Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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December 12, 2009

UNGOVERNABLE.... Responding to the notion that the federal law-making process has become so intractable that the country is basically "ungovernable," Glenn Reynolds argues:

Funny, that dumb cowboy Bush seemed to get a lot done with fewer votes in Congress....

It's just a snarky, 16-word comment, but it's also a noteworthy assessment, in part because it touches on so many important angles.

There is an impression that W. Bush was able to get more through Congress than President Obama has, at least so far, so it got me thinking about whether this is, in fact, true.

On its face, the comparison is difficult -- Bush had eight years; Obama hasn't quite been in office 11 months. Bush entered office in a period of peace and prosperity, with an enormous budget surplus, and with the United States held in high regard around the globe. Obama entered office in a period of economic collapse, two costly wars, and with the nation's international reputation stained. The differences matter.

What's more, I'm not sure I buy the premise. When I look back at the Bush/Cheney era, I think of a lot of things -- incompetence, corruption, mismanagement, neglect, spectacular failures on a generational scale in almost every imaginable area of public policy -- but "accomplished legislative record" isn't one of them. He passed huge tax cuts, increased spending, expanded the federal bureaucracy, and expanded Medicare, but most of those accomplishments came in his first three years. In his entire second term, Bush sought very little -- after his Social Security privatization failed, the White House effectively stopped having a domestic agenda -- and got very little in return.

More to the point, the legislative successes Bush achieved came when Democrats joined Republicans to support the administration's agenda. Indeed, congressional Dems always worked with Bush in good faith, ready to negotiate -- despite questions surround the legitimacy of his presidency -- and because there are so many moderate and center-right Democrats, Bush was able to score at least a couple key victories on the Hill.

For that matter, when Republicans held the congressional majority, Democrats rejected the filibuster-literally-everything approach to lawmaking. In many instances, Bush, like nearly every other president, could sign bills into law if they enjoyed the support of a majority of the House and a majority of the Senate. Obama has no such luxury -- Republicans' obstructionist tactics have no precedent in American history, and GOP moderates willing to work with the majority can be counted on one hand (a hand missing a couple of fingers).

Glenn Reynolds' suggestion is that Bush was simply more effective in getting what he wanted. But that overlooks all of the relevant details -- the crises, the diversity of thought among Dems, the lack of diversity of thought among Republicans, and the abandonment of majority rule in the Senate.

Bush's obviously limited intellect, in this case, is irrelevant.

It's easy to scoff, but the structural impediments to policymaking in 2009 weren't in place a few years ago. It gets back to the Californiafication argument.

Rich Yeselson recently proposed a thought experiment. Imagine if President Obama, as chief executives of yore used to do, was able to pursue his policy agenda by having a majority of the House and a majority of the Senate approve legislation he proposes. (This is old-school thinking, I know.) The stimulus would have been stronger, and would have passed easily. The health care bill would be more ambitious, and would already be law. The climate change bill could be further reaching, etc.

Except, that doesn't seem to be on the table.

We are living through the Californiafication of America -- a country in which the combination of a determined minority and a procedural supermajority legislative requirement makes it impossible to rationally address public policy challenges. And thus the Democratic president and his allies in Congress are evaluated on the basis of extreme compromise measures -- supplicating to dispassionate Wise Men like Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman, buying Olympia Snowe a vacation home, working bills through 76 committees and countless "procedural" votes -- rather than the substantive, policy achievements of bills that would merely require a simple majority to pass.

It is sheer good fortune that the Democrats had 59/60 Senate seats this cycle and thus were able to pass any stimulus at all, albeit the inadequate one they did. Think about it: With a robust 56 Senate Democratic seats, the stimulus would have failed -- and otherwise, Galston/Brooks would be talking not about Obama's "going too far," but, rather, about a "failed Obama presidency." And they would be wrong. What we would be witnessing -- and are still witnessing -- is a failed system of democratic governance. It's something procedural liberals should be deeply concerned about and should remedy as quickly as possible.

In the abstract, the landscape probably seems a little ridiculous. After extraordinary failures, Republicans were pushed into a tiny, humiliated minority. Democrats received a mandate unlike any we've seen in a generation -- a major presidential win (365 electoral votes), a huge House majority (256 seats, or 59%), and the largest Senate majority in decades. The GOP quickly became a small, discredited minority, and Democrats were positioned to do largely as they pleased.

