Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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February 14, 2010

ELECTIONS USED TO HAVE CONSEQUENCES.... I was looking over the election returns from 2008 last night. I hadn't thought about it in a while, but I was reminded just how remarkably successful Democrats were in the cycle. It was a genuinely impressive electoral display -- Dems didn't just win, they dominated.

Obama won states a Democrat hadn't carried in a generation. Democratic candidates won Senate races in states where the party is supposed to be weak -- Alaska, North Carolina, Louisiana, Montana, and Arkansas. House Dems built up the largest congressional majority in three decades. Obama's 52.8% of the popular vote was the highest of any candidate in either party in 20 years, and the highest for a non-incumbent in 56 years.

Republicans were left as a small, demoralized, and discredited party. The GOP found itself leaderless and directionless, with a policy agenda that is as unpopular as it is ineffective. They had held the reins of power and failed in such a spectacular fashion, some wondered how long it would take for the party to recover. It was the beginning of a new day in American politics.

At least, that's what it seemed like at the time.

The word "unprecedented" is almost certainly thrown around too much -- I know I probably overuse it -- but in every similar American electoral situation ever, the result of an election like this has been exactly the same. When a party and its presidential ticket dominate on this scale, that party earned the opportunity to govern. "Moderates" from the minority party would tend to go along with the majority as often as was possible. That the new administration would be able to fill key government posts and judicial vacancies with Senate-approved nominees wasn't even open to question; it was a foregone conclusion.

Most of the congressional minority, in these situations, would continue to oppose the majority's agenda -- in other words, they'd vote against it -- but the notion of simply blocking the nation's lawmaking process, immediately in the wake of their own catastrophic failures, was simply ridiculous. Such an option was so genuinely absurd, it was literally out of the question.

It's part of what makes the Republican tactics of the last 13 months so extraordinary -- it's the first time in memory that a major political party decided, en masse, that elections simply shouldn't have consequences. We've never had a minority lose a national landslide and then decide that the huge governing majority must not even be able to vote on its own agenda.

As an institutional matter, it's almost tragic to see Republicans deliberately break the American political process, and then stand to reap rewards for their reckless intransigence. But as an electoral matter, I'm not at all sure Democratic policymakers appreciate the situation they find themselves in.

Looking over the latest NYT/CBS poll, Americans are still predisposed to reject Republicans and prefer Democrats, but Congress' approval rating is down to 15%, its lowest support in two years. Anti-incumbent attitudes are overwhelming -- just 8% of respondents said members of Congress have done a good enough job to deserve another term.

That's the worst result for incumbents since 1994 -- and as I recall, 1994 was a fairly consequential year for Congress.

There are competing explanations for this, and not everyone who's angry with policymakers is upset for the same reasons. But if Democrats are going to save themselves, they're going to have to decide, immediately, that they're not going to accept failure. Or put another way, they're going to have to stop accepting failure.

Now, the party's response to this is compelling: "Brilliant advice, jackass, but thanks to Massachusetts, we can't break Republican filibusters. Sheer force of will is meaningless, and so is telling lawmakers to 'get it done.' They can't."

It's precisely why the status quo can't continue. Democrats can't let Republican break Congress out of spite; the consequences are too severe for the institution and the country. Some possible strategies for the majority to consider:

* Start using the phrase "up-or-down vote" all the time. If Republicans had a dominant governing majority, and a failed Dem minority prevented Congress from functioning, the apoplexy would be overwhelming. Americans would hear about the obstructionism constantly. There would, in all likelihood, be organized marches on Washington. Put simply, I'd like Democratic leaders to think about what Republicans would do if the situations were completely reversed. Then they should do that. Americans would be outraged if they had any idea what the GOP has been doing -- maybe someone should tell them.

* Take advantage of every opportunity. Using reconciliation as much as humanly possible should be a no-brainer. The "nuclear option" should be put on the table, too. Endorse Harkin/Shaheen. Scour the rules and procedural minutiae and figure out if Republicans who want to filibuster can't be forced to literally do so. Search for GOP statesmen -- Lugar? -- and ask if they're really willing to destroy the workings of the United States Senate.

* Go on the offensive. Organize rallies in Maine and explain that Olympia Snowe, by endorsing her party's obstructionism, is single-handedly responsible for the fact that Congress can't function, and it's within her power to put things right and let key bills get up-or-down votes.

* Give voters who elected Democrats something to be excited about. Voters will be impressed with accomplishments, so maybe it'd be wise to give them some. Dems can start by passing the damn health care reform package.

It's not too late. Finish health care. Pass a jobs bill. Go after irresponsible banks. Bring some safeguards to Wall Street. Fix student loans. Pass an energy bill. Repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." This not a fanciful wish-list; it's all entirely feasible.

Democrats were elected to do exactly this. It's time to prove that elections have consequences -- whether those who lose the elections like it or not.

Steve Benen 1:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (60)

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well, the elections certainly don't have consequences if the winners choose not to lead.

just winning isn't enough. actually governing helps a great deal, too.

Posted by: skippy on February 14, 2010 at 1:10 PM | PERMALINK

What skippy said. The Rs made clear their strategy from Nov. 5 2008 (actually, well before that). The Dems chose to bend over and let them win.

Posted by: Dems lose huge in 2010 on February 14, 2010 at 1:11 PM | PERMALINK

Difficult. Far too many establishment Dems who are friendlier with the Republicans who humiliate them every day then with the voters who elected them. Why they are unable to understand how spineless they look on TV every hour of the day is a mystery.

