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August 08, 2011 2:30 PM The Westen piece

By Steve Benen

It’s not exactly a secret that there is widespread liberal consternation with the Obama presidency. Though the frustrations aren’t always apparent in the polls, the evidence to bolster the trend isn’t exactly elusive. As regular readers know, I don’t generally share those attitudes, but only a fool would deny their existence and their intensity.

With this in mind, Drew Westen, an Emory psychology professor, had a fairly long, much-discussed New York Times piece yesterday that strongly resonated with many of the president’s liberal detractors. And while I can appreciate why the essay might have been cathartic, I also found it, at best, underwhelming.

Now, I suspect those who found Westen’s piece compelling won’t appreciate this. “Of course you didn’t like it,” the emails will say. “You support the president.” But that’s not what I’m getting at here. There are plenty of criticisms of the president I find quite persuasive, on areas including housing policy, Afghanistan, immigration, civil liberties, and negotiating styles in general, among other things.

In this case, though, it’s Westen’s case itself that fell flat, at least with me.

Westen’s general approach to political analysis, like Lakoff’s, focuses almost exclusively on rhetoric and the establishment of larger political narratives though “storytelling.” Yesterday’s piece is a little tough to excerpt — it’s about 3,300 words — but Westen believes political stories drive the public’s understanding of the world around them, and President Obama’s missteps can be attributed — sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly — to poor rhetoric, inadequate themes, and weak storytelling.

So, for example, had the president chosen a story more to Westen’s liking in his inaugural address — one that condemned Republicans and Wall Street more directly — it “would have inoculated against much of what was to come in the intervening two and a half years of failed government, idled factories and idled hands.”

I seriously doubt that. And yet, this is the prism through which all of Westen’s analysis shines. As Jon Chait put it:

Westen’s op-ed rests upon a model of American politics in which the president in the not only the most important figure, but his most powerful weapon is rhetoric. The argument appears calculated to infuriate anybody with a passing familiarity with the basics of political science. In Westen’s telling, every known impediment to legislative progress — special interest lobbying, the filibuster, macroeconomic conditions, not to mention certain settled beliefs of public opinion — are but tiny stick huts trembling in the face of the atomic bomb of the presidential speech. The impediment to an era of total an uncompromising liberal success is Obama’s failure to properly deploy this awesome weapon.

If I had to guess, I’d say the Westen piece resonated with folks who want to hear the same kind of rhetoric Westen wants to hear, which necessarily makes it seem persuasive. But that doesn’t make the larger analysis accurate.

Take Westen’s take on the Recovery Act.

The truly decisive move that broke the arc of history was his handling of the stimulus. The public was desperate for a leader who would speak with confidence, and they were ready to follow wherever the president led. Yet instead of indicting the economic policies and principles that had just eliminated eight million jobs, in the most damaging of the tic-like gestures of compromise that have become the hallmark of his presidency — and against the advice of multiple Nobel-Prize-winning economists — he backed away from his advisers who proposed a big stimulus, and then diluted it with tax cuts that had already been shown to be inert.

Most of this doesn’t make any sense. I’ve criticized the size of the stimulus hundreds of times, so on the larger concern, Westen and I largely on the same page. But notice the basis for his argument: the Recovery Act would have been bigger if the president had “indicted” Republican economic policies. I have no idea how Westen arrives at this conclusion.

For that matter, the stimulus included plenty of tax breaks, and Westen believes they “had already been shown to be inert.” Really, how? Through use of a time machine? The tax policies in the Recovery Act weren’t a continuation of Bush policies; they were new tax breaks. Even if Westen believes Bush-era tax breaks were a failure — a belief I strongly share — it’s lazy and wrong to assume that all tax policy is the same.

There was also this assessment of FDR:

In similar circumstances, Franklin D. Roosevelt offered Americans a promise to use the power of his office to make their lives better and to keep trying until he got it right. Beginning in his first inaugural address, and in the fireside chats that followed, he explained how the crash had happened, and he minced no words about those who had caused it. He promised to do something no president had done before: to use the resources of the United States to put Americans directly to work, building the infrastructure we still rely on today.

This is wrong on a variety of levels. FDR took office with massive Democratic majorities in both chambers after the economy had already bottomed out; Obama walked into office in the middle of the freefall, still needing Republican votes to overcome filibusters. These circumstances aren’t exactly “similar.”

What’s more, Westen’s praise for FDR’s rhetoric notwithstanding, that same first inaugural from Roosevelt called for the state and local governments to cut spending, which is hardly the “story” Westen would want to hear, and the larger storytelling didn’t fundamentally alter the public’s perceptions anyway. Towards the end of FDR’s first term, despite the Westen-endorsed themes, the vast majority of Americans still wanted a balanced budget — despite 20% unemployment.

Perhaps most notably, Andrew Sprung scrutinized Westen’s piece and discovered that Obama has publicly and repeatedly stressed some of the identical messages Westen wanted to hear from the president. Maybe the professor missed those speeches; maybe he didn’t check.

Westen is a good storyteller. There is real force to many of his charges. But modeling what he says Obama should have done, he tells a simplified morality tale — highly selective, with a clear villain, and in some points, demonstrably false. He makes copious use of political cliches about messaging that fail to take into account the degree to which economic conditions shape audience reception of a politician’s message…. And in the end, it devolves into an ad hominem attack with recourse to cheap psychologizing (notwithstanding Westen’s protestations of scientific detachment) and unfounded impugning of motive.

Westen says the debt-ceiling deal cuts entitlements, but it doesn’t. He gets Medicaid policy wrong, too. He rests his entire case on the power of rhetorical phrases, when as Chait noted, “The clear reality is that Americans pay hardly any attention to what presidents say, and what little they take in, they forget almost immediately.”

There’s a sizable contingent on the left that wants Obama to be The Great Progressive Pugilist, shaping a agenda around blistering attacks on Republicans and their allies. Love him or hate him, Obama has never been that guy. Remember the 2004 Democratic convention speech that launched Obama into the political stratosphere? It was the keynote address in a year Dems were taking on an incumbent, and Obama literally never even mentioned Bush or Cheney.

He doesn’t want to pick partisan fights. He said as much in 2008 and won in a near-landslide.

Kevin Drum concluded:

…I think Westen misses the big point. The problem isn’t that Obama didn’t have a story. He did, and he told it pretty well. His story was one about the dysfunctional partisanship destroying Washington and how to move beyond it. You might not like that story, but it was there. And while it obviously didn’t succeed in moving the needle on partisanship, it did allow Obama to produce a pretty decent set of legislative achievements. As much as two years of anti-conservative stemwinders would have thrilled me, I doubt they would have produced anywhere near as much. […]

Obama’s cool demeanor got him elected and it’s kept him personally popular in the face of massive Republican intransigence over the past two years. Like it or not, the public seems to prefer that to the pugilistic style that seems like such a no-brainer to us lefties.

