal achievements, without examining the realistic alternatives first, then they’re just going to bounce from one ambitious promiser to the next, perpetually disappointed by the grubbiness of reality. I’d be much more willing to simply say “have fun with that” and leave it at that if there weren’t a realistic prospect of the election of people I consider very dangerous to the public interest, which makes stopping them an overriding imperative even if I judged Obama much more harshly than I do.

And yes, I do think that if you think that the PPACA “isn’t real reform” and therefore Obama has failed to deliver on his promises, then you mean that it isn’t as liberal as you would have liked it to be and that you blame Obama for that outcome. The first part is a subjective judgment (based on which reforms you personally consider “real”) and I’ve already explained why I think the second is misguided. I think he’s done okay — not great, but okay — at encouraging some action from a legislature that is biased both toward conservatism (rural states are overrepresented in the chamber that is the more common limit on action) and inaction (the filibuster) even relative to the rest of a political system already biased toward moneyed interests, let alone actual national opinion or interests.

And I have little doubt that his opponent would have vetoed PPACA, if it had even managed to pass with a presidential thumb on the scale against it rather than in favor (and whatever compromise-brokering actually took place). His next opponent will most likely run on a repeal platform. Under those circumstances it seems to me to be little short of insanity to say that “this isn’t real reform, he hasn’t lived up to his promises, I’m looking for someone else to support”. Politics is the art of the possible and *out of the possible outcomes*, what we got was not so bad and better than most.

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Uncle Kvetch 07.20.10 at 2:46 pm

It feels like we have the choice between a center-right party that seems like it might care about policy, albeit from a fairly conservative pro-big-business orientation, and a breathtakingly crazy opposition party that seems actively destructive

Sensible Party, Silly Party. It’s really that simple. With the latter showing an increasing tendency to be Very Silly Indeed.

I’d imagine that most people would accept that most campaign promises are about issues that aren’t completely in the candidate’s control after election and that the outcome of political processes rarely completely satisfies anyone

Do you honestly not understand the difference between

(1) attempting to include a public option as part of the reform, in keeping with your campaign promise, and failing to do so; and

(2) not even attempting to get a public option, despite your very explicit campaign promise to do so?

Really?

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Salient 07.20.10 at 2:52 pm

chris, I’m with you more-or-less on the Affordable Care Act, though I’d suggest that agreeing to abandon talk of single-payer in pre-emptive private talks with insurers severely degraded the quality of “the possible outcomes” in play. Anyway, sure, it’s something positive.

But I can’t sustain any optimism when I look at foreign policy, where [1] Obama has much greater leeway to act, independent of Congress, and [2] Obama has unilaterally continued, intensified, and worsened the abuses of power initiated by Bush, with the possible (and as yet unconfirmed) exception of explicitly abandoning a particular subset of torture practices (which may be continuing unabated at the Bagram Theater Internment Facility and elsewhere).

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ajay 07.20.10 at 4:04 pm

45: “worsened”? (Also, withdrawing large numbers of troops from Iraq is a good thing, surely?)

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bianca steele 07.20.10 at 5:35 pm

@28
In addition to Jamey’s first paragraph, there are people who consider themselves socially liberal (and opposed to neoliberalism even if they don’t know the name) but in practice dislike people they identify as liberals and/or feminists (their place on the emotional divide between labor and management varies)–at least that’s what they tell me. It would take some thought to figure out what all these groups have in common, and I’m not sure I’m up to it.

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chris 07.20.10 at 6:13 pm

But I can’t sustain any optimism when I look at foreign policy, where [1] Obama has much greater leeway to act, independent of Congress

But not independent of reality. I am not an expert on foreign policy but the concept of a quagmire seems pretty well accepted by people who are. Therefore the idea that we’re going to leave, but can’t do it too fast isn’t incredible.

Certainly, if we’re not pretty much out of Iraq by the time Obama is running for reelection I’ll expect an explanation of the reason why. (Although it’s unlikely that there would be a credible primary opponent and his general election opponent will almost certainly be worse on this issue, anyway.)

Do you honestly not understand the difference between

(1) attempting to include a public option as part of the reform, in keeping with your campaign promise, and failing to do so; and

(2) not even attempting to get a public option, despite your very explicit campaign promise to do so?

If your standard for “not even attempting” includes publicly advocating for it and exhorting the Senate to pass it, then I don’t understand how *you* draw the line, certainly. (For example: “I continue to believe that a public option within the basket of insurance choices would help improve quality and bring down costs.” and “By avoiding some of the overhead that gets eaten up at private companies by profits and excessive administrative costs and executive salaries, it could provide a good deal for consumers, and would also keep pressure on private insurers to keep their policies affordable and treat their customers better.”)

