Monday, June 27, 2011

That Cuomo/Obama Thing

Nate Silver accurately, I believe, reports that Andrew Cuomo's leadership in getting same sex marriage passed is "a brand of leadership that many Democrats I speak with feel is lacking in President Obama." But Matt Yglesias correctly points out that institutional rules have a lot to do with that perception. He's correct, of course (and see Jamelle Bouie for more), but I'd add that there are a couple of other issues involved here.

1. In large part, we're more aware of liberal frustration with Obama because Obama's overall approval ratings are only middling-to-weak (mid-40s, basically, approval ratings), which in turn is all about the economy. Now, perhaps Obama would have passed a much stronger stimulus bill (or, I think more likely, he would have passed several significant additional supplements) if simple majorities were enough to get something through Congress, and in turn perhaps that would have yielded a significantly stronger economy. But in my view, simply passing more stuff, or passing stuff that was a bit closer to liberal preferences, probably would not change the perception.

2. OK, c'mon: what else do liberals really care about in New York State government? My guess is that if liberals scrutinized everything that Cuomo did this year the way they do Obama's record, they would find plenty of room for criticism (indeed, NY liberals who pay attention to state government aren't happy, I believe, with his budget choices).

The truth is that the 111th Congress was very, very productive. Certainly, liberals didn't get all they wanted. That's a normal part of how Madisonian politics works, not some sort of weird Obama anomaly. The other side of the truth is that the 111th was well set to pass lots of liberal stuff: it was an unusually Democratic and even more unusually liberal Congress. And yet a third side of the truth is that the challenges were unusually stiff for the majority: when the economy is tanking, it's a lot harder to deal with those things you believe are priorities in normal times.

Was the current session of the New York legislature unusually productive? Was it unusually productive in passing liberal priorities? Was it unusually productive, given its ideological and partisan composition? Given the particular challenges the New York state government faced? I have no idea what the answers to these questions are, and I suspect that no one knows the answers. I, too, liked the NYT article about Cuomo's success with same-sex marriage, but I'm certain that a similar article could have been written about Barack Obama and don't ask, don't tell, or about Obama and the New START treaty, or even about Obama and ACA. What I do know is that we're less likely to look for those Obama stories when he's currently facing setbacks, and more likely to think about Obama and climate, or Obama and the Too Small Stimulus. And I also know that people who don't care much about New York State government -- which is almost all of us, including even many who live in New York -- are highly unlikely to be very aware of whatever Cuomo failure stories (if any) that may exist.

(See also John Sides, who has other interesting comments on NY and Cuomo).

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