The President Insults His Most Loyal Supporters AGAIN

Come November, General Obama is going to look behind him and suddenly realize he doesn’t have an Army.

Some of us complained about this several months ago, but Jonathan Bernstein notes today that the White House has been unconscionably derelict in filling empty federal judicial slots: the number of vacancies has grown over the last two months. 

And no, this isn’t just about GOP obstructionism:

The important thing to remember here is that this is in one important respect unlike Democratic obstruction while George W. Bush was president: right now, and throughout this 111th Congress, every one of Barack Obama’s nominees probably has the votes to be confirmed. And I’m not talking about 50 votes plus Joe Biden; I’m talking about the Senate gold standard, 60 votes, enough to beat a filibuster and invoke cloture. Of course, that hasn’t been tested on the remaining nominees, but I’m confident that there’s no one nominated who would lose the votes of Snowe and Collins…in fact, I think there’s a solid bloc of somewhere between 62 and 65 votes for cloture for any scandal-free liberal nominee. I believe that’s true across the board; it’s certainly true of most of the nominees. That doesn’t mean that GOP obstruction isn’t a factor, but it’s a factor that Harry Reid, Pat Leahy, and Barack Obama could easily overcome if they decided to make it a top priority. There’s still plenty of time to confirm every single one of the current nominees if Democrats really want to do that and are willing to be as aggressive in their use of Senate rules on offense as the Republicans have (quite legitimately, for the most part, in my view) in their attempts to obstruct. They won’t do it, however, unless Barack Obama sends clear signals that he wants it done. And if they don’t, well, who knows what’s going to happen in the 112th Senate? So, Mr. President, are you going to step up on this one?

Do we even need to ask this last question?  I’m far less optimistic than Bernstein is on the obstruction question, but you can’t test it unless you’ve got nominees.

Once again, this is where Obama has just decided that he doesn’t care about his most loyal supporters.  Judgeships are a way of showing people you care about their concerns without the need for constant compromising — and it’s not as if there is a shortage of outstanding candidates.  Why do you think George W. Bush made such a big deal about stem-cell research?  Or was out there every day with “up or down vote” demands for Priscilla Owen and Janice Rogers Brown?

Obama was right to compromise on the health care bill: he needed the votes.  But he doesn’t need to do that here.  Or with Elizabeth Warren. Or with Dawn Johnsen.  Or with the Solicitor General’s position on Connecticut v. AEP.  Or with recess appointments.  Or with Afghanistan.  Or with all kinds of things.

This is the sort of steady drip, drip, drip that does a wonderful job in deflating your most loyal supporters.  Oh yes, we’ll come out to vote — but it’s harder to get people to give money, to walk precincts, to make phone calls, to do the kind of basic blocking and tackling that you need in a very challenging electoral environment.

I can’t help but think that this is a Rahm Emanuel production.  His only political tactic is to tell liberals to STFU, and he keeps playing it regardless of the circumstances.  Sometimes it is right, but not always.  He’s got a hammer, and every political problem looks like a nail.

In 1860, Abraham Lincoln’s campaign featured marchers billing themselves as the “wide-awakes.”  Obama seems set on establishing the Chloroform Brigade.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.

14 thoughts on “The President Insults His Most Loyal Supporters AGAIN”

  1. "Oh yes, we’ll come out to vote…."

    Here's what I don't understand about otherwise intelligent Democratic Party supporters. You credibly signal your intention to give the party your vote right from the get-go, no demands, no negotiation, not even any coyness. What possible incentive does the party have to listen to your concerns, let alone act on them? They already have your vote.

    As for your understandable lack of enthusiasm, from the the party's perspective, who cares? They can service the big money donors and use a portion of the proceeds to buy precinct walkers, and phone bank operators. Sure, there will be a relative lack of genuine support from these temporary employees, but again, who cares? Individual Democratic Party insiders, at least those at the higher levels, do quite well for themselves when in the minority, thank you very much.

  2. After voting for Democrats since 1974, while being to the left of every one I have voted for, I have reached my limit. In the words of Wendell Berry:

    "I am well aware of the proposition that citizens ought to exercise their right to vote at every election. Even so, I did not vote in Kentucky's gubernatorial primary on May 27. I did not vote because there was nobody on the ballot whom I wished to help elect. I could not bring myself to submit again to the indignity of trying to pick the least undesirable candidate; nor did I want to contribute to the "mandate" of a new governor, who would be carried into office by corporate contributions, and whose policies I would spend the next four years regretting or opposing."

