Storytelling & Politics


Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

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99 Responses

  1. Avatar MFarmer says:

    There are and have been competing narratives between limited government supporters and supporters of progressive statism. The evidence of the weakness of the progressive/statist narrative is that a rag-tag bunch of American citizens who want to cut government spending and stop the expansion of power are being attacked unmecifully by every component of the State machine. When there are no ideas left, you resort to adolescent pranks like Newsweek’s photo of Michele Bachmann and claims like “Tea Party downgrade” — The mighty State is looking pathetic as it flails and strikes out against little old lady shopkeepers from Biloxi.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

      Is this the same rag-tag band of people who want to pretty much keep Medicare exactly where it’s at and not cut defense spending?Report

      • Avatar North says:

        It would be.
        It would also be the rag-tag band that invented “Death Panels”. They’re the same band that claims Obama has increased taxes (in fact he’s cut them, repeatedly). They’re also the group that claims he’s giving up on foreign wars (when he’s infact maintained or even entered into new ones) or undermined security at home (when he’s actually been sadly supportive of the Bush established agencies and policies of surveilance).

        But their message discipline is awe inspiring.Report

        • Avatar MFarmer says:

          North, there are tax increases in the healthcare plan, and there are hidden taxes in Bernanke/Obama monetary policy — taxes that hit the poor the hardest. We haven’t seen anything yet — the dollar will be savaged.

          And “death panels” is a good hyperbolic device to get across the danger of committees deciding healthcare outcomes.Report

          • Avatar North says:

            If by hidden taxes you are alluding to the danger of inflation Mike then I suppose that is technically true. But of course despite the incessant inflation knell for the past two years the price index has been utterly moribund except for when the Middle East upheaval made oil prices spike. So far that makes the inflation fears a paper tiger.

            As for HCR, certainly it included tax increases to fund the services that HCR proposed to provide. That’s kind of a Dem thing: propose programs and along with them revenues streams to fund them. Compared to the GOP policy of legislating programs and then either throwing their costs into general revenue or hiding them off the books I’d say that’s a good thing. Obviously libertarians would disagree so I’ll allow that.Report

            • Avatar MFarmer says:

              I see, as if double the price on gas in two years and higher food prices constitute a paper tiger — not to those who can’t afford the increases. The fact is that inflation has to do with increased supply of money — prices come as a result of inflation — as soon as we see any improvement in the economy, we’ll see dangerously high prices across the board. But if price hikes are looked at objectively, with stubbornly high gas prices, it increases unemployment — now that’s a tax that hurts, unless you have a job and don’t care about those who don’t — the real unemployment rate is around 20% — that’s the narrative that Obama can’t tell, so, yes, he’s not telling the story.Report

          • Avatar Barry says:

            “We haven’t seen anything yet — the dollar will be savaged”

            We’ve been hearing that since January, 2009 (funnily enough, not too much before that).Report

            • Avatar Kolohe says:

              The paleo-right has been pushing this since time immemorial (or at least 1913). The goldsters that advertise on Fox news have been pushing it for almost a decade. And the rest of the right starting pushing it toward the end of the Bush Administration, pointing to commodity price rises (particularly oil) and linking (somewhat accurately, and somewhat not) to the then falling dollar index.Report

              • Avatar MFarmer says:

                And it’s just hype that gold is over 1700 an ounce, and Soros fell for the hype. It makes one wonder. Sure, the dollar is strong and safe. Nothing to see here, move along.Report

            • Avatar Murali says:

              We’ve been hearing that since January, 2009 (funnily enough, not too much before that).

              A bit more than 2 – 3 years ago, the exchange rate was:
              US $1 = SG $1.6

              Now, it is US $1 = SG $1.2.

              That’s 25%. Now is the best time for me to buy stuff from Amazon.Report

      • Avatar MFarmer says:

        I think many of them will agree to wasteful defense cuts, and many are ready to get out of Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.

        The Medicate meme is another indicator of weak snark uised aginst the Tea partiers rather than intelligent argument.

        These people were forced to pay into Medicare and SS from their first paycheck, and it was government who made the promise. So, yes, they have a right to demand government admit to the ponzi schemes. Yet, they are willing to look at a common sense solution — the problem is that Obama and democrats have talked about entitlements but don’t have the guts or honesty to tell the truth and come up with a solution — the TP reps voted for the Ryan Plan.Report

        • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

          Oh nonsense Mike. You can shill for the Tea Party all you like but the fact remains, Democrats have been willing to bend over backwards to compromise on cuts so long as revenue increases were involved. The GOP adamantly refused. Which probably means we’re going to see a full expiration of all the Bush tax cuts soon.Report

          • Avatar MFarmer says:

            getting rid of loopholes was in Ryan’s plan — the nonsense is coming from the Left — it’s getting ridiculous. Plus, they never gave specifics, and while Obama was talking, Peolosi was saying no to all plans having to do with Medicare and SS. Hypocrisy. I’m not shilling for anyone, and your accusation reflects your inability to present a good argument. I’m just looking at what’s fair in analysis of what’s happened.Report

            • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

              Mike, I wrote a post about Obama’s failure to tell a story and why that’s important. You came into the thread railing about the failure of statism. I realize this is how you make your entrance into just about every thread these days, but really this post was about storytelling. I’m a little confused how you’re staying on topic, or even bothering to try.