I continue to believe progressives have a credible case to make against the president. The problem is, Westen’s indictment isn’t it.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.

Comments

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  • bob h on August 08, 2011 2:37 PM:

    What has "happened" to President Obama is that he clings to a belief that he must honor and do nothing to damage American political institutions while grappling with an enemy who doesn't care what they damage in their zeal to hurt him.

  • Steve P on August 08, 2011 2:37 PM:

    Someone finally realized that Obama is not Jed Bartlet. The next step is to realize that Jed Bartlet is not a real person.

  • DAY on August 08, 2011 2:37 PM:

    On the other hand, bombastic rhetoric, well seasoned with a an infusion of outright lies, has served the Republican Party quite well the past three years.

  • Xenocrates on August 08, 2011 2:43 PM:

    For all those complaining that the President isn't "tough enough," I would ask you; should Obama begin to adopt the scorched earth tactics of the GOP? I would hope we were better than that...

  • DisgustedWithItAll on August 08, 2011 2:48 PM:

    Benen, Chait, and Klein are wrong.

    Weston is much more correct than wrong. Weston may undervalue the nuts and bolts of policy, but wonks like Klein and Chait VASTLY undervalue rhetoric and story telling. The reason Republicans are winning is because they engage in willful lying to control the message. They wouldn't be able to do that if Democrats went to the same trouble to call out Republicans lies and misrepresentations. Democrats continually lose policy issues that the public actually AGREES with them one (guns, taxes, AGW, health care, etc.) because Republicans ensure they control the message and Democrats are too spineless. Democrats lose by not telling the moral story. And that's a tragedy.

  • T2 on August 08, 2011 2:48 PM:

    Westen and others have gone on about Obama's perceived failures relating to the "progressives" without acknowledging two facts: First, Obama didn't present himself as a "progressive"...maybe the "progressives" figured that since having a black guy as president, that alone meant "progressive". It did to them, not him.
    Secondly, the Media has routinely denied him any hoopla for his accomplishments, fearing that would not seem "balanced". In fact all too often items of merit were buried under sensationalized trials or blatherings from morons on the Right.
    President Obama has done some very good things, also some dumb things and also some timid things. But if the progressives are looking for someone to be their Michelle Bachmann/Palin, they better keep looking, cause he ain't it.

  • K in VA on August 08, 2011 2:49 PM:

    What I am seeing, over and over again and with few exceptions, is that the bloggers and others on the left leading the Obama attacks now are the same people who so vigorously attacked Hillary in late 2007 and through the primaries in 2008.

  • DisgustedWithItAll on August 08, 2011 2:52 PM:

    @Xenocrates: If you call standing up and saying "no" to bullies "scorched earth tactics," then yes, Obama and Democrats should adopt those tactics. As soon as Republicans say they will NOT give on something they value, then Democrats should do two things:

    - announce they will not give on something they value (and stick to it)
    - take their case to the public with uncompromising, pointed rhetoric.

    Republicans would lose.

  • Danny on August 08, 2011 2:53 PM:

    @DAY

    That's exactly on the money. Some people want liberal George W Bush. It's as simple as that. They want payback for the "treason" and "endangering the troops" smears; for the "tax-and-spend liberal" smears; for the swift boat smear.

    The thing that is usually forgotten is that the republican party of the last 20 years is the result of Talk Radio and FoxNews. Others lead the way in debasing our national discourse, not republican presidents. Not even Dubya when he was at his most high on Mission Accomplished was the trash talking president that some people proclaim to want. And it's not something we should strive for unless we can will a progressive FoxNews and Rush Limbaugh into being.

  • Danp on August 08, 2011 2:54 PM:

    Someone finally realized that Obama is not Jed Bartlet

    and we don't live in Bartlet's America.

  • Tyro on August 08, 2011 2:58 PM:

    I think you are missing part of the point of Westen's piece: Obama's poor "storytelling" is a symptom, not a cause, of the problems of his presidency, which yo don't address, at all. The president doesn't discuss his "ideal" policy goal, except that his ideal involves a compromise or deal of some sort, and when a deal is made, he feels he can declare victory. But that's just a meta-victory. At no point does anyone know what is being fought over. Perhaps Obama doesn't know himself.

    You're concentrating on Westen's critique of Obama's rhetoric/storytelling to the exclusion of the other points in the piece.

  • Michael on August 08, 2011 2:58 PM:

    Disgusted, you fail to realize, no matter how hard he tries to get the message out, instad of working on his presidency, it wouldn't matter. He does not control the media, and fox news will blow holes in anything he says by lying through their teeth with supreme court approval.NPR doesn't NEED, to be fair and balanced, just neutral...same with ALL other media.Attacking now would be a waste of time, and strengthen gop talking points,

    Lets hope he knows WHEN , to strike.

  • MBunge on August 08, 2011 2:59 PM:

    "The reason Republicans are winning is because they engage in willful lying to control the message."


    Anyone who looks at Obama's long list of accomplishments in less than 3 years and thinks the GOP is "winning", needs a reality check as badly as Charlie Sheen does.

    Mike

  • LJL on August 08, 2011 3:00 PM:

    The complaint progressive critics of Barack Obama have is that he's too 'democratic'. They might been happier if he had turned out to be a left wing Imperial President.

  • Tyro on August 08, 2011 3:02 PM:

    I would ask you; should Obama begin to adopt the scorched earth tactics of the GOP? I would hope we were better than that...

    My reply is that politics is not about proving that you're "better than that" when it comes to your opponents. Politics is about getting stuff done for your constituents, not acing out a personal narrative about how virtuous you are.

  • anonymoose on August 08, 2011 3:06 PM:

    Maybe one day the Democrats will have decent and effective advisers in congress and the white house. The GOP has their effective right wing noise machine and the Dems have.....what exactly?

    Every freaking day I run into things that can be used to attack the GOP that are written by people in my blogroll, but you nary hear a peep out of the Dem establishment. It took forever for the dems to pick up the "GOP is holding the economy hostage and wants the economy to fail because that is the only way they can beat Obama in '12" message that the blogs have been pounding on like forever. Even when they did, their efforts have been half hearted.

