Waiting for a Landslide

How dreams of a final victory are downgrading our politics.

Comments: 125

  1. I am starting to think that the only people interested in the presidential election are the pundits and the politicians themselves. It has become painfully clear that whichever candidate wins the Oval Office, he or she will not be working for the electorate.

    And whatever gave you the idea that Obama is a liberal? He is as artificial corporate manufactured apple pie as Ronald Reagan. He only seems liberal because the Republicans have turned into such an extremist sect of nihilists, and the Tea Party itself is fond of calling him a Kenyan radical socialist. We only wish!

    Our next president will be one of three things: a Wall Street lackey, a Wall Street lackey, or a theocratic Wall Street lackey. Both Republican and Democratic Parties are grotesque shadows of their former selves. We ordinary folk would be smart to put all our efforts into state elections (recalls, pushback against the return to Jim Crow at the voting booths and corporate infiltration into the legislative process) -- and electing only tried and true progressives to the House of Representatives. Support your local Green Party and Socialist candidates if you think Democrats are sell-outs. Barack Obama is still looking for unpaid volunteers and $5 donations, and actually pretending he isn't fully owned and operated by the Lords of Finance. Don't waste your time or money. All politics are local. The future of our country and our democracy depends on us, and only us, working for change in our own backyards.


  2. You misunderstand the electoral dynamic. 2008 was a transformational election. The trouble is the Transformer had faulty hardware. Instead of seizing the day, he thought he could win over those he defeated. Remember how he held a dinner in honor of John McCain during inauguration week? Obama thought he could compromise with an opposition determined to see him fail. He thought he could stand above the fray while his opponents challenged not only his policies but also his right to hold office. He was born in Kenya! He messed up the oath of office! Any line of attack, no matter how untrue, would do.

    Incredibly, after being beaten up by bullies on the right again and again, Obama still thinks that next time, his opponents will play fair.

    As Drew Westen wrote in the Times yesterday, when banksters, Republicans and others opposed Franklin Roosevelt, FDR said, "Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me -- and I welcome their hatred." Barack Obama will never say anything of the sort. He will never say, "Bring 'em on."

    Not only that, as Westen argues, Obama has failed to explain to the American people what he's doing to help them. That may be partly because he doesn't know. His failure to lead has created a vicious cycle in which he can't say what he'll do because he doesn't know what the Republican Tea Party will let him do.

    That's the real reason for the debacle of the 2010 election. It's the reason the country is in turmoil. The President represents only one branch of government, but his best tool is the one which we all thought he would use to good advantage: the bully pulpit. He has not used it wisely. He thought his own story was so inspirational, he didn't need to tell us the story of how he would lead us to a better place. So we are where we are. Downgraded. With a broken Transformer.

    The Constant Weader at www.RealityChex.com

  3. I have only one question - how is this Obama's downgrade? Seems to me the President bent over backwards to avoid default for just this reason but the tea party and the republicans had other ideas.

  4. The political reality is that for the next year and a half, the Republicans have a majority in the House, and the power of the filibuster in the Senate. And of course, Obama has the power of the veto. The obvious result is that from now until the 2012 elections, little or nothing will be accomplished. The welfare of the nation will suffer, but since it is to the GOP's advantage to let the economy wither, and the jobless numbers to remain static–at best–There is no hope for true governance in the immediate future. What the GOP fails to understand is that Bachmann's claim that it will be easy to get the nation out of the Great Recession (i. e. tax cuts, budget cuts, and deregulation) will be totally impotent as a solution. Unless the more moderate wing of the GOP is willing to take back their party from the radical right, the nation may be heading into a downward spiral from which it will never recover.
    How ironic is it that the Tea party, out of a distorted sense of saving our country, will in fact cause it to fall?

  5. "or the near-identical rebukes that President Obama delivered to Eric Cantor ('Elections have consequences — and Eric, I won')"

    Or "Eric, don't call my bluff".

  6. We have been a 50/50 country for quite a few years now.
    JFK, Carter and Clinton were elected with less than 50% of the vote.
    Bush 43 "won" with less than 50% in 2000, and only 51% in 2004.

    Obama scored the largest democratic margin since LBJ in 1964, but LBJ had a legislative blueprint and the skill to make it happen. Obama has neither.

    I read V.O. Key in college, and I agree with his hypothesis. But you will need a civil war, or a great depression, or something similar to break the longstanding 50/50 division of American political thought.

  7. I agree with the point made here about how "our leaders have a responsibility that transcends their ideological differences: the responsibility to work with one another to keep the country solvent." I would take the point a step further, perhaps, in the sense that it seems that grabbing all the toys by one party during its domination of our government seems to insure that the other party will try the same gambit when next they dominate in Washington. No real transformative moment in any of this, in which both parties transcend their dualism and find some way to govern like teammates in a three-legged race.


  8. Nice try, Mr. Douthat, but as usual you are way off the mark here. Your column pretends that the two parties have been equally unwilling to negotiate or compromise on the critical issues of the day. But the facts demonstrate something far different.

    Time after time, the conservatives have proven themselves to be pathologically intransigent. After voting to raise the debt ceiling numerous times during the W. Bush Administration, they drove our economy to the brink of disaster by holding the debt ceiling hostage in order to try to achieve their radical ideological goals of destroying any element of government that benefits the middle class, working class, or poor. After their economic policies caused the Bush Recession of 2008 and a major electoral drubbing for the Republicans, conservatives acted as if they still ran the show and engaged in historically unprecedented obstructionism to prevent President Obama from achieving economic recovery. And when faced with a moderate health care reform proposal that included elements that conservatives had once supported, the GOP created lies about "death panels" and tried to defeat the expansion of health insurance coverage to 32 million more Americans.

    By contrast, President Obama and the Democrats have bent over backwards to accommodate the views of the conservative minority. Health care reform did not include a public option, the stimulus bill was smaller than it needed to be, and Democrats agreed to a debt ceiling compromise that included significant cuts, but no guarantee of tax increases on the wealthy.

    The Democrats' compromises in the face of the GOP's pathological intransigence have been quite frustrating to progressives such as myself. But they have also shown that President Obama and the Democrats are the adults in the room, while the GOP has been entertaining fantasies of final victory.



  9. If you want to know how to close the deficit, look at what the Republicans did to evaporate the surplus that Bill Clinton gave them, and then do the opposite. For starters, this might involve raising taxes, ending pointless wars, and re-instituting regulation of the financial industry to avoid a free-for-all of greed-based financial excesses.

    The way to deal with the S & P downgrade is to ignore it. The fact that they helped precipitate the financial crisis should cast some doubt on their credibility, but ignoring that for a moment, the country is not insolvent, nor is it in danger of being unable to pay its bills. S & P says they downgraded the country's credit rating because of the scary brinksmanship engaged in by Congress, not because of the debt. This brinksmanship was the result of right-wing extremists ready to go down with the ship rather than negotiate in good faith.

    Liberals are angry because the president gave Republicans everything they wanted, and yet it was very nearly not enough to make a deal. Mr. Obama did not draw any lines in the sand, and as a result he capitulated to virtually every Republican demand. He did hold many ineffective meetings with Republican leaders, but as soon as they detected that his heart was not in it for a fight, they ate him for lunch. He seemed unable to comprehend the intransigence, expecting negotiations to go as they must have done in the Harvard club over tea. But this was an entirely different kind of Tea Party, more like the one Alice faced in Wonderland.

    I don't think Mr. Obama was a Transformational president. Had he gotten everything he wanted, the country would still have been slightly right of center. On the other hand, I think George W. Bush was truly Transformational. He transformed the country from one in which there was a prospect of prosperity, fairness, peace, and hope into one in which there wasn't.

  10. I read Ross because he is a Conservative. I am not, but as a citizen who leans more toward the Progressive viewpoint than the Liberal, I think it's important to keep a conversation going with my Conservative friends. And I think you have it just right here, Ross. "Waiting for Armageddon" is not a viable political or policy stature. Good on you!

  11. Our country is so riven by dissension and anger that there will be no landslide in the Presidential Election next year. Since both parties are camped on the fiscal cliff - looking down into the abyss, looking skyward at Earth's cloud cover and blue atmosphere - there is no chance that either party will be established on the hinge of history in time to prevent fiscal catastrophe.

