“It’s a little bit like the shooting gallery at the arcade. It’s hard to tell which rabbits are real and which aren’t. You have to have the discipline of not shooting at the wrong rabbit."
August 16, 2010 6:36 AM   Subscribe

Washington, We Have a Problem. On the heels of a New Yorker feature exploring the question, "Just How Broken Is The Senate," Vanity Fair publishes a look at the (mindboggling) day-to-day life of the modern US Presidency.
posted by availablelight (121 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite

 
Previous discussion of the New Yorker piece.
posted by availablelight at 6:38 AM on August 16, 2010


I never understood why someone would WANT that job.
posted by ChuraChura at 7:01 AM on August 16, 2010


ChuraChura: When you're a child you want a lot of things that later on you'll wonder why you wanted them at all...
posted by JoeXIII007 at 7:13 AM on August 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


I think it'd be interesting as hell to see a parallel analysis on an average day for Prime Minister Brown or Chancellor Merkel. The inside-baseball stuff (even the broken stuff) of Washington has always fascinated me. How much this has to do with The West Wing, I've no idea.
posted by jquinby at 7:15 AM on August 16, 2010


....I meant Cameron. Prime Minister Cameron. Sorry.
posted by jquinby at 7:15 AM on August 16, 2010


a deliberate strategy, openly articulated by McConnell, of forcing the G.O.P. to play “team ball” and vote no on everything Obama proposes, regardless of principle or conviction ... when Boehner says the bill will “protect the biggest banks in America and harm the smallest banks” he knows that this is untrue, and that in fact the biggest banks are all lobbying fiercely to block it, with Republican help.

I've never really gone over to the "It's broken" side of things until I read that passage. To have a vaguely civil meeting to discuss legislation, knowing that the people you're talking to will turn around, moments later, and openly and knowingly lie, that they're actively refusing any form of cooperation whatsoever, the whole thing is unfathomable. What could Obama, or any president, do to actually overcome this crap? Broken might be too light a word for it.
posted by Ghidorah at 7:17 AM on August 16, 2010 [20 favorites]


Evenstar nailed it at the end of the last thread:

>> How broken is the Senate?
> How broken is democracy? That's a better question.
posted by davelog at 7:18 AM on August 16, 2010


The system isn't broken. The system is working just fine. It's just optimized for something other than what it says it is optimized for (which is also a feature, not a bug).
posted by DU at 7:21 AM on August 16, 2010 [34 favorites]


What could Obama, or any president, do to actually overcome this crap?

Wield his power like a club and beat the hell out of them, call'em out. Obama has indicated he's not interested in doing that, so the country muddles through.
posted by nomadicink at 7:24 AM on August 16, 2010 [7 favorites]


Emmanuel - "“Sometimes I feel like I’m painting by dots around here.”

Well here's the problem. We got so used to the Surrealism of Bush2, the AshCan art of Clinton/Bush1 and the Cubism of Reagan (focused on the volume and shape of the government) that we have completely failed to comprehend that the Obama Presidency is a Pointillist masterpiece in the making.
posted by Chipmazing at 7:28 AM on August 16, 2010 [8 favorites]


You can think of the Federal Register as the official record of federal activity in all its range. You can also think of it as the daily report card of the lobbying industry, whose interests and resources underlie nearly every line of type.

I disagree, the Federal Register is not the Congressional Record. Federal Agencies gain or lose little from lobbying efforts and playing favorites as they are not elected. They follow a general direction set by White House policy and the mandate of Congress. If you want to see how your lobbiest is fairing, check the acts of Congress, not the mundane day-to-day actions of the Executive.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 7:31 AM on August 16, 2010


Wield his power like a club and beat the hell out of them, call'em out.

IS THE PRESIDENT PROMOTING RACIST 'ANGRY BLACK MAN' STEREOTYPE? MAYBE PROVOKING NEXT AL QAEDA ATTACK? UP NEXT ON FOX AND FRIEND
posted by Throw away your common sense and get an afro! at 7:36 AM on August 16, 2010 [13 favorites]


IS THE PRESIDENT PROMOTING RACIST 'ANGRY BLACK MAN' STEREOTYPE?

They aren't going to love him anyway. Might as well make selective use of that club. Calling out those who are putting party before country would be a good use of that.
posted by nomadicink at 7:39 AM on August 16, 2010 [6 favorites]


...it’s the kind of evolution that happens inevitably to rich and powerful states, from imperial Rome to Victorian England. The neural network of money, politics, bureaucracy, and values becomes so tautly interconnected that no individual part can be touched or fixed without affecting the whole organism, which reacts defensively.

Some days I dream about a bipartisan bill to return more power to the state level, with federal oversight, in order to end the centralization of politicians and lobbyists who can't be touched by ordinary human beings.

And then I remember the one thing the petty adolescents in DC have in common: their desire for power.
posted by atypicalguy at 7:45 AM on August 16, 2010


Calling out those who are putting party before country would be a good use of that.

I completely agree with that. Although I feel that more Democrats could follow the example of Jon Stuart's old roommate and take up that club as well.
posted by Throw away your common sense and get an afro! at 7:47 AM on August 16, 2010 [4 favorites]


Please stop. The New Yorker piece was depressing enough.
posted by snwod at 7:48 AM on August 16, 2010


I admire Obama because he takes a long view and works hard to improve the country. What saddens me is that he acts as though he is within a great meeting of minds between benevolent Republicans and Democrats, and that by making compromises with the right-wing he will win some of their respect and their support, and govern more successfully. Time and time again we see that Republicans get their slice of the pie and in return Obama gets continued record-breaking obstruction and hyperbolic opposition. And while these nihilistic tactics may have damaged the Republican Party's brand as a whole, they know that the voters will tend to blame the party in charge, and it will hurt individual Democrats far more. By tearing government down, Republicans are the last man standing.

The President's team should be loudly calling out Republican obstruction wherever they see it. If he wants the best end results, Obama should put his plans directly on the table, and then attempt to politically damage anyone who opposes them. After that comes the time for compromise, not before. Bipartisanship is bunk. Republicans in Congress have no interest in effective governance, and it's hard for me to comprehend that anyone could miss that.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 7:49 AM on August 16, 2010 [16 favorites]


It is a noble intent to raise the political discourse above petty name calling and tit for tat. I just don't know of a society that has successfully managed to do that.
posted by cavalier at 7:55 AM on August 16, 2010


> How broken is democracy? That's a better question.

That's not really the question. The U.S. of A. is like a corporation that has grown so large and so complex that it is simply unmanageable. It's not really a question of form of government, it's size and complexity.

When a corporation gets too big to manage, it either collapses (into bankruptcy) or it gets smaller (sells off divisions and focuses on core competence.)

When a country gets too big to manage, it seems like it faces the same options: collapse or dissolution.

This was ultimately the problem with the former Soviet Union. It became too large to be centrally managed, so it was badly managed for so long that the Moscow (corporate headquarters) decided it was time to divest some divisions (Ukraine, Poland, Uzbekistan, etc.) and focus on core competence (Russia.)

It seems to me that the future is with small, nimble countries that can be effectively managed by human beings.

Large centrally managed countries like the U.S., the former Soviet Union, China, and India seem destined for the scrapheap. The question is whether or not there will be mostly peaceful dissolution (e.g. the former Soviet Union) or in the violence of civil war.

In this light, the idea of "states rights" might be transformed into "states' responsbilities" and the Federal government should divest itself of as many management tasks as possible.

Of course this offends people of a certain political point of view so it is unlikely to gain any traction towards consensus. The corporation will grow larger and ever more unmanageable and inefficient.
posted by three blind mice at 7:55 AM on August 16, 2010 [9 favorites]


Obligatory Onion Link.

I work in the Senate and can definitely confirm the anecdotes about The Hill's growing antisocial nature. It's neither fashionable nor politically expedient to socialize with people from other offices. The Senate cafeterias are more cliquey than the typical highschool lunchroom.

Then he enters the private, wood-paneled family elevator—installed in the same shaft used by Theodore Roosevelt’s son Quentin to bring his pet pony upstairs

Pet peeve: The White House was gutted to its frame in 1949, long after Teddy Roosevelt died. No interior architectural features of the White House predate Truman, and most of the interior didn't begin to resemble what it does today until Jackie Kennedy led restoration and preservation efforts during JFK's term in office.

posted by schmod at 7:57 AM on August 16, 2010 [8 favorites]


I have a feeling that America is going to look back on it's reaction to the Obama presidency with a deep sense of shame.
posted by Artw at 7:59 AM on August 16, 2010 [12 favorites]




I could cry reading this. Obama may go down as the last beacon of light before this ship sinks forever.
posted by bukharin at 8:00 AM on August 16, 2010 [4 favorites]


Ghidorah: I've never really gone over to the "It's broken" side of things until I read that passage. To have a vaguely civil meeting to discuss legislation, knowing that the people you're talking to will turn around, moments later, and openly and knowingly lie, that they're actively refusing any form of cooperation whatsoever, the whole thing is unfathomable. What could Obama, or any president, do to actually overcome this crap? Broken might be too light a word for it.

This statement expresses my sentiments as well. As well as the statement in the story that the Presidency as we know it today would be unrecognizable to past administrations. I have to say that after reading about 5 paragraphs of the story, I became depressed about the whole thing. I had such high hopes for Obama, and still feel that he is genuine in his desire to change the face of politics. Unfortunately, he is up against many, many things, folks, agencies and media outlets that are doing their best to discredit, slander and generally make the job almost impossible. Perhaps it is, as DU says, "...just optimized for something other than what it says it is optimized for (which is also a feature, not a bug).". I don't know anymore.

In a somewhat related way, it takes me back to when my (now ex) husband was the president of our condo HOA. There was no way in hell that everyone was going to be satisfied with anything. Too many interests, too many opinions interfering with the job. You can't please everyone, no matter what you do. All of this just gives me a feeling of hopelessness.
posted by sundrop at 8:07 AM on August 16, 2010


It seems to me that the future is with small, nimble countries that can be effectively managed by human beings.

Given the population of the world and continued adherence to post-Westphalia nation-state ideals, it seems unlikely to me that this is a likely near-term future scenario. How many nimble countries could the US be broken down into?
posted by blucevalo at 8:18 AM on August 16, 2010


How many nimble countries could the US be broken down into?

The South (minus Florida), Texas, California (including Hawaii), Mid and north atlantic states, states around the great lakes, Westerna states, Alaska and Florida.
posted by nomadicink at 8:22 AM on August 16, 2010


What could Obama, or any president, do to actually overcome this crap?

Release transcripts of every meeting (except the classified stuff, obviously).
Hey, it worked for Nixon, right?
posted by madajb at 8:26 AM on August 16, 2010


Obama may go down as the last beacon of light before this ship sinks forever.

Related.
posted by Joe Beese at 8:27 AM on August 16, 2010


Federal government should divest itself of as many management tasks as possible.

That sounds an awful lot like how the country was designed from the get-go. Maybe those dudes in wigs were onto something after all...
posted by madajb at 8:27 AM on August 16, 2010


I have a feeling that America is going to look back on it's reaction to the Obama presidency with a deep sense of shame.

From the article:

A New Yorker article, published just one week before the passage of the health-care bill, was titled “Obama’s Lost Year.” Dan Pfeiffer observes, “You’re weak and stupid until the moment you either win or accomplish your goal, and then you’re strong and brave. The difference between idiocy and genius is very short in this cycle.”

posted by availablelight at 8:27 AM on August 16, 2010


Some days I dream about a bipartisan bill to return more power to the state level, with federal oversight, in order to end the centralization of politicians and lobbyists who can't be touched by ordinary human beings.

I've worked alongside/within different levels of state government for nearly a decade now. I don't have a high degree of confidence that this approach could solve our problems. The more local levels of government are often even worse than the Federal level, in terms of corruption, incompetence, regulatory capture, etc. A big part of what undermines the effectiveness of the system as a whole is the complexity of squaring all the competing levels of authority at different levels of the system. Complexity has increased within every level and at the point of interface between each different level.

The system isn't broken. The system is working just fine. It's just optimized for something other than what it says it is optimized for (which is also a feature, not a bug).

I'm not sure that sentiment squares with history. The system really doesn't function the same way it once did, and even our basic understanding of the government's role has been revised in ways that are irreconcilable with our own history. Consider just a few simple historical counterpoints to the prevailing free-market radicalism that dominates our politics and popular culture and how starkly differently the politics of these examples would play out now, with the near-totalizing focus everyone seems to put on economic theory and free-market dogma, mixed with the lazy disregard for historical and factual reality we find prevailing in the media landscape.

As a recent contribution on Daily Kos points out (and I realize that with that attribution a lot of people will tune out instantly, but this is all stuff that's plainly in the historical record, so the source doesn't matter), in George Washington's first term of office, the Federal government took steps including:

- selectively restricting imports
- bailing out debts of states
- being the majority owner of a private company
- clamping down on fiscal speculation
- executing a "stimulus plan" of infrastructure projects


Nixon, meanwhile, as recently as 1971, by executive decree took us off the gold standard, issued a 90-day wage and price freeze, and imposed an across the board 10 percent surcharge on imports.

There are so many other examples of our system being used vigorously and effectively to order our economic affairs and to regulate industry in the past, and yet, now, it seems the industry side of the issues has pretty much captured the whole system, including the pop culture, which never seems to tire of finding new ways to reduce complex problems involving core human values into simple economic terms.

Did anyone even once accuse Nixon of being a socialist (I mean, other than Phillip K. Dick)? Did anyone accuse Washington of being un-American or an enemy of the American system of enterprise? Did we run around, trumpeting the importance of the American economic system as insistently as we do now, before the Cold War pushed us into retrenching ourselves, even redefining ourselves, in terms of only the narrowest economic dogmas? I don't think we would have even been having the same conversations about many of these things before the 1950s.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:27 AM on August 16, 2010 [57 favorites]


I am certain a great deal of the problem isn't just the size and complexity of the government nor of the issues they have to deal with. The problem is because communications have improved so much, we expect the leadership and management to be instantly responsive.

The entire bureaucracy is perceived as simply an impedance. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy. Upper management buys into this, because they get castigated in the media for being "out of touch" if they don't have an official response ready within 24 hours of a crisis. Policies are being crafted on the fly, and thus are either full of meaningless half statements, or at great risk of just being plain wrong.

In the days when letters had to be hand carried to the White House, and could take days or weeks to get there, we didn't expect much. We needed the local bureaucrats, so they could make decisions and expedite things. Now however, these bureaucrats have been deprived of real responsibility, and everyone looks to the Oval Office for answers.

Another part of the communications technology issue is that television media gained - or created - the national stage in the 1950s. Issues were framed at the Federal level, since that was how the media was aimed at its market. Decades of this have led to some unrealistic expectations. Local news has been pushed aside in the awareness of the average person.

I think the article pretty accurately described the polarizing efforts of the Right as well. Casting every issue as black and white, us versus them, is great for whipping up fervor among the party, the supporters, and voters, but it does nothing to improve discourse or resolve problems. That's an issue that's been pretty well explored here, so I don't need to beat that dead horse, but it bears mentioning.

It takes some guts, and good instincts, to delegate responsibility and authority to the apparatchiks that implement executive policies. Reagan took some heat for doing exactly this, but he knew he wasn't capable - as if any human being is - of handling every single issue that confronts the United States every day. Bush the Younger did this too, though arguably to our detriment. I don't know why the Left seems so Hell bent on creating a cult of personality around every president, worshiping him as if he alone held the answers to our problems. What happens is that when they fail, we inevitably crucify them.

Worst job in the world, indeed.
posted by Xoebe at 8:46 AM on August 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


Reading this made me wonder, in turn, if the United States government, then democracies and republicans, and finally civilizations themselves, can scale with complexity and population.
posted by adipocere at 9:06 AM on August 16, 2010


I have a feeling that America is going to look back on it's reaction to the Obama presidency with a deep sense of shame.

Whereas I am very much afraid that it won't.
posted by Naberius at 9:07 AM on August 16, 2010 [12 favorites]


How many nimble countries could the US be broken down into?

Just remember that even in the reddest of red states Obama still won 30-40% of the vote.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 9:12 AM on August 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


The South (minus Florida), Texas, California (including Hawaii), Mid and north atlantic states, states around the great lakes, Westerna states, Alaska and Florida.

So you'd group a state like Washington or Oregon with a state like Nebraska or Wyoming?

I don't think these groupings would be any more nimble than what we currently have.

California, as an example, while it would be the 7th largest economy in the world if it were an independent entity, has so much trouble governing itself now that it wouldn't be any better off independent, and might be worse (if that's even possible).
posted by blucevalo at 9:14 AM on August 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


Wield his power like a club and beat the hell out of them, call'em out. Obama has indicated he's not interested in doing that, so the country muddles through.