And yet, the Californiafication issues persist.

Of course, it's worth emphasizing that the "ungovernable" dynamic only seems to exist for Democrats. When Dems have so many moderates and center-right members, a Republican president and a Republican Congress don't have less to worry about in terms of obstructionism -- enough Dems will help the GOP across the legislative finish line.

As this year has made clear, this is turned on its head in a period of Democratic ascendance.

The process was designed to have choke points to ensure checks and balances, prevent abuses, etc. But even at a time when urgent action is needed, the choke points have grown more plentiful and impenetrable. The need for reform is overwhelming.

Steve Benen 3:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (62)

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But, but, but - Obama is the worsetest president in the whole wide world: he sells out the progressives, pisses in everyone's cornflakes, and stole little Timmy's new bike!!! This complicated bit about the Senate doesn't fit the caterwauling about how Obama is a charlatan and fraud and turncoat and clearly we should have elected President Walnuts and the Idiot from Wasilla because then we could finally get some real progressives to run for the White House!!! And then - finally - everything would be right and proper in the world.

Posted by: K.Grant on December 12, 2009 at 3:40 PM | PERMALINK

As banal as it is to point this out (in response to Steve's detailed and excellent post), Republicans are not for "less government" or "limited government" but are instead now, more than ever, opposed to the idea and practice of a people making collective decisions. They are against government and governing. They are intent on using a system of governance against the practice of governing. The strategies and consequences are all around us.

Posted by: BGinCHI on December 12, 2009 at 3:41 PM | PERMALINK

Indeed, congressional Dems always worked with Bush in good faith, ready to negotiate...

And there quite frankly is the problem. The greater good would have been served by putting up more resistance as the Republicans are doing now.

But Democrats are generally scared of their own shadow, and were absolutely terrified that if they didn't get in line with the War President, those from more conservative districts would never get reelected. Republicans know they're destroying their national image and making life harder on what few of their number remain from liberal districts. But they don't care, possibly because (1) they're in such denial that they think going farther right will help them or (2) they're banking on turning the country into a failure on Obama's watch.

If Democrats had accepted that the greater good required turning the country into a failure on GWB's watch, it's interesting to speculate what would have resulted.

Posted by: Equal Opportunity Cynic on December 12, 2009 at 3:45 PM | PERMALINK

Democrats want gov't. to work...Republicans now only want to blame gov't. for, well, everything...Reagan's "government is the problem" rhetorical device is now dogma.

Posted by: golack on December 12, 2009 at 3:48 PM | PERMALINK

Republicans are not for "less government" or "limited government" but are instead now, more than ever, opposed to the idea and practice of a people making collective decisions.

Actually, they're only interested in "their government," as in they're the ones who are in charge. They view anyone else as a usurper. So no matter how incompetent, short-sighted, corrupt, or venal their leader is, he/she is their leader, and that's all the matters. The idea of needing a supermajority to pass a Democratic-sponsored bill allowing the sun to rise in the East is lunacy in any grown-up world, but when you have a collection of infantile brats with megaphones and money, it's the way things work.

What pisses me off is that the Democrats know all of this and they still let it happen. Someone needs some parenting classes. The comparisons of President Obama to Spock are close, but we need Dr. Spock, the baby doctor, as well as Mr. Spock, the Vulcan.

Posted by: Mustang Bobby on December 12, 2009 at 3:54 PM | PERMALINK

Excellent article. The sad truth is that Obama won't even get a chance to be a decent president. He deserves credit for the fact that he hasn't decided to scream and run away (yet) from the office, which is what most of us would do if we were stuck in his situation.

Posted by: pygalgia on December 12, 2009 at 4:00 PM | PERMALINK

Lets get something straight here. The problem is the corporatist Democrats, not the GOP. Even if the Democrats would have wanted to filibuster everything during Bush's term, if he had 60 Republicans in the Senate it would have been a wrap because they all would have voted on major Republican platforms.

