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.
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.