Saturday, October 11, 2014

Is this the worst Congressional leadership ever?

Criticizing the leadership of the other party is so common that it's almost a reflex. I don't want to bash Congressional leaders just because I hate their party, which is what so many do. However, I'm seriously wondering whether we have some of the worst leadership ever.

Clearly from my previous posts I'm not a fan of Nancy Pelosi. She ran the House very strictly, and the moderate Democratic strain withered, though it's possible it would have withered anyway. Pelosi's biggest mistake was to pass measures that were too liberal while pretending that they were compromises. Pelosi may make noises like she knows how to compromise, but the actions don't follow. By not moderating her chamber more, lots of her party lost their seats in 2010, but she took no responsibility for it.

I thought Reid was somewhat cannier, and he is. However, I think perhaps he's chosen a path that is also ultimately bad for his compatriots in the Senate. He's always been tricksy with the Senate rules. He seemed the major force behind the Senate blockade of Bush appointments in 2007-8, though he backed off from it. However, the atmosphere never changed, and p. Petty partisan advantage has been the operational environment for the entire Reid tenure. A few times it's abated somewhat, but it always roars back, either with Reid ramping it up himself or in response to GOP provocation. It's been destructive to nearly everyone in the Senate, but Reid hasn't rethought the tactics. He still keeps an iron hand on the bills being debated and the amendments being offered. His purpose is probably to protect his senators from embarrassing votes. He may have won that battle, but he and the vulnerable senators have lost nonetheless.

To me this is a lesson that leaders have to rise above the partisanship at least a little. If they always reach for the partisan advantage, they end up looking grubby and petty and that infects their conference.

The GOP in the Senate don't look any better. Under Mitch McConnell, they ramped up their tactics as the minority. They also appear to relish the chance to inflict even more pain if they gain the majority. They will almost definitely hold those embarrassing votes that have been blocked. Many partisans are hoping to end the filibuster so that the Senate can pass a conservative agenda and force Obama to veto it. I'm far from certain this will happen, but I'd put the likelihood at 60%. That will change the Senate from the deliberative chamber where good deals can arise to a highly partisan operation like the House. It would be a huge loss of the country, but too many partisans are pushing for it without a thought about the long-term damage.

I wonder whether Boehner is the least bad of the lot. Occasionally he makes his conference take those hard votes. He resisted the Tea Party strategy in 2013, eventually giving in and allowing them to shut down the government, just to show them that their strategy was doomed. He seems to be the only top Congressional leader who isn't making his conference more intolerant. Oy, if he's the best of the lot!

Collect the whole set (1 of 4)

Extra. I started this post two months ago, but was inspired to finish by this news story of a Democratic senator wishing Harry Reid was gone.

Update 10/14/14. Here's a post about how awful Mitch McConnell is, and not because he's a RINO.

Update 10/29/14. Here's another way that Reid has hurt his caucus. By allowing so few votes, senators from more conservative areas haven't been able to separate themselves from Obama and the Democratic norm. They're likely to lose their seats because of it.


Dangerous said...

These are politicians so you are either surprised or disappointed that they seek partisan advantage? Perhaps you preferred the old way, when deals were struck to give individuals with power various forms of governmental largess. They hid them well, but such as-long-as-it-is-good-for-me-and-my-constituents is now passé and rightly so. It was ugly and expensive.

I put the GOP ending the filibuster if they take the Senate at 95%. I put the Dems ending it if they hold it at 60%. If they showed some balls and did it before, they wouldn't be facing a much tougher environment. They could say "We Dems passed infrastructure, and immigration reform, and ... but the House Republicans blocked them!!"

Boehner stinks because he can't control his caucus's worst impulses. That's hurt the GOP but it's hardly an endorsement for Boehner. When left with no choice but folding, he folds.