    If they would have picked up on that effort earlier, the dems could have hit them over and over with the "want the economy to fail" stuff all throughout the debt limit fiasco. With that background Obama's pressers wouldn't need to be all that pointed, but the groundwork would have been laid for his message to get through a bit better.

    Because you don't end up hearing this stuff from the other Dems it really makes you wonder if the way things play out is that the dems and Obama actually want.

    Instead when things are played out, it is the grassroots and libs who get placed with the blame for not doing more. Sorry bud, we got you guys elected. How about doing some leading for a change. Show us that it is worth the effort to get more and better dems elected

  • Molly Weasley on August 08, 2011 3:07 PM:

    Westin made some awfully good points, but on the whole, his arguments didn't add up. How can a president making an inaugural address to a country that's been losing 750,000 jobs a month play the blame game? That's not what the country wanted to hear.

    More than anything else, Obama drew on his experience as a state senator, where by all accounts he was a success. He got tough laws passed with bipartisan support. He won over the Illinois police, for example, in the quest to have police interrogations videotaped, because the police finally realized that would be to their advantage.

    The silliest criticism was that he hadn't published anything while teaching at U of C. Keep in mind that he did that while a state senator and was not on the faculty full time.

    I think we all wish he would hit the Rethugs, though, and hard. They more than deserve it.

  • Live Free or Die on August 08, 2011 3:08 PM:

    All I want him to do is say "Republican" instead of "Washington". Is that too much to ask?

  • zeitgeist on August 08, 2011 3:09 PM:

    I happened to find Weston's piece quite compelling, and found it saying much of what I have wanted to say. Benen is correct that Weston overstates his case in several respects, but my takeaway was not that the piece was merely about rhetoric.

    What I think Weston nails is how little Obama does -- or eve tries -- to leverage those issues where public opinioon is solidly with us. Even in those instances, the President (and in fairness, most elected Dems on the national stage) act/speak/bargain like they are in a position of weakness. This, of course, becomes self-fulfilling: it makes them weaker.

    I also agree with the general contours of Weston's theory about storytelling. Here Benen, Chait, etc. lapse into the enlightened, progressive litany of facts and figures -- merely proving Weston's point that the left engages in a form of argument that is not working because it is not capturing the average voter at an emotional level.

    The most important part of this, and one Weston mentions but I think underplays, is how the sudden change from yelling "Yes we can!" in packed arenas to talking like he was reading a Harvard Law Review article squandered Obama's momentum just as he took office, and let the teeming masses that had come out to vote for him slip quietly away from engagement -- just as the Tea Party pulled the Republicans up from the mat by doing the very types of things Weston suggests.

    It was not a perfect takedown, but count me among those who found myself nodding vigorously as I read Weston's essay.

  • thebewilderness on August 08, 2011 3:10 PM:

    It takes a bit of nerve for the opinionators to pretend that they have nothing to do with the "story" being told.

  • Kathryn on August 08, 2011 3:10 PM:

    Weston piece started with a disgusted VIP, don't know who, was over the top angry because Obama did not use the 14th Amendment to end debt ceiling debate. Many of us, including me, thought that was a good idea. Does anybody now really believe that would have been a good idea? Standard and Poor's would have downgraded, as they have done, and who would have been totally to blame, one Barack Hussein Obama. The remainder of his first and last term would have been all about the impeachment of the socialist. My point, we all think we know what Obama should do or say, blah, blah, blah. He's not perfect, but just maybe he has about 100 times or more info than we possess and uses that info to make decisions, which have been generally pretty sound.

  • Sheldon on August 08, 2011 3:11 PM:

    I think the defenders of Obama against the Westen piece have to deal with the following:

    - The article has gotten the attention it has because it articulates what many Democrats have come to believe about Obama. What you are really disagreeing with is not the piece, but conclusions that are widely held not only by large segments of the public, but Democratic officials in Washington as well.

    - Pulling occasional quotes from Obama that seem to make the points Westen says he needs to make aren't enough to counter the overwhelming record of Obama compromises with the most conservative Republican talking points and even policies.

    - It is impossible to imagine anyone ever calling Obama a strong leader. Whatever one thinks of Reagan and George W. Bush, they conveyed a focus and determination sorely lacking in Obama. That lack has significantly set back the cause of progressivism, and has helped squander a once-in-a-generation opportunity to pursue progressive policies.

    - A huge amount of misinformation and disinformation has been allowed to proliferate - on our health care system vs. Europe's, for example, on Obamacare, and on Obama's tax policies - with almost zero effort by the White House to counter them. The seeming inability of Obama to focus constantly on the day-to-day concerns of most Americans and to communicate in plain, effective ways to the public is a major cause of liberal upset with Obama and in our judgement a major contributor to the ability of Republicans to successfully impose conservative economics on the country.

    - Obama has clearly decided that his fortunes depend on appealing to so-called independents rather than Democrats. That may be a sound political strategy - though it remains to be seen whether he will get the same enthusiasm and support he got from Democrats the last time - but it is hardly a principled stand.

    - Finally, I challenge anyone who isn't conservative (and who therefore thinks Obama is an alien socialist) to persuasively describe three principles, other than compromise, that Obama feels strongly about. More than two years into his presidency, he remains an enigman to large segements of the country. This is not a good thing.

    Steve, if you have a progressive case to make against Obama, make it. Until you do, the Westen article gets my vote.

  • exlibra on August 08, 2011 3:14 PM:

    I started reading that article last night. Just reading the first paragraph - about how, on the Inauguration, it was a cold and blustery day that he and his little daughter had to suffer through and I thought "Uh, oh; probably soured the next two years for him". And, sure enough, the whole page was nothing but kvetch, bitch and moan. So, when I got to the bottom of the page and saw that there were 3 (or was it 4) more to be waded through, late at night -- I was reading it on line -- figured I wasn't gonna lose much if I gave the rest a pass.

    One wonders just how pugnacious the good professor is when in class, in front of his students, when his job might be on the line, should he not be able to appeal to *most* of them. Or, how timid he is, when the rubber hits the road. A lot of people are happy to advocate, *for others*, behaviour that they'd never dream of engaging in, themselves.

  • DisgustedWithItAll on August 08, 2011 3:19 PM:

    Anyone who looks at Obama's long list of accomplishments in less than 3 years and thinks that the social safety net is not under severe attack and could be dismantled for future generations and doesn't think the GOP is "winning", needs a reality check as badly as Charlie Sheen does. That person is also part of the Democratic problem.

    Obama needs to tell a story and then fight for the vision contained in the story just like Weston said.

