The Pathologies of Presidential “Victory”

Kevin Drum on why so many things had to wait for the lame duck:

This year that dynamic turned pathological. There were, it turned out, quite a few issues that both sides really did want to address, but party discipline simply trumped everything. It wasn’t just one thing that got held up, it was nearly everything. Republicans didn’t want to hand Democrats a victory on DADT or New START or even a food safety bill, and Democrats were too cowardly to press for progressive tax legislation.

So we finally reached the nonsensical point at which both sides wanted to get things done but the upcoming election allowed none of it to move forward. Even though all of this stuff had supermajority support (hell, New START turned out to have the support of 71 senators), the only time it could get done was during a lame duck session.

The problem here, is that once we waited for the lame duck and wound up accomplishing all the legislative stuff that did in fact have substantial Republican support, all the press suddenly turned into how Obama was a “comeback kid” who was “winning” during the lame duck. Every fear that Bob Corker might have had six months ago about voting on Obama’s side of any bill was essentially vindicated. You could just as easily describe the lame duck session as a huge win for Olympia Snowe. After all, unlike Obama she got her way on START and DADT but also got her way on DREAM and one way to describe the tax cut compromise is really that she got Obama to shift to her position on taxes and got Mitch McConnell to give her cover on her right flank on unemployment insurance and ARRA extensions. But nobody is talking about how Olympia Snowe is the “comeback Senator” who, after 12 months of ineffectual moderation, succeeded in making the world turn on her pivotal status.


And yet congress just isn’t set up to function as a parliamentary body. If the passage of legislation per se is deemed a victory for the president, then it’s necessarily going to become an agonizing process to pass or repeal any kind of laws.