Obummer




Obummer

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If he wasn’t such an obviously intelligent and educated man, you could be excused for thinking Barack Obama was a little, well, dumb.

How else to explain his fast-accumulating pile of policy failures — not bad policies, destructive policies, or ill-conceived policies, mind you, but simply failed policies, in the most literal sense of ideas attempted, but never implemented. Rarely have we seen a president as flat-out bad at getting his will done as this one. If incompetence has any useful definition, Barack Obama is it.

Last week saw Guantanamo Bay re-enter the headlines with news that more than 100 of the prison’s 166 inmates are now engaged in some manner of hunger strike, with some so weak from protest they’ve had to be painfully force-fed. Such showy acts of passive resistance were an embarrassing reminder of the fact that four years in, the President has still failed to do the thing he originally promised to do on “day one,” namely shut the place down. But at a press conference last Tuesday, Obama seemed blasé at best. I’m gonna get my people to “examine every option that we have administratively to try to deal with this issue,” he said, which I guess begs the question as to what exactly the White House had been doing previously.

Then there’s gun control, the issue which the President used the full force of his bully pulpit to promote in the wake of the Aurora and Sandy Hook massacres, passionately extolling Congress that America’s victims “deserve a vote.” Well, on April 17 the Senate gave them a vote, and despite it being on a matter of extreme moderate inoffensiveness — expanded background checks for gun show customers and internet shoppers — it still went down. Just like the plan to avoid the draconian sequestration spending cuts went down. And the jobs bill went down. And the DREAM Act went down. And perhaps the immigration bill, too. At this point for it to go in any other direction would certainly be bucking a trend.

When Barack Obama first ran for president in 2008, the critique was frequently raised that a not-even-one-term senator was perhaps not entirely qualified to run a country of 300 million. He had zero years of executive experience and less than five as a Washington resident, and measured by lack of titles alone, you’d have to go all the way back to Dwight Eisenhower to find a president with a thinner resume in the world of government (and even Ike had that whole World War II thing).

Bah, rebutted the Obamanauts, what our guy lacks in job credits he more than makes up for in vision. If anything, a lack of Washington experience will merely make his passions less diluted, his goals less compromised by years of craggy insider cynicism.

And perhaps that’s all been true. The things Obama wants, at least, from a path to citizenship for America’s 12 million illegal immigrants to same-sex marriage to cap-and-trade, are ideas undeniably aggressive in their liberalism. When the man speaks, as he did in his sharply ideological second inaugural, it’s impossible to deny the scope of his ambition.

But politics is still the art of the possible, and achieving the possible in the capital of the world’s second-largest democracy requires more than just good intentions. It requires cutthroat strategizing, sophisticated reconnaissance, and a skillful mastery of the sausage machinery of law making that can’t easily be gained from, as Hillary Clinton used to say, “on the job training.”

Thus, while Obama is quick to blame the Congress for his government’s pronounced inability to get what it wants (I resent the implication, said the President, that “my job is to somehow get them to behave”), when we look at the most successful presidents of living memory — Clinton, Reagan, Nixon, and Johnson — all were notable for their creative strategies of legislative manoeuvring. They went to the Hill and forged alliances with individual senators and representatives. They cajoled, flattered, arm-twisted, schemed and made deals. They compromised, triangulated, and gave and took.

The Obama strategy, in contrast, is to simply run ideas up the proverbial flagpole and then take great offense when no one salutes. Of the budgets the President has submitted since taking office, two out of three received ostentatious zero votes from Congress. The White House’s instance that an assault weapons ban be part of any post-Newtown gun control bill was tone-deaf in its overreach, and helped poison the well for pro-gun legislators to seriously consider the watered-down compromise that followed. Obamacare, despite baring his name, was largely crafted by Nancy Pelosi and the congressional Democrats, who indeed actively resented the White House for its lack of leadership at the time.

Obviously, Republican obstructionism in the House and Senate bears a lot of blame for Obama’s marked record of not-doing, but it would be hardly accurate to assert that the modern GOP, Tea Party-infused or not, is really so much worse than any Congressional opposition of years past. It’s easy to forget that Republican Clinton-hate was every bit as fanatical and foaming as modern Obama-hate, complete with elaborate conspiracy theories (Vince Foster was murdered!) and diabolical allegations (the President assassinates his enemies!). Lyndon Johnson passed the most radical racial equality legislation in American history at a time when Congress still possessed a sizeable caucus of open, unapologetic racists and segregationists — and that was just in his own Democratic Party. For his part, Richard Nixon’s term didn’t overlap with a single year in which either chamber of the legislature was controlled by Republicans.

In fairness, I guess it’s true that Obama does have a strategy of sorts, it’s just the wrong one. He’s had polite dinners and lunches and summits galore with Congressional Republicans, and has uttered many-a hectoring speech on the need for everyone to mind their manners and stop being so stubborn. He’s routinely appealed to optimism and emotion, and tried to embarrass and shame those who don’t appreciate the urgency of his causes. He’s even outright surrendered now and then. But the results speak for themselves.

