In the words of Homer J. Simpson, "It's funny because it's true!"

In the words of lazy bloggers everywhere: heh. And, may I add: lolsob? In the October 22, 2009 New York Review of Books, Elizabeth Drew writes:

It’s apparent that Obama is still learning the differences between campaigning and governing. And sometimes his inexperience shows. His speeches on health care on Labor Day and before Congress a few days later drew on his old rhetorical skills and finally showed some passion, and the one before Congress was his most effective so far in combining both rhetoric and explanation. But it was of interest that Chuck Todd of NBC reported that before he gave those speeches Obama’s staff had had to get him “fired up” to take on his critics. Obama, whose high self-esteem is well known among close observers, had previously assumed that a “following,” a “movement,” would be there without his having to do much to stimulate it.

Awesome! I disagree with one of Drew’s major premises in this article, which is that Obama faces a uniquely adversarial political environment. For example, she writes, “If Obama does get a bill that contains significant health insurance reforms and substantially expands coverage, he will have achieved more than any other president has, and under far more difficult circumstances.” Whaaaaa? Every U.S. President since Ronald Reagan would have killed to have his party control both the House and the Senate with the kind of majorities that the Dems have right now. (But–Drew may have a point in that Obama has to deal with Democrats in congress, who never manage to stand and deliver the way Republicans do. Then again, I would say that Obama is a model Dem in that respect!) In my party’s defense, I will suggest that it’s trying to serve a broader constituency than the other party serves, especially at this point in our history, when Republicans are now looking about as diverse and as ideologically supple as the Democratic party did round about 1859. (Fire bell in the night on line one!)

Still, so far Obama has only benefited from the winds of political fortune, and as my father always says, “I’d rather be lucky than good.” He could do worse than emulating Bill Clinton’s example–as I have already long since predicted he might–in finding himself quite fortunate in the enemies he makes.

0 thoughts on “In the words of Homer J. Simpson, "It's funny because it's true!"

  1. I’m bothered by the Bill Clinton analogy. Clinton’s most significant legacies of governance – the ones that shape life today for millions of Americans – are welfare reform and the Telecommunications Act of 1996. I think its too simple to say Clinton “won” by escaping impeachment and watching Gingrich, Armey, Livingston, et. al. go down in flames. We forget just how much triangulation occurred to win re-election in 1996; its been overshadowed by the political circus that followed. One hundred years from now historians will categorize Clinton as one of the many small Presidents living in Reagan’s shadow – just as we look at that gang of nobody presidents (Chet Arthur? Garfield?) that followed Lincoln in the late 19th century.

    I really hope that Obama doesn’t tack as far to the right as Clinton did. I’m still holding out hope – for many of the reasons Historiann mentions (he has both houses of Congress and we’re in a period of serious economic dislocation – which widens the field for him).


  2. Thanks, Historiann. I saw the second half of that monologue the other night and have been wondering where it began. Better than TIVO!

    I think you could have any majority you wanted of Democrats at this point and still not get much traction on complex issues. Lyndon Johnson had Democrats whut was real democrats. Back then there were dozens of Republicans to the left of where Sens. Snowe and Collins stand today, who were called conservatives. The cynicism of the Nixon years, being on the receiving end of the Reagan revolution, and recovering from all that, has pretty much ended any real sense of a party-based common good or even common interest at the national level. AARP now has 60 year olds going to the mat with 62 year olds. Don’t get me wrong, if anybody was crazy enough to send me to Washington, I’d probably be a worst tribalized offender. (But/And), as they used to say when I was starting out…. if Pro is the opposite of Con, what is the opposite of progress?


  3. CPP–yeah, Chuck Todd may err on the side of “truthiness,” but I thought that this observation may have some merit. How else to explain the low-energy, lackluster performance so far? Last year, everyone was so taken with the Obama “movement” and how he energized so many young people, but as a no-longer-quite-so-young person and an old Dem, I’ve been rather skeptical as to how the movement around Obama-the-candidate would translate into any push for policy priorities in the Dem party.

