McConnell thinks he’ll fail. Let’s not prove him wrong.

McConnell’s speech at Heritage contains and astonishing admission: as long as Obama’s in the White House, the GOP agenda will go nowhere.

McConnell’s speech at the Heritage Foundation yesterday has gotten a lot of attention. The New York Times’ reading is Broderist: alas, McConnell didn’t promise bipartisan cooperation and said the key to his agenda is defeating Obama. (I’m shocked.) Talking Points Memo’s “Shellacked and the Furious” video suggests the same thing in more partisan form: here Obama is sounding all conciliatory* while McConnell is declaring political warfare.

But there’s a totally different way to look at McConnell’s admission that his agenda requires defeating Obama: with Obama in the White House, the Republican agenda will fail and McConnell knows it. And in a speech to his strongest supporters, he’s trying, a bit desperately, to avoid blame when it does fail.

McConnell says:

“if our primary legislative goals are to repeal and replace the health spending bill; to end the bailouts; cut spending; and shrink the size and scope of government, the only way to do all these things it is to put someone in the White House who won’t veto any of these things”

Translation: Obama will veto attempts to overturn his policy victories (even if they pass the Senate) and his vetoes will be sustained.

McConnell:

“By their own admission, leaders of the Republican Revolution of 1994 think their greatest mistake was overlooking the power of the veto. They gave the impression they were somehow in charge when they weren’t. And after President Clinton vetoed their bills, making it impossible for them to accomplish all their goals, they ended up being viewed as failures, sellouts, or both. Today, Democrats not only have the White House. They have the Senate too. So we have to be realistic about what we can and cannot achieve, while at the same recognizing that realism should never be confused with capitulation.

Translation: Due to the veto power, Republicans didn’t accomplish what they wanted to in 1994—while suffering with their base in saying they could—and they are in a much weaker position now.

McConnell:

“On health care, that means we can — and should — propose and vote on straight repeal, repeatedly. But we can’t expect the president to sign it. So we’ll also have to work, in the House, on denying funds for implementation, and, in the Senate, on votes against its most egregious provisions. At the same time, we’ll need to continue educating the public about the ill-effects of this bill on individuals young and old, families, and small businesses.

“And this is why oversight will play a crucial role in Republican efforts going forward.

Translation: defunding won’t work either since it would require shutting down the government—which is why all I can promise is to hold some biased hearings.

People: the modern Presidency has enormous powers. We will preserve the great gains of the last two years as long as Obama is in the White House, and will be in a position to expand them when he wins re-election. Our position can’t be taken by storm—only by surrender.

 

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*I’m not saying that the President has any intention of meeting the Republicans halfway on policy. His press conference on Wednesday made that very clear. But his rhetoric has been conciliatory—and as I’ve said before, while that might frustrate progressives eager for a donnybrook, it’s outstanding politics in a country where everyone is raised on civics-book bipartisanship and a huge majority of voters wish Washington politicians would “stop bickering” and “get things done.”

Author: Andrew Sabl

I'm a political theorist and Visiting Professor (through 2017) in the Program on Ethics, Politics and Economics at Yale. My interests include the history of political thought, toleration, democratic theory, political ethics, problems of coordination and convention, the realist movement in political theory, and the thought of David Hume. My first book, Ruling Passions: Political Offices and Democratic Ethics (Princeton, 2002) covered many of these topics, with a special focus on the varieties of democratic politics and the disparate qualities of mind and character appropriate to those who practice each of them. My second book Hume's Politics: Coordination and Crisis in the History of England was published in 2012; I am currently finishing a book on toleration, with the working title The Virtues of Hypocrisy, under contract with Harvard University Press. A Los Angeles native, I got my B.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard. Before coming to Yale I taught at Vanderbilt and at UCLA, where I was an Assistant, Associate, and Full Professor; and held visiting positions at Williams, Harvard, and Princeton. I am married to Miriam Laugesen, who teaches health policy and the politics of health care at the Mailman School of public health at Columbia, and we have a twelve-year-old son.

11 thoughts on “McConnell thinks he’ll fail. Let’s not prove him wrong.”

  1. This is what struck me about McConnell's statement, too: what is it about a party, or about the policy they favor, that would require them to have complete control over all three branches of gov't in order to get something done? Serious question. Why *wouldn't* it be in their interest to pursue whatever policy priorities they could actually get some movement on? If ever there were a president of an opposing party who was willing to work with them, it's this one. Is McConnell really saying Republicans can only govern when they're guaranteed no possibility of a veto? What kind of bullshit party have they become?

