The Insipid Campaign Cycle Of 2012


Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Editor-in-Chief Emeritus of Ordinary Times. Relapsed Lawyer, admitted to practice law (under his real name) in California and Oregon. On Twitter, to his frequent regret, at @burtlikko. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.

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194 Responses

  1. Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

    I’m going to remain cautiously optimistic that the debates will create some excitement…but probabaly not. If they are lame I am officially tuning out.Report

  2. Avatar sonmi451 says:

    You’re disappointed that Obama is not liberal enough, and … so you want Mitt Romney to be leading the poll instead of him?Report

    • Avatar LarryM says:

      It depends upon the issues you’re concerned about:

      (1) Financial services industry – a good case can be made that a more “liberal” Obama would have actually INCREASED his popularity. I’d say the political/policy/establishment center on this is considerably to the right of the public’s center on this issue.

      (2) Immigration – the reverse is true here; more liberal on immigration would indeed have hurt him. Ditto climate change.

      (3) Stimulus/monetary policy – this is more of a middle ground, and of course his ability to affect either more than he did was institutionally limited. But IF you believe that a more “liberal” policy would have led to lower unemployment, it would have been a political winner.

      (4) Foreign policy – again I’d argue that the public’s views are (slightly) to the “left” of Washington’s views right now; I don’t think, for example, that not intervening in Libya would have hurt him – possibly it would have helped him. OTOH, any kind of foreign policy that would make a true non-interventionist like me happy would have been politically suicidal.

      (5) Health care – it has hurt him overall, no question. Arguably a more “liberal” version (a public option) wouldn’t have hurt him any worse, and might have helped with base mobilization. Also, while plans to cut medicare were responsible and the right call in terms of the nation’s future, I think a more “left” option on this would have avoided damage to him among older voters. Of course, health reform might not have passed without the medicare cuts offsetting the program’s expense. So really the whole area is fraught, except that you can argue that the program as it was passed arguably hit the sweet spot of being as politically damaging as possible, pissing off many while satisfying almost no one.

      Then I could go on and list a bunch of other policies that liberals like that would have hurt him; you’re not entirely wrong by any means. But public opinion, especially outside the party bases, is more complex than the traditional left/right dichotomy suggests.Report

      • Avatar Dan Miller says:

        That was very well put together. The only thing I’d add is to note that right now, our system of passing laws is pretty fundamentally broken (what with the 60-vote Senate, divided government, and large budget deficits). As long as these conditions persist, it’s hard to credibly promise to pass an actual program–there’s no way to guarantee that anyone elected will be able to accomplish anything. I’m not sure I agree with Burt’s point that “I still have no real idea what Obama wants to do with America”–but even if he did the best possible job of explaining his agenda, odds are little would get done.Report

        • Avatar LarryM says:


          While tending to agree that our current institutions are broken, I don’t even see that as the biggest part of the problem. I also think there is a lot of truth to the notion that both parties are bought and paid for by corporate America, but I don’t even necessarily see THAT as the biggest part of the problem. To the extent that we are screwed going forward, and I think we probably are, I think it’s combination of:

          (1) Both parties rigid adherence to an interventionism that, increasingly, is unsustainable and counter productive.
          (2) The long term budget crisis, which both parties seem incapable or unwilling to address (and no, I don’t think the institutional barriers are the problem here; given the hard choices that need to be made, we would effectively need a super majority for ANY significant budgetary deal, even if that wasn’t an institutional necessity). I actually think the Republicans are WORSE on this, YMMV, but neither party will grapple with this, and both need to.Report

          • Avatar Dan Miller says:

            I’m not sure about your point 2. Obamacare was an attempt to deal with the long-term budget crisis (per Ezra Klein, we don’t have a Medicare problem or a budget-deficit problem–the real issue with the long-term budget deficit is that health care costs of all types are exploding). And it passed with essentially zero support from one side of the aisle. If it had only needed fifty votes, rather than sixty, it could have been stronger still by including a public option, at the cost of hemorrhaging even more support from conservatives. The point is that there are attempts to fix this issue that don’t rely on a supermajority, and those attempts could be even stronger with proper institutional reform. I could be wrong on this, however, and it’s kind of a moot point given that institutional reform is in pretty short supply.

            I’d also add a third point to your two, however, about the failure to do much of anything to address global warming. Natural gas is great, but we’re not doing nearly enough to avoid catastrophe in the future. The fact that this isn’t a huge issue in the election is a disgrace.Report

            • Avatar LarryM says:

              On 2, I mostly disagree (I did say the Dems were better) because I don’t think the health care plan does enough (and of course increases costs in other ways). Firstly, it probably doesn’t do enough to bend the cost curve; secondly, while that is PART of the long term budget problem, it isn’t all of it (the other primary factor being a higher elderly population proportionately, not to mention higher interest costs if, as seems likely, we let the deficit problem continue to fester).

              Also, the Dems are in an odd place on taxes right now, basically saying that no one but the rich should pay more. Thus, they are the inverse of the Republicans; where the Republicans are supposed low spending party who really aren’t, the Democrats are the supposed high tax party who really aren’t. But we’ll need more revenues, not just lower (projected) spending.

              On #3, I’ve given up on climate change. I just see no way politically – not just here, but internationally – to act on it. We better hope that the technological optimists are correct and that there will be a technological fix, or that the reality of global warning ends up being on the low end of the scientific projections, or both. I’m not that optimistic about either & don’t want to rely upon that, but that is, I think, where we are.Report

            • Avatar BobbyC says:

              Ezra Klein is an idiot. Saying that we want to make and honor a promise to pay for unlimited healthcare, but that system and the deficits it leads to are not the real problems, because the real problem is that costs keep going up … it’s just so hostile to common sense and basic economics. Obamacare / PPACA was “an attempt to deal with long-run deficits” only inasmuch as President Obama and like-minded policymakers believed that falsehood. You cannot control prices by increasing subsidies and declaring the prices will go down (which is how PPACA primarily cuts costs).Report

      • Avatar BobbyC says:

        Very good list – really spot on.

        For the last couple yrs I’ve been beating the drum that Obama should push entitlement reform, deficit cutting, and tax reform as a way to co-opt the Republican / Tea Party zeitgeist. That should have been his reaction probably even before the 2010 smackdown midterms. The problem is that Obama really does not understand the economy, but thinks that he does. What he understands is politics and social justice, which means that he is just the wrong person for right now.Report

        • Avatar Troublesome Frog says:

          Isn’t that what Romney is trying to do? If the Tea Party isn’t buying it from him, why would it work for Obama?Report

          • Avatar BobbyC says:

            I just thought that Obama doing even the smallest deficit cutting stuff would have gteed his reelection. Looks like he’s coasting to victory anyway, but maybe Mitt-of-the-silver-spoon deserves some blame for that.Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko says:

      You’re disappointed that Obama is not liberal enough, and … so you want Mitt Romney to be leading the poll instead of him?

      Wow. That’s… so not what I wrote.Report

  3. Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

    I’ll probably flesh this out with a frontpage post, but I think the belief that there’s little substantive difference between the parties is actually a sign of a certain amount of 1. socio-economic status and 2. white maleness.

    Particularly when you consider the yahoos in Congress and the crazies running things in state capitals there’s an enormous difference between the political parties. The thing is the choice between Obama and Romney doesn’t seem a big deal to you because it won’t materially impact you in a big way.Report

    • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

      Particularly when you consider the yahoos in Congress and the crazies running things in state capitals there’s an enormous difference between the political parties. The thing is the choice between Obama and Romney doesn’t seem a big deal to you because it won’t materially impact you in a big way.

      So particularly state legislators and congress are the problem, but voting for the President one way or the other is going to make a big difference? You’re going to have to flesh that out a bit more.Report

      • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

        Who is more likely to go along with Eric Cantor’s agenda? Obama or Romney?Report

        • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

          Cantor has a different problem than either Obama or Romney.

          I expect Romney will go with Cantor to the extent that it increases Romney’s chances of a second term at President, and exactly no farther.

          Put another way, I expect that the people who now think that Romney is the guy he says he is today instead of the guy he was six years ago will find – if elected – that he’s not the guy that they want. He’s the guy who is going to do what it takes to get elected agian.Report

          • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

            Given that he appears to think that pandering to the far right base of his party is the means of getting elected right now, it seems if he does win it’ll vindicate that instinct. And this from a fella who doesn’t seem to have great instincts on this matter in the first place.Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko says:

      The thing is the choice between Obama and Romney doesn’t seem a big deal to you because it won’t materially impact you in a big way.

      Yeah, that much is pretty much spot on from where I sit. I don’t see how my privileged position in society impacts that, but of course those with privilege are blind to its effects. I’ll look forward to your post.Report

    • Avatar BobbyC says:

      I agree – there is a huge difference between the Paul Ryan / Ron Paul types and a Mitt Romney as well.

      As for socio-economic status, that is a reason to see a BIG difference between Obama and Romney. Given the uncertainty inherent in our fiscal profile, the matter of tax rates the next few yrs is very important to rich people. Basically, rich people want to gather as much wealth as possible before the big showdown over the debt. We are still very early in that process, but the political issues for the wealthy are very stark between Obama and Romney.Report

  4. Avatar Michelle says:

    Interesting piece, Burt. I like the ham sandwich analogy. While I do think that there are some differences between the two parties, these differences serve to mask the fact that both are wholly owned corporate subsidiaries, more beholden to the big businesses who fund them than they are to the general public.

    I’ve come to similar conclusions about Obama as you have, and think Romney is basically George W. Bush with a better vocabulary and more impressive résumé. I don’t think either has much of a grasp in the real issues facing people who aren’t in the top 20th percentile as both are locked into an obsolete economic paradigm of limitless growth and consumerism in an age where the limitations to both are becoming increasingly apparent. Neither party seems willing to think outside that box, or to have any particularly compelling ideas that haven’t been floating around since the 1970s and 80s. Instead, they’ve become ever more vituperative in defending their power, particularly the Republicans and the professionally and perpetually outraged Republican commentariat.

