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Second tenor, highest riser, blessed clever compromiser
August 7, 2011 8:21 AM   Subscribe

Drew Westen (discussed previously) has written a heartbreaking piece on the narratives the president has or hasn't told.

Obama as a centrist.
More centrism, and more
Or perhaps a conservative?
Or (warning a hard read) perhaps a radical leftist..?
Politifact tracker for perusing. (previously, previously)

And as with most things posted by Rhaomi, this is really worth reading.
posted by Wyatt (57 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
Anolther story or narrative is that just about all in Psychology field now latch onto ev. psy and
all things by way of our evolutionary past.
Though I enjoyed the piece when I read it this morning, I did feel that FDR is not to be used as example of what should be done for the basic reason that things have changed. How? The liberals used to get funded by way of unions. Now, since Ronny, unions are unimportant and so the Dems go to the same source for funding: Big Biz and the wealthy. And that is the story that needs to be told.
posted by Postroad at 8:27 AM on August 7, 2011 [13 favorites]


I just came in to give you a high five for the reference in the post title.
posted by penduluum at 8:29 AM on August 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


A high five I will gladly return.
posted by Wyatt at 8:42 AM on August 7, 2011


Narratives are one thing, but it's vital to remember that when FDR took office the Senate was 59 Democrats to 36 Republicans, and there were a whopping 311 Democrats in the House. After the 1934 midterms, the Senate had 70 Democrats, and the House 322! If the Republicans in the 30s had 47 Senators and a sizable majority in the House, the New Deal would have looked a damn sight different.
posted by Bromius at 8:45 AM on August 7, 2011 [7 favorites]


(Ha, I'm reading this article on my other tab right now, and thinking of posting it here)
posted by growabrain at 8:47 AM on August 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I read an old paperback (the kind you find on holiday left behind at the lodge) recently about a soap opera actress picked up by the President's political strategist and an entire campaign created around change and hope and grassroots donations and all I could think of was wow, sounds like someone got their ideas from this book and/or the author became a real life strategist.

All of this stuff about Obama's behaviour in office seems to remind me of the basic premise in the book - that you had scripts to follow and walk on parts and the rest of stuff didn't actually matter nor was what got you elected.
posted by infini at 9:00 AM on August 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


No offense, I thought this was the most inane article I've ever read in the times. Obama inherited 99% of the problems that are criticized in this article. Also, being uneasy because you don't like the narrative of someone's inauguration speech? Ridiculous.

Obama has accomplished many of his campaign promises. Maybe they weren't the same things that the writer of this article (who is a psychology professor, and not a political science professor) would have liked, but he's done a much better job in 3 years than his predecessor did in eight.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:07 AM on August 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


but he's done a much better job in 3 years than his predecessor did in eight.

A ham sandwich could do that.
posted by Obscure Reference at 9:11 AM on August 7, 2011 [22 favorites]


Drew Westen, a brilliant scholar, is spot on.

Regardless of the need for political compromises, Obama's total inability to tell a simple, strong story about what's happening and why he does what he does is pathetic.
posted by shivohum at 9:11 AM on August 7, 2011 [7 favorites]


The US was much more dominant, internationally, in the 1920's. Its European rivals were in the process of destroying themselves with World Wars. So the US' problems were essentially domestic ones.

West does tell a heartbreaking story, but it's a bit disingenuous. The problems are deeper than Bush's policies. Rich people in the US are looting the country, yes, but really they're the rats fleeing the sinking ship. Obama could stand up against the rats and push a few of them down into the holds to bail out water. He should do that for the sake of poetic justice. But believing that this will fix the ship's structural problems and make it internationally competitive again is really just a story.
posted by Net Prophet at 9:24 AM on August 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm starting to feel like the republicans elect a piece of shit and are all like, "He may be a piece of shit, but he smells FUCKING GREAT" and the democrats fail to elect Superman, son of Jor-El, and are all like, "FUCK YOU YOU NON-SUPERMAN MOTHERFUCKER"
posted by kittens for breakfast at 9:25 AM on August 7, 2011 [27 favorites]


I did feel that FDR is not to be used as example of what should be done for the basic reason that things have changed. How? The liberals used to get funded by way of unions.