If rhetoric is the primary weapon he has in influencing the content of legislation, then he was pretty clearly using it. Which is why a lot of criticism of Obama on this issue implicitly assumes that he has more power over the content of legislation than the text of the Constitution indicates — but generally doesn’t explain where this unwritten power is supposed to come from.

Did you want him to order the Army to occupy the Senate chamber and hold guns to all the Senators’ heads to make them vote the way he wanted? They would very properly have mutinied. Instead, he argued that the Senate should include a public option, and they refused. Then he accepted a compromise bill without a public option and signed it into law. Meh, could have been worse. (And if it could also have been better, it’s not because of what Obama did or didn’t do, but because of what the Senate did or didn’t do. That’s why any attempt to blame Obama for the outcome of a Senate vote has to first cast him as secret puppetmaster of the Senate.)

Somehow, the idea that he was “all talk and no action” on this issue never gets into the details of exactly what action he could have taken other than talk. Legislation is primarily the responsibility of the legislative branch, so blaming the executive for the details of legislation is silly IMO.

I’m more sympathetic to criticisms of him on executive power issues, in theory, but unfortunately in practice the other party is *much* worse so the only real option there (IMO, although this might change if the Republican Party truly self-destructs) is intra-party action through primaries and party organizations, which is unlikely to reach an incumbent president but might at least affect the next one.

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chris 07.20.10 at 6:26 pm

P.S.: I think most of the criticisms boil down to “If he had just been determined enough, he could have done it”, IOW the ever-resilient idea that nothing is truly impossible and all failures are ultimately failures of will. Even when people explicitly disclaim the idea that they would blame him for trying and failing, somehow, the failure itself becomes irrefutable evidence that he wasn’t really trying hard enough. It’s comforting, even inspiring, to think this because it gives the illusion of control — if *you* do things right, if you try hard enough, then you will succeed, because hard work will make you succeed, regardless of the obstacles against you. You’re not like that loser who gave up and failed.

I don’t subscribe to this idea. Sometimes your capabilities really are finite and your goals are beyond them. Even if you are the president of the United States. Sometimes you do everything right, and still lose. Which means that the loss itself is not necessarily a judgment; some people lose because they screwed up, and others lose because events were against them and they couldn’t have done anything about it. Knowing which is which is important, of course; but before you criticize a loser for losing, first point out what they could have done to win, and prove that it would have worked.

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Steve LaBonne 07.20.10 at 6:51 pm

My standard for “not even attempting” definitely includes giving public lip service while Rahm Emanuel was working behind the scenes to kill it- to the accompaniment of imprecations against the “retarded” liberals who were actually fighting for it. (Indeed, that’s more akin to “lying” than to merely “not even attempting”. ) Evidently chris’s standards are a good deal lower.

Note by the way that the whole bill was a “moderat” Republican plan in the first place, closely modeled after the Republican counterproposal to Clinton’s bill. Sorry, the fact that the Republicans have become crazier in the intervening years is no excuse for Democrats to be crowing about passing Republican legislation tailored to benefit Republican interest groups at the expense of the public. That’s bad policy and stupid politics. I don’t believe for a minute that this bill will do more than delay the collapse of an unsustainable system for at best a few years. Nor do I believe that it will be anywhere near as popular as its apologists predict.

To a first approximation Obama has so far been Bush with a brain. I find it sad but unsurprising that the O-bots are still unable to come to terms with this reality and instead resort to insulting their betters.

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Uncle Kvetch 07.20.10 at 7:15 pm

My standard for “not even attempting” definitely includes giving public lip service while Rahm Emanuel was working behind the scenes to kill it- to the accompaniment of imprecations against the “retarded” liberals who were actually fighting for it. (Indeed, that’s more akin to “lying” than to merely “not even attempting”. ) Evidently chris’s standards are a good deal lower.

Steve beat me to it.

And if it could also have been better, it’s not because of what Obama did or didn’t do, but because of what the Senate did or didn’t do.

Then why would you even give him credit for half a loaf? By your reasoning, he was structurally powerless over the final result. So why pretend that he achieved anything at all, when it was all the legislature’s doing?

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Bloix 07.20.10 at 7:48 pm

Steve LaBonne – there’s a lot to be said for arguing that Obama and the administration undercut the public option. You can argue that they intentionally sabotaged it. You can say – and I will agree with you – that Obama is no liberal at all and instead an old-fashioned “moderate” of the sort that used to be called a good-government republican. You can even sneer that Obama is “Bush with a brain” – on this I will disagree with you, because I think you underestimate Bush’s fascistic political agenda, but I can see why you might say it.

But what you can’t do, if you want to engage with people, is call them O-bots. That just stops conversation dead. And if you don’t want to engage with them, why bother commenting?

