Nate Silver on Obama’s Bipartisanship

Nate Silver at talks about the flip side of my whining about Obama’s position on the state secrets privilege and torture: What Would a “Bipartisan” Obama Look Like? (Hint: A Lot Like the One We’re Seeing). From his conclusion:

What I don’t think Obama can be accused of, however, is breaking any promises. In fact, he basically telegraphed his strategy with the whole Rick Warren thing: make a show of appealing to conservatives here and there, and perhaps avoid issues that are symbolically important to the left but which drain one’s political capital, while all the while continuing to push forward the core elements of a conventionally Democratic (but hardly radical) agenda. Very little about the Administration’s strategy has been surprising.

On some level, I do wonder about that. By drawing a line in the sand with respect to state-sponsored torture, and demanding, in effect, that Obama sacrifice his effectiveness on other issues in order to take a largely symbolic stand against something abhorrent that he’s not actually engaging himself, am I being unrealistic? In the final analysis, will I be forced to acknowledge that Obama’s approach was right, and my demands, while ideologically more pure, were wrong?

I don’t actually know. But in the meantime, I’m clinging to my hatred of torture, and my whining about Obama’s protection of those in the Bush administration who perpetrated it. It’s comforting to feel some actual certainty about something, even when, as now, I’m not actually completely certain.

24 Responses to “Nate Silver on Obama’s Bipartisanship”

  1. enkidu Says:

    If you don’t read the article, you should at least the third to last para (jbc’s clip is most of the last para btw):

    A more robust interpretation/criticism of Obama’s “bipartisan” positioning is that he is playing a game he knows he can’t lose. For one thing, the President has the advantage of the bully pulpit, and (particularly when as rhetorically gifted as Obama) can therefore frame the debate in advantageous terms. For another, Obama has public opinion behind him on most of the key items of his agenda, such as health care, the stimulus package, and the reversion of the tax code to its Clinton-era norms. It is easier to appear reasonable when the average voter starts out agreeing with you. Finally, as Schmitt suggested more than a year ago, Obama may have known full well that Republicans weren’t about to seek compromise, nor would it necessarily have been politically advantageous for them to do so. If partisan squabbling is inevitable, it is useful to have pre-positioned oneself in advance as its victim rather than its instigator.

    Win on the big things now, and gradually steer into the other things as he builds on success. Wasting all his political capital on gays in the military isn’t in the plan. He’s got a heck of a lot of fixing to do. Give them a bit of time and also let them know when you aren’t happy with some of what they are doing. Everyone is going to have to compromise on some of their cherished issues.

    I wonder how everyone sees the sentence I bolded… do you interpret that as, he knows he will win? or that the Obama machine knows they have only one good shot and they can’t afford to screw it up. I favor the latter interpretation (even if I am unhappy about the Obama admin coddling dumbya and the torturers as well as bungling the FISA lawbreaking (more coddling).

    special short bus note to lil ricki: the word is lose (pronounced like “looz”) not loose (loo-s).

  2. shcb Says:

    I think it just means he is picking his fights wisely and not picking fights he may lose (not loose). This is just pragmatism, he also needs to protect his lead in congress, several Senators, Dodd the most notable, have a tough fight ahead of them, he most likely won’t do anything radical until after the election, and of course then he will be worried about his own re-election….

    This is always the danger of being a single issue voter, (or 2 issues in JBC’s case) you will most certainly be disappointed by political reality, just go ask the right to life people.

  3. Steve Says:

    Nate Silver is full of shit if he believes that Obama isn’t taking any radical stances. Obama believes that entire lawsuits regarding government lawbreaking should be thrown out of court purely based upon the Executive’s say so.

    Obama believes that Habeus Corpus doesn’t apply to prisoners we ship out to Bagram Afghanistan. Obama doesn’t believe that the Geneva Conventions apply to the United States. Obama doesn’t believe that those who violate our most serious laws, war criminals, should be investigated.

