Friday, November 27, 2009


Catching up: hope everyone is enjoying their holiday weekend...

I've already touched a bit on the filibuster discussion from earlier this week, but I have a few more points to hit. One of the interesting questions is the Bush record. Why was Bush able to pass so many things when Republicans never came close to having 60 Senators?

Matt Yglesias and Kevin Drum argue that Bush succeeded because Dems just didn't try to obstruct everything on principle -- rejectionism is purely Republican strategy. Here's Matt:
A big part of the difference here is that the post-1994 Republican Party appears
to believe that, as a matter of political strategy, it makes sense to try to
deal demoralizing defeats to the Democrats.

And Kevin adds:
The point is that Dems, for better or worse, never tried to make every single
bill a destruction test of the opposing party's governance.

Ezra Klein, however, argues that the key to why Democrats didn't choose a rejectionist strategy was that Bush didn't push overly conservative policies. He lists the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, No Child Left Behind, McCain-Feingold, Sarbanes-Oxley, the Iraq War and the 2001 war resolution, and the Medicare and bancruptcy bills, and concludes:

To make a bit of a heretical point, most of those cases prove that Bush's
domestic agenda was a capitulation to liberalism, not that Democrats were
spineless wimps...on the whole, Bush's domestic record is more a tale of
co-opting liberal ideas and adding money for corporations than it is a tale of
achieving longtime conservative ends.
By contrast, Barack Obama really is pursuing longtime progressive agenda items.

Well, yes and no. What I think really distinguishes Bush's domestic record is a policy of all dessert, all the time. Spend more and tax less! Invade lots of countries, but then pretend you're not at war -- well, pretend that being at war is limited to talking about suppporting the troops and singing God Bless America a lot of times. That's not conservative in any traditional sense, and Ezra is correct about that as far as it goes. But it's not liberal, either. It's just irresponsible.

And on the larger point, I think Matt and Kevin are really correct. Yes, Ezra is right that Obama is seeking to achieve longtime liberal goals, and liberals should appreciate it. But Matt and Kevin are correct: it doesn't matter. Republicans are choosing a rejectionist strategy because they think it will work, not because Obama is a radical liberal, just as Republicans chose a rejectionist strategy in 1993-1994. The most obvious case is that stimulus bill. Really, the key political fact of the year is that Republicans opposed -- filibustered -- a stimulus bill that contained a huge tax cut. Republicans don't believe (in the abstract) that such a bill will hurt the economy, but the rejectionist strategy means they have to argue that way, even if it doesn't make any sense at all.

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