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Steve LaBonne 07.20.10 at 7:55 pm

But what you can’t do, if you want to engage with people, is call them O-bots.

Touche. Chris phrased his points- wildly inaccurate though I believe them to be- in a non-confrontational way, and I shouldn’t have let my irritation get the better of me.

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ScentOfViolets 07.20.10 at 8:11 pm

But what you can’t do, if you want to engage with people, is call them O-bots. That just stops conversation dead. And if you don’t want to engage with them, why bother commenting?

Bloix, this would have more weight if Chris hadn’t already said this:

There certainly are plenty of people upset at people who attack Obama for being insufficiently liberal, especially when those people then go on to say “so I’m voting for a third party/not at all”, since that attitude is (correctly, IMO) perceived as increasing the risk of more Republicans being elected in the future.

So not only is Chris being confrontational, he’s being dismissive of other people’s reasonable and substantive criticisms. And he’s mischaracterized them as calling Obama out for being ‘insufficiently liberal’. If anybody needs to step back and take a deep breath, that would be Chris.

And Chris? Since Bloix is bringing this up, I’d say that you owe several people an apology for your behaviour.

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ScentOfViolets 07.20.10 at 8:17 pm

If you campaign on health care reform, for example, and people are angry because they don’t think you followed through on your promise, smarmily pointing out that you really did deliver on your promise and it’s not their fault these people misunderstood what you said isn’t going to mollify anyone. In fact, I’d imagine that most people would become even angrier at such sanctimony.

I’d imagine that most people would accept that most campaign promises are about issues that aren’t completely in the candidate’s control after election and that the outcome of political processes rarely completely satisfies anyone; and therefore when the candidate does deliver health care reform, the fact that it doesn’t have every detail that particular voter might have wanted it to have is not a justification for saying it doesn’t exist or that the candidate “didn’t deliver” on the promise.

But then, I’m kind of an optimist when it comes to democracy. If most people really do abandon an officeholder who delivers partial or equivocal achievements, without examining the realistic alternatives first, then they’re just going to bounce from one ambitious promiser to the next, perpetually disappointed by the grubbiness of reality.

Going back to civility standards as well as the facts on the ground: You do realize that you’ve just called substantial numbers of people naive rubes for actually believing those campaign promises instead of dismissing them as overheated rhetoric. You are being at best . . . unpersuasive. And at worst, insulting and off-point.

More on this in a sec.

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ScentOfViolets 07.20.10 at 8:23 pm

And yes, I do think that if you think that the PPACA “isn’t real reform” and therefore Obama has failed to deliver on his promises, then you mean that it isn’t as liberal as you would have liked it to be and that you blame Obama for that outcome.

More insults. I and many other people I know don’t consider this real reform because it’s simply a bad law, in part because it doesn’t do a lot to contain costs, in part because it mandates that citizens are required to pay over monies to private (rather than public) organizations, in part because enforcement provisions are lax to nonexistent and easily gamed. And this has all been done many times in many places.

Further, some of the people who are criticizing healthcare “reform” are not by any stretch of the imagination “liberals” and in fact voted for George Bush. Twice. I think you need to cool it.

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Oscar Leroy 07.20.10 at 8:26 pm

“Ever notice that the only time this supposedly calm, cool, and collected man exhibits emotion is when he is peeved at the DFH’s for not getting with the program?”

I don’t know if anyone else has posted this, but I’m thinking of the time he was talking about gay rights out in California and got heckled.

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Oscar Leroy 07.20.10 at 8:27 pm

Heckled by people who thought he was moving too slowly on gay rights, I should say.

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Cryptic Ned 07.20.10 at 8:29 pm

But what you can’t do, if you want to engage with people, is call them O-bots. That just stops conversation dead. And if you don’t want to engage with them, why bother commenting?

I think his reference to himself as one of the O-bots’ “betters” answers that question.

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Henry 07.20.10 at 8:32 pm

People – please take it down about 5 notches.

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ScentOfViolets 07.20.10 at 8:38 pm

P.S.: I think most of the criticisms boil down to “If he had just been determined enough, he could have done it”, IOW the ever-resilient idea that nothing is truly impossible and all failures are ultimately failures of will. Even when people explicitly disclaim the idea that they would blame him for trying and failing, somehow, the failure itself becomes irrefutable evidence that he wasn’t really trying hard enough.

Funny how you don’t give any explicit examples of this behaviour. The people I know who criticize him for not trying hard enough have no problems pointing out where Obama did twist a few arms to get what he wanted. And about that public option? You know, the one you’re giving people grief about, calling them unrealistic because of ‘political realities’? You do know that he bargained the public option away in a backroom deal in July . . . and then lied through his teeth and pretended he was still for it in Septemeber and beyond, right? Here’s a link:

For months I’ve been reporting in The Huffington Post that President Obama made a backroom deal last summer with the for-profit hospital lobby that he would make sure there would be no national public option in the final health reform legislation. (See here, here and here). I’ve been increasingly frustrated that except for an initial story last August in the New York Times, no major media outlet has picked up this important story and investigated further.

