Thursday, October 7, 2010

Sorry, Liberals: There's No Silver Lining in a GOP Congress

I hate to disagree with Jonathan Cohn, but I think he used the wrong hashtag on his post about silver linings for liberals from a GOP landslide.  Not #slatepitches.  What he was looking for is #wishfulthinking.  Or perhaps #betterdelusionsthancoldreality.  I'm afraid that none of his three points really holds up.  I'll take them one by one:
1. It would flush Republicans out into the open, by forcing them to compose and defend detailed legislation.
It's true that Republicans would have to write and vote for appropriations bills, and that would probably have to run them into some difficulties, given that some of their candidates will resist voting for any spending levels that Barack Obama is willing to sign.  Beyond that, however...there's no reason that Republicans would be "forced" to do much of anything.  Yes, if Republicans pass their agenda of tax cuts and superficial spending cuts, the deficit would go through the roof.  So?  They'll gladly compose and defend the tax cuts, and they'll still claim that they're all for cutting deficits, and Fox News (and conservative voters) will blame it all on Obama.

Or, take health care.  Liberals have pointed out that the GOP platform of repealing the individual mandate while (sort of) keeping ACA protections on such things as pre-existing conditions would be a policy hash if implemented.  Again: So?  From a conservative point of view, turning the ACA into a policy hash is a feature, not a bug.
2. It would raise the profile of the party’s legislative leadership, particularly would-be Speaker John Boehner and would-be Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. 
Here, I just disagree with Cohn's political analysis.  Yes, McConnell and Boehner are hacks.  But I think both of them are pretty good politicians who have a much better understanding of their own limitations than Newt Gingrich did.  Newt, helped by his success in taking credit for the surprise takeover of Congress in the 1994 landslide, was able to become a highly visible symbol of his party.  Yet that's hardly inevitable; in 2011 there will be plenty of Republican presidential candidates running around to grab the spotlight, and I'd expect McConnell and Boehner to readily cede it to them and to more telegenic Members of their conferences.  (And, by the way, in Boehner vs. Gingrich for popularity, my money is on Boehner: Cohn says that Newt "gives a good speech and is sharp on television," but he also was intemperate and didn't know how to stick to talking points).

That leaves
3. It would unite the Democratic caucus around a more coherent set of views and policies.
I don't think Cohn's heart is even in this one; there's a lot of "could" and "might" in this section.  And rightly so; any argument that relies on Democratic unity is going to be a tough one to believe.  There's a reason we all invoke Will Rogers so often.  As I think Cohn realizes, the possibility of cooperation is just as likely to yield to a reality of liberals and moderates, the Hill and the White House, Washington and the grassroots, all blaming each other for the GOP landslide.

I suppose I should try to find some good news for Democrats.  It certainly is possible that Republicans will overplay their hand, making Cohn's points a lot more relevant. And if the GOP draws the wrong lessons chooses to nominate Sarah Palin, Jim DeMint, or Mike Pence for president because 2010 "proves" that purism beats pragmatism at the ballot box, then they'll make Barack Obama's life a lot easier.  But of course either of those things could happen even without GOP control of one or both Houses of Congress. No, really, there's no escaping it: a GOP landslide would be just plain bad news for liberals.  This one doesn't really have a silver lining.


  1. OK, how about this one: Landslides create the perception of future failure -- first, because voters think, "You got a landslide, how come you haven't done X, Y or Z?", and second, because at some future election you have more vulnerable incumbents in marginal seats, and so your loss in that election seems bigger than it otherwise would (as the Democrats' losses this year, whatever they are, will actually be a tribute to the size of their last two victories). Seems to me that these dynamics both worked against the '94 Gingrich Republicans, helping make '96 and '98 good Democratic years -- in fact, bringing down Gingrich in '98, when as I recall he was reduced to carrying around plastic buckets in hopes of getting credit for having stopped free deliveries of ice to congressional offices, or some such trivia. Any big achievements the GOP tried to claim just made Clinton look good, thus indirectly helping Democrats.

    Yeah, I know that's pretty thin, but we're looking for "silver linings," right? Not silver mountains. At any rate, the big one is that Obama would get to run in '12 against a GOP Congress. This would force him to drop the Mr. Bipartisan shtick, but even if he didn't, it would greatly clarify the issues before the country; even low-information voters would start to get a clue.

    That said, a GOP Congress would be such a disaster on so many levels, it's certainly nothing to be actively wished for out of some perverse dialectical belief in "heightening the contradictions" or any such nonsense. But it occurs to me that the scenario I'm hoping to see this year -- Democrats hold on, even if with reduced majorities -- would also create endless future headaches, and there's something to be said for not having headaches.