Someone did not read the article.
posted by joe lisboa at 9:14 AM on August 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


Scratch that, it seems several people did not read the article. But go ahead and pontificate. And yes, Joe Beese, Obama is exactly like Bush. You have made your opinion known a thousandfold. President Gore will see you out.
posted by joe lisboa at 9:18 AM on August 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Western Washington probably isn't even a good grouping with Eastern Washington.
posted by Artw at 9:19 AM on August 16, 2010 [4 favorites]


I think that once the mass die-off of baby boomers starts in 10-20 years we'll see some marked improvements.
posted by codacorolla at 9:20 AM on August 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


I think that once the mass die-off of baby boomers starts in 10-20 years we'll see some marked improvements.

I also think that will eliminate some of the worst things about the country today, which is better than not eliminating them. But I don't think that's enough, and I'm not convinced that the following generations have what it takes to actually reverse course into a positive direction.

At least not without a massive collapse that forges them through anguish into people who have to do what is necessary. The so-called greatest generation wasn't the greatest because they were just born that way through luck of the draw. They had to become what they were or lose everything.
posted by Naberius at 9:25 AM on August 16, 2010


Actually, I should probably qualify that with something... That's how it seems to me, anyway.
posted by codacorolla at 9:26 AM on August 16, 2010 [7 favorites]


Related: NPR ran an interview with Todd Purdum a little while back on the subject of the Vanity Fair article.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:30 AM on August 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


To answer Saul's mostly rhetorical question (at least I think it's rhetorical): Yes, the McCarthy witch hunt did spur those sorts of batshit insane accusations, most famously Ezra Taft Benson's dismissal from the Eisenhower administration for being just a little bit too cozy with the Birchers (as in his son was the JBS leader of the Western US.) So, maybe not Nixon, but that kind of off-the-wall accusatory rhetoric has been part and parcel of the New Right to current conservatism.

My point is not to snark Saul. I think he's pretty accurate. Instead, I wish to emphasis that the conspiratorialist narrative of parasitic elites allied with the over-entitled underclass to attack middleclass producers is the central story of the rise of the New Right from the 1950's which has now become American conservatism. The dominance of producerism became complete following the passage of the civil rights acts of the 1960s. The important thing about the Tea Party is not that they are racist (they harbor a lot of racists) but that the narrative also include the evil elites; socialist like G. W. Bush for instance. Not to mention the one-worlders of the CFR. And the perennial bogeyman of the extreme right, David Rockafeller.

So the batshit insane conspiratorialism isn't new. What is new is that it now is dominating the discourse inside one of the two major parties.

It can be resisted, but it has to be done smart. They are really into their imaginary victimization and consequent scapegoating. A clumsy and hesitant confrontation with these folks only make them stronger. What is necessary is to build a publicly express majority that presents a moral barrier to their extremism. It's not easy, but it can succeed.
posted by warbaby at 9:34 AM on August 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


Oh, Boomers were not the last generation for whom the fear mongering of the Cold War was a reality. Just to match up Inception, I watched The Cell and Dreamscape this weekend, the latter reminding me of the omnipresent nuclear dread of childhood. I could not have been the only pre-teen with a three page list of items I thought might be helpful in a nuclear war, divvied out to my friends on the basis of who had access to what, in the likelihood that our parents would probably get nuked while at work in the city while we would be in the 'burbs, away from the blast zones. We even had a place about fifty miles off picked out, with access to three cold springs and a decent cave system for shelter.

We all thought this was a good thing to have planned out. I ran across the list a few years back. Seeing "iodine tablets" in my careful, odd printing brought back a lot of memories.
posted by adipocere at 9:36 AM on August 16, 2010 [5 favorites]


Man, you guys are even more depressing than the article.
posted by reductiondesign at 9:41 AM on August 16, 2010 [4 favorites]


The description of the senate from the second article in the FPP--that is, of the day-to-day processes in the chamber being more or less a matter of going through the motions and empty ritual--squares pretty well with my own observations of these legislative processes at the state level as well.

All of which just leaves me wondering, if it's all pretty clearly been reduced to empty formality, why even go through the motions anymore? Why keep clinging to the empty formalities of the process when the real substantive action happens in the committees, in meetings with lobbyists behind closed doors, or on some legislative analyst's desk long before any of the (typically) carefully scripted events on the floor take place anyway?

It's like some kind of bizarre, legislative cargo cult moved in and took over.

(Also, on preview, good points warbaby.)
posted by saulgoodman at 9:42 AM on August 16, 2010


I think that once the mass die-off of baby boomers starts in 10-20 years we'll see some marked improvements.

From the "Me Generation" to the "Meh? Generation".
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 9:52 AM on August 16, 2010 [4 favorites]


I have a feeling that America is going to look back on it's reaction to the Obama presidency with a deep sense of shame.

I'm not sure what you mean, Art. You mean the rednecks who think he's a Muslim or the cheerleaders who think he's the Second Coming? Now I'm not so sure, but I originally read your comment as the latter. To which I respond:

Most of the people I know who supported Obama were under no illusions that our government is almost certainly and permanently broken. If there was any chance of preserving real democracy, I think many of us could see that it would take a forceful, charismatic, highly intelligent idealist to call all of the bullshit out. I believe most of us were, and still are, highly skeptical Obama is that person. However, if that kind of leader exists, he would look and talk much like Obama. So far, I think he's at least met or exceeded my low expectations even if he hasn't reached my highest hopes. The millions of people who had tears of joy on election night weren't celebrating because the system got fixed, we were celebrating because there was a tiny glimmer of hope that the nation we envision might just survive.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 9:53 AM on August 16, 2010 [6 favorites]


We needed the local bureaucrats, so they could make decisions and expedite things. Now however, these bureaucrats have been deprived of real responsibility, and everyone looks to the Oval Office for answers.

THIS.

The idea behind having a Cabinet in the first place was to delegate authority and make the executive branch more effective. Nowadays, you'd be hard-pressed to determine what decisions the Secretary of the Interior actually makes and implements from day-to-day. HUD will spent about $50 billion this year -- anyone really ga-ga about its performance? Veterans Affairs will spend another $90 billion, and no one is happy.

Commerce and Labor will spend $15 billion. The economy ain't improving. I dare anyone here to name both of these Cabinet secretaries -- checking Google is cheating!
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:54 AM on August 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Chart of historical filibuster usage (by minority party)

The most filibuster-prone Senate ever:
There have been 64 cloture votes so far this year and a big backlog of legislation waiting for the senators when they return from the August recess.

Since the Democrats lost their filibuster-proof 60-seat majority with the election of Republican Scott Brown of Massachusetts, the Republicans have wielded the filibuster effectively. The newspaper Roll Call reckons that the Republicans have gained 10 victories in 20 filibusters over the last four months.

The Republicans blocked financial regulatory reform four times until Democratic leader Harry Reid made enough changes in the bill to pick up the necessary Republican votes. The reason the House has had to make a special trip back to Washington to vote on a $26.1 billion jobs bill is because the Senate didn't close off debate until after the House had left on vacation.
Despite the historic Democratic supermajority (even given the fact that the 60th vote was Joe "Independent" Lieberman), legislation that would have sailed through any other Congress has been obstructed and/or watered down by the recalcitrant Republican minority -- whose 41 Senators now represent (with Massachusetts) approximately 38% of the population. Combining this endless, unprecedented resistance with the fringe propaganda of the Tea Party crowd (ginned up and shamelessly promoted by the largest news network in the United States), the Republicans have successfully derailed or declawed a highly popular agenda, and turned its popular support into populist anger even as they oppose what America voted for in 2008 every step of the way.

And it would be one thing if that opposition was principled. But compare this:
Republican Scott Brown voted against allowing the bill to move forward, agreeing with his fellow GOP members that the $34 billion for the unemployment extension should only be approved if it does not add to the deficit.
...with the consequences of the GOP's current fiscal policy goal:
Making the tax cuts permanent for all taxpayers would cost $3.1 trillion, including interest on the national debt, over 10 years, and cause the national debt-to-GDP ratio to rise to 82 percent.
The math is pretty simple. Extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy -- tax cuts which have contributed more to our deficit going forward than the recession, TARP/stimulus package, and Iraq/Afghanistan combined -- would cost more than ninety times as much as extending unemployment benefits. And this incredibly hypocritical position was espoused by Scott Brown, one of the supposed moderate Republican senators.

One of the best remedies I can see is addressing the abuse of the filibuster in the next session, although the prospects of that aren't looking very good. Maybe if Reid had had the slightest bit of backbone, the Dems could have taken on this problem when it first reared its head. I almost wish he'd lose his seat so we could have a more tenacious majority leader in the Senate (assuming, of course, Republicans don't take control of the chamber).
posted by Rhaomi at 9:55 AM on August 16, 2010 [11 favorites]


This article reads like a massive excuse for the mediocrity of the Obama administration.