I wasn't there but it seems to me that the union movement that FDR profited from is not something that just happened to be there. It was battled for long and hard, with much blood spilled, and heartache. Which isn't to say that we need or want the same thing now, but we do need something that runs counter to the power currently being wielded by the staggeringly wealthy fat men that currently run the show.

Obama's total inability to tell a simple, strong story about what's happening and why he does what he does is pathetic.

Ever tried to tell even the simplest story in a room where you're outnumbered by a bunch of yahoos with their hands jammed over their ears shouting "Nyyahhh"? That's my read of Obama's situation. Sometimes I think the guy should just quit and take a job on Oprah's network.

There's an intriguing narrative.
posted by philip-random at 9:27 AM on August 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


I tend to disagree with Obama's solutions, but people who want to be inspired are just missing the point of his objectives altogether. What people like the author of the piece don't appreciate is that Obama is trying, more than anything else, to preserve the status quo. With the exception of gay rights, he's not about change at all.

Preserving the status quo isn't radical and it's hard to be inspirational when you're doing it, but it is a huge job of work nonetheless.

Healthcare and retirement income are the core of the status quo -- and the combined public and private burden of them are simply unsustainable without huge cuts in costs or huge increases in taxes.

Another status quo which Obama wants to defend is the standard of living of American workers outside of elite professions. Those workers add no more value to their employers than people who will work for a third (or a tenth) of their wage abroad, and yet the standard of living that they desire is only becoming more expensive. This overlaps the healthcare and retirement income problem to a considerable extent -- but it also invokes a bigger package of challenges, and a far from obvious set of potential solutions.

Even things like climate change are just about the status quo, while demanding big, expensive moves.
posted by MattD at 9:31 AM on August 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Simple strong stories lock you into a position. Were he to say "I believe this, but I am forced by conditions beyond my control to do something contradictory", he would be torn to shreds by his opponents and his supporters, much more brutally and directly than he is attacked now.

So unlike the case with the willfully ignorant simpleton that preceded him, "I have no idea what Barack Obama — and by extension the party he leads — believes on virtually any issue.". I'm guessing this is by design. Your knowing what he believes would not help him get things done.

I'm glad Obama's president. There are plenty of things wrong with him, in particular his contentment with massive corporate control of society, and continued build up of the national security state. But at the election my only other choice was John McCaine. So I'm going to alternately bitch about some of his policies and enjoy it when he talks sense, and then vote for him in 2012.

If you wanted more progressive actions, my American brothers and sisters, you needed to keep the House out of the hands of the Tea Partiers.
posted by benito.strauss at 9:32 AM on August 7, 2011 [9 favorites]


A ham sandwich could do that.

It's exactly this type of idiotic comment that brings down the intelligence of these discussions.

Everyone knows it would take a ham and turkey club (extra bacon, light mayo) to do the job. The pickle will probably have to pitch in too.


Drew Westen, a brilliant scholar, is spot on.

He's guilty of coming to a conclusion, then going back and fitting facts to his conclusion. Yes, Obama voted present 129 times in the Illinois Senate, but that was out of thousands and the present votes were not all done for the same reason. Western didn't bother mentioning that did he? No, it might interfere with his short, simple story.

Obama is far from perfect and could have done a lot of things better, yes. But you can not talk about his achievements or lack there of without mentioning the actions of the Republicans in putting party before country.

THE real conundrum is why the president seems so compelled to take both sides of every issue, encouraging voters to project whatever they want on him, and hoping they won’t realize which hand is holding the rabbit. That a large section of the country views him as a socialist while many in his own party are concluding that he does not share their values speaks volumes — but not the volumes his advisers are selling: that if you make both the right and left mad, you must be doing something right.

As a practicing psychologist with more than 25 years of experience, I will resist the temptation to diagnose at a distance, but as a scientist and strategic consultant I will venture some hypotheses.


Emphasis mine, noting the cheap and petty shot by the "brilliant scholar".
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:50 AM on August 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


The real conundrum is why the president seems so compelled to take both sides of every issue, encouraging voters to project whatever they want on him.

