Monday, October 25, 2010

Losing is not winning.

The New York Times published some commentary yesterday with the Orwellian title, "In Losing the Midterms, There may be Winning."  This seems as good an example as any of what is wrong with political commentary these days.  The point of the article is that President Obama might have a better chance of being re-elected in 2012 if the Republicans take Congress, using as examples both the Clinton presidency and the Truman presidency.  These presidents were able to secure re-election by, in Truman's case, running against what he called the "do-nothing Congress," and in Clinton's case, fighting a Congress that literally shut the federal government down and spent most of its efforts in wasted investigations of the Executive branch.  Now the article does not suggest that this is what President Obama actually wants, and in fact acknowledges that he is doing his utmost to prevent such a result, but it quotes some consultants who suggest that even more acrimonious relations with a completely hostile Congress might be what the President should want.  Maybe it's understandable for a campaign consultant to look for the silver lining in the prospect of the kind of disgraceful Congressional performances we experienced in the Truman or Clinton eras, but it is hard to see how the rest of us would be cheered by the prospect of a president at war with a failing Congress.

Wouldn't it be more responsible for the media to be encouraging a substantive debate about the issues that are at stake in this election, rather than engaging in speculation about the election's effects on potential candidates two years from now?   Regardless of our political affiliation, shouldn't we be more interested in talking about how to resolve problems facing the nation, rather than talking about which party might benefit from an increase in gridlock in the capital?   And granted that politicians are legitimately interested in re-election, shouldn't we give them the benefit of the doubt that re-election may not be the only thing they are interested in?  I for one would like to see more focus on how the Republicans actually propose to solve pressing problems, given that the Republicans are trying to persuade the American people that they should be given control of Congress.  I would love to see the media making serious efforts to clear up some widespread public misconceptions, rather than taking what the candidates say at face value, and focusing on who is up or down in the polls. 

Instead, all we get is coverage of politics as if it were a sporting event.  This kind of discussion just encourages people to prefer arguing about problems to solving them.  It reminds me of the decline of serious criticism in the entertainment world.  It seems to me that we used to see more substantive discussion of the merits of films and music.  Now all we hear about are the grosses.  There's nothing wrong with a little public interest in inside baseball, but when that becomes the overriding focus of our attention, we might just lose sight of the issues that are really at stake, just as we might have less appreciation of the performances in the movies we saw last weekend because we are so preoccupied with which one is number one at the box office.

In politics, it seems to me that the question whether the government can function and accomplish anything useful, might be slightly more important than the fortunes of any particular candidate.  We should want a functioning government, rather than one at war with itself.  The media should be demanding that Republican candidates explain how they are going to make government work for the people's benefit if they gain control of Congress, rather than relishing the prospect that they are going to cause the system to grind to a halt.

(Paul Antonson illustration)


  1. << The media should be demanding ... >>

    This raises eyebrows. Isn't that what the right has been saying about the media? They are not asking tough questions? When both left and right are saying the same thing about media the majority of Americans have a problem with both the left and right because neither holds exclusive control of the truth.

  2. As far as losing as winning ... months ago I said the same thing on this blog (not that I am correct). My view, I think Obama and our country will be best served when one party is not in control of the House, Senate and Presidency. Again, my view, we need to slow or halt the huge pendulum swings of emotion of the middle. The left of center, center and right of center voters are exhausted. The rhetoric from both sides is confusing and disappointing, especially when real life survival has little to do with left or right. Quality of life in our country is based on a bipartisan econoic / job creation issue. The movers and shakers in the voting public are paying attention to policy over "party".

  3. Joe, your blog -- which is kinda an Obama Love Fest -- has never dispassionately examined issues from both sides (well, to be honest, I gotta admits I haven't read everything). It is, however, well-written and enjoyable, like a goods sports column about a local MLB team. So why should a commentator in the NYT be criticized for colorfully considering something which many of us have been considering?

    Speaking of Orwellian, do you think that Obama will be still engaged in "eternal warmaking" in 2012?

  4. Only in America do people try to rationalize a preference for divided government. In most democracies, a divided government will simply fall and new elections are required. And history does not bear out your theory, KP, that the government works better when it is divided. Or even that it is more moderate. What actually happens is that nothing much gets accomplished during those periods, and real progress has to await a time when the presidency and Congress are more in sync.

    As for why I criticize the NYT writer, I thought I had explained that in my post. It is because there are more important issues to consider right now than the effect of these midterm elections on the president's chances of re-election two years from now. And I say that as someone who would as you might expect dearly love to see the president re-elected.

  5. I do agree but as the NYTimes is solidly in the Obama camp they have to offer "hope" to their readership.

  6. The idea that _real_ progress takes one party's control of the House, Senate and Presidency is disconcerting -- since very few of us agree with the progressive or far right policy choices. In fact, both extremes leave out the real changes we need to prosper.

    I feel safe saying that if Huckabee were elected in 2012 with conservative control of the House and Senate you would not see new law as progress. "History" apears relative. Perhaps this is the rub. Two plus two equals four, but history is open to interpretation. History is not maths. Nor is the future.

  7. << a divided government will simply fall and new elections are required >>

    And I happy to be American, where new elections are required. Turn over rules!

  8. The way I was using the word, progress can go in either direction. My point is that when the President has a working majority, as FDR did, as LBJ did, and as Reagan and G.W. Bush did in their first terms, they can accomplish a lot, and people usually have a sense that government is working. When they don't, we just get gridlock, and people are disgusted with government.

    Clinton might be an exception to that rule. He should really be the moderates' favorite president, since he got a lot done by pushing legislation that Republicans could support, through a fairly hostile Congress: welfare reform, crime legislation, moderate tax increases, de-regulation, and balanced budgets. Obama might be a different kind of exception. He got a lot accomplished in his first two years, but both the right and left are still unhappy. We will see what he can do with a more hostile Congress.

  9. Remember, when Clinton pushed his agenda through Congress his party took huge hits in the mid-terms because Democrats didn't like what he was doing. Clinton actually hurt his party more than he helped it going forward.

  10. This following is not directed at you Joe.

    Politics reminds me of medicine (my field of study) in it's wrongness when it comes to predictions. The majority of expert medical journals reviews are refuted with hindsight.,8599,1998644,00.html

    There is a great book called the "The Four Agreements". In it the author talks about human perception as being light perceiving light. When emotions get in the way of our perception the picture becomes cloudy and the mirror or reflection of our self and/or others becomes an illusion.

    His suggestions (which I would very much like to see more ploiticians follow): Be impeccable in your word // Don't take things personally when others disagree with you // Don't make assumptions because we tend to believe they are truth and oten are not // Always do your best -- no more, no less. Your best will change over time. Your best will become better than it used to be. If you do your best, there is no way anyone can judge you personally. And if you judge yourself you will never suffer from guilt.

  11. "My point is that when the President has a working majority, as FDR did, as LBJ did, and as Reagan and G.W. Bush did in their first terms, they can accomplish a lot, and people usually have a sense that government is working. When they don't, we just get gridlock, and people are disgusted with government."

    I could argue that people are as disgusted with government _right now_ as they have been in nearly 100 years. The majority of us don't want fundamental change. We like the current America more than Canada, the UK, Spain, France or Greece. In fact, those countries are moving toward our model. There are many things that can be improved by the left and the right. Chip away, both parties, but we don't want to be rebuilt. I don't want to see one party dominance. You know what I want, as I have posted those issues that I believe are critically important to our quality of life, here, repeatedly. And those issues are not left or right. They are simply correct (in my view) and neither party acts.