Hopefully, that’s changing. On Monday, Ed Shultz interviewed New York Times Washington reporter David Kirkpatrick on his MSNBC TV show, and Kirkpatrick confirmed the existence of the deal. Shultz quoted Chip Kahn, chief lobbyist for the for-profit hospital industry on Kahn’s confidence that the White House would honor the no public option deal, and Kirkpatrick responded:

“That’s a lobbyist for the hospital industry and he’s talking about the hospital industry’s specific deal with the White House and the Senate Finance Committee and, yeah, I think the hospital industry’s got a deal here. There really were only two deals, meaning quid pro quo handshake deals on both sides, one with the hospitals and the other with the drug industry. And I think what you’re interested in is that in the background of these deals was the presumption, shared on behalf of the lobbyists on the one side and the White House on the other, that the public option was not going to be in the final product.”

Kirkpatrick also reported in his original New York Times article that White House was standing behind the deal with the for-profit hospitals: “Not to worry, Jim Messina, the deputy White House chief of staff, told the hospital lobbyists, according to White House officials and lobbyists briefed on the call. The White House was standing behind the deal”.

This should be big news. Even while President Obama was saying that he thought a public option was a good idea and encouraging supporters to believe his healthcare plan would include one, he had promised for-profit hospital lobbyists that there would be no public option in the final bill.

So even while people like you were going around and making excuses, saying ‘the votes just aren’t there’, ‘the President can only do so much’, etc., he’d already traded it away . . . and then lied about it to people who had worked very hard for him on his campaign – and for most of them, for no pay at that.

How about you doing your part now, and accepting some legitimate criticism to the effect that on this particular (I do like specifics) issue you were being incredibly naive, and that the people you like to uniformly style as DFH’s were dead right, and you were emphatically wrong?

Think you can do that? In the interest of having an honest discussion? Assuming that’s what you want, of course, rather than simply wanting to browbeat people you disagree with and call them names.

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chris 07.20.10 at 8:52 pm

Steve beat me to it.

But he ran so fast he left his evidence behind, and only arrived with breathless conspiracy theories about Rahm Emanuel stabbing the public option in the back. Since this not only requires Obama to be the secret master of the Senate (so that he can stop a public option that would have passed it otherwise) but *also* that he undermine his own publicly expressed agenda, I think it’s fair to assign this a low prior probability, but of course enough evidence can salvage even very unlikely-seeming ideas.

Note also that if Obama perceived the possible outcomes as “bill without public option” and “no bill”, even if you think he was mistaken, then he was not “betraying” the public option by preferring the former and negotiating to ensure it. Betrayal requires intent. In order to prove it you would have to prove not only that the public option was passable — and that’s going to take some proving given the very well-known opposition of several necessary senators — but also that Obama knew or could reasonably have been expected to know that.

On the other hand, if Obama knew that the public option could never pass anyway, then trading it away for *anything* is a good deal — indeed, a free lunch. (Assuming, for the sake of argument, that he had anything to trade.) You have probably heard this theory before and rejected it, but I’d like to hear your reasons for doing so.

Then why would you even give him credit for half a loaf? By your reasoning, he was structurally powerless over the final result. So why pretend that he achieved anything at all, when it was all the legislature’s doing?

I don’t think I was giving him credit so much as giving him less blame. Although to the extent that he set the agenda that the relevant Congressional committees then took up and wrote their respective bills, he might have something to do with the fact that action of some sort was taken on that issue at that time, and not some other issue. On the other hand you can just view this as the electorate’s sentiment that the issue needed dealing with driving both Obama and Congress to focus on it, in which case the fish can’t take credit for the tide, so to speak.

If he was structurally incapable of doing anything other than making speeches Congresspeople are free to ignore and signing or vetoing the result, then assigning credit or blame to him are both equally dumb, and at most you can criticize him for irresponsibly making promises about legislative outcomes while running for executive office (but every candidate for executive office does that, so it’s not much of a criticism).

My point was that in order to determine if he has any responsibility for a legislative outcome at all, then it’s worth looking at the outcome in the context of other possible outcomes that could have happened if Obama had done something different while holding other independent actors constant, and in that context the outcome we got looks at least okay (at least until someone reveals the secret tape of Emanuel blackmailing Lieberman, Nelson, etc. into publicly axing the public option they secretly wanted to support, at which point they would no longer count as independent actors in the analysis).