  • Live Free or Die on August 08, 2011 3:20 PM:

    Liberals have every reason to moan. Obama for the most part have implemented Republican solutions. The health care plan was written by Heritage, for example. The other thing is that liberals noticed that while the GOP tremble in fear at their base, Obama is constantly fighting with them and lecturing them. This leads to asymmetric policies. That is why liberal are angry. And the Satan sandwich was really the straw the broke the camel's back.

  • DisgustedWithItAll on August 08, 2011 3:22 PM:

    "Disgusted, you fail to realize, no matter how hard he tries to get the message out, instad of working on his presidency, it wouldn't matter. ..."

    @Michael: I don't see that Obama tries. All I see and hear is milquetoast rhetoric where he avoids putting the blame where it belongs. As in his habit of saying "Washington" when he should be saying "Republican."

  • Steve M. on August 08, 2011 3:22 PM:

    Obama walked into office in the middle of the freefall, still needing Republican votes to overcome filibusters.

    "Votes," plural? No. He needed one -- and from the time Al Franken was seated until the time Svcott Brown succeeded Ted Kennedy's temporary Democratic replacement, he needed none. Or at least he should have needed none, because the Democratic caucus was 60 senators.

  • Bill Camarda on August 08, 2011 3:25 PM:

    Westen nailed it for me.

    Obama ran on the promise of fundamental change. He had 10 million people who would have followed him anywhere, including millions he brought into the political system for the first time, through his (apparent) eloquence and passion. There was only one way he could have made the fundamental change he promised: by activating those 10,000,000 people, by leading them, by asking them to be involved every single day. Instead, he led them nowhere, and they drifted away. Instead, the passion moved to the right, to the Tea Party.

    That was about leadership and storytelling, and a decision to play the "inside game," stabilize the system, protect the banks, and take care of everyone else later. Later never came.

  • Chris on August 08, 2011 3:26 PM:

    I doubt that I'll receive an answer, but I'm curious to hear Steve Benen's "credible case to make against the president."

    This isn't criticism of Steve. To the contrary. I respect his views, and would love to know where he believes the President has gone wrong and what he could do differently going forward. Steve's been relatively silent on this issue...perhaps because he doesn't want to do contribute to suppressing the progressive vote among his readers and others? Nevertheless, Steve's frank assessment in this area would be much appreciated, and I suspect, help the cause.

  • sue on August 08, 2011 3:29 PM:

    "Al Franken was seated until the time Svcott Brown succeeded Ted Kennedy's temporary Democratic replacement, he needed none. Or at least he should have needed none, because the Democratic caucus was 60 senators."

    Al was sworn in 7/7/2009
    Scott was sworn in 2/4/2010

    So 7 months with 60 senators in the Dem caucus which included Joe Lieberman and that Ben Nelson.

  • Danny on August 08, 2011 3:39 PM:

    I'm gonna reiterate a thing I wrote elsewhere.

    You emoproggers would be more persuasive if you weren't (willfully or cluelessly) ignorant of what you actually saw on TV only yesterday. You saw Axelrod, O'Malley, Howard Dean and John Kerry all over the Sunday shows pitching the "Teaparty Downgrade". That's a coordinated message by surrogates pointing the finger in exactly the way you want the finger to be pointed.

    It isn't by accident those guys are out doing that. They're doing that so the President doesn't have to do it because if the President doesn't do it then he has more authority commanding congress to pass a deal "with revenue", and we dont have to watch endless chatter about the "angry, unbalanced, discourteous, partisan president" on Morning Joe.

    But because those guys were out there pointing fingers yesterday, most people who saw the Presidents speech can fill in the blanks who the "partisans" were that held the debt ceiling "hostage". The president doesn't have to say who "held party over country". Someone else said that yesterday.

    This is politics 101, and republicans did exactly the same thing when Bush was president. Bush didnt have to charge any dissenters with "treason"; Ann Coulter did that for him.

    That's how the game is played, and not understanding that looks clueless, frankly.

  • Temple Houston on August 08, 2011 3:46 PM:

    As I sit here contemplating the destruction of my 401(k), I know the culprit is a degenerate Republican Party. That doesn't stop me from being very disappointed with Obama's performance. When you add the ignorant destructiveness of the Republicans to the obtuse "balance" of the major news media, you see that we really did (and still do) need a man in the bully pulpit willing to say (loudly) the things that need to be said. He is capable of playing that role, but he chooses not to do so. What happened? It looks to me that he is working very hard to replicate the enthusiasm gap that cost the Democrats the House. If he thinks the casually engaged voters who elected him will happily return to the polls in 2012, he is in trouble. This is not a problem with the "Left." It is a problem arising from a profound failure to address and promote the interests of people who are not part of the Republican Reaction.

  • Vernon on August 08, 2011 3:47 PM:

    @Sue, thanks for pointing that out. Also, we know Sen Franken couldn't vote until he was seated, but how many votes were Senators Kennedy and Byrd available for? The media never pointed out the missed votes when reporting on the Dems inability to break the Republican filibusters but they never stopped talking about the "60 vote majority" although, the 60th vote was a guy who endorsed then campaigned for John McCain. Oh and he was also the guy who blew up Health Care Reform in the 11th hour because too many progressives liked it. http://voices.washingtonpost.com/ezra-klein/2009/12/joe_lieberman_lets_not_make_a.html

  • Chris on August 08, 2011 3:53 PM:

    Benen's commentary here is consistent with what Krugman is also telling us--that this is the same Obama that ran for office. Therefore, we shouldn't be surprised by the positions he's taking.

    Well, I supported Obama throughout the campaign, and I am surprised.

    I was surprised when he didn't fight harder for the public option (I still supported and support ACA). I was surprised that President Obama was determined to pass the stimulus and the health care bill with 50 votes when both could have been passed via reconciliation. I was surprised when he adopted the Republican falsehood that government should tighten it's belt when families are tightening theirs. I was surprised that Obama prioritized deficits over jobs. I was surprised that he sought a grand bargain rather than fighting for a clean debt ceiling increase, especially a grand bargain that included cuts to Social Security and Medicare (and continues to seek a one). I was surprised today when Obama indicate that he prioritizes Medicare benefit cuts over defense cuts (backing up Defense Secretary Panetta).

    Maybe, Krugman and Benen are right. Maybe I didn't pay close enough attention during the campaign, and I was wrong to project my progressive positions onto President Obama. Nevertheless, if a strong progressive Democrat were to run against the President in a primary, I would strongly consider supporting that candidate. My level of disappoint with this President is off the charts.