Nothing proposed thus far by President Obama has strayed away from his campaign platform or the Democratic platform for generations, yet we have about 3 people who were elected to the Senate as Democrats and one "independent" who lost a Democratic Primary, switched to independent and won by lying through his effing teeth, campaigned for John McCain all last year and called President Obama both naive and dangerous, and for his trouble was able to keep his gavel on the Homeland Security committee who are the ones literally who are stalling and or eviscerating the Democratic bills being put forth. Without them, the threats of filibuster wouldn't hold any water any damn way.

At some point, hopefully soon, the liberal/progressive, and left leaning blogs will turn all of their attention and ammunition at those handful of Senators and totally ignore the Republicans in the Senate who really wield no power and only serve as a boogeyman to give cover to that handful of Senators who caucus with the Democrats and are holding everything up.

Then and only then will rank and file Democrats start to "get it". Right now, much like the White House and Harry Reid, too many blogs treat those folks with kid gloves, only attacking them every once in awhile and always caveating it heavily that they are from Red States or they are "centrists". Well let me say this, there are GOP Senators from blue or purple states who are up for reelection next year, its time for some trade ins.

In the meantime if people REALLY want liberal and progressive policies to turn into liberal and progressive legislation that gets passed, its time to focus on the real obstructionists. Lieberman, Nelson, Bayh, Conrad, Bauchus, Lincoln and Landrieu should be our focus and nothing else. They are not conservative or centrist or moderate, they have all been paid off and its very apparent that until the average Democrat realizes this then they will continue to float along fooling everybody into thinking they are mainstream.

Prime example, there are folks who now believe that any Senator endorsing a public option is "left wing". The truth is, single payer is "left wing". The public option as President Obama proposed it on the campaign trail is centrist, and the public option as it was in the proposed Senate bill was decidedly right wing. And yet because we spend our time attacking Republicans who are never going to vote for health care reform anyway instead of attacking the Dems who say a public option, even the weakest of any kind, is just a bridge too far, the issue has now been framed in terms that are favorable and down right encouraging for them.

Its time to stop taking any of their arguments with any form of credibility and just start hammering these assholes. I don't know about anybody else but I am sick and tired of having them eff up important legislation and emerge unscathed. Its time to put some major dents in their approval ratings and then see if they can still try to paint anyone who disagrees with them in the Democratic parts as "left wing"

Posted by: sgwhiteinfla on December 12, 2009 at 4:05 PM | PERMALINK

Good post. Of all the havoc Bush wreaked, little had anything to do with legislating.

The Atlantic magazine had a good story about this a while back, pinning much of the blame on Karl Rove. As a longtime Rove-hater, I was pleasantly surprised to find out just how big a fraud that guy is. In short, things could have been even worse.

Here's the link:

Posted by: ally on December 12, 2009 at 4:18 PM | PERMALINK

Well shoot, it's not hard to "get a lot done" if your idea of this is to cut taxes and give away $400B+ of subsidies to Medicare Part D. Neither of these pander bear moves was balanced with spending cuts or tax increases.

Posted by: JohnnyD on December 12, 2009 at 4:18 PM | PERMALINK

"At some point, hopefully soon, the liberal/progressive, and left leaning blogs will turn all of their attention and ammunition at those handful of Senators"

sgwhiteinfla, I am as angry as you are. But: are blogs going to shift politics in Nebraska? And is a primary challenge wise?- it cost us Lieberman and it cost the Republicans Specter.

We know that the calculus elected reps use is heavily driven by political resources and public opinion. The way to push Ben Nelson around is to mobilize in Nebraska, fund groups to his left (not hard), and do some long-term work to change the climate of opinion in that state and the forces that form it. He might not represent the true beliefs of Nebraskans, but he is certainly close to the center of Nebraska politics and we need to either give him the courage/need to move left of it, or change the center.

Or just get rid of the flipping filibuster so we can try the whole "government" thing.

Posted by: slg on December 12, 2009 at 4:24 PM | PERMALINK

Blah, blah, blah, in the end, he's right. Repub's got more done with fewer votes.

But it's an indictment of congressional dems, not Obama.

Posted by: eadie on December 12, 2009 at 4:24 PM | PERMALINK

All it know is, it only took 51 votes to ruin the country. So why do we need 60 to fix anything?

Posted by: Roddy McCorley on December 12, 2009 at 4:27 PM | PERMALINK

If Glenn Reynolds wants to make the case that Congressional Democrats are their own toughest opponents, he'll get no argument from me. The GOP hasn't landed a single punch since January of 2007, but then they haven't really needed to.

