Social Question

phoenyx's avatar

Why do the Democrats seem so ineffective?

Asked by phoenyx (7388points) February 24th, 2010

They control congress and the white house. Yet, they can’t seem to get much accomplished or follow through on their promises.

I just finished reading this article that argues that the Democrats are giving lip service to things they secretly don’t want to pass:

“This is what the Democratic Party does; it’s who they are. They’re willing to feign support for anything their voters want just as long as there’s no chance that they can pass it.”

“The primary tactic in this game is Villain Rotation. They always have a handful of Democratic Senators announce that they will be the ones to deviate this time from the ostensible party position and impede success, but the designated Villain constantly shifts, so the Party itself can claim it supports these measures while an always-changing handful of their members invariably prevent it.”

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41 Answers

CMaz's avatar

A Democrat would not think so.

stump's avatar

I think it is because the democratic party is more inclusive of disparate philosophies. For all the repubican rhetoric about being mavericks, the republicans seem to have a much more cohesive political machine, and have an inherent respect of central authority. Whereas the democratic party is full of small groups with their own agendas. Being a democrat, I usually think it is because democrats vote their conscience and republicans vote their party line. But when I am honest with myself, I have to admit it is not that simple.

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

Republicans have acted the same way. The hardliners are now busy shoving moderates and progressives out the door. There is no longer room in the tent for people like Lowell Weicker, Warren Rudman, Arlen Specter, Teddy Roosevelt, or me.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

@stranger_in_a_strange_land wrote some of my answer for me.

Recall the Republicans’ “Contract With America” in the 90s. What an utter sham. A hollow mockery of most (valid) Republican principles. (The Democratic party also has some respectable principles—but a lot more axes to be ground, same as the Republicans.)

My point is—my point always is—that politicians lie. That’s a fact; it’s what they do and it’s how they get elected. That’s not so much the problem. The problem is that we give them too goddamn much power because our government is just too big and does (or “attempts to do”) too much. If we had a vastly smaller government and relied more on private firms to do things that government now does, at least we would have the option to “not support this”.

But y’all seem to like more and more government, so I’m just pissing into the wind again.

BoBo1946's avatar

Think the Democrats and Republicans have failed, but having said that, the Repubicans have shown a lot of hypocrisy toward President Obama. My question has always been; where were the Repubicans and “teabaggers” when George W Bush was spending more money than all the other Presidents combined? President Obama inherited a huge mess, but the Republicans blamed him before my President took his oath of office.

Also, President Bush had a Repubicans House and Senate his first 6 years. They certainly played a huge part in the mess. But, to hear them tell it, it is ALL President Obama’s fault.

President Obama followed what GWB did, bailing out the banks, to avoid a depression, but, for some reason, the Repubicans called him a socialist. Why was President Obama a socialist and President Bush was not?

Presonally, see the only agenda of our present Republicans, is to make sure that President Obama fails.

Qingu's avatar

Liberal ideology, by its nature, places much less emphasis on obeying authority than conservative ideology does.

Getting conservatives to act in lock-step is as easy as telling dogs to heel. Getting liberals to do it is like herding cats.

Also because the Democratic caucus contains a large number of “moderates” who are either just power-hungry, bought by various interest groups, stupid, cowardly, or all of the above.

Dr_Dredd's avatar

“The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”—William Butler Yeats

You could probably say that about both parties these days.

Bluefreedom's avatar

Most likely because they’re trying so hard to be like the Republicans.

Politics and politicians suck.

jerv's avatar

Because, unlike the GOP, they haven’t yet yet kicked out all of the sane, rational, moderate people, thus there is still a lot of infighting and a lack of party unity.

The GOP has been effectively hijacked by a united bunch of extremists, and unfortunately that leaves the intelligent Conservatives effectively homeless.

Think of it this way; would you rather vote for someone whose policies you disagree with, or would you rather vote for one that believes everything you believe but is more concerned with vanquishing their foes than in doing what is actually best for the country, or even supporting those beliefs?

Cruiser's avatar

That article though does raise a very good question about Democratic motives here…Now that Obama is going to shove his health care package through Reconciliation where they will only need 50 votes to get it passed….why now does his new revised health care “package” still not have his much ballyhooed Public Option included???? They only need 50 votes now it should be a slam dunk??? What’s up with that???