    "Why I chose not to vote"

    By Wendell Berry

    Special to The Courier-Journal – Monday, July 2, 2007

  3. I won't come out to vote. Kleiman may point out the error of my ways, but I don't care. I won't come out to vote.

  4. jm, we "otherwise intelligent Democratic Party supporters" don't have to signal our intention to give the party our vote right from the get-go. It would be obvious if we didn't say a word, given the quality of any potential Republican nominee. A former enthusiastic backer of Obama, I now view him as the lesser evil, and feel obliged to vote for him for that reason. I view him as evil not for the actions discussed in Jonathan Zasloff's post, but for his keeping people imprisoned without due process, ordering the murder of U.S. citizens abroad, allowing torture to continue at a secret prison in Afghanistan, fighting a pointless war, and so forth. But any Republican would torture more people than Obama has, and boast about it too. We owe it to those potential victims to vote for the lesser evil.

  5. I’m far less optimistic than Bernstein is on the obstruction question, but you can’t test it unless you’ve got nominees.

    He does have nominees. He doesn't have all of them, but he has a lot. We're already testing Bernstein's hypothesis, and it looks like he is flat out wrong. Maybe Obama should make more nominations, but I see no evidence that it would the slightest bit of practical difference. This has no value as an election issue, because the broad public doesn't care.

    If the most loyal Democratic voters really need pointless gestures to get them to be fired up, they need to engage in some serious self-examination.

  6. If the most loyal Democratic voters really need pointless gestures to get them to be fired up, they need to engage in some serious self-examination.

    I completely fail to understand how getting more of the empty judiciary slots filled with effective rationalists, even moderate Democrats, is anything like a 'pointless gesture.' Judging matters enormously, and the changes that the Bush admin made in the judiciary are only intensifying in their seismic impact. We need counterweights in place last week. We also need wins.

    And I don't know better than anyone else here, but it does not appear to me that the Obama white house is really fighting to get Goodwin Liu and Edward Chen confirmed, for example. Meanwhile, the Bush administration put Jay Bybee, the author of the 'torture memos,' on the 9th Circuit, and you've got to know they would've pushed harder than they had to to get that done.

    I do think Bernstein underesplays the intensity of the demand for precious Senate floor time necessary to have and win those fights, but he's right when he says that if the Dem leadership made judicial confirmations a 'top priority' they could get it done. Maybe greatest problem with the current overload, and the greatest strength of Republican's full-court obstructionism, is that it makes it so incredibly hard for the white house to maintain clear priorities.

  7. "If the most loyal Democratic voters really need pointless gestures to get them to be fired up, they need to engage in some serious self-examination."

    Yet we won't, and that is a material force whether you like it or not. If Neal thinks his righteousness trumps that, then his stance is a pointless gesture. And oh yeah, Omar Khadr.

  8. If it's Rahm Emanuel, what on earth is the calculation? He's not a nice guy who belives in Broderian bipartisan pap but a famously hard-nosed operator. What gets thing done inside the Beltway is relentless political pressure; and one of the main sources of pressure is an angry national base – "now make me do it". The Broderian in the White House is the President himself, who refuses to see politics as an ideological war to the death with his enemies, as they plainly do, and perhaps fears unleashing the full power of the base he created. Compare Cromwell and Ireton and their revolutionary New Model Army.

  9. Nominating candidates for empty judicial slots is a pointless gesture? Damn, I thought it was part of the job of President.

    Seriously, you ought to be able to figure this out, it's not complicated. Obama didn't want to do the job, he just wanted to BE President. He wanted the perks. A jumbo jet to fly him wherever he wants to go, a different celebrity chief cooking his dinner every week, the fairways emptied to make way for him whenever he's in the mood for golf. All that fun stuff.

    The actual job? That's just a big drag.

    I'd suggest a new title for the office: The "Present"ent.

  10. Brett:

    I used to call Bush the "Presidiot", so I guess I consider "Present"ent to be an improvement (albeit far less of an improvement than I had hoped for).


    I'm not sure I understand your comparison with Cromwell and Ireton. Obama left his campaign troops (OFA) to wilt on the vine and I don't think it was because he was afraid they were too powerful for the safety of the country. Obama got busy with governing and more or less discarded the troops — sort of how Parliament expected the New Model to disband without any complaint once king Charles was a prisoner and didn't reckon with their raised expectations (to say nothing of their desire to be paid what they were owed). So perhaps you are comparing Obama's treatment of his left flank with Cromwell's response to the Corkbush Field Mutiny?

    The big problem with any New Model comparison is that OFA is totally passive. There's muttering among the troops, but they're not remotely organized around any alternative agenda. And what would they do about such an agenda if they had one?

  11. "I used to call Bush the “Presidiot”, so I guess I consider “Present”ent to be an improvement (albeit far less of an improvement than I had hoped for)."

    Fair enough, my own attitude is that he could be causing a lot more damage if he wasn't busy golfing.

  12. Seth: Thanks for the link to the Corkbush mutiny. Clearly a close-run thing. Yes, in comparison to the New Model Army the Democratic left is supine. Also unmotivated.

  13. a famously hard-nosed operator

    So far, he seems toughest on the old, the sick, the poor, and men in shackles. In English, we have a different word for that.

  14. As I think about it, it's hard to beat what Gil Scott-Heron said of Ronald Reagan: cheap steak tough.

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