              Now maybe I’m saying that because of my “inability to present a good argument” or maybe I’m saying that because I get sort of bored with the whole statist-this, statist-that meme you’re peddling. Either way…do you want to talk about the post or do you want to talk about statism?Report

              • Avatar MFarmer says:

                If you’ll reread the comments, you’ll realize I was following the converstation. If you simply want to avoid dealing with disagreement, then you’ll pretend I’m off topic.Report

            • Avatar MFarmer says:

              As we get close to 2012 elections, Democrats will attempt to win by demagouging Medicare. The whole lure of the undisclosed “entitlements on the table” was to get Republicans to propose even more drastic reforms, so the Medicare issue can be used to scare voters. More commercials of little old ladies being pushed off a cliff — yes, that sounds like honest negotiations to fix entitlements. That’s the progressive narrative, fear and smearing.Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach says:

                I agree with you Mike, that Democrats won’t do anything constructive to fix entitlements.

                But I also don’t think that they’d get anything in return for doing so, i.e. would Republican’s agree to a 1 trillion dollar round of stimulus next year if Dems supported the Paul Ryan cuts to Medicare and Social Security?
                If I would take that trade off for one, but don’t think even that right of center compromise could occur.

                And then there’s the fact that Dem scare tactics on Medicare only work because…people WANT Medicare. It’s their favorite form of statism. So really, the Dems are only a proxy in this case for the American public.

                Republican’s defended Medicare last election, and Dems don’t want to be outlfanked on their own issue this time around.

                But you can’t blame the left for being on the winning side of an issue (winning in that it’s popular, not in that I agree with it).

                And don’t pretend for a second that any plan on the right has magical ways of giving seniors cake and letting them eat it to.

                Medicare, bottom line, you make cuts or you increase taxes. Most American’s favor an approach that includes both but heavily favors the latter.Report

              • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

                Right…I understand the whole “pox on both your houses!” thing from a libertarian perspective. What I don’t understand is hyping the GOP or the Tea Party.Report

              • Avatar MFarmer says:

                I’m not hyping the Republican Party, and I’ve explained this a hundred times, but the war on the Tea Party is a diversion from statist failure. The Republican establishment has no plan, either, but some of the limited government reps and senators are going in the right direction. Obama has no progressive narrative to tell, because statism has failed, and the only thing they can do now is what his operatives are planning — destroy the opposition through fear and smear tactics.Report

              • Avatar MFarmer says:

                Who knows what the republicans will agree to, there is no written plan on the table, no budget for almost three years. We will know when there’s a concrete plan to negotiate. The narrative being told is a diversion, and Obama can’t tell the true story, so he repeats talking points. I agree with Eric — but Obama can’t tell the true story, and he has no ideas that will inspire credibility.Report

              • Avatar MFarmer says:

                The one story Obama is trying to tell is incredible. Obama says he’s focusing laser-like on job creation, night and day. He says he will come out with suggestions in a few weeks. If Obama can create jobs, why is he only now promising to do in serveral weeks? If he can really create jobs, why hasn’t he — if government can avoid recessions, why are we still having recessions — why don’t they just implement their plans at the first signs of recession and stop it?Report

          • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

            The intransigence swung both ways, and taxing the rich was ideological, not “pragmatic,” because it could net only $100B tops out of a $1.5B deficit.

            By contrast, right or wrong, opposition to the tax hikes was pragmatic, in that the argument is that raising them will retard needed and necessary growth.

            I understand congresscritters standing on ideology [on either side] to appease their voters, but the president has no excuse—The Buck Stops Here. Even if the House is the villain here, the president needed to bring the budget into closer balance, however he got it done, whatever he needed to do.

            Daddy Bush broke his “read my lips” pledge and lost re-election. That’s what good presidents do. It’s their job.Report

            • Avatar North says:

              But Tom that’s contradictory. Sure raising taxes is economically contactionary but so is cutting spending! If the Tea Party is going to demand that we do contractionary economic policy on the edge of a recession then tax increases are fully as legitimate as spending cuts. I mean the whole brou-haha boils down pretty simply.
              Obama: We’re in a weak economy so I wanna keep raising the debt because contactionary policy will hurt the economy.
              GOP/TP: No! It’s time for fiscal discipline now! No more debt!
              *Some scuffling, GOP/TP wins*
              Obama: Fine, you win. It’s time to deal with the debt. I say we cut spending a lot and increase tax a little.
              GOP/TP: No, we want all spending cuts, no more taxes!
              Obama: Look guys, we’re trying to meet you part way here, I’ve already agreed to cut the debt which I think is a bad idea because it’ll hurt the economy. Look, here I’ll sweeten the pot. Here’s even more spending cuts for less tax increases.
              The Left: *jawdrops*
              GOP/TP: No! No tax increases! We want all spending cuts and also no cuts to defense spending. Also we want entitlement reform now.
              Obama: Guys, come on. My party does control the Presidency and the Senate. If we’re doing contractionary policy then it’s only fair that there’re some tax increases. Look, how about we do a big deal, I’ll put the Bush tax cuts on the table, tax reform and entitlement reform.
              The Left: *craps its pants*
              GOP/TP: No, no more taxes. Also nothing that you can spin as a compromise or a win. Also we want a constitutional balanced budget amendment. In case you don’t think we’re serious here’s Boehner’s scalp.
              Cantor: Mwahaha!
              Boehner: Thank you sirs may I have another?
              Obama: You’ve gotta be kidding me.
              The Left: Thank secular Jeebus they said no!Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                No, it’s not contradictory atall. Mr. North, for arithmetic reasons given. The president’s job is to cut the deficit dramatically, or take the fallout for not doing so.

                I’m not buying your “narrative.” Mine has facts in it.


                [Krugman wants to double down on stimulus. Fine, do it if you can and take the heat. I’ll put a good word in for Jimmy Carter here, and his appointment of Paul Volcker. Carter paid the price for doing the right thing. That was his job.]


