Filibuster this: The fruit of our own conduct!


The voters know squat, thanks to us: Greg Sargent quotes a voter who favors Obama’s policies, but says he would vote for Romney because Obama hasn’t made things happen. Here are Sargent’s perfectly sensible thoughts:
SARGENT (10/21/11): This voter agrees with Obama’s policies, but blames the failure to get them enacted on generalized partisanship and Obama’s inability to roll over the GOP—and is prepared to vote against him as a result.

I don’t know if this voter is representative of broader sentiment or not, but I suspect he is, and his reaction to what’s happening is important to flag as a clue to a dynamic we should be watching. Voters either don’t understand, or they don’t care, that the GOP has employed an unprecedented level of filibustering in order to block all of Obama’s policies, even ones that have majority public support from Dems, independents and Republicans alike.

Their reaction, in a nutshell, seems to be: The Obama-led government isn’t acting on the economy? Obama can’t get his policies passed? Well, he must be weak.
"Voters either don’t understand, or they don’t care, that the GOP has employed an unprecedented level of filibustering?” People! Of course they don’t understand! This is from Hacker and Pierson’s Winner-Take-All Politics. The book appeared early this year:
HACKER AND PIERSON (page 108): Crucial and basic matters of political process are equally opaque to most voters. In early 2011, as Republicans brought Washington to a halt as effectively as the unexpected winter snowstorms, most Americans had no idea that not a single Republican senator had voted for health-care reform (two-thirds either put the number at between five and twenty or said they didn’t know), and less than a third could correctly identify the number of votes needed to overcome a filibuster (sixty). Well over half of Americans said fifty-one votes were sufficient, or confessed they had no idea.
People! Voters don’t know anything! They don’t know how the Senate works. They don’t know what’s in the federal budget. They don’t know how the tax code works. For more examples from Hacker and Pierson, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/31/11.

News flash: This is nothing new!

Why are voters so clueless? In large part, thanks to us! They have been aggressively disinformed for decades by very skillful right-wing machines. During that time, the “liberal world” has sat around diddling its own ying-yangs. When we speak, it's normally to tell everyone else that they’re a gang of slobbering racists. Then we wonder why they won’t do the various things we suggest!

We liberals are a large part of the problem! We aren’t very smart and we aren’t very honest. Over the course of the past three decades, we have been amazingly lazy. Worst of all, we've brainwashed ourselves into thinking we’re exceptionally moral and just remarkably smart.

We are neither. It’s not even close. In many ways (not all), Rachel Maddow is a train wreck—and we’re so dumb that we’re convinced that Maddow is the bees’ knees! By way of contrast, Norquist and Luntz really are good at what they do. Until we get over ourselves and learn how to talk to the public, we are doomed to many more years of gruesome pathetic defeat.

Look in the mirror. The problem is us—although we’re much too dumb to see it. The voters don’t understand? People! Of course they don’t!


  1. For me this is a big problem. I just don't see that much substantive difference between the president and Romney. Over the last 3 years, what would Romney have done differently except possibly for health care? Going forward, if the president is re-elected with a hostile Congress, could we count on Republicans responding affirmatively to an economic crisis? The way Democrats supported George Bush? I know it's a form of giving into economic hostage taking, but the reality of the situation is that we need an effective president, and I don't know that Barack Obama can be that effective president.

  2. I think the voters get the basic facts right, even though they aren't aware of all the particulars.

    After all, most Americans want to end our overseas empire and wars, want to tax the rich, want to keep and shore up Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

    Americans may not know all the details and may be seriously deceived . . . but they do understand the basic Democratic arguments (the basic New Deal/Great Society social contract).

    But the broader point is very close to accurate though. The major media is simply a propaganda arm of the elite. The problem is not us though . . . after all, the elite own the media and own the Rachel Maddows. It's Rachel Maddow's fault. It's the Democratic party leaders' fault.

    They gave this voter hope. They betrayed him and legitimized right-wing narratives. I bet lots of voters, especially younger and of course the angry ones, vote Republican simply out of spite or because their party at least appears to stand up for what they believe in! Even if it isn't what a voter believes I can see him preferring a winner over a loser.

    Anyway, this voter's act is not that irrational because it's nigh on impossible for an average voter to get good information. Most of our media and culture are polluted with neoliberal propaganda. Makes one want to flail about on blogs to no avail and then simply vote Republican to teach Maddow an lesson. That's about the only allowed channel of "resistance" so no wonder even liberals end up going that route.

