Pyrrhic Victories Count Too

January 13th, 2010at 11:41am Posted by Eli

On the surface, this sounds like a ringing endorsement of Obama’s unprecedented success:

Obama has been no different from his predecessors in that he’s always ready to send a firm message to the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue as he “urges members of Congress” to come together and act. All presidents demand specific action by Congress — or at least they ask for it. But when you look at the votes of 2009 in which Obama made his preference clear, his success rate was unprecedented, according to John Cranford of Congressional Quarterly.

“His success was 96.7 percent on all the votes where we said he had a clear position in both the House and the Senate. That’s an extraordinary number,” Cranford says.

The previous high scores were held by Lyndon Johnson in 1965, with 93 percent, and Dwight Eisenhower, who scored 89 percent in 1953. Cranford notes that George W. Bush’s score hit the high 80s in 2001, the year of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. But Obama surpassed them all, Cranford says.

Wow!  Obama is totally Made Of Win, right?  Well, sort of…

A major reason for Obama’s record high score this year: Democrats took away a significant number of seats from Republicans in the 2006 and 2008 elections, resulting in big majorities in the House and Senate for the president’s party.

But Sarah Binder, a congressional analyst at the Brookings Institution, says there’s another key reason he scored so well. She says he only took an official position on issues that were really important to him — those that he knew he had a very good chance of winning. He picked his battles carefully.


But another contributing factor here may prove more controversial for the president and his party. That’s his willingness to negotiate and to compromise. For example, as much as the president said he wanted a public option as part of a health care bill, the final legislation won’t have one. But that’s not counted as a loss for the president under the scoring of this survey.

What the story doesn’t mention is that if Obama doesn’t have the votes, there is no vote.  Neither he nor Reid are willing to force the issue and put Republicans and conservative Democrats’ votes on the record, and neither of them are willing to fight, cajole, or twist arms.  Instead, when Lieberman or Nelson (or Collins or Snowe) start blustering that they’ll vote against cloture, they immediately look to appease them by watering the bill down until it’s no longer beneficial.  But never does Obama publicly pressure them, nor does Reid threaten them with loss of committee seats or lack of support for re-election.

So when the study says that Obama was victorious 96.7% of the time, it really means that he agreed with Nelson and Lieberman (and possibly Snowe and Collins) 96.7% of the time.  He’s like a prosecutor who only takes cases where he has a signed confession, or else lets the defendant plead down from double murder to jaywalking.  Sure, he has a great conviction rate, but can he really be considered effective or successful?

As I’ve said before, I would much rather see Obama on the right side of a losing battle every so often, than on the wrong side of a winning one (or conceding defeat without one) over and over again.

Entry Filed under: Democrats,Lieberman,Obama,Politics

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