              • Avatar North says:

                What arithmetic reasons given Tom?

                And what fact am I misstating?

                Mm yes well Krugman is a Times economist and generally is unconnected to Obama. Unlike on the right the left’s media figures don’t command the left’s politicians.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                Mr. North, $100B in tax-hikes-on-the-wealthy ain’t shit next to a $1.5T deficit. Pls don’t make me say it again.

                I don’t blame either side for their ideologies except when the math doesn’t add up. My criticism of the President is purely on The Buck Stops Here level. You don’t go into war with the Congress you want, you go in with the one you have. If there’s one person we pay to be a trans-ideological grownup, it’s the POTUS.

                If Carter and Bush41 could take their lumps, so must BHO.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                > Mr. North, $100B in tax-hikes-
                > on-the-wealthy ain’t shit next
                > to a $1.5T deficit.

                Tom, you keep bringing this up. To which I keep responding: it ain’t about the numbers (even if we agree on the numbers, which not everyone on the Left does).

                If the Democrats in Congress want tax hikes on the rich so that they can sell themselves to their constituencies, then you either give them their bone to get re-elected or you acknowledge the fact that you’re expecting your political rivals to commit political suicide while you’re not willing to do the same to yourself.

                Now, it’d be nice if every politician was of that mindset, but it’s clearly completely delusional to expect a Democratic caucus to fall on *your* sword, if you’re the GOP.

                That ain’t no way to get no deal done, by gum.

                North’s narrative is about the political narrative, not the economic reality.

                And I think it’s pretty spot-on storytelling.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                Not interested in the narrative, Mr. C. Too many damn narratives. This place is lousy with ’em. Where did all the empiricists and heavy duty wonks go?


                I did take the Dem congressmen off the hook for acting exactly the damn same as the other side they call “terrorists” [see below]. this is the way of things.

                I put it on the president to do whatever needs to be done and hang the electoral consequences. Nothing Reagan, Carter & Bush41 if not Clinton & 43 didn’t do [see Chait, the OP and the original controversy].Report

              • Avatar Rufus F. says:

                Worrying so much about the tax rates for the rich seems like misplaced energy given all the problems with the tax code.

                Eric Cantor: “If the president wants to talk loopholes, we’ll be glad to talk loopholes. We’ve said all along that preferences in the code aren’t something that helps economic growth.”

                Yes, it’s a good time to talk loopholes. Not to mention that there should be much more bipartisan support for that than debating the tax rates for the rich.Report

              • Avatar North says:

                Mr. Tom, 100 billion is not much next to the deficit, agreed, but how is that relevant? You stated that the narrative I laid out is in some way false or non fact based. I submit that it (in a simplified sock puppet manner) represents how the deficit ceiling debate went down. The Democrats offered massive spending cuts in exchange for very small tax increases. The GOP/Tea Party refused all of those offers because of anti-tax absolutism and a desire to “defeat” the president. You respond by saying the tax increases were small and wouldn’t help the deficit. I shall reply: true, but so what? That makes the GOP/TP refusal to budge on them even more astonishing. Not only did they refuse larger deficit reductions, not only did the drive the country to the brink of default, not only did they rattle confidence in the country’s financial political process but they did it over an inconsequential amount of tax increases. That makes their behavior even more damnable, not less.Report

              • Avatar North says:

                Well Tom we can talk the empiricals and wonky stuff all you like (though I’ll note that this particular post was about narratives). But frankly I don’t see that favoring the GOP. Obama has indicated repeatedly he’s willing to cut spending; the GOP refuses to let taxes increase (while they have a choice in the matter). Every wonk, empiricist and economist in the field agrees that tax increases(revenue increases) in combination with spending cuts will be the most rapid means of balancing the Federal accounts. Every pollster agrees that the public overwhelmingly favors a combined revenue/cut strategy. These are the wonky empirical facts. Am I missing something?

                Humm tho I do recall that Krauthammer did pen an article on NRO recently where he conceded that taxes should probably be increased. So it’s not like it’s hopeless.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                Mr. North, I’ve made my argument as well as I can and I understand yours. You want to flame the Tea Party, I say your reasons are not empirically sufficient. The final deal was still a big nothing and fell far short of what’s needed. And even had the GOP surrendered to the $100B demand for raising taxes on the rich, it would have made no substantive difference out of $1.5T.

                [There, you made me say it again anyway.]

                I point no fingers at anyone except the president, whose responsibility it was—and still is—to get a substantive deal done. His is the only inexcusable intransigence. The $100B is ideology, not substance.Report

              • Avatar North says:

                But Tom, the whole point is if the GOP had conceded some revenue increases then the cuts would have been much bigger. The final deal offered as I recall was over twice that amount. You keep saying things are not empirically sufficient but your own arguments are not only not empirical but not even germane to the subject being discussed.
                I give the Tea Party credit where due, they successfully forced the entire government to do a 180 on fiscal policy with a fraction of the Party holding only Congress. That is a tremendous achievement.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                Just read Chait’s “Westen’s Nonsense” piece and am in near-complete agreement. I wrote of the addiction to words over action below, and he sort of acknowledges my point that we elect a president, not a king, not an ideologue-in-chief.

                Westen locates Obama’s inexplicable failure to properly use his storytelling power in some deep-rooted aversion to conflict. He fails to explain why every president of the postwar era has compromised, reversed, or endured the total failure of his domestic agenda. Yes, even George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan infuriated their supporters by routinely watering down their agenda or supporting legislation utterly betraying them, and making rhetorical concessions to the opposition. (Ronald Reagan boasted of increasing agriculture subsidies and called for making the rich pay “their fair share” as part of a tax reform that did in fact increase the tax burden on the rich; Bill Clinton said “the era of big government is over” and ended welfare as an entitlement; etc., etc.)Report

              • Avatar NoPublic says:

                The president’s job is to cut the deficit dramatically, or take the fallout for not doing so.