    The financial talk has been projecting into the next dozens of years. As we know too well, there is much that can occur to derail our recovery, to set the United States on a downward path, to re-plan for the maiden voyage of the SS Titanic - deja vu all over again. The best-laid plans of mice and men...there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy, Ross Douthat. Camped on that cliff above the abyss, where ignorant armies of Republicans clash among themselves by night, we are still hoping for a deus ex machina to deliver America. Ain't no such thing. We are still grateful that the 2008 election went to President Obama and not the Odd Couple, the elderly Senator from Arizona and the cute partial Governor of Alaska who could see Russia from her porch. Once again we are faced with dissension like that between the colonists and the Tories back in the Revolution, dissension that split the North and the South into the War between the States, into the strangest election of all time, the election of George W. Bush in 2000 when Al Gore won. Don't bother praying or waiting for a landslide, Republicans and Tea Party folks, you have downgraded our politics to a fare-thee-well.

  12. No landslide is apparent on the visible horizon: you speak truth when you say our politics (and our people) are riven. But I would be happy with the 52% popular vote captured by President Obama in 2008 if it seated a solid majority in both houses and the White House of moderates, representative of a people just tired of the extremes that get us absolutely nowhere.

    Our elected avatars need to hunker down to the hard work of building solutions that nobody loves but that just about everyone can barely live with. This requires that both sides recognize that liberals have legitimate interests in which they honestly believe, and so do conservatives -- and that neither is going to go away, ever. Government has a legitimate role, but it should focus on that of protector/cop, regulator and incentivizer, not that of universal paymaster. In order to move us forward, this requires compromise, on debt, deficit, programs AND revenues; on the intrusiveness of a too-powerful federal government AND on the legitimate need to regulate business aggressively.

    So, it seems to me that the people, riven as they are but highly aware of the uselessness of the current political environment, are poised for moderation. What we actually need is a leader who can sell moderation, which is much harder to sell than polarization.

  13. Ah, you do so want to wave the "downgrade" flag.

    Truman and Ike tangled with Congresses to raise and keep the top tax rate at 94% to pay our WW II debt that was 120% of GDP.

    The only downgrade we have is our top income tax rate was downgraded by Republicans to 35%, Bush II took us into two wars, and added an unpaid Medicare drug benefit, without raising the taxes to pay the bills - as every previous "wartime" President has done. Now that the bills are coming due, Republicans want to howl about raising taxes, even a little, to pay for these trillion dollar expenses.

    The only downgrade is that this low top income tax rate has given the wealthiest 2% a huge entitlement that has enriched them by trillions while middle class income has actually declined by 10%.

    The middle class was downgraded when our good paying jobs were shipped overseas, and when the huge increases in productivity in this country were funneled to the wealthiest 2% and not shared with the middle class - who actually did the work.

    The only downgrade we've experienced is a group of irresponsible Congressmen who, waving their Norquist flags, decided they'd scream "bankruptcy" to throw a tantrum and get their way, knowing full well President Obama would ultimately take the responsible action and sign some sort of legislation to keep the U.S. government from defaulting on its obligations.

    Responsible Americans will come together to create a mix of spending cuts and tax and revenue increases to get the bills we incurred down to a more workable level. Then, with our financial house in order, as we do in this country, we'll split apart and have rowdy arguments.

    Common sense is needed, not arcane theories. If Republicans want to be relevant, they'll start talking about a mix of spending cuts - especially in our defense budget - and start talking about tax and revenue increases. If Republicans want to be relevant, they'll then educate their constituents about why this is responsible.

  14. Douthat, I almost always disagree with you. I definitely don't disagree here. We *must* work together...

  15. My prediction: The public is going to blame the Tea Party types specifically and the Republicans in general for the actions that led to the downgrade. And we're going to remember that they wanted to mess with the Social Security and Medicare most of us are counting on (and feel we have earned by paying into). Obama is not hugely popular at the moment, but he's a helluva lot more popular than the Congress that just pulled this idiocy. I expect Obama to be re-elected and most of the Tea Party types to be buying one-way tickets back to the obscurity they so richly merit.

  16. While I agree that politicians in general should work with what is possible today rather than waiting for some miraculous switch in the electorate to resolve all issues, the situation in which we presently exist requires it. Fundamentally, our past paradigm of governance was based on economic conditions which no longer exist and the degree of prioritization now necessary cannot be made within the prevailing political consensus.

    Social Security and Medicare have long been know to be the third rail of American politics, yet it is clear that we cannot afford to continue both programs as presently constituted. They have to be reformed in such a way as will require some massive mandate from the electorate.

    The Democrats like to contend that the problem is revenue, that the rich are not paying their fair share. But, if federal spending is doubling relative to GDP as it will within decades, it is hard to argue that we should double taxation to keep faith with our seniors.

    At the same time, our economy has tanked and we face increasing competition from overseas, which has been allowed to eviscerate the economic prospects of our lower classes. How do we reinvigorate the economy and the life outcomes of our less fortunate citizens while preserving essential social services?

    Faced with his own set of dire circumstances, FDR revamped the way in which government, citizenry, and the economy interacted but we have reached the end of that paradigm. Now is our time to reinvent ourselves and our country and such cannot be done without clear direction from the electorate. Honestly held opinions on both sides of the debate cannot be reconciled sufficiently to accomplish needed reforms - one side has to ultimately prevail because we no longer can afford to both spend for an overarching welfare state while maintaining economic dynamism under the current capitalist model.

    At present, we await a sea change in the electorate because we cannot muddle through this crisis without it

  17. This latest damage to our financial stability, recovery and standing in the world can be directly tied to the tea party and their damaging and delusional policy. Palin openly threatened them with primary competition if they did not bend to her will no matter the cost to the stagnant economy and the detriment to the chance of a recovery. She is a bane on our country and needs to be silenced. Her policies are disastrous, vicious and vile. I am continually amazed that she and her despicable cohorts in Washington have so many convinced that our nation will survive as a just society with opportunity for all if their destructive platform is put in place. I am amazed that they have so many convinced that our social security benefits are not owed us in good faith. If banks and other financial institutions refused to release our savings, checking or retirement monies we would be burning the buildings down and looking to the government for intervention. Yet many are convinced that the government does not owe us our retirement fund entitled Social Security. How have we become so ignorant and compliant and when, if ever, will we wise up? The tea party needs to be driven from Washington in droves and responsible elected officials need to replace them with an agenda that serves the country's needs and not some theocratic, delusional agenda that devastates the economic standing of our nation and causes unpardonable hardship to the most vulnerable in our nation who depend on a compassionate government for their very survival.

  18. There are none so blind as those who will not see. Many of us would settle for an Administration, either Democrat or Republican, which at least sees the problem. That's the first step.

    The Democratically controlled Congress hasn't passed a budget in two years. In response to questions about the country’s debt last Fall, the President’s constant response was “Let’s wait and see what the Debt Commission recommends." Yet when their final report was released, the President all but ignored it. The President's first budget proposal in the beginning of CY2011 didn't have any deficit reduction at all and was rejected by the Senate 97-0. The President gave short shrift to deficit reduction in his State of the Union speech. Democrats, like Nancy Pelosi, insisted that there be no changes whatsoever in entitlement programs - one of the major causes of our debt problem. In all fairness the Bush Administration started us down this debt problem path and was equally myopic although the problem then was not nearly as severe as it is now. S&P at least saw the problem and perhaps in the long run we will be grateful to them for the downgrade.

  19. Very interesting! But meanwhile back at the ranch, life is getting a whole lot more difficult for reasons that have nothing to do with how well I run my ranch. I have been registered as an independent, a Republican and a Democrat. It doesn't make much difference. Because I vote for the person I think will do the best job, I find that 50% of the people I know agree with my position and the other 50% who are party loyalists "hate" me. And I mean real hate.