  • Chris on August 08, 2011 3:55 PM:

    Let me just add that I did not stay home during the 2010 elections, and I will not stay home in 2012. Feel free to disagree with my previous post, but I'd appreciate it if people wouldn't blame me for the rise of the planet of the apes, as some tend to do when I criticize President Obama.

  • square1 on August 08, 2011 3:57 PM:

    The truth hurts.

    Sadly, Obama does understand the power of storytelling. He simply refuses to tell liberal stories.

    In his most recent SOTU, Obama could have told a story of how deregulating industry led to the Deepwater Horizon blowout. Or he could have told a story of how deregulating Wall Street led to the financial crisis. Instead he told a story of how government over-regulates salmon. He CHOSE to tell a Republican-themed story of how government is the problem, not the solution.

    And when it cam to jobs, did President Obama tell a story of how other countries' governments protect their jobs but America pays corporations to send them overseas? No. Did President Obama tell a story of how government-provided single-payer health care in other countries removes an economic burden from foreign companies and makes foreign workers more competitive? No. Did President Obama tell a story of how Americans lost millions of jobs because Wall Street became a casino in the past decade and blew up our economy? No.

    Instead, President Obama told a story of how Americans were being "out-innovated" by India and China and needed to kick in into gear. As if those countries aren't havens of intellectual property piracy ready to rip-off any good idea that Americans "innovate".

    The fact is that Americans cannot compete against countries with virtually no labor or environmental standards. But Obama chose not to tell that story. He told us a story of how Americans are dumb and lazy and that is why we are losing jobs.

  • jjm on August 08, 2011 4:00 PM:

    Very nice, thoughtful piece, Steve!

    I do think that Jerry Brown, on Candy Crowley's CNN show yesterday, is right: Obama does ultimately have to reach deep into his "soul" as Brown put it, to speak to the people and express how stark the choice is before us: to become a third rate country with so dualized an economy that the place really starts to fall apart (not just physical infrastructure, but the universities, the ideas, the thinking that once made us great and forward looking) OR to start agreeing to pay what it costs to have it remain a fine country.

    The tea party toads and the GOP just want us all squatting, doing nothing, never taking our lives and our future into our own hands, passive and unproductive, consuming energy and too much food. For pete's sake the GOP even disdains the very idea of JOBS. What kind of Americans are these guys?

    You can watch it at http://bit.ly/n2JcIo and http://bit.ly/o219Yl (two halves).

  • FlipYrWhig on August 08, 2011 4:05 PM:

    Question for Westen and Westen-sympathetic observers:

    How does rhetoric/narrative/framing that connects with the public translate into elected politicians voting accordingly? Do you think that if Obama proposed something in a beautiful package and 85% of the public wanted it, but 0% of Republican politicians, that the Republican politicians would change course and back it? Why would they do that? Their strategy is to deny him victories, and if you don't like it, you can try your hardest to vote them out. They don't budge, certainly not because the president talked pretty one day.

  • mcc on August 08, 2011 4:06 PM:

    Bloggers care about strong, "backbone"y statements, not results. Actual results, like the HCR bill or the Stimulus, when they come are invariably "compromised" and so we wind up hating them. You say something about how even if he "indicted" Republican policies Obama would have to face the filibuster but this is missing the point. If Obama said strong rallying words it wouldn't matter whether he could overcome the filibuster, or even if he succeeded at any of the things he succeeded at, we would be happy.

    This was why the netroots rallied behind Edwards in the primaries back in 2007-2008; he said the "strong" things blog people want to hear.

    Maybe the professor missed those speeches; maybe he didnít check.

    It is usually the case that when netroots people complain about Obama/X Random Democrat "not saying" some thing or other, it's something Obama/Democrats have in fact been saying but there just haven't been blog posts about it. This is because when Obama/Democrats say things that don't fit the chosen narrative the blogs don't repeat it and netroots people don't hear about it (outside of obot blogs like Steve Benen's, which no one listens to because it is an obot blog). Obama and Pelosi can spend a year fighting for another $800 billion in job stimulus, and we'll ignore it and continue talking about how Obama/Pelosi/Reid are traitors that the original $800 billion stimulus wasn't twice the size.

    This is the really ironic thing about the netroots backbone fetishists, they have this strong belief that the President has this all-overpowering rhetorical megaphone, but they themselves are generally ignorant of anything the President's been saying. If the "bully pulpit" actually existed then why have Obama's messages failed so completely to get through to you? If all Obama has to do to get people to agree with him is yell at them, then why is it when Obama yells at you it just makes you get even angrier and dig in more?

  • bdop4 on August 08, 2011 4:07 PM:

    "This is politics 101, and republicans did exactly the same thing when Bush was president. Bush didnt have to charge any dissenters with "treason"; Ann Coulter did that for him.

    That's how the game is played, and not understanding that looks clueless, frankly." - Danny

    Well, thanks for pointing out the obvious. My question to you: how many times have Democratic ACTUALLY done this? How many times have leading Democrats come out swinging in the past two years? Does it take a no-brainer slam dunk issue in order to get this response. And why didn't they do it BEFORE the shit hit the fan?

    Obama is the #1 Democrat in our party. Don't tell me leadership doesn't take its cues from him.

  • Trollop on August 08, 2011 4:10 PM:

    Tyro FTW!

    "My reply is that politics is not about proving that you're "better than that" when it comes to your opponents. Politics is about getting stuff done for your constituents, not acing out a personal narrative about how virtuous you are."

  • snowbird42 on August 08, 2011 4:12 PM:

    When Neil Conan has this guy on radio to spew venom when the President is trying to calm the country is astonishing. I think that under all of it is racism,

  • bdop4 on August 08, 2011 4:19 PM:

    One more observation: There isn't a day goes by that you don't see McConnell, Boehner or Cantor in front of a mike spewing bullshit. Usually it's all three or a combination thereof.

    You're lucky to see a Dem make a public statement ONCE A WEEK. If it's because of MSM bias, then that should be made an issue.

    If Dems think they're winning the messaging war by "staying above the fray," they are sadly mistaken.

    Snowbird42 - Please cite the passages where you think Westin is making racist statements. Otherwise, you're just talking out of your ass.

  • Elie on August 08, 2011 4:25 PM:

    I am completely disgusted with our side.

    We watch the Republicans tear up everything this President has been trying to help US and then get their orcs to influence S&P to do its travesty with incorrect numbers even, and instead of outrage against THEM, we spend time and energy and a lot of morale busting emotion further degrading the power of this President. I am beyond disgusted and tell all you fuckers that you deserve what happens. What a bunch of stupid goons.