                Um. Did we forget who the Constitution gives the power of the purse to?

                Or did we perhaps forget that, although he’s the titular head of state he’s not the head of his party nor any of the Caucuses in the Leg?

                This is more Magic Negro crap.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                You missed the point, sir. The president prevented the House from doing its job, get the deal done, avoid the downgrade. Or take the heat for blocking it, which he did.

                By contrast, Carter, Reagan, both Bushes and Clinton did what needed to be done, gave in, and took the heat from their ideological supporters.

                Clearly you have no interest in the substance of this argument, so your participation is unhelpful.Report

              • Avatar NoPublic says:

                I’d really like to hear how the President (who has no role in passing legislation until it crosses his desk) prevented the House (which is R controlled) from doing its job.


                “You aren’t interested, neener, neener” isn’t substance. “Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                Then what was Joe Biden doing in the middle of talks between the Senate and the House?

                You’ve missed the entire argument by coming in late, and your Square One premise isn’t even valid.Report

              • Avatar NoPublic says:

                1) Biden is not Obama
                2) I don’t really need a 2 as you’ve now abandoned your original premise and are wandering somewhere else.

                There is exactly one locus of responsibility for the House’s actions and it’s in the members of the House. Anything else is just storytelling.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                Sir, you can’t even state my original premise fairly, for if you did, you would be obliged to agree with its airtight logic and good sense.


                Goodbye. “Biden isn’t Obama.” Migod.Report

              • Avatar NoPublic says:

                Pardon me for reading your words and not your mind

                You missed the point, sir. The president prevented the House from doing its jobReport

              • Avatar wardsmith says:

                The harsh reality of government jobs creation It is in fact complete crap to pretend that the government in its current manifestation “creates” jobs. That isn’t to say the self-same government hasn’t literally millions of folks in thrall to it for their sustenance. This isn’t just SS and Medicare this includes the military industrial complex Eisenhower was so (rightfully) worried about. In the ‘guns and butter’ argument, the issue is that guns aren’t “constructive” their raison d’ etre is “destructive”.

                Sparta itself failed not because they didn’t have the most kick-ass military in the region (they clearly did) but that their society wasn’t wealthy enough (even with stringent belt-tightening) to support such a large standing army. An analysis of America’s fiscal budget shows a massive (and underfunded) insurance program with a minor security component. 75% of the budget is untouchable entitlements – even the military scrambles with the rest for the remaining crumbs. This is the real elephant in the room and everyone will keep ignoring it until it starts trampling them.Report

          • Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

            Don’t you think it’s problematic to increase taxes during an economic recession/depression?Report

  2. Avatar Just John says:

    Ironically, the “Republican Story” you describe above is not a vision of what America could be or should be. The equivalent “Democratic Story” would be to exaggerate the Tea Party reality into a terrifying immanent threat of fascism or national socialism. Even if there is a hint of that in there somewhere, not only is it not polite to call people fascists when they’re only tending that way, but how far does it get you when most people don’t see a distinction between communists and fascists.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

      I disagree. There is no reason at all that Obama’s story has to be (or had to be) one of fear or painting the Tea Party as fascists. In fact, I’d say that’s exactly the wrong sort of story to tell.Report

      • Avatar Kyle Cupp says:

        Exactly. Forget the demonizing and the caricatures. Obama has an opportunity, even now, to tell a story to the American people about who we are and where we can go, a story that resounds with honesty about our trials and hope for our future, a story that explains what it means, in the day-to-day and in the grand-scheme, to be an American in this tumultuous time.Report

        • Avatar Art Deco says:

          You are being ironic, no?Report

          • Avatar Kyle Cupp says:

            I am quite sincere, Art Deco, and I would likewise like to see an honest and hopeful national narrative put forth by whoever wins the GOP nomination.Report

            • Avatar Art Deco says:


              1. Who we are is pretty much who we are. It does not much matter what the Motormouth-in-Chief has to say about it, our abiding features will abide. Little purpose is usually served calling attention to them.

              2. It does not mean too much to ‘be an American’ at this time or at any other. ‘American’ is a descriptor without much in the way of a functional component. To the extent that it has one it means to respect your civic obligations and to remember that your people are your fellows in whose common welfare you ought to take an interest; they are not some vulgar herd useful only as a contrast with your excellent self. It means that whether the times are tumultuous or not. Not much point in saying a whole lot about this. The folks Thomas Sowell calls the one-uppers are not likely to listen to a working politician tell them their self-image is pretentious.

              3. I think it would have been useful at times in recent years to have political leadership speak honestly and describe our problems with the proper dimensions, but who has the street-cred to do that all that effectively?Report

              • Avatar Kyle Cupp says:

                1. When we say who we are, we tell our story. It’s something we do as individuals, families, communities, churches, nations, and as human beings. I would add that who we are is in part constituted by the stories we tell. We have narrative identities.

                2. American is a descriptor, yes, but, as with all such descriptors, it is pregnant with narrative meaning, historical and otherwise.

                3. Forget street cred. I like stories. Most people do.Report

      • Avatar Just John says:

        I agree that neither Obama nor the Democratic Party should be emulating the Tea Party, narrative-wise. I was just saying that shit-slinging is the level of the Republican story.