    I find Republican leaders and loyalists today to be the most unreasonable people to discuss and resolve any government related issue with. The debt ceiling argument and resulting downgrade being blamed on the President and Democrats reminds me of abusive men who beat up their wife or girlfriend, and then blame the woman for creating the abuse.
    Imagine a husband angry at his wife for spending money, so he threatens to not pay on their loans and credit card until she cuts all spending on the kids and the grand parents. Meanwhile he keeps up his gambling, drinking and country club lifestyle, because he claims this networking will improve their economic situation. They lose their credit rating, have to pay higher interest rates, and in the end spend more money getting even more into debt. But hubby blames his wife,and tells all of their friends and neighbors that she is the culprit with her expensive tastes. Hubby is today's impractical, unrealistic, self centered Republican. There is no hope for this family.

  20. According to Paul Krugman: "The real question facing America, even in purely fiscal terms, isn’t whether we’ll trim a trillion here or a trillion there from deficits. It is whether the extremists now blocking any kind of responsible policy can be defeated and marginalized? " The way to do this is for the Democrats, Liberals, Progressives, as well as some independents and Republicans, - - that is, for those who are not extremists - - to join together and to clearly and strongly speak out and to march together in support of realistic and humane economic and social policies. We have not done this since President Obama came into office. Instead, we have expected President Obama to do this for us. And, even though he has been and is being destructively confronted by Republicans and extremists, - - and President Obama still keeps going. We blame him for not doing what he has been doing. We must stand up on our own two feet. We must stand up in public against extremist policies and power politics. We can bring about policies we want. We have to have the courage of our convictions. We have to stop saying the President should be doing for us. We should be united, organized. We should actively stand up in public for what we want. We can do this. Yes, we have to and we can do this.

  21. Ross is right: The S&P downgrade has nothing to do with the debt level itself but everything to do with the the lack of compromise in Washington. The decision making process is broken.

    The lack of compromise has one root cause: the implosion of the Republican Party. The Republican Party has tunred into a right wing extremist movement without any intentions to govern this country in a responsible manner. In fact, as the last few weeks have shown, absolute extremism is seen as a virtue in the Republican Party. Ross's analysis that either side is looking for the punch-out election result is plain wrong. In fact it is an effort to disguis the extremism that goes as Republican mainstream these days.

    The problem is that we are afraid to call a spade a spade. Everyone agrees that our problem is the lack of compromise in Washington. This doesn't mean we have to place the blame on bith sides alike. If we do that we actually excuse the right wing extremism and invite them to do the same thing again on the next question that comes up. If we don't manage to face up to the terrorism that the Tea Party is bringing to US politics we will never get back to a political decision making process that justifies a AAA rating.

  22. "American politics really is riven by fundamental divisions."

    Oh, please. Whatever divides the American electorate is the narcissism of minor differences -- magnified completely out of proportion to reality by media pundits and faux newscasters paid by their corporations to do so because it serves their agenda. The wedge that supposedly divides liberal and conservative, red and blue, elite and NASCAR is driven there by people who stand to profit from goading the gullible to a fake sense of division. The ideological "other" is a straw man, a fake enemy to draw attention from the plunder that is going on right under all of our noses.

    What the electorate want is a stable country within which to raise our children, a fair shot, a way to make a decent living, and safety net when forces beyond our control from the weather to Wall Street pull the rug out from under us.

    By being one of the voices that amplifies this phony division, you are part of the problem, Mr. Douthat. You get paid to push some conservative view; we the people pay the price.

    Here's the reality. America is getting less important. The world is moving on. The world will move to a new currency and to new markets. There's nearly 9 billion people in the world, many of them in India and China with increasing purchasing power. The world does not need America's 300 million consumers. Corporations will plunder what's left to pillage in the USA and move on to better markets. Contrary to what the Supreme Court decided, corporations are not citizens. They have but one loyalty -- to profit. Our representatives in Washington D.C. forget this at all our peril as they coddle the corporate citizen at the expense of flesh and blood humans.

  23. The politicians are not the reason that our country is ungovernable. Ordinary people are "waiting for a landslide" for their respective political parties, because the parties have only nostalgia to offer. Republicans want to restore the era of "greed is good," while the Democrats want to restore the New Deal and the Great Society. But the new economics of our country will not allow either party to attain their goals, even if they get a landslide. Our human and natural resources have declined significantly, so we do not have any way to create the wealth that would let every small businessperson become rich or every worker become middle class, or that would provide social programs and education to everyone. No compromises are possible until both major parties admit that their old goals are unattainable, but most voters of both parties are unwilling to face that possibility. So don't blame the politicians; they are only governing the way the voters want.

  24. Republicans need a sputtering economy to win the 2012 elections. No way they can win if happy days are here again. So how far will they go to get what they need? That's the question. I'm not saying they will consciously work to weaken the economy (although you have to wonder sometimes), but I am saying they will look at various options and not be scared off by ones that impose what they see as short-term pain if it holds the promise of their long-term gain.

    The Tea Party in their obdurate ignorance of how things work blindly lock-stepped us to the edge of a cliff and would cheerfully have jumped over. With the downgrade, we are seeing that like elections, actions have consequences. Only it's you and me (and maybe those Tea Partyers who are in personal debt up to their eyeballs) who will pay the price.

  25. As a sociology major in the early 70's I learned at least one immutable fact : it doesn't much matter which party is in office. We never move much off the center. We may go a little center right, or a little center left, depending on which party is in power. Never-the-less, we always hug the center. A review of our history confirms that fact. I read in the Times last week, a list of Nixon's truly progressive accomplishments while in office. Who would have ever thought we would be characterizing the man my generation demonized, largely because of the war in Viet Nam, as 'progressive'. He would be drummed out of today's Republican party.

    So put away any thoughts of 'transformation'. Not going to happen. The status quo is largely guarantied in a country whose elections are controlled by corporate donors and lobbyists whose interests will always trump those of the largely un-influential little guys and gals.

  26. I would argue that when a change in the political alignment of the country takes place, the quality of the new movement's accomplishments are best at the beginning. As time passes people learn how to manipulate the new reality and the drive to do good things for the maximum number of people deteriorates to how can I do the best things for me.
    I believe the country benefits from these occasional realignments. Whether it is left to right or right to left, old stagnant and destructive ways of thinking get swept away.
    In the year 2000 a majority voted to continue the middle/left of the road policies that had started under Clinton. By short circuiting the election results the right way able to extend its era even though it had long since run out of good ideas.

  27. Yes, we got to the brink alright. We're still there. Can you imagine where we would be today if the Progressive Left still held sway in the House? Make no mistake. Congress would have handed the President yet another blank check in the form of a debt ceiling increase with absolutely NO restrictions. We'd be looking at dramatically higher tax rates and, most likely, a Second Stimulus that would dwarf the first. Card check would be the law of the land and the money launder between the Demovrat Party and Big Labor would be working over time. Gas prices would probably be at least $5, the credit downgrade would by now be an after thought and the cost of borrowing would be well on it's way north, with serious inflation just around the corner as the Fed would be into QE 3 and the dollar would be in free fall. This is exactly where we would be if the American people in November 2010 had not put a halt to The Great Nonsense.

  28. While It's nice to see your willingness to admit complicity, you get one thing tangled up. There has been no wild swinging from right to left and back again in increasingly short intervals as you believe. In the long haul, our government and policies have been moving to the right and that has only emboldened those further and further out on the far right extremes. Clinton may have been more liberal, but was never more than a centrist. After Bush, the America Obama inherited was so much more to the right that he is tarred as a liberal although in many respects his actions can be safely read as a Hoover republican.

    No, you read the political sway much as a stock broker reads the market trying to sell short, sensitive to minute fluctuations when you should be looking like a mutual fund manager used to before Glass Stegal was tinkered with, in the long run for investment that would last into old age. It's not as exciting, does not make the news every day, but it pays the bills.

    Obama had decidedly made mistakes, but in the main, he has called for moderation and measured, considered compromise. He was not only roundly turned down flat, as he said himself, he was shellacked for it.

    No, the problem is not extremes in swing, its a failure to appreciate the calmness of the middle. It takes a lot to turn a big boat around, and the far right contingent has refused any corrections to our boat's path. From where I'm sitting, it's looked like we are the Titanic but had a ten year view of the iceberg dead ahead, just that the captains at the helm actually think that's a good thing. Now it is too late to steer clear. It's up to those same captains to decide that maybe we can get away with a sideswipe but only if they act prudently,finally.

