Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Catch of the Day

To Steve Benen, who finds four examples of Republican efforts to brand some Obama scandal or near scandal or whatever as "Obama's Watergate." Excellent fun.

Benen asks: "[C]an the right at least come up with a new touchstone to serve as a point of historical comparison?" Ooh, I don't think so. I mean, you're not going to want to call something Obama's Whitewater, much less Obama's Travel Office Scandal, are you? I mean, you don't want to telegraph going in that it's going to be a big fizzle. You could call something Obama's Lewinsky, but probably not unless there's sex involved somehow, and of course that one backfired on Republicans, anyway. And you hardly want to remind anyone of the fiascoes that took place during the George W. Bush administration, so you're not going to use Katrina or the Justice Department scandal, especially since Republicans I believe retain the position that nothing wrong was done in any of those. So Watergate it is, now and forever.

Which reminds me...I'm thinking of getting back to my Watergate blogging. Lots of stuff happened in winter 1971-1972, but my readily available sources don't have as much stuff to produce fun posts (the Kutler collection skips from September 1971 to May 1972). I mean, I can write narrative stuff, but I think direct quotes from the tapes (or other sources) were why I liked doing the Watergate posts. I don't think I'll start up again regularly until later in the spring, but perhaps I'll do some catch-up posts in the meantime. After all, there's plenty to report about...

8 comments:

  1. Start doing the Nixon tapes again. Those are very entertaining.

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  2. There was a concerted effort by Conservative pundits to brand the BP gulf spill as "Obama's Katrina," but obviously that didn't catch on.

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    1. Also, Kagan and Sotomayor were both called "Obama's Harriet Miers." Of course we're getting off track of the subject of scandals, but the point is that there are a few second-term Bush fiascoes that conservatives view as acceptable to talk about in negative terms. Just none of them involve waterboarding.

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  3. that one backfired on Republicans, anyway

    How so? The scandal broke in 1998. Sure, the GOP lost seats in Congress that year, but within 3 years, they controlled the White House and both houses of Congress.

    Ask yourself this: Without Monica, would Al Gore have won four more electoral votes in 2000? If the answer is probably yes, then the drumming up of this scandal did not backfire at all on the GOP.

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    1. >Sure, the GOP lost seats in Congress that year

      This is no small point. Out-parties almost never lose seats in a president's sixth year. The last time it happened before then was 1822!

      >Without Monica, would Al Gore have won four more electoral votes in 2000?

      Who knows? That was such a freakish election that it's probably useless to draw any larger conclusions from it. Although Bush ran on "restoring honor to the White House," it's far from clear that's what enabled him to beat the economic fundamentals. Remember, Clinton's popularity rose during the impeachment, and I personally think one of Gore's mistakes was distancing himself too much from Clinton.

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    2. This conversation just prompted a thought: have political scientists ever inquired about whether the Lieberman VP choice might ultimately have been an albatross in such a close election?

      Team Gore pretty much never made any attempt to hide the value provided the ticket by Lieberman's high moral standing. The insight: if you are trying to run away from something, is it a good idea to be surrounded by constant reminders of the thing from which you are running? Did any of us ever think of Lieberman during that race and not make the connection that he wasn't a dirty scuzzy bastard like Clinton?

      Was that the appropriate Clinton context to have top of voters mind when they considered that aspect of Gore's candidacy?

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  4. one of Gore's mistakes was distancing himself too much from Clinton.

    No doubt. And why did he feel the need to distance himself?

    In any case, I don't know if I'd call the 2000 election "freakish" (such that it would be impossible to prove what effect Monica had on the outcome), but I'd definitely call it really, really close (such that any number of factors could have tipped the balance one way or the other).

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    1. >And why did he feel the need to distance himself?

      But the effect is only indirect. He believed that associating himself with Clinton would be a bad idea. He was probably wrong. If Clinton had not been impeached, we don't know what other type of miscalculations he might have made.

      As an analogy, part of the reason for the Palin fiasco in 2008 was because McCain was anxious to prove his right-wing credentials, and that wouldn't have been the case if he'd been someone liked by the GOP base. But that doesn't mean that nominating a moderate is a bad idea in general--it just means there's a potential risk the guy will be compelled to overcompensate. Similarly, Gore was overcompensating due to anxiety about the negative impact of the Clinton impeachment, but that doesn't mean the impact was real outside his mind.

      >I don't know if I'd call the 2000 election "freakish" ... but I'd definitely call it really, really close

      But that's why it was freakish. No other presidential election in history hinged on 537 votes in a single state. That's the kind of election where you could speculate about the most bizarre possibilities that normally have no effect on election outcomes. Maybe Gore had a bad hair day. It's like seeing the results of a coin flip and concluding that a skilled card player would be stymied by a gust of wind.

      The bottom line is that all the available evidence suggests the impeachment helped rather than hurt the Democrats, and even if you believe it had a subtle long-term effect that ultimately cost Gore just enough votes to enable the Supreme Court to steal the election from him, that doesn't mean it was good politics for the GOP. Just because a party gets back into power a few years after a scathing defeat doesn't mean the defeat led to the later success. It's very likely that part of what influenced the GOP to nominate a candidate who ran as an easygoing "compassionate conservative" was an attempt to dial back the bellicosity of the Gingrich years.

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