  • Vernon on August 08, 2011 4:26 PM:

    @MCC I figured it out when I watched "The Breakup" with Jen Anniston and Vince Vaughn. They don't want him to do the dishes, they want him to WANT to do the dishes.

  • Trollop on August 08, 2011 4:31 PM:

    Chris,

    You hate America and you're a racist!

    (/snark)

    (: - )

  • Spring Texan on August 08, 2011 4:36 PM:

    If you read the end of the piece, you will find that Westin DOES emphasize the ACTIONS Obama didn't take, NOT just the verbiage, even though he talks like it's just the verbiage. His deepest complaints -- and liberals' -- are about what Obama is DOING, e.g. deporting more immigrants than Bush, agreeing to undercut Medicaid. I liked the piece and don't think Benen's criticism is fair overall although I CAN see how he got there given that Westin does tend to focus on messaging.

    "He announces in a speech on energy and climate change that we need to expand offshore oil drilling and coal production ÔŅĹ two methods of obtaining fuels that contribute to the extreme weather Americans are now seeing. He supports a health care law that will use Medicaid to insure about 15 million more Americans and then endorses a budget plan that, through cuts to state budgets, will most likely decimate Medicaid and other essential programs for children, senior citizens and people who are vulnerable by virtue of disabilities or an economy that is getting weaker by the day. He gives a major speech on immigration reform after deporting around 800,000 immigrants in two years, a pace faster than nearly any other period in American history."

    In all honesty, as an "old-fashioned, museum-quality, tax-and-spend liberal", I am totally disgusted with Obama and although no one can know for sure, I feel the country would actually have been better off with McCain as president -- the damage Obama has done and is doing far outweighs the few good things.

  • zeitgeist on August 08, 2011 4:36 PM:

    Do you think that if Obama proposed something in a beautiful package and 85% of the public wanted it, but 0% of Republican politicians, that the Republican politicians would change course and back it? Why would they do that? Their strategy is to deny him victories, and if you don't like it, you can try your hardest to vote them out. They don't budge, certainly not because the president talked pretty one day.

    Flip, you are surely correct about what would happen in the short-term -- and to be clear it is exactly what happens with or without rhetorical efforts.

    So you have a couple of choices to, as you say, "try your hardest to vote them out." You can literally quit trying to legislate because it is a foregone conclusion. You can give the right what it wants (or let it limit what you want) because it is an immovable force. Or you can fight the fight that needs fighting, even if you know you will lose due to Republican obstinancy, and "talk pretty" now and then in a way that reinforces the public opinion that is behind you, in a way that motivates that public opinion to express itself at the polls and in a way that makes sure the public opinion knows who is with them and who is against them.

    If you don't do that, there is less chance that they get voted out because the public doesn't see the choices in stark enough terms. The public needs this set up without a lot of nuance because most of them pay much less attention than we do to the day-to-day events of politics.

    And Danny, MCC, et al. -- you set up a false dichotomy that either Obama is how Westen and some of us here see him today or he is some foaming-at-the-mouth Black Panther turning everyone off. The anti-Westen crowd has a much tougher time explaining, to use the simple, repeated example from this thread, why Obama says "Washington" is to blame -- giving credence to the type of false equivilence the MSM uses -- rather than naming Republicans. And Square 1's "Salmon" example was dead-on -- there was just no reason to reinforce the Republican meme that over-regulation is the problem.

    This isn't just about screaming and yelling, this is about not reinforcing Republican themes or better yet replacing them with Democratic ones. It is critical to keep any kind of clarity between the party positions and for voters to have any idea what our side stands for.

  • Goldilocks on August 08, 2011 4:37 PM:

    I suppose we have to wait and see how all this debt reduction stuff pans out, but at present there is a bad taste in our mouths which is not fanciful. Most of the Democrats' lines in the sand were crossed - all for something they could have called the Republicans' bluff on, with the safeguard of the 14th Amendment. I don't think that perception will go away any time soon.

    My instinct gives Obama a wide tolerance because I like the guy. I think he's clever and skillful in many ways and has substantial achievements under his belt. Unfortunately, I share many liberals' disappointment at what appears to be over-generosity in his desire to reach consensus. Like Bill Maher, I would like to see him take a firmer stand on some basic principles, even at the cost of scuppering a deal. It would be refreshing and encouraging to the base which has more relevance than the administration seems to give it credit for. We're different from the Teavangelicals in important and fundamental ways. We don't play fast and loose with truth and reality. We are not cheats and liars.

  • bdop4 on August 08, 2011 4:38 PM:

    Square1, just read your post and agree 100%.

    Elie: we rail just as hard against the GOP teabaggers and wonder why our elected representatives aren't doing the same. When they do act in our interests, then they are praised. I'll be damned if I'm going to uncritically praise my party when they fail to forcefully advocate for my interests.

    The "STFU and clap louder" crowd can go fuck themselves.

  • SYSPROG on August 08, 2011 4:48 PM:

    Oh well so much for 'civil discourse'. The DEMS do have a lot to answer for. We thought we could rest on our laurels after getting Obama elected. Then, OMIGOD he didn't do everything we THOUGHT he would do so we kvetched. People that get frustrated with the naysayers are afraid whining and sniveling will affect the less driven voters to stay home. Those that speak up are standing on 'principles'...whatever the heck they think those are. As Dems, we should continue to fight for the good stuff, accept that some of it won't happen overnight, live in the real world with those evil Republicans and try constantly to 'outthink' them, campaign for OUR guys and VOTE VOTE VOTE.

  • ckelly on August 08, 2011 4:56 PM:

    Westen says the debt-ceiling deal cuts entitlements, but it doesnít.

    Not yet, but it will.

  • DAY on August 08, 2011 4:58 PM:

    A lot of good thoughts here, these last few hours! And a few arguments that can't stand up to rebuttal.

    The "West Wing" was a terrific glimpse of presidential politics, and we understood both the plots and embraced the characters, flaws and all.
    But it was fiction, a made up and edited for TV story, folks, and reality ain't never as neat and clean and black and white.

    As Danny said, way back at 3:39,
    "That's how the game is played, and not understanding that looks clueless, frankly."

  • Elias Isquith on August 08, 2011 5:11 PM:

    Steve,

    I liked the Westen piece but there were many parts, most of which you've dealt with here, where I thought he was more well-intentioned than, um, right. W/r/t FDR, the stimulus, the debt deal, etc. Westen was indeed seemingly out of his depth.

