Free Markets, Free People

Nate Silver, FDR and Obama

Nate Silver, a guy I respect and enjoy reading, dances around the point of a Weekly Standard comparison of FDR and Obama.

The WS points out:

If Franklin Delano Roosevelt were president today […] liberal health care reform would have been enacted already. […]

Silver, a man of numbers (he was tweeting Olympic goalie shot blocking stats during the US/Canada gold medal hockey game for heaven sake), goes to them and wonders why FDR’s (and LBJ as a comparison) congressional majorities weren’t mentioned by the Standard.

Silver goes on to talk about the huge size of the majorities FDR enjoyed, the implication being that they made a significant difference.

But that wasn’t the Standard’s point as seen in these paragraphs that Silver also quotes:

The reason is tied to what is probably the greatest difference between FDR and Obama. Roosevelt took command of Washington. Obama hasn’t. “FDR became the father of the modern presidency by moving the Chief Executive to the center of the American political universe,” John Yoo writes in his new book on presidential power, Crisis and Command. “Roosevelt’s revolution radically shifted the balance of power among the three branches of government.” […]

FDR seized legislative authority. The bills that Congress passed in his first 100 days and beyond were produced by the Roosevelt administration and ratified reflexively by Congress.

Those three highlighted quotes are the reason for Obama’s problem – quite simply a lack of leadership. Where FDR was proactive, wrote the legislation and then twisted arms to get it passed in a majority Democratic congress, Obama has done none of that.  He outsourced it. He instead left it up to Congress to write the legislation (with predictable results) and squandered a majority by passing nothing of his big ticket agenda. He’s now reduced to parliamentary tricks to try to pass health care reform legislation.

Whether or not Obama’s majorities are as big as those of FDR or LBJ enjoyed isn’t the point – the point is he had majorities and he squandered them by sitting back, leaving it all to Congress and letting party infighting slow and then stall his agenda. Had he, as the Standard notes about FDR, taken “command of Washington” and the legislative process the outcome might have been very different.  Had he introduced legislation written by the administration, he had a very good chance of having health care done by last year.

He didn’t. So the point isn’t about the size of majorities. It isn’t clear Obama would have been in any better shape had he had FDR’s majorities. The point is Obama is no FDR because he lacks the leadership qualities, skills and abilities of FDR, not because he had a smaller majority in Congress.



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6 Responses to Nate Silver, FDR and Obama

  • He never thought past expecting to see bills show up on his desk, passed by a Democratic Congress and he was,  once again, fully prepared to do what all his lifetime of experience has led him to do – vote “Present”.

  • Leaving aside Obama’s leadership style, let’s not forget that FDR was elected after the economy had contracted by about 30%. If there was ever a President elected to “do something” it was FDR. Right or not, he promised bold and continuous experimentation to get things moving again.
    Having read Amity Schlae’s book, I’m persuaded FDR was only marginally successful. Compare and contrast with the current President whose idea of setting the economy right was passing a stimulus and then that solution implemented, it was on to health care. FDR was a twice elected governor of NY, then arguably the largest and most important state in the union. He was an effective executive.

  • At least on these issues we can be thankful that Obama has fumbled away his opportunity so ineptly.  Unfortunately in the meantime he has apparently neglected foreign affairs, as he refuses to side with the UK over the Falklands, supported a would-be dictator in Honduras over a constitutional government, “reset” relations with Russia in a manner insulting to the Russians and harmful to US interests, vacillates on support for Israel, refuses to tackle the Iranian nuclear issue, decides on unilateral partial nuclear disarmament, angers China, alienates France’s Sarkozy, and nonetheless claims credit for upgrading our image in the world.  Foreign powers have taken the measure of the  narcissistic clown that the US elected as President and the inept, inexperienced administration and advisors he surrounds himself with, and they see no need to respect him, let alone fear him.   Meanwhile Obama focuses on a grand domestic agenda that he doesn’t know how to get passed in Congress, that the public is not interested in, and that the country cannot afford. 

  • I have to disagree a bit with Nate.  The majorities that FDR enjoyed are a bit misleading.  There was nothing like the degree of unanimity in the Democratic party that you see today.  The Southern Democrats were opposed to almost everything, and those who were on board with the fiscal progressives were likely to be followers of Huey Long rather than FDR
    The key factor was indeed leadership. Even though FDR didn’t have the slightest clue of what he was doing (his own cabinate admitted as much) He still convinnced others that he did know what he was doing and that they should support him.

  • dohBama didn’t leave the writing of the bills to the Congress, but rather to the progressive, Marxist, puppetmasters pulling his strings.  The Dimocrat senators and reps aren’t smart enough, collectively, to have put together >2000 pages of power-grubbing legislation.