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Democrats don't know how much they've gotten done

peosiwalks.JPG

Only a third of Democrats agree that the 111th Congress accomplished more than the average Congress? Sheesh. At this rate, they'll have to blow up the moon before the base admits they're getting more done than usual.

That said, I can't say I share Greg Sargent's (justified) shock. As far as I can tell, what most engaged Democrats know about health-care reform is it doesn't have a public option. Stimulus? Too small. Financial regulation? Something something Elizabeth Warren something?

And that's among the informed. For most of the country, the health-care reform bill won't exist until 2014. As Henry Aaron likes to say, it may be law, but as of yet, it's not reality. People see that unemployment is above 9 percent, not that it's below 11 percent, so where's that stimulus, exactly?

My basic model of American politics -- which is borrowed from political science -- is that voters look at the world around them and then work backward to a judgment on their elected officials. That means they're not really voting on much of what Washington does, as many policies are essentially invisible, and many others have a lag between passage and implementation. Making matters worse, much of what they do know about in Washington -- the defeat of the public option and Ben Nelson's Nebraska kickback -- and some of what they feel back home -- insufficient stimulus -- are legislative outcomes driven by minority obstruction, not by the majority's decisions.

Roll all that together and it's easy to see why people not paying attention might not realize that the 111th Congress has been one of the most productive history. Things feel bad, and what they hear about sounds like standard-issue gridlock and partisan bickering. Change has come, but you really had to be watching for it.

Photo credit: Cliff Owen/AP.

By Ezra Klein  | October 6, 2010; 9:43 AM ET
Categories:  Democrats  
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Comments

democrats love to nurse their grudges so much, that they will risk everything.
i still say it is the hillary supporters who wont give president obama an iota of credit,
and the liberals that wont recognize that a public option could not have happened.
they cant see beyond those two things, to recognize all of the good that has been done.
it is frustrating and unreasonable.
my hope is that the democrats will wake up and act responsibly and get to the polls to vote.

Posted by: jkaren | October 6, 2010 10:01 AM | Report abuse

You should watch last night's Rachel Maddow segment where she's interviewing old people in Delaware. There are informed people out there...

Posted by: mschol17 | October 6, 2010 10:26 AM | Report abuse

More importantly, not everyone knows about the "accomplishments" of Charles Manson and his "family." Like Pelosi's Social-Democratic Regime, Manson considered his own agenda to be laudable and took great pride in his accomplishments. Additional information regarding both Manson and Pelosi is available via Wikipedia and other sources.

Posted by: rmgregory | October 6, 2010 10:36 AM | Report abuse

rmgreggory, setting aside the fact that you're comparing the passage of bills by democratically elected legislators to Charles Manson, you do realize that Manson's not participating in any national elections in a month, right? Lots of people also don't know much about Jean-Paul Sartre, but it's not really relevant to this discussion.

The point is that we're about to have an election which seeks, in part, to evaluate the work of the last two years of Congress and most people don't know what has happened in the last two years outside of some buzz words like "death panel!" which don't accurately reflect, you know, reality.

Posted by: MosBen | October 6, 2010 11:25 AM | Report abuse

To be honest, I find the voter "hey look around" perspective to be truer than the wonkish "hey look at all the legislation we wrote" perspective.

At an ultimate level, congress does have the power to write laws to accomplish what the base wanted them to. They write the laws that say how they can write the laws, and the democrats had a huge majority.

If you like another layer of depth to your electorate, think of democratic dissatisfaction with congress as reflecting a harsh judgment condemning failure to reform senate procedural rules.

Honestly, you could write a 100,000 pages of legislation, bottled lightning, well-research, well-grounded and ideologically sound... Pass it all, except oh, it only applies to Pawtucket, RI.

Would you expect rave reviews and an electrified base? Or would everyone just look around, notice their part of the country sucks, and vote based on that? Which strikes you as a more reasonable way to vote when put that way? An electorate with a political science scorecard, rating policy 1-10 based on style, creativity, degree of difficulty -- or one concerned with results?

In the end congress is fully empowered to create new legislation and govern. They had a mandate for action, but failed to correct the economy. There's a lot of work that needs to be done and a lot of people out of work, what else needs to be said? Fine work by a handful of senators is inconsequential compared to the lost work of 15 million Americans sitting on the sidelines.

