James F. Baker saved Reagan's presidency from disaster, won the presidency for George H.W. Bush once, and won the presidency illegitimately for George W. Bush. Now the ruling faction in the Republican Party wants to push his star protégé Bob Zoellick out.
And what is the reaction from Baker, from the elder Bush, from the younger Bush, and from their ex-spear carriers? I have not seen one…
Brad DeLong: I am Brad DeLong, an economist, I have been telegraphing this to Norm for a while. The big question I don’t understand: the Democratic barons of the center, the Lincolns and the Nelsons now, in an earlier day the Sassers, the Borens, the Kerreys from Nebraska, even the Moynihans. People who seemed to think that their proper political and policy strategy was to say “we restrained the Hick from Arkansas or the Hick from Honolulu from doing more liberal things”.
That’s a complete disaster as a strategy for your own reelection. You are likely to lose your job. You are likely to lose your majority status. You are likely to lose your chairmanship--which Moynihan felt extremely bitterly--if the president of your party is not perceived to be a big success in his first two years.
And yet while someone like Olympia Snowe or Susan Collins or even Voinovich will, when the chips are down, be a Republican partisan first, last, and always, this doesn’t seem to hold for the Nelsons, the Lincolns, the Sassers, the Moynihans, the Borens, the Kerreys from Nebraska and a whole bunch of others. What’s going on with them?
Tom Mann: Most of the ones you mentioned are gone, or are on their way out. There isn’t much of that left anymore.
It’s perfectly clear within the Democratic caucus in the Senate that the opposition party cannot be talked to, negotiated with, bargains cannot be struck. And so the whole notion that you could sort of move and optimize the policy choices by engaging in this kind of strategic coalition-building outside the parties—it just doesn’t exist. Ben Nelson, one of the latest, is floundering with a very red constituency in Nebraska. If you look at his record on most things, he came through and stuck with the Democrats. On the important things, he extracted a price along the way--but then so too did Arlen Specter, if you go back to the stimulus, and Susan Collins and others who extracted a price.
But I think much more important than any difficulties within the Democratic Party are the structural reality of the Senate and the filibuster in the face of an opposition party that’s determined to defeat and kill. Not use it as a device to extract a different end point in negotiation, but to kill. Nothing less than that.
I think that’s the new reality that we face now.
One last point, the period of time during Obama’s first two years in which he actually had 60 Democrats in the Senate was relatively small. We were with Al Franken three days ago, and remember Al didn’t get into the Senate until July.
It took some time to get to the 60, and then you still had the Nelsons and the Landrieus that you had to negotiate with. You had to negotiate with Republicans to get them, even if you never got any Republicans. So it was difficult, but they managed. I think Obama actually maximized the output of the first two years in terms of legislative achievements. We can criticize the sufficiency of some of what he did, but I think the nature of the opposition party trump, I think, those factors you were discussing of those annoying Democrats.
Norman Ornstein: You know, it’s a really interesting question and some of this goes back way. Look at Franklin Roosevelt’s deep frustration with the Southern Democrats, and even his decision to campaign against many of them in 1938. I think it reflects a deep cultural difference between the two parties in a host of different ways.
Part of it is the Republican part. In the Republican Party, moderates and progresses were always a relatively small minority. They were there, they were significant, but they never made up more than 20, 25, 30% of the party. For the Democrats, the southern conservatives made up 50% or 40% from a very long period of time. And so there was a different sense of the importance and the power that those people had.
Secondly, I do think there is simply a cultural difference. For Republicans, it’s almost more of a religion or a tribal identification than it is for Democrats.
That is sometimes really curious to see. Watch Olympia Snowe get caught up in this the way that she did. I worked with Olympia very closely on the campaign reform staff. She was under enormous pressure from McConnell and others. She stood fast. When we worked with Olympia, when campaign finance reform was floundering over the Republicans' insistence that if you are going to keep corporations out of the game, you need to freeze labor out too. Trying to find a common ground. So we came up with something that ended up being the Snowe-Jeffords amendment--which was a way of keeping corporations and unions out of elections and communications when we are close to elections, all of that stuff.
It passed the court when Sandra Day O’Connor was still there. It was the target, as much as anything in particular was, of Citizens United.
Then you fast-forward to the aftermath of the Citizens United decision.
We get the response to Citizens United--the "Disclose" act. Now you can quibble with portions of that. But this is a bill that passes the House handily, and then gets to the Senate and all 59 Democrats support it. And not one Republican, including Snowe—this was her most important legislative achievement--would vote for cloture, and so it dies.
We would be in a different place if that bill had passed--not radically different but different, and you will see more of this sort of coming forward. The desire not to be shunned within your own party is a part of it.
It’s almost like you are in a religion. You look at misbehavior on the part of the leaders of that religion, and you are shocked and dismayed, but you are not leaving your religion. And you are still going to go to church: you just can’t give up something that you held in a lifelong way.
I think Democrats are just different in that front. They don’t have the same discipline. I see even some of it outside. You get a talking point that gets distributed. Now, for example, we can’t meet anybody in or out of office who doesn’t say: "Well, what do you say about the Senate not passing a budget resolution for three years?" They picked up on a talking point. It’s a phony talking point. But it’s a talking point. It's not like they have a phone call every morning where everybody dials in and they are given marching orders. It’s just there and they pick up on it.
By contrast Democrats are all over the map.
So there is a difference in culture there. But I would just add that I think Thomas was right in pointing out that given all of that, Obama’s achievement--and you know you have to give some of it to Pelosi and to Reid--at getting all 60 democrats from socialist Barney Sanders to Ben Nelson to vote for a health care bill…
Brad DeLong: The Heritage Foundation’s healthcare bill. Romney’s healthcare plan. Something that’s significantly to the right of Olympia Snowe's policy priorities, as demonstrated by her life up to 2008.
Norman Ornstein: Okay. And they got socialist Barney Sanders to vote for it.
Brad DeLong: Yes.
Norman Ornstein: You know it’s the Heritage Foundation's bill, but it’s also the Hatch-Grassley healthcare bill.
Brad DeLong: Yes.
Norman Ornstein: But the fact Pelosi got enough Democrats to support a cap-and-trade bill, even if it never went though the Senate.
Brad DeLong: But they were not organized enough to pass a carbon tax through reconciliation in February of 2009 and then bargain back in the Senate to cap-and-trade.
Norman Ornstein: Well, you know, let’s remember: this is the Democratic Party. Will Rogers said: “I am not a member of any organized political party, I’m a Democrat.” So that’s built into the culture as well. But there is a difference here. I think it’s one of the things--part of our frustrations, I could easily pick out 30 Republicans in the House who are problem solvers, and who would love to be out there working with Democrats--and in some cases they do in committee and sub-committee. Then there are bills which they contributed to, and they have been compromised before they even get to the floor, and they all vote against him. And of course the other part of this is there is no Democratic Club for Growth that says: "We are waiting for you, and if you vote in way that we don’t like, there will be millions in to knock you off in the primary." It happens to Democrats, but nowhere near as significant and the threat is nowhere near as deep.
Brad DeLong: So is the problem that Daily Kos and Netroots Nation are not strong enough?
Norman Ornstein: No, we are not advocating having both parties have an ideological police. Yes?