        It seems to me that Obama has, on a few occasions, actually started the articulation of a narrative of a new class struggle; but it’s unclear to me whether the audience is ready for it. Since the Dem primary debates he has several times said that upper income people are well off and there’s too much concern about whether tax policy and spending would threaten their well-being, and he’s always put himself in the class who will “be just fine.” He may have taken a page from Edwards’ book there, but his statements of this point seem unique among presidents in my memory (perhaps this is just a failure of memory on my part). A discourse about whatever these statements could lead to as a narrative could point out the absurdity — here and now — of the idea that the system is gunning for the well-off, or that the only necessary precondition for the improvement of the general welfare is for the wealthy to be easily able to become wealthier, or that the essential dividing line between classes is $250,000 per year in income. This last point is something that John McCain reluctantly pointed up during his one-on-one with Rick Warren during the campaign, when he threw out $5 million of annual income as a rough definition of “rich,” but so many people since have seemed to feel it was critically important to make the argument that $250,000/yr is not rich. At a certain point, no one can care about whether it’s a bit harder for you to hang onto an extra buck, but $250k/yr is not that point yet that’s where whatever “debate” happens seems to pivot.Report

      • Avatar wardsmith says:

        E.D. I wish I could post graphics here directly, but this cartoon pretty well puts the lie to many here who claim no aspersions were cast by the left against the Tea Party, all evidence to the contrary.Report

        • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

          Wait, who on earth is claiming that?Report

          • Avatar wardsmith says:

            How about the poster just prior to mine that I was responding to? “just saying that shit-slinging is the level of the Republican story” In point of fact it has been argued on this site (with links) that “librul” sites are too snarky, too often resort to name-calling and condescension etc. to be taken seriously by serious minded individuals. Jingoism goes both ways, but the left uses it as a first resort unfortunately.

            For instance, you disagree with Obama? RACIST!Report

            • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

              I’m pretty sure I’ve never said that liberals don’t mock the Tea Party. I’m pretty sure in this comment thread I’ve said that the narrative Obama should employ should avoid calling Tea Partiers fascists. That doesn’t make me a fan of the TP, just not a fan of the sort of rhetoric that spends all of its time trashing the Other.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                Shut up and eat your Satan sandwich.

                Vice President Joe Biden joined House Democrats in lashing tea party Republicans Monday, accusing them of having “acted like terrorists” in the fight over raising the nation’s debt limit, according to several sources in the room.

                Biden was agreeing with a line of argument made by Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) at a two-hour, closed-door Democratic Caucus meeting.

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                “We have negotiated with terrorists,” an angry Doyle said, according to sources in the room. “This small group of terrorists have made it impossible to spend any money.”

                Biden, driven by his Democratic allies’ misgivings about the debt-limit deal, responded: “They have acted like terrorists.”

                Biden’s office initially declined to comment about what the vice president said inside the closed-door session, but after POLITICO published the remarks, spokeswoman Kendra Barkoff said: “The word was used by several members of Congress. The vice president does not believe it’s an appropriate term in political discourse.”

                Biden later denied he used that term in an interview with CBS.

                “I did not use the terrorism word,” Biden told CBS Evening News anchor and managing editor Scott Pelley.

                Earlier in the day, Biden told Senate Democrats that Republican leaders have “guns to their heads” in trying to negotiate deals.

                The vice president’s hot rhetoric about tea party Republicans underscored the tense moment on Capitol Hill as four party leaders in both chambers work to round up the needed votes in an abbreviated time frame. The bill would raise the debt limit by as much as $2.4 trillion through the end of next year and reduce the deficit by an equal amount over the next decade.

                Democrats had no shortage of colorful phrases in wake of the deal.

                Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) called it a “Satan sandwich,” and Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) called seemed to enjoy the heat analogy, saying: “the Tea Partiers and the GOP have made their slash and burn lunacy clear, and while I do not love this compromise, my vote is a hose to stop the burning. The arsonists must be stopped.”


              • Avatar Rufus F. says:

                Shut up and eat your Satan sandwich.

                Oh, man, please make that the name of your sub-blog!Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                What’s not to like about deviled ham?Report

              • Avatar wardsmith says:

                E.D. I’m sorry if you personalized my statement. Nothing was further from my mind than including you in the “many” I was speaking of. You run a fair site, you allow inclusion of differing voices and you speak with an intelligence and eloquence that should be emulated by us all.

                I said E.D. at the beginning of my post because as the dungeonmaster I figured you knew why <img src= type statements didn't work here, nothing more than that. Again, my apologies for any misunderstanding.Report

  3. Avatar North says:

    This is well written E.D.
    Obama seems to have forgotten that as a secondary (but important) secondary role to his role of Commander in Chief he’s also expected to be Spokesperson in Chief and Politician in Chief of his party. He’s been utterly neglectful of those roles being silent as a stump for the former and leaving it to Pelosi and Reid to do his homework for him for the latter.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

      Thanks. I suppose I was simply baffled by all the really strong pushback (Chait’s post was titled ‘the nonsense of Drew Westen or somesuch).Report

      • Avatar North says:

        TNR’s crew like to circle the wagons and, from a centrist perspective the deal was bad but not so bad that they’d want Obama challenged from his flank and that’s the kind of danger that rumblings like Westen make them think about so they jumped on it with both feet.Report

        • Avatar Barry says:

          It’s still ‘Even the Liberal’ New Republic.Report

          • Avatar North says:

            Sure TNR is center left. Good for em; I like em that way (except Marty, uncle Marty goes badly off the reservation on Israel at the least but at his age I suppose one should excuse his bomb throwing [*note* I don’t excuse his bomb throwing]).Report

  4. Avatar Kyle Cupp says:

    Well said, E.D. Maybe Obama could hire Joss Whedon as a speechwriter. He could use someone with a gift for storytelling, world-building, and myth-making.Report

  5. Avatar E.C. Gach says:

    I agree for the most part E.D.