'Cause it got him elected?
posted by benito.strauss at 9:57 AM on August 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Can we get a moratorium on ObamaFilter posts for a week or so? These are starting to wear me out.
posted by schmod at 9:57 AM on August 7, 2011


Everyone knows

resists temptation to pick on BB, offers embedded snark instead
posted by infini at 9:58 AM on August 7, 2011


resists temptation to pick on BB, offers embedded snark instead

Pick away, I'm a cheesesteak with extra hots, I can handle it, you wimpy little patty melt.

The "brilliant scholar" is appearing in the New York times, he's far from being marginalized.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:06 AM on August 7, 2011


Rereading this thread is pretty poignant.
posted by GrammarMoses at 10:07 AM on August 7, 2011


Obama has done an excellent job of not handing his opponents a narrative to deliberately twist and misinterpret. The rabid, seething, hatred of him is partly fueled by the Right's frustration of not being able to back him into a corner.

The desire for some pixie dust sprinkled fancy pants "narrative" is just plain stupid, anyway. There's work to be done, we know what needs to be done, and we have the Right clawing at us from every direction like a mob of zombies. There will be time for story telling later.
posted by Xoebe at 10:11 AM on August 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


What makes the “deficit debate” we just experienced seem so surreal is how divorced the conversation in Washington has been from conversations around the kitchen table everywhere else in America.

this - washington, not just obama, is seriously out of touch with what the people are concerned about
posted by pyramid termite at 10:22 AM on August 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


you wimpy little patty melt.

Thanks for putting a smile back on my face. Pity I can't spouse you, maybe I can add a crush.

Btw, that wasn't meant to refer to the 'brilliant whatsit' just point out that you were using marginalizing language... perhaps it was too deep for you? ;p
posted by infini at 10:25 AM on August 7, 2011


Hm. Maybe I shouldn't have judged so quickly.

I'm still a big fan of Obama, but I Weston's critique is one of the most thoughtful ones that I've seen. I'm having a tough time finding much to disagree with in there...

Obama's narrative has been spectacularly weak, and although I'm loathe to blame the rest of democrats for the problem, there's only so much that one person can do to prop up the party, especially in absence of any particularly strong allies in the legislature. I mean, seriously..who speaks for the Democrats in the House or the Senate? It sure as hell isn't Reid or Pelosi. Reid's been weak and ineffective, while Nancy Pelosi has about as much popular appeal as Lucille Bluth.

Who, then, do we turn to? We need somebody who is charismatic, and actually a strong liberal. Obama's "centrist" stance, though admirable, simply enabled the GOP to slam the overton window all the way over to the right.

Personally, I'd nominate Al Franken. He's been one of the most underappreciated voices of the 111th and 112th congress. It's a supreme irony that the only professional comedian in the Senate is also one of the only senators who takes his job seriously.
posted by schmod at 10:31 AM on August 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


Btw, that wasn't meant to refer to the 'brilliant whatsit' just point out that you were using marginalizing language... perhaps it was too deep for you? ;p

When you've already made up your mind that a simple story is needed, you tend to ignore more complex factors, that was my main point.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:41 AM on August 7, 2011


The desire for some pixie dust sprinkled fancy pants "narrative" is just plain stupid, anyway. There's work to be done, we know what needs to be done, and we have the Right clawing at us from every direction like a mob of zombies. There will be time for story telling later.

This is miles away from the actual point Weston was making and is symptomatic of the core problem. Democrats by and large deal in facts and reasoned argument and accurate but abstract detail, because they think serious politics shouldn't sound simple and clear. That telling a story is dishonest somehow or something. That it is pixie dust and fancy pants, peripheral to the job of leading and governing. There are still thousands of Americans working every day in Iraq on the final chapters of a pixie-dust story George W. Bush told about good and evil. If you've got a compelling enough story, it's amazing how much of what you think needs to be done you can actually find the wherewithal to do.

You need the story first. You need a heroic narrative, a frame in which to place what you want to do. People see themselves in that story, want to join you on the journey, and that's how you earn the political capital to actually do what needs to be done. Otherwise it's all stats and policy wonkery, and the public is overwhelmingly uninterested in those fine details. They switch over to Outrage of the Day on Fox News or find out who Snooki's cheating on on Jersey Shore, because those channels put the story front and centre, and story is the core - not the pixie dust periphery - of how we communicate.

