By BJ Bjornson
While it may be difficult to determine just why Obama himself would want to face another four years of the rather thankless task of running a country that rarely seems to appreciate any of his efforts, it isn�t so hard to find reasons why everyone else should like to see him be successful in November. In that vein, The Washington Monthly has a series out on the consequences of a GOP victory, all of which is well worth the read.
The first of the series is a good reminder that, despite conventional wisdom, we should be paying attention to the promises made by GOP candidates during the primaries, since they actually do indicate what kind of agenda the candidate will try to implement once elected.
I suspect that many Americans would be quite skeptical of the idea that elected officials, presidents included, try to keep the promises they made on the campaign trail. The presumption is that politicians are liars who say what voters want to hear to get elected and then behave very differently once in office. The press is especially prone to discount the more extreme positions candidates take in primaries on the expectation that they will �move to the center� in the general election. Certainly everyone can recall specific examples of broken promises, from Barack Obama not closing Gitmo to George W. Bush and �nation building� . . .
Political scientists, however, have been studying this question for some time, and what they�ve found is that out-and-out high-profile broken pledges like George H. W. Bush�s are the exception, not the rule. That�s what two book-length studies from the 1980s found. Michael Krukones in Promises and Performance: Presidential Campaigns as Policy Predictors (1984) established that about 75 percent of the promises made by presidents from Woodrow Wilson through Jimmy Carter were kept. In Presidents and Promises: From Campaign Pledge to Presidential Performance (1985), Jeff Fishel looked at campaigns from John F. Kennedy through Ronald Reagan. What he found was that presidents invariably attempt to carry out their promises; the main reason some pledges are not redeemed is congressional opposition, not presidential flip-flopping. Similarly, Gerald Pomper studied party platforms, and discovered that the promises parties made were consistent with their postelection agendas. More recent and smaller-scale papers have confirmed the main point: presidents� agendas are clearly telegraphed in their campaigns.
It is a lot easier to get upset at promises broken than those kept, particularly if your support of the candidate was based on some of those promises, which does explain a lot of the disappointment with Obama. Although in Obama�s case, the increase in attention and troops to the Afghan campaign has been treated like a promise broken by a lot of progressives even though it actually is a promise kept. Even there, paying attention to what he was saying as a candidate would have been helpful.
And it is not like anyone should be surprised by what the Republican�s agenda will be once they are elected. Not only have they been trumpeting their priorities for quite some time, they have been carrying them out on smaller scales wherever they control the government at the state level. Bernstein�s piece is about paying attention to what they are saying now, but Charles Pierce made the same point back last November when voters went to the polls to reverse some of the more egregious legislation pushed through by their Republican state governments.
I have become impatient over the past few years with the concept of "buyer's remorse." This notion pops up anywhere a freely elected Republican legislative majority and a freely elected Republican governor get together and put in place policies of the sort they were freely elected to enact. Suddenly, vast numbers of people see Republicans behaving like Republicans and profess themselves shocked � SHOCKED! � to find that there is wingnuttery going on in here. We've seen this with Walker in Wisconsin, Kasich in Ohio, Rick Snyder in Michigan, and Rick Scott in Florida. And, "But they didn't say they were going to do this when they ran!" is a vain and witless excuse. Republicans do what Republicans do.
Look, folks. Everybody knew who was behind Walker in Wisconsin, and why they were behind them. The same is true of Kasich and Snyder and all the rest of them. Hell, Rick Scott was a convicted felon. Anyone who didn't know any of this either wasn't paying attention, or didn't give enough of a damn for it to matter and voted for these guys anyway. Which, come to think of it, fairly well sums up what happened in the 2010 midterms. The country handed itself over to ignorance and apathy and let those two scamps run amok in the process of self-government. The country doesn't get to wake up, blinking, in 2011 and wonder how all this happened.
It all happened because you let talk-radio drive the narrative in your tiny little minds. It all happened because you let yourself be convinced by grifters and charlatans that an insurance-industry-friendly health-care bill was the first in a series of Nuremberg Rallies. You people went to the market. You came home with the bag of magic beans. You all set the throttle to Full, cut all the brake-lines, and sent your elected governments careering down the slopes of Nutball Mountain. It's a little late now to decide that you don't have the stomach for the trip.