  29. There is no doubt at all that the country has been split nearly exactly into two diametrically opposed halves, spurred on by people who want to keep those divisions raw. We have lots of people who make their livings keeping those divisions as far apart as possible, without any profound thinking about the consequences except possibly the benefits to themselves.

    We need a President and members of Congress who will view their elections to office as opportunities to serve, not opportunities for more election with constant campaigning and fundraising in between. Even though it serves the current leaders' interests, more polarization is damaging and dangerous.

    Barack Obama might have been able to unify the country if he had remembered that he was supposed to be the President of ALL the people, not just the ones who voted for him, or donated money to him, or would help his next campaign.

    Maybe the next President?

  30. What is the Democrat's rebuke "Elections have consequences" to the Republican's votes on "deficit-financed tax cuts in 2003"? And when we can recall Obama's comment, will we be able to see which belief behind the comment is more consequential? To forgive and forget so the politicians can now work together, as you so eloquently urge, would be nice. It seems to me, however, that the fundamentals, such as whose interests are being served, need to be sorted out. Not to forget how the crisis was engendered. The opposing sides are not equal. There are serious questions of right and wrong here. A moral reasoning conversation needs to take place in this coming election season.

  31. Let's get one thing straight. The republicans have no interest in helping Obama succeed. On the contrary, they want him to fail regardless if it's ideology before country. Unfortunately he can only fight the fight with whatever arms at his disposal. So being disappointed in his failure to deliver storied endings is misdirected.

    Not controlling the house and not having 60% of the votes in the senate just falls into the republican's gameplan to get nothing accomplished. Yes, their ideology over country is unpatriotic. The only recourse is to vote out enough to take back the congress with no compromises. That's the only thing they understand. They've lost their right to represent those who are not ideologically ignorant or selfish. Otherwise, watch how the great American Empire falls.


  32. A 50-50 nation, with the zealots on both sides intent on dying in a ditch before agreeing to the two things that have to be part of a solution to the exploding debt problem: more revenue and entitlement reform. With luck, some senior statesmen and women will step forward now and negotitiate a compromise that includes both. Bush tax cut expiration and serious Medicare-Medicaid cost control will go a long way to a meaningful solution. And BTW, compromise is not a four letter word. Even Dan Quayle knew that. You know the one guy who really gets it ? The President. His 'grand bargain' is exactly what we need from the 12 graybeards come November.

  33. I would respectfully suggest that a title "Waiting for a miracle" would better reflect the reality. The problem is with the American culture of expecting quick, miraculous fix for everything. Already after 100 days of Democratic administration there were grumblings that it did not cure the disasters inherited from the previous one. As a child and adolescent psychiatrist I am well familiar with the expectations of quick fix and instant gratification, compounded by short memory and inability to learn from the past. While this is typical of young children and adolescents it seems also to be a characteristic of our electorate. Americans, grow up!

  34. Speaking as part of the 36% of the electorate that identifies itself as neither Liberal nor Conservative, I couldn't agree more with Mr. Douthat.

    I only wish he hadn't left it as wishing the cat had a bell around its neck.

    Because a series of nonpartisan structural reforms could eventually break this logjam:

    1. Nonpartisan redistricting, as California has just instituted.
    2. Open primaries.
    3. Instant runoff primaries, where the two top vote-getters in each district run against each other in the final election, regardless of party, and you get to vote for two people, specifying your first and second choice.
    4. A compact between all the states to send electors to the Electoral College pledged to vote for whoever wins the popular vote.

    None of these favor any one party nationally; but taken together, they would moderate the politicians elected by each party, electing more moderates as well as incentivizing politicians to act more moderately.

    The trick would be for all the states, Red and Blue, to agree to adopt them together--that way neither major party could gain the advantage it would get if just the other color states did and their own color states did not.

    The benefit for the parties is that it would legitimize both parties in the eyes of all but the most whirley-eye radicals.

    Oh, and it would help America, as a nifty side benefit...

    PS: While I place primary blame for the current imbrolgio at the feet of the Republican Party, Democrats are still guilty of much intransigence and misspeaking, as anyone who reads the factchecking websites (such as factcheck.org and politifact.com) would realize. Besides, it'll be far more satisfying in the long run to effect structural reforms like these than to stand around fingerpointing, even when it is justified.


  35. I feel like this country is done, for now, or forever. I'm reading "Homage to Catalonia", and Orwell points out that it is impossible for history to sort the Spanish Civil War because of the extreme biased in the press of that country and the political parties. This is exactly what is happening in this country. If the economy does not turn around by election, the GOP will probably win the presidency, which means it probably will. Unfortunately, this means back to the Bush era or something very near to it. Sorry, but I have zero hope for the ideology of this country, but great hope that somewhere in the human population, some other nation has it together better than we do.

  36. With the outcome of the federal elections largely determined by collecting and spending billions of dollars, I have no hope for significant and much needed reformation during my life time. Perhaps a much bigger crisis than the current ones will be needed to prepare the country for fundamental changes.

    However, in the meantime, it would be refreshing if the elected officials would accept responsibility for the problems. Making excuses and blaming others for your problems is ineffective and...a poor example for our children!

  37. I really liked this column, because it offered a fresh perspective on why politics is getting so extreme. When the political system is locked in a protracted stalemate, as it is now, both sides will tend to become more extreme in an effort to break the stall.

    Where I differ is in the idea that a "realignment" has not actually happened. I think it did, and more or less on schedule, with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, about 48 years after FDR's first victory. That election effectively ended the era of the New Deal, and ushered in a reactionary period in which the greatest energy has been devoted explicitly to dismantling the creations of the New Deal and Great Society. This trend has been consistent through both Republican and Democratic administrations. Take, for example, Clinton's support of welfare reform, and Obama's market-driven approach to health care reform. What has changed from previous realignments is the rise of a large independent voter class and the weakening of traditional party structures; this means that realignments no longer correspond to changes in the control of Congress or the White House by one political party. Both parties have grown steadily more conservative, as shown by the rise of the "Blue Dog" democrats and the virtual extinction of the liberal Republicans. Fiscal conservatives now dominate both parties, and the progressive movement is completely disenfranchised.

    Ironically, since the actual differences between the parties have grown so narrow, the differences that still exist are being exaggerated by the political parties in an effort to remain relevant in the political process. For example, in the recent debt ceiling debate, the issue of raising taxes became so supercharged that some Republicans were willing to see the country default rather than agree to even a modest increase.

    When the next realignment comes, it will not be a political party that dominates, but a political philosophy.

  38. “American politics really is riven by fundamental divisions.”

    This is a true assessment. The polarization of policy prescriptions and proposals of both Democrats and Republicans since the election of President Obama is truly stunning. The rise and prominence of Tea Parties which resulted in the Republican majority in Congress in November 2010 is a continuation or an extension of the reckless and destructive policies of President “W” whose view of America was personal, selfish and narrow. When the Republicans decided to manage the budget by increasing expenditures (two wars) and cut taxes (Bush tax cuts) they did not recognize that the twin blades of the scissors would result in an unsustainable rising deficit and a growing debt. American politics and economics was undermined by the Republican principle of “small government” which meant low taxes and relaxed regulations in managing the economy. The reality is that industry does not and has never been able to regulate itself and the resulting Great Recession fell in the hands of President Obama who tried to turn things around with a heavy dose of Keynesian Economics which is repulsive to Republicans. The result was acrimonious accusations and attacks from the Republicans supported by their majority position in Congress, an agreement with Democrats that has fundamental flaws (further cuts in expenses without provisions for increases in taxes) such that it will not fix fiscal problems and the S&P downgrade.

    I detect not only a POLARIZATION of political and economic thinking between the Democrats and Republicans but a DISCONNECT of both parties from the views of PEOPLE. With unemployment being so stubbornly high even since the official end of the Great Recession, politicians are failing to recognize that there are many Americans who are hurting and who are looking for true leadership from politicians, not political ideological arguments. In this the Republicans are the most at fault.

  39. You assume that the right governs in good faith. They don't. They're not trying to use their own ideas to fix the economy. They're trying to destroy government, because they think the only thing taxpayers should pay for is (possibly) a national defense. It's not that they don't want the left to succeed, it's that they don't want government to succeed, period.