Qingu's avatar

@Cruiser, what were your thoughts on Bush’s tax cuts?

Cruiser's avatar

@Qingu Anyone in particular? In general I support tax cuts as I believe that creates more disposable income for people and businesses both of which will spend it generating more sales tax for cash starved cities all of which will create more jobs across the board.

Qingu's avatar

I am referring of course to the tax cuts Bush and the Republican Congress passed through reconciliation.

Some would say “shoved through” Reconciliation.

Captain_Fantasy's avatar

It’s hard to undo in one year, the damage that has been done in the previous eight.
It’s a process. I think the Obama administration could be doing some things better but he also has the problem of partisan politics hampering all their efforts.
When senators and representatives vote you down for no other reason than your party affiliation, it’s hard to get anything done.

Cruiser's avatar

@Qingu Again there were a lot but the ones he did in 2003 were pretty amazing. Taxes paid by millionaire households more than doubled to $274 billion in 2006 from $136 billion in 2003. No President has ever plied more money from the rich than George W. Bush did with his 2003 tax cuts. These tax payments from the rich explain the very rapid reduction in the budget deficit to 1.9% of GDP in 2006 from 3.5% in 2003. Plus the ranks of U.S. millionaires nearly doubled to 354,000 from 181,000 in a mere three years after the tax cuts.

Qingu's avatar

@Cruiser, copy, meet paste. And, irrelevant to the discussion.

Perhaps you can tell me (in your own words, ideally) why you think passing tax cuts through reconciliation is “pretty amazing” but passing health care through reconciliation would be “shoving it through.”

CaptainHarley's avatar

Don’t just cap on the Dems! The Republicans are just as bad in their own way.

Qingu's avatar

The Republicans are extremely effective.

Unfortunately, their social, economic, and foreign policies tend to be insane.

filmfann's avatar

Republicans are all of one mind set, except those who disagree on a couple issues, who are labeled Mavericks.
Democrats come in many flavors, so they aren’t as united as the Right.

jerv's avatar

@CaptainHarley In their own way, yes. However, Republicans are better at demonizing those that don’t follow the party agenda; people like Powell, McCain, and our newest Congressman, Scott Brown. The Dems allow a person to wander almost wherever they want without being tossed out of the party, but the GOP offers no such tolerance.

Cruiser's avatar

@Qingu I think the “intent” of each piece of legislation and results speak for themselves. Bush et al. believed in their need for tax cuts enough to push/shove however you need to characterize it, and the net results were fabulous/amazing/super good. Obama tried and failed to push through his health care package which included the monster campaign promise of a public option. So as any sitting President would be expected to do to further his personal crusade, he pushes for reconciliation…but oh oh!!! Surprise!! There is no public option in this latest version!!! Now why would that be??? Tell me please what was all the fuss about??? Why go through all this trouble?? Is this really all Obama and the Democrats can come up with??? Hence my interest in this question.

Qingu's avatar

@Cruiser, what are your thoughts on the deficit?

CaptainHarley's avatar


It’s called “Foor-In-the-Door Politics.” Get the government more involved in health care, then later introduce a government option ( which is a more honest name than “public options.” )

josie's avatar

The governement was designed, through proverbial checks and balances, to make it difficult to press a particular agenda quickly or easily. Couple that with the fact that nearly all politicians, regardless of party, are dishonest about their true intentions as office holders, and you have the government working pretty much as planned by the Framers of the Constitution.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

‘Zackly, @josie. The only thing that scares me is the growing majority of voters who seem to want something from the government and/or want the government to “do something” (never mind whether it’s intelligent, effective, sensible, efficient, or worth doing more than once) ... and therefore keep demanding “more government” ... usually in a futile attempt to correct problems introduced by earlier government. I wonder if voters will ever learn how stupid this process is in time to reverse it sensibly and slowly.

Qingu's avatar

@CyanoticWasp, I think market fundamentalist anarchists like yourself are a lot scarier than people who expect the leaders they elect to solve problems.