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Salient 07.20.10 at 8:55 pm

worsened?

Not sure if you’re getting on me for grammar or for substance, so I’ll assume substance, since “worsened” doesn’t fairly apply across the board. I was thinking specifically of drone remote-assassination attacks in Pakistan when I used that word.

(As a criticism of grammar you’d be spot on; ‘worsened’ is intransitive. Ah well.)

Also, withdrawing large numbers of troops from Iraq is a good thing, surely?

Sure; redeploying large numbers of troops from Iraq to Afghanistan, less so.

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ScentOfViolets 07.20.10 at 9:05 pm

If most people really do abandon an officeholder who delivers partial or equivocal achievements, without examining the realistic alternatives first, then they’re just going to bounce from one ambitious promiser to the next, perpetually disappointed by the grubbiness of reality. I’d be much more willing to simply say “have fun with that” and leave it at that if there weren’t a realistic prospect of the election of people I consider very dangerous to the public interest, which makes stopping them an overriding imperative even if I judged Obama much more harshly than I do.

Now that I’ve addressed the multiple incivilities and insults, let’s go on to something else. I know of virtually no one who is unhappy with Obama (after voting for him, of course) who have then said that they were going to vote for Republicans. Instead, they tend to say either they’re going to sit this upcoming election out, or they’re going to vote for a third party, or they’ll reluctantly vote for the Democratic candidate, but they won’t contribute any time, effort, or money to the Democratic machine.

What they also have in common is, they aren’t trying to convince anyone else to stop them from voting for their Democratic candidates. It’s all one way. Me, I’m probably sitting this one out, but if you want to pull the levers for your preferred party, by all means, do so. It’s a free country.

That being the case, people like Chris, PHB, etc, seem very much to want me to get out and vote for the team. The problem here is, they’re not making much of an effort to be persuasive. What I see can be characterized – and this is being very charitable – as attempts to shame people into voting for the Democrats again after they’ve put on a dismal performance. Somehow, I don’t think this is going to win over anyone :-)

Now let’s go back to this last line, which is yet another appeal of “if you don’t vote, the Republicans win” sort: “I’d be much more willing to simply say “have fun with that” and leave it at that if there weren’t a realistic prospect of the election of people I consider very dangerous to the public interest, which makes stopping them an overriding imperative even if I judged Obama much more harshly than I do.”

If that is really the case, then why didn’t the Democrats take this threat as seriously as people like Chris do? If a Republican rule is so dangerous to the very fabric of society, why didn’t the Administration and Congress work harder to meet their supporter’s expectations? Why do they publicly say (I don’t believe for a second they really believe it) that any setback to their agenda is evidence that “they’re too far to the left”, and that, any evidence to the contrary, explicit objections that their programs are “too far to the right” is just the ravings of the far-left wing of their party?

In short, if the Democrats haven’t been taking the threat of a Republican takeover seriously, why should disaffected voters?

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chris 07.20.10 at 9:24 pm

I and many other people I know don’t consider this real reform because it’s simply a bad law, in part because it doesn’t do a lot to contain costs, in part because it mandates that citizens are required to pay over monies to private (rather than public) organizations, in part because enforcement provisions are lax to nonexistent and easily gamed.

All of those are liberal criticisms, as I understand the term “liberal” as it is used in the US. Are you working with some other definition I’m not aware of? (In particular, do you consider it an insult to be called a liberal or more liberal than Obama, and if so, why?)

As for the main issue, how exactly does the presumption, shared on behalf of the lobbyists on the one side and the White House on the other, that the public option was not going to be in the final product turn into he would make sure there would be no national public option in the final health reform legislation? Because to me the former looks perfectly consistent with “he thinks the Senate is going to kill the PO whatever he does” and the latter, well, technically it’s still consistent with that (in which case he’s deliberately making a promise he doesn’t have to do anything to keep) but it sure looks different.

The people I know who criticize him for not trying hard enough have no problems pointing out where Obama did twist a few arms to get what he wanted.

Interesting that I’ve seen precisely zero examples in this thread. For example, if Obama did make a deal to kill the PO, do you think he actually delivered? That the PO would have been passed without Obama’s interference? Because I’d *really* like to see evidence of *that*. Without that, the whole betrayal argument falls apart — you can’t murder a corpse. And that’s where the conspiracy theory is weakest, because so many senators are on record against the PO, starting — but not ending — with the whole Republican caucus.

Further, some of the people who are criticizing healthcare “reform” are not by any stretch of the imagination “liberals” and in fact voted for George Bush.