Posted by: Midland on February 14, 2010 at 1:15 PM | PERMALINK

Ditto to everything already said. The Democratic Party threatens to waffle into irrelevance. The Repubs are just doing what bullies always do - trying to intimidate, brazen their way forward, shout 'na na na na' and barrel ahead. And so far, it's a pretty successful tactic. Completely cynical, with a depraved indifference to the country's well-being, but they're not going to change.

I hope that Obama's healthcare summit is just a strategical prelude to Dems passing their current bill and fixing it through reconciliation. If they do that, quickly, Obama will have salvaged this mess. If they don't pass healthcare, it's a catastrophe, and Dems will be discredited for years.

Do they realize this inside the bubble?

Posted by: brooklyn on February 14, 2010 at 1:17 PM | PERMALINK

Obama's problem is this: he DOESN'T have a Democratic majority in Congress, never mind a supermajority. He has Blue Dog Democrats who used to be called moderate Republicans, that species now being extinct. When you do the math that way, the votes aren't there -- at this moment. The only path forward, it seems to me, is to convince the Blue Dogs that their districts aren't as conservative as they think and would support health care reform, banking reform, a jobs bill, etc., if you gave them a narrative to compete with the Republican noise machine. And somehow the Democrats will have to put on their big kid pants, get out there and make Republicans pay a price for obstructing legislation that WILL make Americans' lives better.

Posted by: dalloway on February 14, 2010 at 1:19 PM | PERMALINK

The Republicans will kill the filibuster at the first opportunity, unless the Democrats roll up in a fetal ball again. And if the nuclear option is exercised by the Republicans with this SC, it will be upheld. So the Democrats at the very least need to take the leap and get it to the Supreme Court while they are in office. If the filibuster stands (likely) then be prepared to use it to the same degree as the Republicans. We are in the Prisoner's Dilemma' territory here and tit for tat is the only way out.

Unfortunately, 'fetal ball' is about the only thing likely to happen in my first paragraph.

Posted by: Nat on February 14, 2010 at 1:23 PM | PERMALINK

Republicans are only doing what they can. When the nuclear option was offered, a vast majority of Republican senators (95%) was ready to dispense with filibusters. The real problem is Senate Democrats- and by that I mean the mushy dozen-with an assist from the White House. Didn't Obama learn how the Senate really operates? One needs to use a carrot/stick approach and instead he has been soft on his former colleagues. Even Lieberman said that he was surprised on the lack of pressure from the WH! To be sure, it is the Blanche's and Landrieu's of the world that are allowing the situation to fester. The mushy dozen Senate Democrats are simply incapable of governing - the do not know how to do it-witness the Bush years. I suggest each mealy mouth weak-kneed Senator be paired with a mentor; e.g., Warner with Leahy.

Posted by: Raoul on February 14, 2010 at 1:26 PM | PERMALINK

I can't tell you how sick I am hearing all the whining from Democrats about the evil Republicans. You said it all in the set up. The Democrats had unprecedented numbers. The Republicans are the opposition. It is their JOB to oppose. It is the Democrats job to figure out how to get things done in the face of Republican opposition. By this measure the Democrats have been resounding failures. And there is no other measure. Not commity. Not bi-fucking-patisanship. No other measure.

Posted by: SW on February 14, 2010 at 1:30 PM | PERMALINK

It takes TWO to compromise, but just ONE to start a WAR. Republicans LOVE WAR, and believe that politics is war by any and all means they can devise. WINNING is their primary purpose and highest value, as is the 'law of the jungle'.

Posted by: Robert Perry Sr. on February 14, 2010 at 1:34 PM | PERMALINK

Two comments: the first is that Republicans and conservatives have been successful in the year since Obama and the Democrats won because they have violated the normal ebb and flow of the US political cycle, which dictates that there is a "political" funny season of over the top rhetoric and a season of serious "governing." As the nation moved onto the task of governing after 2008, Republicans stayed behind in the "political" season because they could not accept its verdict and so sought to undo the results however they could. And if Senator Shelby can get a little more pork for the pigs in Alabama while preventing the president from staffing up his administration fully 25% through his first term, then all the better.

The second, is that the Tea Party movement was in part an attempt by conservative movement leadership (at FOX news mostly) acting on behalf of the GOP to have something dramatic and tangible to put on the screen to backup their constantly repeated assertions that the Right Wing was resurgent and Obama and the Democrats losing American support even from the very moment Obama took the oath of office.

Remember, the first major tea party demostrations occured just two months into Obama's term, at a time when FOX was already blarring that Obama was a failure and Republicans were on the way back.
The wild tea party demonstrations and town hall forum disruptions were the propaganda tool the right needed to make the claim that they spoke for America despite the fact they had lost all three branches of government. The tea party movement is a propaganda tool.

This was just another sign of the radicalization of the conservative movement that no longer plays by democratic rules and will never accept the legitimacy of any but conservative governments in the future. A powerful right wing movement emerged in the mid-90s between the Gingrich Revolution and the new conservative media at FOX and elsewhere. Since this proto-fascist movement took form, they have impeached one Democratic president and denied that the other is a US citizen, as part of the pretext for trying to ruin his administration by ruining American democracy with it.

Posted by: Ted Frier on February 14, 2010 at 1:37 PM | PERMALINK

This is how it looks to me: A revolution going on, an attempt (so far very effective) to reverse the result of a legal and democratic election; cause the head of the government to fail; and destroy the existing governing system. It's not the Tea Baggers, it's what's left (a truly empty shell) of the GOP. The purpose is, I think (in crude but real terms), what the purpose of war usually is: loot. Specifically, the US treasury, the distribution of tax dollars, and the spending of individual incomes (c.f. for crappy health care "coverage") -- all of it rich pickings for the political elite (including many Democrats). That the GOP, such as it is, offers literally no viable policy suggestions or alternatives supports this. That truly appalling and disloyal, as in unpatriotic, claims and statements have been made also supports this, as well as the constant spew of flat-out lies that, nevertheless (see Roger Ailes) capture headlines.