I have no problem with giving that dumb "cowboy" Bush credit for not interfering with a self-destructive opponent.

Posted by: Matt on December 12, 2009 at 4:28 PM | PERMALINK

Thursday, Feb 22, 2001 12:42 EST

The mystery of the docile Democrats: How long will they keep jumping through Ringmaster George's hoops?


The Dems are weak-kneed, the GOP is insane, and the media is terrible at reporting the news. Simple enough.

Posted by: Elvis Elvisberg on December 12, 2009 at 4:34 PM | PERMALINK

A lot of what Bush wanted was done behind the scenes, nit through legislation. Understaffing regulatory agencies, staffing the Dept of Justice with right wing, religious fanatics, failing to enforce regulations, opening public land to corporate exploitation did not require help from the Dems.

Posted by: JohnK on December 12, 2009 at 4:35 PM | PERMALINK

One thing that is often overlooked when making this sort of comparison is that the shrinking, ever-more-conservative GOP base presents a real electoral threat to all but the most rabidly conservative Republican office holders (see NY-23). I don't know that there's ever been an equivalent threat to moderate Democrats from the left outside a small handful of states (see Sen. Ned Lamont, D-CT).

It's pretty clear why Ben Nelson, Blanche Lincoln and other so-called moderate Senate Democrats have to toe a more conservative line if they want to stay in office. Nobody to their left would have much of a chance in a state-wide contest (and a more liberal candidate probably would be hard-pressed in a Democratic primary, too). The few remaining moderate Republicans (I'm thinking of you, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins) now have Dede Scozzafava and Sen. Arlen Specter, D-PA, as potent reminders of the need to watch out for primary challenges from the wingnut wing of the GOP, even though those challengers would probably lose a state-wide contest in Maine. The problem is that there are a lot more moderate Democrats than moderate Republicans who are vulnerable. Indeed, are there any moderate Republican Senators seeking re-election in the next few years who don't represent Maine?

It also doesn't help very much that Harry Reid's backbone is made of Silly Putty. Can you imagine Joe Lieberman (I-Aetna) trying to push back against Lyndon Johnson (for example, http://www.afterimagegallery.com/nytjohnson.htm)?

Posted by: JustBeingPedantic on December 12, 2009 at 4:36 PM | PERMALINK

Well, I think Glenn Reynolds has a point. As I recall, back before 9/11, Bush was pushing a tax cut bill, and he sweetened it up with a $300 rebate aimed at people who were not likely to benefit from the tax cut per se. What you could do, easily enough, would be to hang an additional tuition tax credit on the health insurance bill, and pick up a few votes in the deep South, where the probable beneficiary would be an independent Baptist school.

Posted by: Andrew D. Todd on December 12, 2009 at 4:37 PM | PERMALINK

We're NOT cohesive. We're NOT heterogeneous. THAT's why we're Democrats! Will Rogers was right, and I'm proud to stand with him.

Posted by: Cal Gal on December 12, 2009 at 4:43 PM | PERMALINK

The "ungovernable" argument has a bunch of problems. First of all Obama has accomplished a lot legislatively, and if health care passes he will likely have passed the most important domestic legislation in generations. Secondly, as Greenwald points out, both Bush and Clinton (who faced a Republican Congress at least as obstructionist) managed to pass legislation.

As you point out Bush passed legislation by recruiting Democrats, even Democrats like Ted Kennedy on Education. Clinton managed the same thing, he recruited Republicans. They succeeded through smart tactics and by controlling the debate. Obama works differently, I think of him as the Senate whisperer.

The third problem with the ungovernable or Californiafication argument is that it ignores the fact that Obama is largely getting the policies he proposed. It gives some progressive Obama supporters the false sense that Obama is a secret progressive, and only structural impediments prevent him from pursuing the progressive policies he wants in his heart.

As for the mounting problems and crises Obama faces, sure, it's hard. But that is what makes the difference between a great president and a failure. A great president can only emerge in times of great challenge, they use crisis to push through fundamental changes. Obama, so far, has used crisis to push through incremental changes. If he fails to adequately address the challenges that we face his presidency will be seen as a failure, regardless of whatever he achieves.

