The Beltway media is an epic failure – The Green Lantern fantasy returns

Posted by AzBlueMeanie:

The eternal Mean Girls teenager, Maureen Dowd, wrote an insipid opinion in the New York Times on Sunday, No Bully in the Pulpit, that I was just going to ignore because Maureen Dowd ceased to be relevant more than a decade ago. Why bother and who cares?

But then "the old Gray Lady" followed it up with this news "analysis" by Michael Shear and Peter Baker that essentially cribbed "MoDo's" opinion. In Gun Bill Defeat, a President Who Hesitates to Twist Arms. What the hell is wrong with the New York Times?

The Beltway media villagers are all bent out of shape that gun safety reforms in the wake of the massacre of first graders at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut did not survive the undemocratic institution of the U.S. Senate. They acknowledge that a tyranny of the minority of GOP senators have engaged in the systematic abuse of the chamber's filibuster rules for years to prevent any meaningful legislation from passing, rendering the Senate dysfunctional.

But do the media villagers blame the undemocratic institutional norms of the Senate? Do the media villagers blame the radicalized anti-government extremists of the GOP? Nooo! They blame President Obama: "Daddy Obama must force the problem children in
Congress to behave."

I posted about this phenomenon earlier this year in reference to the spectacular failure of Congress over the automatic budget sequester. The Beltway media is an epic failure – Part 3:

Brendan Nyan writing at the Columbia Journalism Review has an excellent piece on why the Beltway media is an epic failure. "The Green Lantern Theory of Sequestration: Hey, pundits: President Obama can’t magically solve the budget impasse in Washington":

Screenshot from 2013-03-02 13:12:44One of the recurring themes in commentary on national politics is the
demand for the president to change politics as we know it to accomplish
some otherwise unattainable political goal. If only President Obama tried a little harder, some critics claim, he could magically overcome legislative obstacles to gun control or clean energy legislation. I’ve dubbed this fantasy the Green Lantern Theory of the Presidency in honor of the comic book superheroes whose abilities to use their “power rings” depend on their willpower.

* * *

Green Lantern-ites have been seduced by the myth of the bully pulpit and do not seem to appreciate the relatively limited powers of the president on domestic policy issues.

The media should instead focus greater attention on Congress,
which writes the tax and budget legislation that determines how the
federal government spends its money. Obama has relatively little
leverage over the Republicans who control the House of Representatives,
almost all of whom represent districts
he lost in 2012. And while the sequester was designed to be so onerous
that it would force both parties to compromise, the sequester would
still require substantial political pain, making it difficult for the administration to herd legislators toward a deal.

Greg Sargent today addresses the latest Green Lantern fantasy of the Beltway media villagers. The Morning Plum: The Green Lantern Theory of Presidential Power:

Why couldn’t President Obama get expanded background checks through
the Senate, given that the idea is supported by over eight in 10
Americans? The chatter around that question continues this morning, with
the New York Times weighing in with a big piece arguing that the failure of the Toomey-Manchin compromise in the Senate is rooted in Obama’s unwillingness to “twist arms.”

The Times piece, which comes after Maureen Dowd made a similar argument over
the weekend, traffics heavily in what a lot of folks like to describe
as the Green Lantern Theory of Presidential Power. The thesis appears to
be that Toomey-Manchin failed because Obama failed to put enough
pressure on red state Democratic Senators like Mark Begich, and that
this bodes ill for the rest of his presidency.

* * *

[The Times analysis] suffers from several problems. To begin with, even if
every red state Democrat had voted for the measure, it still wouldn’t
have passed.

Just look at the roll call for the vote.
It failed by 54-46; if Harry Reid had not voted against the measure for
procedural reasons, the tally would have been 55-45. Four red state
Dems voted against the bill: Begich, Heidi Heitkamp, Mark Pryor and Max
Baucus.

In other words, if Obama had twisted the arms of every one of those
Democrats into pretzels — indeed, if he had twisted all of their arms
together into one giant tangle and mounted it atop the Capitol — it
still wouldn’t have achieved the 60 votes necessary to pass.

What about the gettable Republicans who voted against the bill, such as
Dean Heller and Jeff Flake? The Times story has little to say about the
role Republicans played in killing the measure, but it’s hard to see how
arm twisting from a Democratic president would have won them over. [And why do these Times reporters give these Republicans a pass for their craven cowardice?]

* * *

I will make one concession to the “arm twisting” theory of the case.
If on the off chance the proposal comes up for a vote again, and a few
more Republicans appear more gettable, Obama should indeed push red
state Dems very hard to vote for it. I doubt that would matter
much; in this scenario it would be more likely that they would support
it of their own accord, because — unlike this time — they would be in
the position of deciding whether it passed or failed. But, sure, if all
this happens, by all means, try more arm twisting.

