Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Taking on the myth of a "transformational president" (updated)

Jonathan Chait's recent article titled When Did Liberals Become So Unreasonable? is drawing a lot of attention. And rightly so. It is sparking a conversation that needs to happen.

Yesterday, Katrina vanden Heuvel weighed in. While overall I tend to agree with Chait, I found that there were also some aspects of what vanden Heuvel said that I agree with. Most notably, we ARE living in times that require transformational change and no, the Republicans don't always march in lock-step either (the current Romney/not-Romney primary battle should be enough evidence of that).

Its really vandel Heuvel's last point where I part ways with her completely.

We need a transformational presidency, able to smash the failed, entrenched and corrupt politics of the center. That standard isn’t some perfectionism perennially demanded by disappointed liberals. It is required by the times.

I'd love to have the opportunity to ask her to give me an example of one time in our nation's history when a presidency was transformational. The two instances most people site are the presidencies of Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan.

Many people have written great articles explaining the complexities of the FDR years. I will simply site one way in which it wasn't simply the President during those years who contributed to the transformational change that happened. The Congress that basically passed the New Deal in 1935 consisted of an overwhelming Democratic majority in both houses...Senate 72/23 and House 332/103. So you see, it was more than the President who was transformational. As Ezra Klein points out:

Still, the basic truths of the period remain: By the time Roosevelt took the presidency, the Great Depression had done so much damage that Congress was ready to do something, anything, to end it. At times, FDR harnessed that energy in service of his agenda. At other times, Congress forced him to go further than he had intended.

When it comes to Ronald Reagan's presidency, you have to consider the national conservative movement that essentially started in 1964 with the defeat of Goldwater and passage of the Civil Rights Act. The election of Reagan in 1980 was the completion of that 16 year transformation of the Republican Party (coming also on the heels of the mobilization of the religious right in the 70's).

I suppose that one might call the Lincoln presidency transformational. But both the emerging split between the North and South and the massive changes in our politics since those days makes it only instructive in the very broadest sense.

So I would suggest that this country has never experienced transformational change simply as the result of a President. To put that expectation on Barack Obama (especially given the vitriolic opposition he has faced) is not only unreasonable, but to many it also smacks of racism.

UPDATE: Steve Benen takes up this topic and points out how it gives the Republicans and "assist" in their sabotage efforts.

...this actually creates an incentive for Republicans to be even more irresponsible — if GOP officials believe the public will blame the president for the breakdown of the American political process, even if it’s not Obama’s fault, Republicans will keep up their destructive tactics. The unstated goal is to put a simple-but-misguided concept in voters’ minds: Washington stinks, Obama’s the president, we want a better Washington, so must need a new president.


  1. Besides her point about the Republicans, not much about her piece I could recommend. We've needed 'transformational change' way before PBO, but that will only occur if the people want it, and if she would have any concept of civics, our standard of government precludes the sort of 'transformational president' she seeks. And, like most of her entitled 'progressive' cohorts, she misses the point of Chait's article by misrepresenting it as Chait saying that 'liberals are depressed'. To borrow from PM Carpenter, vanden Heuvel represents the sort of 'cookie cutter idealism' all to prevalent amongst the American liberal-left, and I for one, am a bit tired of it.


  2. Lets also remember that vanden Heuvel brings a certain communistic tinge to her analysis. She is just as kooky as Huff-Puff with no real substance. Why do you think the MSM still keep dragging her out from under her rock?

    I,for one, would say PBO is most certainly a "transformational" president, whatever that is suppose to be. Any true listing of his accomplishments in spite of massive repug/traitor obstruction, not to mention averting not 1 but 2 great depressions sounds pretty transformational to me.

    She and the PL need to STFU! (Pls pardon my language) Sometimes it is just necessary!

  3. The liberal-left continues to provide ample humor from week-to-week. They can't stop their incessant proclamations about being "disappointed" in Obama not supposedly "doing enough", whatever that's supposed to mean.

    Hmm ... didn't the political pundits warn that Obama's supporters shouldn't place too much "hope" in him as president? After all, they sarcastically told us, "there's a big difference between campaigning and governing".

    It's funny how the progressive movement and political pundits are doing the same exact thing they told the "Obamabots" not to do after he won.

    Popcorn, anyone?

  4. “As Mankind becomes more liberal, they will be more apt to allow that all those who conduct themselves as worthy members of the community are equally entitled to the protections of civil government. I hope ever to see America among the foremost nations of justice and liberality.”
    George Washington

    The next time some idiot wants to bash Liberals, remind them that this nation was founded as a nation of Liberals, by Liberals.

    We have enough war, already. People that want to betray this nation's fundamental Liberal roots and tradition, they should move elsewhere.

    We do not have Kings and Queens. We are Liberated from Monarchy, and should be Liberated from oligarchy and greed... but even the proletarians are voting for aristocrats like "Romney" and "Trump".

    The USA is a /Liberal/ nation. If the Conservatives want to keep worshipping pseudo-kings and moguls, let them -- they were born as slaves and they'll live as slaves and they will die as slaves to monsters like Romney and Trump and Perry and Bachmann.


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