    What I don’t get is why Obama is tacking to the right at all, given his much more favorable environment, unless he IS in fact more to the right of Bill Clinton. PorJ’s review of the Clinton years leaves out his big budget bill of 1993, which raised taxes on the very rich and arguably paved the way for much of the prosperity of the 1990s. (It, and not health care reform, is probably why he lost congress in 1994). Right out of the gate, Clinton tried to ensure that gays and lesbians could serve openly in the military–perhaps a naive political mistake, but one that reflects liberal values. (DADT was a compromise pushed on him by the outrageous resistance of people like Colin Powell and Sam Nunn.) Clinton’s first efforts in 1993 look MUCH more progressive and decisive than Obama’s in 2009, so far.

    Obama doesn’t *have* to triangulate the way Bill Clinton did, but nevertheless he’s been madly triangulating away, right out of the gate. (At least that’s how I see it.)


  4. I had the impression during the election, amplified when meeting US citizens abroad soon after the election, that people had a tendency to pour all of their hopes and dreams into Obama, regardless of what he actually said on any given issue. His campaign encouraged this but it has a price, for everybody. Supporters are up for disappointment and Obama is up for criticism from his own party when he doesn’t perform the feats they envisioned.

    Having not voted for Obama in the primary, I now find myself in the odd position of cutting him more slack than do my friends who were his primary voters. He did say he would reach “across the aisle” and that the old partisan ways had to go. He was wishy-washy on a number of social issues (adopting the language of religious conservatives in many instances). It’s also my impression that he’s working with far less backup than the congressional roll call would lead one to suppose he has.

    To end on a more positive note, the mundane details matter too. Every time I read a news article about an EPA or NOAA or other agency action, I recognize the difference Obama makes, though appointments and setting priorities for those agencies. It does matter to have a smart, thoughtful President in charge.


  5. Although I am frustrated that Obama hasn’t been more progressive or effective in his policies so far, I did take a moment this weekend and ponder what life would look like if McCain had won the election.

    It was a sobering thought. I like to think that the little changes matter as well, like appointing people to head the EPA that are actually pro-environment, and lifting restrictions on aid groups that provide abortions.


  6. Those of you trying to find a bright side, do you realize what you’re saying? Standards have been so trashed after eight years of Bush II’s methods (I can’t bring myself to call it “governing”) that we’re impressed when someone mildly competent is appointed to any government job.

    I’m not actually sure McCain would have been worse. At least in his case, Congress would not have been colluding to hand the country over to Wall St. and the insurance companies.


  7. If John McCain had won: he’d be facing the same kind of rebellion within the ranks of the R party that Obama is facing with the Ds, only with more justification. McCain actually is not in the mainstream of his party on a number of issues (torture, for one). McCain would probably have been capable of assembling a kind of coalition government out of the remnants of the reasonable people in his party, plus some Blue Dogs and opportunistic other Dems. That is, the McCain of 2000 would have been able to do this–I don’t know about that geezer on the campaign trail last year.

    That said, yes–the lesser appointments do matter, and to a great degree. This is the lesson of the Bush years, and a rebuke to all of those in 2000 who insisted that Gush and Bore were exactly alike and it wouldn’t matter which one was elected. (How interesting that so many of the same people appear to have been taken in by Obama in 2008! As truffula said, and as Obama himself has said, he served as a vessel for people’s hopes and dreams last year.)

    Here’s another reason for Dems like me to be happy about Obama: Sonia Sotomayor. It sounds like she ripped it today in the SC–holla back for my girlfriend, Sonia! (A President McCain would have been under considerable pressure from Dems in congress not to nominate another total knuckle-dragger, but he probably wouldn’t have nominated a Sonia Sotomayor.)


  8. Upon entering office, Obama faced several serious crises; some are still here, but the most significant, a borderline panic that threatened to torpedo retail spending, was averted by the assurance that the new administration would do whatever Keynesian maneuvers it took to keep things on the rails. By March, serious panic had subsided. Two stimulus bills were issued, and while they have significantly assuaged fears about employment, the cost was (is) high. Commentators at the time rightly predicted that their addition to the deficit postponed for a few years other reforms Obama had hoped to achieve. The health care debate has to be seen with this mind – with no additional room to add to the deficit, much of the health care wrangling has been over how to pay for it. Neither party wants to add to the deficit at this point – this feature is not an issue of ideology but of fiscal prudence.

