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Somewhere, Mitch McConnell is smiling

Adam Serwer tweets a good point on the contretemps between Robert Gibbs and "the Professional Left." Whatever the two sides' feelings for each other, "they're not the ones filibustering jobs bills."

This is the beauty of obstruction, of course: The minority creates outcomes that the majority gets blamed for. The country points its fingers at the majority party for not passing legislation, as it's the majority party's job to pass legislation. The majority party points fingers at one another -- but especially at the White House -- because it's their job to pass legislation, and surely the White House could be doing more to whip recalcitrant Democrats and moderate Republicans into support. And plus, what's the use of the left complaining about Republicans? The Republicans don't care what the left thinks, and so there's a limited upside -- and even less press coverage -- when the left attacks about them.

Coincidentally, I've been reading Nelson Polsby's "How Congress Evolves," which focuses on changes in the House of Representatives during the '40s and '50s and '60s. People forget this, but back then it was the House, rather than the Senate, that was the primary impediment to liberal legislation. The Rules Committee, which was led by an arch-segregationist, could kill legislation on its own and did so regularly.

This led to the predictable circular firing squad, as everyone spent a lot of time arguing over who deserved the blame for the failure of these bills. But it wasn't until John F. Kennedy came into office and partnered with Speaker Sam Rayburn to reform the Rules Committee that the underlying situation changed (and I'll note that you never hear people demanding that the Rules Committee regain its power to hold legislation). And so it is here: The left is angry at the White House, and the White House is angry at the left, and both may be justified in their annoyance and tactical critiques, but the tension is actually a result of the rules allowing 41 senators to block the will of 59.

By Ezra Klein  |  August 10, 2010; 9:45 AM ET
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It isn't 59

At least six are conservaDems who would gladly be in the GOP if local situations allowed it to be so.

The conservaDems intentionally sabotaged Obama's first year so as to minimize change.

If there were more moderate GOP votes available, then many of the conservaDem votes would switch and it would be clearer there aren't 59.

I'd say the actual Senate breakout is more like 45 liberals and 55 conservatives with about six of the latter being moderate conservatives. Those six moderate conservatives can be cajoled into certain votes, but it's clear they prefer the status quo.

Posted by: lauren2010 | August 10, 2010 10:10 AM | Report abuse

every morning, when the left rails petulantly, unceasingly, bitterly, spitefully, against president obama, boehner and cantor and mcconnell must grin broadly, as they sip their coffee in the morning.

the mental picture is as clear as day.
i think of it now, all of the time.
and it is very heartbreaking.

Posted by: jkaren | August 10, 2010 10:12 AM | Report abuse

"The left is angry at the White House, and the White House is angry at the left, and both may be justified in their annoyance and tactical critiques, but the tension is actually a result of the rules allowing 41 senators to block the will of 59."

Even if it wasn't, the core base is never happy, so some of this would be going on, anyway. Because nobody ever gets everything they want, and most people complain about that.

Regarding the fillibuster, you can keep pointing it out, as much as you want, but it isn't going to change. Don't for a minute believe that there aren't a lot of Democratic senators looking at the Republican doing the "party of no" thing with a bit of envy. "Man, that's an easy gig," they are thinking. "Their base loves them. And all they're doing is saying no, and sitting on their fat azzes. That's a pretty sweet deal."

They aren't going to vote to give away the cool hotness of filibuster abuse just as they're getting to a point where it might actually work to their advantage.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | August 10, 2010 10:23 AM | Report abuse

For your next lunch break where you reference Senate dysfunction, you should link to Green Day - Minority.

The show at Lollapalooza this year was great.

"I want to be the minority
I don't need your authority
down with the moral majority
'cause I want to be the minority"

Posted by: jnc4p | August 10, 2010 10:23 AM | Report abuse

@lauren2010: "At least six are conservaDems who would gladly be in the GOP if local situations allowed it to be so."