Posted by: tib on December 12, 2009 at 4:43 PM | PERMALINK

Lets get something straight here. The problem is the corporatist Democrats, not the GOP.

I don't think there's just one problem, but that's a good point. As long as the insurance firms are big donors, nothing's going to change.

Since we're stuck in a system that allows bribery, how could we use it to our advantage? Organize thousands of small donors to call a certain fence-sitting Senator's office and hint that there might be financial benefits to voting for the benefit of the public? (I don't want to get anyone thrown in prison, but it seems to work well enough for the insurance companies.)

If someone sees a donation from Aetna, they know which way they're supposed to vote. How do we make it clear what sort of influence our donors are paying for?

Posted by: Equal Opportunity Cynic on December 12, 2009 at 4:46 PM | PERMALINK

To govern you need:
1. Goals.
2. A Strategy how to achieve them.
3. Tactical moves to get you through the obstacles of the opposing party, the media, etc.

All of these cannot be achieved without DISCIPLINE. The GOP has it and the Democrats have none. What is the meaning of a Party if its members have no discipline whatsoever? There is no other party in any Democracy around the world without some discipline. The Democrats are a living proof that you cannot have a governing party without it.

Posted by: Yoni on December 12, 2009 at 5:11 PM | PERMALINK

'Tis easier to destroy than to create.

Posted by: ElegantFowl on December 12, 2009 at 5:18 PM | PERMALINK

..and the Supreme Court hasn't helped by saying that corporations=people and money=speech.

Posted by: ElegantFowl on December 12, 2009 at 5:19 PM | PERMALINK

I've said it before and I'll say it again: A lot of this boils down to the current filibuster rules. Make Senators stand on a soapbox for 24 hours straight instead of just nonchalantly declaring their intent to filibuster. Either that or Obama needs to start going the Executive signing statement route. But this current procedural BS is worthless.

Posted by: grs on December 12, 2009 at 5:21 PM | PERMALINK

Yoni is correct. There should be consequences for caucus members who do not even allow a vote on party issues. Right now there is no downside. Loss of chairmanships would be a start. But that would make some Senators unhappy.

Even more important would be to get rid of the filibuster -- that 19th century anachronism now so misused. The filibuster is a Senate rule. SENATE RULES CAN BE CHANGED BY MAJORITY VOTE (50 plus Biden) OF THE SENATE. Changing that Senate rule to allow a majority vote to pass any bill would make many members of the Senate Club VERY unhappy. Senators hate to make their fellow prima donna's unhappy (see above).

Posted by: g bittner on December 12, 2009 at 5:29 PM | PERMALINK

Glenn Reynolds is a dishonest shitbag. Did you have any other point?

Posted by: Mrs Tilton on December 12, 2009 at 5:31 PM | PERMALINK

As callow youths some of us learned to speak in tongues and handle snakes, while others learned to read, and think.

Naive liberals believed the nonsense they were told on class trips to Washington, to the UN. How bills were passed, how UNICEF would save the world. And when they came home their parents gave them a tofu yoghurt popsicle, and patted their little heads.

Conservative parents taught their kids their first cuss word- bullshit!- and said son, it's time for your first cigar, and a bourbon over ice.

And that's why Dems voted with Bush for the Greater Good, and Reps call Obama the AntiChrist. . .

Posted by: DAY on December 12, 2009 at 6:06 PM | PERMALINK

Steve, you are forgetting something: 9/11 changed everything. Any Democrat who didn't go along with what Bush wanted was an America-hating, terrorist-loving disgrace who didn't deserve to hold elected office in this great land of ours. We were (and still are) at war, and Bush was a war-time President. If you didn't support the President in a time of war, then you were a traitor to the country, as Republicans and many so-called news organizations were only too happy to point out.

It's much easier for a President to get his agenda across in those conditions.

Posted by: josef on December 12, 2009 at 6:11 PM | PERMALINK

How long will the Obama worshippers keep on blaming the big bad Republicans for their own leaders' ineffective leadership style and for the incompetents that he has appointed.

I for one am deeply disappointed in Obama. Obviously it is too soon to assess what he has done and what he has not done, but ten months is ample time to get enough data to be able to get a sense of the trajectory of his presidency during the next three years.

Carter redux, for good or for bad.

