Monday, April 29, 2013

The Villagers protest that anyone would expect democracy to work

The Beltway Village seems to have finally decided to bring Maureen Dowd to heel on something. Something that she actually got right.

That would be her column, No Bully in the Pulpit New York Times 04/20/2013, in which she said that Obama lost the Senate vote on gun regulations because, "No one on Capitol Hill is scared of him."

Obama apologists often make the argument that (when a Democrat is President), the Presidency is a fairly weak office that can't get much done. But neither the liberal-leaning ones nor the conservative ones seemed to have thought that when Bush the Magnificent, Scourge of the Heathens and Liberator of Peoples, was at the helm. At least prior to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, when wound up making even the Village recognize that he wasn't all that.

In Obama and the Myth of Arm-Twisting NRB Blog 04/26/2013, Elizabeth Drew explains why poor Obama can't get a background check supported by 90% of the public passed, because he's only the President, after all. He doesn't have that much power. She doesn't mention Dowd specifically. But the concept that MoDo wrote about that Drew wants to shoot down.

This line is a beauty: "Arm-twisting is particularly futile on an issue involving ideology." Yes, because Members of Congress are such highly principled characters.

Drew somewhat carelessly explains that Republican Presidents and their Congressional allies can get their programs passed against stiff opposition, apparently forgetting momentarily that what the Beltway accepts as self-evident - Republicans President have enormous power, Democrats very little - isn't at all self evident to the plebes out here:

Persuasion on such procedural maneuvers can come from congressional leaders as well as from the White House (though they are often on its behalf). Probably the most flagrant example in modern politics was the colossally expensive (and unpaid-for) addition of drug benefits to Medicare in 2003—at once a play for reelection support for George W. Bush, whose second term didn't seem at all a sure thing at that point, as well as a boondoggle for the drug industry, which also got itself exempted from competitive bidding by the government. In their efforts to get the bill through the House, Republican leaders held the final vote open for an unprecedented three hours—fifteen minutes is usually the max, so they froze the clock as if this wasn’t happening—while House majority leader Tom DeLay, who did not come by his sobriquet "The Hammer" for no reason, “persuaded” enough of them to vote for the bill. Members literally ran and hid from DeLay, who later was reprimanded for his heavy-handedness; unperturbed, two years later DeLay handed out checks from the tobacco industry while the House was considering the elimination of a tobacco subsidy.
Remarkably, she blandly adds, "No president since [Obama being the only one so far] could come close to matching such methods of persuasion, nor would he or she be advised to."

Now I don't want the Democrats to stoop to DeLay levels of corruption. But if, for instance, 50 Senate Democrats and the Vice President were willing to vote to do away with the filibuster, that 54-vote majority the background check bill did get would have meant that the Senate passed it. Drew mentions the filibuster rule, but only to describe as though it were an immutable law of nature. Though she does observe, "The march away from majority rule picked up its pace." Which doesn't merit her outrage, because carping about such a breakdown of democratic processes would be "totally irrelevant to the current state of our politics." What she means here is totally irrelevant to the Villagers who don't give a flying fig if representative democracy is completely corrupted by lobbyist money.

And, of course, any attempt for Democrats to insist on their representatives supporting what they voting base needs and overwhelmingly support, why, my dear people, that would be so, so un-centrist:

Much wrath has fallen on the head of Heidi Heitkamp, a freshman senator from North Dakota, for having voted against the bill, since she has more than five years to go before reelection; but memories in Washington are long. Some liberal groups have said that they will go after Mark Pryor, of Arkansas, who faces a difficult reelection—though the result might be the election of a Republican who will oppose them on many more issues than gun control. Outraged liberals intent on punishing Democrats who didn’t support the background checks—all of them from states where the feeling for gun ownership is strong—could end up getting Republicans elected instead.
In other words, Drew is saying that not only is a mere President unable to insist that Democrats in Congress support him on something overwhelming popular with the Democratic base and virtually everyone else in the country. But any attempt for Democratic voters in their own states to hold them accountable, why, it's just not done! Only Republicans might do such a thing. It's worth noting in her example that Clair McCaskill of Missouri, a not especially popular Democrat who was generally expected to lose, won re-election in 2012 by a strong margin because her opponent Todd "Legitimate Rape" Akin imploded. Harry Truman's observation (perhaps slightly overstated) that, given the choice between a real Republican and a Democrat trying to act like one, the public will prefer the real thing every time, just wouldn't register for today's Villagers. The concept couldn't even settle in most of their heads long enough to consider it.

I hope Elizabeth Drew writes a piece soon on Obama's proposal to cut benefits on Social Security and Medicare. Those positions are as unpopular as gun backgrounds checks were popular. But the Villagers take it as a matter of faith that benefits on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid should be cut. And think it amusing that the silly proles should think otherwise. We'll see if she's as convinced that the political system is utterly incapable of passing those measures.

Drew is outraged that any of those airhead 90 Percenters would expect Obama to get a background check passed. It doesn't seem to bother her at all that the democratic system is so obviously stymied that such a popular and necessary bill get even get through one house of Congress. But she's obviously disgusted that anyone should be outraged. Because she's clearly not.

For more Village conventional wisdom on this, see: Glenn Thrush and Reid Epstine, Gun control: President Obama’s biggest loss Politico 4/17/13 ("The president ... broke his own informal 'Obama Rule' — of never leaning into an issue without a clear path to victory."); Jonathan Chait, How America’s Crappy Political System Killed Background Checks New York 04/17/2013 ("that’s how American politics works ... Presidential leadership doesn't matter.").

Tags: , ,

No comments: