Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Political Doublespeak! (What They Can't Say Part 2)

Political speech--whether from politicians or pundits--is rarely evenhanded even when it is couched as analysis. In some cases, though, the position is clearer than others. In this case there are two exhibits.

Exhibit A: Neo-Neocon and the Seven Veto Threats
In his state of the union, Obama issued what is apparently a record number of veto threats. Neo-Neocon, an intelligent, articulate writer (with a fascinating blog), calls out the veto-threats on two fronts:
[ Quotes The Hill, noting that if Obama start vetoing bi-partisan legislation he can be portrayed and painted as an obstructionist ]
Portraying him. Painting him. Not, of course, that he is that way.
Here’s a statistic: since the beginning of this Congress in January, Obama has issued eight veto threats. That’s “the most ever for the start of a new Congress.”
Obama thinks this projects strength, and to his supporters it most definitely does. When the Republicans—even if in the majority in one house of Congress, and even with Democratic support—tried to block something Obama was attempting, that was unreasonable and stubborn obstructionism. When Obama blocks what a Republican majority Congress has done, even when those Republicans have a significant amount of support from moderate Democrats, it’s a show of strength and resolve.
She concludes with:
Historically, most presidents have saved their vetoes for the issues that matter most to them, because they have been afraid to challenge what appears to be the will of the majority of the people too many times. But Obama has no such hesitations. The last time he cared about the will of the people was on November 6, 2012.
What Appears To Be Going On
From reading Neo Neocon's article (if that was all you read) you might think that (a) Obama has been a very obstructionist president and is doubling down on his obstructionist proclivities by (b) doing something that, being bipartisan and the voice of the people, will enrage the general populace and many of his own constituents--in addition to the 'other side' (the Republicans).

What Is Actually Going On
What's going on is that Obama was first and foremost responding to a GOP electorate that ran on rolling back a bunch of his signature achievements (Obamacare, Amnesty, Financial regulations, etc.). Here's a list of what he said he'd veto--it isn't all random GOP nice-to-haves.

By eliding an environment of diametric opposition that clearly exists, Neo Neocon makes it sound like Obama is being crazily argumentative. Maybe she thinks he is--but The Omnivore suspects she knows better. So what's she left with?

What she's left with is the argument that Obama is vetoing the voice/will of the people. This is a argument that a lot of people make (every time there's an election and it's anything but a tie) but equally disregard when used against them. In 2008 Obama had super-majorities in the House and Senate and held the White House. The Omnivore will assume that wouldn't make them doing anything they wanted "morally right"--but that's a pretty strong claim to holding a mandate if you're going to allow that.

Similarly, one can argue that some things on Obama's list poll well (the 20-week limit on abortion and the XL-Pipeline both poll well across party lines) and so should be treated as rails that guide policy. If this gives moral weight, though, should we enact additional firearm background checks because that polls well too? One would hope not. The Omnivore holds that the "polls that matter" are in the voting booth. In 2014 they installed a very GOP legislator (and a lot of governors!).

On the other hand, 2012 they installed a still-serving POTUS who seems, constitutionally, to come with a veto power. There even appear to be a lot of people who feel okay with him threatening to use it. Obama's positives are pretty high right now compared to his past--they're even a little higher than Reagan's were at the same point.

The problem with the "will of the people" argument is even worse than polling numbers though. Our political polarization is at what may be an all-time high: party members vote more as a bloc now than almost ever before.
Graph Shows Percentage of Congressional Moderates (Cross-over votes)
You could make the case that this is what "the people want" (i.e. that the good conservative people want good things like the XL-Pipeline and the minority of obstructionist eco-worshiping Democrats want to promote Gaia over Man) but with congressional approval numbers in the toilet that doesn't seem all that likely.
Yes, Yes, Various Forms of VD Out-Poll Congress. Ha Ha.
No, what "the people" seem to want is some other behavior from Congress beyond passing partisan bills or blocking the same.