Posted by: gregor on December 12, 2009 at 6:13 PM | PERMALINK

Chimpy Bush and the Republican Congressional Majority had no problem enacting unpopular and failed policies utilizing the reconciliation process.

I still cannot comprehend the reluctance of the current Democratic Congressional Majority to use the reconciliation process to enact popular and successful policies.

Posted by: Joe Friday on December 12, 2009 at 6:16 PM | PERMALINK

Might also help if Obama had run on, you know, and actual LEGISLATIVE AGENDA, or even had one now. He ran on fuzzy platitudes and even now his agenda is the agenda given to him by Democrats in Congress. I like the guy, but Obama is not a leader. His entire life focus has been coordination and consensus building, not leading. Bottom line: He's weak.

Posted by: Pat on December 12, 2009 at 6:19 PM | PERMALINK

The simple truth is that Gregor and Pat are right. Obama is a weak leader. Bush was, actually, a much stronger leader and accomplished much more of his agenda. Glenn Reynolds may be a jackass, but that doesn't mean he isn't right in this case. Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman have demonstrated they actually are more powerful than the President. If that doesn't show you how irrelevant Obama is, I don't know what will.

There may be time remaining on the clock, but it's not too soon to see that this is a failed Presidency and that the Democrats have demonstrated that they cannot govern effectively.

Posted by: Rock on December 12, 2009 at 6:32 PM | PERMALINK

For that matter, when Republicans held the congressional majority, Democrats rejected the filibuster-literally-everything approach to lawmaking

This makes me murderously enraged. The only thing that passed Congress are Republican ideas and those have been bad, uniformly bad for 25 years. If it's a choice between Republican "law-making" that has only every destroyed the country and nothing, give me nothing.

Posted by: MNPundit on December 12, 2009 at 6:45 PM | PERMALINK

"What's more, I'm not sure I buy the premise".

Nonetheless, your rationalizations as to why it doesn't hold water merely serve to endorse it.

"Californization" be damned. Democratic partisans (albeit in ever decreasing numbers) refuse to acknowledge that their party's leadership represents the interests of the exiled, formerly moderate wing of the GOP, above all other vested interests.

Posted by: JW on December 12, 2009 at 6:49 PM | PERMALINK

A failed presidency? Smells like a concern troll. What exactly is the psychological benefit of throwing our leaders overboard at the first sign of difficulty? Or do we have undercover Republican operates at work here?

Posted by: Dr Lemming on December 12, 2009 at 6:53 PM | PERMALINK

Josef above said what I was gonna. Bush getting things through, with cooperation by Democrats, had a little something to do with the terrorist attacks.

Posted by: flubber on December 12, 2009 at 6:56 PM | PERMALINK

What sgwhiteinfla at 4:05 said.

The "Ungovernable" problem exists because

A) Republicans have successfully moved the goalposts to 60 with a press only too eager to endorse the new legislative number. Hell, the number was being bandied around as gospel pre-election.

B) In reality, only a handful of "centrist democrats" are to blame for this progressive limp dick syndrome.

Posted by: oh my on December 12, 2009 at 7:19 PM | PERMALINK

Give me a break. The Democrats have only won 4 Presidential elections since the Great Society yet as the losers were still able to obstruct and prevent the majority form disarming the ticking time bomb that legislation was and is.

Democrats poo-pooed the death of the auto industry and bankruptcy social security and Medicare were destine to become from the beginning. Now that those programs are now on the verge imploding, they are trying to double down the bet with a so called stimulus. The author of this article is in a major state of denial. Obama is lower in the polls than any President at this point in his presidency. That is a result of the lack of popularity of Obama policies. Read: Major buyers remorse. To pretend that there is a mandate for his program could be more delusional.

Posted by: Tom Goodwin on December 12, 2009 at 7:23 PM | PERMALINK

Look, if Obama wants better support then he's got to just tell people like Tom that he's got Wall St's dick and the Republican party's dick and rich people's disk crammed up his ass, but apparently he likes it that way.

The rest of us will appreciate it when Obama just starts telling it like it is, and dumb fuckers heads start exploding.

Posted by: Glen on December 12, 2009 at 7:33 PM | PERMALINK

"When Dems have so many moderates and center-right members..."

FWIW, I've quit using those labels and now simply call them "conservative Democrats." I don't see much moderate or centrist about them.