  40. If the "lesson" of the S&P downgrade is that we must close our federal deficit, then the future will certainly be a sweeping, transformative victory for the extreme right-wing. Unfortunately -- even before the downgrade --President Obama seemed intent on slashing the deficit and imposing a new fiscal austerity. This will mean that an axe will be taken to social programs over the next few years, and we may as well kiss the safety net goodbye.

  41. face it, the republicans and the tea party "won". They managed to wreck the country some more, and stick Obama with the blame. Does that mean that the other 50% of the voters deserve disenfranchisement? What country can I live in whose congress will represent my interests and hope for a prosperous country? If only they could apply some of that energy and unity towards something positive for the common good.

  42. Down in my parts, in deep Red Texas, the Right since November 2010 likes to boast, over and over, "Elections have consequences" like the S&P downgrade for instance, or under funding education at the state level, or onerous, certainly for some classes of citizens, election laws to prevent "massive voter fraud" that is so diabolical that it is still yet undetectable.

  43. Missing from this article is the very much needed explanation of how a theory from the 1950s that has been subject to a great deal of controversy among scholars constitutes an "enduring influence" among professional politicians and journalists. And if anything, Obama's reticence at making bold moves in the face of a massive economic crisis is evidence that a motivation to be "transformative" is currently absent.

  44. As usual, Ross makes some very valid points and then weakens them with examples of false equivalence. Comparing the Democrats resistance to radical changes in their most prized program with the total intransigence to every utterance that comes from Obama, is absurd.

    I know cognitive dissidence can be painful, but Ross needs to confront the fact that it's his party that keeps pushing the envelope in terms of partisan warfare. It's the Republicans who have made the term "filibuster" an anachronism. It's the Republicans who used recess appointments while in power and then used a parliamentary trick to keep Obama from filling his appointments. And it's the republicans who continually hold the country hostage to score political victories. To not recognize this does your readers and your party a disservice.

  45. Sorry Mr. Douthat, it's the Tea Party downgrade not Obama's.
    The S&P folks stated it rather clearly.

    "The political brinksmanship of recent months highlights what we see as America’s governance and policymaking becoming less stable, less effective, and less predictable than what we previously believed. The statutory debt ceiling and the threat of default have become political bargaining chips in the debate over fiscal policy"

    Not so nice a try.

    Don't be looking for a pubbie landslide in 2012 either.
    It may turn out to be just the opposite.

    The American voters are fed up with the Tea party, the Republican House and their "Whatever they say--I'm against it" attitude.

    According to recent polls it's the Tea Party and the Republicans that have been downgraded.

  46. No, 2008 was a realigning election because of the strengthening youth vote. Obama took Iowa in the primaries because of the youth vote. Republicans gained back the House in 2010 because the youth didn't vote. The "Blue-Dog" collation got annihilated and replaced by the Tea Partiers. And since the debt-showdown and resulting fallout can be squarely placed on Tea Party House, the 2012 elections will be the prime moment for true liberal candidates to take back those seats.

    The kids in Europe are rioting due to austerity measures. It is also the new graduates that are getting hit the worst in this economy. Entry-level jobs are being taken by older workers or companies just aren't offering them at all. Combine that with burdensome student debts, and they'll be a powder keg of an election season coming up.

    From the perspective of this 20-something, we have to turn out again in 2012 or we will lose the most important thing to us: the future.

  47. It seems to me the United States needs visionary leadership capable of looking at the whole complex of problems the U.S. faces and offering a radical plan for meeting these problems and creating a renewed sense of hope in America. At one it appeared to many that President Obama was that leader. Now it appears he is incapable of being that leader. But who is there that the Republicans are offering in his stead? How is it possible that the great United States of America with three- hundred million citizens cannot produce one great leader when a colonial America of several thousands of citizens could produce Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison?

  48. V.O. Key's analysis indeed fit the pattern of American political history, and I'm pretty sure we will see another such alignment in the near or far future. American politics tends to be rather cyclic, as is that of other nations, and although history is not a predictor it certainly lets one understand change over time and the ever-shifting dynamics of such change. When thinking about today's political scene, I am drawn to a comparison of the Tea Party with the Know Nothings in the 1840s and 1850s and their paranoia over immigration. And, I cannot help but think over and over again of Richard Hofstadter's incisive book, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, for which the Tea Party is just the latest poster child.

  49. It's not that realignment elections haven't occurred in the past so much as they are rare. The last one was the 1980 election, which established reactionary conservatism as a major force in American politics. We may be due for one soon, but not quite yet.

  50. No point in invoking cycles of history when what is happening is historically unprecedented. What is really happening is political derangement, caused by the feckless behavior of one person, the president of the United States. Obama, justifiably, feels unloved. Anxious for relief, he tacks ever rightward, trying to please politicians on the right who are the principal sources of his malaise. They, in turn, recoil in horror at any prospect of appearing to occupy the same political space as the erstwhile object of their public scorn. So they stampede ever farther to the right, trying to stay ahead of Obama and keep some distance. That's not a political dynamic the nation has seen previously. It isn't working well for the country, nor for the President.

  51. More phony 50/50 analysis from the conservatives -- that the left and the right are equally to blame. The debt-ceiling debacle is only the most recent, albeit most glaring, illustration of the fallacy. The arguments are simply not equal.

  52. You say - "Meanwhile, America will still have a credit rating to fix, and a deficit to close."

    Neither of these are economic necessities.

    Republicans have seized on these issues and distorted their real importance to further their political agenda of smaller government.

    Republican politics are undermining American stability by aiding and abetting covert class warfare.

    Giving carte blanche to free markets and it's owners/operators will reduce everybody else to serfs.

  53. Elections in modern America are merely a shuffling of the deck. Both parties work for the same bosses: The rich and the powerful. Only a revolution could decisively change anything, and I'm not holding my breath waiting for that as the rulers of America have effectively kept us dazed and off balance. But tell me, how different have things been under Mr. Obama's regime than they were under Mr. G.W. Bush's? Wars interminably continuing, the rich continuing to get richer and rest of us more poor, immigrants continue to be the scapegoats for our problems, civil liberties suppressed, monies squandered on the military/industrial complex, Israel treated as a sacred cow, on and on it goes, the same old pro-oligarch policies. The rest is theater, and the two parties pretend to have differences to provide a good show that is intended only to keep us off balance.

  54. From this side of the ocean it is impossible to detect any ideological differences between American political parties. Both parties espouse pro Capitalist dogma. And assure all of their voters that the American future will be a continuous and glorius replay of the American past. Underpinning it all the belief that the history of the World was completed with the foundation of the USA. As a consequence there is no dectectable engagement with reality in any official political discourse.

  55. Douthat ends the editorial by stating we have a credit ratings to fix and deficits to reduce. Does the reduction of unemployment have any priority among conservatives when it comes to their position on the economy?

  56. THe 2008 election wasn't transformative, because the two parties are major corporations themselves, with little difference between them in their allegiance to corporate power, thus the exit of the league of women voters asking inconvenient questions at the presidential debates they used to host. Our government has been the victim of a huge power grab by big business. What we are seeing now is one of their orchestrated power grabs for more profit at the expense of the public.

  57. The degeneration of politics, like the degeneration of the environment, is caused first by a degeneration of the minds of those involved.

    Clear thinking produces clean politics and clean water.

    The dirty politics and polluted waters are caused by polluted thinking.

    Connect the dots.


  58. In any fair and reasonable system the U.S. would have been downgraded long ago; a return to reality is a good step and not a political victory for anyone, it's a victory for truth.

    Those of us who have long criticized the size of the national debt and the criminal way the money was wasted have been hoodwinked by cooked books for many decades. We don't want a revolution - the truth will do because it will force change.

    No matter which party is in power, the American people deserve to know the truth, not some propaganda presentation prepared in the back room by K Street lobbyists and advocacy groups.

  59. It's the math stupid. In 2008 the turnout was 132 million whereas in 2010 it was 80 million or around 40% less. If the turnout in 2012 is north of 125 million Obama wins. If it's around 132 million again Obama wins and the Democrats probably take back the house and hold onto the senate although not with a cloture proof majority. In 2004 Rove maximised the Republican vote (brilliantly btw) at 62 million. In 2008 the Republican vote was 60 million. So around 60 million is the maximum the Republicans can turn out and given changing demographics this is probably going to shrink over the next 20 years.