It's picking nits, but I don't think so. I think there are really politicians who love their party, they just don't support the platform. I'm pretty sure there are plenty of Democrats who really want the Democrats to be a center-right party, or a "perfect center" party, or a Scoop Jackson party, or socially liberal and fiscally conservative, or fiscally liberal and socially conservative. They don't want to be in the GOP, they want the Democrats to be a perfect reflection of their own ideology, and are sometimes irked that it's not.

Even when Jim Jeffords or Arlen Specter jumps, I don't think they do it capriciously--they do it with a deep regret that their party has just gone "too far" away from the blueblooded, Rockefeller Republicans of old. Micky Kaus (failed primary challenger to Barbara Boxer, I think) is, for all practical purposes, a Dubya-style Big Government conservative, but calls himself a Democrat and refuses to change his party affiliation. There are some Democrats and Republicans who, while seeming to be ideologically at odds with the party they are in, are still hoping against hope that the party will change.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | August 10, 2010 10:29 AM | Report abuse

The conservatives have Fox news, a vast talk radio network and scads of money from corporations and lobbyists. Plus the rest of the media who can't be bothered because Obama and the administration are a better ratings driver.
You and a few others comment almost daily on Republican obstructionism. But why aren't there front page reports on the people who think its a good idea to sacrifice the futures of millions of workers and students for political expediency and laissez-faire religion? Shouldn't this be side-by-side with administration stories? Shouldn't it rank with Palin's family circus or the latest bimbo eruption?

Posted by: ostrogoth | August 10, 2010 10:30 AM | Report abuse

Another thought: As much as I love him as my senator, maybe it's also Dick Durbin's job to get legislation passed. I'm wondering how effective people think he's been as Majority Whip.

Posted by: JJenkins2 | August 10, 2010 10:47 AM | Report abuse

How Washingtonian of you, Ezra, how Broderian.

Mitch McConnell didn't have anything to do with Obama's disastrous all-in Afghanistan policy, or his continuation of torture and other Bush-era foreign policies.

It's funny, outside of that betrayal of our values, I rather agree with your sympathy toward Obama. But I don't like being patted on the head and told to shut up.

Posted by: DeliciousPundit | August 10, 2010 10:52 AM | Report abuse

i'm actually kind of upset Ezra you didn't link to your standard photo of McConnell. You know the one where he looks like an even fatter Santa Claus with the red rosy cheeks. Would've given the post more of an effect.

Posted by: visionbrkr | August 10, 2010 10:53 AM | Report abuse

The lack of legislative action reflects one crucial Democratic Party weakness - Harry Reid's lack of canny courage. If he had an ounce of common sense and the spunk of a sandlot pitcher, he would introduce good, popular, and easily understood legislation, then let the opposition filiburster for several weeks to the delight of CSPAN watchers and other media coverage. He should let the callow, politically straightjackeded Republicans expose their deliberate animus toward progress for at least three weeks for the nation to see. It is the only available guarantee for Democratic success in this mid-term election.

Posted by: TeaPartyDemocrat | August 10, 2010 10:58 AM | Report abuse

Oh, horse puckey. What pisses off the left is the utter indifference this administration displays to our concerns. (Larger stimulus, anyone?) Obama didn't mind taking our money and our support but now is positively allergic to our issues.

It's not the Senate that's the problem. It's the consistent lack of leadership and the "split the difference" compromising that makes us so angry. If we'd ever really seen him TRY, we wouldn't be so ticked off.

Posted by: uberblonde1 | August 10, 2010 10:59 AM | Report abuse


Do you all get special points for being over the top? How about when the far right thinks they have their next president and he doesn't go all the way to full social security privatization do you think the right will go all haywire on them?

It seems to me that the far left wants 100% of its agenda in place and doesn't think part is good enough and is going to stomp their feet until they get their way (or better yet withdraw their support) until their true progressive savior comes to their rescue.