Posted by: beep52 on December 12, 2009 at 7:37 PM | PERMALINK

Without arguing for a Constitutional Amendment to eliminate the super-majority requirement in all things the reason for why this is happening will never gain popular traction.

The only solution is a Constitutional Amendment, and just because getting one passed takes a long time is no reason not start soon.

To not proposing it is to accept your own failure.

Posted by: cld on December 12, 2009 at 9:05 PM | PERMALINK

What BGinCHI wrote above.

A major difference between Democrats and Republicans is that the currently dominant Republicans do not accept the validity of government actions. There are no moderates left in the Republican Party to provide some votes for governing.

Democrats believe that governance is important, so the conservatives can act to frustrate them. But the Democrats will have to assist the Republicans when there is something that needs to be accomplished. That makes the basic field competitively uneven.

Posted by: Rick B on December 12, 2009 at 9:31 PM | PERMALINK

Glenn Reynolds? So superficial I wouldn't call him a cartoon character, it would be insulting to cartoon characters.

Posted by: PS on December 12, 2009 at 9:40 PM | PERMALINK

Funny, that dumb cowboy Bush seemed to get a lot done with fewer votes in Congress....

Yeah, but dubyah had a mandate. Obama only won and needs 80 votes minimum.

Posted by: Kevin on December 12, 2009 at 10:03 PM | PERMALINK

A detail left out of the "Bush got stuff done" argument is that it's easy to railroad stuff through Congress when the K Street Project is greasing the skids. Bush did get a lot of things done -- though to an outrageous extent they were things contrary to American values against the best interest of us citizens. A hell of a lot of money can get those kinds of things done.

Reynolds only point is that Democrats weren't the completely obstructionist dickwads that pass for the Republican Party these days. Ungovernability comes at the expense of the perfection of pure dickishness.

Posted by: petorado on December 12, 2009 at 10:04 PM | PERMALINK

The major thing being left out is 9-11, that was an absolute bonanza for Bush in terms of getting things passed- in much the same way the JFK assassination gave LBJ the ability to pass the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act.

Posted by: Socraticsilence on December 12, 2009 at 10:13 PM | PERMALINK

The only solution is a Constitutional Amendment, and just because getting one passed takes a long time is no reason not start soon.

Not sure what you are talking about here. The supermajority rule isn't a law or a constitutional clause. It's a Senate procedure, just like the procedure that says no pizza on the speaker on the floor and no loaded weapons at your desk. They can change it whenever they want to with 51 votes.

The problem is that there aren't 51 votes to restore majority rule. That would force the corporate Dems to chose between serving the citizens of their states and serving their friends and campaign contributors. The supermajority rule gives them cover so they don't have to take the blame for their cowardice and lack of moral integrity.

Posted by: Midland on December 12, 2009 at 11:47 PM | PERMALINK

Peteroado has the best point in the comments: Republicans work to advance the interests of concentrated financial powers, and Democrats (generally) push an agenda that serves the public at the expense of concentrated interests.

Since corporate interests have significant sway with both parties, it's very difficult to get anything "anti-corporate" done without some support from the other party. Unfortunately, Republican (tea)party discipline has taken any potential anti-corporate votes off the table, so we are screwed.

I really don't understand the folks who think Obama can wave a magic wand and Get Results. He's about as progressive as Nixon was, which is the far left today, but I'm not really sure what he could do in this climate to be effective. And he is sticking to his game plan for now. If it's proven not to work, he is going to have to figure something else out; but it's too early in the season to start firing coaches.

Posted by: inkadu on December 13, 2009 at 12:34 AM | PERMALINK

My theory is that both Democrats and Republicans in the Congress belong to the same economic class. Republicans serve the interests of their class, and so it is easy for them to stick to principles.

The Democrats, on the other hand, claim to serve the interests of an economic class other than their own. No matter how sincere their claims may be, it is by definition very difficult for them to support the causes that they espouse with as much passion.

Posted by: gregor on December 13, 2009 at 1:35 AM | PERMALINK

California's problem is grounded in its constitution. The Senate's problem is grounded in tradition and procedure, not in the constitution. Given those observations, California's problem will remain in place until it reworks its constitution. The Senate's structural impediment is not a constitutional requirement but an old boy's club requirement.
The club can reset the filibuster threshold to any number it wants. Whether it would take a supermajority to change the filibuster threshold is not clear, but it's time for Reid to find out.