    I’ll take that ham sandwich now.Report

    • Avatar BobbyC says:

      Romney deserves some distance from Bush 43!! I mean Romney actually is a success story and a talented, capable manager. He rose at Bain to be the CEO – you don’t get that job because your dad was talented! What did Bush 43 ever accomplish of comparable difficulty? Also Romney is prima facie a good bit smarter than W.

      As for “limitless growth and consumerism”, we’re having enough trouble just getting the labor market to clear, much less being ready to talk about addressing the root materialism of our culture. Well … actually … maybe if we keep Obama and like-minded progressives in charge the economic stagnation will eventually force that cultural change … and we can kind of hang out, be impoverished, and talk about how we’ve transcended materialism. Then again, I call that human suffering and would rather see us get everyone working, motivated, growing, thriving, struggling to success and optimistic about the possibility of the future.Report

      • Avatar Michelle says:

        I think my comment implied that Romney is smarter and more accomplished that W, but he’s a piss poor politician. Moreover, he’s done nothing to distinguish his policies from those of Bush. Instead, he’s doubling down on the same Bush policies that helped bring down the economy. Bush may have been banned from the RNC, but the party hasn’t dealt with his legacy, nor formulated any new policies to move them beyond the Bush years. Instead, Romney’s been stuck with doubling down on social issues and trickle-down tax policy. Maybe he believes this nonsense, maybe he doesn’t. It’s hard to tell since he won’t lay out any specifics. But it seems fewer and fewer people are buying.

        If somehow Romney wins the presidency, he’s going to run into the same walls Obama has and he’s offered nothing but the typical Republican bromides about free enterprise and deregulation as a means to break them down. Yeah, that’ll work.Report

        • Avatar BobbyC says:

          Say what you will about Romney (I’m not defending him further!), but he has a legitimate chance of addressing the deficit if elected. The main reason is that Democrats fancy themselves reasonable people who like to compromise and pass reforms. On the flip side, Obama will find a 2nd term v hard – the first moment will be in mid-Feb when he realizes, after letting the tax cuts expire, that the Republicans won’t vote for middle-class-only tax cuts. He’s going to have that awful feeling that I get when I make a bad bluff in poker.Report

          • Avatar Troublesome Frog says:

            Something I just want to point out about phrasing: The “middle class only” tax cuts (cuts of the marginal rates for the middle class) are also tax cuts for the rich. The rich just don’t appreciate them because they’re small potatoes for them. Tax cuts in the marginal rates for the rich, however, are actually tax cuts *just* for the rich.Report

          • Avatar Michelle says:

            I think it’s far more likely, given the few specifics he’s offered, that, in the tradition of Reagan and W, he’ll increase the debt far faster than Obama.Report

  5. Avatar Kazzy says:

    I like the Obama brand. I like what he attempted to and still attempts to symbolize. The problem is, that’s not who he is. The record just doesn’t support it.

    And I don’t understand all the ambivalence and vitriol for Romney on the right. I think the Republican machine really shot themselves in the foot by pushing so hard against Romney in the primaries.Report

    • Avatar Kimmi says:

      pub machine threw gobs of money to get romney to win.
      people. don’t. like. romney.
      they like him worse after meeting him.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:


        I realize that you have mentioned personal experience with Romney and do not mean to discount that in any way. I’m certain there is ample reason for folks to not like him. But it seems that Republicans and conservatives who might otherwise be inclined to like him or at least rally in support of him have been turned off by the machine demonizing him throughout the primaries.Report

        • Avatar Kimmi says:

          no, actually, haven’t ever met the man. Know folks who have, of course… but those are aforementioned friends of a friend…
          I do think that the whole media machine against romney did cause some enmity.Report

          • Avatar Michelle says:

            I think Romney brought it on himself. I don’t know whether in personal situations he is or is not likeable but, on camera, he doesn’t come off well. There’s just something off and not quite human about him that doesn’t wear we’ll with repeated exposure.Report

          • Avatar Kazzy says:

            My apologies, Kimmi. I thought you said something recently about one of the candidates treating you poorly during an in-person interaction.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley says:

          I have a friend who worked with Romney at Bain. His take is that Romney is genuinely a nice decent guy and a very good CEO. “If we were electing a CEO for America,” he said, “I’d vote for him. But we’re electing a president, not a CEO.”Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        My expectation is that for both of them, meeting them in person would benefit one’s personal opinion of either. They are politicians, after all, and they must possess innate charisma and have been through a lot of charm school to get where they are. It’s their political appeal, not their personal likeability, which I find deficient.Report

        • Avatar Kimmi says:

          romney’s only ability is swindling people out of money. in person he insults folks as a matter of habit (got him what he wanted quicker as a kid, i suppose…)Report

  6. Avatar zic says:

    I disagree. I think this election has had more policy discussion, though not necessarily policy discussion from the candidates lips, then most.

    Example being the 47% video. Since it’s release, there’s been more discussion from the media about tax policy, about entitlement programs, and how these things fit into the federal budget, then in many years. My Sweetie and I have long played a game with people when we get into political discussions: hand them a scrap of paper, and ask them to draw a pie chart of the four or five biggest expenditures of the federal government. Nobody got even close. Until this week, and suddenly, three people came very close. So there’s that.

    Another example is foreign policy. Again, I think we’ve benefitted from Romney’s gaffe, that foreign policy has taken on a level of focus by folks who don’t typically focus.

    Obama and Romney, both, have been candidates responding to the electorate in the environment of elections covered as horse race. This season, despite the medias constant attempts at horse-race handicapping, actual policy seems to have slipped in the door. I expect the debates will reflect this changed environment, too.

    Know hope.Report

  7. Not all elections are going to be dramatic. Some of them are mere 1996’s. Also, let’s remember, the 2000 election wasn’t all that noteworthy until the kerfuffle over Florida.

    Also, as Nob and Michelle pointed out above, the parties that are contending for control differ on key issues, or if their positions don’t differ by all that much, what they are likely to actually do does present a difference, and although we can only speculate on what they would do, that speculation is informed by past practice. For example, my prediction regarding the ACA if Romney wins and if Republicans retain control of the House:

    The house will repeal most of the ACA (except for a few heartstring, protect the children measures). The senate republicans will ally with one or two Dems and force the repeal through as a “budget reconciliation measure.” And Romney, despite his endorsement of much of the practical ACA policies, will sign the repeal into law. Afterward, there will be no health insurance reform along what Romney claims to endorse. That may be a good thing or a bad thing depending on how you feel about the ACA, but it would be a difference.Report

    • Avatar BobbyC says:

      We’ve discussed how PPACA would change under a Romney administration at work. I think the Republicans would actually pass something quite similar. Their objections are mostly show in my view. They know that many of the elements of the bill are deeply popular, but that the bill-writ-large is deeply unpopular. They just need to enact the same law but make it 45 pages instead of 2000, kill the individual mandate and replace it with a tax credit (same damn thing!), get a bunch of moderate Dems to support it, and call it a bipartisan triumph. And they would slash reimbursement rates for hospitals to make it work. I don’t like the law myself, but Republicans mainly like running against it.Report

      • You may be right, of course. I suspect, however, the the GOP can agree more on repealing the act rather than how to replace it. If they want to keep their pro-repeal coalition, they’ll have to do so within the next two years.

        However (and again) you might be right. Maybe they will “repeal” the ACA by passing another law along terms similar to the ones you describe.Report

  8. Just for the record, I am still pretty happy with Obama. On issues closest to my heart, he has done what I wanted. I think he’s done remarkably well, given the rank obstructionism and seething hatred from the other side of the aisle, to accomplish a lot of his agenda.

    But I do agree that this is an awfully dreary election season.Report

    • Avatar Kimmi says:

      +1. Seeing Boehner drunkenly slosh through a speech was pretty fun.
      Clint Eastwood is pretty fun.
      Mitt Romney hanging his arm around Ryan’s neck and saying “sometimes even future presidents make mistakes”… pretty cool.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        Oh, there’s been moments.

        Clint Eastwood was painful.Report

        • Avatar Kimmi says:

          Old Man has an argument with chair. Chair wins.

          Old Man has a simultaneous argument with red blinky light. Old Man wins.Report

        • Avatar BobbyC says:

          I thought Clint Eastwood was very very effective. It didn’t matter to the left, but it spoke to the middle. He said, “the President is an empty chair, he would even admit he is a failure, he is just a person who has an ego not a king we serve, he likes riding around in Air Force One, he works for us and it’s our responsibility to fire him if he’s not getting the job done.” I believe that got through to plenty of people and moved more votes to Romney than any other speech at the Republican convention. Not as many as Clinton moved with his indictment of Romney and defense of Obama, but plenty nonetheless.Report

    • Avatar Scott Fields says:

      Thanks for this Russell.

      I’m with you on Obama. As a principled pragmatist (thnx Mr. Kelly), Obama has done a lot of what I’ve wanted. And, I do believe he’s been playing a long game and he’s not done.Report

    • Avatar agorabum says:

      I’m happy with Obama too; he’s playing the long game and was able to squeeze a lot of transformation (all the the energy / health / transportation in the stimulus, and of course ACA/obamacare) into what little room he had to maneuver (legislation acceptable to the 60th most liberal senator).

      I suppose it is a ‘dreary’ election season, but that’s because of who Romeny is and his agenda. It’s just more benefits for the rich / powerful. Which doesn’t sell to the electorate. So they don’t try to sell it, they try to obfuscate, and they try to use the right wing media to amplify all the far right attacks (teleprompter, birth certificate, etc) that get no traction with anyone not already drinking the kool-aid. Romney’s foreign policy argument is “obama apologies for america.” I think that’s it. There was a SNL sketch that showed Obama’s campaign strategy: just point out what Romney keeps saying, the end. Seems to be doing the trick…
      But I don’t understand what a non-dreary election season would really be…

      Also: some ham sandwiches rule. Excellent ham, quality cheese, a bit of mustard, fresh bread…Report

    • Avatar North says:

      I’m substantively with the doc on most policy.
      On his messaging and brand I disliked Obama enormously but he’s finally been slapped out of it and the leaner meaner actual politician Obama* we have now sits relatively well with me.