Many years ago, I remember reading a reporter’s summary of a video montage shown at the 2000 Democratic National Convention. It featured a chronological mashup of all the Democratic presidents of the second half of the 20th Century, beginning with Franklin Roosevelt and ending with Bill Clinton. The appearances of these liberal icons generated wild cheers from the audience, noted the story, except for Jimmy Carter, who received only “polite applause.”

That, it seems, is the way American history records its presidents. There are those whose scope of deed and action guaranteed their greatness would always be uncomplicated and self-evident, and there are those who were nice and well-meaning, but ultimately too politically incompetent or strategically unskilled to leave much of a legacy. They are the men whose textbook biographies strain to describe how rejiggering this-or-that federal agency or signing some long-forgotten treaty were accomplishments deserving to share space with world wars and moon landings.

Barack Obama will be a polite applause president.

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^ 94 Comments...

  1. drs

    This post sacrifices a lot of the respect I had for you.

    "it would be hardly accurate to assert that the modern GOP, Tea Party-infused or not, is really so much worse than any Congressional opposition of years past" — wrong. The use of the filibuster during his terms has been at an all-time high.

    "Congress still possessed a sizeable caucus of open, unapologetic racists and segregationists — and that was just in his own Democratic Party." LBJ's civil rights laws passed with more votes from the Republicans than the Democrats, since most of those unapologetic racists and segregationist *were* Southern Democrats.

    Nixon's been described as our last liberal president, based on the laws passed during his term; based on positions he could be considered to the left of Obama. And it's a fact that mid-century, the parties were unusually "bipartisan", meaning mostly that they were ideologically incoherent regional coalitions. The Democrats had New Deal progressives and those unapologetic racists. The GOP had its usual big business elements and noblesse oblige Rockefeller Republicans. They've since sorted themselves out a lot more and polarization is back up to Gilded Age levels.

    "Republican Clinton-hate was every bit as fanatical and foaming as modern Obama-hate" — certainly comparable. And what did Clinton do? He surrendered, going from proposing integration of gays in the military to signing "don't ask don't tell". He signed NAFTA and welfare reform, though those might be because he actually was a 'moderate' who believed in such things. IIRC he proposed spending more of the surpluses, the GOP wanted to cut taxes, and we ended up with paying down the debt due to gridlock.

    I mean, I hardly think Obama's the best president either, but you're willfully ignoring the realities of modern US politics to make petty comparisons.

  2. Psudo

    And what did Clinton do? He GOT LAWS PASSED. In the face of stalwart obstruction, that's the difference — symbolic effort vs. discrete accomplishment.

  3. Shawn

    If you get laws passed by severely compromise your values, it's symbolic accomplishment as well.

  4. Taylor

    Is it Obama or the office itself that is becoming more and more irrelevant?

  5. Taylor

    I should clarify, I mean for policy-making. Obviously having one's finger on the button makes someone relevant.

  6. Shawn

    Blame "Citizens United" for hatching us the worst batch of Government Reps this country has ever seen.

  7. drs

    Signing a law that was nearly the opposite of your original intent is not exactly a sterling accomplishment.

    And what has Obama done? He got laws passed. Or at least Congress did. Not *all* of their laws, but: stimulus, fair pay act, tobacco regulation, credit card regulation, Obamacare, *repealing* DADT, three free trade acts, two with countries bigger than Canada…

    As for comparisons with the overly maligned Jimmy Carter, Obama managed to get re-elected. That's one superior achievement.

  8. Rachel Bush

    Agreed, the last of the senators most well-known for crossing the aisle either switched parties, retired, or were thrown out back in 2008 and 2010. Can Obama really be blamed for the sequester in light of this? In our current climate the Democrats need a supermajority to prevent Republicans from voting for the US to default on its debt.

    Also, Obama hasn't exactly been running ideas up the flagpole and expecting people to salute. The problem is that he offers compromises where Republicans literally have not taken notice.
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2

  9. Hentgen

    The end of earmarking also ended political horse-swapping. It's easy to stick to your guns if there's nothing in it for you.

  10. Morticharr

    I think it's somewhat unfair to say that Obama will be a "polite applause" President; you can only blame him directly for so much. Yes, he's made a lot of promises, and that WAS his fault, not knowing that he would be unable to fulfill them. But at the same time the Republican party, especially the Tea Party brand Republicans, have basically sworn up and down that no matter what he tries to pass, no matter how good it is, they will do everything in their power to block it.

    Can you really blame him for televised oaths of obstructionism at all costs, regardless of who suffers- and at least one Republican has, on TV no less, flat out said "die quickly if you can't afford to get healthy"- and regardless of who foots the bill? I can blame him for not realizing what he was promising, certainly, but I can't really blame him, in specific, for failing to get Congress to work well together, especially when said Congress has pledged to never work well together again unless one side gets everything it wants with no compromise.

  11. Dude

    How? Most of them(particularly the leaders) were in office before Obama, and I don't think Republican-friendly groups have actually outspent Democrat-friendly groups by any noticeable margin.