    BUT. Is it so damn hard for Sprung, Chait, you and others to notice that pointing to various moments during which Obama laboriously and didactically got into the opposing sides of a policy debate -- all the while using generalities and vagaries without seemingly any connection to real people ("some say" is not a description of a person) -- does not refute Westen's criticism? Obama wrapping up a marathon, tedious health care summit =/= telling a simple story with good guys, bad guys, a beginning and an end; and it's not doing so repeatedly and simply in a manner that people remember.

    It really bugs me the way you guys have chosen to respond to the argument you'd prefer Westen make rather than the one he actually put forth. You're smarter and better than that.

  • rrk1 on August 08, 2011 5:20 PM:

    Benen and company. Obama apologists unite! And spend more of your time talking to each other. There is a growing crowd out here that can't be ignored. We've got Obama's number, and it's not #1. Try listening to the educated, informed, commenters on this site.

    The Democrats have no message, let along message control. They don't even think they need a message, evidently. Thus the Rethugs have control of the media machine. That is nothing new. We now know Obama has no message either. He thinks bipartisanship is the true goal of government. That, of course, is utter nonsense, and one would think he's smart enough to know it.

    The contrast between his eloquent and soaring campaign rhetoric, and his abyssmal performance thus far is what gave us the disaster of the mid-terms. The loose coalition that he motivated on the huskings in 2008, the welcome talk of hope and change, is what made people vote for him. When he didn't even try to deliver, given no other choice in our binary political system but to vote their anger, they gave us the worst Congress in history, and they're likely to make it even worse next year.

    Obama is tearing the country apart,destroying what is left of the New Deal and the Great Society, and needs to be a one-term president. Unfortunately, there is no one on the left to mount a successful primary challenge in the face of his huge campaign treasury.

  • smintheus on August 08, 2011 5:24 PM:

    FDR entered office at a time of crisis, with banks all over in danger of collapsing. Also, opinion polls from that period greatly underrepresented the poor.

    Westen's piece had several weaknesses. However his point that Obama refuses to talk about whose policies created the problems is linked to his point that Obama refuses to take them on, directly or indirectly, in formulating his own policies.

    To put it another way, if you refuse to face up to the fact that you're getting bullied by someone, then you're going to keep losing your lunch money to him.

  • DisgustedWithItAll on August 08, 2011 5:28 PM:

    If anyone doubts how idiotically the wingnut useful idiots are taking the debt ceiling agreement, the downgrade, down stock market, etc., check out the comments here:

    http://mbd.scout.com/mb.aspx?s=17&f=2766&t=7752469&p=1&sto=MS_103223298

  • Derek on August 08, 2011 5:35 PM:

    @Sheldon

    Dont worry Sheldon you idiot no one is going to forcefully take away your belief that the president is weak, a republican plant or any other such nonsense. You are as free to rant a rave on the net with your fellow hardcore progressives till the end of time.

  • Sam Simple on August 08, 2011 5:39 PM:

    I have to disagree with you on this one, Steve. I think Westen nails it. Obama had a chance to put the Republicans back on their heels and make them play defense for eight years. Instead, he led with his jaw and they have beaten him like a rented mule ever since. Obama has become an international laughingstock and has done damage to the Democratic Party that will take 50 years to heal.

  • Charlie on August 08, 2011 6:01 PM:

    When Obama commended Reagan during the primaries I believed he was referring to the way Reagan changed the narrative of government. I thought he was implicitly criticizing Bill Clinton for not doing this from a liberal standpoint. I liked what (I thought) he was saying, since I've often felt the same way. But that is not how Obama has governed. Instead he's governed like Clinton +, constanttly triangulating and leaving in place the Republican narrative. In the short term I'm not sure how much difference this would have made, but in the long term it feels as though we've completely capitulated.

  • Paula on August 08, 2011 6:06 PM:

    As Tyro points out, Obama's lack of "narrative" is symptom -- he doesn't provide a narrative because, presumably he doesn't have a narrative. Or, as another commenter wrote, his narrative is all about republican points of view, not progressive points of view.

    Either way, or both ways, the bottom line is that Obama does not and has not provided any kind of meaningful, coherent philosophy? belief system? set of principles? to explain or underpin his decisions. It think most Progressives believe that social safety nets are good things (for several reasons). Does Obama? I think most Progressives believe that large corporations should not be above the law, and that rich people should not be above the law. Does Obama? Most Progressives believe torture is morally indefensible and tactically ineffective and counter-productive. Does Obama?

    If there is no underlying position to operate from you end up with just a series of firefighting measures to put out an endless series of fires.

    Polls have shown over and over that people agree with most progressive ideals. Then other polls seem to contradict them by showing majorities seemingly believing the opposite about things. People think the rich should pay higher taxes, yet think that Obama's debt ceiling deal was OK, etc. No one in power ever connects the dots; certainly not consistently or in a widespread way. Certainly not Obama.

    A narrative isn't just a bunch of disconnected fiery or inspiring speeches. A narrative is: "I believe that a society is judged by how it treats the least among us - the weakest, the poorest, etc. So when I have to make a decision about whether to provide support for....I do...."

    Then it becomes simple to defend and support the choice made - even if the choice fails (ie. can't pass the House or whatever) people know what the fight was about, and they can feel better about Obama for engaging in it.

    With no narrative it just becomes clashing assertions and baffling twists and turns, and becomes all about horse races and never about principle. People don't know what's true or false about most things these days because the media refuses to point out inaccuracies, etc. But people do know what feels "right" and what feels "fair". People are persuadable, but only if they're given something to work with.

    Obama (and most national Dems) can't or won't get a grip on how powerful just having clear principles and acting on them publicly, could be.

  • gone_west on August 08, 2011 6:47 PM:

    Obama, the candidate, was a figment of our imaginations. He was the kind of candidate we love the most. He had no voting record to speak of and no failures, so he had no warts. We projected onto him attributes that he didn't possess, and we loved him more for the reasons the right hated him so much. We let him get by with the "hopey, changey" sort of thing, and he played us for chumps. We were blind people trying to figure out what an elephant is by describing its parts. We deserve him for one term, but not a second.

    Obama, the president, is not a figment of our imaginations. We know when push comes to shove, he will pander to the center, avoid the good fight, and call it victory, even chastising the left for having the temerity to point out that his policies are far short of what the times demand, little alone a progressive agenda. We know he will not end the Bush era tax cuts. He will not get us out of Iraq and Afghanistan quickly. He will not stop offshore drilling even in the face of the Gulf environmental disasster. He will waffle on the use of torture. He will side with Wall Street and not Main Street. He will not implement an effective economic recovery, and he will not stay focused on its recovery. He will prop up the USA's Rube Goldberg Health Care System rather than remaking it. He will put American entitlement programs on the bargaining table rather than ensuring that they are fully funded. What we know is that he is not George Bush, and that's not good enough. It never was. Shame on us.