      *that is to say the actual person he was in 2008 beneath all that Hope&Change glitter.Report

      • Avatar BobbyC says:

        Hopefully future Presidential candidates learn the lesson that declaring one’s brand to be all about “compromise” makes for a poor negotiating position.Report

  9. Avatar Kimmi says:

    I want this election to stick around for the next 42 days.
    I ain’t done laughin’ yet.Report

  10. Avatar James Hanley says:

    Is it just me, or is this not the dreariest Presidential election anyone can recall?

    I think the excitement of the 2000 recount and all that happened in the GWB presidency make it easy to forget just how dreadfully dreary that campaign season was. The Cold War was over, we were going to have a peace dividend, foreign policy didn’t matter, and we’d come to something of a DLC/GOP consensus on taxes and economic regulation. Two candidates incapable of keeping an audience awake droned on for months about essentially nothing.

    But of course in the end, it did matter which one got elected, because unforeseen events occurred, and the response of W was different than would have been the response of Gore.Report

    • Avatar Dan Miller says:

      Even before 9/11, though, there were major differences. The Bush tax cuts of 2001 were certainly very important (and a grotesque error, in my view, but at any rate important), and they wouldn’t have happened with President Gore. They passed in Spring of 2001 IIRC.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe says:

        They both were pushing for tax cuts. The magnitude of Gore’s would have been smaller, and though Gore campaigned on ‘targetted’ tax cuts, likely with a GOP congress the compromise would have been still across the board tax cuts. And I would bet that the sunset provisions wouldn’t have been in there, because that was the compromise for Bush to get the marginal member on board for bi-partisanship.

        And I’ll say again that Obama’s fully had it in his power to repeal the Bush tax cuts in this term, because of the sunset provision and his veto pen. He has chosen not to use it.Report

        • Avatar Dan Miller says:

          True, although the circumstances are different. The aftermath of a nasty recession with a weak recovery isn’t the time to raise them–hopefully he’ll have more room to maneuver in his second term.Report

  11. Avatar bookdragon01 says:

    Honestly, I rather like Obama and will be voting for him, not just against Romney. However, I’m a moderate and never imagined that Obama was anything but a liberal-leaning moderate, so my main disappointment with him is that he tried too hard to do what he promised to do: govern by reaching out to the other side and building consensus. He should have realized much earlier that the GOP was having none of that.

    Other than that, given the hand he was dealt, I think he’s done pretty well. I got out of automotive before the crash, but my family and friends in OH and MI are certainly better off than they would have been without him. He passed healthcare reform that at least begins to address the problems faced by people with pre-existing conditions (if conservatives are serious about the idea that the free market can fix the egregious behavior of for-profit health insurance, they’ll find a way to leave at least that in place). He got us out of Iraq in a measured, intelligent manner. He didn’t cave to the far left of his party when it came to other military and security-related issues, even knowing that it would probably hurt him come re-election.

    Now, that said, a full disclaimer has to include this: the fact that a GOP businessman with no foreign policy experience has adopted GWB’s neo-cons as his foreign policy advisors would probably swing my vote to the Dems even if they were running a ‘syphlitic camel’.

    Add to that the fact that I’m female and Romney’s party (I won’t say Romney himself since I can’t begin to sort out where he actually stands here) has in fact been doing their best to convince people of my gender that a vote for the other guys would be in our self interest. Simply the fact that people like Rush Limbaugh is held in any esteem by the GOP is frankly a pretty argument for not supporting them.Report

    • Avatar Michelle says:

      I’ve always thought Obama was a moderate as well. My main disappointments with him are on civil liberties issues and his embrace of Bush policies that, to my mind, dangerously expand executive power.

      I agree with you on the Republican stances on women’s issues. While I believe that for the Republican elite, these kinds of social issues are largely a sideshow for the base, the increasing power and prevelance of that base, particularly at the state level, has enabled them to pass a lot of legislation I see as harmful to women.Report

      • Avatar bookdragon01 says:

        I waver on some of the civil liberties issues, which is probably a terrible thing to admit, but I find some of them legit gray areas.

        I’d like Guantanamo closed, but there are people there with literally no place to go that wouldn’t be a death sentence. In an ideal world we’d compensate them for an unjust imprisonment by letting them into the US, but in reality a lot of them would probably seek revenge in ways that would come back to bite us.

        I’m ambivalent about drones – lots of ways that could go wrong, but given a choice between my cousin (a Marine) being sent in and risking his life to take out a terrorist or attacking via remote control, I’ll side with my aunt on preferring remote control.

        I firmly disagree in the ‘kill list’. While I understand that we can’t make some of the names public, there should be checks-and-balances.

        It goes on. However, do I believe the Republicans would do better wrt civil liberties? No. No, absolutely not. So for me that pretty neutralizes the issue wrt Romney vs Obama.Report

        • Avatar Michelle says:

          Yeah, I think this is an area where you can say Republicans are bad, but Democrats aren’t much better, but at least they are better.Report

          • Avatar Glyph says:

            Only for now. The issue is that each administration claims for itself new powers & ways to violate civil liberties; then, in the next election when the other guys get in, the new guys never give any of those powers up (even if they campaigned against them before elected). Obama kept Bush’s mistakes and added a few of his own on this front.

            So I expect a Pres. Romney wouldn’t give up the ‘kill list’; plus he’d probably do something else egregious; which would set precedent that the next Dem to get elected wouldn’t give up either.

            Civil liberties is a bipartisan disaster at this point.Report

      • Avatar BobbyC says:

        The sad fact for Republican intellectuals is that the base is really, really all about the social issues. I get excited for the libertarian takeover of the Republican party in the primaries, and I realize my naivete at the convention.

        Obama IS a moderate – push immigration reform, end the wars, close tax loopholes, close Guantanamo, go with single-payer, push cap-and-trade, don’t defend DADT (which he did), support gay marriage (which he didn’t), cut the military budget, break up the banks.Report

        • Avatar zic says:

          go with single-payer

          Can you explain this? Because I don’t see anything remotely like single payer, other then in the Medicare/Veteran systems. And I don’t recall Obama every supporting or suggesting it, either.

          support gay marriage

          doing now. Thankfully.

          break up the banks.

          When did this happen? Something new I haven’t heard about? Because I recall a world where banks were, quite to my dismay, encouraged to merge, or was the battle between Citi and Wells Fargo over Wachovia just for show?

          Really; you get a +1 on ‘Obama is a moderate,’ but he’s been a far more conservative moderate then your giving him credit for being; the exceptions being finally supporting the Lily Ledbetter act, marriage equality, ending DADT, and not defending DOMA; all issues of equal rights for a groups denied those rights.Report

          • Avatar BobbyC says:

            Sorry, I was not clear. I meant the Obama IS a moderate because a real liberal would have done all those real liberal things. He followed on gay rights – both gay marriage and DADT. He passed PPACA which is the bill the insurance industry wanted. He told senior Wall St executives “I’m going to have to talk tough for a few wks” during the AIG bonus scandal (which was shameful all around). He tabled immigration reform and cap-and-trade because he decided that they weren’t worth the political capital given their dim prospects. And he’s right in the middle of the long standing bipartisan consensus on killing foreigners like it gets America bonus points at the pearly gates.Report

  12. Avatar Jaybird says:

    As a Libertarian, I’m looking at an election between two people that I’m not crazy about but see potential for not minding, really.

    Obama has been pretty good on gays in the military and, finally, is displaying a backbone when it comes to gay marriage. He sucks on the WoD, WoT, and is pretty much a disappointment with his domestic policies (from GM to Solyandra to Fast and Furious to Obamacare) and his international policies were “not bad” insofar as he pulled us out of Iraq until this last Middle East thing which is seriously ugly and not looking good at all.

    That said, there are two Mitt Romneys. The Mitt Romney who was Governor of Massachusetts wasn’t *THAT* bad on social issues. Ladyparts weren’t an issue. Gay Marriage wasn’t an issue… allowing us to talk about money and budgets and whatnot. I could see myself being not being an enthusiastic fan but neither having much reason to oppose the guy either. “We could do a lot worse”, I could see saying. The problem is that the guy who ran for and then was the Governor of Massachusetts ain’t running for president. We’ve got someone who cares about ladyparts, someone who cares about protecting traditional marriage, someone who cares about all of this silly culture war bullshit. My main hope with regards to the possibility of his getting elected is that he’s hollow inside and honestly doesn’t give a crap about anything but money and sees arguing about ladyparts and/or gay marriage as obstacles to making money. (This doesn’t strike me as *THAT* unlikely.) The possibility also exists that Mitt Romney will say anything to keep power and if he thinks that attacking gays, medicinal weed, and ladyparts will give him and allow him to keep more power then he will attack gays, medicinal weed, and ladyparts in order to get and keep more power. (This also doesn’t strike me as *THAT* unlikely.)

    Both are really disappointing (excepting the one area where Obama is pretty good).

    This election sucks.Report

    • Avatar Glyph says:

      Pretty much what JB said.Report

    • Avatar BobbyC says:

      I’m also a libertarian disappointed with 2012 Romney. He follows and expands upon my disappointment with 2008 McCain, kisser-of-the-Falwell-ring.

      I am somewhat allergic to Obama at this point, because he is so smart and so talented and just not up to the task. We need someone who gets the fiscal issues and understands the moral dimension of unassigned debts. Obama can read the words on the teleprompter but it’s not in his bones to think about economic realities and intertemporal budget constraints.

      I give Obama no credit on gay rights by the way. He did not lead whatsoever. He moved on gay marriage well after the country did and deserves nothing in the way of praise. He actually had the Justice Dept fight to defend the constitutionality of DADT in the courts. Negative credit, even if the good and decent American people dragged self-interested politicians into accepting that other people being themselves is neither a crime nor a threat.Report

      • Avatar North says:

        In fairness to Obama, BobbyC, an arguement can be made that Obama’s endorsement has prompted a sea change among African Americans that has seriously impacted some key Gay Marriage fights at the state level. I agree Obama moved only once he saw few political costs to doing so but at least he did move.Report

        • Avatar BobbyC says:

          I understand the rationale for grading Obama on a curve with other politicians, including Republicans. Viewed that way, he’s really good on social issues. But I tend to grade Obama vs the Obama of his two books and my own mental model of him.