    P.S. I just previewed this comment and the "capcha" system gave me this word for verfication: "turdstop." I am not making this up.

  2. The Progressive Socialist Marxist Liberals Are Distroying America.

    The path we are on is not sustainable. The economy is falling apart, and somebody better wake up and do something before even more Americans find themselves drowning in poverty. The following are 20 signs that the economic collapse has already begun for one out of every seven Americans…..

    1. The Census Bureau says that 43.6 million Americans are now living in poverty and according to them that is the highest number of poor Americans in 51 years of record-keeping.

    2. In the year 2000, 11.3 percent of Americans were living in poverty. In 2008, 13.2 percent of Americans were living in poverty. In 2009, 14.3 percent of Americans were living in poverty. Needless to say the trend is moving in the wrong direction.

    3. In 2009 alone, approximately 4 million more Americans joined the ranks of the poor.

    4. According to the Associated Press, experts believe that 2009 saw the largest single year increase in the U.S. poverty rate since the U.S. government began calculating poverty figures back in 1959.

    5. The U.S. poverty rate is now the third worst among the developed nations tracked by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

    6. Today the United States has approximately 4 million fewer wage earners than it did in 2007.

    7. Nearly 10 million Americans now receive unemployment insurance, which is almost four times as many as were receiving it in 2007.

    8. U.S. banks repossessed 25 percent more homes in August 2010 than they did in August 2009.

    9. One out of every seven mortgages in the United States was either delinquent or in foreclosure during the first quarter of 2010.

    10. There are now 50.7 million Americans who do not have health insurance. One trip to the emergency room would be all it would take to bankrupt a significant percentage of them.

    11. More than 50 million Americans are now on Medicaid, the U.S. government health care program designed principally to help the poor.

    12. There are now over 41 million Americans on food stamps.

    13. The number of Americans enrolled in the food stamp program increased a whopping 55 percent from December 2007 to June 2010.

    14. One out of every six Americans is now being served by at least one government anti-poverty program.

    15. California’s poverty rate soared to 15.3 percent in 2009, which was the highest in 11 years.

    16. According to an analysis by Isabel Sawhill and Emily Monea of the Brookings Institution, 10 million more Americans (including 6 million more children) will slip into poverty over the next decade.

    17. According to a recently released Federal Reserve report, Americans experienced a $1.5 trillion loss in combined household net worth in the second quarter of 2010.

    18. Manufacturing employment in the U.S. computer industry is actually lower in 2010 than it was in 1975.

    19. Median U.S. household income is down 5 percent from its peak of more than $52,000 in 1999.

    20. A study recently released by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College University found that Americans are $6.6 trillion short of what they need for retirement.

    How anyone can look at those numbers and think that things are about to “get better” absolutely boggles the mind. It is time to wake up. Things are not going to get better. Things are only going to get worse. The United States is rapidly becoming a nation where poverty is absolutely rampant. As poverty continues to spread, crime will not be far behind.


  3. Wow, Jon. This post brought out the trolls.

  4. Oh, and while I know I shouldn't feed the troll, I'm also a professor, so I feel this need to teach.

    @Eric Pearson:
    I don't quibble with a single one of your statistics (though I don't vouch for their veracity, either). Rather, you've stated various measures all to capture your dependent variable: the state of the economy.


    Nothing at all about measuring a phenomenon implies causation. Also, a previous trend does not imply that it will continue, although that's generally a safer bet.

    For example, you note awful changes in economic fortunes over recent years, in many cases comparing 2009 or 2010 with 2000 or 2007. A reasonable person would assume that most of the changes over those periods would be due to most of the governance over those periods, most of which has been fairly dogmatic conservativism, particularly from 2001-2006. Furthermore, a person with passing familiarity with macroeconomics would be aware that economic changes are like steering a supertanker: there's a heck of a lot of momentum to overcome, and it's very reasonable to assume that we are still in an economy affected by Bush policies.

    None of this requires accepting any arguments about which president has better or worse policies. So, I suggest you work on basic logic before you continue your trolling.

  5. Here's my question: I keep hearing people saying that Obama's reelection chances increase is the GOP takes the House. I'm wondering if there's any truth to this statement. A few weeks ago, you cited an article by political scientists who claimed that disappointing midterms have no effect at all on a president's reelection chances, but the examples they cited (Truman, Reagan, Clinton) raised the possibility that they do have an effect, in increasing those chances. I'd like to know what data there may be with regard to these three competing hypotheses, that bad midterms (a) decrease a president's reelection chances (b) increase them (c) have no effect.

  6. Kylopod,

    I'd suggest following the link to their paper, and seeing what they have to say -- I think I took a quick look at it, if that. But, yeah, I don't think it's likely that midterm elections would affect reelection, one way or another.


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