Posted by: gone_west on December 13, 2009 at 3:49 AM | PERMALINK

It's a mistake to equate "heterogeneous" with "ill-disciplined".

Internal debates within the Australian left-of-center party (Labor) are vigorous, but once they agree on a position *everybody* votes the same way.

Yes, there are a variety of reasons why this is the case and I'm not suggesting that this ultra-rigid party discipline is a) desirable, or b) even possible in an American context. But the assumption that left-of-center parties are inherently less able to impose a discipline on their elected representatives is just not true.

As I understand it, a major reason why the Democrats are less coherent than the Republicans is that Republican fundraising and allocation of funds is more centrally controlled. If the Ben Nelsons of this world were more dependent on the wider Democratic organization, maybe they wouldn't be so inclined to screw it over.

Posted by: Robert Merkel on December 13, 2009 at 6:02 AM | PERMALINK

Look, as to how Bush managed to get all those bills through Congress that screwed up America, the answer is what Steve touched on and many commenters point out: Democrats simply allowed these bills to go through without putting up any meaningful opposition. Supposedly it's about legislative philosophy, but the lack of opposition from the then-opposition party screwed all of us over; just look at the so-called Medicare reform bill (passed with numerous Dem votes) which was essentially a giveaway to Big Pharma -- and which ends up sticking the elderly with big bills for necessary medicines they no longer can afford.

LiberalOasis's Bill Scher pointed this out rather nicely in his book "Don't Move To Canada" when he recounted Bob Dole's speech on the election of Bill Clinton: he promised to do anything in his power to see that the interests of those who did not elect Clinton were represented in the U.S. Congress, by which he meant obstructing CLinton as far as he possibly could. And when we refer to those who didn't elect Bush, that would mean all of America.

The Democrats just rolled over. That's why Bush was able to "accomplish" so much. And now we're fighting to undo his horrible legislation and take care of the terrible fallout it's caused.

Posted by: Tom Burka on December 13, 2009 at 11:28 AM | PERMALINK

The supermajority rule isn't a law or a constitutional clause. It's a Senate procedure, just like the procedure that says no pizza on the speaker on the floor and no loaded weapons at your desk.

Super-majorities are a problem everywhere in the country, not just the Senate. And if eliminating the requirement were that easy it would be done all the time.

This requirement is absurdly, transparently un-democratic, it's antagonistic to the whole point of representative government.

The only way to address the problem is to eliminate it ever coming up by passing a Constitutional Amendment addressing it.

I don't deny that could take twenty years or more, but if we don't start soon we'll have to put up with what is going on now for even longer.

If we introduce a Constitutional Amendment banning a super-majority requirement every politician who votes against it will have to defend his anti-democratic bias every time he runs.

Posted by: cld on December 13, 2009 at 2:16 PM | PERMALINK

No one has stressed that the majority of bills passed by the Republicans from 2000 thru 2008m were overwhelmingly bad for our country while benefitting big business and the wealthy 5% of Americans.

Posted by: Captain Dan on December 13, 2009 at 7:44 PM | PERMALINK

"I for one am deeply disappointed in Obama."

As if there was a time you were an actual supporter.

Posted by: MissMudd on December 13, 2009 at 7:56 PM | PERMALINK

MissMudd is right. An ACTUAL Hopie supporter would never be disappointed in him. Never. No matter what. Even when Barry's wrong, he's just all right.

Posted by: Pat on December 13, 2009 at 8:14 PM | PERMALINK

"Hope is patience with the lamp lit." ~Tertullian

Posted by: MissMudd on December 13, 2009 at 9:55 PM | PERMALINK


Here are some Bible verses that Pres. Obama avoids:
Proverbs 19:10 (NIV): "It is not fitting for a fool to live in luxury - how much worse for a slave to rule over princes!"
Also Proverbs 30:22 (NIV) which says that the earth cannot bear up under "a servant who becomes king."
And Ecclesiastes 5:2-3 (KJV) advises: "let thy words be few...a fool's voice is known by multitude of words."
Although Obama is not descended from slaves, he may feel that he's destined to become a black-slavery avenger.
Or maybe an enslaver of all free citizens!

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