          I had not considered the idea that Obama moved the opinion of many blacks towards gays. Blacks have been hugely anti-gay as a group, so that’s nice I guess.Report

  13. Avatar James Hanley says:

    Obama believes, with a vengeance (just wait!), in [the drab slavery of socialist control].

    I love this because it’s irrefutable. “But we haven’t seen it yet!” “Oh, you just wait!” The guy who couldn’t bring himself to engage in a full court press for a true national health care program, but supported one that’s a big boon to the big insurance corporations, the guy who wishes like hell he could sell off the gov’t owned GM stocks without getting slammed for taking a big loss for the taxpayers, the guy who’s allowed expansion of swordfish fishing in Hawai’i and tripled the take limit on endangered loggerhead turtles and done nothing to rein in coal companies’ mountain-top removal practices (Source)… that guy is seeking “the drab slavery of socialist control”?

    How odd is it that he’s got all the progressives who should be agreeing with him* confused, but all the Real True ConservativesTM can see right through him?

    *I know, progressives don’t want the drab slavery of socialist control, either, but the Real True ConservativesTM think they do.Report

    • Avatar Chris says:

      What you fail to take into account is that because he’s working so hard to empower radical Muslims across the world, he’s setting the stage for an international socialist takeover via Sharia Law.

      This conclusion, by the way, is true.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer says:


      This is why I have such a hard time understanding conservatives. They seem to sincerely believe that we are secretly creeping towards gray Soviet socialism. This makes me think of two things:

      1. Do they know anything about socialism?

      2. What do conservatives mean by freedom and liberty? Why is it always connected to big business and never social and civil liberties?Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        What do conservatives mean by freedom and liberty?

        “They win.”Report

        • Avatar NewDealer says:

          That seems to be the caseReport

          • Avatar BobbyC says:

            No no no … those are fair enough charges for Republican operatives, but you’re missing the narrative!

            Commentators may get a bit loose with the term socialism, which I try not to do myself, but their point is valid. The economic system of socialism may be defunct, but many of the motivating ideas of Marxism are at the heart of the modern welfare state, mixed capitalism, and political arguments over income inequality, regulation, taxation, etc.

            Also liberty and freedom depend on economic freedom – the left forgot this along the way in the 20th century and we’ve been adding drag to the ship ever since. But we’ve got a mightly fine ship and it may go on a while yet.Report

            • Avatar zic says:


              Are you sure about that?

              I think your whole argument misses something vital: until the 1890’s or thereabouts, the federal government funded itself, in part, through the sale of land. The land ever to the west; to the Ohio Valley, the Great Plains, and beyond.

              So much of the whole notion of liberty and economic freedom was based on selling other peoples land. (And I’m not even trying to place slave labor in this whole scheme, but it’s there, too; ending it was also paid for with the sale of land out West.) It took the robber barrons, the roaring 20’s, WWI and the Great Depression to figure out that, short on any more land to sell, there needed to be another way to pay for things.

              Now looking back, it’s convenient to call taxes socialism. But somehow, it seems a bit more honest then the genocide, slavery, and land theft that went down before the 20th century.Report

              • Avatar BobbyC says:

                It’s an interesting critique. If I understand your point, it’s wrong (or incomplete, perhaps) to say that liberty and freedom depended on economic freedom and then the left went and forgot about economic freedom, because long before that economic freedom was a hoax / undermined by bad takings (eg killing Native Americans, selling their land to raise revenue, enslaving part of society, etc).

                I think I can agree with you that the govt had some morally despicable ways of raising revenue prior to the left forgetting about economic freedom as a root necessary condition for other liberties. They are not mutually exclusive in any way. So I agree that I left out a complaint about govt generally doing bad things before FDR transformed the federal govt. And, to be fair to me, I didn’t call taxes socialism, but I do think that the idea of progressive taxation owes a debt to Marx, indirectly.Report

            • Avatar greginak says:

              Marxism isn’t really about mixed capitalism. You are making the same mistake you claim conservatives do. And if we have political arguments over some topics we are being “Marxist” ??? that’s weak or really poorly phrased.Report

              • Avatar BobbyC says:

                It was perfectly phrased!!! Marxist ideas are the motivating ideas.

                Marxism isn’t about mixed capitalism, but mixed capitalism sure is about Marxism – just what do you think is being mixed in? State control of resources!

                Example: Banking. Banking as it is now is a good example of mixed capitalism. We do not have state owned banks, as we would in socialism, but we have bank capital rules written by govt regulators which direct the flow of capital. Buying govt bonds is zero risk weight. Buying AAA rated (by govt chartered rating agencies) securities gets a low risk weight. Investing in real assets, like businesses and commodities, attracts huge capital. That’s somewhere short of social ownership of capital, but definitely the “mixed” comes from Marx.Report

              • Avatar greginak says:

                People are free to buy all sorts of goods and invest money where they want therefore we live in a libertarian/free market world.

                Using any incidence of gov doing something as evidence Marxism is easy and lazy. Basically any gov therefore means we have Marxism. How is that a useful definition other then for throwing poo and trying to score weak debating points.

                PS your line of comments, btw, has led to billions of pixels being spilled between libertarians and liberals. Are you going with there should be no regulations at all or no safety net at all.Report

              • Avatar BobbyC says:

                Can I buy a kidney? Can I invest in a startup to take NFL wagers?

                You seem to think that I regard Marxism as some sort of grand-daddy of slams. I do not. I just meant it as an explanation of why people misuse the word socialism, while still having a substantive point. Read my first comment!

                As for whether all govt is Marxist, come on! Are you seriously resisting the reality that there is capitalism, there is socialism, and the idea of mixed capitalism is that it mixes a bit of both?? What on earth is it mixing into capitalism if not a bit of public control over capital, a bit o’ socialism? Marx can say that a bit ‘o socialism is not his idea of socialism, but that isn’t the same as telling me that Marxist ideas are not the motivating ideas behind mixed capitalism. They are!

                I am libertarian broadly, but I would have a safety net. It wouldn’t be Norway-pretty. And even some laws too.Report

            • Avatar James H. says:

              many of the motivating ideas of Marxism are at the heart of the modern welfare state, mixed capitalism, and political arguments over income inequality, regulation, taxation, etc.

              Well, no. I’ve read Marx. I’m a libertarian and a free marketer, so I’m no fan of Marx. But that’s not Marx you’re talking about.

              One of the least understood things about Marx is that he wasn’t attacking capitalism from the outside or asking for it to be more tight,y controlled/regulated. He was doing what academics call an “internal critique.” He was writing explicitly within the classical economics tradition that stemmed from Adam Smith, and explaining what he saw as inherent contradictions within capitalism that he thought would eventually cause it to collapse. But the state he saw as just an outgrowth of the capitalistic system so he never had any interest in trying to use it to constrain capitalism–how could it control what it was the creation of?

              Welfare states, mixed capitalism, regulation…those things are anti-Marxist because they try to keep the basis of the capitalist system while making it work more nicely. Marx would not have seen them as improvements so much as doomed efforts to prop up a system that will inevitably collapse.Report

              • Avatar Shazbot2 says:

                I agree with Hanley, but want to point out a couple of complications.

                1. Marx does think that the form of economy determines the form of government. So it does seem like the government can’t fundamentally change what form the economy takes. But in the Manifesto, marks recommends that people get together and form a political revolution that will create a new government, and then a new kind of econmony. That’s a sort of contradiction in Marx and Marxism that leads all sorts of Marxists to think all sorts of things about what the best way forward is.

                2. The original claim by Bobby C. (who just seems out to score cheap points against Soshiulism, by tarring it with the evil name of “Marx” who is by definition evilly wrong about everything) is partly true. Marx claims that capitalist economies do not do away with (though are better than earlier forms of economy) exploitation and alienation. And modern liberals do think that a laissez faire economy would be too exploitative, and alienating. Thus, liberals believe that progressive taxation used to create things like public schools and universal healthcare, along woth strong unions, will make society less exlpolitative and alienating, and maybe that is better than aiming at a Marxist utopia.

                Does that sound right, James?Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:


                Agreed, but I think calling social safety nets, etc., “Marxist” in and of themselves is at best very dubious, and generally just kind of cheap, a way of shutting off debate rather than promoting it.Report

              • Avatar Shazbot2 says:

                Agreed again Hanley!Report

              • Avatar BobbyC says:

                My comment was really to respond to someone saying that conservatives are idiots when they misuse the term socialism. That’s nit picky in my view. I know plenty of plain folk who would make such a mistake, but the substance of their criticism of the modern welfare state, which they call socialist, is accurate. The people shutting off debate and the ones who attempt to disqualify them from the conversation because they are uneducated as to the proper use of the -isms.Report

              • Avatar BobbyC says:

                No no no … I’m not out for cheap points! Marx was brilliant. I love reading Marx. His critique of capitalism is excellent and so worthwhile. The whole socialism thing was very wrong, both as an idea and as a practical matter. I don’t see how you got that from my comment – I really said no such thing!

                I wish every American read Marx. My point was that the big ideas on the left are at heart Marxist ideas about how society works. The solution, experts doing some light central planning, borrows heavily from the ideas of Marx, even if James Hanley is correct to point out that Marx himself rejected such incrementalism. That’s your point #2, which I agree with, which is that the left’s ideas come from Marx (and also from Keynes and some others, eg Benthem, but really from Marx).Report

              • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

                It’s also notable that Marx and Engels were writing in an intellectual tradition that stemmed from the Prussian Enlightenment as much as the English Industrial Revolution. A lot of it was a rejection of Hegelian state dialectics that was waxing on and on about the greatness of the state as purpose. (In fact, the Hegelian enlightenment tradition of Prussia has more in common with the modern progressive than anything Marxist does)Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                These were points raised in some of Jason’s posts. Those were nice posts. Why doesn’t Jason post more (and why don’t you?)?Report

              • Avatar BobbyC says:

                That is very fair … I do agree that the Prussian state is the granddaddy here … and to the extent that Marx was pointing out the crony capitalism involved, which he was, that was excellent. I didn’t mean to set off some whole Marxism review … I was just interrupting the echo chamber of NewDealer and Burt Likko waxing on about how conservative notions of freedom and liberty are taglines on what are at base partisan interests. And my point was that people interested in understanding conservatives, not the operatives who are manipulating people, but real conservative Americans in red states like many I know, should understand that when they say socialism in the context of the American economy they are complaining about mixed capitalism and using the wrong word.Report

              • Avatar BobbyC says:

                Well, yes. I understand that the Marxist critique of capitalism is part of his broader dialectic materialism. I too have read Marx. Marx did not propose mixed capitalism. In fact, later Marx was very upset by the trend towards mixed capitalism and complained about it as appeasement basically. So I agree with your presentation. What is unclear is why you don’t agree with my statement?