At any rate, all of this is a counter factual and speculative to begin with. The simple truth is that the Republican Party — and the 60
vote Senate — are the prime culprits in the killing of Toomey-Manchin.
No amount of Green Lantern theorizing can obscure what happened here.

Steve Benen describes the epic failure of the Beltway media in Playing the blame game poorly:

As we discussed
yesterday, Republicans opposed gun reforms; Republicans lied about gun
reforms; Republicans partnered with extremists against gun reforms;
Republicans filibustered gun reforms; and last week, Republicans killed
gun reforms.

And now the Beltway crowd is expressing its disappointment … by blaming Obama.

Maureen Dowd offered a high-profile example the over the weekend, but the meme is spreading. The New York Times has an analysis piece today, connecting the defeat of the gun bill with the president's reluctance to "twist arms." John Dickerson has a piece in Slate
today on the death of the legislation and Obama's clumsy legislative
prowess, though the article neglected to even mention the word
"Republican" in passing.

I realize overly simplistic answers to
complex questions can be unsatisfying and at times incomplete, but last
week's developments were fairly straightforward: Republicans opposed new
gun laws, so the legislation died. There wasn't anything the president
could do about it.

This wasn't about schmoozing or arm-twisting.
It had nothing to do with a movie Maureen Dowd liked or the "tone" of
the White House's message. Yes, there were some red-state Democrats who
balked, but it wasn't their filibuster, and even if they'd voted with
the majority, it wouldn't have been enough to overcome GOP opposition.

There's
no denying that the legislative outcome represents a defeat for the
president — he fought for a bill that failed — but to blame him is to
overlook every relevant detail of what actually happened.

* * *

I think some of the misapplied blame is the result of mistaken institutional assumptions. As we talked about
last week, many like to think the president — any president, really —
is ultimately responsible for all political progress or the lack
thereof. Indeed, Americans like to think of their president as the most
powerful person on the planet. POTUS is the Leader of the Free World and
the Commander in Chief. He's the Top Dog, the Big Cheese, the Head
Honcho, the One in Charge, and the one with whom the buck stops.

So
when popular legislation the president supports dies, the assumption is
that it must be the president's fault — he's the leader, and if the
guy in charge isn't getting what he wants, he must bear responsibility.

Except,
the American system of government doesn't work this way. The president
is powerful, but the office has limits — the White House doesn't give
dictation to the legislative branch, and a president is not the head of
the opposition party that wants to see him fail.

* * *

I also believe there's an ongoing reluctance among many to appreciate
the scope of Republican radicalization. For many, especially in media,
there's an assumption that there are two major, mainstream political
parties — one center-left, the other center-right — and an effective
president can govern through competent bipartisan outreach.

Those assumptions are wrong. As we discussed
in January, outreach doesn't work because Republicans have reached an
ideological extreme unseen in modern American history. It's a quantifiable observation,
not a subjective one. Even if GOP policymakers were inclined to work
with Obama, they realize that they'd be punished soon after by a primary
challenge — and they know this to be true because it's happened more
than a few times in recent years (look up names like Crist, Specter,
Bennett, Lugar, etc.).

Let's return to the thesis
presented by Tom Mann and Norm Ornstein: "[W]e have no choice but to
acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican
Party."

* * *

There may have been a time a president could cajole rivals, but until
recent years, presidents didn't have to deal with an entire political
party that, statistically speaking, is the most ideologically extreme
since the dawn of the modern American party system.

On guns, the president leveraged public opinion, accepted
compromises, activated his electoral operation, and remained focused on
achievable, popular, mainstream goals. The Republican filibuster
prevailed anyway.

The Beltway doesn't have to like this series of events, but it's what happened.

The Beltway media villagers just can't bring themselves to blame their cocktail party hosts, the Republicans. It's almost as if the Beltway media villagers long for a dictatorship, rendering Congress superfluous. "Daddy will make everything alright."

0 responses to “The Beltway media is an epic failure – The Green Lantern fantasy returns

  1. Spot on, BlueMeanie.

    I wonder if MoDo and the Times blew it even more fundamentally. At some point, it became counter-productive for Obama to move heaven and earth to pull 60 votes for weakened legislation that would have been further weakened, or trashed entirely, in the House. Passing some toothless bill and having a bunch of craven Senators and Reps brag how they stood up to the NRA would do very little to address the issue here. In the long run, it seems, Obama accomplishes more by marginalizing the Republicans (and 4 Democrats) who voted against the legislation and re-igniting the passion of those on his side.

    So it wasn’t so much that Obama doesn’t like twisting arms. In this case, doing so would have been poor chess playing.