Monday, October 31, 2011

The NYT Should Be Ashamed of Itself

...for printing yet another round of nonsense from Drew Westen. John Sides demolishes the public opinion and voters side of things completely, so I won't talk about that, but I can't less this pass. Westen:
Democrats on the other hand react so strongly against taking “marching orders” that they can scarcely stay on message even if their political lives depend on it (which they often do). Whether because he wasn’t sure exactly what he wanted to do or because he took the laissez-faire attitude toward leadership that bedevils the Democratic Party, President Obama let a Democratic Congress craft his signature legislation on health care. The result was a patchwork quilt that took 15 months to sew, and was stitched so sloppily that it left the average American cold.
To begin with...I don't know why it bothers me so much that Westen gets the basic fact here wrong, but this is the second time I've noticed him saying that it took 15 months for ACA to pass. In fact, ACA passed in March 2010, which was 14 months after Obama took office (not 15) -- and  the last time I noticed this whopper I think I was generous in dating the beginning of the health care push to right after the stimulus was passed, which means it took 13 months. I guess I should be happy; at least this time he didn't use as a comparison the idea that Dodd-Frank passed in record time (when in fact Dodd-Frank took the same 13 months as ACA).

So, fine, Westen can't count as high as 15.  13 months was still a long time, and hey, it felt like 15 months, right?

But what about the rest of what he's claiming, that Obama "let" Congress write the health care law. Westen needs to get a good pocket copy of the Constitution, or at least watch I'm Just a Bill a few dozen times: presidents don't get to write laws themselves without Congress's participation. That was true for Lyndon Johnson, it was true for Bill Clinton, and it was true for Republican presidents, too. And no, George W. Bush didn't always get his way with Congressional Republicans.

Anyway, ACA didn't take 13 months because Obama wasn't involved (in fact, the White House was heavily involved throughout), or even for the most part because Congressional Democrats would not stick with him -- after all, when it mattered all 60 Democratic Senators voted for the bill. It took over a year because major legislation is really complicated and, when you care about the results, it takes time to get it right. Now, I've argued that they could have accelerated their pace by a few weeks, mostly in fall 2009, and the "gang of six" negotiations did slow things down somewhat, although not nearly as much as legend has it. Realistically, I think something like 8 months would have been vaguely possible but well above par.

Never mind any of that, however, because Westen's claim -- that the lengthy debate and, I think he's saying, poor legislative crafting are responsible for ACA's lousy public opinion results. That's certainly not true. How do I know? Because ACA became unpopular very early in the game, with anti- passing pro- in July 2009. It's not possible that the lengthy process caused trouble in the polls because the trouble came first; and it's highly unlikely that anything in particular about the legislation caused it's unpopularity since no one knew what was going to be in the final law back then. (If passing laws quickly made them popular, then the Obama stimulus should have been very popular -- and TARP should be even more wildly popular).

Or perhaps Westen thinks that it's the "stitched so poorly" portion that is the problem. I have no idea what that means, however. Is the problem that it was passed using reconciliation? Can't be that, since it was already unpopular. Is it that it includes a variety of cost-saving ideas in addition to the exchanges? Is it because of the student loan reforms included in the final reconciliation bill? No one even knows about those things, so that can't be the case. I can't find even a little hint of what he doesn't like about the law might help make sense of his complaint.


  1. It seems like, generally, a lot of old school commentators (who rely more on feelings and gut sense than data), subscribe to and propagate a mythology that there's a higher plane of bi- non- post-partisanship centrism (or whatever they decide to call it) that they believe can solve all policy impasses in a way that will satisfy the equally mythic infallible Independents. Certainly my parents and friends (reliable Dems, all) parrot that mythology on a regular basis. Aside from recommending Plain Blog to them, what can be done about this?

  2. How many months was it from LBJ's victory in 1964 to the riots in Chicago?

    I think you are overestimating how many Democrats like Obama and his style of leadership. Yes, perhaps the economy is controlling that.

    It is really more expectations. A lot of those two million people standing in freezing Washington came to see a black man elected president. A lot came to put an end to Bush nightmare. But a lot came because they were hoping for some real change in this county, and Obama hasn't delivered on that. Maybe he couldn't.

  3. I suspect what he means when he says it's "stitched together poorly" is that it's really complicated and hard to explain. One of the few legitimate complaints about the bill is that it's more convoluted than it had to be - the weird phasing-in periods where different benefits start at different points in time, the complicated sliding scale of subsidies based on multiples of the poverty level, the complex definitions of what makes up the exchanges. Obviously there were good reasons to make the bill that way, and also some not-so-good ones (the silly focus on the 10-year CBO score which brought the even sillier 10/6 talking point into being and reduced the bill's popularity because very few people are actually benefiting from it right now). I find, though, that even people who follow politics fairly closely are often highly confused as to what the bill actually *does*. Maybe that was inevitable with a bill of such massive scope, but I understand where he's coming from there.

  4. I think the core problem isn't complexity as such, but that the good stuff mostly hasn't kicked in yet. Compare to the stimulus bill, which wasn't that complex, but has a bad reputation because happy days aren't here again.

  5. Westen is a total joke, and painful to watch and read. Anything he gets right as a prognosticator is merely by accident. Dude should stick to clinical psych and leave political pontification to others.

  6. Westen is useful as a primary source: he's a record of how the partially informed, comfortable contemporary American liberal comprehends the functioning of democracy and the nature of partisan politics.

    The question is: does that make him useless for people who think seriously about politics and democracy? Can the Weston-type be persuaded to re-assess their impoverished understanding? Or is the Weston-type an enduring, perennial creature of democratic politics, incorrigible, and part of the ongoing challenge of politics is to gain this person's support and commitment even though he/she has no idea how to diagnose the sources of political problems?

  7. >Can the Weston-type be persuaded to re-assess their impoverished understanding?

    I've encountered people with Westen-type views who are open-minded and persuadable. My impression of Westen himself, however, is that he's an attention-seeking hack. He has avoided providing serious responses to any of the substantive criticisms he has received. And just look at his face during his appearance on Charlie Rose from a couple of months ago: he has one of those insufferable, smug expressions that does not suggest the sort of person who is open to becoming better informed. You may call that superficial, which it is--but it's backed up by the way he has conducted himself since his initial piece appeared.

  8. I can't find even a little hint of what he doesn't like about the law might help make sense of his complaint.


    That's because verbalizing his REAL complaint puts the Left on the opposite side of the American electorate, which is in the process of punishing the Left for ObamaCare.

    The Left did what he and everybody else understood would lead to their electoral annihilation. He and they wanted the sugar, but along with the sugar comes annihilation, unfortunately.

    60 lefty senators voted for ObamaCare. The day it passed the House, I predicted that a minimum of 20 of those lefties would be whacked by election 2014. I think I may have undercalculated my annihilation rate, however.


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