Home National Politics Excellent Post by Nate Silver on Liberals and the White House

Excellent Post by Nate Silver on Liberals and the White House


Nate Silver nails it.

One problem that Obama is having — and not just on the left, although it might be most acute there — is the dissonance between the grand, poetic narratives of the campaign trail and the prosaic and transactional day-to-day grind of governance…


Nevertheless, I suspect that for most liberals, any real sense of progress has now been lost. Yes, the left got a good-but-not-great health care bill, a good-but-not-great stimulus package, a good-but-not-great financial reform plan: these are a formidable bounty, and Obama and the Democratic Congress worked hard for them. But they now read as a basically par-for-the-course result from a time when all the stars were aligned for the Democrats — rather than anything predictive of a new direction, or of a more progressive future. In contrast, as should become emphatically clear on November 2nd, the reversion to the mean has been incredibly swift.

What liberals haven’t had, in other words, is very many opportunities to feel good about themselves, or to feel good about the future.

Of course, it’s also that the nasty economic recession that began under Bush drags on under Obama. Although I certainly believe that economic conditions are better today than they would have been without aggressive action by the federal government, most people still aren’t feeling it, and that makes them grumpy and/or angry towards the people in power.  

Beyond (bad) economics, though, this really is the classic situation where expectations get way out of line with achievements.  Basically, we were promised in 2006 and 2008 that if we took back Congress and the White House, particularly with a “filibuster-proof majority” in the Senate, we’d get everything we ever dreamed of: national health care, possibly even “single payer;” a strong, comprehensive, clean energy and climate bill; immigration reform; closure of Gitmo; the rapid end of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell;” the winding down of the wars begun during the Bush Administration; a reversal of the Bush tax cuts for the rich, and more broadly a return to progressive economics; investment in infrastructure, including both human (education) and physical (advanced power grids, high-speed rail, etc.) capital; more power to labor vis-a-vis business; etc., etc.  On top of all that, we were promised a fundamental change in the way Washington does business.  

How much of any of this stuff have we really gotten so far?  As Nate Silver puts it, we’ve gotten a bunch of “good-but-not-great” on a lot of it, not much at all on other parts (e.g., the way Washington does business). Well, sorry, but after how hard we worked the past few years, it’s frustrating, dispiriting, etc. to see it wither on the vine. What about that don’t Robert Gibbs and the White House understand?  And what do they really think they’re going to accomplish by lashing out at their own base, while trying desperately to reason with the unreasonable on the far right (aka, today’s Republican Party, who continue to call Obama a “socialist” even as he tries to be a “centrist”)?  Got me.

  • KathyinBlacksburg

    destroyer.  And what the hell is the “professional left”?

  • Teddy Goodson

    This is a concept very familiar to economists, and to see it used in a political context is interesting. What I do see each time is a return to a new “mean.” By that, I mean a “mean” which has been moved further to the right, noticed each time we have a so-called “progressive” interlude.

    With Reagan’s election, the Republican Party shifted right, and they have continued relentlessly on this trajectory ever since, further and further to the so-called right. Thus, they have dragged the entire political spectrum after them, so that what was center became “left” and what had been left faded into “socialism,” communism, and something satanic. The same phenomenum is reflected in Mr. Silver’s concept of “the mean” in that the mean is increasingly moving right.

    When Progressives have a turn at the wheel, however, the mean is not pulled to the left, so what we have is a continuous step after step rightward, followed by a baby step leftward, then more giant steps rightward, followed maybe by a teeny baby step left. Result: American politics is always tacking further right. Money is power. Money can buy anything.

    No wonder progressives are in the dumps.

  • NotJohnSMosby

    The problem I’ve seen for the last year and a half is that the Administration spent way, way too much time trying to get Republicans to like them.  So much time on health care reform was wasted trying to be “bipartisan”.  The energy bill basically collapsed because of it.  Relatively small numbers of Federal judges have been confirmed.  Basically, the Administration allowed the Republicans to be much, much stronger than they had a right to be.  If President Dick Cheney, er, I mean George Bush, had had 60% of both the House and Senate, he wouldn’t have spent a minute trying to get Ben Nelson or Max Baucus to sign on to a bill.  Hell, they rammed stuff through like the tax cuts with a 51-49 Senate.  

    The bottom line is, Democrats “worked with” – or surrendered if you please – to a Republican administration when they had much stronger numbers than Republicans now have.  Republicans haven’t “worked with” the Obama administration, and as a result, they’ve been allowed to clog up the whole system.

    Whenever Democrats come to understand that the current political philosophy of the Republican Party is “our way or nothing” and treat them like the petulant, spoiled, not too bright children that they are, we’ll be much better for it.  As long as Dems continue to try and “reach across the aisle”, “bridge the divide”, “extend the hand of friendship” it will continue to be seen as nothing but a sign of weakness by Republicans.  

    Put another way, you shouldn’t share your cookies with the school bully after you’ve had a nice summer growth spurt and are now a lot bigger than him.

  • Glen Tomkins

    I’m probably further to the left than anyone who’s commented here, yet I plan to knock on thousands of doors in 2012 to re-elect this traitor to our causes.

    Why?  Despite the dismal record of doing anything positive, I could name a few items.  But I won’t, because looming far larger than anything positive this president has done so far, or has any prospect of doing in the next six years, is the salvation he has brought our republic simply by not being John McCain, or anyone else with the (R) behind his name, when two Supreme Court positions came open.

    If McCain had won, instead of a the 4-1-4 split we have on the court now, between radical conservative-“moderate”-liberal, we would be at 6-1-2.  The Federalist Society wing of the court wouldn’t need Kennedy at all, and could even afford to lose one of their co-conspirators and still prevail 5-4 on any particular decision.  And we could have faced 7-1-1 soon, if RBG retires, and will face 5-1-3 if a Democrat is not in the WH when she does retire.

    I don’t think that describing the difference between a 4-1-4 court and a 6-1-2 court as “salvation” is even slightly overblown.  Even as we speak, the Commonwealth’s very own AG has a suit going that seeks to get the federal bench to give weight to a nullifying state law.  Sure, it’s the extreme case of what doctrinaire original intentionalists could do with a SCOTUS majority to imagine that they would actually bring us all the way back to 1799 and 1830, and give us back the state interposition of an earlier era.  Yes, there are innumerable other very important issues that a 6-1-2 court would admittedly be far more likely to screw up.  

    You’re more than welcome to focus instead on the threat to reproductive rights, etc., instead, from a 6-1-2 court.  I don’t underestimate the importance of such issues, and there are many of them.  I focus on the potential return of states’ rights because right now we have a political movement out there that wants to bring back states’ rights (of which Cuccinelli is a part), and doesn’t seem reluctant to use constitutional hardball to get there.  The effects of success of their movement would swamp every other issue.  

    They don’t have to go through all the painstaking, long-term, work of dismantling three generations of stare decisis if they can forum-shift, and get around federal jurisprudence altogether by bringing back state interposition.  And restoring a states’ rights regime would be an insurance policy against the federal judiciary ever again falling into Democratic hands, and then having the whole structure of the progress of the last century being rebuilt by progressive judges.  The bypass of state interposition would remain in place unless this future progressive majority were willing to go against the new stare decisis, and rip power back from the states.  Our side isn’t so forward about ripping power away from anybody, however much that might be called for, so that asymmetry would tend to protect them.