Because this idea seems outlandish, undemocratic, and totally new, it sounds crazy to a lot of us liberals: we tend to be rational and stick to facts. But again and again Democrats have been outsmarted and outmaneuvered by Republicans because Democrats have a hard time imagining such perfidy. Me too.

Except I'm old enough to remember Nixon and to have learned long ago that you can rarely if ever trust a politician and that goes double for Republicans: their eye is always, always on the dollar. Keep in mind: their guru, whom not even La Sarah can criticize, has openly said he wants Pres. Obama "to fail"; GOP congressmen have gone overseas and warned other countries that our economy can't be trusted and otherwise interferred in foreign affairs; McConnell and Boehner have promised no cooperation on anything until after the mid-terms; Cheney and his cohort see war as a profit center; Wall St. honchos never stopped raking in the dough, even as the world economy teetered on the edge of Great Depression; the Supreme Court has been rearranging presidential campaigns and results since 2000; and corporations now have the same standing as voters when supporting candidates.

Posted by: SF on February 14, 2010 at 1:46 PM | PERMALINK

Apparently Democrats still think they can "take the high road" by not fighting dirty against the Republicans; they haven't realized that tactic no longer works (if it ever did). Dems are going to have to fight dirty, whether they want to or not. They will have to take a sort of "code of Hammurabi" approach: an eye for an eye. Sad state of affairs for this country.

Posted by: Kirsten on February 14, 2010 at 1:46 PM | PERMALINK

The majority of posts above have it right. It is not the Republicans who decided that elections do not have consequences, it is the Democrats. Right now, the House could pass the health bill, 51 Democratic senators could pass a reconcilation improvement, and health care would be done. It is not the Republicans that are stopping this.

Posted by: Counterfactual on February 14, 2010 at 1:47 PM | PERMALINK


The historic analogy is the Spanish Civil War. After a left-wing coalition (ironically called Republicans) was elected, the right wing Nationalists immediately declared them illegitimate and began efforts to overthrow the election. The Nationalists actually had control of an army, which helped.

Posted by: Daryl McCullough on February 14, 2010 at 1:50 PM | PERMALINK

If the Dems can't pass health care (reconciliation, remember?) they are worthless. They won't get a dime from me or an hour of my time come Nov. Maybe the country needs to fall apart before the Dems grow a pair, and this Obama Admin. is simply a holding pattern, preventing the inevitable.

The Dems are worthless, the Repubs are scum. Put them together and you get worthless scum. Sad, really.

Where I grew up, a tough section of a tough town in a violent time, you treated people with respect because fear was justified. It was a very polite midwestern city. Respect ruled.

What I see in our system, mostly Repubs but Dems also, is a deep lack of respect for ordinary Americans. No fear, at all. We are so quiescent.

The lack of consequence to the Dems victory results expresses a lack of respect for ordinary Americans. This is true even for Obama, who was frothing at the mouth in Bloomberg about what a groovy guy the union busting a-hole CEO of FedEx was. It is overwhelmingly true of the Repubs. That is not how democracy is supposed to work. It could have very negative consequences.

Posted by: lark on February 14, 2010 at 1:54 PM | PERMALINK

Hey Steve, 'no one could have anticipated' does not apply.

Not to terrorists flying airplanes in our buildings.

Definitely not to Republicans behaving as they have behaved before.

The blame rests squarely on Obama and the limpdiked Democratic leaders.

Republicans are doing as anyone would have expected them to do.

Posted by: gregor on February 14, 2010 at 1:55 PM | PERMALINK

A couple things...

'08 was more an anti-George Bush election than a resurgent Democratic election.

The media. The media sculpted the primaries and general election as Obama beats all odds and wins and makes history. The minute he took the oath of office their story changed to paint him as the new Jimmy Carter and that history will remember him as one of the biggest potentials who failed. Keep in mind, that narrative began immediately.

The tea party movement. A handful of bitter old white people backed by powerful conservative corporate interests were given an unbelievably inappropriate amount of media attention. The agenda of a tiny fringe group was elevated to the main story of our current political environment.

This country leans conservative and has for quite awhile. Voting against one's own best interest is nothing new. A friend of mine is very conservative. She told me if she ever went to the doctor and was given some terrible news she would sit in her car in the garage with the engine running because she'd never afford the medical bills (she has to buy her own insurance)...however, she goes ballistic if you mention healthcare reform or single pay to her.

Even if the Democratic Party weren't crippled by their own conservative members, Republicans would still resonate more broadly with a not very bright American public. Plus the media by design is a shill for the GOP.

Posted by: Saint Zak on February 14, 2010 at 1:59 PM | PERMALINK

You forget what Obama's platform was when it came to how he planned to deal with victory and the republicans: take a mulligan on the last 8 years, let bygones be bygones (Lieberman welcomed back into the fold), and start over again. The opposition wasn't to be treated as a discredited minority that needed to get with Obama's program in order to remain relevant but as equal partners to be negotiated with every step of the way.

I'm sorry, but there was a failure to capture the moment on Obama's part and on the part of the Democrats. Their plan was to abandon politics, cut their supporters loose, and get moving with a bunch of legislative dealmaking.

Republicans are gonna do what they do. There's no use whining about that. The question is why the Democrats and Obama thought they were too good to get their hands dirty.

Posted by: Tyro on February 14, 2010 at 2:05 PM | PERMALINK

Close, but no cigar!