Republicans have understood this at least since Ronald "Morning in America" Reagan trounced Jimmy "Malaise" Carter. They get away with their most outrageous shit - in particular stealing from the poor to pay the rich and calling it fair and just and then taking out a fourth mortgage on the heart and soul of working-class America and asking the recently unemployed to foot the bill - because they've been telling the same story about getting government off your back and giving every individual a shot at the brass ring for so long that even the most cognitively dissonant details somehow weave back into their story.

Obama won the Democratic nomination and the White House because he told a deeply compelling personal narrative about hope and change, redemption and renewal. Then he got into power, mostly abandoned story (though his 2009 Earth Day speech was a humdinger and if he'd come back to that again and again America and his presidency would be in much better shape today) and handed the keys back to the same pack of millionaires who'd been looting the treasury in the name of false prosperity for a generation.
posted by gompa at 10:43 AM on August 7, 2011 [23 favorites]


A second possibility is that he is simply not up to the task by virtue of his lack of experience and a character defect that might not have been so debilitating at some other time in history. Those of us who were bewitched by his eloquence on the campaign trail chose to ignore some disquieting aspects of his biography: that he had accomplished very little before he ran for president, having never run a business or a state; that he had a singularly unremarkable career as a law professor, publishing nothing in 12 years at the University of Chicago other than an autobiography; and that, before joining the United States Senate, he had voted "present" (instead of "yea" or "nay") 130 times, sometimes dodging difficult issues.

There is some duplicity in this, but Obama DID vote to support things like breaks in consumer diligence for nuclear technology company Exelon (Obama is supporting the nuclear industry). Obama has also been a huge supporter of ethanol via corn subsidies, in spite of the fact that we know ethanol is a failure.

I think Obama means well, but we forget to remember that he's a politician. Being a politician means making massive compromises on the way to power, and while one is in power. That's just the way it is, in politics today.

That said, Obama is - compared to what the progressive and mid-liberal left thought about his promise, along with the weak super-majority Dems (when they had the supermajority) - a failure. Frankly, I would like to see him challenged in 2012, by someone with a good centrist record of getting things done. I doubt that will happen, because Obama's policies have helped the Wall Street crowd so much that they are probably going to help get him re-elected again.

What I don't like about Obama is that he doesn't really seem to commit to anything; he teases around the edges. His reputation for measured brilliance keeps one suspecting there might be a method to his madness, but that has worn thin as time-after-time, his methods don't amount to much more than a hill of beans. He and the Democrats lost a massive opportunity.

In my mind, the reason for that is that the lot of them - including the other side of the aisle - are bought and paid for by special interests. We've got to figure a way out of that kind of influence, but I don't see anyone leading the way, least of all, Obama. What a waste!
posted by Vibrissae at 11:13 AM on August 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


The Republicans want change. If Obama just wants the status quo, every time he loses the country will become more what they want, and every time he wins we'll just fail to move rightward a little bit more...that time. He can't always win, though, so a commitment to the status quo in practice just means a commitment to a somewhat slower rightward shift, rather than the hell bent for leather shift the Republicans want.
posted by adamdschneider at 11:22 AM on August 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I hope Obama is engaged in a rope-a-dope strategy, waiting for the Republicans to lock in on a nominee before coming out swinging in the 2012 election. I'm not sure I objectively believe that, but that's what I hope. What I fear is that I'm right, it'll backfire, and we'll end up with President Bachmann.
posted by robla at 11:42 AM on August 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I liked this piece... and found it very depressing.

At any rate, the most important points remain these:

1) The contemporary structure of campaign finance means that the spectrum of viable choices is limited by what corporations and the wealthy want.

2) Mass political communication is emotional: You have to use cartoons, simple stories of heroes and villains, and stark descriptions of threats and rewards. The Dems don't deign to do this, and so they get clobbered. Smart policy prescriptions plus inept political selling equals minimal actual change.

3) Obama's biggest mistake is actually a matter of working style, inside vs. outside.