This is a case of not only being warned, but having recent examples to demonstrate how things will go should the warnings not be heeded, and there are longer term consequences to a Republican victory, which Dahlia Lithwick covers in her piece, The Courts:
If a Republican successor of Obama gets to replace both Kennedy and Ginsburg, it�s fair to predict that the Roberts Court may include five or even six of the most conservative jurists since the FDR era. Following the ideological disappointment that was David Souter, Republicans have been spectacularly successful in selecting and confirming justices who consistently vote for conservative outcomes. Indeed, the replacement of moderate Sandra Day O�Connor with Samuel Alito may have produced the most consequential shift at the Court in our lifetimes; in a few short years O�Connor�s pragmatic legal doctrine in areas ranging from abortion to affirmative action to campaign finance reform has been displaced by rulings that would make Edwin Meese�s heart sing.
But it�s not just the Supreme Court that would tilt further right. The high court only hears seventy-some cases each year. The vast majority of disputes are resolved by the federal appellate courts, which are the last stop for almost every federal litigant in the country. And the one legacy of which George W. Bush can be most proud is his fundamental transformation of the lower federal judiciary�a change that happened almost completely undetected by the left. At a Federalist Society meeting in 2008, Bush boasted that he had seated more than a third of the federal judges expected to be serving when he left office, most of them younger and more conservative than their colleagues, all tenured for life and in control of the majority of the federal circuit courts of appeals. The consequences of that change at the appeals court level were as profound as they were unnoticed. As Charlie Savage of the New York Times put it at the time, the Bush judges �have been more likely than their colleagues to favor corporations over regulators and people alleging discrimination, and to favor government over people who claim rights violations. They have also been more likely to throw out cases on technical grounds, like rejecting plaintiffs� standing to sue.� In short, they have copied and amplified the larger trends at the Roberts Court: a jurisprudence that skews pro-business, pro-life, anti-environment, and toward entangling the church with the state. Under the rhetorical banners of �modesty� and �humility� and �strict construction,� the rightward shift has done more to restore a pre-New Deal legal landscape than any legislative or policy change might have done.
The courts issue is one that more people should be paying attention to. From the Citizens United decision that is starting to get attention thanks to its likely effects on this election season, to the Supreme Court giving a hand to anyone who wants to avoid equal pay litigation, other decisions narrowing of the scope of class-action lawsuits to the benefit of big corporations, to more recently, a judge giving the state GOP in Wisconsin sole access to the court in their challenge to the Dems petition to recall the GOP governor.
A judge in Wisconsin has ruled that Democratic recall organizers cannot challenge a lawsuit brought by the state GOP against election officials � a suit that claims Gov. Scott Walker�s constitutional rights are being violated by the state�s petition review process.
This means that barring a hypothetical appeal, any continuing litigation in this matter will be conducted exclusively between the state GOP and the election board�s attorney, without the Dems themselves being able to participate and present legal arguments.
�I was a little surprised,� said Jeremy Levinson, the attorney for the recall committee, in an interview with TPM. �It�s the first time I can recall � let me rephrase � it�s the first time I�m aware of a recall-related lawsuit where only the official who is being targeted for recall gets to be a party, and the folks who are working to recall that official are shut out of the process.�
The appointed judge was a Republican state Senator for 20 years, and was nominated by Bush for a federal circuit position. Welcome to the future. Not too surprisingly under the circumstances, the GOP subsequently won the case.
Despite these rather real differences between the parties, there remains a quite vocal group on the left stating they�d rather sit things out and allow Obama to go down to defeat since he�s disappointed them on too many issues. Or even worse, those that figure things are going to get worse anyway, so they might as well just get there sooner than later. The latter reminds me of one of the tracks used by climate change denialists, who point out that since they can�t stop climate change from happening, we shouldn�t bother doing anything to mitigate it either, even though mitigating a problem when you have the chance is probably the only way to give yourself enough time to build the movement you need to truly deal with it.