A simple fact, no one has been raised to defy Authority. From birth, we have been taught to accept Authority for our safety, but some of us have the natural ability and wonder to ask , "why is it that....??" and we learned to enhance our embrace and understanding of the world, through questioning.

Others just became even more fearful and needed Authority to feel secure.

Authoritarian regimes consist of two simple elements, the SDO, or the social dominator, and the RWA, or right-wing authoritarian. The first is the leader, the second the sycophant follower.

Both are incapable of self-refection, both have an unnatural capacity for fear. One will assume Authority and suggest to bully, the other will act on that suggestion to gain acceptance from the Authority. It has always been this way.

Tyrants need their henchmen.

Hitler - Goehring
Nixon - Liddy
Reagan - North
Cheney - Libby

Now, in our political scenario, the question is whom is playing which role?

SDO Republicans are dominating and controlling the RWA followers, many of whom are Democrats, and more are media members.

Authoritarianism knows no political ideology, for it is a methodology for domination. Just because someone has a "D" after their name does not make them adhere to any political persuasion.

Judge them by their actions, and results, and call them what they are.

Posted by: Al B Tross on February 14, 2010 at 2:10 PM | PERMALINK

A uniquely stoopid American Weimar Republic is happening, as a great coming-of-age lesson as an empire-collapsing, fascistic-tendency-facing political era dawns on Ronnie Raygun's Amerika. Didn't take too long at all, really...

The Villagers of Washington are almost completely anti-FDR ideologues comme puppets of Corporate America. So this White Tiger Year will be chock full of 'opportunities'.

Whatta country!

Posted by: neill on February 14, 2010 at 2:11 PM | PERMALINK

I'm a little worried when people talk about whether the Democrats deserve to stay in power. I couldn't care less about rewarding or punishing Democrats or Republicans. I'm concerned about the country. Democrats in power is a precarious situation for the country, but Republicans in power is an unadulterated catastrophe. Half the populace is resigned to this impending disaster, and the other half is eagerly working towards it.

Posted by: Daryl McCullough on February 14, 2010 at 2:11 PM | PERMALINK

Step back a bit... Obviously, the most "unprecedented" result of the 2008 election was that a Black man was elected President of the United States. Remember that?

Is anyone really surprised that the 30%+ of this country (and this Congress) that is truly racist and views Obama as both an illegal and immoral usurper is fighting him tooth and nail and enlisting the rest of the Republican Party in the effort?

It's really not about Dems and Reps anymore; much more about racists and non-racists. Pundits exclaim about how much McCain has "changed" from his former willingness to compromise. Do they forget "That one!" It has nothing to do with policy; it's all about race and power. There's lots of similar examples if you look for them.

Posted by: cr on February 14, 2010 at 2:14 PM | PERMALINK

it's a heap a'racism... no doubt...

just not only racism...

In American history, racism always had a job to do for the powers-that-be.

and it does today...

Posted by: neill on February 14, 2010 at 2:16 PM | PERMALINK

"51 Democratic senators could pass a reconciliation improvement, and health care would be done." That will never happen when half their base is screaming that the health care bill is an abomination, won't distinguish between good dems and not so good dems, and generally starts shooting off in anger at their own side. Any politician with an ounce of instincts for self-preservation will toss aside any ideas of being courageous and will flee from the line of fire. Shouldn't be that way, but it is.

Posted by: N.Wells on February 14, 2010 at 2:17 PM | PERMALINK

The Mad Hatter Party, I'm sorry, Tea Party supporters are not going to vote for a Democrat in 2010. So if a Blue Dog Democrat wants to get re-elected, they have to write off their right-wing constituents. Changing their minds about health care will do them no good with the tea-partiers, and will cost them the good will of their progressive constituents. How can supporting health care reform HURT at this point?

Posted by: Daryl McCullough on February 14, 2010 at 2:22 PM | PERMALINK

The Democratic performance in Congress is beneath contempt and there are no excuses for it. Leadership needs to take all the blame. They have the tools to enforce discipline. Chairmanships etc need to be contigent upon supporting the party on procedural issues. See how easy that is? If you want a leadership role in the party you have to act like a leader. No big deal no drama. Just some simple basic rules. But no. Even that sort of restriction on the personal perragatives of the lords of the Senate is beyond the pale. Well, forget it. You may as well not even have a party.

Posted by: SW on February 14, 2010 at 2:45 PM | PERMALINK

"As an institutional matter, it's almost tragic ..."

We passed "tragic" a long, long time ago. And yet Democratic opinion-makers are still stuck on "almost".

I don't recall the category of "almost tragic" in Aristotle.

I don't recall Frank Luntz qualifying any of his categories with "almost".

The death of American democracy at the hands of its enemy, the traitorous confederate Republican Party, is a crime punishable via total war.

We're almost there.

Posted by: John Thullen on February 14, 2010 at 2:46 PM | PERMALINK

racism always had a job to do for the powers-that-be

Of course, racism is simply another tool--albeit an emotionally powerful one--to control people and money.

Posted by: cr on February 14, 2010 at 2:47 PM | PERMALINK

"It's part of what makes the Republican tactics of the last 13 months so extraordinary -- it's the first time in memory that a major political party decided, en masse, that elections simply shouldn't have consequences. We've never had a minority lose a national landslide and then decide that the huge governing majority must not even be able to vote on its own agenda."

We never had a majority that so willingly gave up all their power to a hostile majority before (in the name of bipartisanship).

Posted by: Tlaloc on February 14, 2010 at 3:24 PM | PERMALINK

I haven't been here much since the December HCR intramural fight. Good to see Steve taking a new path on the White House. They have the power but not the will, and it's been like that since day one, but I'm not expecting a change in tactics given that post-SOTU we've seen very little by the way of tangible pressure on Republicans and rightwing Dems.