  2. When the GOP arrives in Congress full of zeal to repeal the “individual mandate,” they will run straight into the buzz saw of insurance industry lobbyists who drafted that section of the law, and that will be an interesting spectacle.

    The Tea Party has served its purpose, namely to give the Republicans control of the House, and now that they are no longer useful, the establishment will be likely to flush the TP down the toilet, rather than alienate the lobbyists who butter their bread.

    When the religious right elected a few presidents, they never got school prayer or the criminalization of abortion, but they did get some nice Oval Office photo ops suitable for framing. Do not be surprised if the same thing happens with the Tea Party.

  3. Shutting down the government actually WOULD work with the health care bill. The reason the shutdowns didn't work for Gingrich is he was trying to slash popular programs. But as long as the Republicans made the issue about the health care bill only, a shutdown would remain popular because the health care bill is political poison.

    The real problem is what Ed Whitney says– the insurance industry doesn't hate the whole health care bill; they love the individual mandate and would just like to weaken some of the provisions to protect insureds. That's a very different agenda than the Tea Party folks who want to get rid of the thing lock, stock, and barrel.

  4. Assuming of course, Obama wins re-election. I'm having a hard time thinking Obama can win PA again or Ohio.

  5. "The Tea Party has served its purpose, namely to give the Republicans control of the House, and now that they are no longer useful, the establishment will be likely to flush the TP down the toilet, rather than alienate the lobbyists who butter their bread."

    I think this dramatically overstates the capacity of the Republican establishment to control the tea party movement, which is NOT, however much you wish it were, (And said establishement wishes it were!) astroturf. Astroturf wouldn't have brought down so many establishment candidates during the primaries.

    "When the religious right elected a few presidents, they never got school prayer or the criminalization of abortion, but they did get some nice Oval Office photo ops suitable for framing. Do not be surprised if the same thing happens with the Tea Party."

    Now, on THAT we can agree. The Republican base have just given the party one last chance before abandoning them, and I fully expect they'll blow that chance.

  6. The 'individual mandate' isn't worth much, without the subsidies to fund the purchase of insurance. The Republican House controls what is included in an appropriations bill; no veto can force them to include an appropriation they do not want to make.

    Will they appropriate the subsidies? I expect so, because the insurance industry wants the money. Will the fund the regulation, the exchanges, and the rest, which guards against the subsidized, mandated insurance being completely crappy? Not so much. Obama wasn't willing to do much, to ensure that his mandated insurance wouldn't be crap insurance, but the Republicans will want to "free" the market to provide crappy, high-profit, low-value-of-care insurance.

    Given the record of Obama in guarding against the war crimes of the Bush Administration, and the predation of the bankersters, I don't have much hope. The President, whose administration appears to lack a prosecutorial gene, who established the catfood commission to "reform" Social Security, who let BP's PR dept dictate how the Macondo blowout was handled, who couldn't be bothered to champion bankruptcy cramdown, . . . I don't expect him to mount the barricades at this late date. He's not on "our" side.

  7. "…it’s outstanding politics in a country where everyone is raised on civics-book bipartisanship…"

    Great point. Know where we can find a country like that?

  8. Brett: "I think this dramatically overstates the capacity of the Republican establishment to control the tea party movement, which is NOT, however much you wish it were, (And said establishement wishes it were!) astroturf. Astroturf wouldn’t have brought down so many establishment candidates during the primaries."

    Tell ya what – let's see how the Teabaggers push to put a choke chain on Wall St. That's the ultimate populist issue.

  9. Let's see your own party do that, instead of pushing the country deeper into debt to bail them out. Is the entire Democratic party "astroturf'?

    Face it: "Astroturf" doesn't mean, "Uninterested in Barry's pet causes.". Movements can be about things you don't care about, or even disagree with, and be genuine.

    I'll stand by my position: The claim that the Tea party is astroturf is substantially refuted by the fact that they sought to, and in some cases succeeded at, defeating establishment and incumbent candidates during the primaries. That's not something a Republican establishment astroturf operation would have been doing. You really need to recognize evidence you're wrong, when it's right in front of you.

    That the Republican establishment wants to coopt that movement, and turn them into an astroturf operation? Unquestionably true. They just haven't succeeded at it yet. Not for lack of trying, though.

  10. I wish I could believe this. But Obama is signalling hard that he's willing to cut social security. He looks like he's ready to do a Clinton and try to 'triangulate' away from the left wing of the Democratic party.

    Brett Bellmore – the Tea Party is an astroturf operation run by Fox News and shadowy billionaires (eg the Koch brothers). It's not a mainstream Republican operation.

  11. Keep believing that Please. You can't cope with a problem you won't accept the real nature of, and I really don't want the Democratic party successfully coping with the Tea party.

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