    The rule of law is the foundation of the American way of life. While Obama may be better on many issues than Bush, all those “other issues” pale in comparison to the basic building blocks of our society.

  4. shcb Says:

    … but they didn’t break any laws

  5. CKL Says:

    So wait-wait-wait… We’re trying to somehow justify the protection of torturers? Seriously? I’ve ALWAYS held the belief that in order to live by the U.S. Constitution we must hold true to every word. That ALL men are created equal, not just Americans. Regardless of long-term goals, political capital, bipartisan circle-jerking, or superficial legality the “state secrets” privilege and the terrible evils it hides are WRONG.

    I never voted for Obama with the intent of allowing him any more “wiggle room” than Bush. I voted for change, and all that changed was the face of injustice. When we compromise that which we know as good and right we allow tyranny and oppression to gain ground — ground which is nearly impossible to take back. The fact that we’re forced to discuss state sponsored torture is evidence enough of how far we’ve slipped down that slope.

    The day that the ends (or the “greater good”) justify the means is the day that freedom dies. If you want to determine whether or not torturing people to death is ever okay for ANY reason think about it happening to a relative.

    “Those who would sacrifice freedom for security deserve neither.” — Benjamin Franklin

  6. shcb Says:

    Then you need to change the laws, and maybe the constitution, and maybe the Geneva conventions, and the UN resolution concerning torture, not the resolution itself but the exceptions we took. When you do all that then you can say laws were broken.

    I don’t like our tax laws, especially after getting my tax bill yesterday, I think it is wrong, but that doesn’t make my bill illegal. The remedy is to change the laws and change those that write them.

    You are using that Franklin quote out of context, but we’ll save that for later.

  7. shcb Says:

    If you wanted real change maybe you should have voted for Nader or Paul, but wait, they can’t win. Hmmm, maybe you should vote for third party candidates the rest of your life, congressional races as well, they will give you everything you want, please do, please; and tell all your friends to do the same.

  8. CKL Says:

    Third party candidates are no different than any other. Politicians aren’t “good” people any more than anyone else. Those who are complacent, or make excuses in an attempt to mitigate or deny injustices are worse though.

    When a document is chartered with the basic understanding that human rights are inalienable you can add as many stipulations or “privileges” as you want in order to legalize torture, but in the eyes of anyone with an ounce of sense it’s still wrong.

    Basic human decency isn’t a legal concern; it’s a moral one. Have you even CONSIDERED the fact that if it’s acceptable for people to be tortured you could find yourself in that position someday?

  9. enkidu Says:

    CKL, I encourage you to send your message to the Obama team. Don’t stop until you get a personal answer from someone inside.

    I am not trying to give the new administration more wiggle room than bush, but if you want to say he’s a failure on this issue (and a couple others) then your criticism is completely justified. But to throw in the towel less then 3 months in?

    Take a deep breath. By nearly every metric this administration is clearly doing a better job than the incompetent partisan hacks that looted our country for the last 8 years (a pretty low hurdle to be sure). I am not for sweeping this under the rug, but rather that I think the changes may have to come in fits and starts, a step back here before the pressure builds enough to force a change there.

  10. shcb Says:


    Sure I have considered that, and I agree that we shouldn’t torture unless there is no other alternative. That is why our boys wear uniforms and don’t target civilians, they play by the rules. Then there is the question of what is torture, chopping off limbs is obvious but is sleep deprivation? Probably, and then to what degree? And is that degree acceptable. Simply putting someone in a stark interrogation room and making them fear they will be incarcerated if they don’t tell the truth may be considered torture to some but not to most, so there are degrees. We have laws to define those degrees and of course they change as time changes our sensibilities. I am just saying that this or the previous administrations going back to probably Nixon haven’t broken most if not all the laws you guys say they have and are breaking. And for the most part those laws are a sensible compromise of punishing wrong doers and protecting the good honest folks.

  11. Steve Says:


    It is only pressure from, or fear of, some powerful interest that causes most politicians to act. I’m not willing to cut any politician any slack on the rule of law. I’m not powerful, but I’m hoping enough of us pressuring our politicians to enforce the law will finally cause something to get done.