I'm not sure, past the mendacity of the Republican bullshit, how there are any different rules in today's Senate than there were when the previous tenant of the White House was making massive, generations-long changes to federal policies up both domestic and international?

Look, Obama is, was, and will be beholden to similarly crummy interests as his predecesor. The answer is not "oh look meany Republicans are just ruining the glimmer in President Hope's eyes" but "why do we keep electing right-wing Democrats?"
posted by RajahKing at 10:01 AM on August 16, 2010


fwiw, I'd place a large wager that every time the country comes under as much stress as it has done in the past 3 years we could see similar reporting and widespread concern about the future of the country. During Carter's term people actively burned in in effigy in the streets. During McKinney's term a national newspaper, run by Hearst, implied strongly he should be shot. Lot of people thought the assassinations of JFK, RFK, King, Malcolm X and the events that led up to and after those killings was a sure sign we where doomed.

That doesn't change the nature of the problem NOW, of course. Yeah, the GOP is acting near uniformly like douchbags (there is a reason for this), and engaging not only in bad faith, but with historic obstructionism. Why? Because 2008 scared the shit out of many of them. A bona fide white war hero (seen by many as a moderate) lost to a charismatic black man.

There was no, hoped for, Latino/African American split. This is what is to come... and it spells big trouble in the long term for the GOP, and they are thrashing about trying to hold to some vestige of power by any means necessary. Which right now means a massive disenchantment game played against Democratic voters. The key to any success for the GOP this year is getting the general population depressed and non functional at the polls.

It doesn't help that everyone wants a stick and to beat the other side to a bloody pulp, hell I'm sure lots of people wanted King and Gandhi to foment violent revolution too. It doesn't help we scream at the Democrats for every misstep and failure to achieve the progressive utopia we want. I can live with criticism, but it seems to go way beyond that too many times.

The Republicans have played their game well. What in normal years would be an astonishing legislative record we have regulated to bile and bickering.
posted by edgeways at 10:03 AM on August 16, 2010 [7 favorites]


but "why do we keep electing right-wing Democrats?"

Obama is not a right-wing Democrat.
posted by blucevalo at 10:10 AM on August 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


Did anyone even once accuse Nixon of being a socialist (I mean, other than Phillip K. Dick)?

Actually, I believe Dick accused Nixon of being the avatar of a Roman emperor who rules the real world of which the modern age we are aware of is some sort of simalcrum or mass hallucination: the empire never ended! ...which would explain a lot of the problems in the Senate.
posted by ennui.bz at 10:16 AM on August 16, 2010 [2 favorites]



blucevalo: So you'd group a state like Washington or Oregon with a state like Nebraska or Wyoming? ... California, as an example, while it would be the 7th largest economy in the world if it were an independent entity...

Screw California -- whoever gets grouped in with the Dakotas, Montana, and Wyoming get to be part of the 3rd largest nuclear power in the world AND control one of the largest agricultural regions in North America. Wheat and nukes keep everyone else in order.
posted by AzraelBrown at 10:19 AM on August 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


The article invokes the ghost of LBJ (as in "we'd get creamed if we tried to strongarm Congress like LBJ did"), but it seems to me that Johnson is exactly the sort of president these times would benefit the most from. Setting aside his many and legendary weaknesses as a human being, Johnson was the master of Congress in a way that probably no other president ever was or will be. Bush liked ruling a little too unilaterally, trying to shove Congress under the table, while Obama is clearly unable to exert any influence even over his own party, but Johnson made Congress dance to his tune (for better and for worse) without turning the Presidency into a signing-statement-dictatorship, and in the process drove an enormous legislative agenda to fruition. Granted, he only had one war and an expanding economy. Sadly, I don't think there's anyone in Congress now who could fit that bill.
posted by briank at 10:21 AM on August 16, 2010


Alternate thread title: The Left Will Eat Itself.

This article reads like a massive excuse for the mediocrity of the Obama administration.

Look, there is a shitty status quo: be it congressional, political, media-related, ideological, demographic, etc.. and the article goes some length towards describing the depths of the shittiness w/r/t congress and the media environment. We both agree on that, but one of us places the blame for that on the current President and his Administration, while the other accepts that There Is A Way Things Are At The Moment and we have to work within and through them to accomplish anything beyond self-satisfied political martyrdom every four (or two, or whatever) years.

You cannot just snap your fingers and get an electorate and a media industry conducive to the election of a Bernie Sanders. I wish it were so, but it is not. We can make it so, but only incrementally. I am sorry: I truly, sincerely am.
posted by joe lisboa at 10:25 AM on August 16, 2010 [11 favorites]


Man, you guys are even more depressing than the article.
[A] recent New York Times/CBS News poll reveals that 20 percent of Americans believe Obama was born in another country, and that another quarter aren’t sure he was American-born. The mainstream media have published lengthy reports that, by any objective standard, should have thoroughly refuted the idea that Obama is a Muslim, or was educated in a madrassa, or favors the creation of “death panels” to ration end-of-life care. It doesn’t matter. A national Harris poll this spring found that 57 percent of Republicans believe that Obama is in fact a Muslim (and, for good measure, 38 percent believe he is “doing many of the things that Hitler did,” and 24 percent believe that Obama actually “may be the anti-Christ”).
I don't really see what can get more depressing than one of the two major parties developing a base that is not ignorant, it's aggressively and consciously misinformed to the point of delusion.
posted by norm at 10:26 AM on August 16, 2010 [11 favorites]


Of course I am referring to Presidential politics, so that should read President Bernie Sanders. Congressional races, state races, this is where you can push for the sort of changes that would possible the eventual election of a genuinely Leftist president, if that is what you want. Shit, they started calling this guy a socialist, Marxist-Leninist before he did a fucking thing. This is the climate. We need to adapt or die.
posted by joe lisboa at 10:27 AM on August 16, 2010


I'm not sure what you mean, Art. You mean the rednecks who think he's a Muslim or the cheerleaders who think he's the Second Coming?

I mean the bizarre racist freakout, the spin vortex that surrounds it, the people who should know better acting as though this shit is real, and the general cowardice in the front of it by people who should be leaders and institutions that should be serving you better.
posted by Artw at 10:28 AM on August 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Actually, I should probably qualify that with something...
Baby Boomers are probably the last generation that's lived with the expectation of unending prosperity. It's a nice idea, but not a realistic one.
Baby Boomers are the last generation for whom the fear mongering of the cold war was a reality. Subsequent generations have been raised with the idea of being world citizens
Baby Boomers are reliant on TV as the main source of the entertainment and information. As generations raised on the internet come into adulthood and power we should see better quality and literacy of information.
That's how it seems to me, anyway.


I hope beyond hope that you are right, but having grown up in the midwest I can tell you that that is still the reality for a whole lot of people out there that arent Boomers.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 10:29 AM on August 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


Baby Boomers are reliant on TV as the main source of the entertainment and information. As generations raised on the internet come into adulthood and power we should see better quality and literacy of information.

"Literacy of information"?
posted by IndigoJones at 10:29 AM on August 16, 2010


All of which just leaves me wondering, if it's all pretty clearly been reduced to empty formality, why even go through the motions anymore?

For the moment, it's necessary to keep the plebes in line. Flag-rallying around the notion of democracy requires the continuation of the appearance of democracy.
posted by kaibutsu at 10:29 AM on August 16, 2010


I know that everyone that time travels back in time decides to kill Hitler first, but Ayn Rand is quickly moving up the target list.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 10:31 AM on August 16, 2010 [7 favorites]


As generations raised on the internet come into adulthood and power we should see better quality and literacy of information.

I think the internet does more to polarize and provide justification for stupid-ass ideas then it actually helps. Is it better or worse than TV? I'm not sure.
posted by edgeways at 10:34 AM on August 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


You mean the rednecks who think he's a Muslim or the cheerleaders who think he's the Second Coming?

Yes but only one of the groups you mentioned...ya know...actually exists.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 10:37 AM on August 16, 2010 [8 favorites]


This article infuriated me from start to end.

Very early on:

"whose opinion curdled again when Obama was unable, with a snap of the fingers or an outburst of anger, to stanch the BP oil spill overnight."

There are extremely good reasons to be deeply angry with Mr. Obama over the spill; he knew before he was elected that MMS was broken and appointed an industry hack to it, he then allowed more new drilling in the Gulf than any President ever, and he'd just spoken out in favour of gulf drilling when the spill started, and particularly, the fact that this terrible spill did not result in an immediate inspection of BP's other facilities which are known to have a uniformly dreadful record across the board.