Congress could be the answer. There are many electoral map truths: the Blue Dogs may be the best we get in some districts; medievalist Repubs are all we'll get in others; and, most important for progressives, candidates committed to progressive policy should be the ONLY ones we get in the deep blue districts that make up maybe a third or more of the House and about third of the potential senate seats out there. There's no strategic reason in the world that the likes of Martha Coakley should be winning party nominations in Massachusetts, and don't say she had a better chance than the candidates to her left, she lost.

With half to two thirds of the Democratic Congress solidly in the progressive camp the tactics that the White House has pursued with Congress would have had been much more difficult and win or lose, at least they would have put things like EFCA and financial reform to a vote in their first year.

Posted by: angler on February 14, 2010 at 3:31 PM | PERMALINK

Basically we are faced with a "what's the point?" situation.

What's the point of winning an election and then being neutered?

What's the point of mobilizing millions to vote and then many of those same folks losing their jobs within a year?

What's the point of a minority-bullied majority?

I hope everyone realizes how f**ked up our political system is right now.

Campaigning is not governing.

Posted by: Tom Nicholson on February 14, 2010 at 3:37 PM | PERMALINK

Once again I am totally impressed by the quality and insight of the comments on this blog. It's like reading a whole bunch of unpaid David Broders. (HA HA just kidding). Thanks guys.

Meanwhile, maybe I'm just watching too much Rachel, but it seems like this whole misuse of the filibuster issue and resulting policymaking paralysis has reached critical mass and just needs some leadership....doh, I forgot. I blame Harry Reid to a degree but ultimately you-know-who. Everything in every organisation ultimately depends on leadership from the top. Any parliamentarians know how to fix this NOW? By simply for example requiring filibusterers to really filibuster?

Posted by: emjayay on February 14, 2010 at 3:55 PM | PERMALINK

"I'd like Democratic leaders to think about what Republicans would do if the situations were completely reversed. Then they should do that."

Hear, hear!

Posted by: Chris on February 14, 2010 at 4:04 PM | PERMALINK

Washington is more productive during paralyzing, back-to-back snow storms than it is legislating.

Posted by: Tom Nicholson on February 14, 2010 at 4:06 PM | PERMALINK
When a party and its presidential ticket dominate on this scale, that party earned the opportunity to govern. "

Our present sorry state all makes sense if you accept the premise that no Democratic administration is a legitimate administration.

The weirdest transformation of political terminology hasn't been what happened to the word 'liberal' since John Stuart Mill -- it's what happened to the word 'republican'.

The GOP is a monarchist party. The monarchist party in a parliament has no real interest in increasing its share of votes in that body, never mind cooperating with the small-r republican parties in governing, because they don't believe in parliamentary government in the first place.

Their role in parliament is to destroy parliament, so that there can be a restoration, a return to rule from the throne, and the usual jockeying for place and the granting of monopolies.

The Congressional GOP's present position is analogous to the Orleanists and Bonapartists in the French assemblies of the 19th century.

If you want to understand the GOP, throw away your Federalist Papers, and get a good translation of Bossuet

Posted by: Davis X. Machina on February 14, 2010 at 4:24 PM | PERMALINK

This is a mornoic evasion of the responsibility of DC democrats for the debacle. It is one thing to lose a piece of legislation. So what. But it is an unforgiveable sin to be so incompetent that the strain of the right that endangers liberty is now stronger than it has ever been in this country and may, within six years, have power over the American Federal State. And how that is the real risk. And agains this background the dc democrats are working to undo the obstruction power of the filibuster, when it is looking like we may need that power to defend liberty real soon.

Republicans have behaved predictably. Once again, as with the Iraq adventure, just go read the blogs and everyone who cared to know knew.

Many blogs noted from the start exactly what the Republicans would do and also sadly predicted the DC democrats were likely to screw it up by being the spinless fools they have now been for decades. Democrats didn't WIN Republicans proved themselves incompetent.

Working families have been given no reasons to believe in the competence of the Obama administration or DC democrats. Take the health care fiasco.

There was the foolishness of Obama negotiating against himself on health care from the start. There was the delusional nonsense of courting Republicans who were never going to do business. There was the sheer stupidity of crony capitalist White House deals as part of the self described we-get-things-done-insiders--which has proven itself the bullshit many feared it was at the time. There was the Senate Finance Committee democrats exercise in destruction of the national democrat party as deserving of any respect--not that it had earned any over the past two decades. There was the dc-know-it-all-democrats complete adoption of the false right wing charges that there is a "left" of the democrat party that was making radical demands, as best summarized by using medicare for 55 and over as a ploy. It turns out this was POPULAR with real people, and one of the few things that was popular with real people about the whole reform, but it was described as leftist socialism by the Obama administration itself, and was a feint from the start. Worse than despicable, it was incompetent politics.

And then there was the repulsive spectacle of Lieberman and Nelson showing that they are just narcisstic old white crony capitalist assholes with the whole nation watching. And this is exactly where the strategy of the Obama administration led: humiliating the party and the nation by having the spotlight on two crony capitalist narcissists, one who exempted his own state from the cost of reform in a move so offensive to basic american decency that his own state despises him. This was an astounding and unforgiveable display of political incompentence, faithlessness, and contempt for basic decency.

Then when the Obama administration and the DC democrats reaped what they sowed in the democractically valid Massachutes election the excuses and planted stories of the crony capitalist enablers take over at sites like this one. Instead of an honest recognition of the fiasco and stretegic insanity of the DC establishment and the danger it is placing this country in.

Stop excusing incompetence and crony capitalistm. And stop blaming DC democrats abysmal failures on Republicans for Republicans being exactly what you know they are going to be.