  12. Dude

    The polite applause bit is funny. because Carter was actually one of the more successful Democrats. He's the one who armed the Afghan rebels and started giving the Soviets a Vietnam of their own. He's the one who deregulated huge numbers of industries. He's the one who set Paul Volcker up to kill inflation. Most of what Reagan gets credit for was actually Carter's doing. (Though I suppose that might be why Democrats don't like the guy much…)

  13. Dude

    A few, yes. Obamacare and the stimulus are genuinely big deals(both miserable failures, but miserable failures with scale). But that's pretty sad compared to the legislative record of most other Presidents. Do you think Obama will perform any feat of Congressmancy nearly so impressive as Bush getting the Surge done with a Democrat Congress, or Clinton winning most of his showdowns with the Republican Congress?

  14. Rachel Bush

    Bush didn't need to have the approval of Congress for the surge, because he already had the authority granted to him by the 2002 authorization to use military force. As well, both houses of that Democratic Congress had passed non-binding resolutions expressing the disapproval of Congress. The only open options in preventing the surge would have been amending that 2002 authorization to use military force, or blocking funding for military troops.

  15. Steve

    Here is link to an xkcd comic, which shows how extreme and moderate the parties have been over time

    You said, "it would be hardly accurate to assert that the modern GOP, Tea Party-infused or not, is really so much worse than any Congressional opposition of years past"
    but that is clearly not the case. The media, common sense, and other internet web comics can all agree that the GOB has become more obstructionist than constructive.
    For the first time in U.S. history, they have filibustered Obama's appointment for Defense Secretary, who was a Republican.

    http://xkcd.com/1127/

  16. drs

    "prevent Republicans from voting for the US to default on its debt."

    And let's be clear about what that means. Congress passes a budget with a huge deficit, then refuses to raise the debt ceiling as required by its own budget. It's not like Obama is causing the deficit; spending money and changing taxes are Congress's great prerogatives.

  17. drs

    Not just 'basically' sworn. Mitch McConnell, Senate minority leader: "The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president." Remember that, JJ? And they backed it up with a storm of filibusters, including of a health care reform designed by the Heritage Foundation and signed by Mitt Romney.

  18. drs

    Also: http://www.forwardprogressives.com/obamas-sociali

    A good chunk of which is why *liberals* aren't happy with him. But… you get polite applause when you're a one-term president in hard times, even if you lay the groundwork for recovery. If you're a two-term president who lies the country into war and presides over the biggest economic disaster since the Great Depression, you still get people singing your praises. Will Obama be remembered at least as well as George W. Bush? At this rate, hell yeah. (Remember who got Osama bin Laden? Obama. Mission Finally Accomplished.)

  19. J.J. McCullough

    I think you make fair points, and your rebuttal facts are certainly accurate. However, at the same time, each president operated in the context of his era without the benefit of hindsight, and faced challenges that were perceived, at the time, to be every bit as daunting and complex as the ones Obama faces now.

    The difference, and I think what makes Obama an objectively worse president, is that he doesn't seem to have a particularly clever or creative strategy for overcoming his obstacles. He's basically just the president of losing votes and getting frustrated, when, in my opinion, he could have been the president of reinventing the role of presidency in some unique way to limit his constant defeat and embarrassment at the hands of a legislature that hates him.

    What would that look like? I don't know. But if we are to accept that the current Republican opposition is the worst, most dogmatically obtuse opposition in modern American history, then he's got to at least try going down that path, or most of his legacy will simply be mitigated failure.

  20. OldsVistaCruiser

    If it wasn't for the rampant obstructionism practiced by the teabaggers, Obama would have went down as one of the all-time greatest presidents in U.S. history. The ultra-right is the only reason he hasn't done as well as he should have.

    I agree with drs. I have lost a lot of respect for you, too, J.J., believing Fox Lies. I didn't think you could watch that crap in Canada.

  21. JP Johnson

    This report card is odd. I'd have folded Syria into Foreign Policy which is a solid A-. The Stimulus into the Economy which is at a C+. Sequestration into the Deficit which is at a C.

    He's doing just fine, thank you very much. Especially when you consider how obstinate Congress is being.

  22. RoseTinted

    Interesting that you describe the US as 'the world's second-largest democracy'. What do you make of the EU then?

  23. Shawn

    Worst Republican opposition + worst economic collapse in 80 years = Doomed to fail from the start.

    I'm not sure what other presidency you can really compare to this one. Even the Great Depression was saved more by WW2 than it was anything the president did….

  24. Shawn

    Whether Democratic or Republican – anyone put in office by large corporations will be bad.

  25. KyleEverett

    Well the largest is India by far.

  26. drs

    "each president operated in the context of his era without the benefit of hindsight, and faced challenges that were perceived, at the time, to be every bit as daunting and complex as the ones Obama faces now"

    I entirely disagree.

    "He's basically just the president of losing votes and getting frustrated"

    Truman tried to give us universal health care. Nixon tried to give us UHC. Clinton tried to give us UHC. Obama succeeded. In a way, this puts him up with FDR and LBJ, the creators of Social Security and Medicare.