We're back to the same meme always: Mr. Obama is a good man, but completely powerless.

This is a lie. The President has huge discretionary powers (as many people above me in this thread have pointed out) - we've seen this exercised by every recent President. No one forced him to become Mr. Drone Attack; no one forced him to escalate in Afghanistan; no one forced him to become death on wheels toward whistle-blowers while not prosecuting actual criminals.

A year into it, Mr. Obama sees that FEMA is having difficulties. EARTH TO OBAMA, DID YOU NOT NOTICE KATRINA? The first thing that Mr. Clinton did when he got into office was to make sure that FEMA was fixed up - precisely because Bush Senior had muffed the response to hurricane Andrew.

"There are now upwards of 100 people who have some variation on “assistant to the president” in their titles."

WTF? Has not one person in this Administration the faintest knowledge of how large organizations are managed? Even your greenest MBA would see this as a huge bottleneck - how are you supposed to get anything done if you have about two hundred direct reports!? And he's absolutely not required to have all these positions with this reporting hierarchy, if he felt like dumping them all or arranging them in a large pyramid with perhaps a dozen direct reports as any first year b-school student would recommend, no one could stop him.

And why is he involved with Garth Brooks getting a "toady to the record industry" award or Toyota's brakes? He has 100+ assistants, isn't there one of them who can take care of such issues so that the President doesn't even know they exist because they aren't the President's job?

Next, we have more endless whining about the filibuster. Any human who cares about US politics has wondered why the Democrats simply cave when threatened by a filibuster. Why don't they force the Republicans to, you know, actually stand up there and talk continuously for days?

Moreover, there are legally plausible ways of coming to a call for a vote even when a filibuster is going. So why don't the Democrats try them? They do actually have control of the Master-at-Arms so they can push through such an action at least once. Perhaps this would result in a court challenge, but that would take a lot of time, it's deeply unclear who would win, and I frankly believe that a lot of Americans would be very impressed and the Republicans cowed by the display of force (because it is - the Master-of-Arms literally has a small army and when it came down to it, if a Republican kept speaking and the Speaker declared that that Republican was out of order, that Republican would be "escorted" out of the chamber).

This sort of thing is exactly what the Republicans do: they find unorthodox way to use the system to make progress for themselves. I'm not proposing the Democrats use Agnevian-Rovian style "dirty tricks" - but I am saying that they shouldn't just passively accept the gridlock that they find themselves immersed in.

Regardless of what specific tactics the Democrats used against the filibuster, the fact that they don't even talk about using them seems to indicate to me that they like the gridlock: in fact, every paragraph in this article seemed to scream that message.

As of last December:
It got to the point where Obama and Emanuel would joke that, when it was all over, they were going to open a T-shirt stand on a beach in Hawaii. It would face the ocean and sell only one color and one size. “We didn’t want to make another decision, or choice, or judgment,” Emanuel told me. They took to beginning staff meetings with Obama smiling at Emanuel and simply saying “White,” and Emanuel nodding back and replying “Medium.”
If I were employing Mr. Obama and Mr. Emanuel in a critical operation and they maintained that sort of bad attitude, I would caution and then eventually fire them.

He hadn't been doing the job for even one year at that point - if he feels like that in 2009, what's he going to feel like in 2015? If he sees things aren't going well, why doesn't he use that energy to make substantive changes in his organization, if only to his Table of Operations (the reporting structure that gives him about two hundred direct reports)?

And yet I believe that this article is supposed to actually slant toward Mr. Obama. The mind boggles.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:41 AM on August 16, 2010 [18 favorites]


Actually, I believe Dick accused Nixon of being the avatar of a Roman emperor who rules the real world of which the modern age we are aware of is some sort of simalcrum or mass hallucination: the empire never ended! ...which would explain a lot of the problems in the Senate.

I was thinking of "Radio Free Albemuth," in which President Ferris F. Fremont, who's pretty transparently patterned after Nixon, was revealed to be a secret communist collaborator. But yeah, I doubt Dick actually thought Nixon was secretly a communist--although one can never tell. He believed his biggest proponents among the European literati were communist plotters.

posted by saulgoodman at 10:43 AM on August 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


If he sees things aren't going well, why doesn't he use that energy to make substantive changes in his organization, if only to his Table of Operations (the reporting structure that gives him about two hundred direct reports)?

Yeah, that uncompromising approach worked out so well for Carter, when he fired his entire cabinet, and everyone took it as further evidence of his inability to run the country.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:50 AM on August 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


"You mean the rednecks who think he's a Muslim or the cheerleaders who think he's the Second Coming? "

Yes but only one of the groups you mentioned...ya know...actually exists.


If Bush had introduced the assassination of American citizens without trial, I don't think anyone here would have described him as a "beacon of light" for it.
posted by Joe Beese at 10:52 AM on August 16, 2010


Oh, and regarding the whole "birther" thing that was brought up....

Again, Mr. Obama seems to have lost a golden opportunity here. Anyone who has seen US movies or television knows that Americans don't like people who take a moral high road - they like people who crush their enemies and then make wisecracks.

There have been numerous public and/or elected figures who've made comments about this. Mr. Obama should have just picked the least physically attractive one and then said, "Sorry, you've gone too far and I'm calling you out. Let's debate this on national television - you present your facts, I'll present mine - and if I show you're wrong, I expect an apology from you and the matter to be closed."

Mr. Obama is a brilliant debater - there is no question he would have wiped the floor with the guy - plus he can bring on anything he likes, perhaps even the original registry book from Hawaii for example. Billions of people would have watched some Republican scumbag reduced to snivelling jelly. It would have been very educational for everyone.

One of Mr. Obama's characteristics is that he always seems to negotiate from a perceived position of weakness. Such a display of strength would have given him serious moxie in later negotiations.

(I remember once some 40 years ago I was studying Judo as a child in Vienna, and I mentioned to my sensei that I didn't think this particular leg-sweep throw would ever work. He demonstrated it on me - he apparently used no effort at all and yet I hit the ground like a feather.)
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 11:05 AM on August 16, 2010


Yeah, that uncompromising approach worked out so well for Carter, when he fired his entire cabinet, and everyone took it as further evidence of his inability to run the country.

Again, "the President is powerless." You're a smart guy, why do you keep falling for that?

First, if he comes in as a fresh President and says, "The system that exists is useless, I'm rearranging it"... why is that weakness? What sort of guy comes into to manage a system where he's given 100+ assistants and does nothing to change this?

I'm not proposing firing anyone. And no one has heard of ANY of these people. If he simply said, "Look, you six guys are now the Chief Assistants to the President and the other 94 Assistants to the President report to you" - who would care or even know that this happened?

Saul, let me ask you - do you think it's a good idea that Mr. Obama has over a hundred assistants?

If not, do you really think that he shouldn't fix this bad idea simply because people would perhaps take it as "evidence of his inability"? Doesn't this argument apply to any sort of change at all?
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 11:13 AM on August 16, 2010


...do you think it's a good idea that Mr. Obama has over a hundred assistants?

That seems like a silly metric. Seriously, the President having 100 assistants seems low in a country of 300 million people.

It all depends on what those assistants do, is the real question on whether to 100 assistants it too little to too late.
posted by nomadicink at 11:23 AM on August 16, 2010 [4 favorites]


Again, Mr. Obama seems to have lost a golden opportunity here. Anyone who has seen US movies or television knows that Americans don't like people who take a moral high road - they like people who crush their enemies and then make wisecracks.

Dear god am I glad he didn't do the thing you suggested. I suspect I am in the minority, but that kind of

Someone above mentioned the Baby Boomer die-off. I don't think the boomers are necessarily worse than the rest of us. What may improve things, however, is the influx of immigrants, which is actually probably why the republicans are so eager to make it harder to immigrate.
posted by JHarris at 11:23 AM on August 16, 2010


Argh, sorry for leaving that sentence unfinished, what I meant to say was:

"Dear god am I glad he didn't do the thing you suggested. I suspect I am in the minority, but that kind of hate that part of my country."
posted by JHarris at 11:24 AM on August 16, 2010


I'd like to know why we haven't seen more of this. Was the almost unanimously positive reaction in the press (and the almost unanimously giddy reaction in the progressive world) not a big enough clue? Force them to engage, force them to stand up and defend their ideas. That's the surest way to show they don't have any.
posted by Rhaomi at 11:31 AM on August 16, 2010


Look, you six guys are now the Chief Assistants to the President and the other 94 Assistants to the President report to you

Huh? He has 100+ assistants, no one said they are all Chief of Staff.

And no one has heard of ANY of these people.