Oh, come on. People saying “this is a failure of his campaign promises because it isn’t REAL reform” (e.g. because it doesn’t have the public option) are not the same people saying “this is a socialist big government takeover of the health care system” (and the public option would be an even bigger government takeover) simply because they both criticize Obama. Multiple camps critical of Obama certainly exist, but I was addressing a specific one of them. Was that not sufficiently clear? (I don’t ask that to be snide, but to find out if our disagreement really is rooted in misunderstanding.)

Finally: if it seems like I think some people are interpreting campaign promises as unqualified promises about outcomes and constructing unrealistic expectations on that basis, or spinning conspiracy theories on very little evidence, well, I do think that. I don’t intend that to be gratuitously insulting, but when I see apparently unreasonable behavior it’s hard to discuss its substance without giving the impression that I consider it unreasonable, and if that’s all it takes for some people to feel insulted, I don’t see any way to avoid that other than to have no discussion at all.

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chris 07.20.10 at 9:30 pm

If a Republican rule is so dangerous to the very fabric of society, why didn’t the Administration and Congress work harder to meet their supporter’s expectations?

Back to the tragedy of the will, are we? Where is the evidence that there is a harder they could have worked (pardon my grammar) that would have actually met more expectations?

I think part of the problem here is the vagueness of “they”. If you’re allowed to mind control the whole caucus (including Lieberman) then the space of possible outcomes changes dramatically, but blaming any individual Democrat or the party apparatus for the results of the cat-herding exercise we actually got is easy to overdo, IMO. Causation and the opportunity for a different outcome have to precede blame or it’s just a witch hunt.

And yes, if you (or at least someone) don’t vote for Democrats, the Republicans will, in fact, win. That’s the two-party system and there is no near-term credible path out of it. Pardon me if my patience with protest voting and protest inaction is a little short, I still remember 2000.

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ScentOfViolets 07.20.10 at 9:52 pm

I and many other people I know don’t consider this real reform because it’s simply a bad law, in part because it doesn’t do a lot to contain costs, in part because it mandates that citizens are required to pay over monies to private (rather than public) organizations, in part because enforcement provisions are lax to nonexistent and easily gamed.

All of those are liberal criticisms, as I understand the term “liberal” as it is used in the US. Are you working with some other definition I’m not aware of? (In particular, do you consider it an insult to be called a liberal or more liberal than Obama, and if so, why?)

Sigh. Now you’re just being obstinate. Just about every liberal I know says that Elvis is really, truly dead. Does that make this a “liberal” opinion, or is this a totally mainstream opinion that liberals are in accordance with? Iow, just because someone you call a “liberal” happens to agree with you doesn’t necessarily mean your opinion is a liberal one.

And no, the sobriquet “liberal” does not bother me. I merely object to it’s inappropriate application. You can’t call anyone some sort of “liberal” merely because they wanted a public option, especially sense clear majorities favored it. As I pointed out above, it looks as if you are using this as a rather idiosyncratic definition of liberal.

Oh, and btw – I really liked how you were big enough to apologize for being incivil, insulting, and dismissive. And I really liked how you acknowledged how Obama really did do a backroom deal to get rid of the public option.

Do you think maybe you could tone it down a bit, maybe apologize for your behaviour thus far?

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Henry 07.20.10 at 9:58 pm

Let me ask again – a little more firmly – that people calm down. On both sides. This – like many other topics – gets people upset and mad at each other on the Internets. I would ask everyone to stop casting aspersions and start reading each others’ comments in the most charitable possible light, rather than the least charitable. If this gets into a meta-debate about people’s underlying motivations for writing this or that, it is not going to be enlightening for anyone involved.

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ScentOfViolets 07.20.10 at 10:01 pm

Further, some of the people who are criticizing healthcare “reform” are not by any stretch of the imagination “liberals” and in fact voted for George Bush.

Oh, come on. People saying “this is a failure of his campaign promises because it isn’t REAL reform” (e.g. because it doesn’t have the public option) are not the same people saying “this is a socialist big government takeover of the health care system” (and the public option would be an even bigger government takeover) simply because they both criticize Obama.

You do realize that your making caricatures of the people I’m describing, right? And that this isn’t doing anyone’s opinion of you any good?

But no, there are large numbers of reasonable people who voted for Bush and who happen not to believe that the government is some sort of scary socialist menace. In fact, there are large numbers of people who vote Democratic or Republican only because of some sort of brainless tradition in their family, and who in fact don’t think about politics a lot. They aren’t all redneck hillbillies who prefer “Roundup” caps and “Red Man” tobacco, or long-haired hippies presenting oversized peace medallions and stinking of patchouli.

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Ebenezer Scrooge 07.20.10 at 10:03 pm

SoV @ half the posts on this thread:

Congratulations. You are the only non-insulting, non-obstinate, non-browbeating, honest, and civil person on this thread.