In the immediate aftermath of his election, it was commonly thought he would use his enormous grassroots operation as a pressure group. Instead, the entire "Obama for America" thing was basically switched off, and he focused entirely on the stimulus and then healthcare-- and moreover, on the inside game of courting and counting votes in the Senate. The result? He indeed got these things through... but they were paltry creatures, and all the Senate wrangling left the public, even many of his supporters, alienated and disaffected.

Interestingly, Obama had hinted at the outset that he was going to model himself on Reagan-- but in fact, his governing style seems much more like that of Bush the Elder: Mandarin and remote, minus GHW Bush's ugly campaigning.

But of course what enabled Reagan and Bush the Younger to get big changes through at the beginning of their terms was their willingness to seem unreasonable: They proclaimed they were going to make huge changes, made gargantuan demands, and "settled" for enormous ones. And they did this-- Reagan especially-- by speechifying to the public and having sympathetic pressure groups clamor for change. Whereas Obama focused on trying to figure out what would pass the Senate, Reagan and GW Bush activated their followers, got the Senate sufficiently scared, and then were able to ram through much bigger changes than would seem at all likely.

The key here is public repetition.

Obama is astonishingly patient and persistent when it comes to the inside game of jockeying for congressional votes. But when it comes to rallying public support, he thinks he can wait things out, wait for tension to build, then deliver a single perfect speech that crystallizes public opinion in the form he wants it.

And indeed that may work... for a few days. But in the days that follow, the relentless 24-7 Fox messaging apparatus-- and the lazy mainstream media, ambivalently commenting on but thereby repeating the GOP's incendiary charges-- can and will grind the effect of that speech to powder.

Simplicity, hot-button threat and reward, repetition: The GOP embraces this, the Dems do not.

4) And, yes, Obama's paradoxical: He was elected as a Change agent, but he's most interested, as MattD noted, in keeping status quo from breaking down; and he's a literary type, a guy who actually wrote a book about himself, who refuses to tell stories. Given the economic context, I understand the first impulse-- but the second is, I think, just a very bad strategic choice.
posted by darth_tedious at 11:46 AM on August 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


MattD: With the exception of gay rights, he's not about change at all.

That exception is really about the status quo as well, given the man's position on marriage equality.

schmod: Who, then, do we turn to? We need somebody who is charismatic, and actually a strong liberal.

Will someone who's a strong liberal win a general election?

robla: What I fear is that I'm right, it'll backfire, and we'll end up with President Bachmann.

Michele Bachmann has about as much chance of winning a general election as a peanut butter and ketchup sandwich on rye.
posted by blucevalo at 11:49 AM on August 7, 2011


Many European countries have a much stronger support for social democratic policies, and there were huge protests in response to austerity measures. It didn't seem to help. To me, that disproves the thesis that with a minor tweak in Obama's PR strategy, everything would be different. That idea dramatically underestimates the severity of the problems that the left is facing, but its a comforting illusion because it suggests that your political engagement starts and ends with the ballot you cast for president. After that, it's all up to him/her.
posted by AlsoMike at 11:50 AM on August 7, 2011


Westin is spot on here with an example of the most useful form of criticism: not damning outright nor claiming a competitor is better, but by holding up the potential and pointing the way to realizing it. It's only heartbreaking because we saw what could be.
posted by buzzv at 12:11 PM on August 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


>that disproves the thesis that with a minor tweak in Obama's PR strategy, everything would be different

Legislative action is distinct from public opinion. Those against the austerity measures have at least popular opinion on their side. Does having public support for Policy X ensure its passage? No. But it does make it a lot easier... and the more galvanized, active support for X there is, the more of a chance there is that the Bigger, Better Policy Y might become viable.
posted by darth_tedious at 12:13 PM on August 7, 2011


blucevalo: Michele Bachmann has about as much chance of winning a general election as a peanut butter and ketchup sandwich on rye

Assuming you aren't making a pro-sandwich argument, I wouldn't go that far. She is what the Republicans want Palin to be. Nate Silver is putting her at 12% to win the nomination. If she does get the nomination, she'll should get crushed in the general. Then again, Gore should have crushed Bush.