  60. The reason American policy-making has become “less stable, less effective, and less predictable” is because Congress is now dominated by the Tea Party, which would rather have pushed the U.S. government into default in order to accomplish its bizarre ideological goals. It's nothing more, nothing less, except add in a Democratic Party that will consistently betray its members. Remember, it was only just a few years ago that the Democratic Party had no problem giving into a Republican President's whims, whether it be ill-advised tax cuts for the wealthiest or invading a foreign nation.

  61. Actually, I think what we are seeing is the result of the two-party system. The political monopoly was set after John Anderson's 1980 run and Ross Perot's failed attempt to use his candidacy to block NAFTA. Corporate deregulation helped create a stranglehold on the political process and we are now almost completely powerless to obstruct monied interests.

    So, it is time for a new party but that won't happen anytime soon. We simply don't have an open process to allow it.

  62. I think two major changes are fueling the current conflict. One major change is the Supreme Court's repeated endowing of corporations with unmerited citizenship status and the undoing of every major attempt at campaign finance reform. The Court rulings that set off these changes have made US campaigns giant lies. The second thing is media. 'News' outlets like FOX and the proliferation of blogs spewing misinformation have lured in people who now vote against not only their economic interests but also their social values. Of course, there is a glimmer of hope, in the form of other blogs of electronic media outlets.

  63. I applaud Mr. Douthat's reasonable explanation of why the parties and the couintry would be better off if we didn't operate off of the belief we are going to make fundamental change in the next election. I worry however about believing that there is any simple explanation for why the phenomenon we are now seeing is happening. For example, the influence of technology is one of a number of major force fields we must understand, in its case pushing us to the extremes.

  64. If people do their homework, they should be able to see who's to blame for this fiscal mess we're in. The Republican party ran the country in the ditch, cutting taxes while starting 2 wrs and doubling defense spending and an unfunded medicare persription drug benefit. Obama has had to deal with cleaning up this excessive party for th wealthy. Now I haven't been a fan of the Dem's either, I became an independent when they voted to invade Iraq and their current lack of backbone has been less than inspiring. But, when it comes to who would represent the most of us, that is us earning under 250,000 a year, it is a no brainer. The Dems, even with all their wrts wins hands done as far as being the peoples' party. The Republicans however control most of the news media that the masses watch, and are quite adroit at exploiting us for their corporate bosses. Their has never been a better time for people to see the main values that distinguish both parties. I just hope the general public does their homework before 2012.

  65. President Obama's strategy throughout his administration (2009-2011) is one of conciliation, compromise and capitulation. Even his primary marker, The Health Care Law has been burdened by that strategy.

    When John Kerry decided not to fight the unfair, and scandalous attack of the Swift Boaters, his candidacy was doomed. He too expressed a characteristic of vacillation with his "I voted for it before I voted against it" comment on the Iraq war issue. If there is ever to be transformation in America's future it will come only from a leader, unafraid of taking on the opposition. In Obama's case he had a clear and identifiable opponent in both the Republican congress and the extreme right wing of the Tea Party. He maintained a curious detachment rather than a confrontation on issues he clearly had on his side. It was commented recently by one of our comedic pundits that "Hillary Clinton would have fought a better fight. It looks like we put our money on the wrong horse." I agree.

  66. Excellent. One of your best articles. The thought of not receiving SS checks, disability checks, veteran assistance, and a host of other assistance because Congress couldn't work it out has shaken the average American in their boots. As my not politically minded younger brother put it, "Can't they just get this done and then go back to their usual hardline positions?" The white noise of Washington gets harder and harder to ignore. Even the diehard Republican side of my family thinks the wealthy should pay more taxes, the wars should end, and that old people like themselves should be taken care of through Medicare and Medicaid until they die. In fact, without those safety nets they would be dead.

  67. I'm with Sweet on this one. The Teapublicans can scream and yell all they want. We have seen the enemy and it is them. I'll be shocked if many of these selfish, thoughtless Koch puppets get re-elected. And we need more women in Congress and the Senate to balance the status quo of do-nothing men. So may I suggest a donation to Emily's List, which helps fund women running for office?

  68. The uncertainty the markets hate so much reflects these ascendent fantasies. If the Tea Partiers in fact were successful in gutting the social safety nets, or in allowing default, could the rest of the world ever depend on the the US ever again?

  69. President Obama had huge leads in both the House and Senate. The country gave him a mandate, they were ready for a real Democrat, not some triangulating imitation. But he squandered that mandate by wringing his hands and being timid. He should have kicked the Republicans down the stairs like unwanted stepchildren but instead tried to reason with them. He let them get up. Likewise, he could have threatened to do the same to the Blue Dogs to whip them into shape and fall in line, but no. He just stood there saying in a very oh-so-reasonable-voice, can't we all just get along?

    But of course he's not a leader. He doesn't know how to seize the moment and bend history to his will. He's a college professor. He thinks that if can just get the Republicans to study their class notes, they'll fall in line. But of course their real agenda is to storm the administrative office, take over the campus and burn the place down.

    Professor Obama looks utterly confused about what to do.

    We need a tag team of FDR and LBJ New Dealers to ride to the rescue. Howard Dean where are you?

  70. The bond downgrade is not the fault of the White House - except when you factor in the lack of political will that made the theater possible and couple that with the lack of basic identification of the Congress with the citizen. It's bond-holder-time today just as it was Goldman time with to-big-to-fail. It's OK for the citizen to fail, to lose and be destitute so long as there's gas in the private jet and a million dollar for marquee talent at the festivities.

  71. The two party system is completely broken and dysfunctional. The next election will toss out most incumbents as very few politicians are worthy of representing the voters. The political environment is more about winning then governing. 'Victory' for a party is a loss for the voters.

  72. Wow! I agree with you! Thank you for this essay.

  73. We must work together for the good of everyone. Is that going to be possible?

  74. Mitt Romney will edge out Obama in 2012. He will spend the next four years discovering that America is a giant steamship that can't help but clip every iceberg in sight.

    The Tea Party will continue to enjoy uncritical media coverage, and will divide Romney's party to the point where poor Mitt will have two parties in opposition, both his own and the Democrats.

    In 2016, the Democrats will have a chance to nominate someone who not only can articulate a dream, but has a core set of values to match. They have a chance to elect someone who will define the diminishing status of the nation due to the divide between the have-nots and the haves-so-much-it's-never-enough crowd.

    One who can delineate that a national health program allows job creators to get back to doing just that, along with innovation, because they are no longer in the healthcare business.

    Once small and large business is freed from the healthcare business, and therefore free of insurance companies, healthcare costs will drop and employment will rise.

    Such a Democrat should have a good chance of winning in 2016, because people will be just as worn out with Mitt as they are exasperated with Barack now. With the GOP running things, the give-em-enough-rope law will kick in, and the pendulum will swing back the other way.

    With any luck, there will be a Democrat standing ready whose core beliefs will not be a mystery, as are Obama's. One who will put in his/her White House people like Paul Krugman and Elizabeth Warren, not Tim Geithner and Ed Meese-wannabes like Eric Holder.

  75. Yes, but....

    Are you seriously suggesting that Obama has been unwilling to compromise? Can you possibly be saying that?

  76. Wait a minute! Obama's liberalism? What liberalism? Our President is a closet Republican who stole himself into the Democratic primaries because it was easier to sell his grandiose ideas to those folks starved for care-for-the-people after eight years of right-wing war games without any consideration for the average American. No, the only thing that separates Obama from the 2012 crowd of Republican hopefuls is his brains (of which the other 12 have little), not the goals toward which his brains have been used since he moved to the White House.

  77. I am, and I am willing to be, much less sophisticated on this than others posting comments. I'm 63, left of center politically, but consider your conclusion to be exactly correct. Thanks for expressing what I suspect so many of us, either side of center, fervently believe.

  78. "Tea Party conservatism." Can we please retire this phrase? The radical and uncompromising character of the Tea Party, as represented in the Congress, violates the basic premise of conservatism. This is not a movement that seeks to maintain institutions or enact gradual change.

  79. A permanent Republican majority would be the child of huge lies repeated until they sound like truth, false patriotism drummed up out of thin air, and the cynically manipulated faith of the gullible. The very thing that is causing us to lose our footing as a nation is the shamefully egoistic employment of such dark, selfish tools.