  3. It's very easy to make a case that what voters want is what Democrats are for and is what Republicans are against. And there is a certain asymmetry between the parties. In the crudest terms possible, Democrats want to do something, and Republicans to do nothing. And since nothing is lot easier to do than something, Republicans always meet their goals, and Democrats hardly ever do.

  4. Let me take another stab at this . . .

    Somerby makes the argument that Team Liberal needs to do a better job arguing its case to win at politics.

    But . . .

    it's not the debating style that is causing them to lose. It's the fact that Democratic leaders and the media are actually working for the same masters as their supposed opponents. The Democrats are the Washington Generals to the Republican Globetrotters. They only pretend to get bested by parliamentary tricks or political maneuvering.

    So instead of asking liberals to hire different PR hacks (like David Atkins!), which is like a Washington Generals' fan* demanding that they hire better actors to play on the team, maybe liberals should focus on playing politics for reals. The old-fashioned way. Like making touching Social Security truly a third rail issue. Like coming up with some core principles that large numbers of people share and then pursuing goals based on those principles.

    Anyway, any serious political observer should realize that the Democrats represent the top 1% and the first order of business should be taking out the trash or starting a new party that is not compromised and hostile to the very core ideals of liberals. What use is party politics if people won't even take basic measures to protect the core goals of the party? Liberals are so accustomed to the Democratic party and are so propagandized that they don't even realize that their party is opposed to their core beliefs.

    *yeah, that would be pathetic--which is why I have such disdain for Democrats! :)

  5. Anonymous,

    Republican leaders and Democratic leaders actually want pretty much the same thing, in reality. I can see how using the traditional definition of "conservative" leads one to conclude that the liberals want to change things and conservatives want to keep the status quo, therefore it's liberals that have the tougher task, especially in a government where there are anti-democratic institutions like the Senate.

    But, apart from the fact both Rs and Ds want a similar status quo, both actually also want to change the law to suit them on occasion.

    For instance, on civil liberties and war. This is huge. Obama and Bush (and Clinton) have dramatically moved the law and U.S. society to the right as far as giving war making powers to the president and the curtailment of civil liberties here. They had to work hard and propagandize to get these changes. And they got them--like the Patriot Act or retroactive immunity for vast government spying on its citizens of the use of torture. The Democrats put up token resistance, but this actually helped co-opt any real dissent and ended up legitimizing the creeping fascism. They played good cop and bad cop to pursue the same policies.

    Same thing with tax policy. Bush had to work hard to get his tax cuts and Obama had to go through some real jujitsu to sucker his party into extending these same tax cuts.

    Same thing with the privatization schemes. They need to get a stamp of approval to privatize Social Security or Medicare or public education and so that's why you see both parties come up with an elaborate story line to get to that end goal. The Catfood Commission and the super committees and the huge amount of effort from think tanks to promote privatization shows that the leaders aren't merely trying to prevent something but are trying to sucker the people into something . . .

    Also health care . . . we went through an elaborate dance so it would appear the people voted for a right-wing pro insurance health care bill.

  6. to some extent, i must agree with sargent's so-called uninformed voter, and not simply because the media is guilty of ill-informing him, which they are.

    obama came into office with an actual mandate (vs the not mandate of bush), a majority democratic congress, and proceeded to play footsies with the republicans. the republicans who had made it clear, since nov. 4, 2008, that they would do nothing that might help obama, nothing. and yet, knowing this upfront, obama continued to act as though the republicans really, really, really, cross my heart and hope to die, wanted what was best for the country. they didn't, then or now.

    obama has really only himself to blame, he could have charged ahead, pushed bills he knew wouldn't get any republican support, and used that to rip them a new one. he didn't. instead, he caved to nearly all their demands, and they didn't vote for them anyway.

    why would this purportedly uninformed voter think otherwise of him? it isn't all the media's fault.

  7. To second cpinva. Even our hapless press corps would pay some attention -- cover it -- if Democratic leaders, especially a president, articulated core principles and fought for them on a regular basis. It's not just that Norquist and Luntz are really really smart (which they are) -- they're given free rein in the vacuum Democrats create.

    And why do Democrats create this vacuum? Part of it is the old Will Rogers' observation about the Dem party not being an organized political party. But a lot of it is also what Walter Wit Man said.

  8. The public knows plenty. People are actually fairly well informed.

    1. Poll after poll after poll shows the public wants something resembling a social democracy --- Medicare intact, Soc Sec, well funded schools, public option, much higher taxes on the wealthy, and much more --- which neither party is interested in delivering.