    If you got back to his Inaugural Adress, there was the semblence of a vision. It mostly had to do with taking the energy of a people who settled the west and created great cities and technological achievements, and putting that toward a new narrative of economic renewal based on individual responsibility and community involement.

    At the time people who liked him on the Right saw it as Reagan-esc, and people who liked him on the Left saw it as channeling Kennedy (and then there were the historians who saw him as most inspired by Lincoln and FDR).

    That’s naturally been lost, becuase as President, he doesn’t actually give many speeches, and an issue like health care, whether or not you believe it should have been tackled then and there, completely convoluted the remaining story.

    If the first stimulus had been sold as immediate tax cuts (some $400 billion), while the second stimulus followed right after, in two more segments of $800 billion over four hears investing in worker retraining, higher education, mass transit, infrastructure maintanance, and energy investment through research grants and subsidizing weatherproofing, I think that not only would the economy be doing better, but that narrative of “back to work” (from On the Water Front) would have stuck better, rather than best that we managed, which was continueing unemployment benefits.

    Instead, months were spent hashing out the Affordable Care Act, even though most Americans wouldn’t see the benefits for years down the road, and either way it wouldn’t help them get back to work. In economic terms it might have made sense to tackle health care, but in psychological terms, people would rather be working and sick than unemployed and have more affordable health insurance.Report

    • Avatar Kolohe says:

      That’s naturally been lost, becuase as President, he doesn’t actually give many speeches,

      This is not really true. Typically he’s talking to somebody or another several times a week.. And definitely more varied than the same few hundred word no more than two theme stump speeches one gives campaigning.

      Now, whether anybody is listening, when the spotlight of a election season is not shining, is a different matter.Report

  6. Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

    This addiction to words and narratives over substance is the problem. At the heart is a complete disrespect for the American people, that they’re too stupid to discern the “correct” narrative, and too gullible for the false one.

    As a conservative [and I don’t mind], I didn’t and don’t bemoan any GOP electoral loss. They had it coming, and for good reasons, not “narrative” ones.

    And the same for when they win. I trust the judgment of the American people more than our politicians’ and pundits’, that’s for damn sure.Report

    • Avatar Kyle Cupp says:

      I favor substantial narratives.Report

    • Avatar Art Deco says:

      People generally have other things to do with their time than cogitate about public affairs. People know what they know which is what they deal with on a day-to-day basis. You get poll results on policy questions which make no sense for this reason. (Among other reasons).

      Some people actually do make a habit of stupidity, but that is neither here nor there. Episodes of collective foolishness are also not hard to locate. (You all ended up with Barack Obama as the Democratic Presidential nominee rather than Bill Richardson. Not too swift).Report

  7. Avatar Art Deco says:

    For a president, it is an imagining of what America could be. For the life of me, I have no idea what Obama’s vision of America is at all.

    This sentence could have been cribbed from a Time magazine article on the Carter Administration, ca 1979. It was, and is, gassy nonsense.

    We need someone with the background and judgment to make good selections from amongst a menu of policy options and to capably superintend a large public bureaucracy (which means first and foremost how to manage your time and how to select the right people to be your subordinates).

    Harold MacMillan put it best: “If people want a sense of purpose, let them get it from their archbishops”.Report

  8. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    I think there are just going to be two camps on this one. I count myself in the skeptic camp as to the overriding importance of the Westen thesis. But st the same time, neither I nor, I don’t think, many people in my camp deny that the storytelling role exists, or has any importance at all. We just tend to downplay it a great deal relative to the importance of policy compared to the cottage industry of commentary that Westen’s piece seems to have give rise to. Though perhaps some people do. But if you read Chait, probably the most strident analyst on my side, closely, you see he doesn’t deny that storytelling has any importance. It’s just not what we should mostly care about, which is policy. And he does criticize the president for the things he does think are important.

    I think it’s fine for their to be a divergence of views on this that doesn’t get resolved, but then I would think that, since my position is just that I don’t think the analysis on the table just isn’t that important, not that it’s wrong. (I.e. I don’t agree with the analysis that Westen is just wrong in many instance simply because Obama made certain speeches. He clearly didn’t make the cases Westen wanted him to in the sustained way he wanted him to. It’s just that I don’t see the potential benefit of him having done so to be nearly as important as Westen and his fellow-travellers do.) So it’s really not a problem for me that this narrative has taken hold and many people have taken it on board. It’s just that the case for it’s importance simply hasn’t been made as far as i’m concered. And because the issue is it’s importance, I probably won’t really engage the question that much from here on in – because it’s not that important.

    I doo think the simple question of differing fundamental positions between Westen and Obama has been somewhat ludicrously overlooked here. To a large degree, this is simply a policy dispute that imputes to Obama a more leftish view than there is evidence that he has, and from there faults him for convincing the electorate of a visioin he doesn’t really adhere to, or at least is quite ambivalent about, or was when the policy decisions in question were being made. (For example, I think Obama simply mistakenly decided a <$1T stimulus would be enough, siding with advisers who said it would. that makes Westen's diagnosis really at odds with what actually determined what message about the stimulus needed to be delivered. Or rather, perhaps the problem could have existed either way – a failure to defend the stimulus in strong terms, but that the correct policy decision would have been what actually mattered. I.e., the antithesis of the Westen position. Politics affects policy affects politics, yes. But policymakers make policy decisions, and they're mostly what matters.)Report

  9. Avatar Art Deco says:

    We do not need Churchill.