Posted by: sullivanmatthewr | October 6, 2010 11:33 AM | Report abuse

MosBen,

I'd agree with you in part but i'd also state that its not the last 2 years Its the last 4 (since nancy took over as speaker) that we're really talking about.

Part of the problem is that politicians of all sizes, shapes and colors don't want to talk about the negative consequences of their actions. just like Republicans don't want to talk about how ending HCR and continuing wars increases the deficit Democrats don't want to talk about the fact that HCR won't truly be deficit neutral when they factor handing healthcare (via subsidies) to every single McDonald's employee. I'm not saying that its wrong that the McDonald's employee has healthcare but i am saying that there's a whole new breed of consumer out there that's going to spend, spend, spend on the government (and then in turn) the taxpayer dime. With costs continuing to escalate not only do I expect we'll see insulation similar to what we get with the employer tax benefits to healthcare in another format (ie subsidies) but we'll see it get much, much worse where we'll end up with a California style system where 80 cents (AND GROWING) of every dollar goes to these costs with no end in sight.

Posted by: visionbrkr | October 6, 2010 11:38 AM | Report abuse

You know, I was disappointed that the public option wasn't passed. And I think it *IS* true that the White House didn't really prioritize it and considered it something that could be bargained away.

But at this point, I'm getting *REALLY* tired of liberals harping on the public option. The public option was somehow going to single-handedly remake the American health system. It was going to magically slash costs. It was somehow to going to guarantee Democrats a good November. Oh, and it would cure cancer too.

Yet the only public options that were going to pass Congress would have been limited to the exchanges, would have been a minimal cost-saver, would have had rates similar or higher than private insurers on the exchanges, and was estimated to cover just 2% of the population.

Many liberals I've talked to about this seem to have no understanding about how and why single-payer works (it applies monopsony power to providers) and think that insurance company profits are all that's driving the health care crisis. So they think that a public option would eliminate the profits and slash medical costs.

Somehow, in all of this, a total sense of perspective got lost. The public option dead-enders keep missing the forest for the trees. Somehow liberals have decided that regulating an industry and mandating certain standards is a RW position.

Posted by: Isa8686 | October 6, 2010 11:42 AM | Report abuse

I think the problem is not that Democrats can't communicate to the American people how much they've accomplished the past two years it's that the American people know exactly what they've accomplished and don't like it. Come November they will express that unhappiness in the voting booth and the days of Democrats having complete control of the federal government will be over.

Posted by: RobT1 | October 6, 2010 11:43 AM | Report abuse

Mr. Klein makes the classic liberal mistake of confusing contempt with ignorance. The democrats got elected with a promise of *change* - which implied they were going to FIX things. Fix the corruption, fix the economy, fix the malaise. Now after two years of frenzy and controversy, the democrats may, in their own eyes, have *accomplished* a lot. But in the eyes of voters they haven't FIXED anything. So voters hold them in contempt. Telling voters that they only feel that way because they are too stupid to understand what democrats have accomplished just deepens the contempt.

Posted by: arglebargle | October 6, 2010 11:44 AM | Report abuse

Beyond a point, Politics like anything else in Life is all about 'expectation management'. Were Dems smart enough to prepare the narrative that - yes we are doing things, we are trying things; but don't blame us and blame the other guys for result short fall since things are not 'all known' in this business? GOP cannot claim that they know the cause of the sickness of America and know the answer because they are the ones who brought all this calamity to us.

The cardinal mistake was Christina Romer when knowingly that her stimulus size being not adequate she put her neck (and in turn of Obama and of entire Dem Party) in saying that it will reduce unemployment below 8%? Why did she promise? Why WH allowed that amateur behavior? Why no Congressional Dem thundered about - what rubbish Romer is talking about given how fragile these economic models are? (but still vote for her measures because that is the only sensible option among many others i.e. in absence of stimulus it will be even more bad).

Yes, agreed it would have been hard sale then. But oh boy, would not have been easier sale than what predicament Dems are today?

Same on Health Care - why did Dems not take the line (and continue to harp even today) i.e. it is 'work in progress' and more things need to be done and they will do that compared with the Party of NO and 'do nothing'?

Bottom line - it is horrible 'expectation management' by Obama and Dems.

What can they do? Go search Bush lines where he advocated because of Clinton Surplus tax was cut and show that even when there is no surplus GOP still wants 'tax cuts'. Tell Public that GOP has only one answer for every problem - Tax Cuts (tax cuts were there in stimulus package too, so if you same stimulus failed; are you saying tax cuts failed)?

