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Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Politics Is the Art of Redefining the Possible

Robert Reich's explanation of his disappointment with President Obama echoes my disappointment with the South Dakota Democratic Party. Reich also provides the political quote of the day, one I suspect I'll be referencing often:

The administration deserves tactical credit. It accomplished as much as it possibly could with a fragile 60 votes in the Senate, a skittish Democratic majority in the House, and a highly-disciplined Republican opposition in both chambers. Yet Bismarck’s dictum about politics as the art of the possible is not altogether correct.

The real choice is between achieving what’s possible within the limits of politics as given, or changing that politics to extend those limits and thereby more assuredly achieve intended goals. The latter course is riskier but its consequences can be more enduring and its mandate more powerful, as both Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan demonstrated [emphasis mine; Robert Reich, "The Origins of the Enthusiasm Gap," RR's blog, 2010.08.03].

Mr. Heidepriem, Ms. Herseth Sandlin, fellow South Dakota Democrats... discuss.


  1. I contend Obama did try to change the politics in the country. The problem for liberals is he failed.

    Obama's cap and trade rejected. His Afghanistan policy of changing the rules of engagement and announcing a withdrawal deadline has failed. Obamacare enjoys a disapproval rating of 37% approve and 52% disapprove. His ability to administer the government is deeply in question. All reflectd in his job approval just announced is 41% for and 53% against.

  2. This guy copied my line of thinking. :)


  3. That is a good article, and the county maps are a compelling argument about what is possible. But Cost's argument still has an air of hindsight-inevitability to it. he looks at how things have panned out and assumes they couldn't have gone any other way.

    Consider health care: The conservatives screamed and hollered as if Obama had proposed single-payer. He didn't. He took that boundary-changing idea off the table right away, accepting the boundaries imposed by the private-based status quo. He thus got the worst of both worlds: a reform bill that still bit all the PR disadvantages from conservatives without any of the advantages of really changing the system that would have fired up us liberals.

    On health care, Obama's tack is much like the South Dakota Dems: compromise away every major change, don't say anything that would give the GOP ammo... even though the GOP is determined to fire everything it has at us. In that situation, both practically and philosophically, I still adhere to the principle Reich lays out in the selected quote: go big. Defy the conventional wisdom of what is possible. Don't just nibble at the edges; tell people we need completely new edges.

    And if our effort in that direction fails to convince sensible voters like you, Troy, and all those other folks in the blue counties on that map, then so be it. We can't sit on the status quo forever. Someone's got to lead that conversation.

  4. Corey,

    Cost and I are asserting Obama did go big and you assert he didn't go big enough. We disagree so it we have to wait until the voters decide (I'm encouraged by the Dem. incumbents that are getting slaughtered in primaries and the 70-30% vote against Obamacare in Missouri).

    But, I am shocked that you don't think Obama's decisions on the following is radical enough for you.

    1) Obama's fascist health care plan which mandates private activity (purchase health care) under rules established by the federal government.

    2) Obama's socialist stimulus package (government consumption of wealth for government directed purpose).

    3) Obama's fascist financial "reform" bill which regulates private activity delivered by private companies operating under government strident regulation.

    4) Obama's "purchase" of two of the three automakers.

    5) Obama's blend of socialist and fascist home loan modification program which mandated banks to do certain things but was also subsidized in part by the tax payers.

    If you really think he should have gone farther, he would have had to done so without Congressional support which means he'd have had to do so by becoming a dictator. Oh yeah, he did that too with regards to the TARP money repaid when he said he didn't need congressional approval to spend the money. Wow.

    Sidenote: I'm not referring or inferring Nazi or Italian fascism which included xenophobia and militarism but only the scholarly economic/political definition.

    To be clear, fascism is private ownership, private execution of government mandates and implementation with government control/mandates. Socialism is government ownership and execution.

  5. Troy, where are you getting your Obama approval/disapproval numbers?

    Obviously not here:

  6. or here:

    Shame shame, Troy. You can't just ring up a few of your friends and call it a poll, man. ;^)

  7. Some other numbers on Health Care:

    I can't find Troy's.

  8. I do kind of agree with you on Afghanistan though, Troy (if what you're saying is we should get the hell out of there.)

    And Cap & Trade should have passed, yes... if that's what you're saying, I agree with that too.

    Is the fact that it didn't Obama's fault?

  9. Bill,

    You doubt my credibility and integrity? :) I only quote reputable sources.

    USA Today (August 2, 2010)

    Only 41% of those surveyed Tuesday through Sunday approved of the way Obama is handling his job, his lowest rating in the USA TODAY/Gallup Poll since he took office in January 2009.

    Real Clear Politics averages

    Health Care: 37% Approve, 52% Disapprove.


    Job Approval: 45% Approve and 50% approve. But if you look here, you can see the USA Today complete information which was of Adults which is usually the most Democratic leaning group (vs. Registered Voters or Likely Voters)


    Mark this date: July 20, 2010

    The last time Obama's approval was higher than disapproval. My prediction is this will be the last day he will have any measure of a mandate.

  10. Finally, the health care mandated purchase of private health care is a compromise to placate the private sector. I will argue (and I think so will Cory) that we should have passed a bill that expands Medicare to include people 0-18 and 55+ at a minimum.

    Those in between can buy (or not buy) into the system as they please.

    Both you and I know we already pay into a government health care plan, Troy, and I bet we are both counting on using it in the next decade or so. Well maybe you'll take a few yoaes more to sigh up than I will, but that's just a seniority thing ;^)

  11. Doubt your integrity, Troy? Never, ever. But your savvy in reading polls, maybe. Today's Gallup poll update has Obama's job rating at 45% approve 46% disapprove. MOE = 3 points + or -. Mark this date: August 2, 2010. It's already gone up!

