Thursday, December 23, 2010


Why didn't the neutral press buy the idea that the lame duck session was illegitimate?

It's an idea that has surface appeal, I would think.  Huge landslide: why should Democrats be allowed to exploit a Constitutional quirk to pass a large chunk of their now-discredited agenda?  Jonathan Chait, for example, basically buys the idea.  So why didn't the neutral press, the Broders of the world, get all up in arms about the fraudulent lame duck session?

My guess?  (And, yes, it's only a guess).  I suspect that the GOP cried wolf once too often.  Democrats were ignoring the will of the voters by moving ahead with health care reform after the New Jersey and Virginia gubernatorial elections in November 2009; they were most certainly ignoring the will of the voters after Scott Brown was elected in January 2010.  Then the Democrats, we were told, were abusing Congressional rules by using a perfectly ordinary procedure (reconciliation) to pass ACA.  And, of course, that's on top of the fringe stuff, the birthers and the ACORN theorists, who would have us believe that the 2008 election wasn't on the level. 

I just wonder whether Republican spin just went one step too far, and it backfired to the extent that their plausible spin in this case was treated as partisan nonsense.

Granted, there are other reasons that the GOP spin might have failed to catch on this time around (the establishment press may just have liked the bills that were passing, for example).   And it's not as if there isn't a case for lame duck legislating, beginning with the clear fact that it's been part of the Constitutional plan from the beginning, for better or worse.  Also, as always, I'm not at all that winning the spin war on this matters a whole lot.

Still, I'd be real interested in hearing some of the reporters from the neutral press talk about how and why they evaluated GOP process claims during the lame duck.  From my subjective point of view, it sure seemed different than how they reacted earlier this year.


  1. For one thing, all this legislation happened because Republicans voted for it. Didn't the tax cut deal break the dam? It's hard to wail that you're being shafted when significant numbers of your own party are enabling the shafting.

  2. The GOP impeached Clinton during a lame duck session. The GOP claiming that this lame duck session was illegitimate would mean that their impeachment of Clinton was illegitimate.

  3. I think ASP nailed it. When the GOP Senators all signed the letter promising to block all business until the tax deal had been voted on, they were legitimizing the lame duck session.

    Plus several items (the tax compromise, the FDA reform, START, and the 9/11 responders bill) all attracted a lot of GOP support.

    Criticizing a vote (or other process) as illegitimate or antidemocratic is probably only plausible when the party is in full-on obstruction mode, not actively abetting that same process.

  4. Pre-election there was a horse race story: who's ahead and who's behind, who's gaining and who's losing, what are the tactics, what's working or not and why, and ultimately, who is going to claim the prize in the 2010 mid term election.

    Post-election, the horse race story largely disappeared because the finish line had already been passed. What was left and what were they fighting for? No one could really explain it.

    Maybe the the difference in coverage all comes down to that: the media loves to cover the horse race, and once its over, their interest wanes and their coverage changes.

    Maybe this is the test: ask yourself if the media coverage would have been different if the election were being held today. If the answer is yes, that is the more likely explanation.

  5. I agree with ASP and Kegler; had there been no tax deal, the GOP spin would have been stronger and may have caught on.

    But I also think people tend not to criticize Congress for legislating, since that's their job, lame duck or not.

  6. All,

    Yeah...I sort of think this was not one of my better efforts. I'm fairly convinced by all of you. Perhaps it's a bit of wishful thinking on my part: I'd like to think that this sort of mechanism happens, that if you make preposterous claims at T1 and T2, that the press is less likely to take you seriously at T3. But you're all probably correct that it's just structural factors, with GOP support the big one.


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