    Of the comments above, my feelings echo Indyanna’s the strongest. What has stood out to me most in the past few months is Obama’s lack of a supporting cast in the health care debate, particularly from senior Senators. With the right-wing noise machine cranked up to full blast, it is no surprise that health care reform advocates have been on the defensive. It is also little surprise that the post-Nixon era of partisanship has yielded precious few pieces of landmark legislation.

    I would like appreciate it if critics of Obama would come out and say specifically what they would like to see him do differently. I would like to see him grab the reluctant farm-state Senators by the balls and threaten their massive farm and energy subsidies. If we can’t afford health care for all, what are we doing paying for all this surplus corn to be produced? That health care is being held hostage by a cadre of small-state Senators has been for me another maddening aspect of this episode. If Obama’s been waiting to play this card, he’s waited too long.

    As for Obama v/ McCain, I have to go back to the economy. With McCain trying to govern from the center-right, it’s anybody’s guess where the economy would be today.


  9. Obama is governing from the center-right on the economy, Geoff! That’s what it looks like to me. He was the recipient of serious Wall Street bank last year, and he has pretty much adopted the Bush administration’s crisis-aversion plan. Timmy G. and Larry S. are representatives of the permanent overclass that wield much of the real power in Washington, party invariant.

    (Republicans only care about deficits when they’re not running the show–for example, the George W. Bush Presidency, ff.)

    What I’d like to see is some toughness and some resolve about something–really, anything at this point. I don’t like to admit it, but some of the right-wingers are right in that everyone likes Obama but no one fears him–not internationally, and certainly not domestically. He needs to take a few scalps and hang ’em high. But: that’s just not his style, as the very apt conclusion of the video above suggests. So it’s likely that I’ll spend the next 3 or 7 years saying, “don’t be so Obama, Obama! Come on!” (This will be just as frustrating for me as it is for you.)


  10. Geoff @ 2117;

    I am not certain where you are going with this. For instance, critics did speak up. They were told to STFU, and that President Obama was playing a ‘deeper’ game until he got the GOP in the right place. Then, WHAM!

    The anti-war folk want us out of Iraq and Afghanistan and the troops to come home. Krugman has been writing about continued emphasis on tax cuts instead of actual stimulus spending. Glenn Greenwald writes about the continued expansion of Presidential powers, ‘preventive detention’, failure to investigate torture, and other side-stepping of the Constitution. Go to Firedoglake for criticism of not investigating torture, war-profiteering, illegal wiretaps. “Naked Capitalism” has the good on the continued propping up of the ‘too-big-to-fail’ financial institutions.

    You certainly do not wade into the feverish swampland of the right like ‘Free Republic’ to find what the critics are saying.


  11. I’ll sign concurrences to truffula’s and ej’s opinioins.
    The other thing, besides the fracturing of Congress as an even basically effective institution in the past generation is the unraveling of the underlying social compact itself. Nobody but nobody is really ready to suck it up now and cede any rights or interests to any sense of the common good. Not to romanticize our absentee elders–and I know that real
    Twentieth Century historians could shred my points one by one, but “Great Recession” is an absurdist appropriation of the experiences of the big crash era. To expect any majestic procession of system-changing laws and programs (or system-saving laws and programs to adopt the progressive critique) during some mythical “Hundred Days” is just not realistic. The will is not there in the provinces. I do think we’ve cleansed or at least cauterized some of the worst nihilism that was infecting the body politic in the last decade. Enough mixed metaphors at this late hour…

    p.s. But it *would* be interesting to see some of this discussion shift to foreign affairs, re Historiann’s allusion re “not internationally, and certainly not domestically.” One of Clinton’s lost opportunities to be feared, or at least credited, both at home and abroad, evaporated along with Bosnia between 1993 and 1995. Compared with that situation, Obama is playing three-dimensional chess (or at least contemplating three-dimensional chess).


  12. @ Historiann, I am largely in agreement with your take on the source of economic policy. What I was trying to get to in Obama v. McCain was that McCain likely wouldn’t have been as aggressive with economic stimulus and some of the other bills that have passed. It is hard to use the left-right spectrum labels with much accuracy these days. I agree that the sources of economic policy are generally center-right, but the free-market rhetoric of nearly all Republicans precludes their participation in the stimulus packages and the support for borrowers with severe mortgage problems. Witness the rhetoric of governors in red states against the stimulus. In the current climate, the stimulus bills and borrower bailout come from the center-left, and are hard to imagine from a President McCain.