Enough. Stop collaborating. You know better.

Posted by: razor on February 14, 2010 at 4:33 PM | PERMALINK

This reminds me a bit of the con the Republicans got away with the Special Prosecutor abuse, throwing it every fart from the Clinton administration until it was do discredited that when Bush came to power the Special Prosecutor was gotten rid of, how convenient for Bush. So you abuse something like mad against your enemy so that it is discredited enough not be used against you. I see the same move being tried again with the Senate, if the Repubs take it back they will no doubt argue that the Senate is broken and change the rules so Dems can't do to them what they just did to the Dems. Republicans have such an inherent built in double standard and basic hypocrisy that they can do these moral somersaults without breaking a sweat and somehow they get away with it...

Posted by: Cioran Sellars on February 14, 2010 at 5:07 PM | PERMALINK

It's simple, really.

When we give Republicans power, they use it. When we give Democrats power, they immediately start trying to figure out ways to keep that power without ever using it. Even if Obama fails to get his cornerstone legislation through, and even if it's largely his fault for not being strong enough, I'll give him a little bit of credit for saying, Fuck it, let's get it done. And I'll give Pelosi credit for fighting so hard for the public option.

The Senate Democrats, though, fell to the same line of thinking they had in '06, when they thought there was no way the same Americans who just gave them a mandate to end the war in Iraq would stand for cutting the lifeline off in Bush's budget. Reid bitched from '06 to '08 about how he couldn't get anything done until he had 60 seats, and when he had 60 seats, he didn't get anything done. And now, he's risking mass slaughter if they don't push something through while risking mass slaughter if they push a weak bill that changes nothing through.

Democrats don't understand the political game the way Republicans do. When you get power, you use it. The American people elected you, so go do what they elected you to do. Instead, Dems get caught up in this self-preservation mode where they calculate the political ramifications of every single vote, forgetting how absolutely shitty they'll look if they play it too close to the hip and leave the President high and dry without the one major policy initiative he ran on.

First, they gutted his economic recovery package, bargaining it away to the conservatives. Now, they've gutted his health care reform, bargaining it away to conservadems and the GOP. They were too weak to say, "You know what, this may not be popular at all right now, but when that $2 trillion gets pumped into the economy and you all have jobs in 2010, you're going to thank us." They were too weak to say, "You know, you might hate us for this health care bill, but wait and see how it works. When it dramatically reduces how much you spend and gives you multiple choices next time you renew your health care, and when it doesn't ruin your small business or tax you into oblivion, you'll thank us."

They have no idea how to frame a debate to make it work for them, they have no idea how to use their political power, and they have no idea how to win elections unless the GOP is so god awful that voters don't have a choice but to vote for someone else.

And then they sit back and wonder why John Stewart or Stephen Colbert or (insert random lefty blogger here) can make it sound so simple and get liberals and independents on board so easily. It's not that hard. But they don't get that.

Posted by: Crash on February 14, 2010 at 5:28 PM | PERMALINK

Here's another bit of advice: Take a cue from the GOP and hire a "messaging team." As far as I can tell, there is no organized Democratic effort to sell and defend their ideas. The Dems seem content to "high five" each other after a good GOP smackdown on Maddow or Countdown, but those shows do not reach the majority of Americans and are an ineffective way to counter the chatter on the right. The Dems should have their own daily talking points and aggressive advocates who are willing to blitz the media, but as far as I can tell, the Democratic Party is led by ghosts: How many people can even name the head of the DNC? The Democrats seem unable to play the hardball game of politics, which the GOP has mastered. The Dems want to talk policy, which most Americans don't have the patience for. It's not enough to have good policies; they need to sell those policies with clear, simple soundbites that are easily understood by the people. Frankly, if the Dems don't want to get dirty in politics, they shouldn't be in the game. It's a real shame that it is the Democrats' own weakness and failure to punch back that has put health care in jeopardy. And the real losers are the American people, especially those with pre-existing conditions, who stand no chance of ever getting coverage if this bill fails. It's infuriating and shameful.

Posted by: ameshall on February 14, 2010 at 6:09 PM | PERMALINK

The Republicans and Senate Democrats have made it clear how powerless the voters are and how much power special interests have once the elections are over. If the Dems don't get this together, it will give Republicans the opportunity to dismantle years of hard-won progressive achievement.

Posted by: ssc94 on February 14, 2010 at 6:38 PM | PERMALINK

Obama and Reid are as much to blame as the Republicans.

Posted by: Tom on February 14, 2010 at 6:55 PM | PERMALINK

its been clear for a long time republicans have nothing but contempt for the American voter. republicans frivolous impeachment of Clinton was noteworthy, as was bush acting like he had a mandate when in fact he lost the popular vote. republicans' current contortion of the Senate and unanimous opposition to everything including policies they are on record supporting is the natural continuation of republican contempt for Americans.

Posted by: pluege on February 14, 2010 at 7:06 PM | PERMALINK

These comments are very smart: I'm glad to see that I am not the only one who sees real danger, and even traitorous intent, among the Republicans.

Others have pointed up other essential issues: racism, which is cultural and institutional bullying, and especially the inadequate leadership on the part of the Obama Administration -- which yes, is infinitely better than McCain and Palin, but still: A good speech is not governance. A chief of staff cosy with Wall Street and known to bear grudges is trouble. Banishment to the sidelines of brilliant, actual Democrats who know how to lead and manage (Dean, Reich, and many others) -- all bad.

It's good to have someone who takes Constitutional law seriously in the Oval Office, but being president of Harvard Law Review -- where everybody is really on the same page, which is showing off how smart they are and then getting on with honoring the great mutual bond of being on Harvard Law Review -- is not all it takes to govern.