Basically 'warn' public that GOP is taking USA further into the ditch.

Posted by: umesh409 | October 6, 2010 11:50 AM | Report abuse

Ezra,
You're famous:
http://xkcd.com/802_large/
Look in the Political Blogs area of the map, near the Bay of Flames.

Posted by: ctown_woody | October 6, 2010 1:07 PM | Report abuse

"I think the problem is not that Democrats can't communicate to the American people how much they've accomplished the past two years it's that the American people know exactly what they've accomplished and don't like it. Come November they will express that unhappiness in the voting booth and the days of Democrats having complete control of the federal government will be over."

Yep. Hence the claim that the public that is about to vote out the Democratic majority in 2010 is somehow far more 'ignorant' than the public that voted out the Republican majority in 2006.

But it fits their arrogance.

Posted by: krazen1211 | October 6, 2010 1:08 PM | Report abuse

The House actually passed an enormous amount of legislation that went to die in the Senate. At the end the impression is that Congress achieved very little. The irony is that the ones paying the price for this will be the House Democrats, the one group that is
the least to blame. There are comments out there that people now exactly what was passed and don't like it (unemployment is still high, house foreclosures with no end in sight, etc) and blame whatever action the Federal government took for this, rather than inaction. The conclusion they reach is beyond absurd: too much action was taken,
lets go back to where we were in 2006 before the financial tsunami hit, which of course was due to Democrats taking the House. Deregulation, no taxes and a passive government will get us moving again. Nothing was learned from the fiasco that was the Bush era.

Posted by: serban1 | October 6, 2010 1:46 PM | Report abuse

krazen1211 and RobT1, this conversation is in the context of evidence showing that people are unaware of what has actually been passed in the last two years. Maybe people do have contempt for Dems, and maybe they are planning on voting against them in November because of that contempt. That doesn't change the fact that that contempt may be based on an inaccurate or incomplete understanding of what this Congress has done. And it seems that large numbers of people do lack that knowledge. If you want to have a discussion about how informed people were in 2008, then that's fine. Maybe this is a continuing phenomenon, but that doesn't necessarily change the substance of thise discussion.

visionbrkr, I think it's fair to extend the review period back to '06. I might quibble about how some of the things from '06-'08 should be interpreted, but it's certainly not unfair to consider that period.

My take on the problem with politicians is the certainty with which they have to, or feel they have to, declare things. I do think that there is a fair to good likelihood that the ACA will be deficit reducing or neutral, but there's much more uncertainty in that question than any politician of either side is willing to admit. I wish politicians would say, "Look, this is the best bill we could pass based on the experts we consulted and the votes that are in the Senate. We think it's going to reduce the deficit, and the CBO backs us up, but that's a guess. It's the best guess we've got, and some opinions differ, but we won't really know if it works until it either does or doesn't." I also wish historic pieces of legislation could be talked about as if they weren't the final, be-all, end-all piece of legislation for that subject. No matter how good or bad the legislation is; how big or small; there will be a next bill.

Posted by: MosBen | October 6, 2010 2:01 PM | Report abuse

"krazen1211 and RobT1, this conversation is in the context of evidence showing that people are unaware of what has actually been passed in the last two years. Maybe people do have contempt for Dems, and maybe they are planning on voting against them in November because of that contempt. That doesn't change the fact that that contempt may be based on an inaccurate or incomplete understanding of what this Congress has done. And it seems that large numbers of people do lack that knowledge. If you want to have a discussion about how informed people were in 2008, then that's fine. Maybe this is a continuing phenomenon, but that doesn't necessarily change the substance of thise discussion."

Maybe. Or its possible that health care reform and financial reform don't yet have the impact that the partisans say they have, for the majority of the people.

The stimulus at least gave away a bunch of money to a bunch of chosen lucky people, so they do have 1 ace in the hole, I guess.

Posted by: krazen1211 | October 6, 2010 2:59 PM | Report abuse

MosBen,

the problem with that rationale of "if" it will be deficit reducing is that the only context we have is other government run healthcare plans. Obviously Medicare and medicaid are the examples and they are well over what we were "told" they would cost. Sorry but I've got too much experience saying it won't reduce the deficit and that the costs will over-run what the projections are.

Posted by: visionbrkr | October 6, 2010 8:43 PM | Report abuse

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