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ScentOfViolets 07.20.10 at 10:06 pm

Henry, I’d prefer to make nice, but I think that you’ll have to speak to Chris personally on this one. When he says things like “I don’t intend that to be gratuitously insulting, but when I see apparently unreasonable behavior it’s hard to discuss its substance without giving the impression that I consider it unreasonable, and if that’s all it takes for some people to feel insulted, I don’t see any way to avoid that other than to have no discussion at all.”, that pretty much tells me he’s going to keep on doing what he’s doing. The old “I’m not being insulting, I’m just telling it like it is” gets kind of old after a while.

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ScentOfViolets 07.20.10 at 10:12 pm

SoV @ half the posts on this thread:

Congratulations. You are the only non-insulting, non-obstinate, non-browbeating, honest, and civil person on this thread.

Thank you :-) More seriously, the way to stop the tit for tat is to cut certain people off at the pass before others start replying in kind. In fact, things looked fairly civil until the post @16. Accusing people who disagree with Obama’s actions as just being a bunch of leftist hippies who can’t possibly have any real substance to their complaints is probably not a good way to win friends and influence people.

I’m just sayin’ :-)

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Henry 07.20.10 at 10:13 pm

I’m asking people on both sides of this argument to leave the personal stuff aside – and debate the actual empirical points as best as they can, without making claims about the unreasonableness etc of their interlocutors. If it’s impossible for people to do this – and perhaps the debate has gotten so poisonous that it is – I’m going to shut down the thread.

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ScentOfViolets 07.20.10 at 10:19 pm

In the interests of restoring some sort of comity here and hoping the incivility stops:

“note that I did vote for George Bush rather than Walter Mondale” – Must’ve been in an alternate universe.

Ouch!!! You’re dead right. I meant Dukakis, of course. Especially since I voted for Mondale. Actually, one of the few times I voted for a presidential candidate as opposed to merely voting against one. In this case, it was Mondale’s line to the effect of “If I am elected, I will raise taxes. If Ronald Reagan is elected, he will raise taxes. The difference between us is, he won’t tell you that, and I just did.”

Oh, I knew Mondale was going to lose and Reagan was going to win of course. But with a line like that, well, I thought it was worth a trip to the polls.

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ScentOfViolets 07.20.10 at 10:43 pm

There’s another talking point that gets batted around a lot, about how “the votes just aren’t there” and “the President can only do so much”. Here’s the thing: Saying “the votes just aren’t there” doesn’t mean that Pelosi or Reid or Obama went around politely asking their peeps to vote a certain way and if the answer is no, then moving on to the next congresscritter.

You can’t say “the votes just aren’t there” until after you’ve done all you can to get the people on your side of the aisle to vote a certain way, whether it’s by using the carrot or the stick. Otherwise, again, the President can take no credit for any kind of legislation he desires – obviously, there wasn’t anything he could do about it!

So yes, Obama is given credit for the final passage of his health care “reform” bill in part because he used a certain amount of muscle to get it passed. And this is by no means unusual. Let’s look at another bit, the war supplemental:

White House Browbeats Dem Freshmen On War Money: “You’ll Never Hear From Us Again”

The White House is playing hardball with Democrats who intend to vote against the supplemental war spending bill, threatening freshmen who oppose it that they won’t get help with reelection and will be cut off from the White House, Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) said Friday.

“We’re not going to help you. You’ll never hear from us again,” Woolsey said the White House is telling freshmen. She wouldn’t say who is issuing the threats, and the White House didn’t immediately return a call. [UPDATE: White House spokesman Nick Shapiro says Woolsey’s charge is not true.]

In fact, I’m astonished that anyone who follows American politics for any length of time at all can make this sort of assertion; there are many ways to keep errant Congressman in line, everything from passing over them for plum committees or chairmanships (or outright revoking them), to denying any pork for their constituents, to – in the case I linked above – denying them any national assistance in their bids for reelection or else outright throwing their weight behind a challenger in the primaries.

So when people use the excuse “the votes just weren’t there”, they’ve got actually demonstrate that some sort of leverage was applied and which failed to work. Iow, as usual for a lot of people in indefensible positions in whatever situation, they’re trying to evade their burden of proof responsibilities and shift it on to the other party. This is particularly difficult if the counterclaim that has to be actively refuted is of the “proof of a negative sort”. In this particular example, rather than actually prove that Obama went to some effort to get those contrary votes for the public option, these people will try to demand that folks like me prove that Obama “didn’t do enough”, a rather impossible standard I think most will agree in the abstract.

To be still more concrete, If Lieberman was threatened with the loss of his committee chairs, still said no, had his chairmanship revoked, and still voted no, then yeah, I’d agree that the President had “done all he could” and that “the votes just weren’t there”.