Obama needs to tell Republicans that it will cost them, a lot, not to do their jobs and get on with the business of running the country and listening to the mandate. He needs to stop giving up the game before it starts (c.f., Emanuel's announcement, a year ago, that any health bill was better than no bill). That kind of surrender tells us this administration is ignoring the often desperate plight of Americans as well as the long-term fiscal needs of our economy.

The electorate is not in love with bi-partisanship; it wants results. Obama seems intellectually enamored of the idea and Emanuel loves it because he's rich and has rich friends. But did anyone ever teach any of these guys the principles of negotiation, which include not giving up from the get go? This is all so frustrating, foolish and dangerous: we really do not have time to screw things up again.

So, perhaps (and I hope I'm wrong): The Democrats will once again, spectacularly, yank defeat from the jaws of victory, be surprised (again) that the Republicans are selfish, government-hating pin heads without a calorie of patriotic energy in their bodies, and the Democratic party, yanked right by Clinton, is dead. With a few exceptions -- including Alan Grayson, who seems to be another self-made rich guy who, instead of enslaving himself to his greed, has let his money set him free.

Posted by: SF on February 14, 2010 at 7:39 PM | PERMALINK

A portion of this sentiment might owe to the fact that I'm high as a kite right now, but this comment thread is pretty much the most accurate portrayal/analysis of the current american political system that I've seen. Nice.

Posted by: Tim P. on February 14, 2010 at 7:58 PM | PERMALINK

I concur, Tim P. The Political Animal comment page is the last refuge (one of them, anyway) for intelligent, insightful political discourse left in the country today. Wouldn't it be nice if Cokie Roberts and Gloria Borger and David Broder and all the other "pundits" could push themselves away from the buffet table and actually ANALYZE political reality the way it really is, as the commenters here are doing today? Who needs those douchbags, anyway?
Oh, and pass the bong, dude . . .

Posted by: Patrick Starr on February 14, 2010 at 8:46 PM | PERMALINK

I don't believe in the existence of the democratic party any more than I do the Easter bunny. Congress and the Executive branch are comprised damn near exclusively of wingnuts and moderate republicans. The handful of decent individuals with a 'D' next to their names are little more than powerless pariahs. I wish to God they would seek their independence from the corpse they're shackled to, for the sake of its rebirth.

Posted by: JW on February 14, 2010 at 8:55 PM | PERMALINK

The smell of failure on this thread stinks to high heaven. We are 12 months into a 48 month democratic term. Things haven't been perfect, but it is useful to remember that lots of stuff has gotten done. Don't take my word for it. Norm Ornstein of AEI wrote an excellent article recently about how successful this so-called "do nothing congress" has been. In short, it's been very successful--particularly the House, which has passed HCR, Cap and Trade, and a robust jobs bill.

The Senate needs some work. I think we have a good opportunity during the Health Care Summit to gather momentum for a final push. A recent poll shows that the American people, by a 60% margin, want the comprehensive HCR talks to go on. That's pretty impressive considering all the talk of "Death Panels" in August.

I'm both hopeful and confident that something meaningful regarding HCR will happen this year. It likely won't make folks on the left and right happy, but if it lays a good foundation, then it will have been worth it.

Posted by: ChrisNBama on February 14, 2010 at 9:17 PM | PERMALINK


I am confident that your are a talking through your hat stooge. See, Massachutes election. And knock if the pathetic excuses for the judgment voters have passed. Failure Failure Failure is the message for the democrat party and denial of this reality is contemptible. Smell the coffee.

Posted by: razor on February 14, 2010 at 9:48 PM | PERMALINK

Democrats don't even know the rules of the game they are in, or the tactics of their opponent.

If they were a modern football team, their skills would be summed up in this fantasy exchange:

Hiring Owner (the public):'You have to break the opponent down, understand the strategy of the game, be able to make adjustments, put together a game plan. Watch the film and be prepared.'

Current coach (the Democrats): 'What's film?'

It's a game between the ignorantly unprepared (Democrats) and the prepared to be willfully ignorant (Republicans).

Aint America great?

Posted by: LosGatosCA on February 14, 2010 at 10:30 PM | PERMALINK

Hell, just showing a pulse by being willing to fight will be a quantum improvement. Obama should be willing to appoint every single one of the rest of the candidates in recess because -- well, just because. He can explain it to the nation why it was necessary, and he will win that battle despite the apoplexy of Fox. The health bill should be ramrodded through with the popular liberal amendments, including a public option that when properly worded received 80% public approval, and it should be pushed through by any means possible, whether high road or dirty. The strongest possible financial reform should be pushed, with the Republicans if they prefer killing it and being cast as the real friends of Wall Street CEOs.

Guys, gals. . . . we your strongest potential supporters with money, manning the phones and walking the streets, are sick and tired of your decency, your thoughtfulness and your collegiality. When I hear a so-called Democratic leader whine that "oh woe is me, we just can't get the votes," it almost literally makes me sick. These are critical times, with issues that are critical to our country. You must do whatever it takes to get them fixed.

Posted by: urban legend on February 14, 2010 at 11:11 PM | PERMALINK

Mr. Benen, every solution proposed by you in this post requires strong leadership and strongly partisan behavior by the president and members of congress.

Leadership is something we don't have. And partisanship seems to be something that this White House and its allies in congress have more or less flatly rejected. They seem determined to worship at the alter of bipartisanship even if it means reaching out to a party that responds by chopping their hands off.

It's worse than that even. Whenever rank and file progressive organizations and people gear up to fight, they are reined in, called off and cursed as "fucking retards", etc.