                Marx saw society as class interests played out via social institutions. That is precisely the motivating idea behind the leftist view of income inequality as a social problem. Marx rejects the liberal vision of capitalism as voluntary cooperation. That too is at the heart of the leftist critique of capitalism – the “you didn’t build that” theme. Incomes are not justly earned property but rather value that has been expropriated from labor. That’s Marx. And that is the motivating idea behind progressive taxation.

                Anyway, I repeat.Report

            • Avatar James K says:

              The economic model motivating the left these days is corporatism, not socialism. Socialism has never been a big force in American politics, and it certainly isn’t now.Report

              • Avatar BobbyC says:

                Funny, I thought corporatism was motivating the political class, those bad agents who sell out the public interest to improve their personal lot in life.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer says:

      2000 was the first Presidential election, I could vote in and was a college junior at the time. This is what I remember.

      1. Students arguing about Gore v. Nader and whether the Democratic and Republican Partys were the same. This got strong sometimes.

      2. My Dramatic writing professor saying “America is about to elect a very stupid man” right before election day. That man being Bush II. He then told us about how is Father danced on the dining room table when the radio announced that FDR died and how he grew up in a Kansas Republican family but regretted pulling the leaver for Nixon in 1960 immediately. He went Democratic in 1964 and never turned back.

      You can probably tell a lot about my background from these stories. Or at least the kind of undergrad school I went to. One where the lonely freshman who tried to form College Republicans was damned to failure every year.Report

  14. Avatar trizzlor says:

    I think the big problem is that both candidates are essentially avoiding their records, which makes debate over substantive issues very difficult. In that sense, Clinton’s speech at the convention was so well received because he explicitly laid out what Democrats have accomplished and what they can be proud of. This is really a failure of media, who have been bullied into very limited contact with each candidate and end up using that precious time to try to draw out gaffes. I think it’s a very bad sign that one of the more “successful” political media startups, Buzzfeed, simply applied the 4chan/TMZ model of “Top 10 Viral Moments” to politics.Report

  15. Avatar NewDealer says:

    I think that there are still a lot of Democratic supporters and liberal/progressives who are firm supporters of the President. The whole “liberals are disappointed in Obama” meme seems to be a projection from the media in my eye. My hard-left friends might be disappointed but they probably would prefer having a viable Green party in any election. We do dislike and distrust Romney but that does not mean we are voting Democratic because it is the lesser of two evils.

    I also think that we are seeing real ideological differences between the Democratic and Republican Parties. The Democratic Party is finally winning their foothold in the culture wars and not hiding from things like contraceptives and that there is nothing wrong with pre-marital sex. Hence inviting Sandra Fluke to speak at the DNC. I thought she was great. Also Obamacare and fighting against voter suppression.

    I never saw President Obama as the second coming of Roosevelt or Tip O’Neil. He is a center-left pragmatic politician.Report

    • Avatar agorabum says:

      Agreed; I think the disappointment is how the 2008 coalition stayed home in 2010 and let the republicans take the house. So there was about two years of moderate change, and then a lot of partisan theater. Instead of additional jobs programs and infrastructure development, we got the debt ceiling crisis.Report

    • Avatar BobbyC says:

      The hard-left folks that I know are disappointed in Obama. The only ones who aren’t disappointed had low expectations, as you did. He also didn’t really speak forcefully to leftist ideas – in fact, he keeps giving these speeches filled with conservative code words which get me all excited that he will act on them. He did a couple big crony capitalist things in the first two yrs and has been in remission since the 2010 midterms.

      I also know a surprising number of lifelong Republicans who voted for Obama in 2008 (including me). None of them will be voting for him this time, but there is little love lost for Romney among that crowd either (including me).Report

    • Avatar Shazbot2 says:

      Also, the ACA is the most important legislation since Johnson was president. Some might say that’s worth an “A,” from a non-conservative POV, especially combined with ending DADT, advocating for gay marriage and the repeal of DOMA, the lesser Dream Act, the auto-bailout, CAFE standards, and the fact that the stimulus did enact a laundry list of small-bore liberal programs that would have been touted as huge liberal successes if they had passed under Clinton piecemeal.

      If you’re a liberal, or a moderate liberal, you ought to Obama just below or tied with Kennedy and Johnson on a list of greatest liberal presidents (sort of a sad list, sadly) of the last 100 years, after only one term, with a chance to move well past them.

      No president in our time will be anywhere near as important as FDR from a liberal POV. That’s almost like trying to be more impactful than Lincoln. But Obama has a chance of being the second most important, succesful liberal president of the last 100 years.

      If you’re a conservative or libertarian or hard-core socialist, you should give the president lower marks (and maybe Bush higher marks, I dunno.)Report

      • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

        Kennedy should never ever be on a list of great liberal presidents…really the man’s signature policy achievement was to NOT end the world in a crisis of his own making.Report

        • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

          As the joke goes, JFK’s greatest accomplishment for the liberal cause was getting shot in the head.Report

        • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

          his own making

          He installed the missiles in Cuba?Report

          • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

            It’s not like those missiles appeared for no reason.

            The CIA trying to train exiles to overthrow your government tends to breed resentment and nuclear armament plans….

            …huh, I wonder why that sounds so familiar today…Report

        • Avatar Shazbot2 says:

          Yeah, I guess I was thinking of Kennedy as responsible for some of Johnson’s achievements on civil rights and the Great Society, but that’s not really accurate as you suggest. Kennedy’s assassination and Johnson’s successes made Kennedy’s legacy more than Kennedy’s record. Though maybe Kennedy’s rhetoric helped the cause in some weak way.Report

  16. Avatar Ryan Noonan says:

    Obama’s weakness has always been overrated. He is an incumbent presiding over an improving economy. Granted, it’s not improving all that quickly, but the trend is upward. And his approval rating hovers right around 50 percent.

    Those of us who live on the internet commit something like the pundit’s fallacy when we conclude that our unenthusiastic view of Obama is widely shared. There’s not all that much evidence that it is.Report

    • Avatar ktward says:

      There is a Pew analysis, that comes to mind– by now a tad dated but at the time it afforded me an Aha moment:

      [Via July 16-26 survey],Currently, 79% of Romney voters have a favorable impression of him, while 12% report an unfavorable impression. This compares with an overwhelming 97% favorability rating for George W. Bush among his supporters in the fall of 2004 and a 96% favorable rating for McCain among his supporters in the fall of 2008.

      Obama voters are more positive about their candidate. Nine-in-ten voters (91%) who support Obama have a favorable impression of him, though that is down from 98% among his supporters four years ago.

      Even more notable is the overwhelmingly unfavorable opinion that voters have of the candidate they are voting against. Fully 93% of Romney supporters say they have an unfavorable opinion of Barack Obama. By comparison, in the fall of 2008 just 68% of McCain voters offered an unfavorable opinion of Obama, while 29% viewed him favorably.

      This pattern also is seen among Obama supporters: 84% view Romney unfavorably, compared with 70% who expressed an unfavorable opinion of McCain the fall of 2008.

      It remains pretty clear to me that folks who support Obama are voting for him more because they like him and less because they hate Romney. Among Romney supporters, the converse: they are voting for Romney more because they hate Obama and less because they like Romney.

      But the extraordinarily high “hate” value seems to suggest that the 2012 Pres race is as much a referendum on the overarching vision and policies promoted by the respective Parties as it is about electing a particular candidate.

      For a number of substantive reasons that both lefties and righties largely agree upon, Romney is a glaringly sub-par candidate for our highest office. But the incoherent state of today’s GOP is unquestionably an albatross around his neck, so it’s kinda hard to know where one might point the sharpest finger of blame: at the Candidate, or the Party? I suppose it’s a chicken/egg conundrum, really.Report

  17. Avatar damon says:

    I view most elections with dread because the majority of people actually believe that there are significant differences between the candidates. There are none. Neither party is talking about something the other party isn’t talking about. Curiously, Futurama summed it up when two candidates, clones or twins IIRC, were debating; “your 50 cent titanium tax doesn’t go too far enough” or something like that. The “debate” is carefully controlled. Both parties are part of the “status quo” and have no interested in seeing a real debate.

    The only enjoyment I’m getting is reading about those folks who actually though BOB was the candidate of hope and change 4 years ago only to watch with despair their dreams of a new future dashed. I enjoy seeing a fool’s hopes dashed.

    Burt, you wrote “Mr. Kimball averred that the country was at a fateful crossroads earlier this year, but it’s just plain not. And I think we all realize this.” Wrong. It IS at a crossroads or approaching it real damn soon. In the very near term the realization that we cannot continue to print money to fund out spendthrift ways. Then the manure is going to hit the fan as that’s all politicians know how to do. Sometime soon, the can will no longer be able to be kicked down the road, and there is going to be some very unhappy folks. What comes next will be “curious”. I think there is an old Chinese proverb / curse about not living in curious times, yes?Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko says:

      I’m no longer convinced that the debt is at a crisis point. I’m coming around to the notion that we could, if we wanted to, inflate our way out of the problem. But let’s assume that I’m wrong and you’re right; I did think that way at one time.

      No one’s offering the only, and obvious, solution: cut entitlement spending and raise taxes. Both. The only question is how much and what kind of each.