    "in some unique way… I don't know". This sounds like you're saying Obama has failed to do the unimaginable and possibly impossible, therefore is a worse president.

  27. Kaliwax

    You severely underestimate the current state of the Republican Party.

  28. J.J. McCullough

    No, that's not what I'm saying at all. I'm saying as a leader, the onus is on him to come up with creative strategies to overcome his political obstacles, not merely attempt the same failed techniques over and over while getting increasingly more resigned and indignant. I really do think a lot of this comes from his being under-qualified for the job.

  29. @AshburnerX

    The EU is more of an economic alliance than a confederation of republics, so democracy really isn't relevant They don't have a unifying government that can override that of each individual country, which basically why it's doomed to fail. Germany isn't going to keep bailing out everyone forever… eventually they are going to be given control of the spending of several countries or they are going to walk.

  30. Rachel Bush

    I would've folded Guantanamo Bay into some sort of "civil libertiarianism" group, though. It really does not make any sense that he is advocating for Guantanamo Bay closure when his government has expanded Bush administration policies like warrantless wiretapping. The Obama administration does not believe e-mail is subject to the Fourth Amendment, and with "snail mail" and the U.S. Postal Service increasingly on the decline, soon that could be the only option available.

    From a civil libertarian perspective, Guantanamo Bay has been presented as a fine line and a symbol, much like the issue of unmanned drones with Rand Paul. The government tortures, violates the Geneva Conventions, then declares a new category of enemy combatants that are not covered by the binary categories of "either POW a or civilian" designed by international law to illicit humane treatment, and soon enough they're waterboarding prisoners and electrocuting their testicles.

    So the argument goes, what's to stop government from using this new creative legal thinking to the rest of us? Many of Obama's privacy policies really skip that stage, making his Guantanamo advocacy like showing up for class to keep up appearances, but not doing the homework. Or something.

    To be comprehensive, the only area of improvement is the creative use of executive signing statements to circumvent Congress. Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Clinton issued about 4x more than their predecessors combined, and Bush Jr. issued about 3x more than them, but thus far Obama has issued only 18.

    So…still an F there. I'll add that not only have Republicans filibustered more legislation than ever, but they've also left the most vacancies in the U.S. Courts of Appeals.
    http://www.npr.org/blogs/itsallpolitics/2013/04/0

  31. Rachel Bush

    I would've folded Guantanamo Bay into some sort of "civil libertiarianism" group, though. It really does not make any sense that he is advocating for Guantanamo Bay closure when his government has expanded Bush administration policies like warrantless wiretapping. The Obama administration does not believe e-mail is subject to the Fourth Amendment, and with "snail mail" and the U.S. Postal Service increasingly on the decline, soon that could be the only option available.

  32. Guest

    "with some so weak from protest they’ve had to be painfully force-fed"
    You might want to rethink this sentence. You may not have meant it this way, but the wording implies there is a medical imperative to force-feed, or else that it's been done with consent. In fact, force-feeding is widely regarded as unethical among medical professionals.

    The decision to force-feed was a political decision to avoid the embarassment of prisoners dying for their freedom, which is totally off-message when they're supposed to be terrorists and all.

  33. Guest

    What is immigration – H? K? L?

  34. Guest

    this is fucking garbage, JJ.
    if Grandpa McCain had a similar presidency, you would be more sympathetic to the era and more critical of Congress.

  35. Virgil

    Bah….naysayers aside I largely agree with the post. My suspicion is that the reason for the policy failures can be found in the polls….not whether people are for or against, say, gun control, but where they fall regarding the priorities of the public.

    Immigration and gun control consistently rate at the bottom, while economic matters are at the top. With this backdrop any other domestic agenda will easily fall by the wayside. The public simply will not care if the Republicans torpedo gun control…to take one example. Its not high on their agenda.

    I also think getting upset at the opposition for the act of opposing wears thin after a while. I can't think of a president who wouldn't swear that his opposition was the worst in history. In this light, the constant complaints about the tea party seem to lack perspective. Actually, they seem like the complaints FDR had about the Republicans of the time.

  36. drs

    We're not dependent on Obama's possibly sour grapes swearing. We can look to the evidence, such as counting how many filibusters or holds are used, or looking at vote correlations to see how polarized on party lines Congress is. And as above, we find that the filibuster is used far more and the parties are far more coherent and polarized. This is reality.

    No President before 1975 *could* face the filibusters Obama has. The filibuster isn't timeless, it's a repeatedly tweaked piece of Senate rules. For a while the trend was to make it easier to override, down from unanimity to 60%; in 1975 it was made easier to *use*. No longer did one have to paralyze the whole Senate, Mr. Smith Goes To Washington style; instead the Senate could go do other business while something was filibustered. Which meant one could selectively and freely filibuster anything one wanted, rather than having to spend political capital on paralyzing all Senate business. LBJ and Nixon didn't have to worry about this.