When all other possibilities have been eliminated, what remains, no matter how improbable it may seem, is the answer. And the answer here is that the Democratic Party many of us thought we were supporting and voting for exists in name only. It too has been captured by 30+ years of free market ideology and Republican talking points. What we have are two right wing parties.

As FDR biographer Jean Smith said, Democrats have forgotten how to govern and the White House has forgotten how to lead.

Welcome to the party of Al Smith.

Posted by: Romberry on February 15, 2010 at 3:25 AM | PERMALINK

I agree with much that has been said above--the Republicans have no scruples, the Administration has to show some fight, etc. But the essence of the problem is what it was in Clinton's administration. There's a large conservative noise machine, made up of 'think tanks', talk radio, their own cable network and their own religion that create and relentlessly reinforce the fictional narratives that destroy the public support for any Democratic administration. The public supported the public option till they were against it, believe that the deficit is the Democrat's fault, don't believe they have received a tax cut, vote for Republicans who take away their retirement funds, etc. Then we're outraged that Lincoln, Nelson, Landrieu etc aren't willing to put their careers on the line to support suddenly unpopular bills. And surprised that Massachusetts goes Republican.

This is a democracy and we are responsible for building AND MAINTAINING public support for our policies. Democrats haven't forgotten how to govern--they've forgotten how to persuade. All the hectoring from the left can't alter the fact that there was no mobilized majority to support the Democratic platform after election day.

The conservative movement got together 40 years ago after the defeat of Barry Goldwater and devised and funded a strategy to convert the public to their views. All the millionaires and billionaires who donate to democratic campaigns are fine, but until the Democratic party (or liberals) create a counter-strategy this will keep on happening.

I'm tired of the whining--this is a democracy and we are responsible for maintaining a majority--not just the President. He could have done more but he cannot do it all

Posted by: Marion on February 15, 2010 at 8:10 AM | PERMALINK

Marion, thank you for mentioning the defeat of Goldwater. While the Democrats were gloating following that election, the RepuGs within the then Republican Party recognized that, for the first time, they had carried the South. So, a new base had been created. They capitalized on this by helping to convert more Southern Democrats and their bigotry paid off. The party morhped into the RepuGlican Party made up of those defectors, the moderates and liberals were purged and the evil we have today stems from that time. The Democratic Party was remiss in not understanding the written word of Arthur Schlessinger in the early '80s about pendulum swings in our politics. So, while many partied very hearty following our wins in '08, and claimed the RepuGs were dead, the RepuGs have put to advantage the capriousness of the Independents, who have started to swing back to the right.

Posted by: berttheclock on February 15, 2010 at 9:13 AM | PERMALINK

Marion is tired of the "whining"
Me, I'm tired of the stooges using Limbaugh slurs. Whining is a big one.
And I am tired of supposed "liberals" who put the cart before the horse on cause and effect. The behavior of the Obama administration and the DC democrats, primiarily in the Senate, are what tanked the popularity on health care insurance reform and of DC democrats and of the Obama administration. The "whiners" did not accomplish that. And even with all the incompetence of the players, the "public option" in many reforms, such a medicare for 55, remain POPULAR. So Marion, please stop whining while telling lies.

Posted by: razor on February 15, 2010 at 11:07 AM | PERMALINK

Shorter, more bruque, Steve Brenen:

Those pathetic Democratic pussies on the Hill need to stop bending over and grabbing their ankles all the time.

Posted by: The Fool on February 15, 2010 at 11:09 AM | PERMALINK

brusque, that is

Posted by: The Fool on February 15, 2010 at 11:10 AM | PERMALINK

Upthread, Brooklyn asked, "Do they realize this inside the bubble?"

Speaking from inside the bubble, the answer is NO.

Posted by: The Fool on February 15, 2010 at 11:12 AM | PERMALINK

Bert...I totally agree. Many of the Southern Democrats (I am one, so I know) were motivated by race...but the independents in other parts of the country are seduced by the narrative and the propaganda machine. We forget that the average person doesn't pay that much attention to politics and, according to polls, has trouble locating the US on a map and doesn't know France is a country. With such a public, the narrative has to be simple, attention-grabbing and repeated, just like any other propaganda, to persuade its audience. Once the narrative takes hold all other information is incorporated into it and it is almost impossible to dislodge.
Democrats need to get cracking or their majorities will continue to be temporary.

Posted by: Marion on February 15, 2010 at 11:17 AM | PERMALINK

Democrats won because of Howard Dean's well disciplined plan. Now all we have is weak kneed president and vice presient who will whine but not use tools to circumvent the dysfunctionl Senate. Too bad .This democratic dithering has caused the Dems to squander their majority. The next Congress will be worse for moving America forward. It will be even more dominated by corporation winners and America and Americans will be the losers. The status quo will destroy our economic gains and ability to compete in global economy.

Posted by: mljohnston on February 15, 2010 at 12:52 PM | PERMALINK


The broader point of your accurate post regarding the ADD of the electorate is that Politics is no longer a subject of interest to the American voter. THEY JUST DON'T CARE. Those of us who admire Obama for his strengths think he was elected based on those strengths. We're wrong. He was elected for a variety of reasons (referendum on Bush/Cheney, McCain/Palin was a disaster among Independents, etc.). Our candidate didn's win so much as the GOP finally ran out of gas and lost. Temporarily. But their messages are the ones that get through and they have spent the last year crafting the "Carter II' narrative, WITH THE HELP OF THE DEM LEADERSHIP. Face it, the GOP does stupid better than anybody, and this country is STUPID. We're pretty much f**ked folks.

Posted by: Mowgli on February 15, 2010 at 1:11 PM | PERMALINK



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