Wednesday, May 01, 2013

The Village tries to settle on an explanation for the crush-and-burn result on gun regulation

I'm sticking by my defense of Maureen Dowd's column of 04/20/13, in which she says that Obama lost on gun regulations because, "No one on Capitol Hill is scared of him."

For once, she was not only right but focusing on a relevant point. She caught some flak, including from Conan O'Brien at Saturday's Nerd Prom, for holding up an example from a movie as her model that Obama should have been following. But that was standard MoDo shallowness. The unusual thing was that she focused on a meaningful criticism of President Obama on a significant issue and event.

But her column Bottoms Up, Lame Duck New York Times 04/30/2013 goes back to her usual standard of MoDo-ness, even though she's working the same criticism. Here's the core of it:

ABC News’s Jonathan Karl asked Obama if he was already out of "juice" to pass his agenda, citing the president’s inability to get a watered-down gun bill passed in the Senate, Congress swatting away Obama on the sequester cuts, and the recent passage of a cybersecurity bill in the House with 92 Democrats on board, despite a veto threat from the White House.

"Well, if you put it that way, Jonathan, maybe I should just pack up and go home,” President Obama said with a flash of irritation, before tossing off a Mark Twain line: “Rumors of my demise may be a little exaggerated at this point."

Then he put on his best professorial mien to give his high-minded philosophy of governance: Reason together and do what's right.

"But, Jonathan," he lectured Karl, "you seem to suggest that somehow, these folks over there have no responsibilities and that my job is to somehow get them to behave. That’s their job. They are elected, members of Congress are elected in order to do what’s right for their constituencies and for the American people."

Actually, it is his job to get them to behave. The job of the former community organizer and self-styled uniter is to somehow get this dunderheaded Congress, which is mind-bendingly awful, to do the stuff he wants them to do. It's called leadership.

He still thinks he’ll do his thing from the balcony and everyone else will follow along below. That's not how it works.
Much of the punditocracy was willing to support Obama on this from the viewpoint of Beltway "Centrism," one of whose key assumptions that the when a Democrat is President, the Presidency doesn't really have all that much power. We saw Elizabeth Drew working that theme the other day.

MoDo for that brief moment in her previous column caught a glimpse that there was something seriously wrong with the current functioning of the system that was dramatized by the gun background check vote in the Senate. But MoDo ain't no Paul Krugman and clearly has never aspired to be. So now she's back to whining that its all Obama's fault because, "leadership"! And he should schmooze more with Mitch McConnell. But basically it's all because of Obama's quirks which have endlessly annoyed MoDo. And it's all a celebrity pageant for MoDo to glom onto, anyway. None of this mulling over the existential state of representative democracy for her.

Howard Fineman delivers a more standard version of the, well-a-President-can't-really-do-much-you-know version: "His administration is not the first to fall into a Slough of Despond early in the second term. It's all but inevitable. Still, the [press conference] session was notable primarily for the complexity and intractability of the issues Obama is now facing." (Obama: 'Maybe I Should Just Pack Up And Go Home' Huffington Post 04/30/2013).

David Graeber in The Failure of Gun Legislation in the Senate Tells us we Need to fight for our Democracy, a 04/30/2013 guest post at Juan Cole's Informed Comment, actually does get into the larger issue around the gun regulation vote. What he describes here is a real-time version of repressive tolerance:

Even fundamental structural issues are shrugged away. Politicians and journalists who regularly hold out American democracy as a beacon to the world never seem to reflect on what the world is supposed to make of the fact that, say, 2/3 of the American public who don’t happen to live in swing states effectively have no say in who gets to be the President, or that we can have House elections, as we did in 2012, where a majority of voters can choose candidates from one party and watch the other party win the election anyway.

One can only conclude that for most of our official opinion-makers, the word "democracy" no longer has anything, really, to do with popular will. It refers to a structure of authority. "Democracy" for them means that elaborate architecture of checks and balances created by the Framers of the Constitution, the fact that elections, appointments, congressional votes and judicial and executive decisions take place according to established laws, bylaws, traditions, and procedures. It means following the rules laid down by the Founding Fathers and their later, duly authorized, interpreters. Hence in the event of a crisis, the press feels that it's first loyalty is not to what the public wants, or even really to the facts, but above all, to maintaining public faith in the legitimacy of what they consider "democratic institutions." This came out very clearly during the dispute over the Bush-Gore election of 2000. No one contested that Gore was the choice of the majority of American voters. It was not at all clear that Bush was the choice of the majority of Florida voters (and as it later turned out, he was not.) But after a Supreme Court decision in which a majority of justices barely disguised the fact that they were intervening to stop the ballot-counting on the basis of their own personal political preferences, the media instantly declared the issue over—many openly admitting that they felt pointing out that the Court had effectively engaged in a judicial coup would be irresponsible, since it would undermine popular faith in the integrity of "democratic institutions."
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