Except for the ones that ARE Chiefs of Staff, like the ones mentioned in the article like Axlerod, RAHM!, and Gibbs.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 11:45 AM on August 16, 2010


If Bush had introduced the assassination of American citizens without trial, I don't think anyone here would have described him as a "beacon of light" for it.

Joe Beese, please do not make every political thread into the same argument that you want to have.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:50 AM on August 16, 2010 [5 favorites]


I completely agree with that. Although I feel that more Democrats could follow the example of Jon Stuart's old roommate and take up that club as well.

I could watch this all day.
posted by kjh at 12:00 PM on August 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Billions of people would have watched some Republican scumbag reduced to snivelling jelly. It would have been very educational for everyone.

Except one of the criticisms of Obama is that he's already too cerebral and professorial and aloof. Obama educating folks is something that's destined to be seen as a net negative.

Americans, in any case, do not respond well to facts, or other things that are "very educational for everyone."
posted by blucevalo at 12:03 PM on August 16, 2010


What sort of guy comes into to manage a system where he's given 100+ assistants and does nothing to change this?

Assuming you're talking about the existing bureaucracy in DC, any guy who's not Superman.
posted by blucevalo at 12:06 PM on August 16, 2010



You cannot just snap your fingers and get an electorate and a media industry conducive to the election of a Bernie Sanders. I wish it were so, but it is not. We can make it so, but only incrementally. I am sorry: I truly, sincerely am.


Incredible how this is the go to excuse for fans of a failing presidency. What kind of straw man argument is this? I haven't seen one commenter above suggest a magical plan for finger snappin' Bernie Sanders straight to the White House- please point me to one, if you could.

I do think, however, many posters would note that the article is a big waste of time - all it says is the Obama Administration can't get anything done cause the Republicans are mean and the media is unfair. Its a whine fest. I would point to lupus_yonderboy's comment as one alternative perspective.

Please, this was tiring prior to the election, when many people appropriately pointed out that the Obama Administration would suck. Its even more tiring, when in the face of mounting evidence of that suckiness you tell us to just hold on for more suckitude.
posted by RajahKing at 12:15 PM on August 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Again, "the President is powerless." You're a smart guy, why do you keep falling for that?

No, I don't see it that way. The President isn't powerless, but the President's powers are limited in very specific ways, and there are very real, practical limits on just how much control any executive can assert over an organization as large and complex as the Federal government (especially when it's still full of career people and other holdovers who don't necessarily share the aims or world view of the current White House occupant).

When I criticized Bush during his time in office, it was for what he specifically advocated and for how he exploited his considerably elevated commander-and-chief powers to jam the Iraq invasion down our throats when there wasn't a good case for it, and despite only lukewarm popular support for the debacle--and at the time, I was equally critical of the legislative bodies, the judiciary, the media and the public for going along with Bush's increasingly obvious pattern of systematically neglecting or deliberately bungling most of the other government's functions. His administration banned stem cell research and relegated the science advisors in his own cabinet to the role of political hacks, systematically expunging references to AGW from official reports. Bush deliberately aimed to move the country backwards, aided and abetted by a Washington political and media establishment that to this day remains largely intact.

With TARP, assisted by congress, Bush passed into law an open-ended bailout of the financial industry which the public has by now by and large been bamboozled into associating more closely with the current administration--despite the fact that the only extension of that plan under Obama, known as TARP 2, specifically redirected the remaining funding that congress had authorized to help distressed homeowners get mortgage relief rather than to bailing out financial institutions. Meanwhile, the stimulus bill and other measures that actually helped keep the economy afloat and saved real people's jobs directly has been tarred by association with those programs enacted under Bush, criticized as having created the collapse by the right, and the media still refuses to unambiguously report on the fact that our current economic problems are in no way that doesn't depend on magical thinking related to the size of the national deficit, which gets more inches of news print and teleprompter copy every day (not to mention blog content) than even a single one of the very important progressive reforms quietly being undertaken everyday to improve the effectiveness of the government's core regulatory functions.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:17 PM on August 16, 2010 [6 favorites]


Please, this was tiring prior to the election, when many people appropriately pointed out that the Obama Administration would suck. Its even more tiring, when in the face of mounting evidence of that suckiness you tell us to just hold on for more suckitude.

And whose administration, in this day and age, pray tell, do you think would not have stink lines of suckitude emanating from it? I'm all ears.
posted by blucevalo at 12:20 PM on August 16, 2010


I realize that changing things for the better is much more difficult than changing things for the worse, but even though they were changes for the worse, the previous administration was able to effect stunning changes, so I'm not sure the argument flies that Washington is entirely deadlocked. The last guy (& lackeys) managed to get a fairly big chunk of what they wanted.
posted by -harlequin- at 12:21 PM on August 16, 2010


all it says is the Obama Administration can't get anything done cause the Republicans are mean and the media is unfair. Its a whine fest

I don't think this is the point of the article at all. I think the point is that our system, and the Senate in particular, is confronting problems of regulatory capture, complexity and other systemic issues unlike any seen at previous times in history, and arguably, the system is now basically broken. That's the main argument both articles make pretty plainly, with lots of specific examples of changes in the way the culture of Washington and the legislature and executive bodies operate as compared to historical norms. The first article makes some attempt to offer this as an explanation for frustrations some have felt with the pace of change under the administration--but the second is almost purely concerned with the larger questions. These broader questions have been the most relevant ones all along, from where I sit,
posted by saulgoodman at 12:25 PM on August 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


Lot of people thought the assassinations of JFK, RFK, King, Malcolm X and the events that led up to and after those killings was a sure sign we where doomed.

Were they not? That was then, and here we are now. I can't think of very many metrics by which "doomed" is not the current state of things.
posted by rusty at 12:27 PM on August 16, 2010


Baby Boomers are the last generation for whom the fear mongering of the cold war was a reality. Subsequent generations have been raised with the idea of being world citizens

I don't mean to be snippy, but have you been paying attention for the last 10 years? As someone pointed out in another thread recently (I think...I'm too lazy to go find the link) more people die from downing in a year than terrorism. And yet, terrorism seems to send many Americans into paroxysms of fear (doing a remarkably good job of fulfilling its aim).

Listen to the voices in the media regarding the Cordoba mosque. Opponents aren't evening attempting to cloak or couch the racism that is feeding the "controversy", and are drawing no rebukes or denunciations (which isn't to say that everyone agrees with them). And you think fear-mongering is a Cold War relic?
posted by dry white toast at 12:28 PM on August 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


> > Billions of people would have watched some Republican scumbag reduced to snivelling jelly. It would have been very educational for everyone.

> Except one of the criticisms of Obama is that he's already too cerebral and professorial and aloof. Obama educating folks is something that's destined to be seen as a net negative.

Do you really, really believe I meant "educational" in the sense of professorial? No, I meant "educational" like when a little old Japanese guy throws you around the room, educational - like watching a mugger getting his arm broken, "educational".

"Seeing Obama reducing some Republican scumbag to snivelling jelly would have put fear into his enemies." Is that blatant enough?
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 12:32 PM on August 16, 2010


The last guy (& lackeys) managed to get a fairly big chunk of what they wanted.

Well, yes, because so many in the Washington culture continue to want those things, too, because they translate into more contracts and less regulatory oversight for the industries' whose interests they represent as paid lobbyists. We haven't succeeded in any kind of large scale reform of Washington yet, and at this point, where's the political will for it? We're too
busy fighting over whether or not Republicans are really, really bigots for wanting to ban all the mosque construction projects in America or if they're just misunderstood.

The courts, meanwhile, have been dismantling the existing weak constraints on corporate spending, making the situation in Washington far more not less difficult politically.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:35 PM on August 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Next, we have more endless whining about the filibuster. Any human who cares about US politics has wondered why the Democrats simply cave when threatened by a filibuster. Why don't they force the Republicans to, you know, actually stand up there and talk continuously for days?

I used to wonder this, but I came to realise it would be a publicity coup for the filibustering Republican. See "Mr Smith Goes to Washington".

I frankly believe that a lot of Americans would be very impressed and the Republicans cowed by the display of force (because it is - the Master-of-Arms literally has a small army and when it came down to it, if a Republican kept speaking and the Speaker declared that that Republican was out of order, that Republican would be "escorted" out of the chamber).

If this happened, the number of Republicans calling Obama a communist/fascist dictator today would seem like a drop in the ocean. The filibustering Republican would become a folk hero.

The only realistic way of dealing with the filibuster is changing the rules in the next Congress, something which Harry Reid and Dick Durbin support.