Posted by: visionbrkr | August 10, 2010 11:18 AM | Report abuse

Actually, it's undeniable that the left spends more time attacking Republicans. I suggest Ezra's research assistant look into it if he has any doubts, but this is certainly a case where punditry loses track of facts in favor of perception.

Posted by: Hopeful9 | August 10, 2010 12:05 PM | Report abuse

Just call them racist. It doesn't matter if it's true or not. What liberal media?

Posted by: soma_king | August 10, 2010 12:05 PM | Report abuse


Using healthcare as an example: 100% of the left's agenda would have been single payer health care. The left compromised at the outset of the debate by instead accepting the public option. As a reward for being reasonable, the left watched the goal posts shift. When the left insisted on at least getting their compromise position, they found themselves berated by people like you for being unwilling to compromise.

Given this recent experience with the "compromise" shell game, you ought not be surprised that the left is less willing to embrace "compromise" before the right has clearly committed to concessions. The leadership on the right understands that its never sound strategy to negotiate against yourself. Why is it wrong of the left to expect the same of their leaders?

Posted by: QuiteAlarmed | August 10, 2010 12:06 PM | Report abuse

@visionbrkr: "How about when the far right thinks they have their next president and he doesn't go all the way to full social security privatization do you think the right will go all haywire on them?"

I will frown at them reproachfully. Because that's just how I roll.

I think a little Bush Social Security reform would have had a much longer-term positive impact on the country (and certainly our future senior citizens) than going to war in Iraq. Still, even I understand that those intransigent just-say-no Democrats had a big role in the failure of Social Security reform. I give Bush props for trying.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | August 10, 2010 12:49 PM | Report abuse

The White House has a nice card to play in that Biden is the one that gets to propose the filibuster rule change right? Then if the senators can't get 50 votes for it, the fault lies with them.

And always remember, oh best beloveds, that as soon as the Republicans control both the White House and senate, they will change the filibuster rules. Speculation? Yes, but no one ever disputes it because it is crushingly obvious. And furthermore, they should do so. It is the correct thing to do for the country.

Call me crazy but I bet the minority party would negotiate in better faith if their position were weaker.

Posted by: BHeffernan1 | August 10, 2010 12:51 PM | Report abuse

Why do we need Ezra exactly if all he's going to do is faithfully regurgitate Gibbs' talking points? Hey, look over there - you shouldn't be angry at Obama, you should be angry at the Senate (for preventing things that he's never shown the slightest signs of wanting, like more stimulus, real financial reform, health care reform that might actually challenge rather than accept our failed market, etc.) After all, don't we remember the awful gridlock that happened when Bush was in power.......and we got massive tax cuts for the rich and two very costly wars, among other things? Oh, you mean that a WH can make (at least temporarily) popular arguments and cow the minority into not using obstructionist tactics to block legislation? You mean it can demonize the opposition and turn up the political heat to get what it wants? No, that can't be right, because Ezra says that the immutable (why?) "rules" of American government mean that nothing better could have been done or even attempted. All righty then!

Posted by: redscott | August 10, 2010 1:05 PM | Report abuse

I'm not angry at the White House for that.

I'm angry at the White House for adopting the Bush national security state.

That was something entirely within their control, something they rigorously opposed during the campaign, and something they adopted wholesale after taking office.

That, in my book, counts as a lie.

Posted by: pj_camp | August 10, 2010 1:22 PM | Report abuse

You know, other presidents besides this one have managed to get legislation passed without overwhelming majorities in both houses. Why on EARTH would the GOP cooperate, when their ideas are dismissed, when they're told "I won," when the legislation that's being passed is utterly opposed to their beliefs. That would somewhat akin to a favored GOP idea proposed in opposite circumstances -- do you think Durbin's going to be a "yes" vote?

So this whole whining about 41 blocking 59 is ... whining. Figure out a way to improve the world without it being a lefty dream. In case you hadn't noticed, the whole country isn't lefty.

Posted by: bethIllinois | August 10, 2010 8:27 PM | Report abuse

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