    @linnen, I’m afraid we’ve had a misunderstanding common in these short form postings. I wasn’t trying to address the issues you raise (Krugman, Greenwald…) What I was asking for are what specific and realistic political steps should be taken to achieve the near-term goals. It is not enough for me that someone wants Obama to have more backbone or be true to himself or whatever. Obama is not a dictator; the Presidency is, in a crude portioning, one-third of the government. Many representatives owe something to him but many Democratic Senators do not, especially those from red states whose political future is dependent on some distance from him. In this context, what moves can he make to achieve the goals that we all support?


  13. It is also little surprise that the post-Nixon era of partisanship has yielded precious few pieces of landmark legislation.

    I couldn’t disagree with this more. The problem is the “landmark legislation” has mostly been in one direction. I would argue that welfare reform was a landmark – it was a problem that vexed Democrats since Reagan’s anecdotes about the welfare queen taking a limo to the liquor store. Clinton’s acquiesence marked an important turn for the Democratic party (supposedly the party that protected the safety net) and the nation. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 has killed broadcasting and allowed corporate consolidation over the media that could not have been imagined in, say, 1980. Again: the Democrats moved right, and such FCC rules as minority set-asides and ownership caps have (for all intents and purposes) disappeared. Once again, Clinton abandoning liberal principles. And I can’t believe Historiann brings up DADT as an example of Clinton’s liberalism. If it was such a great idea, why have several gay rights groups called for its repeal? Go back and you see how infuriated several people were with that particular compromise at the time.

    There’s been plenty of landmark legislation since Nixon. I didn’t even note here the Defense of Marriage Act signed by Bill Clinton in September, 1996 – an absolute abomination to liberal principles. Taken together, the Clinton record of governance is remarkably Reagan-esque in its repudiation of liberalism (I’m talking about Clinton’s actions – not words. Look, we had a “dialogue” on race! Wonderful. Why weren’t Sister Souljah or Ricky Ray Rector invited?).

    And perhaps that’s the ultimate problem. Obama can’t seem to break free of the towering shadow that has basically haunted (and limited the scope of action for) every president since January, 1989.


  14. Geoff, I agree with you on the stimulus. McCain would have bailed out the banksters, but probably would not have spent any money to help out the rest of us. (He might have been shamed into it by a Dem House and Senate that would have been more ideologically united against a R. president.)

    And, PorJ–I did’t say that DADT was “an example of Clinton’s liberalism.” Please read more carefully. I said that it was a position he was forced into by a rebellion in his own party and among the generals. His original desire was to integrate the military without respect to sexual preferences. That was, and is, still a noble liberal goal, one that no president has yet achieved.

    Regardless of how much some may hate Bill Clinton, he isn’t the president and hasn’t been for 8-1/2 years. Obama is the president we have now, so he’s the one that can and should (and must) take the heat for his less than impressive record so far. My only point in bringing up Bill Clinton in the original post was to suggest that politicians can sometimes do quite well when their enemies are clearly raving lunatics, whatever their own failures and problems.


  15. I didn’t even note here the Defense of Marriage Act signed by Bill Clinton in September, 1996 – an absolute abomination to liberal principles.

    DOMA was signed to head off a movement for a Constitutional Amendment banning gay marriage. Considering that 40+ states, including mine, have passed a State Constitutional Amendment (my state) and/or legislation banning gay marriage and/or same-sex partner benefits, I think it was a necessary, though unhappy, political move.

    This stuff about the Clintons and DOMA is, and always has been, a red herring born either of ignorance of the true facts and/or a desire to obfuscate the true facts for political points-scoring. IMO, as a lesbian living in a Blue state where a large majority of voters – including a majority of Dem voters – voted to amend the Constitution to deny me protection, the Clintons’ dedication to gay rights cannot be questioned. While I don’t like DOMA, it’s better to face state legislation than a Federal Constitutional Amendment. Tell me, how long did it take to repeal prohibition?


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