This Little Light of Mine
Glenn Reynolds has some typical simple-minded snark on why it’s so hard to “get things done” in Washington:
Back in September, noting a continuing pattern of White House incompetence, I predicted: “Expect this to play out in thumbsucker columns on whether America is ‘ungovernable.’”And, right on cue, here’s Matthew Yglesias: “The smarter elements in Washington DC are starting to pick up on the fact that it’s not tactical errors on the part of the president that make it hard to get things done, it’s the fact that the country has become ungovernable.”
Funny, that dumb cowboy Bush seemed to get a lot done with fewer votes in Congress. . . .
I have decided that this kind of inanity is good for one thing: It gives thoughtful, intelligent political observers like Steve Benen a constant flow of material to deconstruct:
On its face, the comparison is difficult — Bush had eight years; Obama hasn’t quite been in office 11 months. Bush entered office in a period of peace and prosperity, with an enormous budget surplus, and with the United States held in high regard around the globe. Obama entered office in a period of economic collapse, two costly wars, and with the nation’s international reputation stained. The differences matter.
… When I look back at the Bush/Cheney era, I think of a lot of things — incompetence, corruption, mismanagement, neglect, spectacular failures on a generational scale in almost every imaginable area of public policy — but “accomplished legislative record” isn’t one of them. He passed huge tax cuts, increased spending, expanded the federal bureaucracy, and expanded Medicare, but most of those accomplishments came in his first three years. In his entire second term, Bush sought very little — after his Social Security privatization failed, the White House effectively stopped having a domestic agenda — and got very little in return.
More to the point, the legislative successes Bush achieved came when Democrats joined Republicans to support the administration’s agenda. Indeed, congressional Dems always worked with Bush in good faith, ready to negotiate — despite questions surround the legitimacy of his presidency — and because there are so many moderate and center-right Democrats, Bush was able to score at least a couple key victories on the Hill.
For that matter, when Republicans held the congressional majority, Democrats rejected the filibuster-literally-everything approach to lawmaking. In many instances, Bush, like nearly every other president, could sign bills into law if they enjoyed the support of a majority of the House and a majority of the Senate. Obama has no such luxury — Republicans’ obstructionist tactics have no precedent in American history, and GOP moderates willing to work with the majority can be counted on one hand (a hand missing a couple of fingers).
Glenn Reynolds’ suggestion is that Bush was simply more effective in getting what he wanted. But that overlooks all of the relevant details — the crises, the diversity of thought among Dems, the lack of diversity of thought among Republicans, and the abandonment of majority rule in the Senate.
There’s more interesting stuff in Steve’s piece, including a couple of links to more analysis — and Steve’s readers make some good points, as well.