If I were employing Mr. Obama and Mr. Emanuel in a critical operation and they maintained that sort of bad attitude, I would caution and then eventually fire them.

You shouldn't fire people for having a mild sense of humor while doing an incredibly stressful job. These are not robots.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 12:36 PM on August 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


The last guy (& lackeys) managed to get a fairly big chunk of what they wanted.

The last guy and lackeys wanted a dismantling of the Federal system. They saw the Federal government as antithetical to what they stood for and so they actively sought to undermine it, from the inside, beyond levels that even their sainted Regan thought sane. They purposly failed to hire thousands of needed workers. They de facto deregulated industry after industry by simply not regulating them or more damaging setting precedents favoring industry which have to be undone through hard fought legislative and regulatory action. In addition to correcting the Bush active neglect, there is also the decades of neglect of infrastructure.

In order just maintain the functions of government, much less undo the bad that Bush et al did in the last 8 and 40+ years, Obama must fill tens of thousands of empty desks (that are already budgeted, just empty) and reestablish regulatory oversite at the same time fighting off accusations of being a big government socialist. Are you starting to see the challenge?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:40 PM on August 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


> > Again, "the President is powerless." You're a smart guy, why do you keep falling for that?

> No, I don't see it that way. The President isn't powerless, but the President's powers are limited in very specific ways,

Yes, no one ever said otherwise, but you're claiming that it's impossible for him even to do anything as limited as "reorganizing his organization so he doesn't have 100+ assistants" and I simply don't believe that's true.

And yes, Mr. Obama has done some good things. I'm positive about the regulatory agency rebuild, they would have collapsed soon. But overall, serious meh.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 12:45 PM on August 16, 2010


It's clear to me that Obama's real mistake is not asking the internet for the magical words that will make the country love him and turn everyone into progressives! How silly of him.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 12:49 PM on August 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yes, no one ever said otherwise, but you're claiming that it's impossible for him even to do anything as limited as "reorganizing his organization so he doesn't have 100+ assistants" and I simply don't believe that's true.

I don't understand why you think 100+ assistants is so damning lupus? Why does it matter if he has 100 or 1000 people working under him? Like I said, its not like he has 100 David Axlerods.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:49 PM on August 16, 2010


Yes, no one ever said otherwise, but you're claiming that it's impossible for him even to do anything as limited as "reorganizing his organization so he doesn't have 100+ assistants" and I simply don't believe that's true.

Why SHOULD he? Just because 100 sounds like a big scary number? What's a better number for him to have, and why? Do you even know what those 100 people do and why they're all unnecessary?
posted by Solon and Thanks at 12:52 PM on August 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'd like to know why we haven't seen more of this.

I suspect that the Republicans are once burned, twice shy.
posted by Mental Wimp at 12:52 PM on August 16, 2010


East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94: your arguments can be summed up by "It is pointless to act - anything we do will lead to failure."

It might be a publicity coup for the Republican filibustering the first time. The second time? The tenth time? When it was presented to people as "Republicans are deliberately paralyzing the country"? When the garbage he was spouting after 20 hours standing upright was appearing on YouTube?

Your claim is that the people who already have contempt for Democrats now will lose respect for them if they suddenly stood up to the Republicans.

Well, why don't they at least try? Who could possibly respect a group that gives up without even trying?

The only realistic way of dealing with the filibuster is changing the rules in the next Congress, something which Harry Reid and Dick Durbin support.

"Perhaps next year..." Honestly - honestly - tell me what you think the chances of that really succeeding?
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 12:57 PM on August 16, 2010


The Myth of the Filibuster
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 1:04 PM on August 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


I just thought I would add to the mix this little quote, since I'm just making my way through Shelby Foote's civil war book:
"...Lincoln could say of the men who had engineered his
nomination in Chicago, "They have gambled me all around,
bought and sold me a hundred times. I cannot begin to fill all
the pledges made in my name.""
posted by Trochanter at 1:06 PM on August 16, 2010


IS there a media outlet that is balanced? If there is, I haven't found it. (And not just for this administration, but everything in general).
posted by sundrop at 1:06 PM on August 16, 2010


> Why SHOULD he? Just because 100 sounds like a big scary number? What's a better number for him to have, and why? Do you even know what those 100 people do and why they're all unnecessary?

I explained a little above, let me clarify. I'm out of time so I can't provide references but these are easy to find.

It's well-known that a manager's effectiveness goes down with the number of individuals reporting to them - not just because each individual takes a certain number of minutes out of your week, but because groups where everyone isn't personally well-known to everyone else function do not function as well.

Of course, in human matters there are great variations, but you basically can't have more than two or three dozen individuals in such a group before there are people who are basically strangers to each other and the effectiveness of the group plummets.

This is why hierarchical organizations evolved. This is why a general doesn't give orders to individual troops. This is why guerilla organizations work so well (because everyone in a given cadre are close to each other and there are very few individuals at any level). This is why in technology (where the entrenched investment isn't as important as in other fields), the story of the small company overwhelming the huge competition with technological breakthroughs is so common.

It looks like he's committing a classic, first-year-business school, potzer beginner blunder: "too many direct reports" - too many people directly reporting to you. It's not like this is some obscure mistake, your dumbest MBA should understand this idea - there are tools that will draw your Table of Operations and highlight people with too many direct reports.

Now, IF this all were working well, then hey, maybe Mr. Obama would be a special case. But it doesn't seem that way from the article. It makes it seem like he's overwhelmed. It makes it seems as if he's drowning in minutia and unable to get big things done.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 1:15 PM on August 16, 2010


The Myth of the Filibuster says that "[A Senator] can be forced to sit on the [Senate] floor to keep us from voting on that legislation for a finite period of time according to existing rules but he/she can't be forced to keep talking for an indefinite period of time."

What's your point? So they can't be forced to speak - but they have to do something, that thing being sitting continuously in the Senate. So make them do that thing! Don't just let them claim that they'd hypothetically filibuster - make them do it!

It's even less photogenic... "Senator Bewlshite continues his fourth day of blocking the Senate's actions. Aides are privately concerned about his personal hygiene and a YouTube video depicting Bewlshite as Jabba the Hut has received over 40 million views.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 1:22 PM on August 16, 2010


It looks like he's committing a classic, first-year-business school, potzer beginner blunder: "too many direct reports" - too many people directly reporting to you.

But nowhere does it say that they're directly reporting to him. It simply says, "There are now upwards of 100 people who have some variation on 'assistant to the president' in their titles." Which is incredibly vague.

He has a Chief of Staff, so the most likely situation is that most of these people are reporting to individuals other than Obama.

It seems... really odd, to say the least, to assume that the POTUS is committing a "first-year-business school" blunder. It's like when a peer-reviewed scientific study is being discussed on the internet and people go "oh yeah well did they use a CONTROL?"
posted by Solon and Thanks at 1:32 PM on August 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


I read the discussion here, and now I'm reading the actual article, and I just have to say: god damn this article is written with the most anoying voice ever. Every single thing has to be folksy or day-in-the-life or a brush with History, of course Lincoln slept there, it's called the Lincoln Bedroom, Eisenhower having a valet doesn't have anything to do with anything either. Please, shut the fuck up and get to the actual story?
posted by paisley henosis at 1:40 PM on August 16, 2010


When the guys who are supposed to be watching your back do stuff like this:

The Senate's top Democrat on Monday came out against plans to build a mosque near the site of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, moving away from President Obama on the controversial election-year issue.

... You're not exactly in the best position to go dictating to everyone else how they should behave.

And lupus: Under current senate rules, it doesn't matter if anyone actually takes the floor to debate or not. As long as there's a possibility someone might want to continue to debate, the only way to move forward, period, is to get a vote for cloture to close the possibility of further debate so the bill can continue.

From the myth of the fillibuster link, upthread: "You cannot force senators to talk during a filibuster," says Dove. "Delay in the Senate is not difficult and, frankly, the only way to end it is through cloture."

Not only can you not require senators to talk, you cannot require the senator theoretically filibustering to be physically present. Only one--any one Republican--has to be on the floor or monitoring action on the floor in time to step in and stop any further action on a pending piece of legislation:

As both Reid's memo and Dove explain, only one Republican would need to monitor the Senate floor. If the majority party tried to move to a vote, he could simply say, "I suggest the absence of a quorum."
posted by saulgoodman at 1:44 PM on August 16, 2010


It looks like he's committing a classic, first-year-business school, potzer beginner blunder

If the answer to a problem looks that simple to you, an outsider, chances are you don't have a full understanding of the problem.
posted by me & my monkey at 2:54 PM on August 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm tired of lefty complaints about Obama that are leading to a rightwing take over of government. Obama is doing a great job and things are going to only get better over time. Those who are attacking him want a total revolution to some lefty utopia that will never be or a reaction to the bad old days. Ralph Nader and the attack Obama from the left crowd can go crawl into a hole with Rush and Glenn Beck and go away for all I care.
posted by humanfont at 3:18 PM on August 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


humanfont: I'm tired of lefty complaints about Obama that are leading to a rightwing take over of government. Obama is doing a great job and things are going to only get better over time. Those who are attacking him want a total revolution to some lefty utopia that will never be or a reaction to the bad old days. Ralph Nader and the attack Obama from the left crowd can go crawl into a hole with Rush and Glenn Beck and go away for all I care.