As it is, of course, Lieberman says that the President never talked to him about his support for the public option, ever. Make of that what you will.

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logern 07.21.10 at 11:14 am

First of all, I confess, the urge to be uncivil is very strong, but was not the HCR debate one of the most toxic non-war related political left vs. right debates in recent memory? In that environment, my urge is, to suggest that maybe others need to try on the shoes of Obama.

They did have phones, e-mail contacts, and noisy town halls to deal with. It wasn’t business as usual at least as far as an apathetic electorate. I’d suggest, that more than usual, two Senators in a room were representing a lot of noisy conflicting interests.

What is considered real success in that environment?

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logern 07.21.10 at 11:16 am

First of all, I confess, the urge to be uncivil is very strong, but was not the HCR debate one of the most toxic non-war related political left vs. right debates in recent memory? In that environment, my urge is, to suggest that maybe others need to try on the shoes of Obama.

They did have phones, e-mail contacts, and noisy town halls to deal with. It wasn’t business as usual at least as far as an apathetic electorate. I’d suggest, that more than usual, two Senators in a room were representing a lot of noisy conflicting interests.

What is considered real success in that environment?

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Kaveh 07.21.10 at 1:08 pm

@75 I’m sympathetic to your point of view in general, and there’s no question that Obama has been a complete failure on civil liberties. But look at the specifics on health care:

there are many ways to keep errant Congressman in line, everything from passing over them for plum committees or chairmanships (or outright revoking them), to denying any pork for their constituents, to – in the case I linked above – denying them any national assistance in their bids for reelection or else outright throwing their weight behind a challenger in the primaries.

Isn’t it Pelosi and Reid, not Obama, who assign committee chairmanships (speaker of the House and Senate majority leader respectively)? It’s very plausible to me that Obama and Pelosi wanted the PO, and knew that Reid was totally uninterested in it. People speculated that Lieberman won’t even run in the next election, because he’s bound to lose anyway, so Obama not supporting him wasn’t an effective threat. Which isn’t to say there aren’t other things he could have done, but it’s not straightforward to identify what those were, which means we can’t be all that sure of how much he really tried.

In general I think this debate over “Is Obama doing enough?” is contentious because it’s so hard to get a grasp of basic facts. On top of that, a lot of people seem to think in terms of vague, structural forces that either drastically circumscribe Obama’s options (“Military Industrial Complex”), or else Obama himself is virtually an incarnation of said forces.

Take Afghanistan and Pakistan: McChrystal was fired and Petraeus, true believer in COIN, is now in his place, and likely to continue more of the same policies. Has Obama supported escalation and COIN in Afghanistan because he’s a sincerely believing liberal interventionist, or because the military has too much political power for him to directly oppose Petraeus and do the whole commander-in-chief thing and order a withdrawal? How could you tell? Do the continued operation of Baghram as the new Gitmo, continued use of drones, and claiming the right to assassinate US citizens overseas prove his bad intentions WRT militarism, more generally?

My $0.02 is that we already know what we need to do, which is to support more left-leaning/better Congressional candidates in primaries, and whether or not Obama sincerely enjoys hippie-punching is inconsequential. If a fraction of the energy devoted to reading Obama’s mind were devoted to supporting Congressional candidates in primaries, we’d be so much better off…

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chris 07.21.10 at 1:42 pm

You do realize that you’ve just called substantial numbers of people naive rubes

For the record, that was the first appearance of the phrase “naive rubes” in the thread; in other words, this is a strawman attack.

you were being incredibly naive

Now you’re just being obstinate

being incivil, insulting, and dismissive

Accusing people who disagree with Obama’s actions as just being a bunch of leftist hippies who can’t possibly have any real substance to their complaints

Another strawman. I haven’t necessarily chosen my words with extreme care, but I certainly didn’t say *that*.

Res ipsa loquitur.

I do apologize for contributing to threadjacking this into something about blaming Obama, though. In retrospect it would clearly have been wiser to let #13 pass without taking a shot at it, and I now wish I had done so. Nothing useful came of it, and a lot of grief was had by all.

And it does seem to me that this thread would probably be better off dead at this point: SoV very firmly (trying extra-hard to avoid anything that could possibly be construed as insulting) believes that Obama could have swayed a sufficient number of Senators to his will if he had chosen to do so, and I don’t, and apparently neither of us is going to produce evidence that will convince the other. (We apparently don’t even agree on which of those positions is a claim that needs to be proved.) Therefore we’re at an impasse and can’t possibly meaningfully discuss what to credit/blame Obama for when we can’t even agree on what he *could* have done, or the set of possible outcomes of his actions.

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Henry 07.21.10 at 4:26 pm

Chris – I have asked people to stop the bickering. You’re ignoring that request. Please desist at once.

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