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“Let’s Talk About What Makes Governing Harder”: The Problem Is One Political Party Catering To An Ever Decreasing Group Of Voters

By now almost everyone has weighed in on the article in the NYT by Jonathan Martin and Maggie Haberman about Hillary Clinton’s strategy for winning the 2016 presidential election. Chuck Todd and his friends at First Read adopted the conventional wisdom of the Washington D.C. pundit class with their response titled: This is the Way to Win Elections (But it Makes Governing Harder).

Campaigns see an America more polarized than ever, and winning is all about coming out ahead in this polarized world. But it makes governing harder than it already was. Bottom line: Campaigns don’t engage in persuasion anymore. They simply look for unmotivated like-minded potential voters and find an issue to motivate them. And if someone wins office by not having to persuade a voter who actually swings between the two parties, there isn’t any motivation for said elected official to compromise.

Of course Ron Fournier joined that chorus immediately with his entry titled: The Right Way and Wrong Way to Win the Presidency.

My problem with this approach is that it works only until Election Day, when a polarizing, opportunistic candidate assumes the presidency with no standing to convert campaign promises into results.

Naturally, David Brooks agrees.

…this base mobilization strategy is a legislative disaster. If the next president hopes to pass any actual laws, he or she will have to create a bipartisan governing majority. That means building a center-out coalition, winning 60 reliable supporters in the Senate and some sort of majority in the House. If Clinton runs on an orthodox left-leaning, paint-by-numbers strategy, she’ll never be able to do this. She’ll live in the White House again, but she won’t be able to do much once she lives there.

This is a classic case of the media’s addiction to “both sides do it” as a way of explaining gridlock in Washington. It is a lie they tell themselves (and us) about what is going on in order to claim a false sense of balance in reporting to appease conservatives who constantly decry the “liberal media.” The fact that it is a lie matters less than their desire to prove that claim wrong.

So let’s take a moment to deal with the facts. As I pointed out before, the positions Hillary Clinton has articulated enjoy broad support among voters – including independents. In reacting to the same article, Steve M. dug up some of the actual numbers.

Americans support gay marriage by a 60%-37% margin, and 58% want the Supreme Court to legalize gay marriage nationwide — and Hillary’s is a “liberal position”? There’s 72% support for legalization of undocumented immigrants — and her position on immigration is too left-wing? And when I Google “bipartisan support for criminal justice reform,” one of the first hits is a post with precisely that title from, um, FreedomWorks — but Clinton’s out of the mainstream? Oh, please.

So if Clinton is talking about issues that enjoy 60-70% support from Americans, where is the polarization coming from? What stops elected officials from compromising to address their concerns? Do you suppose it has anything to do with a Republican Speaker of the House who finds it hard to even utter the word “compromise?”

Let’s take a close look at just one example to make the point: immigration reform. Typically Democrats have prioritized a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented people in this country while Republicans have prioritized border security. Not that long ago, a bi-partisan group of Senators got together to compromise by drafting a bill that included both priorities. With Democrats still in control of the Senate, it passed there. But Speaker Boehner refused to bring it up for a vote in the House. Part of Hillary Clinton’s agenda in her campaign is to support the Senate’s bi-partisan approach to immigration reform.

So let’s be clear about what makes governing harder: the problem is that we have one political party that is catering to an ever-decreasing group of voters that completely rejects any form of compromise to their agenda. When/if folks like Chuck Todd, Ron Fournier and David Brooks figure that one out – they will finally be able to start telling the American people the truth.

 

By: Nancy LeTournau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, June 9, 2015

June 12, 2015 Posted by | GOP Obstructionism, Governing, Voters | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Presidential Leadership Is A Moving Target”: For Republicans, President Obama Shouldn’t Do Anything That Might Make Them Mad

If Ron Fournier’s goal was to generate some discussion with his new column, he succeeded. Putting aside whether readers found his thesis compelling, it’s clearly generated some chatter.

Before highlighting Fournier’s case, it’s important to note for those unfamiliar with his work that the National Journal columnist is perhaps best known for his frequent – some might say, incessant – calls for President Obama to “lead” more. Many, including me, tend to think Fournier’s thesis is superficial and blind to institutional limits, but it’s nevertheless become a signature issue for him.

It’s with this background in mind that his latest piece seemed especially noteworthy. Fournier considered the president’s possible use of executive actions on some key issues, including immigration, and urged caution.

Bypassing Congress may be legal. The reforms he wants may be a good idea. But when I look beyond the next election and set aside my issue biases, I reluctantly conclude that it would be very wrong.

Depending on how far Obama extends presidential authority – and he suggested Wednesday that he’s willing to stretch it like soft taffy – this could be a political nuclear bomb. The man whose foundational promise was unity (“I don’t want to pit red America against blue America”) could seal his fate as the most polarizing president in history.

Well, that certainly sounds serious. Fournier has been eager, if not desperate, to see Obama lead more, but now that the president is considering a forceful demonstration of leadership, the columnist sees a “political nuclear bomb.” And why is that?

For argument’s sake, let’s say Obama is right on the issue and has legal authority to act. The big question is … Would it be wrong to end-run Congress? Another way to put it might be, “Would more polarization in Washington and throughout the country be wrong?” How about exponentially more polarization, gridlock, and incivility? If the president goes too far, he owns that disaster.

Hmm. For argument’s sake, the nation is facing some serious policy challenges, and the White House has some meaningful solutions in mind. Those solutions, again for argument’s sake, are both legally sound and correct on the merits. As a matter of public policy, President Obama could take these actions and advance proposals with real merit.

But apparently, he should do no such thing. Fournier, who has spent years complaining about the need for Obama to lead more, now recommends the president lead less – because doing the correct and legally sound thing would make Obama’s opponents unhappy.