      What’s frustrating is that once upon a time, Paul Ryan did offer one of many concievable permutations of such a solution. He was promptly dismissed as an un-serious thinker for doing so rather than earning engagement on the amount, timetable, and strategy he proposed. At best, we never got past the discussion of whether deficit elimination, and later debt elimination, were even desirable goals. (I do still think they are. I just no longer think we’re standing overbalanced on the edge of a cliff.)

      Subsequently, he has offered plans that really are un-serious, in that they involve only negligible amounts of actual spending cuts and tax decreases instead of the necessary tax increases.Report

      • Avatar Michelle says:

        Ryan was dismissed as unserious because he based his calculations on the unsupportable premise that GDP growth would average five percent over the next ten years. And because he refuse to call his ” reform” of Medicare what it was–replacement of the current system with a voucher program.Report

        • Avatar James H. says:

          unsupportable premise that GDP growth would average five percent over the next ten years

          This. These projections based on unreasonable assumptions drive me crazy. Recently I was helping a friend figure out what a car loan would cost on a monthly basis. Not sure what interest rate to use, I looked up some available rates and found you can get a car loan at around 2.56%. I promptly did a calculation for a 4% rate. To my friend’s credit, he didn’t need to ask why.

          For the same reason, I’d like a rule that all budget projections assume a GDP growth rate of no more than 2%.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi says:

        10 years to actual debt crisis. if we do NOTHING. plenty of time if we turn back some of the bush tax cuts.Report

        • Avatar BobbyC says:

          Our govt, all levels, takes in 26.9% and spends 37.9% of our collective incomes. People are concerned (and in 3mo will be panicked, watch) that the deficit may drop 4% next yr and kill the economy.

          If we expire the Bush tax cuts as Obama wants, 26.9% revenue goes to 27.4% … and we still spend 37.9% on our incomes via govt. It’s just not critical. Interest rates are critical, and ultimately those will have to follow inflation. And there is no inflation and marginal velocity of money is zero. The Fed can buy $40bn of MBS/mo and that won’t really cause inflation now either. We’re printing money like mad, but we’re LENDING it into the economy. Well the govt is just spending it and financing the deficit. But the game is not stable and we are not in a sustainable situation. Cutting discretionary spending or expiring the Bush tax cuts are really huge political issues, but they are SMALL stuff in the context of our problem.

          The options are default, inflation (ie psuedo-default), financial repression (ie psuedo-default), or growth. Everyone hope for growth! That’s the only one we’ve planned for!!Report

          • Avatar Shazbot2 says:

            Waiting for Godot. Waiting for inflation.

            Equally absurd.Report

            • Avatar BobbyC says:

              Not equally absurd. I think it is fair to say that even the Fed would agree with the following: once the labor mkt clears and the economy starts to normalize and the velocity of money returns to normal, the Fed will have to reduce its balance sheet in order to avoid persistent inflation. They don’t expect that day to be anytime soon (except maybe Lacker). They just judge that the cost/benefit is such that they can take that risk in order to push savings into more stimulative uses near term.Report

              • Avatar Shazbot2 says:

                Under what conditions is possible inflation not a reason for the Fed to not act. Or is the specter of possible, never arriving inflation -even with no current signs- always a reason for the Fed not to engage in QE?Report

              • Avatar BobbyC says:

                Who are you responding to? Read my comment.

                Are you under some impression that because I wrote “we’re printing money like mad” that I must live in fear of future inflation. You wrote “waiting for inflation” and “equally absurd” in comparison with Samuel Beckett’s play. Well, no, waiting for inflation is not equally absurd. And even the Fed would agree that current policy, left unchanged, would be strongly inflationary. They just think they can manage it and that the cost/benefit makes it a good idea.

                I’m not some straw man for every bad argument you’ve ever heard!Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                I’m not some straw man for every bad argument you’ve ever heard!

                Of course you are. Welcome.Report

        • Avatar BobbyC says:

          Let’s say you make $54k/yr and spend $76k/yr. You’ve been putting $22k/yr on your credit card because, you know, it’s tough not to buy that iPad. And you got the 0% teaser rate, which helps. Now you’re total credit card debt is $220k. That’s pretty much since you make $54k/yr, but you don’t HAVE to default. And also, why default when you are borrowing at 0%.

          In this example, which is our govt expressed as a median dude, ending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy amounts to raising your income from $54k/yr to $55k/yr. I’m not making this up!

          If the credit card company jacks your rate to 6%, now you owe $12k/yr of interest and you should file bankruptcy. The only way that you should pay off your debt, aside from being a puritan, is if your income starts going up at a nice clip. Then you are probably better off keeping your credit history clean.

          This is the actual situation! Just because a bunch of Peter Schiff types claimed there would be 10% inflation (and John Paulson lost a chunk of change betting on it) and ended up oh-so-wrong, doesn’t mean that all the people who say there is a problem are wrong!!Report

          • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

            Repeat after me:

            Governments are not people.

            Governments are not people.

            Governments are not people.

            As for economics…people have been betting on hyperinflation in save-haven currency issuers for years. It hasn’t happened, likely because the giant pool of money in the world economy has to go somewhere, and that tends to be US T-Bills.Report

            • Avatar BobbyC says:

              I tend to believe that there are people and there is stuff. Govt isn’t stuff.

              Do you mean that the govt faces different budget constraints than households? Or just literally that govts are not people. I don’t mean to be daft, but govt is just an institution claiming to represent some people and stuff. It creates legal constructs like fiat money.

              I agree that people betting on hyperinflation seem to be missing some critical facts about what is going on. Then again, I challenge you to give a rational account of why the world is willing to store its wealth with the American govt in a currency it prints at negative real rates out to 10yrs (TIPS go positive somewhere out there, certainly by 30yrs).Report

          • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

            Except in this situation, even ignoring Nob’s larger point (governments aren’t people!), the credit card companies are offering 0% interest because every other customer they have is even worse and at least we still have the best job of the group.Report

            • Avatar North says:

              Incorrect Jesse. If you factor in inflation the credit card companies are offering a negative interest rate because every other customer they have is even worse and they need somewhere (big enough and safe enough) to put their money.Report

      • Avatar Troublesome Frog says:

        I don’t remember Ryan ever offering a plan that both cut spending and raised taxes. All of the plans I remember were heavy on spending cuts, heavier on tax cuts, and heaviest on supply side magic growth nonsense. I’ve only been watching him for three or four years at the most, though. Was he more interesting at the start of his career?Report

        • Avatar BobbyC says:

          Ha! … he probably was more interesting … but not because he ever proposed raising taxes. The notion that he counts as a “serious person” because he knows the basics of the US federal budget is a sign of the dearth of economic / fiscal understanding in both caucuses.

          At least he understands that the deficit is a problem and a morally urgent one.Report

          • Avatar Troublesome Frog says:

            Are you sure about that? Because I get the impression that he thinks that the deficit is not so much a problem as it is a useful tool for convincing people to do things that he wants to do anyway.Report

            • Avatar BobbyC says:

              I am not sure, because I don’t know him, and it’s not 100%. But I think he is likely sincere. But I like your idea that this could be the fiscal equivalent of neocons using 9/11 to oust Saddam. Clever.

              The New Republic made a similar argument recently, although I think the case for Paul Ryan as a total fraud is as weak as is the case for him as an intellectual heavyweight.Report

              • Avatar Troublesome Frog says:

                My take on it is that if for every $X in spending cuts you give away more than $X in tax cuts, you’re less than sincere about the deficit and probably just using it as an excuse to enact your preferred tax reform. I think it’s a pretty straightforward case.

                What would be really clever if it’s intentional is doing it over and over again over decades. Complain about the deficit and use it as an excuse to cut spending. Cut taxes even more than you cut spending, increasing the deficit. Come back later and repeat. If this is actually an intentional intergenerational game among “fiscal conservatives” I have to tip my hat to them for keeping it going. It’s much more likely just a bunch of individuals acting in their political and ideological best interests, but I can see how some people might see a decades old conspiracy.Report

  18. Avatar LarryM says:

    My sense is that your thesis is mostly correct – except that, I think, there is a sense among some moderates that Romney might REALLY MEAN it when he panders to the Republican base, and that worries them. That fact, and Romney’s personal unlikability, explain Obama’s current lead.

    Regardless of what you think the reality is, I think the perception among persuadable voters is that Romney, not Obama, is more extreme. Again, regardless of the “reality.” I think that’s largely a function of Romney going all in in terms of pandering to the base, versus Obama making some gestures along those lines. Also Obama’s actual record is, apart from health care reform, perceived as pretty moderate.

    If it really were purely a case of two boring moderate technocrats (one center left, one center right), given the state of the economy, I think Romney would be ahead.Report

    • Avatar LarryM says:

      On the likability front, I actually feel a little sorry for Romney. A little. I don’t really buy the “nice guy” stuff, except to the limited extent that, perhaps, in relations with people of his class and status he is a “nice guy.”

      But I’m cynical enough to think that, in this age, a sociopathic personality is pretty much a requirement to become a serious candidate for the presidency. And I’ve seen plenty of evidence that Romney is no exception. His problem is that he does a particularly poor job of hiding that fact from the voters.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi says:

        He is NOT a sociopath. We haven’t had a truly sociopathic president since Nixon.
        Asshole is a requirement for president.
        Romney is a coward, not a sociopath.

        To be a good CEO, you need to be a sociopath. But we weren’t talking about them.Report

  19. Avatar LarryM says:

    I also don’t think Romney is taking the “ham sandwich” approach. In one sense he is, in avoiding specificity in terms of policy. But rhetorically he is going “all in” in terms of pandering to the base. I’m not sure an alternative strategy would have worked – just reinforcing the flip flop image, maybe losing more in terms of the base staying home than he gains from persuadable moderates. But given where he is in the polls, whatever he is doing does not seem to be working.Report

  20. Avatar LarryM says:

    And finally, I DO think that there may be real differences in terms of who is elected. Set aside domestic policy for a moment, where so much is dependent upon congress.

