Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Post-Policy Punditry

Over a year ago, Steve Benen wrote about how the Republicans were practicing post-policy politics. Perhaps the best (and shortest) summary of how that works came from Sen. Lindsay Graham.
Anytime you challenge the president, Obama, it’s good politics.
In other words, Republicans don't need to bother saying what they are FOR. It works for them to simply be against anything President Obama wants to do.

And yes, that worked pretty well for them in the 2014 midterms. But the reason it did is because it was coupled with a post-policy media. BooMan put it pretty well when he called it "an election about nothing."
I've actually been watching almost no politically related television for the simple reason that almost none of it has anything to do with the upcoming elections, let alone actual issues that might be taken up by the next Congress. The media has been keeping the country almost in an election blackout, with coverage mostly related to conflict in the Middle East and the Ebola virus.
But that kind of media coverage isn't limited to elections. As things heat up about President Obama's upcoming announcement about immigration, Ed Kilgore is one of the few people who is pointing out that there's a big gaping hole where the Republican position should be.
If you’re going to harshly criticize Obama for taking a more definitive position on prosecutorial guildelines, you need to identify some alternative strategy. Is it more police dogs and box cars? Is it random prosecution, hoping the fear of arbitrary state power makes life difficult enough for the undocumented that they “self-deport?” “Wait!” won’t cut it any more.
As I wrote yesterday, this is the question that Republicans should have to answer.

Instead, we get idiots like Ron Fournier and Chuck Todd writhing about how "both sides are to blame" because of the lack of bipartisanship. Here's Fournier:
This is an era of titanic challenges and tiny politics. On issue after issue, the Republican and Democratic parties preen and pose but ultimately duck their responsibilities to solve the transcendent problems of our times.

On immigration, we need durable new rules that give 11 million illegal immigrants some form of legalization without punishing those who followed the old rules, and that acknowledge the steep social costs of porous borders. In other words, true reform would be bipartisan, addressing credible concerns of conservatives and liberals alike.

Instead, we're about to get temporary half-measures issued by fiat from Obama.
And here's Todd cribbing off of Fournier.
But as we’ve noted before, what separates our current era of politics from past ones is the unwillingness to give the opposition ANY kind of “win.” Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill didn’t agree on much and fought over plenty, but they compromised enough on the low-hanging fruit for Americans to have faith in the political system. Ditto George W. Bush and Ted Kennedy when it came to education reform. Yet what’s different today is that there’s no compromise on the low-hanging fruit. And EVERYTHING now turns into a huge political battle, even on subjects that weren’t controversial decades ago...
 I have to give it to Paul Krugman, he nailed the idiocy of this kind of punditry.
Well, I’ve know for years that many political pundits don’t think that understanding policy is part of their job. But this is still extreme. And I’m sorry to go after an individual here — but for God’s sake, don’t you have to know something about the actual content of a policy you critique?
The truth is, Fournier and Todd don't really need to bother their pretty little heads with policy. A simple short-term memory on how we got here would suffice. Just last year a "gang of eight" Senators (4 D's and 4 R's) got together to hammer out the differences the two parties have about immigration reform: Republicans wanted more border security and Democrats wanted a pathway to citizenship for those who are undocumented. Bipartisanship reigned when they compromised and included both in a bill that passed the Senate 68-32.

Speaker John Boehner and the Republicans in the House have refused to act on that bi-partisan compromise. But they have also refused to act on anything related to immigration reform. We really don't know what their position is at this point. They talk a lot about border security but never mention what their plan is on how to deal with the 11 million undocumented workers already in this country. As Kilgore points out, the federal budget has never included enough funding to "deport 'em all" - leaving it up to the executive branch to prioritize. Which is exactly what President Obama plans to do.

As Matt Yglesias pointed out - it is the post-policy punditry of folks like Todd and Fournier that provides cover for obstructionist Republicans and makes the bipartisanship they pretend to pine for impossible.
The opposition party would like the president to not be associated with bipartisan initiatives. And the opposition party has it in their power to make sure that the president is not associated with bipartisan initiatives.

If you don't understand that, you'll never understand today's politics. Worse, you'll be consistently making bipartisanship less likely.
That might be one of the best summaries you'll see of why the politics of DC isn't working these days. Republicans aren't likely to change their approach as long as its "working" for them. But our post-policy punditry could get the ball rolling by recognizing that bipartisanship requires that both sides actually put their positions on the table.


  1. with a public of morons, hard to see what force prevents a shallow and dumb media.

    in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.

    1. You're right. We won't get better till we demand better. Hence...I write :-)

  2. As bad as the pundits are with policy matters, Democrats in the Senate and House are also a sorry lot. If they can't win the economic argument, then they should pack their bags and go home. Case in point: http://talkingpointsmemo.com/dc/democracy-corps-gqr-study-democrats-pulled-back-economy