Blame Congress


Chris Dierkes

Chris Dierkes (aka CJ Smith). 29 years old, happily married, adroit purveyor and voracious student of all kinds of information, theories, methods of inquiry, and forms of practice. Studying to be a priest in the Anglican Church in Canada. Main interests: military theory, diplomacy, foreign affairs, medieval history, religion & politics (esp. Islam and Christianity), and political grand bargains of all shapes and sizes.

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28 Responses

  1. Avatar Jaybird says:

    Favorite excerpt: “In this sense, at least Maher is honest–he doesn’t care about The Constitution or the rule of law or the separation of powers. He wants a popular charismatic strongman who will push through the agenda Maher wants to see.”

    Amazing insight.

    Once you start seeing that in people who start yelling for a political philosophy, you can’t unsee it… and you start being unable to tell the substantive difference between Maher and Dobson beyond the god they choose to worship.

    (Pity that only one of the two has “Separation of Church and State!” yelled in his face on anywhere near a regular basis, however.)

    Anyway, brilliant essay. Brilliant insight.Report

    • Avatar Tyler says:

      I think you are dead right about Congress. I do think what Maher was doing was a bit of a rhetorical sleight of hand. Who cares if you attack Democratic Congress? No one.

      I think thsi was less about Obama and more about those people who are complacent and think Obama is something he is not. I saw it as a “lazy Americans get up off your ass and demand what you want from your golden boy.” That doesn’t play quite as well if you attack Congress, since no one cares much about them.

      I do think though you have a point. Obama is exactly the president I thought he’d be. That doesn’t mean we should abdicate our duty as citizens to push him.Report

      • Avatar Chris Dierkes says:


        Excellent points. Still, if pressure is put on the President–I’m fine with that it’s part of our system–at some point though he has to say ‘well call your Congressperson.’ At some point it’s up to them. Not him.

        But you’re right nobody cares about attacking Congress bc no one cares about Congress. Which is to my mind part of the problem.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          I suspect that no one cares about congress because there are precious few that feel that their “representative” truly represents them.

          Had Congress not limited membership to 435 in 1911, I suspect that more people would care about Congress. Doing the math comparing the ratio then to the ratio now, we’d have 1325ish Congressmen today… which, I suspect, would improve one’s feeling of representation and, by extension, how much one would care about Congress.

          Also, I suspect, the 17th Amendment had a whole bunch of unintended consequences that resulted in less representation for The People as well (but that’s another rant).Report

          • Avatar Chris Dierkes says:


            i totally am for expansion of the house. maybe even the senate. also: term limits on supreme court justices. as well age limits.Report

            • Avatar Tyler says:


              Whoa…radical! lol

              I like this idea about the expansion of the House, although the House feels so unwieldy and don’t you run the risk of getting even more hacks in their.

              I wonder if there’s a disconnect between who supports what and from where. So lots of people support some form of government health care. Are there enough of those people in the Blug Dog Democrat districts? I’m inclined to say, if anything, its evenly split which allows the Blue Dogs to vote against the Dem majority “safely.”

              This gets to a concern I’ve long had with the Democrats — that they are more a coalition of loosely connected interests as oppposed to a real progressive party with a single vision. Can we be mad at Dems when say the 8 senators who voted against an amendment that would actually stem the tide of foreclosures was the right vote (for their right-leaning constituency)?Report

            • Avatar Kyle says:

              What are the chances we’ll get an expanded post on these?Report

  2. Avatar Dan Summers says:

    Your description of the United States Congress is apt. Instead of a collection of statesmen, we have a gaggle of inept, craven egomaniacs. The last administration seems to have completely etiolated the Congress, and they seem perfectly content to abide in their weakened, ineffectual state.Report

  3. Avatar gto says:

    ahh yes rahm would make everything better.Report

  4. Avatar Freddie says:

    Maher has always self-identified as a libertarian. His seeming turn to the left has been the product of the utter failure of the Bush administration and the lack of any coherent positive agenda that conservatives have been able to come up with in the last decade. I think your analysis here ignores that American elections are a binary, and you don’t always vote for someone out of a conviction they’ll do all the right things– only that you think they’ll do better than the other candidate.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      While I hesitate to disagree with anyone’s self-identification (it’s like the whole “are Mormons really Christians” thing), when a self-identified libertarian starts talking about the things the federal government ought to be doing and it does not focus on “less”, one suspects that one self-identifies as libertarian for reasons related to the ability to say “I’m neither Republican nor Democrat” pithily rather than for reasons related to traditional libertarian philosophy.

      Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course.

      But he’s using the word in such a way that (I suspect) intends associations that many won’t necessarily catch while, at the same time, sends associations that (I assume) aren’t necessarily intended.Report

      • Avatar Mark says:

        You clearly missed Bill Maher’s point over the last however many years: there are some problems that are so large that private business will never solve them. CO2. Health Care. He’s pretty clearly a civil libertarian and a bit of an isolationist.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          I maintain that it is possible to have caught Maher’s point without, in fact, agreeing with it.

          But I am not the libertarian police and would disagree with someone who claimed to be such.

          That said, I don’t think that my original post painted an inaccurate picture… even if (clearly!) Maher’s point is that CO2 is a problem so big that only the Federal Government can tackle it.Report

          • Avatar Mark says:

            Why can’t a “libertarian” want the government to do more? I have a good friend who wants the government out of education, health care…Wants his taxes cut to nothing…But wants the government to provide police, fire and national defense. As Mitch Hedberg once said: “Chicken is the other white meat. You gotta think about it from the Pork’s perspective.”Report

            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              Libertarians don’t say “nobody should be doing X!!!”

              They say “if the government is in charge of X, they’ll just screw it up.”

              When “libertarians” say that they want the government to do more, I assume that they mean “more than what the government is doing now”.

              At that point, it’s useful to ask “huh?” of the person claiming to be libertarian.Report

  5. Avatar Chris Dierkes says:


    Sure of course a person (I did this) votes for someone as hoping they will simply be better than the other guy (or gal), not perfect. But I still think if Maher had done his homework he would have known basically what he was getting. But if all someone followed in the election was Hope and Change, etc. then I could see how they would be disappointed.

    I still think to fall into that is to fundamentally misread how power works in the country–particularly on the domestic front.Report

    • Avatar Mark says:

      Bush said a lot of things, but made his business on the back of Tom Delay whipping egregious bills through the house by one vote. Obama said a lot of things, but it was not inconceivable that he would blast bills through congress that were popular with the public but not with lobbyists who control so many of our congressmen.Report

  6. Avatar Lev says:

    I think Nancy Pelosi provides fairly effective leadership for Democrats in the House, but admittedly there isn’t an obvious Senate equivalent to her. I think Chuck Schumer would do a better job, but I think that part of the problem is that a lot of the Democrats in Congress are holdovers from the Clinton era, in which one could be a Democrat in good standing while whoring oneself to special interests. The progressive movement has yet to really capture the Democratic Party. I wonder if it will.

    But in general this analysis seems about right to me. Reminds me of The Wire: the people who get elevated are the ones who toe the party line and don’t make waves. Then again, America hasn’t really valued grand debates for some time–it’s been more about just getting things done without all that damn talk and deliberation. Sound familiar? In a lot of ways, our political culture reflects our actual culture. This is no accident.Report

    • Avatar Chris Dierkes says:


      Thanks for the comment, good point. That’s a good differentiation between House and Senate. In the end the House has the votes. And they can get it through. but yeah Senate is much tougher.