What I think is far more likely is for Bachmann to play the role of Howard Dean in this election. If that's true, she'll peak late this year and wither under the spotlight. However, the big difference between Dean and Bachmann is the role the President is playing. In 2004, the Democrats so badly wanted to win since Bush was "spending his political capital", so no chances were taken. In 2012, the Republicans might be deluded into thinking they can get away with nominating a true believer, since they've been pushing around Obama all this year.
posted by robla at 12:30 PM on August 7, 2011


>Simple strong stories lock you into a position. Were he to say "I believe this, but I am >forced by conditions beyond my control to do something contradictory", he would be torn to >shreds by his opponents and his supporters, much more brutally and directly than he is >attacked now.

I don't believe the above is true. It seems that many democrats/liberals/progressives believe that it is true, as well as probably the President and his advisers, but I don't see any evidence for it. Quite the opposite in fact. For more than thirty years the right wing in this country has used a very simple narrative to sell its ideas to the public.

To summarize it, free markets reward hard work, good decisions, and individual initiative while punishing laziness, passivity, and poor judgement, thus creating prosperity for all by fashioning an efficient, innovative economy. As a result, regulations and measures that curtail or counteract free markets in any way, including policies such as progressive taxation, or banking and environmental regulations, are immoral and harmful because they reward negative virtues at the expense of positive virtues and reduce general prosperity.

It is a message that is popular in the abstract, and conservative have never deviated from it. The message's applications to policy are hardly universally popular, however. The public resists applying it to cuts in social programs like medicare, medicaid, and social security, as well as to measures to repeal or weaken environmental regulations. As a result conservative have suffered setbacks over the past 30 years, but despite that, they pressed ahead, and now, when that core message probably has less resonance than at any time since the 1930's, they are still in a position to gut banking and environmental regulations, as well as force deep cuts to popular social programs in the middle of a depressed economy. Even worse, they've forced the political conversation so far towards their position that the "responsible middle ground" is now that the public should accept cuts to all social programs in exchange to a comparatively tiny change in the levels of taxation. At a time, none the less, when all credible economic advisers, as well as the lessons of history, recommend against such cuts and instead advocate additional stimulus to revive the economy.

Looking back at the 30's, at least at the beginning of his term, FDR was President at a time when entrenched interests against his reforms were just as strong, or even stronger, than they are now. Hell, a not insignificant wing of the Democratic party was the Dixiecrats, who now form the core of the most conservative elements of the Republican party. There were still laws on the books that curtailed union organization, for example, and the nation wasn't far removed from the time when entrenched economic interests could set their own private armies, or even elements of the U.S. armed forces themselves, against striking workers. FDR even faced a group of wealthy individuals who tried to organize a coup during his first term, although luckily for us they could not have picked a worse individual to approach about the prospect. Nevertheless, FDR, through his rhetoric, managed to instill a sense of confidence and direction in the country that propelled his political party to unprecedented success in two successive elections, 1934 and 1936, as well as drew elements of grassroots change that were sweeping the country into the political system. The result changed the direction of politics in this country for half a century, and built the economy that we all know. FDR did not get everything he asked for either, but his failures, his compromises, didn't damage him the way modern day liberals/progressives seem to feel that such measures would damage them.

In the end, I think that, despite the fact the President Obama talks a lot about compromise, before you can compromise you need to have positions to compromise. I get the sense that Americans like and respect President Obama as a person, and feel that he means well in a general sense, but that they don't feel like he empathizes with them or that he stands with them in their views as to the problems facing this country. It is a shame because nearly everything he has done has, or will, make most people's lives better. The health care reform bill will, for example, be a huge help to people who otherwise could not afford health insurance. Nevertheless, the lack of a coherent message fuels a sense of disconnect and breeds mistrust. The Presidency is a weird position among democracies. It is somewhere between a prime minister and a king or queen in a modern constitutional monarchy. A president has less political power than a prime minister, but more ceremonial power. That ceremonial power is manifested in what we refer to as the "bully pulpit". Presidents who successfully changed the direction of this country, such as Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, or Ronald Regan, made skillful use of this instrument. From the beginning President Obama has failed to do this.
posted by eagles123 at 1:04 PM on August 7, 2011 [9 favorites]


Will someone who's a strong liberal win a general election?