  • Robert Perry Sr. on August 08, 2011 7:26 PM:

    A year ago I waited throughout September and October for the President to use his eloquence and reason to counter the Tea Party attacks. He stayed above the fray. Perhaps his 'advisers' thought the voters knew the truth. If so, it cost us the House and a part of the Senate.
    We live in a country where a third of the population is still intellectually in the 19th century; and, a good portion of whom would vote for a theocracy or dictatorship.
    The object of truthful and reasoned argument is not to propagandize, but to educate. Obama has the best skills of anyone in public life .. but he didn't use them.
    The Westen essay accurately expressed my continuing concerns, and I would not like to see this pattern repeated before next year's election.
    For the first time I have to take issue with Steve. It will be interesting to see what Rachel has to say.

  • Dave on August 08, 2011 7:51 PM:

    Thanks, Steve, I needed that! Definitely found the Westen piece persuasive, but then again I don't have the historical literacy to be able to poke holes in it.

    The drumbeat from the left can be deafening at times. As one of them, at least as far as policy goes, it can get unnerving when there are strong differences when it comes to the politics. I ask my lefty friends, what could the President have done differently, and usually the answers are not particularly realistic, so I don't worry about it. This time Westen had me hooked, and I found it horribly depressing. Political Animal to the rescue!

    Still I do worry that this is coming from the President's "friends", i.e., his "not enemies".

  • NealB on August 08, 2011 8:00 PM:

    You say tomato, and Westin says tomahto. It's easy to say Westin's approach wouldn't have done any better. But he describes what Obama did do as well as this post does.

    But it's undeniable that what Obama's done has failed miserably.

    Benen's point here seems to be that the economic disaster most of us have endured for the past two years was going to be as bad as it was no matter what Obama did. But he won't admit it.

  • Spinchange on August 08, 2011 8:00 PM:

    "It's leadership, stupid."


  • Kathleen on August 08, 2011 8:33 PM:

    I think Westin made some interesting points about Obama that I would not automatically dismiss as out of hand. I voated for Obama, but I admit I really didn't know that much about him. My impression first and foremost was that he was a very pragmatic politician, so I had no illusions that he was a progressive standard bearer. While I appreciate pragmatism, I also feel he has a strong need to be liked and accepted and some hubris about believing his charm, intellect and willingness to negotiate will overcome all obstacles. I have no evidence at all for those assertions; that is strictly my opinion based on observation of self and others. But I think Westin failed to put his criticism in the context of the political environment in which Obama has to navigate, that being dealing with terrorists who have admitted their main goal is to bring him down and a media that is nothing more than a propaganda arm for corporate rulers. Also, what I think most of us do not want to admit is maybe the President any President, has very little power. Who was the last President who took on Wall Street, or the military/security/intelligence establishment? The firstto speak publicly about it was Dwight Eisenhower. JFK said he wanted to smash the CIA into a million little pieces. I don't remember anyone after him.

  • Doug on August 08, 2011 9:10 PM:

    It's "Barack Hussein Obama, President of the United States and leader of the Democratic Party", NOT, "Barack Hussein Obama, leader of the Democratic Party and President of the United States."
    Presidents DON'T DO "partisan" for the first 42 months of their term, not if they want to be re-elected anyway. If you don't believe me, check out when FDR gave his "Economic Royalists" speech or when Harry Truman "gave 'em Hell", just two examples off the top of my head. Nor can President Obama dominate the airwaves the same way FDR did; for one thing, it's nothing new NOW for a President to speak to the nation over radio or television, while it was groundbreaking in 1933.
    Those pushing continual Democratic responses as the antidote for Republican/Teabagger lies need only look to the polls to see what a waste of valuable time and money THAT would be. Which group has the highest disapproval rating? Congression Republican/Teabaggers. Yet by the reasoning so often given here, as they "control the narrative", they should have the population fully under their control, with large majorities supporting what they do, but that isn't what's happening.
    I also started to read the Westen article and gave up after the second page. His comparisons of FDR and BHO are based on a refusal to acknowledge the historical and economic differences between 1933 and 2008. If he can't even get his history and economics correct, why should I waste my time on an article based on false data?
    The "Hope and Change" that candidate Obama promised referred to reversing the deep and wide partisan divide in national politics that began with Ronald Reagan and has continued to this day. Pointing fingers at your opponents, even if they ARE the cause, will not convince any uncommitted voter that YOU aren't partisan as well.
    Until a majority of voters in a majority of Congressional districts and states decides, ON THEIR OWN, that voting for a Republican/Teabagger is not good for them, things won't change. Right now, the best adverstisement for NOT voting for Republican/Teabaggers are the actions of the Republican/Teabaggers themselves.
    Why do you want to screw up a, relatively speaking, good thing? Why do you want to ratchet up the partisan wars, when the Republican/Teabaggers have such a great advantage in exactly such battles?
    Unless you WANT to participate in a political "Little Big Horn"...

  • Cornhusker on August 09, 2011 12:03 AM:

    As a long time independent I eventually understood the need to pick a side. Not having grown up around a political party, I began wading into local then state politics trying to understand how the system worked and why the system was broken.

    At the state level I found two groups of people... those who pursued the best idea (philosophical liberals) and those who cared more about who was saying something than what was being said (royalists). Fierce fighting took place between these groups... perhaps because the highest ranking politician is a royalist.

    As a member of the best idea group... I am extremely frustrated by the WH's failure to even try to control the message. Obama, on the other hand, appears to be in the latter group and has expressed contempt for those who aren't like him... those who won't fall in line like royalists.

    Royalists think we want Obama to come out with a baseball bat. That's a gross over simplification. The equivalent over simplification would be for us to assume Royalists never care about facts.

    Here's an example of what I want to see...

    I was pleasantly surprised to see Kerry come out with the phrase, "Tea Party Downgrade" this weekend shortly after the S&P report came out. It's good, fact based messaging. It's not a personal attack... whether or not Republican Tea Partiers agree.

    I attended a Town Hall tonight. The first questioner said she was displeased that my Republican Congressman hadn't defaulted... only she said she was disappointed he had raised the debt ceiling. We've had months to talk about this. Months to explain to Americans that NOT raising the debt ceiling is the same as NOT paying our bills. If she was a conservative, the questioner would likely have been appalled at the idea on not paying our bills.

    Facts matter... especially when our media does such a poor job explaining the facts.

    We can / must do better. Our fate hangs in the balance.

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