Thursday, September 6, 2012

More on No GOP Bill Clinton

I argued last night that there's no Republican Bill Clinton because "Republican gatekeepers and, probably, Republican audiences don't want that kind of thing."

Andrew Sullivan makes a good point:
Also: their most recent former president was the worst in modern history. And both Bushes had a hard time arguing their way out of a paper bag. 
Here's one place where presidents really do matter, both in their actions and in the examples they set. But it's not the Bushes that we need to look to. It's that other guy, the one that Republicans worship. Parties emulate their successful presidents, and for Republicans Ronald Reagan is their successful president.

It's hard, for those who remember George W. Bush but not Reagan, to explain the earlier Republican president. See, people called Bush stupid, but I'm convinced that isn't true (I've said this before, but I'll repeat it: I've heard him talk baseball, and he sounded quite intelligent). The thing about George W. Bush is that, in my view, he had little if any interest in government and public affairs, or in politics other than as a competition for office, and given that there were also few incentives within his party for him to sound as if he knew what he was talking about, he didn't bother.

Ronald Reagan, though...All the evidence on Reagan indicates that he certainly was highly interested in and very much cared about government and public affairs. He didn't, contrary to what some thought, just want to play the role of president; he really did want to be president, and he really believed in and cared about policy and ideological outcomes.

But Reagan's relationship with the truth was pretty complicated, and he would regularly say things that were just not true. I mean, regularly: after every press conference someone would have to clean it up (back then they cared about such things). William Safire attributes "misspoke himself" to Ron Ziegler talking for Nixon, but I think (although I could be wrong) it was really popularized for ordinary things with Reagan's presidency. The thing is that Reagan's genius was for believing what he wanted to believe, and once he was set on something it was nearly impossible to break him from it.

At any rate: during the Bush years there was a fair amount of pushback by Reagan supporters, but at the time one of the lessons that Republicans learned from Reagan was that facts just get in the way; what you want are politicians with strong beliefs, not a complex grasp of details. After all, Jimmy Carter was well-known as a micromanager; under Reagan, however, someone from his administration once said, everyone in the White House went to work knowing exactly what the long-term goals of the presidency were. There was some truth in that, and indeed the positive side of it really was a significant strength of Reagan as president. It's just that there was no truth at all in the flip side that facts just get in the way. It definitely caught on, however, and next thing you know perfectly sensible Republican governors are agreeing to give George W. Bush a presidency he was ill-equipped to handle.

If we think about what could change the current GOP antipathy to policy, facts, and the rest of it, the most likely answer would be that they could have a successful president who sets a different example. In part, that would take staring down Rush Limbaugh and the rest of his crowd -- something that neither Bush had any interest in. But in part, it would just be by example. Bill Clinton taught lots of young Democrats that his way of doing politics was the right way to do it. A successful Republican president could teach a generation of Republicans that lesson.

However, it doesn't seem possible to get to be a successful Republican president in the first place by acting like that. So, Catch-22. Especially since, in my view, the kinds of things that make it difficult for Republicans to speak sensibly about policy make it equally difficult for Republicans to develop and implement good public policy. Which means that even a stealth policy wonk Republican who managed to win the nomination and get elected would have some difficulty becoming a successful enough president to be the one who sets the better example. Granted, it doesn't have to be as bad as George W. Bush. But it really is quite the problem for them.

The other way out of it would be a revolt by the party as a whole against the Becks and the Limbaughs and the rest. That's possible; it's just not something that happens very often.

40 comments:

  1. I'm amused by this political blogger's incessant advice for his evil and stupid R enemies, who just got done shellacking his lefty buddies at the local, state and federal levels, and appear poised for another, or a stalemate at minimum.

    I wouldn't bet political advice from this site, for sure. ;-)

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    1. Critique does not equal advice Einstein...

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    2. ...I wouldn't bet this guy's political critique either. ;-)

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    3. Yawn, I wouldn't bet on you having much of a brain either.

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  2. I have a question for you lefties though. Do you believe Bill Clinton would have a chance of winning the Left's nomination for the presidency today? ;-)

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    1. what is this purported "Left" constituted of that you believe has the power or authority to nominate anyone for anything? Last time I checked, the major American political parties were the Democrats and Republicans. Nowhere is included a third party called "the Left."