    On foreign policy, where he is unconstrained by congress, his combination of belligerence and ignorance could lead to some pretty horrendous consequences. I know that there is a counter narrative on this front, but I am truly worried about foreign policy if he wins, even if, from my non-interventionist preferences, Obama is also pretty bad.Report

    • Avatar Michelle says:

      Yeah, Romney’s unreflective belligerence on foreign policy disturbs me. I fear that he’ll lead us into another Middle East war to prove his conservative bona fides (and show that he’s a real man).Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko says:

      I actually think that foreign policy is an area where there is even less flexibility available to a President than in domestic policy. Barring some significant effort of will, money, military force, and diplomacy, the imperatives to keep trade and particularly petroleum flowing, global currencies stable, potential regional powers played off against one another, and maintenance of geopolitical hegemony govern with whom we will ally and against whom we will rival, and to a significant degree how we will do so. (The war in Iraq was such an effort. The war in Afghanistan was not.)

      Yes, there are differences in tone, but at the end of the day, it’s not like Romney is going to suggest that we invade Argentina or Obama is going to make a push for a two-China policy.Report

      • Avatar MikeSchilling says:

        But is Romney going to start a war with Iran, Syria, or both? Given who his FP team is, I can’t confidently say no.Report

        • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

          I think the biggest question is, “Is Israel going to start a war with Iran, and if they do, what are we going to do about it?”Report

          • Avatar Kimmi says:

            *small voice*
            no, the biggest question is “what do we do when Israel is wiped off the map.”
            We may have a little time to answer it…Report

            • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

              Israel can eliminate Iran’s urban population and manufacturing capability from the face of the earth tomorrow, if they want.

              They’ll still have enough nukes left over to credibly threaten anybody who objects too strenuously.

              The “wipe Israel off the face of the map” concern is hysterically overblown.Report

        • Avatar Pyre says:

          Are you certain Obama won’t? We currently have two aircraft carriers, 5 destroyers, and an unknown number of missile cruisers in the Hormuz. (I say unknown because of the accident in July where one of our nonexistent missile cruisers bumped into a Japanese tanker.) The British have seven ships of their own that we know of. I know the French has one.

          I’m going to say that Operation Iranian Liberation is a go after Obama gets reelected.Report

          • Avatar MikeSchilling says:

            I know that Obama hasn’t, even though there’s been some pressure to do so. I don’t know that about Romney. And if we’re going to invent things Obama’s been waiting to do until after his re-election, I’m going to hope for a pony.Report

            • Avatar Pyre says:

              So you’re willing to grimly speculate what Romney would do if elected but suggesting the same of Obama is inventing things?

              Oh, League. Never change.Report

              • Avatar MikeSchilling says:

                I’m willing to take as default assumptions that Obama will continue to behave as he has and that Romney chose his foreign policy team for a reason. Also consider which one Netanyahu isn’t happy with vs. which one made a recent trip to Israel just to pander to him. If you want to dismiss those points in favor of making stuff up, knock yourself out.Report

        • Avatar DensityDuck says:

          “But is Romney going to start a war with Iran, Syria, or both?”

          The question is not whether Romney would start a war with Iran; the question is whether, if Israel wanted to start a war, Romney would stop them.Report

      • Avatar LarryM says:

        Well that’s the counter narrative that I referred to. Of course if Romney is elected, I hope you are right. The basic reason that I don’t is that you assume a level of rationality that I think is absent from the current Republican foreign policy establishment, combined with the fact that Romney, by his words and choice of foreign policy advisers, seems likely to follow the advice of the more hawkish wing of that already very hawkish foreign policy establishment.Report

      • Avatar Scott Fields says:

        I actually think that foreign policy is an area where there is even less flexibility available to a President than in domestic policy.

        I’m more and more convinced that this is true. That is why the least war-mongering choice from 2008 got us involved in Libya and still hasn’t gotten us out of Afghanistan.

        But, the lack of flexibility only applies in one direction it would seem; that is, you can always be more militaristic, but never less. It will be infinitely harder to maintain the exit strategy for Afghanistan than it will be to start a war with Iran as Mike notes above. It is clear the Defense/Security sector holds enormous sway over both parties, backed up as they are by far too many of our fellow citizens. Just look at what’s happening with the sequestration. The Republicans wouldn’t budge on their core orthodoxy on no tax increases until a mere $55B in defense cuts were on the line.Report

        • Avatar zic says:

          This is interesting.

          For some time, I’ve also thought that one of the only serious levers on the economy a president has is defense spending; that economic collapse has, in many ways, tied Obama’s hands here particularly because of Congressional obstruction.

          Cutting defense, shrinking the military translates into a lot of jobs lost and a lot of $$$ taken out of the economy. It would have made recession deeper, possibly a depression.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe says:

        Odyssey Dawn demonstrates quite clearly the unlimited nature of Presidential power in foreign affairs. Sure, a President is not going to do anything completely arbitrary and random, but you look a Libya, you look at the drone strikes that can happen anywhere, the Prez can do what he wants and Congress isn’t even going say *anything* anymore. And for most of the rest that Congress has gone on record for (e.g. sending SF into East Africa to go after the LRA), congressional authorization is almost literally just a single sentence, giving the Executive broad and nearly plenary power to execute however he wants.Report

  21. Avatar Pyre says:

    Is it just me, or is this not the dreariest Presidential election anyone can recall?

    This post is an easy one to answer.

    It is a dreary election because it is probably the most negative, hate-filled election season that I’ve ever seen. There have been some bad ones before. Even on the better ones, there is always an undercurrent of nasty. However, the sheer level of hate for the other side and general negativity has overwhelmed any actual discussion on the issues anymore. For any one brief discussion on an issues such as Supreme Court justices (Yes, I’ve seen a couple.), there are twenty based on vilifying the other guy.*

    As for us being at a crossroads, I think that it’s more that we know deep down, even if we can’t admit it to ourselves, that we’ve passed it. At this point, the car has gone off the cliff and we are hurtling towards the ground. Even if there were a candidate that was inclined to pump the brakes or turn the steering wheel, it won’t do any good. Pretty much any major issue that we have can be divided into two camps.

    1) Takes more political will and cooperation than currently exists to fix it.

    2) Can no longer be fixed.

    I imagine that, centuries from now, people will look at us as we look at Rome: Toppled by numerous wars without and strange politics within. (Read that quote somewhere but a quick Google search turned up nothing.)

    *Yes, I include the League’s front page in this. Much like most of my G+ feed, I’ve largely blanked out the front page and usually just go straight to Mindless Diversions if I come at all anymore.Report

    • Avatar Dan Miller says:

      What if you vilify the other side based on who they would nominate for the Supreme Court?Report

      • Avatar Pyre says:

        It depends on the type of vilification. Vilification based on facts “This President wants to stack the Supreme Court with judges that share his viewpoint” is less objectionable than the more common statement of “This President wishes to replace the Supreme Court justices with one demon from each of the Nine Circles.”Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck says:

      Boy, I remember when I got out of high school and started paying attention to politics. Good times, man, I knew exactly what was wrong with the world and exactly how to fix it.Report

      • Avatar Pyre says:

        Yeah, I also remember when I thought snark was a good substitute for intelligence when replying. Good times.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley says:

          Wait… you mean it’s not?

          Do you have a cite for that?Report

          • Avatar Chris says:

            Miller, G. R., Spembler, T.N., De Jesus, R.S., Cheng, C.L., & St Croix, E.M. (2010). Dissociation of snark and general intelligence-related neural activity in the Ventromedial Prefrontal Cortex and Ventral Lateral Prefrontal Cortex. Journal of Concocted Neuroscience, 34-278.Report

    • Avatar bookdragon says:

      Most hate filled? You must be young. I remember Willie Horton, Vince Foster suicide-was-really-murder, Swift-boating, etc.

      Every election goes this way anymore. Maybe it seems worse because the SuperPACs have more money to pour into commercials, so you hear it more consistently, but overall it hasn’t struck me as being as downright nasty as some past elections.Report

      • Avatar Pyre says:

        No, I’m old enough to remember those as well.

        Thus the comment “There have been some bad ones before. Even on the better ones, there is always an undercurrent of nasty.”

        I stand by my statement. While there is the factor of the internet added in that elections such as Bush/Dukakkis didn’t have, I would still say that this is the most overwhelmingly hate-filled election that I have seen yet.Report

  22. Avatar Jeff No-Last-Name says:

    Count me as one who likes Obama. Yes, his policy on Gitmo, rendition, et al is bothersome, but no-one on the other side would be better, and most would be far worse.

    One thing I like is that he hasn’t been a braggart like his predecessor. Most of the positivie things he’s done (or that have been done “on his watch”) have been done without any crowing (or, worse, bragging beforehand and screwing up the process — see the London Subway bombings). Just a few days ago, one of the last major narco-bosses from Columbia was captured (or killed) in Venezuela, following a joint effort of both those countries, the DEA and one other countries law enforcement. Commander Codpiece would never have been able to get Chavez to agree to cooperate in the first place.

    I have been disappointed, but over all, I’d give him a B- or better.


    “It seems like we’re spending a lot of time either hammering on the drum that one guy is a plutocrat or hammering on the other drum that the other guy is a socialist.”

    Except that one of these things is true and the other isn’t. False Equivalence is one of the things making this race so dreary.Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko says:

      B- seems about right to me, too. In a world without grade inflation, C or C+. Whatever grade conveys a sense of “Just a little bit better than barely acceptable.”Report

      • Avatar Shazbot2 says:

        Which presidents get an “A”?

        I would give Obama high marks, as I grade relative to what is possible in the context of American politics. For example, I don’t think we can blame Obama for not bringing about single payer.

        Anyway, I don’t want this to turn into a discussion of whether liberalism is good for America. But I think Obama has done as well as a liberal president could in the presidency.

        The one exception to that is civil liberties for suspects, where he does have power and thus responsibility.

        So, I’d say moderate liberals and liberals should give Obama an A-.Report

        • Avatar Burt Likko says:

          Which presidents get an “A”?

          Oh, this will be fun.