But . . . would not the Keystone XL-Pipeline be one of those bills? It has bi-partisan support and not just from the (now almost non-existent) red-state Democrats. Most of the voters polled do approve of it. This is true--but what Neo Neocon isn't saying (but, The Omnivore believes, she knows is true) is this:
  1. Most voters (correctly) perceive the Keystone-XL pipeline as a Republican endeavor (about 4x as many people identify it as Republican vs. Bi-Partisan. About 8x as many view it as Republican over Democratic).
  2. Only 31% polled strongly support it. For somewhat support (25%) or somewhat-oppose (10%) the numbers come out to 35% with middling views. Considering that from the Pew Poll, 84% of Republicans approve of it and only 49% of Democrats, it's likely the 31% approval is mostly Red Team.
In other words: The Keystone-XL Pipeline seems like it might be a bill that could be horse-traded on and pushed through were not the environment one of diametric opposition on the other items (Obamacare, Amnesty, Financial Regulation, Etc.). At the very least, in such an environment, it's hard to call Obama obstructionist: In this environment, everyone's an obstructionist.

Exhibit B: The Daily Signal
The Daily Signal is supposed to be the conservative '' It's supposed to be a fact-based 'explainer' style news site for conservatives that gives a sober just-the-facts-ma'am overview without hyperbolic editorializing or partisan antics. It also doesn't have ads. They say this is because conservative news sites are plagued with pop-up, pop-under, and other annoying similar things but The Omnivore has long held that the reason wasn't the nature of the ads--but the content. Conservative sites are filled with ads claiming currency collapse is coming any day now and FEMA will seize your food-supply. That probably doesn't help sell neutral readers on the articles' credibility.

When they 'explainer'  the latest Senate filibuster they title the article: Why Are Democrats Blocking Homeland Security Funding Bill?

What Appears To Be Going On
The article is awesome--and by 'awesome,' The Omnivore means impressively deceptive! You should read the whole thing--but this is the story it tells:
  1. We've seen this before: there's an important funding deadline approaching and congress has to act--but this time, in a twist, the funding bill passes! Everyone should be happy--but they're not.
  2. This time the Senate Democrats block the bill!
  3. The GOP is confused as to why: "I don't understand why they'd want to block the Senate from even debating a bill to fund homeland security," McConnell said on the Senate floor last week. "It just doesn't make sense." They're baffled!
  4. The only thing the bill doesn't fund is the 5-million person Amnesty Obama launched and, hey, everyone thinks that's probably illegal and/or unconstitutional.
  5. As the bill funds everything but that, it's just people questionably supporting Obama's Amnesty who are blocking this vital domestic function.
  6. It ends with:
Are supporters of Obama’s actions willing to delay the House bill for consideration, forfeiting their rights to an amendment process, and allow for the February deadline to breath down Congress’ neck and possibly expire? Or are they willing to accept a clean passage that funds the department in charge of the security of our country?
What Is Actually Going On
What is actually going on is that Republicans have artificially tied funding the Department of Homeland Security (which pretty much everyone agrees should happen) to a completely separate set of amendments explicitly and artificially removing funding (in the special-action form of a bill that prevents used-fees from being used) from the part that handles immigration (where Obama's Amnesty would happen). However, that wasn't enough since that function is self-funding (paid for by fees), so they had to add an amendment to prevent those fees from being used.

It's the Democrats who have called for a 'clean' bill to fund DHS (i.e. maintains current funding with no unrelated legislation).

Now, there's a whole storm around this set of political maneuvers--but in the end, if you read The Daily Signal's article, and that was that, you would come away thinking that the GOP had produced a 'clean bill' and the Amnesty Funding (de-funding) was simply a natural part of that. Instead, the GOP is using a political bargaining move to try to induce Democrats (and, later, persuade Obama) to drop the Amnesty plan because they think funding DHS is simply more important.