Maybe not for President, but we do indeed have "strong liberals" in the Senate and House who are also not members of the "old establishment." I even gave one example: Al Franken. Claire McCcaskill and Sherrod Brown are two more Senators that immediately jump to mind.

I also eagerly await Andrew Cuomo's entry into national politics. He's a liberal who happens to be grounded in reality, but seems to have remained strong on his key values, and has managed to broker compromises with political enemies whilst keeping those values intact.
posted by schmod at 2:05 PM on August 7, 2011


Clair McCaskill? She teamed up with Republican Bob Corker to create a budget balancing plan that goes even farther in terms of cuts than what President Obama wants.

Andrew Cuomo? He ran on a platform of cutting taxing and spending against a guy who is clearly crazy. Take away the progressive victory on cultural issues that his campaign to legalize gay marriage represented (and I don't mean to diminish the importance of that issue) and his policies as governor aren't dissimilar to those that are getting Republican governors killed in the neighboring states of New Jersey and Pennsylvania. At least as far as I can see. Economically he would represent a shift to the right if he were the Democratic Presidential nominee in 2016.

If those are supposed to be our liberal hopes in the future ...... no thank you. I don't care how "grounded in reality" they are.
posted by eagles123 at 2:34 PM on August 7, 2011


Mario Cuomo was the last politician who inspired me.

The last person to tell the truth about our country as a national candidate was Ralph Nader. He told so much truth that the Democrats kept him from the debates.

I want to see our two party system die so bad I can taste it.
posted by Vibrissae at 3:53 PM on August 7, 2011


Unfortunately our political system pretty much guarantees that partisan divisions will break down into two parties. Political scientists are able to explain the reason for this fact in some detail.

The good news is that voters are able to make changes within political parties through primaries and participation in political parties at the organizational level. The fact that voter turnout drops from Presidential elections, to mid-term elections, to party primaries is one of the reasons why our political system is so disconnected from the needs of average voters.

For an example, one only needs to look at the example of the tea party, which is able to exert influence within the Republican party through primary voting.
posted by eagles123 at 4:20 PM on August 7, 2011


"Instead of indicting the people whose recklessness wrecked the economy, he put them in charge of it. He never explained that decision to the public — a failure in storytelling as extraordinary as the failure in judgment behind it."

Frank Rich: The president’s failure to demand a reckoning from the moneyed interests who brought the economy down has cursed his first term, and could prevent a second.
posted by homunculus at 4:36 PM on August 7, 2011


"The most charitable explanation is that he and his advisers have succumbed to a view of electoral success to which many Democrats succumb — that 'centrist' voters like 'centrist' politicians."

That's what Elizabeth Drew suggests in this piece: What Were They Thinking?
posted by homunculus at 4:56 PM on August 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


The idea that Obama can't craft a narrative is ridiculous. He wrote two best-selling memoirs. He has given some of the best political speeches in my lifetime. His 2004 convention speech was as inspiring to Democratic activists as Ronald Reagan's 1964 convention speech was for Republican activists. The only reason that his powers of narrative seemed to have escaped him now is that the economy sucks. If the economy wasn't in the midst of the Lesser Depression, everybody would be calling Obama the Great Communicator 2.0.
posted by jonp72 at 5:30 PM on August 7, 2011


Fantastic article, thanks for sharing.
posted by tumid dahlia at 6:15 PM on August 7, 2011


It's been noted repeatedly that only 20% or so of voters self-identify as liberal, but a much larger percentage actually support what could be called "liberal" policies. Failing to tell a compelling "story" -- which I think is shorthand for failing to demonstrate strong convictions -- leaves voters to fall back on that self-identification.

If you're selling a product that's more popular than your brand, sell the damn product. If you run the product through "market research" and then try to use your brand to sell the pile of shit that comes out the door, you deserve all the failure you get.
posted by bjrubble at 8:38 PM on August 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I want to see our two party system die so bad I can taste it.
posted by Vibrissae at 5:53 PM on August 7 [+] [!]