          In the modern era, only FDR and Eisenhower get “A” grades. FDR demonstrated such innovation, leadership, foresight,and vision that his missteps all pale in comparison to the complete transformation to the American culture and government he effected. Eisenhower not only made no serioius missteps but left his mark on the landscape with a now fundamental infrastructure project and provided the stable and confident leadership the nation needed during a time that (we too easily forget today) would otherwise have been highly uncertain and not a little bit scary. He also made (admittedly unintentionally) fantastic appointments to SCOTUS.

          Truman gets a C+, for not seeing the kind of dangers both confrontational and spiritual that Ike did, and instead focusing largely on fencing with the Republicans. He gets a good mark for the Berlin Airlift and was a spunky campaigner, but despite all his charisma he executed stewardship rather than leadership role.

          JFK earns a C. Mediocre performance on economic issues, insincere and somewhat cynical manipulation of racial equality issues to no substantial policy effect, got caught with his lil’ President out during the Bay of Pigs, inspired no respect from other nations, and had serious personal shortcomings of which I strongly suspect most of the nation had some level of awareness despite a different media culture. He is saved from an unacceptably low grade by having inspired a generation of young people to look to public affairs as a means of improving their lives, and eventually finding his nutsack with respect to missiles in Cuba.

          LBJ gets a B-: a really impressive grasp and use of power, genuine concern and use of political capital for the unprivileged and racial minorities. But he was seriously dragged down from an otherwise high performance by opening and the war with Vietnam to such an extent that no one could ever really find a good solution to it, and eventually was driven from office by it. SCOTUS appointments of superior quality.

          Nixon was on track to a B but actually receives an automatic F and a referral to the principal — his was a flawed performance in, belatedly, seeking an honorable exit from Vietnam, and he had a quite impressive mastery of domestic and foreign policy. But got caught cheating.

          Ford get an incomplete, on track to A-, because of a short term highlighted by the remarkably wise and courageous pardon of Nixon to let the nation move past the scandal, although there are indications that he really hadn’t a clue what to do about the economy and had he been elected in his own right his grade would likely have diminished.

          Carter gets a C for earnest but ineffective attempts at reform, bungling the Iranian situation.

          Reagan gets a B+ for recasting the culture in his own image, confronting and setting in motion pressures that brought the USA’s principal rival to its knees, but also for getting the government addicted to deeply unwise deficit spending. SCOTUS appointments of superior quality (yes, that includes Scalia, who is strong on free speech).

          Bush the Elder I’d give a B+ to for keeping the nation in a globally hegemonic position despite huge uncertainty in its new multipolar cast and for being willing to take the hit on necessary and actually quite minor tax increases.

          Clinton I’d give an A-, as he was both a skilled technocrat and possessed of an amiable charisma that let him personify the country — his deeply mercurical and dishonest character hold him back from top honors.

          Bush the Younger, I’ll anger my more liberal colleagues on LoOG by giving a relatively good grade of B- despite knowing that others would have failed him. His original plan for government was thwarted early on in his term, and his improvisation in response was actually pretty decent. There was really little choice but to deficit-spend and go to war in Afghanistan after 9/11. He provided the leadership needed for so dramatic and uncertain a venture. Subsequently, he demonstrated a greater disregard for civil liberties than was needed and he would drops a full grade for the unnecessary war in Iraq, and the lies used to sell it to the public, but this is mitigated a bit by the presence of a vision, which was actually mostly successfully executed (in a rather clumsy way), to change the political dynamics of the middle east through the flipping of a powerful rival to the U.S. becoming a nominal-to-lukewarm ally possessed of sufficient latent power to impose caution on other would-be adventurers against the West and to provide an alternative site of logistical support for military operations in the area should the Saudis become even more fickle as allies or suffer displacement by a regime less aligned with the West. There was a vision there, and while it took too long and cost too much blood, treasure, and innocence to execute, it’s been given effect and we live in a very different world today because of it.

          Looking back into history before WWII, I’d give full A’s only to Washington and Jefferson. A-‘s to TR and Lincoln (TR was just a little too overtly imperialistic, Lincoln snapped the Constitution more than he needed to despite the pressures of civil war, and was too cynical about empancipation because he feared its political power). Among the real bastards, I have to reluctantly give James K. Polk an A- as well (dude hit all his major policy goals in four years and bowed out, which is damn good, but pro-slavery domestic policies block the top marks).

          I’m also reluctant to give top honors to Andrew Jackson because he was a serious a-hole not only personally but in his policy agenda. We were lucky Great Britain didn’t go to war with us on general principles after he took over. His populism worked some serious problems on the economy that could have been avoided or at least mitigated had he been willing to compromise on anything, but there’s no doubt he was the absolute master of the game so he has to get a good grade despite deeply serious flaws. But I can with integrity avoid giving him top honors because he made the singularly most destructive appointment to SCOTUS in our nation’s history.Report

          • Avatar Kolohe says:

            I mostly like this list, though I think you underrate Truman. He indeed saw the Cold War coming, and set up the system to fight it. Compare him to say, Henry Wallace, whose views on the Soviets were completely different (and wrongheaded), and would have resulted in a significantly different post-war map and world had FDR died earlier. Most importantly, in an era of huge War Heros and a rising & permanent military Class, Truman showed everyone who was boss. (without the benefit of war hero cache that Ike did).

            (not to say Mistakes were Made wrt Korea, though)

            Also, the differential you give to LBJ and Roosevelt is unfair to LBJ. The main difference seems to me is that FDR won his war and LBJ did not. But LBJ also did not take all the shortcuts around civil liberties and (small d) democratic society that FDR did to win it. (and how much can one pin the development of WW2 to the actions that FDR took in near decade leading up to it when FDR had near plenary power)Report

          • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

            I agree with Kolohe that I think you’re far too hard on Truman, particularly when you’re willing to give GWB a B-.

            I also think this list speaks to my point earlier.

            FDR getting an A when he executed one of the most blatant abridgments of civil liberties of American citizens period is a bit baffling. (And not even a mention of it!)

            Does Vision(tm) really make up for terrible execution? To what extent is that vision actually universalized?

            For example, the imagery and leadership that Obama presents to say the black middle class is probably at least comparable to JFK’s.

            Jefferson badly blundered in his foreign policy, particularly in dismantling the US Navy, which led to the US being completely unprepared to deal with the Royal Navy when his protege decided he wanted a war with the world’s most powerful maritime power.

            Honestly as for Jackson, I think he should get a failing grade. Not only for his belligerence, racism and treatment of Native Americans but his utterly incompetent handling of the economy and his specie circular and fallout from that which essentially plunged the US into a depression so great it swallowed up most of Van Buren’s time in office.Report

            • Avatar Burt Likko says:

              I remain less impressed with HST than others urge me to be.

              But Nob’s point about internments is telling indeed against FDR. I’m persuaded to downgrade him accordingly. His achievements are still towering. IIRC the internments were originally LeMay’s idea but no matter; FDR signed the order. Not sure if it drops him to A- or B+.Report

              • Avatar Kolohe says:

                I will say that Truman really had no right to win re-election. That he did is a tribute to his work ethic and political malpractice on the part of the Republicans that makes this cycle’s participants look like Dr. Greg House. (I mean, the Republicans were even had a third party spoiler and couldn’t git ur dun)

                The soft spot for Truman comes from the fact that was probably the last ‘regular’ guy to be President, and will likely be for any forseeable future. The current trend of Presidents that have run in elite circles for nearly their entire lives seems very durable.Report

          • Avatar Shazbot2 says:

            Wow, that was a long and fun to read answer. I disagree with a lot, but really enjoyed this.

            Actually, I’m more interested in your grading rubric. You seem to grade the different presidents by different standards. (There can’t be a single standard like, say, bringing about liberal goals in your rankings, otherwise FDR would do much better than Reagan than your grades suggest.) Or is there just one standard: how effective that president was in bringing about his (hopefully soon to be “or her”) stated agenda? (That seems to be your standard, no?)

            I think ranking presidents needs a degree of difficulty scale for their stated agenda. And lots of points lost for unforced errors. (Cough, Bush, cough.) I know this makes me sound like a member of the Obamathulu cult, but Obama’s agenda became very hard to achieve for a variety of reasons, so I give him credit for that.

            I would’ve given Bush marks for difficulty too on just his first term.Report

    • Avatar Michelle says:

      Obama is certainly heads and shoulders above his predecessor. Romney seems to be running as W re-incarnate. I surely don’t want to go there again.Report

  23. Avatar Dana in NYC says:

    Anyone who ever thought Obama was a liberal was listening too much to GOP talking points. He is, was and always will be a pragmatic centrist. That is why he got elected in spite of the detriment (in the eyes of a large portion of the electorate) of his race, his youth and relative inexperience. Of course the hard to ignore state of the country after 8 years of GWB also had a lot to do with it. In spite of appearances he has white Midwesterner values (by virtue of being raised largely with his grandparents) amalgamated with Asian inscrutability (childhood in Indonesia where they really don’t like black people). This placid surface lends itself to all kind of projections. Many on display in the comments here. The fact is that Romney is running against a fake Obama created by a morally exhausted GOP. The majority of Americans can see that with their own two eyes and less and less people are buying it. Obama, for all his enumerated faults, projects a real persona and, whoever he really is, Romney projects a false one. No Obama fatigue here but I do wish the GOP would re-enter reality for the sake of the country.Report

  24. Avatar KatherineMW says:

    The problem is not the lack of a “moderate party”. The problem is the lack of a party that’s willing to depart from the the current political consensus on major issues, even if those issues are ones where the public is pretty evenly split.

    About half of America is okay with legalizing pot, but that’s not even discussed. A fair portion of people oppose foreign interventionism, but both parties are for it – they just disagree on where we should be intervening. Neither major party is in favour of civil liberties or of scaling back the security state. Neither one’s interested in significantly increasing aid to the third world. Neither one’s proposing any major changes in the tax system to reduce the deficit through increased revenues; repealing the Bush tax cuts for the top 1-2% is a good idea, but it’s not going to be sufficient. Nobody’s advocating an end to the drug war or to the militarization of police forces.

    (And when I say “nobody”, I mean “no presidential candidate with a snowball’s chance in hell 0f winning so much as a single electoral vote”.)Report