    Even after it became possible, it took 33 years for it to be figured out, or for Senate norms to break down such that it could be abused. But once that happened, boom, and the Senate is now effectively a supermajority body for all business. Experienced Senators write essays describing and decrying this.

  37. Shawn

    True. He should have ordered Drone Strikes on House Republicans. Problem solved.

  38. Shawn

    The worst part is the relatively small population those 41 senators can represent.

  39. Psudo

    Then you agree with little-kid Obama in the comic — it's our fault for having expectations.

  40. Psudo

    Which is worse, passing a compromise bill with only some of what you want or failing to pass any bill at all? On gun control, on closing Gitmo, on any budget bill Obama has simply failed to get anything passed. In Canada, failing to pass a Budget would result in a new election; under that rule, Obama would be running in a new election every few months.

  41. Psudo

    I think you're being astronomically vague, Shawn.

    What, specifically, denotes whether a person was "put in office by large corporations"? Is it that they have PACs or SuperPACs on their side? Is it that they have ever taken personal campaign donations from corporate mangers? How is a "large" corporation distinguished from a medium-size or small business corporation? What proportion of a candidate's campaign finances have to come from "large corporations" in order for the backing of average Joe Donor to be considered irrelevant in judging whether a politician will be "bad?"

  42. Golgot

    Armed Afghan rebels and deregulated industries are sure working otu for us now, aren't they?

  43. Golgot

    He doesn't, if you'd bothered to read earlier entries. At least, not anymore.

  44. Psudo

    Filibusters were getting progressively more common before Obama took office, as seen here. As your own source shows, the parties were getting more polarized before Obama took office (the Republicans changed far more rapidly, but the Democrats had been drifting toward polarization since the 40s or so). That Obama is facing the consequences of historical trends is not something unique to his Presidency, nor can decades-long trends be a consequence or reaction to his election. We have expectations of him for the same reason we have expectations of any President — because facing brand new challenges never before confronted by anyone and winning anyway is what a President is elected to do.

    It is the hardest job on the Planet; I'm sure all five living Presidents will agree with that. But the challenges Obama faces are not more indomitable than those faced by the six (or forty) previous Presidents.

  45. Zulu

    I was not expecting this commentary from you, JJ. You who have agreed that Republicans are at fault for saying "no" to everything Obama tries to do, even unambiguously for the good of the country.

  46. David L

    I think you're shortchanging Obama's achievements in many aspects. There's certainly a great deal he's done now which will have measurable benefits for the country when compared to the slow avalanche of mistakes by leadership after JFK was assassinated.

    - The legislation of outright fraud by credit card issuers on their customers served to not only reform the market but stabilize it against another big bubble. It's true the issuers did retaliate for the loss of their fees by raising rates across the board, but it's still of net benefit to the consumer.

    - The first significant nuclear weapon disarmament treaty in 2 decades with Russia is a huge achievement. It is now just optimistic and not unrealistic to say that we may have less than 2,000 nuclear missiles by 2050.

    - The diplomatic rapproachment Obama led in choosing the most energetic Secretary of State in years, in working closely with Europe on the Libya crisis, in soothing Middle East anti-Americanism, and of course in prudently pivoting back towards Asia by quietly isolating China while courting India. These are savvy moves that should be praised.

    - Despite the numerous shortcomings of the Affordable Care Act, its provisions do reform some of the messy health care market and help 50+ million uninsured Americans where no private or public solution existed.

    Liberals can condemn Obama for a lackluster stimulus or the failure to Guantanamo and Republicans for all kinds of demonizing propaganda, but the fact is that he was not only an improvement on our last President but more importantly, made many more correct decisions than bad ones.

    President Obama's successor will come into office with a far better array of weapons at his or her disposal in no small part due to the man from Hawaii.

  47. David L

    Contributions bundled through third party organizations as specifically allowed by the Citizens United decision were dominated by Republicans and associated causes throughout 2012. The Democrats did follow up with their own attempts months later but the money raised and benefit provided were dwarfed by how crucial those "anonymous" contributions were for the other party.

  48. drs

    Oh yeah! I've heard Obama's foreign policy successes have been mostly unreported. Not flamboyant, just quiet repairing of reputation, and use of soft power and friendliness. Now lots of countries love us again, especially compared to China. Hillary gets some credit too of course.

  49. drs

    Not all deregulation is the same. Deregulating the airlines isn't the same as loosening environmental protections isn't the same as financial deregulation. I suspect most of the dereg that backfired is Reagan or later, but can't make a list.

  50. drs

    Quoting your own link: "And then the practice absolutely skyrockets when Barack Obama takes office." As can be seen in the graph, where they at least double with his term. Your claim of gradual trends and lack of discontinuity is refuted by your own source.

  51. drs

    I'm not sure how to read your sentence.

  52. Steve

    They were getting more common, but as drs pointed out "the practice absolutely skyrockets when Barack Obama takes office."

    You're link provides so much evidence of Republican obstructionist policies, I should have used it myself

    "It’s that the filibuster is a constant where it used to be a rarity"

    You need a Cloture to break a filibuster, "simply holding a cloture vote takes about 30 hours of floor time". A Cloture requires 60 votes.