    And one poll? Tsk. You know what outliers, are right? (For those who don't, it has nothing to do with lying...)

  12. P.S. Troy, care to share what Ronald Reagan's poll numbers were at this stage of his first term, in the middle of an economic crunch?

    Aw, come on. Pleeeeeze.

  13. Okay, I can't wait. It's too good not to share:

    First the link:

    Then the excerpt:
    "Regular readers of Applesauce are probably aware that I’ve made a point of frequently comparing Obama’s poll numbers with those of Ronald Reagan at identical junctures in their presidencies. In fact, I’ve been waiting for months for the figures — and the timing — to match up. And now, with the aforementioned Gallup poll, the dead heat finally has emerged. Eighteen months into Reagan’s first term, in early August of 1982, Gallup showed his job-approval rating at 41 percent. That same figure applies to Obama today, in early August of 2010."

  14. Billy Boy (you aren't that old. I thought hippies couldn't go past 29?)

    Cap and Trade didn't pass because it got pushed later and the public got fed up with Obama's politics.

    Regarding health care insurance, there were so many better alternatives to the single payer, what passed and your choice it makes my head spin. But those choices weren't considered because Obama said "We won" instead of living up to his campaign mantra he would take the best of all ideas out there.

    Regarding the polls, the 45-50% Disapprove is the Real Clear Politics average. Which I think is the most important as it smooths out the outliers. But I know you know that. The rebound to 45% Approve is just one day in the tracking poll. I know you also know that is the least meaningful. :)

  15. Reagan analogy isn't quite the same since he started out with 57% and 18 months had fallen to 41%. Obama started out at 65%.

    But close enough. I'll go there. This was the low point of Reagan's Presidency. I don't think this is Obama's.

    Pick the date (go ahead and look at the historical polls on Reagan) in the next year and I'll bet you Reagan has Obama beat.

  16. Actually, this WSJ graphic shows Reagan's low point was 1983. (And GW Bush's positives never cracked 50% after 2005—not relevant to the current argument, just a fun fact.)

    Troy, I maintain that the impression that Obama "went big" is a willful deception foisted by the opposition. "Going big"—changing the game—would have been Kucinich health care, Paul-style withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan, and dismantling the too-big-too-fail banks and capping assets. The stimulus was entirely precedented, in principle if not size. Socialism? Fascism? The socialism we got was mostly a continuation of welfare for corporate interests. The fascism we have is mostly leftover from the previous administration in the form of the Patriot Act, Blackwater, Halliburton, and for-profit private jails.

  17. Graphic is right. About 18 months into Reagan presidency which is where we are today with Obama.

    Regarding your other points:

    Single payer heath insurance is socialistic. What we got from Obama was fascist. Pick your poison. I abhor them both.

    I supported the incursion into Afghanistan but thought we should have left within 12 months. Destroy the Taliban's hold and let the people pick it up.

    I never supported going into Iraq, think Bush blundered there after Saddam was deposed but figured it out in the end.

    I agree with repealing Gramm Leach and breaking up the big banks. Unfortunately, Obama's "reform" helps big banks and hurts small and midsize banks. He chose fascism.

    Precedented or not, the stimulus didn't deliver what he promised (keeping unemployment below 8% and stimulating job creation).

    Your final point about holdover is just bromides and nothing specific. I can't argue with empty bromides.

    Funny you criticize the Patriot Act since Obama wants to expand it.

    But if all else fails, bring out Blackwater, Halliburton. Not intellectual but sounds good.

    And for-profit jails? Hilarious since some of the states that have the highest use are blue states.

    C'mon Corey, you didn't even bring a knife to this gunfight.

    But there is one thing I agree with you on. If Obama had "gone bigger", the nation would be better off. But only becase nothing would have passed.

  18. knife... gunfight... ooo, don't go quoting Sean Connery on me! :-)

    One more time: 1983: that's Obama's 2011. Next year. But I will acknowledge that Obama will have a harder time riding an economic recovery to victory. Productivity gains will make it easier for businesses to get by with the people and computers they have and not put people back to work as quickly as we did following the 1981-1982 recession.

    Health care reform is hardly more fascist than the tyranny private insurers have over us right now. The reform enhanced the private system rather than redefining the rules of health care. Little net increase in "fascism," definitely not the game changing socialism I wanted.

    Ditto with your argument about the financial reform. If your characterization is true, his "fascism" his only a propping up of the status quo, a surrender to the power of those private forces.

    Patriot Act: you support that I'm right here: Obama is not changing the Patriot Act, not pointing us in a new direction (or better yet, an old pre-9/11 statist hysteria direction that Kucinich or Paul would). He's not telling us a enw narrative there, and no, I don't like it. My being right here is not about defending Obama on every point; it's about pointing out that he is neither the radical that conservatives say he is nor the radical that I want him to be.

    Holdover bromides? Bull! You shouted fascism, charging prviate outfits with public functions, and I gave examples from the previous admin that the current admin is sustaining and/or expanding. Perfectly relevant to the point. Slice slice, bang bang—I'm still in this fight!

    Would the country be better off if Obama were going big only because nothing would pass and you'd be happy? Not the point. I'm not arguing immediate efficacy; I'm arguing principle... and maybe long-term civic education. It may be easier to pass baby steps toward radical goals than to drop the game-changer on a conservative body politic all at once. But I'm saying that, from the radical perspective, baby steps that don't promote real conversation and mind-changing about radical (and necessary!) goals aren't doing the full job that politics can do. Sometimes something is better than nothing... but sometimes, you've got to fly the flag for real big change. That's the point I want to make to all the pragmatists trying to get Democrats elected by talking about anything other than being Democrats.


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