It’s a curious prescription for presidential leadership: Obama should take bold moves to move the nation forward, but only if his opponents who refuse to govern first extend their approval.

Under this Fournier thesis, legal authority and policy merit are but two legs of a three-legged stool. The president still needs permission from those who would see him fail – even if they refuse to govern, even if they will not negotiate in good faith, even if their preferred policy is to do nothing, regardless of the consequences.

Kevin Drum summarized this nicely: “What Fournier is saying is that President Obama shouldn’t do anything that might make Republicans mad. But this means the president is literally helpless: No proposal of his has any chance of securing serious Republican engagement in Congress, but he’s not allowed to take executive action for fear of making them even more intransigent. Obama’s only legitimate option, apparently, is to persuade Republicans to support his proposals, even though it’s no secret that Republicans decided years ago to obstruct everything, sight unseen, that was on Obama’s agenda. So that leaves Obama with no options at all.”

I find Fournier’s argument well-intentioned, but ultimately incomprehensible. Indeed, to a certain degree it’s bizarre – Fournier has argued that Obama must “act” on his agenda. Great presidents, the columnist has said, “find a way” to advance their goals, even in the face of fierce opposition.

And as Obama prepares to do exactly that, effectively embracing on Fourier’s own advice, the National Journal columnist suddenly decides bold presidential action isn’t so great after all. Obama’s principal concern should no longer be advancing worthwhile ideas to advance national interests, but rather, the focus should be what might make Republicans – the unpopular party that lost the most recent elections – angrier than they already are.

The president’s detractors can’t have it both ways. They can’t say Obama is leading too much and too little at the same time. They shouldn’t demand bold action and passive timidity simultaneously.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, August 8, 2014

August 11, 2014 Posted by | GOP, Politics, Republicans | , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Inevitability Of Republican Reactions”: Opposition Is A Republican Action, Not A Republican Reaction

Ron Fournier of the National Journal has become (to liberal bloggers anyway) the embodiment of multiple sins of the Washington press corps. Most notably, there’s the High Broderism, in which the blame for every problem is apportioned in precisely equal measure to both parties, and the embrace of the Green Lantern theory of the presidency, in which anything can be accomplished, including winning over a recalcitrant opposition, by a simple act of will from the Oval Office. The latter’s most comical manifestation is Fournier’s frequent pleas for President Obama to “lead,” with the content of said “leadership” almost always left undetailed (though one suspects it might involve giving a great speech, after which Republicans would decide to come together with Democrats to solve the nation’s problems).

Though lately I’ve been trying to limit my pundit-bashing to once or twice a month, I couldn’t overlook this passage in Fournier’s latest column expressing his dismay that Obama might take some executive actions in areas where Congress hasn’t done anything, like immigration or corporate inversions. While I’ll give Fournier credit for acknowledging that to know whether such actions are good or bad we’d have to look at each one individually (a remarkable concession), I can’t stomach this:

For argument’s sake, let’s say Obama is right on the issue and has legal authority to act. The big question is …

Would it be wrong to end-run Congress? Another way to put it might be, “Would more polarization in Washington and throughout the country be wrong?” How about exponentially more polarization, gridlock, and incivility? If the president goes too far, he owns that disaster.

Fournier is saying that even if Obama is right on the merits of an issue and has legal authority to take a particular executive action, to go ahead and do so is the same thing as creating “exponentially more polarization, gridlock, and incivility.” But it takes two to tango, or to create polarization. (Gridlock and incivility, one party can do on its own, as we well know.) In other words, Fournier is saying that when Republicans react to an executive action by remaining firm in their obstructionism and being uncivil about it to boot, it’s one person’s fault: Barack Obama.

Isn’t it long past the time when we were able to put aside the quaint notion that Republican actions are determined in any meaningful way by what Democrats do or don’t do?

It isn’t only journalists who have believed this; for some time; Democrats believed it, too. Many Democrats voted for Obama in the 2008 primaries because they were worried about the ferocious opposition Hillary Clinton would engender from the GOP. As they quickly found out, that opposition is a Republican action, not a Republican reaction. I remind you (for the umpteenth time) that on the very day Barack Obama was inaugurated, Republican leaders met for dinner and decided to oppose anything and everything he tried to do. Politically, it was a pretty smart move. But it wasn’t because Obama hadn’t reached out to them and they were mad—he had only been president for a couple of hours. Within weeks, they responded to the fact that Obama hired people to work in the White House by accusing him of appointing a group of unaccountable “czars” who were wielding tyrannical power.

On this subject, there are basically two kinds of Republicans. There are those who understand that maximal opposition will yield lots of political benefit for them, and there are those who genuinely believe that Obama is an evil Kenyan Marxist tyrant trying to destroy America. When it comes to things like how they react to the administration’s policy initiatives, the distinction doesn’t matter. They both arrive at the same place, whether through clear-eyed political calculation or wild-eyed hatred. And nothing—nothing—President Obama does or doesn’t do makes a bit of difference.

To read Fournier, you might think that if Obama came out and said, “Fixing immigration is really Congress’ responsibility, so I’m not going to do a thing until they put a bill on my desk,” Republicans would respond, “We appreciate the trust the President is putting in Congress, so we’re going to get right to work passing comprehensive immigration reform.” But of course they won’t.

If we know anything about the way today’s Republicans react to this president, it’s that nothing he does really matters. They’re going to do what they’re going to do. There will be gridlock and incivility if he does things they don’t like, and there’ll be gridlock and incivility if he does nothing at all. To think otherwise you have to ignore everything that’s happened for the last five years.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, August 7, 2014

August 9, 2014 Posted by | Obstructionism, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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