Reid also sucks, but for a completely different reason. He waited to long to realize the GOP minority didn't care about "compromise", only obstruction and laying the blame to retake the Senate. Obama too. Why should they allow the GOP to engage in their nonsense without a real compromise in the end? The GOP demand concessions, then vote against the compromise bill so they can continue to claim they were against it. So should the Dems give them stuff without getting votes in return? I don't think so.

You're very free when spending other parties' negotiating leverage, MP. Assume that the opposing party are your mortal enemies who will stop at nothing to destroy you, then decide if how they are behaving makes sense or not. As a "moderate" you want to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. If actually faced with making decisions in their shoes, however, or against them, you'd get rolled. In politics, the most ruthless party usually wins.

ModeratePoli said...

@Dangerous, I don't think it was always so ruthless. So I have to ask--how did it get this way? What does this actually accomplish? I can see that it's popular with the diehards in your own party, but does it win you more support overall?

So if you think it's better strategy to be as tough as possible, tell me specifically the benefits. What has McConnell gained for the GOP? What has Reid gained for the Dems? I agree that Reid was correct to blow up the filibuster for appointments, but stopping amendments--what's the gain there?

Dangerous said...

I think we've both been around long enough to know it wasn't always like this. We have the video.

The REPUBLICANS made politics a zero-sum game, because they were better at it when they invited it and remain way better than the Dems at it. The Dems play ham-handedly because they still recognize hypocrisy as a political sin. Today's GOP doesn't, so McConnell can, without a hint of uncertainly, proclaim that Obamacare should be killed but his state can keep it and nothing will change. Of course, he knows better but doesn't care.

Meanwhile, his opponent Ms. Grimes, is in a defensive crouch refused to admit she's a loyal Democrat who voted for Obama because she desperately wants to win the GOP attack machine has turned Obama into a villain, despite an improving economy and lower gas prices.

McConnell has gained the vilification of a successful president -- aided by latest racism and general distrust of minorities in a large segment of the electorate -- to help his party first reclaim the House and probably the Senate despite blocking every effort by the Dems to fix problems. Then the GOP blames Obama for all problems, real or not, for more political advantage.

And you're comparing that cynical, anti-American GOP dogma to Harry Reid blocking votes on bogus amendments that the GOP won't even vote for in the end? Those amendments are poison pills meant to sound good in campaigns, and fool moderates like YOU, into thinking they actually add something positive to legislation that the GOP will vote on block AGAINST anyway.

So Reid and the Dems gain nothing, but they don't lose anything by preventing the GOP from having a soapbox from which they will spew falsehoods.

Watch what happens when the GOP takes the Senate. They will use every opportunity to position their presidential nominee to win, whether it is good for the country or not.

ModeratePoli said...

@dangerous, I don't find your argument convincing. The GOP are better at dirty pool (people always think the other side is better at heaving dirt), so the Dems should learn to get as down and dirty as the GOP. That seems to be your idea.

How has that worked? Not well from what I've seen. I'm not saying that the Dems should play nice, but they aren't finding effective ways to handle it.

Here's an idea that I haven't seen them try: let the GOP propose a few (just a few) of their poison pill amendments, and go whole hog on showing why it's a poison pill. Sunlight is supposed to be the best disinfectant, and it certainly makes the dirt highly visible, so use it.

I'm amazed we don't have tons of commercials that say "This is the junk and lies my opponent has said about me. Can you believe this (increduously)? I don't need to lie, but he does." Very straightforward.

However, honesty cuts both ways, and politicians turn themselves into liars if they pretend one thing and do another. For example, Obama said he wanted to use a scalpel on the budget, and never wielded it--never said what targeted cuts should be made. So, did he really want to make targeted cuts? Of course not. That's pretty damn clear, and he handled that ammo to his opponents.

So my take on being a politician would be: 1) Use all the ammo you opponents provide on themselves. 2) Be damned careful not to provide ammo on yourself by picking your causes and policies carefully and with your eye on the greater good. That's always the best defense.