Keep voting for distractions like Nader and you'll get a one-party system.
posted by goethean at 8:43 PM on August 7, 2011


He has pursued the one with which he is most comfortable given the constraints of his character, consistently choosing the message of bipartisanship over the message of confrontation.

Proof that Obama is from Hawai'i - not Chicago.

And it is possible the world is just not ready to accept we are on living an island that is limited in resources and that all people are interdependent and must be responsible for each others' welfare. The various peoples who have believed this have not prospered; it is frustrating and painful to watch their seemingly futile 'passivity' in the face of violent encroachment. But ... I agree with Obama ... their worldview is still the only one worth fighting for. The ends do not justify the means.
posted by Surfurrus at 9:58 PM on August 7, 2011


In the immediate aftermath of his election, it was commonly thought he would use his enormous grassroots operation as a pressure group. Instead, the entire "Obama for America" thing was basically switched off, and he focused entirely on the stimulus and then healthcare-- and moreover, on the inside game of courting and counting votes in the Senate.

I dunno if this is entirely true - OFA was very active on health care in particular (but on some other issues as well). I worked in a congressional office in 2009-10, and the number of phone calls/letters/petitions we got from OFA members was significant enough that they kind of started to get on my nerves (not that I didn't agree with them, just that I didn't want to deal with all the data entry and response letter printing and whatnot) - but it definitely did not go unnoticed. I'm not entirely sure what more they're supposed to be doing?

Claire McCcaskill and Sherrod Brown are two more Senators that immediately jump to mind.


Sherrod Brown is the greatest and I would vote for him in a heartbeat. I don't really see this happening though.
posted by naoko at 10:26 PM on August 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I also eagerly await Andrew Cuomo's entry into national politics.

Eliot Spitzer provided a big object lesson for NY governors: don't fuck with Wall Street. Andrew Cuomo, by refusing to consider tax increases to balance the state's budget, shows that he has learned this lesson well.

So you'll probably get your wish. But he's not the man to break the stranglehold that Wall Street has on the economy, any more than Obama is.
posted by anewc2 at 6:24 AM on August 8, 2011


An unlikely role model for Obama: James Madison was a weak and easily intimidated president, until he learned to stand up to Congress
posted by homunculus at 11:38 AM on August 8, 2011


> I dunno if this is entirely true - OFA was very active... it definitely did not go unnoticed. I'm not entirely sure what more they're supposed to be doing?

Thanks-- that's an interesting observation. From your perspective inside the congressional office, what do you believe would have moved more votes in the House and Senate?
posted by darth_tedious at 11:51 AM on August 8, 2011


Gosh, I dunno. I had a fantastic boss who generally strove to be informed and just, to do the right thing, and to explain calmly and thoughtfully to the screaming mobs why he made the decisions he did, but the current state of politics doesn't do much to reward good people. I believe that having the support of OFA (and unions, and the religious left, and other activists) gave certain members of Congress the strength to stand by their convictions in the face of a lot of resistance from the "omg death panels" crowd - but it wasn't always enough to keep them in office. I left the Hill extremely cynical about the American public, but I largely blame the media and corporate power for the clueless and self-destructive behavior exhibited by so many voters. It's a deep, deep mess we're in, and I don't know the way out.
posted by naoko at 7:41 PM on August 8, 2011


Jonathan Chait: Drew Westen's Nonsense
posted by homunculus at 4:02 PM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Drew Westen's Nonsense

A relevant chunk:

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.
posted by philip-random at 4:09 PM on August 11, 2011


Chait's piece sounds whiny and ill-tempered. He wants to nitpick rather than admit that Westen has a real point and that rhetoric, while not everything, is damn important.
posted by shivohum at 4:10 PM on August 11, 2011


Westen debated (poorly) with Fareed Zakaria and Jonathan Chait on Charlie Rose's show.

Interestingly, at the one moment when Westen offered a clear argument supported by specific evidence, the other three completely ignored him.
posted by darth_tedious at 9:53 AM on August 12, 2011


President Obama Begins Bus Tour in Minnesota Town Hall By Talking Jobs
posted by homunculus at 5:07 PM on August 15, 2011


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