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    2. Well, it includes you in its constitution, apparently. ;-)

      You still didn't answer the question though, not that I figured any of the lefties on this site would, obviously. ;-)

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    3. Yes, the answer is yes. Of course.

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    4. His wife came a whisker of winning it and he's obviously a more talented politician, so why not?

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    5. And I have a question for you. Do you believe that Ronald Reagan, with his tax raising, his government growing, his accommodation with the Soviets could be a Republican nominee? Oh, yeah. Of course he could. Today's Republicans talk a good game, but do all that same stuff as soon as they get into power.

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  3. JB, some of this seems very perceptive, but I think you're way underplaying the fact that significant portions of the GOP have very different *goals* for public policy than do Democrats (and liberals, in particular). So public policy is evaluated on different terms. There's not one set type of "good public policy" that all rational or empirically-respectful people will settle upon. There just isn't.

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    1. Perhaps, in part, it's that there is a sort of "implementation quotient" that a hard-conservative GOP might always be deficient on (overall.) If at every level the process is suffused with eau de gov't sux, then the research & drafting & politicking & staffing & monitoring & whatnot are all going to reek a little. Which is not to say no successes, or that Democratic methods are always so wonderful, but it matters if you're in some ways not even trying, and basically boast of it in a demented way, right?

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  4. Agreed with PF.

    Plus, I know that you don't like Reagan, but I'm hardly the only one who regards him as the best postwar President by a country mile. Of course Republicans are going to emulate him in ways great and small - and yes, that will mean even his faults get emulated sometimes. But if that gets us more Presidents like Reagan, so much the better.

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    1. JB's point is that it doesn't --- it gets us lazy incompetents like GWB (or cynical investors like Cheney or WMR)

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    2. I think that partly fits for the Iraq War -- elements of that were incompetent. But the war also fulfilled deep desires on the part of GOP leaders and many GOP politicians to enact swaggering military policy. That actually fulfilled real psychological and cultural goals. So deep in fact that many Republicans still think it was worth it and still hold the theory that it made an important statement for spreading freedom. Now you and I think that's hogwash, but that's because our criteria for "good" public policy has an entirely different set of priorities and values

      Let's take another example. Under Bush, the economy never took off, but for those the GOP considers deserving and successful, there was much prosperity to be had in good times and bad over the eight years, and all those supporters of the GOP felt culturally validated in a very real sense.

      Another example. GWB and his administration were quite successful in carrying out their judicial appointment strategies and in accruing power for the executive branch. In the former case, their public policy goal was to align the judiciary with their ideological perspective and they considered the latter goal to be necessary to have a strong, flexible national security system.

      I think one could say that the Bush administration was irrational in the sense that some effects of their policies were ultimately self-destructive *electorally*. But in great part, to the extent that they carried out their policies, they gained the benefits they desired.

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    3. I'll also paste in the comment I made in Jonathan's post last night, since it's most relevant to this post:

      PF:
      "I'd agree that there are some issues on which the GOP professes to have the same goals as the Democrats. In that case, one can more or less adjudicate whose policy proposals are more rational, empirically supported, and likely to be effective.

      But there are also many issues/topics on which ideological Republicans and Democrats have completely different understandings of the issue in question and different goals and different governing premises and values. In that case, both can in fact be pursuing "rational," "solid," and "factual" policy paths given these priors.

      If one doesn't grant this, then there's actually no social and conceptual space for rational disagreement in a democracy."
      ( http://plainblogaboutpolitics.blogspot.com/2012/09/democrats-day-2.html )

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    4. I do believe however that the GOP does publicly argue for their policies in a significantly more deceptive fashion than do the Democrats. But that strategy, in its own way, is pretty rational -- and a mark of competence -- given that they otherwise might lose electoral popularity.

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    5. PF, your arguments are rational and logical. The only problem I have with them is what one might call a cost-benefit analysis. For example, you point out that the Iraq war filled a real psychological goal of the Republicans. I don't disagree. Torture did as well, I think, because that is the only real explanation for doing it. Unfortunately, that sadism had a price that was paid by the blood of our sons and daughters, and cost an ungodly amount of treasure.