    We need someone like this guy:

    Finland paid its debts.Report

  10. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    I’ve failed completely to understand the preciousness of viewing the Presidency as a platform for storytelling. Perhaps that’s because I dissociate the phrase “storytelling” from things like fairy tales read to children at bedtime. That’s one kind of storytelling, but so is Anna Karenina. Fact is, we tell stories to one another; that is how we relate to the world. When you go home tonight to your spouse or S.O., you will tell him or her stories about your day.

    So what’s wrong with Obama as a storyteller? Erik hit the point in the OP — he lost the initiative:

    During his campaign, Obama did craft a narrative. But it was quickly captured by the Tea Party and by Obama’s political opponents in congress once he took office. Along with the lost narrative, Obama and the Democrats time and again came to the bargaining table with policies so far to the right they were often leftovers from past Republican congresses… [Emphases added]

    I think Erik’s second operative verb more accurately describes what happened than the first. The Tea Party narrative was very different than the Campaign Obama narrative. To the Campaign Obama narrative, government is a benevolent, assisting, assuring protector, one which could be made to intervene in the economy to save it from itself and to make America a more prosperous place. Happy days are here again.

    To the Tea Party, government intervention in the economy is socialism standing up and revealing its ugly, statist face; Obama’s political appeals are a sinister siren’s call to free citizens to unwittingly forfeit their rights, liberty, and autonomy; and only Tea Party Republicans have the guts to see things for what they are and prevent the transformation of our country into a new Soviet Union.

    Well, I’m a guy who tells stories for a living, and I do it in the face of adversaries who tell stories at least as diametrically opposed to mine as the Team Obama story is diametrically opposed to the Tea Party story. I use actual facts in my stories, of course, and when they are good, so do my adversaries. Political narratives are free from the requirement that they actually relate themselves to objectively verifiable facts.

    Facts are primarily useful to the competitive storyteller as weapons with which to poke holes in the other guy’s story and to demonstrate why he can’t possibly be right. But you can’t spend all your time doing that. The more time you spend on the other guy’s story, the more times that story gets told to the audience (or the jury, or the electorate, as the case may be). What you want is to get them on your side. That means you have to tell your story, one that is both emotionally compelling and at least harmonious with the facts.

    If Obama wants to get back in the driver’s seat, he has all the tools of the Presidency at his disposal with which to re-seize the initiative. But as the recent budget deal made clear, the initiative rests with those politicians who are pitching themselves to the Tea Party crowd and not with America’s Prime Minister.Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew says:

      I certainly don’t see the storytelling role as entirely precious. It’s just that in the broad world of politics, much more than just that matters, and especially in our modern media environment, the story is both not under the control of the storyteller, and marginalized in terms of how people form their ideas. In the courtroom, all the context that goes into forming opinions is systematically excluded from what the jury or judge is to take into account in making a decision; all that is consideredare the stories that are told and the admitted evidence that gives truth or lie to those. In politics, people take whatever they want into account in how to form views, and they have ever-increasing sources of information entirely apart from what one politician says to use to do that. Further, nothing is constant or defined about the audience that politicians have to try to relate to, while in the courtroom, the audience is defined precisely, is a captive audience, and must form decisions on certain, exactly-defined questions.

      All this context (and I think the splintering media environment is the major part of this situation that Westen fails to address) makes telling a compelling story that people actually pay attention to an increasingly difficult proposition in the contemporary political environment, and therefore likely a decreasingly valuable thing for presidents (or other leaders) to focus on. This doesn’t show that Westen is wrong that Obama hasn’t succeeded in telling such a story, nor does it completely dismiss the importance of the presidnt’s providing the country with a narrative for what it is experiencing, but it is a reason why in my view it just isn’t anything like an important enough thing to either command 3000 words on the front of the Sunday Review section of the Times (though it’s a well-written, thought-provking piece, and I have no problem with them publishing it at normal Op-Ed length alongside other views), or for it to be a remotely satisfying answer to the question, “What Happened To Obama?”Report

    • Avatar wardsmith says:

      @Burt, I’ve had plenty of dealings with lawyers (in the south they like to pronounce it ‘liars’) and your telling leaves out a few salient details. Such as, admission of evidence. Lawyers fight like hell to make sure that damning evidence be expurgated by whatever means necessary. Does that show that lawyers are truth seekers out to ensure that justice is done, or merely that they will resort to any and all means to make sure their client wins? Politics is no different, hell, 95% of all politicians are lawyers! In the court of public opinion, the politician/lawyers are well aware they can’t resort to legal chicanery to exclude facts from the record, so they resort to histrionics instead, much harder to debate them. The means have changed but the results are the same, as long as they can win by screaming loudest and longest they will do so.

      Farmer is right, these guys work for US and WE need to hold them accountable or kick their sorry asses off the stage. That goes for both parties BTW, but the republicans are (currently) more accountable to their base than the democrats. The democrats have done an excellent job of “capturing” a majority of their base. The worst case scenario for a democrat isn’t that their base will vote for the opposition (never happen) but that they’ll vote with their feet and not show up at the polling booth.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        All I can say to the concerns raised by Michael Drew and wardsmith are that we lawyers actually have a good deal less control over the facts that juries hear than we would prefer, and a good deal less control over who hears those facts than we would prefer. Rare indeed is the case in which sufficient amounts of time, money, and manpower can be devoted to the sorts of jury manipulation techniques that you see depicted in movies; rarer yet (in my experience) is the judge who is weak enough to allow those sorts of tools to overrule her sense of appropriate procedure. Nor have I ever seen the lawyer yet who suborned perjury. (I have seen lawyers willing to allow their clients to deceive juries by omission, but not by comission.)