    "It should be called the 60-vote requirement. It applies to everything now even when the minority does not specifically choose to invoke it. There are no longer, to my knowledge, categories of bills that don’t get filibustered because such things are simply not done"

    Therefore, even the simplest bill takes over 30 hours and 60 votes to pass. The inclusion of any bills becomes limited because of time consumption and the requirement of a super majority. The threat of a filibuster hangs over any potential bill, stifling motivation and hope.

    It is true that the xkcd link shows that the parties were both getting more polarized, but Republican party was going far more extreme than the Democratic party. There is practically no center right Republicans, but there still exists center left Democrats.

    Although Obama faced a historical trend, it has reached a zenith in his presidency. Once it has passed a line, it becomes unworkable.

  53. Guest

    I agree with the general thrust JJ – simply saying 'I tried but they wouldn't let me' is not a good enough excuse for any modern leader – let alone one this important.
    If it were supposed to be an easy job then it wouldn't be worth the agony.
    However, I think that people got the president they wanted.
    If you want a beltway outsider – you also run the risk of getting someone who doesn't know how to work the system
    If you want a visionary – you run the risk of getting someone lacking in pragmatism
    If you want a rockstar – you run the risk of getting a prima donna.
    Give me a boring politician who can get stuff done anyday.

  54. Psudo

    I don't think it could still be called "quiet" if it had been flamboyantly portrayed as headline news. While I don't offer any criticism of that foreign policy, remember that you can't have a policy that is both quiet and flamboyant.

  55. Kaliwax

    His argument is that since other presidents still got things done despite some Congressional opposition that must mean Obama is a failure since he hasn't. However, he is severely underestimating the current state of the Republican Party whose admitted purpose in Congress is not to govern but to obstruct everything Obama does or wants. McConnell himself said his goal after the 2008 elections was to make sure Obama was a one term president, for example. They filibuster compromise bills that gives them what they want and they even filibuster their own bills so they can try to give Obama a black eye.

    The current Republican Party has no intention of governance. Their only goal is to cause chaos and then try to blame Obama and the Democrats for it.

  56. Psudo

    They say that, but their own data shows the skyrocketing began with the 2007-2008 term, which had about the same number of Republican filibusters against the Democratic Senate majority under Bush as the next two years under Obama. Both the Democratic majority in the Senate or the 2008 financial crisis are more likely triggers than the Obama election.

    I don't deny that congressional Republicans are being more obstructionist than in the past. I only speculate that Democrats will set a new record in that regard as soon as they're in a position to initiate filibusters as part of a longer-term trend of treating the filibuster as a worthwhile replacement for traditional negotiation when it clearly isn't.

    That the gradual trend dates back at least as far as the '70s is clearly evident in the data as well. Their analysis doesn't match their data, and I trust data more than analysis.

  57. Psudo

    And if Ross Perot won in 1992, neither Clinton nor Obama would never have been President. See? It's easy to make up likely alternatives to reality. It is, however, impossible to prove them true.

  58. Psudo

    Though I would be quite pleased with lowering the threshold needed to override a filed-and-planned filibuster to 55 or 50 and restoring the traditional filibuster tactics of actually getting tired speaking in front of the Senate, I can't quite condone the criticism of Senators being representatives of different sized populations when that is the Constitutional purpose for the existence of Senators: to represent states (originally, state governments), not populations. If Senators stood up for state interests instead of party interests, as they should, negotiation would still be standard operating procedure and this kind of filibustering deadlock would be considered an affront to state's rights (which motivation would have the right wing as up in arms about it as the left-wing already is, though most of the left-wing is motivated by the suffering of their party's Senate majority more than the fact of political deadlock itself).

    In short, restore Senate elections by the state legislatures and restore the Mr. Smith Goes to Washington method of filibustering, but don't complain that Senators don't represent significant populations.

  59. J.J. McCullough

    "I" for "incomplete." That's a grade we used when I was in school.

  60. J.J. McCullough

    I do agree with that conclusion, broadly. But I think it's naive to suggest Obama deserves no blame whatsoever for his lot. I feel like I've been going too easy on him.

  61. Yariv

    If only he had some sort of a lantern, maybe a green one.

  62. Jake_Ackers

    Truth be told is. If soldiers don't follow orders, the General gets the blame, doesn't matter who's fault it is. So either Obama learns to lead better or find better Sergeants.

  63. Jake_Ackers

    No. McCain was McAmnesty. He almost got it passed. McCain was bipartisan on a lot and always got people together. McCain gave Obama several chances for Senator Obama (when Obama was in the Senate) to be bipartisan, especially one key one in which Obama promised he would and didn't. McCain then wrote him a letter about bipartisan lobbying reform. Something Obama made a big deal in 2008 about.
    http://www.mccain.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?Fus

  64. Jake_Ackers

    What about the Dems with GW Bush? They were the party of "No."

  65. Jake_Ackers

    Senate elections by the state legislatures is the best. Money would have little to no say in federal issues. And people actually would care about local issues.