      The same goes for a number of Republican goals: they ignore global warming because it will make drilling for oil in the Arctic easier. They favor easing bank regulations, to better wring value out of debtors. They favor gutting labor regulations and benefits, for obvious monetary gain.

      One can see how they and their supporters gain from the policies they endorse. The price the rest of us have to pay is too high.

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  5. Funny, I think Clinton just said that about Obama -- he has his heart in the right place, give him some time to learn the moves.

    The rest of JB's comments are spot on.

    I do think the increased mainstreaming of "evangelicals" means authority figures are more and more distrusted in the R party. And between Ron Paul and the American Conservtive crowd I do think there is a revolt brewing.

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  6. The thing is that Reagan's genius was for believing what he wanted to believe

    This is a new and exciting usage for the word genius. I'm quite sure I would never have come up with it.

    the kinds of things that make it difficult for Republicans to speak sensibly about policy make it equally difficult for Republicans to develop and implement good public policy.

    On a much more serious note, it's been clear to me for many years that R's are - at best - indifferent to good public policy. The reason they are so bad a governing is that they have a contempt for governance.

    This is why an empty suit like W, or a cast-in-plastic automaton like Romney gets nominated. As one of them pointed out (was it Norquist?) all they want is someone who can hold a pen and sign into law the reactionary corporatist agenda that an R-dominated congress will present.

    I hated Nixon, but somewhere in the depth of his warped heart, I believe he really loved America and wanted to do what is best for it. I do not believe that of any current R.

    JzB

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  7. I agree with PF that Republicans can have very different goals and standards for policy. For many that would probably include a rejection of Keynesianism and a belief that economic policy should be "consistent" and not foolishly attempt to react to the business cycle. But I'm not sure we're hearing those arguments either, at least not in any coherent form. I suspect the lack of policy detail at the moment is rooted either (a) in a belief that it will be a more successful strategy to rely on a rejection of Obama and the weak economy or (b) in a recognition that the GOP voter base consists of people with such divergent interests (e.g., Baptist preacher, Kansas farmer, corporate CEO, hedge-fund manager) that specific proposals might highlight their differences, especially when the proposals favor the numerically smaller groups.

    I'm not so sure about Reagan. He was highly successful in changing the terms of debate and moving the political spectrum to the right. But what are his real accomplishments? The structural deficists and de facto deregulation that have undermined the economy in subsequent decades?

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    1. The Reagan part is a response to Anonymous 2:24.

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    2. Did he change the terms of debate and move the political spectrum to the right? It's not really clear that he did so.

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    3. Heh.

      So it's not clear that Ronald Reagan changed the terms of the debate? ;-)

      It's ironic and appropriate that you posted that empty muse in a discussion about Bill Clinton. ;-)

      Note to self: Never bet on any political observations or prognistications proffered on this site. ;-)

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  8. The idea that Democrats adhere to reality is itself a Big Lie. Anyone else watch them vote on returning God and Jerusalem to their platform? When they get away with such an obvious lie to everyone in the room and everyone watching on live TV, then I think it's fair to say they feel they can get away with any deviation from the facts. (Of course Republicans did the same thing when voting on their rules change.)

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    1. It's called pandering. What can you do?

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    2. Scott, have you seen the video? There's no way that 2/3 voted for the platform change:

      http://youtu.be/BUG_USh1OFM

      Both parties have chosen to depart from their rules and basic democratic norms... even if it means lying directly to your face. To paraphrase Groucho Marx, who are you going to believe, your Party, or your own lying ears?

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    3. Just to be clear: I don't care if Dems mention God and Jerusalem or not. The point is that the vote was stolen in plain sight - watch the video.

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    4. I'm agreeing with you. It was decided higher up that the platform would be changed to placate certain constituencies.

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    5. Scott, it wasn't the higher-up's decision to make -- hence, the rigged vote. That doesn't make you mad? I'm not a Democrat and even I feel humiliated.

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    6. Yeah that was pretty creepy. I'm amazed at the number of own goals the Obamabots are scoring in the past month or so.

      First, they overreached and claimed that Willard killed that guy's wife.

      Then they killed off the ironclad and long ago settled work-first requirement for welfare benefits.