    _WE_ are the pressure that needs to build.

  12. shcb Says:

    I thought education was a high priority

    I guess unions are higher

  13. J.A.Y.S.O.N. Says:

    The voucher system has nothing to do with education. It’s a scam to get taxpayers to front the money so people can get their kids sent to private religious schools. Go to public school, and like it. I had to.

  14. shcb Says:

    Ouch, touched a nerve there didn’t I? A parent exercising religious freedom is of course one purpose of vouchers, but not in this case, the public schools in DC just aren’t very good even though the teaches are some of the highest paid in the country. There are many other reasons to give parents and students choices, perhaps they wish to attend a school that is heavy on industrial, performing or military arts. Some kids have special needs, my oldest daughter for instance needed to be challenged more than the traditional schools could or would challenge her. There is no reason unionized teaches can’t teach as well as non unionized teaches, they just need a little competition.

  15. J.A.Y.S.O.N. Says:

    Not really. It’s just a bullshit system and I’m calling it as such. I’m not paying for anyone’s specialized education. If it’s that important for their kids to go somewhere to be more greatly ‘challenged’ or whatever, they can pay for it themselves? This is one of those things that’s really funny about conservatives. It’s all about standing on your own and not paying for the other guy’s stuff until you want what you want then it’s cool for me to pay for it. Take ownership. If you need to send your kid to a private school then you need to achieve more, correct? Do well, get a scholarship, take out some loans. That’s what my family and I did when I went to private college, twice.

    Sure you can send your kid to military school, but the vast majority of the vouchers movement is driven by the religious. In Ohio, these schools are staffed by non-certified teachers and on the average score lower on state proficiency tests than public schools in the inner city. Whoops.

  16. shcb Says:

    They are paying for it themselves, parents have paid taxes before they had kids and after their kids are out of school, we just want to use our money for the purpose we want to use it for, within reason of course. Vouchers don’t change any of the dynamics of funding education, just the delivery.

    I would get the same amount as you from the government, if I wanted to supplement that with more of my money so be it, if I don’t or can’t so be it too.

  17. enkidu Says:

    Hey I know! Why don’t we just have a form on our taxes that allows us to direct our money where we would like it? We’ll call it all vouchers or mouchers or something. I wouldn’t spend a dime on bloated defense pork like the Raptor or the Osprey (plus ronnie raygunz son of star warz, bump that!) Like we need more giant aircraft carriers? No, we don’t.

    I’d put all my money on education, infrastructure and technology. Screw medical care for old folks! Same w social security! Well, until I get old anyway.

    Oh, and abortions for everyone! Whether they want one or not! ;-)

  18. shcb Says:

    so Jayson, would you suppoort vouchers if one of the restrictions were no religious instruction in schools that accept vouchers?

  19. J.A.Y.S.O.N. Says:

    No, I don’t support the voucher system. If you feel the educational needs of public schools are inadequate then you need to look at the schools and what your state and local officials are doing in regards to creating a curriculum.

    Anything extra, is just that to me, extra.

  20. shcb Says:

    The problem with that is our educational system has become so ingrained and incestuous it is almost impossible to fix the problem from within. There needs to be outside influences to force change.

  21. CKL Says:

    Don’t get me wrong — I think that ANY administration (aside from the grim possibilities of one headed by Palin or Cheney, or their equally extreme and/or ignorant counterparts on the other end of the spectrum) is a step in the proper direction. And I’m not saying that things aren’t better.

    What I AM saying is that human rights cannot be denied to anyone for any reason, and NO justification is acceptable. Every time we allow atrocities to be committed it speaks negative volumes about us not only as a nation, culture, or society but as an entire race. In this instance we are not only allowing them but condoning them.