  66. Jake_Ackers

    As compared to what the Dems said about President Bush? That actually seems mild.

  67. Jake_Ackers

    Obama got reelected with a higher unemployment then when he took office. He had one job: Get us out of the recession/lower unemployment. He didn't.

    Sure, it could be worst but it SHOULD be better.

  68. Jake_Ackers

    It's the Barry comes late attitude. KSM on trial in NYC, then not. Close Gitmo then not. Warrantless tapping, then not. etc. etc. He takes positions without thinking of the realistic feasibility of them, both in the real world and in politics.

  69. Jake_Ackers

    Oh and yes the Dems loved George Bush so much.

  70. Jake_Ackers

    Tyranny of the majority. Or do you live in Europe?

  71. Jake_Ackers

    But problem is Americans don't want that. McCain lost. Mitt lost. All candidates who always crossed the party lines. Yet, were called Bush-light by the Dems and Reps a like.

  72. Jake_Ackers

    Bush also had Katrina (which he did mess up) and 9/11. Obama also lied about Beghazi. And Reagan did more in less time with an economy nearly as bad. The problem is we should of recovered by now. At this rate it will take 10 years before we are out of this recession. That's not a recovery. And Osama was only caught after the President's Barry comes late attitude, when Obama finally came around on the tools on the War on Terror.

  73. Jake_Ackers

    You missed the point. Even if Reps are blocking everything. At least a true leader would of been able to overcome it. Obama hasn't.

  74. drs

    Even if that's the case (2007 skyrocket), that still supports Obama facing unprecedented levels of Congressional opposition. The 2007 GOP minority wasn't filibustering Bush's bills.

    And the trends still aren't gradual, they clearly have discontinuities. One in the early 1970s, one in the late 2000s, maybe others.

    Yeah, it might become a permanent thing, until someone reforms the system, but that doesn't change the original point, that Obama's facing a type of opposition LBJ and Nixon and Clinton didn't.

  75. drs

    "Obama got reelected with a higher unemployment then when he took office."

    You are wrong.

    Squinting at Google Data, the unemployment rate was exactly the same in Jan 2009 and Nov 2012. This ignores the meteoric rise in unemployment that was going on in 2008-2009, from 5.1% in March 2008, to 7.8% in Jan 2009, to 9% in April. Peak unemployment was 10%; the 7.8% of Nov 2012 is definitely an improvement, yes?

    Certainly not ideal, but despite your apparent belief that a True Leader should be able to accomplish anything, getting the policies needed through this Congress would probably have been a challenge even for LBJ. Maybe if there wasn't a filibuster, or if they pounced on the 5 week period in which they had 60 votes *and* could keep all the Blue Dogs in line. But as it is, an extra $800 billion/year in stimulus spending? Creating a government jobs program? I bet you don't even believe in stimulus.

  76. drs

    You might want to look into why we got rid of selection by legislatures in the first place. Answer: massive corruption. By, hmm, money in federal issues.

  77. drs

    "find better Sergeants. " And what exactly does that analogy mean in concrete terms? Congress isn't an army, he can't just fire Senate Republicans for being disobedient or undisciplined officers.

    The Constitution is designed around checks and balances, and our government as practiced has acquired even more checks than are in the Constitution, via Senate rules. (Filibusters, holds.) Yet here we see a bunch of conservatives attacking Obama for being unable to overcome the checks wielded by their own side. I guess it's the authoritarian mindset at work.

  78. Jake_Ackers

    The leaders in the Democratic Party have not been able to help him reach across the aisle and get the needed votes. You can blame the Republicans but do you really think Pelosi (and the rest of them for that matter) is the best person to be bipartisan? She pretty much threw all the moderate Dems under the bus.

    I know he can't replace Reid or Pelosi or any of the whips. But he can empower other Senators and Representatives by instead of handing over the job of legislation directly to Reid/Pelosi/ and the other liberal politicians. He could of given to to true Blue Dogs.

  79. Jake_Ackers

    Different times. I highly doubt returning the process to the state legislature would result in more corruption. Now you can directly buy a Senator, at least with a indirect approach the Senator is beholden to the legislature not the special interests. So they actually have to do what is in favor of the people in their state. Or at least the people representing them.

  80. Jake_Ackers

    Technically it was 7.9 as people were voting based on the October numbers and not the November ones. As Nov just started. His job was to get us out of this recession. We aren't out, at least not in the eyes of the people. If Bush didn't keep us safe after 9/11 no one would of said "but". That is my point. Regardless of the ifs and buts about the situation. At the end of the day, a President is judged by many on if the job got done. Not "how we are almost there", if it "technically did get done", or "at least its not worst".

    Overall, people don't care about the process. They want results and I think that is more so the overall point of JJ's article. Yes he got reelected but many people still aren't happy with where we are in this economic situation. I'm not saying it isn't hard or he doesn't deserve credit. What I am saying is that it is all at the end of the day to most people irrelevant. People want and need result and frankly, the President needs to deliver. You don't get an A for effort in the Presidency.