      And now they get caught screwing around on Jerusalem and God.

      This is like open season on the Left's own feet. All of these things could have been handled better or not at all, and yet the fringe leftists insisted on the most confrontational and belligerent approach possible. And it's burning them.

      And I think in their totality, the above issues are gonna hurt them. Will there be more of this? They can't afford many more of these mistakes, I'd say.

      And the Willardbots have a bunch of Harvard geeks mining every one of these own goals, and microtargeting voters to exploit them. Politics ain't beanbag, and that Willard guy is a ruthless sob, rest assured, at least as ruthless as the Obamabots, who have no divorce settlements to unearth against their opponent this election. ;-).

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    7. Couves, again I agree it was embarrassing and inappropriate, but pandering is not new. It had to do with essentially meaningless wordings in party platform that will never affect policy. I don't believe that this will now be the general way in which issues are settled. But, yes, I'd be happier if it hadn't happened.

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    8. Anonymous, Obama did not kill off the work requirement, although there are arguments for doing so. That's merely what Republicans say he did.

      If Romney doesn't want people to suggest he's directly or indirectly responsible for people dying, then he shouldn't make it his life's goal to prevent people from getting health insurance.

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    9. Yes, Obama killed off the work-first requirement, by executive fiat, in contradiction to settled law.

      When you let the Governor Moonbeams of this world certify that everything's on the up-and-up, that means you've killed off the work-first requirement.

      Again, you can push that lefty "factchecker" meme all you want, but trust me, the "work-first" requirement is gonna get driven into every swing voters mind, and with good reason. They know the Left, and the Governor Moonbeams. Let's poll Wisconsin, which just went for Walker by 7, and see what they think of this. They know better, I suspect.

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    10. And if you think it's somehow helpful to Obama to have fringe lefty nutters accuse Willard of killing that guy's wife... you are even further out on the Left than I thought you were. ;-)

      That's gonna hurt Obama small or even perhaps big, somewhere. That was a certified own goal.

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    11. Scott, again, this has nothing to do with pandering. The point isn't what was being voted on, but that the vote itself was rigged. That IS something new. And unless Democrats speak out and act like the democratic process matters, I guarantee it will happen again. The Republicans did the same thing regarding rules which will effect who becomes their party nominee... don't think it can't happen to the Democrats?

      Partisanship seems to have a way of blinding people to something that should be intolerable to anyone who values their freedom.

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    12. Couves, what do you think of the new Anonymous? Does he make you happy? -old anon

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    13. False. The waiver was specifically implemented at the request of REPUBLICAN governors, including Nevada's Brian Sandoval. If you're making stuff up like that, why should we listen to anything else you say?

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  9. I do think that is one of the better descriptions of W's flaws as a political leader I've read, and I'd agree that the no knownothing approach to issues of policy we see coming from the GOP, and personified by Ryan's non-existent "expertise," certainly is a problem that has been in the works for a while. It's very important to realize the real problems this theory and method of politics will ultimately cause. My favorite examples from the Bush days always came from the never ending series of fiascoes and disasters throughout the misadventure in Iraq, and I've always thought "Imperial Life in the Emerald City" is in its own way, one of the better books about the Bush, even if he never appears in it. If only because of all the CPA staffers who act like boy emperors all the time. I think you can see a lot of this in a potential Romney presidency already, Krugman pointed out earlier this week that it's fairly insane to pick a magic date that where people born before get the popular version of Medicare we have now and everyone born after that day gets smaller vouchers that won't be able to cover the cost of care, the political battles between the cohorts would be immense and this seems like the definition of a politically unsustainable plan. But its at the heart of the Ryan plan, because only by doing impossible things like this can any of the made up numbers come anywhere close to adding up to where Romney/Ryan needs them to be. You see the same in foreign policy, where Romney boasts about starting a trade war with China and demands an aggressive approach to Russia but then says we need tighter sanctions on Iran, as if China and Russian wouldn't veto any international effort in revenge.

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  10. The tragedy of George W Bush is not that he was stupid, for he clearly was not. You don't get thru Yale and Harvard Business School, while being primarily focused on partying, without being real bright.

    No, the tragedy is that, while he was perfectly capable of thinking, he preferred not to make the effort.

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