    What is happening here is a greater injustice than any of you seem to understand. Essentially, human life and suffering (terrible, INFLICTED suffering at that) are being treated as less important than politics. While it’s sick and deplorable that our government should allow this at least it’s understandable. What stake does ANY poster here wager by holding true in their hearts that the most basic of freedoms they take for granted — to not be forced into suffering — be granted to every single human being?

    Perhaps those in power deserve to be the elite ruling class, exempt from personal responsibility and raised above the rest of humanity. They certainly seem to be able to stride across the world breaking things and not to be held accountable except to each other (and even then, in very rare instances).

  22. enkidu Says:

    Sadly, after the dumbya junta (cabal, usurpers, vw bug full of clowns etc) basically wrecked the country again and again on nearly every metric, i think the pragmatists in the Obama admin are charting a course that won’t make the most ardent “jail em now!” crowd very happy. I think they see the next four years as some of the most difficult politicking in American history. There is just so much to fix. They can’t do it all at once, and they want to at least offer the olive branch to the wwnjs at every chance (knowing they will just barf all over it anyway, but it is a useful tool to wave in front of the prols ‘see? we tried to get their input and all we got was this barf covered olive branch…’) I think we just keep asking that the Laws be enforced.

    May I also point out that it isn’t Obama’s decision. The USAG decides if there is suspected wrong doing and law breaking and he orders the investigations. Obama should be above the fray, make conciliatory gestures, but also upholding the Law. wwnj here constantly says that no laws were broken – ever, by any R president ever etc. But he thinks changing the top tax rate from 36% to 39% makes it an effective 51% tax rate. Socialism, also. Magical ‘thinking’ born of a steady diet of hate radio nonsense. Just keep brushing your teeth with bullshit wwnjs and we’ll finally put you freaks out to pasture (you can call it ‘going Galt’ is you like, just clear off the national stage, permanently, pls)

    Gradually, decisively, reluctantly the new administration will prosecute.

    I hope Cheney goes into prison first.
    He’ll look good having that final heart attack in prison orange.

  23. shcb Says:

    But CKL, we deny human rights all the time, we imprison people when they do something wrong, we deny them their very life when they take another, and on occasion we send people off to war against their will in times of draft. That is where the rule of law comes in, we determine the severity of the situation, whether an individual has brought it on himself or not. Jaywalking isn’t punished by death, speeding in a school zone is dealt with more harshly than on an open road. We don’t conscript people to military service unless we have to.

    In this case the legal advice Bush received determined that these procedures did not constitute torture if they were done according to the way they were being presented. Read the memos, you may still not like it, and this current administration may not want to use these techniques, fine. They will have to answer to the American people if another attack happens. Now that this is our they will say “you wouldn’t even throw these guys against a rubber wall to find out where the attack was going to happen?” It’s just the way it is, sometimes you have to make difficult choices if you choose to live in the world of reality, the world where absolutes don’t exist.

  24. leftbehind Says:

    Dick Cheney will go to prison about five minutes after I punch God in the mouth. Even if the new administration prosecutes anyone, the idea that Cheney, Bush, Rumsfeld or anyone we’ve even heard of yet is going to prison for authorizing torture or anything else is pretty stupid, as is fairly well evidenced by the caliber of mind arguing the point on this blog. I’m sure some lower-level fall guy’s liable to bite the judicial dust to pacify the Enkidus of the world, but the idea that Bush or Cheney’s going down for anything is preposterous. No sitting President is ever going to go after a previous administration for authorizing anything he himself might be caught authorizing at some point. It’s a similar situation to that of the old monarchs who, having captured a rival king in war, would never execute or badly mistreat that king lest they themselves be open to death or mistreatment when they lost a war.

    The shit that went down at Abu Ghraib, as well as what we currently know about torture at Guantanamo harkens back to techniques outlined in the School of America’s interrogation handbooks – ask Knarlyknight, he’s studied this – that date back to the Kennedy administration. This didn’t begin with Bush, nor will it end with him. The language will change, the venue will be more remote and better hidden, but that’s about it. Oh, and Dick Cheney still won’t be in prison.

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