    Again if Bush failed to protect America after 9/11 the left would of been like "OMG we are in Iraq and Afghanistan spent a ton of money and yet we aren't safe!" I doubt the if the Right said, "Well at least didn't have more attacks!" Would of been sufficient.

  81. Jake_Ackers

    Benghazi I think completely dismantled his main foreign policy accomplishment in the "building bridges" department with the Middle East. In what he did before, during and after the attacks.

    And by Liberal and civil libertarians standards, Obama has worst than Bush with civil liberties/rights. Warrant-less taps, drone strikes, killing American citizens, etc. etc.

  82. Jake_Ackers

    I think there is something obvious missing here. Are we suppose to believe, according to the Left, that when Bill Clinton comprised his principles it was bad but if Republicans did it, it would be good? Bill Clinton stood his ground on the right issues and comprised on others that was necessary.

    Frankly, I think the problem is the approach both sides are taking now. Mostly talking past each other and beating dead horses. There are things that we know either side won't move on. But frankly, both sides do it anyway just to seem like they are doing something and as a result hope to make the other side look bad. In the end we all, as the public, just suffer.

  83. Jake_Ackers

    Look up "Filling the tree". Harry Reid has used this tactic more than any other Majority leader What Reid does it fill up all the amendment slots on a particular bill. Thus ramming the entire bill through Senate without anyone saying anything or editing it. The point of amendments is to make a bill acceptable to all sides. Harry blocks any amendments to be added. Even moderate Senators that would support a legislation end up refusing to because they aren't able to amendment. So you can blame Republicans for the filibuster but you can also blame the Dems for "filling the tree."

  84. Simon

    "Lyndon Johnson passed the most radical racial equality legislation in American history at a time when Congress still possessed a sizeable caucus of open, unapologetic racists and segregationists"

    How many of the open, unapologetic racists and segregationists voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964?

    And I don't think that your examples of prior Presidents are as convincing as you believe them to be. Clinton tried to pass health care reform, but Congress was opposed so… he didn't. After the major Democratic losses in 1966, Johnson's agenda completely stalled; he still had majorities in both houses, but even that reduction was enough to halt him in his tracks. Nixon's most famous clash with Congress didn't exactly end in his triumphant victory.

    I would recommend reading Ornstein on this question: http://www.nationaljournal.com/daily/the-myth-of-

    What you've done, JJ, is buy into the post-facto mythologising of these presidents. If that's what you're interested in, then just wait 20 years, and Obama will be mythologised plenty – he did implement the most significant expansion of the welfare state since the Great Society. I'm sure that a few decades from now, clueless pundits will pontificate about how he "rammed" the ACA through Congress, magically obtaining votes for it through sheer force of will.

  85. JP Johnson

    Not in the eyes of the people? He got re-elected. The economy crashed in October of 2008, it had a long way to go down before it can come back up. Any failings come from Congress, so….I don't understand your complaint.

  86. virgil

    Honestly, I love the commentary. I am a bit surprised too….when I was thinking of the Republican opposition and the tea party I was thinking more about the House…not necessarily the Senate where there are only a few tea party senators.

    I'm actually sympathetic to undoing the direct election rule. Ultimately, I think the issue had less to do with corruption and more with the progressive views at the time that democratization was good in and of itself…the same impulse that brought us the referrendum, women's sufferage, the recall, and other direct democratization changes. In the case of direct election it did…uniquely…change the very structure in that the chamber that was to be a voice of the states now became the home to some 100 or so super-congressmen that could expect to be around for decades.

    I agree that the filibuster has been abused and should be made more difficult to use. Ironically, I remember the Republicans were talking about getting rid of the "Gentleman's Filibuster" for judicial appointments during the Bush administration. Where would we be now if that had succeeded and made a general rule? The nuclear option I believe it is called.

  87. guest

    Republicans have an authoritarian mindset…by saying the government should decrease in power? Coming on the heels of the IRS scandal, this is rich.

  88. Virigl

    A lot of this is fair…..but I disagree with the last paragraph in part insofar as the implication is that mere expansion of the welfare state gets a president to mythological standing. The law has, so far, remained unpopular, and while there is a chance it becomes a great success that still is to be determined based upon operation. Basically, I think expansion…or contraction of the government has to work and be demonstrated to work to get to that mythological threshold. It very well can backfire (see Woodrow Wilson's wartime expansion of government for an example.)

  89. David L

    How so? Obama isn't responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians, putting thousands of American soldiers and Marines in continued harm's way, or alienating potential allies.

    Benghazi didn't "dismantle" his foreign policy; it catalyzed the new Libyan government to further condemn the attacks and the Libyan people to rally AGAINST the militias that attacked the US embassy. You would not see that kind of respect for Bush if an embassy were to be (and was) attacked during his administraiton.

  90. HeartRight

    Y'all get over yourself. A program which cannot some measure of bipartisan support is one that country is better off without.

    [And if you think he WANTED an A for a Syria policy, you've lost the plot.]

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