I'm tired of pseudo-"lefties" who want to insist that Obama is doing a great job and isn't right-wing while ignoring the fact that he has, demonstrably, repeatedly acted in favor of the vested power structure, refused to make a single serious attempt at anything progressive and chicken-little "anti-terror" war hawks almost as bad as goddamn Cheney.

You can't stand the Teabaggers and the Becks and Palins and Bushs? Me neither. But don't shit a shitter, Obama is only Left in comparison to those extreme right-wingers. For Christ's sake, his healthcare bill is to the right of fucking Nixon's and his favorite president is goddamned Ronnie Regan. And it shows.

Yes, he is better than the other guy. Thank god we didn't get the other guy. But he isn't Left by any stretch and campaign promise he is doing the best job of fulfilling is causing more and more deaths for no fucking reason in Afghanistan. WoooOOoo.
posted by paisley henosis at 4:12 PM on August 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Ah, you unicorn guys. Instead of a unicorn it looked like Obama might only be in a position to get you a zebra, so you bitched and moaned and withdrew your support until he was only able to get you a horse, and then you did it a bit more until you got a donkey. Who knows, maybe next time you'll get nothing at all? That seems to be what you are really aiming for. I believe that point is called "the midterms", and you've been campaigning as hard to fuck yourselves over then as any teabagger has.
posted by Artw at 4:27 PM on August 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


Except that he ran on the Zebra platform, got elected with 65+% of the voters wanting Zebras, had an 80% approval rating for his Zebra administration, and then asked the Republicans how they would feel about a horse. They didn't like horse, so he lowered it to mule, which they also didn't like, so he backed away from even that but somehow it squeaked through anyway.

So now we have this sterile beast that nobody wanted and nobody really feels good about, and you want me to be thankful that I don't just have the pile of shit, at least I have this mangy thing to go with it. Well Ok, it's better than just the shit alone. But it is still a shit sight from what I was offered to begin with.
posted by paisley henosis at 4:32 PM on August 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


his favorite president is goddamned Ronnie Regan

What the fuck? Have you somehow missed all the 'I ♥ Lincoln' stuff he's said?
posted by shakespeherian at 4:43 PM on August 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


"All they ever hear at election time is Nigra, Nigra, Nigra."
posted by telstar at 4:47 PM on August 16, 2010


shakespeherian: What the fuck? Have you somehow missed all the 'I ♥ Lincoln' stuff he's said?

I retract that statement.

A bit of googling reveals that Obama said that Reagan "changed the trajectory of America" and "put us on a fundamentally different path" (in a positive way, he implies) but it was Hillary Clinton who named him a a favorite president.

Mea culpa.
posted by paisley henosis at 5:04 PM on August 16, 2010


and his favorite president is goddamned Ronnie Regan. And it shows.

Bill Clinton, is that you? Stop willfully distorting the record, dude. It might make you feel better or more self righteous or whatever, but you are just flat-out wrong here. Address the points I made above or let it go, already. You share a nation-state with an electorate that would likely call Reagan too soft on taxes and terrorism today. You cannot will or wish that out of existence. Once you are willing to traffic in reality, let me know. We could use the help battling the loons.
posted by joe lisboa at 5:30 PM on August 16, 2010


Please, this was tiring prior to the election, when many people appropriately pointed out that the Obama Administration would suck. Its even more tiring, when in the face of mounting evidence of that suckiness you tell us to just hold on for more suckitude.

Speaking of straw men! When you are ready to acknowledge the fact that over a quarter of the members of the opposition party think that this President is a one-man Muslim sleeper cell, get back to me. We go to the polls with the malinformed, ADHD media culture and electorate we have, not the one we want. I fail to see how you addressed a single point of mine, above. Again, once you are ready to traffic in reality, let me know.
posted by joe lisboa at 5:35 PM on August 16, 2010


paisley henosis: I'm tired of pseudo-"lefties" who want to insist that Obama is doing a great job and isn't right-wing while ignoring the fact that he has, demonstrably, repeatedly acted in favor of the vested power structure, refused to make a single serious attempt at anything progressive and chicken-little "anti-terror" war hawks almost as bad as goddamn Cheney.

Since you appear to want to single out my comment and assign a label to me -- I'm not a "pseudo-'lefty'" or any other kind of "lefty."

As to your assertion that he's refused to "make a single serious attempt at anything progressive," it's flatly wrong on its face, and you know it.

And, again, Obama is not a right-wing Democrat, no matter how loudly you yell that he's the evil twin of Dick Cheney. It defies any sort of calculation that the GOP would be expending so much energy, money, time, and political capital destroying a right-wing Democrat. They'd love to work with a real right-wing Democrat, like Ben Nelson or Max Baucus, because their views are indistinguishable from Republican views.
posted by blucevalo at 5:36 PM on August 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


You know, I actually walked away from this article feeling sort of inspired by Obama again. I still don't agree with everything he does, but he's taking the job seriously and trying to do something worthwhile with it.

Hey, so, let's try not to let the Republicans win too many seats in November, all right? Because that will just fuck stuff up more at this point.
posted by Joey Michaels at 7:35 PM on August 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


Here's my take on it all: opposition to the government du jour is a net good. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes and all that. And it's always good to err on the side of, shall we say, over-criticism; people in power are adults and should be able to take harsh words and all that.

The problem, though, is this: the Republicans have effectively become fundamentalist; I don't think any of their planks can be managed with reason at all. The prime example is all that kerfuffle vis-a-vis that Cordoba mosque in New York; if you've ever tried to engage anyone on the merits of being disinterested in where a mosque gets built, you'll quickly realize that they run through four or five bullet points over and over again, without even pausing to reflect whether they make sense in the first place. As positions harden on one side, they tend to harden on the left as well; which is why (what, in any other year, would have been) minor points of disagreement get magnified into hard lines in sand that cannot be crossed.

Now, to get away from all this unpleasantness, you get the sense that the Obama administration is trying to wall itself off and come up with policy in a closed-sort of environment with 'normal' rationality and all that. Problem with that approach is this, you can't create policy in isolation; you run the risk of alienating alternate voices in the humdrum.
posted by the cydonian at 10:14 PM on August 16, 2010


What's your point? So they can't be forced to speak - but they have to do something, that thing being sitting continuously in the Senate. So make them do that thing! Don't just let them claim that they'd hypothetically filibuster - make them do it!

You don't watch a lot of CSPAN do you? The problem is neither does anyone else. NO ONE would watch them do this. People already think it's Mr. Smith reenactments everytime they "block" one of Obama's Socialist Agenda items.

It's well-known that a manager's effectiveness goes down with the number of individuals reporting to them - not just because each individual takes a certain number of minutes out of your week, but because groups where everyone isn't personally well-known to everyone else function do not function as well.

OK, sure, but what gives you the impression that there are 100+ people who are direct reports to Obama Himself? What makes you think that some of these "assistants" are not what we used to call "secretaries" in the type letters, take dictation sense of the word secretary? In fact the article seems to imply that they are:

On the eve of World War II, F.D.R. had six high-level aides who carried the title “administrative assistant to the president.” Harry Truman, after the war, had 12 of them: they met every morning in a semicircle around his desk. There are now upwards of 100 people who have some variation on “assistant to the president” in their titles.

I seriously doubt that Obama has direct oversite over how his mail is sorted each morning or the layout of the certificates of appreciation given to the White House kitchen staff at Christmas. Those jobs go to "assistants" and probably go to assistants that don't even report to an assistant that reports directly to the President. Even Richard Nixon, known for his micromanagement of even the most mundane and trivial of details, went through Halderman to have the White House guard uniforms changed (and after the storm of ridicule, re-changed).
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 4:48 AM on August 17, 2010


More interesting stuff here about Sandra Day O'Connor's recent efforts to bring some serious attention to similar problems of out-sized corporate influence affecting the American judicial system in historically unprecedented new ways.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:01 PM on August 17, 2010


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