  80. It's not like the Democrats are angels. They too have blind spots, donors to please, and reelections to win. But right now it just doesn't make sense to blame both sides. It's like one child hitting the other in the face for nothing, and the mother spinning around and warning "now behave, both of you".
    There is a big difference between the mother and the pundits though. The pundits saw who hit whom. Imagine a mother acting like that.

  81. I hope you're right, Jeffrey, but ignorance is a mighty force, and I have seen the people of this country vote for inept candidates before. The tea party is just one more example of voter stupidity. However, these people are not just opponents of the other party, but enemies of the Government itself. That's stuff that civil wars are made of!

  82. It should be obvious to anyone who paid attention that the whole purpose of the debate over the budget was to make Obama look bad and to blame him for the credit downgrade. Nonsense. When one party refuses to negotiate, why isn't it their fault? It is and the next election will settle it. How can anyone with a grain of intelligence believe that putting a GOP in office will cure anything? Look at the possible nominees? Huh? look at their platform. Huh? All they seem to want is to destroy the federal government and send this country to the Third World stage. Why? They want to protect a small group of people who are pulling the strings. If I am not correct someone please explain.

  83. Fascinating. Cheney's statement about the result of the 2002 midterms, which resulted in a disastrously deficit-creating policy that is in direct rebuke to everything the Republican party currently claims to stand for (the rest of the quote, which is from former treasury secretary Paul O'Neill's book: "Reagan proved that deficits don't matter.") is contrasted with a couple of off-the-cuff lines from Obama taken out of context of any policy remotely as hypocritical or extreme, especially given, as many commenters have pointed out, that Obama's policies generally speaking are not liberal at all. The Health Care Bill, after all, was rehashed from Romney.

  84. "To govern as though that final victory might never quite arrive" is indeed excellent reasoning ... but apparently downright terrible politics! We voters succumb to the seductive false claim, & remain unengaged by more sober analysis. I wish logic might, magically, sway large numbers of voters -- yet we both know it never has. Thanks sincerely for trying, however: it makes for a good morning's read.

  85. There is a guy in California that seems to have the right idea. If you don't want to pay taxes to enjoy a beautiful country, the country will become a not so beautiful place. If you don't pay to fix the roadway it will be un-drivable. Sometimes simple is a good start. A landslide for either party is hard to reach when both seem inadequate.

  86. *I* am a liberal, Obama is certainly not. But he's far far better than any alternative the rebublicans will foist upon their side.

    They are electing traitors to the constitution, to the very citizens that are duped into voting for them. It's like chickens voting for Col. Sanders.

    I learned long ago that when the bills are due, you pay them. Cutting spending is only half of it; you have to eat, pay the rent and the light bill. If you still can't pay them all, you must increase revenues.

    The republicans are willing, nay eager, to let us starve.

  87. Obama is not a leader. The healthcare bill will be sacrifaced with the Cola as compromises. The pendulum continues to move toward Aristocracy. Privileged 2% believe they deserve their wealth and their evasion of responsibility toward the civilization possible.

  88. "The losers, meanwhile, wax intransigent, while hoping for a realignment of their own. After all, why cut a deal today if tomorrow you might overthrow your rivals permanently?"

    Yes, that is precisely how they are thinking and exactly why they are not instead thinking about the welfare of the nation as a whole. Their self-centered concerns of elections and power is a systemic toxin we may not survive.

  89. GOP realignment is not the goal. That's icing on the cake, if voters go against their interests. The real goal is the elimination of taxes, all taxes, on the wealthy. Throw in the destruction of Social Security and Medicare and you have Republican utopia.

    If you share this dream, vote GOP; If not, vote as if your life and your children's lives matter. Now we are really talking realignment!

  90. "Obama Downgrade". Nice try.

    The reason the downgrade occurred was not because of the deal that finally happened. It was because Congressional Republicans made the debt ceiling negotiable at all.

    We didn't default this time, but who's to say it won't happen next time? Or the time after that?

    Once the debt ceiling was on the table, the credit rating was bound to fall.

  91. "Free market Republicans," is a shibboleth of the right full of sound and guile, and signifying what has happened to our economy. It suggests something pure, open, but leaves out that money buys politicians, that greed is as powerful as lust in human motivation, and that Republicans have social and religious agendas that disregard the quality of life of our citizens and our freedom of thought.

  92. Demographics are against the Republicans. Plantation owners, large farm owners and businessmen's centuries' long thirst for cheap labor have ensured a latter 21st century Progessive future.

  93. No, Mr. Douthat, it matters which party will provide the next president. Presidents choose the judges to fill vacancies on the Supreme Court. The catastrophic choices of our former president has done unbelievable harm to the country through their Citizens United judgement.

  94. Almost no one will give up their ideology to keep the country solvent if they think there is a political advantage or the possibility of a permanent shift in their favor, by letting the country default or go bankrupt.

  95. The reason we said no to Bush's attempt to 'fix' Social Security is because Social Security 1) doesn't need fixing, and 2) Bush and his party really want to eliminate it.

  96. funny, this writer pretends that his views might actually work, but that, since that cannot prevail, folks who think like him must govern more moderately.

    but hey, democrats have long accepted that their more extreme positions cannot prevail. thus Jimmy Carter championed deregulation, Clinton championed welfare reform and a balanced budget, and Obama moderated (watered down) both stimulus and health care reform in order to take the center.

    so this article need not be published in the Times. how about an open letter to John Boehner, Eric Cantor et al. they are the ones who need to moderate their views.

  97. A. Who would want to be President anymore? It's a contest these days of who can embarass the President (Barack Obama) the most and how can we really drive the knife through the heart with the biggest thrust?
    B. When are the "sides" going to really get serious and start deciding what to do about the wars instead of what to do about Wall Street, corporate taxes, and Tea Party rhetoric. Is it going to take another loss of 30 Navy Seals (or other militia)? We're talking about real lives here, people.

  98. So to cut through all of the dissembling and false equivocation, what you are actually saying is that the children in the House need to grow up and accept that we need to raise more revenues?

  99. This Obama Downgrade (whose watch is it?) is the direct result of the NEW Democratic party that is, today, far-Left-Liberal-Progressive and shamefully neo-Marxist. The political direction of this Republic has been trending Left since FDR; we are moving ever closer as time passes to Marx's Socialism. Democrats post-Kennedy have each successfully shifted us towards this goal and towards the spending crisis spawned by it; they've pushed by fiat this nation to unsustainable spending levels. To blame the messengers - S&P for noticing, and the virtual TEA Party for their desire to stop it - is flawed and shallow thinking. This national argument IS about IDEOLOGY, and the Left's ideology is NOT sustainable.

    The deal as delivered last week by our political class was a joke, with only meaningless, superficial cuts that did not address the massive debt or the unsustainable levels of spending. We are spending our children into financial oblivion; and before you cry for a more 'balanced approach', there's not enough possible tax revenue out there (even if you take everything away from the targets of the Democrat's demonization program, the 'evil rich') to cover the massiveness of the debt and fund the Left's desires to spend more on social programs.

    The next 'sea change' in American politics? Let's hope it's not another one trending towards the Left; if the Presidency changes party in 2012, not one with a RINO like Romney in place who offers only 'losing more slowly'; our Republic can't survive drifting further towards an impossible Leftist dream-state of absolute nanny Statism. Rather, let's try to do whatever it takes to retain our freedoms, before everything collapses for good.

  100. We have spent the Social Security and Medicare funds on other programs and now people are going to need those funds to retire on. 14% is a lot of money to take out of the checks of people who do not make much to start with. Many think that they should not have to have their taxes raised due to the mismanagement of goverment finances by Liberals such as Congressman Berney Frank who put his lover in charge of FREDIEMAC. That being said Social Security and Medicare need funding so lifitng the cap on payroll taxes, ending the Bush tax cuts and abloishing non-profit status for all private organizations are ways to get the funds needed to pay for current programs.

