Sunday, February 24, 2013

Sunday Question for Liberals

I think this is another repeat question, but since I wrote a thing this week saying again that Barack Obama's biggest mistake has been failing to promptly make appointments, I figured I might as well ask all of you: what do you think has been Obama's biggest mistake?

Mind you, I'm especially interested in "mistakes" which were things that were actually within his ability to do. But as usual with Sunday questions, interpret it however you like; I'm just interested in what liberals (and conservatives) think about things.

32 comments:

  1. I agree with you 100%. The sloth with which nominations to executive branch positions is, in its own way, even more perplexing than the lackadaisical attitude toward judicial nominations.

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  2. The nominations one is a good one.

    Another possibility is his failure to take a tougher line in the debt ceiling negotiations in 2011. (I know partisans always want politicians to take a harder line - but I think this is a case where there are reality-based reasons for thinking it would have been effective.)

    The surge in Afghanistan seems like yet another candidate - although I don't really feel like I have the expertise to say for sure. Probably we will have a clearer sense on how to evaluate that in a few years.

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    1. Are you saying we're worse off for the Afghanistan surge? Or that it doesn't matter, since Republicans are always going to treat any failure the same, no matter if you followed their plan or not?

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    2. Worse off. Although, as I say, I could certainly be wrong.

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  3. The Executive Branch is in charge of criminal prosecutions. Not one financier was ever prosecuted for the crimes associated with the Great Recession. Allowing the financiers to get away with their criminal acts will have devastating consequences for this country.

    If the President does it it is not illegal.

    Richard Nixon

    If the Financiers do it it is not illegal.

    Obama/Geithner

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  4. I blame him for the 2010 house debacle. Everything the country is dealing with today, including republican gerrymandering, dates back to the 2010 election. That was the single most important election of the 21st century so far and we will be living with it for too many more years.

    I don't think he (or any democrat) tried hard enough to sell Obamacare or at the least counteract vile tea party attacks. I realize it's arguable whether or not it was within his power to reverse that tide, but I still to this day have the impression he/they didn't even try.

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    1. I agree but specifically that O and WH team completely failed to respond to the virulent reaction against Obamacare during 2010. This became the basis of the Tea Party and the 2010 congressional election results. They simply left were silent to the TP roar. They didn't -- and still haven't much -- sold the country on the benefits. The conservatives' charges were not effectively answered during that time. Where was the Great Explainer from 2008?

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    2. So, what did he do wrong? Be specific.

      Are you saying that absent any legislation, he wouldn't have any blowback from conservatives? What are you saying, exactly?

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    3. Hmm. I've recently read Jonathan's archives from the relevant time-period, and the fairly consistent theme in his responses to the 2010 election cycle was that it was about the fundamentals not about the 'insurgency'. The Tea-Party dominated cycle did not gain Republicans more seats, and in some readings gained them less seats, than the fundamentals predicted for that cycle.

      I really don't think the White House caused the mid-term losses. When the Democrats had that many seats, the White House, a shit economy and had just been governing, more or less, for two years they were always going to get their asses kicked. The fact that it didn't happen again in 2012 could potentially be attributed in part to the WH and the Dems record in government. Maybe.

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  5. The failure to make prompt judicial and Fed appointments was one of his biggest mistakes, no question. But I'd say the biggest mistake was appointing Rahm. Rahm appears to have been on the wrong side of how to deal with Congress, on the anti-Democratic side of a host of policy issues, appears to have failed to smoothly run the White House on the economic team side (the side he was involved with), and of course he abandoned the White House shortly before a coming electoral test to pursue his own personal ambitions.

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  6. The standard Krugman line is that he believed too much in bipartisanship until last Tuesday. I tend to agree with that. There is no doubt that he was green when he got into office. But I'm not as sure as I once was. Now I tend to think he's just not that much of a liberal.

    This is a common theme. The last two Democratic presidents have been pretty conservative when it comes to economics. Both seemed genuinely surprised when the Republicans accused each of being socialists. In Clinton's case, it is more understandable.

    I do think that's the critical mistake Obama made: he assumed the opposition would be reasonable. He assumed they would see who he really was. Unfortunately, the conservatives were as blind as the liberals who voted him in. All of us, in our own way, saw what we want to. Obama made a major mistake in thinking that anyone really understood what he was trying to do. Of course, if we had, I'm not sure he would have been elected president.

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    1. Now I tend to think he's just not that much of a liberal.

      He is Reagan 2.0, with way too much GWB on foreign policy.

      He is no kind of liberal or progressive. He is a center-right 1985 repulican.

      JzB

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  7. President Obama's biggest mistake was not seeking my advice on everything.

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  8. His biggest mistake was letting congress take a week off with the sequester looming. It is almost impossible to believe that the very people who were elected to make sure, we as a country move forward have left the building. It would be different if they had been working non stop week after week, but this is clearly not the case. They are the highest paid public servents and they do less work then anyone. If they were really concerend about this country's debt problem they would tke a pay cut or get out of the way and let someone else do the job that they should be doing.

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    1. So, the biggest mistake Obama has made in the last four years is some purely symbolic thing he doesn't actually have any control over?

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  9. How can Obama make prompt appointments? Honestly?

    Is he supposed to find some mythical staff to hand-hold a record number of nominees through the process while they wait?