        Which is not to say that these are invalid critiques of my point. But as between lawyers dealing with what we smugly call “bad facts” and politicians, lawyers will at least address the facts in some fashion — perhaps to suggest that they can be readily dismissed or ignored, but they will be acknowledged in some way.

        Politicians will just make shit up. When you point to the truth, they’ll call you the liar.Report

        • Avatar Michael Drew says:

          Burt – I acknowledge I may have overstated the extent to which the courtroom environment is controlled. Notice, though, that I don’t say that it is controlled by any one advocate — only that it is, at the end of the day, quite a controlled, predictable environment — compared to addressing a nation.

          But I don’t think I need to have nailed the precise exigencies of the courtroom in order to have made the point, which you seem to acknowledge, that addressing a courtroom and addressing the nation are basically totally different ballgames, and that this is, then, a presumptively flawed comparison. Not that they’re completely unrelated – obviously they both are examples of stages where people rise to persuade audiences. But that is quite obvious, and from there I think the differences (which I enumerated), not any further similarities, become the more salient features in the comparison. I might be persuaded otherwise if you argued more than you do that I should see it your way, but at first blush the differences stand out pretty clearly to me (even if I understated the variables at play in the courtroom somewhat).

          I’d also say that your point about the constraint on lawyers to tether their arguments to facts tends to reinforce my point about the overall slipperiness of the storytelling endeavor we are prescribing for presidents and other in the modern media environment and in the age of mass idstrust of institutions. (isn’t that, in any case, a difference that you are pointing out between the venues, when your point was that they are comparable and mine is that they are less so?) Voters well understand and assume that what they are being told by politicians these days is bunk. Obama did suggest he aspired to try to improve that dynamic as president in his campaign, but that does not mean he is now operating in an environment where that is not true. My point is that this problem of distrust, as well as the general splintering of the media, make the job of putting a cross a narrative a much greater one than it was when this archetype (no coincidence that FDR appears at the top of this post) was set. And these things also, along with the general fact that the domain of politics in a democracy is just whatever captures people’s attention and priorities and that, unlike in a trial where the issue is a defined question for the duration of the exercise, distinguish the presidential stage from the advocate’s bench.Report

  11. Avatar Kolohe says:

    During his campaign, Obama did craft a narrative. But it was quickly captured by the Tea Party and by Obama’s political opponents in congress once he took office.

    I wouldn’t call it ‘quickly’ but that’s a quibble. One other contributing factor to Obama losing the initiative not mentioned already above, and one that I think is substantially underrated – particularly when dealing with narratives – is this:

    The 2008 campaign season was *long*. And since it was wide open, people were paying attention far longer than had been in the past. So by the time Obama actually took office, he had been in the public eye consistently for over two years. If he were a luxury car, you’d be looking to turn it in from your lease by then.

    Add that to the fact the Bush Administration had the biggest case of senioritis in living memory (for both good and bad reasons) and you had Obama arriving into the Oval Office on January 20, with people already figuring he should have ‘got a lot of stuff done already’ – at least subliminally. When of course, he couldn’t. And when things actively got worse, well, Obama had been around so long that people are naturally going to blame him for the problems. (and this is on top of a valid Buck Stops There assignment, as Mr Van Dyke said)

    (and also a minor point, Obama at least in my recollection, did seem really loathe to say things weren’t all that good after he did take office. He had a typical politician’s aversion to ‘talking down the economy’, at least how I remember it.)Report

  12. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    I’m going to try now for a bottom line on this topic that I want to quit but can’t seem to.

    Obama absolutely does need to start telling a good story about our country during his presidency, because it is something that presidents should do because we like to hear such things from them, and because it would be helpful to him. But likely not all that helpful, though, largely because of the media environment that such stories have to penetrate these days if they are to become broadly heard and understood, much less embraced and repeated. And also because, while we do like a good story, ultimately it’s not that important. More important is how we are actually doing in our own lives, which is not something, I think, that a president can make us feel much different about by his words alone in normal times. 1933 was not normal times. 1941 was not normal times. These are normal times. Crappy times, but normal times. People look to their president for one simple thing in normal times: what can you/are you doing to make my life better? Not: what can you tell me to give me some encouragement that I can make it through this abject disaster I am experiencing, times >50% of the population (i.e. not normal times).

    In other words, Obama needs better conditions, better facts. He needs to do what he can to create them. Telling stories better could have helped and can help on the margins, but better policy decisions would have helped far, far more. Poor storytelling, in other words, is not his main problem. Moreover, if he had better facts, he would be able to tell far better stories. Bill Clinton had freaking fantastic facts around which to weave his narratives after 1994 or so. Obama has much crappier facts to tell stories about. In my view, Westen simply begs the question of his own thesis by saying that the bad facts really flow from the failure of storytelling. And that really is pretty much what he says in the piece. Not just that storytelling is important and Obama has been surprisingly weak at it, but that the material problems caused by Obama’s policy failures flow ultimately from his inabilit to transform the political and thus the policymaking environment through the power of narrative. That is the Sorkin Fallacy, and it is why Westen’s piece has rightly been called a fantasy. If its critics have completely dismissed the narrative-spinning role of the presidency, they have been wrong to. That is an important national role of the president completely on its own merit. it’s just not central to the success and failure of presidencies in the way Westen suggests, except in times of extraordinary national trauma, which these are not.

    We need good policy from this president. A good story would be nice, too.Report