    2. The public knows the fix is in.

  9. "Republican leaders and Democratic leaders actually want pretty much the same thing, in reality."

    I pretty much agree. Especially in the sense that many Republican and Democratic leaders are representative of the establishment and establishment values. Romney and Obama are both establishment figures, and their solution to problems are establishment solutions. With respect to health care, they are virtually the same solution. I don't view this as horrific. The rich, like the poor will always be with us, a fundamental fact Ayn Rand missed. What concerns me is that we have entered a period in our history in which the political system can't deliver any kind of solution, establishment or otherwise. The manufactured debt ceiling crisis was just an early example of that.

    What Romney is telling us, somewhat on the sly, is "Elect me. I know, I am not exactly your cup of tea. Roe v. Wade will be a goner. Tax-wise, my buddies at the country club will get a break, just as they did under Obama, if you haven't noticed. But I, unlike the president, can put together an effective governing coalition of minority Democrats, and moderate Republicans who, because I am a Republican myself, won't be automatically opposed to anything I do. In times of crisis, I can, like George Bush before me, and unlike Barack Obama now, can put together an effective governing coalition."

    What's the Democratic response to that argument?

  10. Glad to see other readers have beaten me to the punch on this.

    It's true that the American public has routinely been disinformed about political issues and that words like "left" and "liberal" have been dragged through the mud in mainstream discourse, while words like "conservative" and "Reaganesque" have been bronzed.

    But still the public regularly hankers for policy that would best be categorized as left or liberal, even if they don't use those terms, and even if they're often willing to elect Republican candidates who have no interest in delivering those policies.

    Bob, I love ya, and in particular I love your quest to shed our tribe of illogical and low-blow rhetoric. But for some reason, you rarely go near another essential topic: very very few Democrats display any interest in delivering those policies, either.

    If, for example, one examined at length Obama's handling of healthcare "reform," one would be hard pressed to see any interest on his part of delivering anything better (i.e., addressing the real problem: profiteering) than what Romney delivered in my home state.

    Rather than write an epic here about ObamaCare--the result and the very telling process--I encourage you to consider adding to your beat discussion of a clear and present problem: people who want left/liberal policies have no major party to vote for. For recognizing that, they are derided as purists and much more... but they are never served, certainly not by the Republicans and, sadly, not by the Democrats, either.

    Yes, career liberals have done a terrible job making the case for liberal policies. But just as plainly, a paltry number of elected Democrats show much interest in pursuing liberal policy ends, using "pragmatism," "less evil," etc. as great shields to hide their comparable-to-the-Republicans commitment to their corporate paymasters.

    Voters caught onto Bush and company by 2008 and voted out the Republicans in a big way. In 2010, they caught onto the Democrats' lack of interest in important changes, and their expected loyalists couldn't find the reason or energy to support them at the polls. The problem is bigger than GOP intransigence. The problem is a pair of parties that have little appetite for progressive reform.

  11. People certainly don't understand the filibuster and the novelty of the manner Republicans are using it. I was just at another site where the blogger believes that Teddy Kennedy changed the original Constitutional mandate for 2/3 majorities in the Senate. She thinks the filibuster is in the Constitution and was designed into the Senate. See


  13. I disagree with the idea that Obama can't get things done. When Bill Clinton left office, the federal government was spending $2 trillion per year. Eight years later, Bush had jacked up the annual spending to $3 trillion. It took only three years for President Obama to reach $4 trillion. IMHO our biggest financial problem is that Bush and Obama got too many things done.

  14. Hmmm:

    Several comments have been made that suggest passivity on the part of the Democrats as in, "Democrats are not interested in serving" the left or liberal concerns. Such turns of phrase are reasonable sounding but don't really paint a picture of the wholesale theft that is currently being actively and aggressively pursued by a large majority of both Democrats and Republicans. This is not a parlor game. It's systemic and major corruption of the American and European political/economic process on a global scale. Democrats don't simply "indulge" in it. Like Republicans, corporations and the media, they are in it up to their eyeballs and will do anything to make sure it continues.

  15. @David in Cal:
    Much of the spending increase under Obama has been non-discretionary. Additionally, if you think we have a spending problem in Washington, you are wrong. As with most people who don't understand macroeconomics, you seem to have bought into the lie that Washington spends "too much." Our "financial problem" is an insufficiently large deficit to support the net desire to save, leading to depressed aggregate demand, and slow growth/high unemployment.

    As long as we're slaying the dragon of liberal ignorance here, let's get to work on the foolish acceptance of neo-liberal "deficit crisis" framing.

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