Politics

04.22.13

Maureen Dowd and Thomas Carlyle

Dowd wrote a really insipid column yesterday that everyone is piling on, so perhaps this is a little unoriginal of me, but so be it. There's a point that needs making.

She wrote that the failure of the gun bill in the Senate was Obama's fault because he doesn't lead and "no one is scared of him." At the same time that he was supposed to scare people, he was also, she writes, supposed to be nicer to them--calling Tom Coburn to say come on, Tom, you're retiring anyway, take one for the team, or country.

Naturally, Obama is supposed to be more like LBJ. Well, it is true that LBJ was almost surely scarier, to some people anyway, than Obama is. But is that what got all that domestic legislation passed, really?

Or might it have had something to do with the fact that the Congress that passed all those things was the most Democratic Congress in all of history? Kevin Drum made that point. But the point I wish to emphasize is that that Congress was also full to bursting of Republican moderates.

The Medicare and Medicaid act of 1965 was supported by just more than half of House Republicans (70-68) and by 43 percent of GOP senators (13 out of 30). I can gurantee you, if today's GOP congressional delegations were ideologically the same as the ones Johnson faced, Dowd would be turning somersaults saying that Obama was the greatest thing since Frederick the Great, because he'd have passed gun legislation and a greenhouse gas emissions bill of some form or another and all kinds of things.

You'd hope that a New York Times columnist would make even a token effort to follow these debates and keep up with the literature, because it's actually basically become conventional wisdom that the bully pulpit isn't all it's cracked up to be. Ezra Klein reviewed all that here. But it's more fun to wish life could be a Victor Hugo novel.

I am on record as noting that Obama has had moments of abysmal leadership. The debt ceiling fiasco of 2011 and the failure to do anything during the 2010 midterm elections stand out to me. So it's not as if he can do no wrong. But the idea that some nebulous force of will could have flipped six votes is completely extraterrestrial.