  101. I read Douthat's piece & then Krugman's. Douthat writes about politics as if policy is a tennis match, played on grass, removed from reality. He follows swings irrelevant to American's--cut, cap & balance--it's just more snake oil. Only ideologues keep score, as average Americans continue to lose no matter how the tournament goes. In contrast, Krugman’s piece is a dissection of the downgrade of the U.S. credit rating. Douthat rehashes cultural wars, but an analysis of the farce behind Standard & Poor’s actions is illuminating. Most troubling is that many listen to the Ross Douthat's– while I seriously doubt anyone listens to the Paul Krugman’s. My specialty is far removed from economics, still, the arguments Krugman makes demand common sense alone. While Douthat seeks to score largely meaningless points on swings in electoral majorities, most American’s are frantic about the complicity between the scandalously wealthy, big business, financial institutions, influential factions of the press, rating agencies, & organizations with wonderful monikers, like the National Taxpayers Union, which manufacture fake financial numbers to justify draconian fiscal policies. As I said, people listen to the Douthat's, but I doubt if anyone listens to the Krugman's. More concisely put; I doubt anyone who has a substantial impact on financial policy is listening to the arguments since the policies Krugman consistently advances, while of benefit to the country & the populace as a whole, would cause slight discomfort to their wealthiest patrons. We can already see the result of Standard & Poor's actions in today's headlines: "Downgrade Is Likely to Add Urgency to Debt-Cutting Panel." Here's a justification for more debt cutting Douthat can applaud. Krugman spoke of Chutzpah because no word in English can describe outrageous conduct as this Yiddish word does. An appropriate Yiddish aphorism also applies: If a poor man is perfectly healthy, but three wealthy men say he is dead, he's dead.

  102. Free market capitalism has led to this free market greed. That's why we need regulation.
    But forget all that, what are we going to do? Forget who's to blame (all of us).
    Get on with the solution.

    The Simpson-Bowles commission proposal, completed a few months ago, is a great solution. It's a great blueprint. It's hard, it's tough, it's honest and it's fair. There's plenty to hate in it and plenty to like. It was written by men with a long range perspective and that's what we need. They saw the need for a radical
    solution long before the S&P downgrade.

    I can't imagine that the so-called Super Committee will be formed in the next year at the rate Congress is
    operating. One congressman has said that anyone who would willingly be on the committee is "weird".
    Charles Krauthammer had a recent article in which he outlined a 3 month plan in 3 stages, using Simpson-Bowles as a guide.

    We need this problem to be solved immediately with clean, effective surgery. I endorse the Simpson-Bowles plan and I applaud Mr. Krauhammer's plan for implementing it. I sincerely hope the general population wakes up --and very soon.

  103. As long as the politicians put their partisan loyalty above the US interests, there is no chance for the change of course and national revival.

  104. The difference that Mr. Douthat misses is that when Cheney spoke of victory, he had an opposition party that was patriotic and loved America more than it hated George W. Bush. By contrast, the GOP hates Obama more than it loves this country, and has descended to terrorism, hoping to inflict damage on our beloved country. Mr. Douthat may not see that, given his Republicanism, but the few thinking Republicans left should see it.

  105. Striving to be even-handed just isn't going to work here... Both sides are not equally at fault. We have the most compromising and accommodationist President in a generation... one who so obsequiously craves a "Grand Bargain" that it's embarassing to those who voted for him...

    There is only one side that is playing chicken with the country's future...

    And to correct your gross historical distortion... in 2005, it wasn't intransigent Democrats that killed GWB's Social Security Reform... (He had majorities in both houses)... It failed because Junior couldn't even get Republicans to back it... His arithmetic was even worse than S & P's... Far from being a fiscal "fix," his vague proposal would have absolutely exploded Social Security's fiscal position in the short-term in order to deficit-finance the purely ideological goal of creating private accounts.

    Please, Ross... go do your homework before spouting off with such egregious nonsense.

  106. I hope Mitch McConnell and Eric Cantor read this column. Their singular focus on defeating Obama and depriving him of any legislative accomplishments, whether or not they support the policies and whether or not their constituents would benefit from such policies, betrays their offices and their responsiblities to the American public. Stop the constant campaigning.

  107. "Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely" Lord Acton . The next election will be a "why bother election". Just let the military Industrial/ Wall Street complex pick there puppets, and the American peasants can spent that day working their 2nd or 3rd job and avoid the charade. Will the last person to leave please turn out the lights.

  108. Mr. Douthat says "neither party needs to give up its deep convictions." I think that, given the empiric evidence, quite a number of the Republican Party's deep convictions are ready for the trash heap.

  109. In theory, Ross, landslides sound great!!! The winners arrogantly flex their muscles and rub in their victory to the losing side who now licks its wounds, sulks for a while, and then tries to regroup to sabotage the winners' gains.

    Sadly once the euphoria wanes, the winners now actually have to govern!!! That's where the trouble always starts--the winners have to deliver on their promises to lower taxes, chop up the Social Safety net and destroy those nasty entitlements once and for all. The job winds up being much tougher than it looks!!!

    So Ross, you might want to rethink that decisive landslide a bit. The presidential election is still a year and a half and you still don't have a clue which Republican gladiator is going to face Obama next year. Put the champange back in the refrigerator.

  110. deep convictions are not the same as uncritically received ideology...
    the first is the foundation of the kind of exchange you advocate, the second makes that exchange impossible.

  111. It is pretty clear to me that for the G.O.P., that loyalty to party ideology comes before loyalty country. They are traitors. May the Republicans march along with the Tea Party into the history books to take their rightful places alongside the Whigs and the Know Nothings.

  112. Liberalism? oh this is supposed to be amusing and not serious.

    True liberalism is a thing of the past, as is any kind of fairness and justice and even freedom of speech.

    The more one reads, the more one realizes how even those who know what is going on are powerless to rein in the chicanery which seems pervasive.

  113. Maybe it is the 24/7 cable news, but you get the distinct feeling our Lawmakers are not up to the complexities they face. Our Commander in chief simply did not have the credentials to take his post. He may learn as he goes but a depression is a tough one. Roosevelt had WW 2 to pull us out.

  114. Well thought out, an affirmation of the democratic process and should be an awakening for all sides to remember the well being of the nation.

  115. The tenor of these comments doesn't give one much hope.

  116. We may not get everything we want, but an important starting point is throwing the Lefts' messiah off his pedestal.

  117. And the Republican solution to stalemate and a divided populace has been to try to disenfranchise those who might vote against them.

  118. In la-la land as usual, Ross. Whats-his-name Ryan is damaged goods. Indeed, all Republican prez contenders are. Dems are gonna sweep in 2012 and it's going to be hilarious to watch the right scream about it. Having said that: why can't we all just get along?

  119. Nice analysis Russ. Two observations -- 1) the challenges and tactics used in the last year would certainly paralyze the Romney administration (hypothetically speaking). Is intransigence simply a Republican idea? Won't the Democrats in the house block bills, make demands, and hold hostages? Won't the Senate filibuster rules be in play? Won't individual Democratic senators place holds on key nominees? 2) More importantly, the factionalism you describe means that my congressman acts as if he represents ONLY THE MAJORITY WHO ELECTED HIM. In other words, since I didn't vote for him, I have NO REPRESENTATION.

    We tried term limits in the past and it proved to have all kinds of unintended consequences. I think the opposite could be effective -- six year terms for congressmen and 10 for senators. Make them govern responsibly by moving them out of continual campaign mode.

  120. Unbelieveable.....just watching Faux News...S & P has been going around on the cable shows this morning defending the downgrade...yes, they do not have a great deal of credibility at the moment but Faux News tried to get S & P tried to say that the deficit still does not matter so much...they got the Donald on to support this claptrap...as a country we have to come to grips with the idea that things will not be what they were after WWII...I know the public wants it that way but every one is afraid to say it...

  121. I agree with post #15 by Jeff Street....you are going to see the same kind of angry backlash against destructive tea party extremism on the national level that you are witnessing NOW in the recall elections in Wisconsin.....such a shame that Florida doesn't have any recall provisions! Scott would be out on his ear!

  122. I wonder what this nation would look like if John McCain had won the Presidential election? If you think all the nonsense in Washington is bad right now, give that a thought........bye bye 401K

  123. The right wingers are driving the nail in the coffin!! Bv Durham,NC

  124. All this looked good until you mention "Obama's liberalism". Are you serious about that or are you playing the game your are condemning?