This is (generally speaking) a viable plan so long as what the other side (the Democrats) want is something you don't especially care about--in which case they have to measure their value vs. yours. When what 'the other side wants' (funding DHS) is something everyone wants (or, well, says they want), though, it doesn't work the same: in that case it's holding the "nation" hostage.

That's not going to play the same.

The Omnivore is willing to bet money that both parties would agree to some extent with the state-of-play The Omnivore has laid out here even if they couldn't say so in their article. It's notable that liberals do this too (the article before this is a liberal writer saying that ISIS has nothing to do with Islam!)--but they aren't quite symmetric at this point in time.

The Omnivore is having difficulty thinking of cases where the Democrats are being as narrow in their representation of legislative maneuvering. Partisan, certainly. Best possible light? Of course--but there's a level of omission in the recent discussions that The Omnivore thinks stands out. Why would that be the case?

The Omnivore thinks that is the case for two reasons:

  1. The GOP Establishment (and, to an extent, the Tea Party or whatever you want to call the insurgency) has oversold its capabilities to the base. Running on repealing Obamacare when no remotely plausible victory gives you the margin to actually do it (66 votes in the Senate) is going to disappoint someone. Running on "We can't repeal it until 2016 if we win the presidency then" gets you primaried into oblivion.
  2. The GOP has a hard time dealing with a visceral hatred of Obama that the base has--but the rest of the country doesn't. Remember those ads on conservative sites claiming collapse is coming, FEMA is getting ready, and you better have over-priced freeze-dried rations or else? That's not appealing to the general populace--that's selling to the base who thinks Obama may literally destroy the country before 2016. That's an outside view for Americans at large--but it's a moneymaker. It drives premium ad-space. The Democrats simply don't have this problem (they've tried to drive action with Koch-Brother hatred--it failed).
These issues shape the discussion in ways that force authors to work around truths that will be unpopular or perhaps even unacceptable.


  1. Good read. I've watched the diverging paths of the two parties for a while now and believe you have a good explanation for why logic seems to be the domain of the left while escaping the right. I hope this divergence ends, but wonder if that is possible without a seismic restructuring of the current two-party system.

    1. I have been trying to figure out what a real "break point" my look like. Attempting to read Game Theory pages, I can't find anything substantial--but it appears that right now a 3rd party vote is a Game Theory attempt to MAXIMIZE your impact on YOUR party while totally throwing its power away on the ACTUAL ELECTION (in Game Theory voting behavior, players are attempting to maximize the power of their vote--3rd party seems like that happens on a different axis).

      I don't think, though, that these catastrophes CAN "restructure" the GOP. It's too big and too full of moderates (no matter what it seems like). I will note that there are two competing 'toxins' in the GOP system right now.

      The first was the Tea Party: a very ideological group that was more extreme than the base line. The second was ingested in the last mid-term. "Obama Republicans." These are moderate (often women) candidates who rode in on the last GOP wave. We saw the 20-week abortion bill fail because of some of these people. This tug of war could moderate the party--or just lead it to more stasis.

      But I don't have a clear view of how an end-game happens.

      The most likely seems like a plan to PLEDGE to a 3rd party--but vote R until there is enough (public) pledges. Then the 3rd party says "We've got enough people" and blossoms. The problem there is the candidate. If it's someone in power now (Ted Cruz) they're going to be a pariah to the mainstream. If it's someone not (Sarah Palin) then the blue-sky nature of the candidacy is going to make them choose someone (like Palin) who is appealing to the narrow-slice but has no real chance in real politics. That's going to make the thing dicey.

      We saw this with another (similar) attempt (what was it? I don't recall--not 3rd Way ...) to launch a party on the Internet and use voting and stuff to pick the right candidates and issues. It failed because being disaffected isn't enough to build a party around.

      Except for the goth-drama-club in high school. It could TOTALLY work there.

      -The Omnivore