    Is he supposed to be able to convince more people to wait through the year-or-more long process of being reamed by the Senate?

    I don't get it. Magical fairy appointees, as far as I can figure.

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  10. I honestly do not believe Obama has made any BIG mistakes. He has charted us through treacherous territory in resolving what might have turned into a second Depression, passed the most robust health care reform that was feasible, successfully presided over the killing of our worst enemy, removed a homicidal dictator with minimal expenditure of American life and treasure, improved our image overseas, advanced gay rights, taken what executive action he could to combat climate change, and performed political jujitsu on the Republicans in the most recent standoff over the debt ceiling. In all of these major initiatives, I don't see that he, personally, made any major errors in judgment...The only thing I can think of is Obama not preparing well for and generally flaking out during the first debate against Romney. Maybe we would have won a few more seats in the House had his coattails been a little longer. But of course, that wouldn't have changed very much.

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  11. Like you, I think the vacancies are his #1 mistake too, but just to throw some other out there...

    -- Odyssey Dawn: He should have pushed for Congress to authorize the intervention in Libya, rather than buck them. It's a moot point now that Gaddafi's gone, but he's lucky the operation didn't blow up in his face. Very, very lucky.

    -- This is purely symbolic, but Obama should not have accepted the Nobel Prize. I used to live in Chicago, so I've been a fan and have followed his political career for a very long time, and have always been enamored by his speeches; but I tell ya, that Nobel acceptance speech was the only time I've ever been ashamed of him.

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  12. Ben Bernanke really does look like a bad choice in retrospective. Also the decision to "pivot" from the economy to the deficit in 2011 gave us both a weaker economy and started the fiscal crisis mode Washington has been locked in.

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  13. Personally, I think the administration has navigated a perilous four years pretty competently. Most of what I disagree with isn't about the White House failing, or being slow, or whatever, it's about me genuinely disagreeing with the administration; e.g. drug policy, drones. Jonathan's repeated point about 'things he could actually do' is key.

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  14. Right now, agreeing to negotiate over the debt ceiling in 2011 looks like a pretty serious mistake. That negotiation process got us the sequester. And holding the line on the debt ceiling, as he did this year, got us the Republicans totally backing down.

    Maybe if he'd held the line two years ago, we'd not be in this sequester mess at all.

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    1. I am not as certain about that as some people are. After 2010, the GOP was in a reckless, triumphalist mood. The experience of 2012 does seem to have chastened them a *little* bit as their votes on the fiscal cliff and their retreat on the debt issue show. They are still willing to risk the sequester, but that is way less risky.

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    2. Other option: debt ceiling should have been raised back in 2009 or 2010 when Republican votes wouldn't have been needed.

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  15. For me, it was the failure of him and Congress to pass a second stimulus in early 2010 or late 2009 (when the democrats still had 60 votes), when it became more obvious that the first stimulus wasn't working as hoped. Either that was because of the design of the first, (they thought it would be politically feasible to pass another one later so they didn't make the first one big enough), or they genuinely thought that 787B was enough. Big mistake. If they had got that right, and passed more aid to the states, there would be less public sector layoffs in during the 'recovery' and unemployment would be much lower. That would've helped his re-election efforts and, depending on how robust the second stimulus was, it may have mitigated the 2010 losses if it was more obvious that the economy was improving that the time.

    I know that passing a second stimulus would've seen like an admission of defeat, but really it had to be done. 8% unemployment is really the biggest blight on his record, and now all we talk about is the deficit. It's pathetic.

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    1. I liked the idea of breaking it up into pieces and continuing to pass more pieces until the economy was fixed.

      The biggest problem was those overoptimistic forecasts showing unemployment going away if stimulus passed. When the next recession hits, hopefully policy makers will realize that they'll need more than one bite at the apple.

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    2. Even better, debt ceiling increase should have been linked to the tax cut extension in the 2010 lame duck session.

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    3. Whoops, that reply is in the wrong place. Sorry.

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  16. The Recovery Act should have included more automatic stabilizers. I would have like to see the payroll tax cut indexed to the unemployment rate.

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    1. I agree. I think also that sequestration should be put off until unemployment hits 6%. That would make it much more palatable.

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  17. I think it was a huge mistake not to try to prosecute Bush and Cheney for torture. Even if he didn't manage to get the convictions, it's important to at least attempt to hold those in power to the rule of law. As it is, because there were no consequences, torture remains on the table as a policy option as soon as a chief executive feels like it's a good idea. I think that's terrible for our country and for the world.

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  18. It occurs to me that a lot of the "mistakes" people criticize may have been necessary because of the filibuster. (Yes, this was true even in 2009-10. Only for a few months did the Democrats have sixty seats in the Senate, and even then Nelson and sometimes Lieberman could not be counted on for cloture.)

    So maybe the real mistake was not pressing for filibuster reform in January 2009? (I'm not sure if that was possible, though. There were--and are--too many Democrats saying "We may need the filibuster when the GOP regains control of the Senate some day." I would reply that in the first place the filibuster has been of very limited use to liberals, except in blocking a few nominees for lower federal courts. Partial privatization of Social Security was stopped without a filibuster, indeed it never went to a vote in the Senate or the House. Second, if the GOP does regain control of the Senate within the next few years they'll probably find a way around the filibuster anyway.)

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