      The de facto now regular practice of filibustering anything (60 votes now instead of 50) has really been an un-democratic move. It’s really hurt the ability to pass anything of substance in the Senate. Why the Democrats don’t make GOP actually filibuster it out and then play them in the media for thwarting the people’s will I have no idea. Every time a member of the GOP opens his/her mouth they suffer. What better way than to have them keep talking for a long time?Report

  7. Avatar Dan Miller says:

    Chris–you’re absolutely right. The critique of Congress is on the mark, but it’s wrong to just blame this on the unique perfidy of the current occupants. What we need is honest-to-god institutional change, especially in the Senate. Ryan Avent had a solid piece about this recently.Report

  8. Avatar Dan Miller says:

    As for the make-them-filibuster argument–it’s actually a lot more challenging for the parties being filibustered than for the ones doing the filibustering. Basically, the Democrats would have to keep a bunch of people on the floor, while the Republicans would only have to have the one person talking; if the Democrats had few or no people there, the Republican speaking could make a quorum call and once the chair recognized the absence of most people, all action would be suspended. I’m not totally up on the details–parliamentary procedure is outside my usual orbit–but there is a reason besides cowardice, altho that probably plays a role as well. Again, focusing fire on institutional rules makes most sense.Report

    • Avatar Chris Dierkes says:


      Thanks for the clarification. I’ll give the Avent piece a look. Larry Sabato has some stuff in this regard.Report

  9. Avatar Chris Dierkes says:

    thanks. I (and the rest of the League) also really appreciate our excellent commenters.Report

  10. Avatar scott says:

    Sorry to interrupt, but I thought this was a crap post. Apparently, since we should have known that Obama would either back away from or disavow much of his campaign stances on civil liberties, torture, and an aggressive economic policy coupled with strong regulation, we should content ourselves with the warmed-over, compromised post-election reality. And lay a lot of the blame on Congress for not saving Obama from turning into a hack. I guess if you’re comfortable with what Obama proposes to do (ie tinker around the edges with our foreign and economic policy of the last 30 years since it’s been SO successful) then giving him this kind of free pass makes sense. Unlike George Bush, who famously said that his only moment of accountability was the election, I think we ought to hold our leaders responsible for their crappy choices whenever they make them.Report

    • Avatar Chris Dierkes says:


      Well I don’t think he has backed away from much from hi stance on torture, civil liberties, etc. And certainly on foreign policy he’s doing exactly what he said he would do: draw down in Iraq, up the ante in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He would be open to discussions with regimes we haven’t talked to but it would be a cautious (what he sees as) sensible way of going about it.

      I remember him saying last summer he was not opposed to all military trials only the kind the Bush administration had. He said on the campaign trail he would not totally disavow state secrets but that he thought Bush used it too frequently and hamhandedly.

      Again if all people heard was Hope and Change then I suppose they feel like he has betrayed them. I poured over his website’s policy proposals (I think I nerdly read every single one of them), all of his major speeches during the campaign, and this is what was in those. He is doing pretty much everything he said he would do–if you looked in the right spots. He didn’t emphasize that aspect of things during the campaign to be sure. Where he used more fuzzy, vague, feel good language. But I don’t really expect differently from politicians. I don’t feel like he lied, since the information was freely available on his website, in his book.

      The health care plan he’s pushing now is exactly the same one he said he favored during the primaries/general election.

      I don’t know what else to say on that front.

      I think to the degree that things aren’t getting done they aren’t getting done because they involve a great deal of domestic policy. And domestic policy I think should be ruled by the Congress. They have to pass laws. Maybe Obama isn’t pushing hard enough on them to get things done or using his bully pulpit to shame them into some action or something.Report

  11. Avatar Kyle says:

    You know there’s something very Roman about the whole deal. The Senate/Congress jealously guards its patrician closeness to the center of power but is more preoccupied with personal gain through position and connection or positioning for more power than with legislative leadership.

    More and more it seems like the popular American idea of democracy is to demand/promote some sort of plebiscitary strongman.

    With regards to Maher’s complaints, as much as the President’s MO is slow, steady, and with with the wind – not against it, I wonder if he believes that Presidents can actually succeed this way. Clearly he does, but historically, Presidents’ grow weaker not stronger over the course of their administrations. So what is he waiting for to break his way?

    To which we have to wonder, if Obama isn’t willing/able/ready to expend political capital on things like DADT, Healthcare, etc…, when does he think he’ll be able to?

    Next year? Not likely. With an even more Democratic Senate…you know more than the mostly filibuster proof one they currently have?

    The Democrats have the votes. They just don’t have their house in order. So again, blame Congress. But blame the President for not even trying and counting on the future to be easier than today.Report