Government “for the people, by the people” does not mean “no government.” If you dislike government so much, perhaps you should move to a country without one.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

@Qingu do you have any sense of proportion… at all? I didn’t say… have never said (even when drunk and raving, not that I do either of those things with any regularity) that we should have “no government”. Where do you take that from anything that I’ve said here? I think we have far too much government, that it is far too intrusive, that it makes far too many stupid rules that benefit far too few of the people paying for the enforcement of those rules. But I’ve never said that we should have “no government”.

You keep on setting up those straw men, and I’ll keep knocking them down and burning them.

Qingu's avatar

@CyanoticWasp, where and why do you draw the line at “far too much government?”

Do you think the government should provide police, fire, and military forces?

Do you think the government should fund and regulate infrastructure like highways and the Internet?

Do you think the government should regulate food safety standards? Car safety standards?

Do you think the government should regulate financial practices?

Do you think the government should regulate health insurance practices?

Please explain where you draw the line and why.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

@Qingu perhaps before I agree to climb into the box you’re constructing with your questions you would also agree to climb into mine. That’s fair, isn’t it?

Do you think that Prohibition is and always has been a good idea and that “we just need better enforcement of anti-drug laws” to become a drug-free society? Do you support all police functions? All military functions?

Do you think that the government’s regulation of car safety standards has made automobiles safer? Food? Do you agree that mandatory seat belt laws are a good idea, as well as sporadically enforced speed limits? Should we also regulate what foods people are also allowed to consume (per the first question on my list)?

Has government management of the Federal Reserve and what you (un-ironically?) refer to as regulation of financial practices been a winner? (And before you answer “yes”, please consider the answer to: “Why does a loaf of bread that used to cost a nickel now cost 50 to 100 times more than that—or more? Is the bread so much better, or the money so much worse?”)

Do you think that the Department of Education is vital to the education of students in this country? (My questions are based on my own knowledge of various US governments, including states and federal; you may feel free to answer based on any country with which you are familiar.)

Do you think that that Department of Housing and Urban Development is vital to keeping us all from being homeless?

Do you think that farmers and ranchers would forget how to pursue their occupations without the Department of Agriculture, or that we’d all be consuming poison but for this bureau?

Do you agree that the United States needs “The African Development Foundation” in order to serve the interests of the taxpayers who support it?

Do you think that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is necessary to foster and promote our communication?

I realize that if you are a confirmed statist, then your list must necessarily be longer than mine, and I don’t require that you list every government function that you support. (There probably isn’t disk space enough on Fluther to permit that in any case.) So why not draw your line near the bottom: “This is the least significant function of government that I support, and anything less meaningful than this does not have my support.”

Would it be fruit fly research? The War in Iraq? Building a wall on the Mexican border to keep us from hiring cheap labor? I urge you to draw your own line and explain why.

As soon as you indicate your acceptance to debate both sides of this issue, then I’ll start my list.

Qingu's avatar

1. No, prohibition is not a good idea and our drug laws are inhumane. I’m not sure what you mean by “support all police/military” functions. I think certain laws and wars are unjust.

2. Yes, gov. regulation has made food and automobiles much, much safer. There is really no legitimate debate about that. I am torn as to whether government should regulate food. Definitely in schools, not sure about restaurants. I’m fine with high taxes for unhealthy foods, though, because our tax dollars have to pay for people going to hospitals because of unhealthy diets.

3. Yes, government regulation of the fed has calmed the cycle of bubbles and busts since the Great Depression, and the FDIC is hugely important. Again, there is no legitimate debate that things are better now, despite whatever specific current problems you would care to bring up (most of which were caused by… deregulation.) And your question belies an ignorance of what inflation is and how it works.

4. Yes, the department of education is absolutely vital.

5. Straw man. That is not the purpose of the department of housing and urban development and you know it.

6. Another straw man. That said, I do have many problems with the way, for example, farm subsidies are handled, and with agribusiness control of the department.

7. Sure. The welfare of everyone in the world is connected. (Don’t worry, I don’t mean welfare like that. I meant it in the sense of Adam Smith, the guy who founded capitalism and who argued that protectionist policies make no damn sense because trade and wealth in other places enriches people here and everywhere.)

8. Yes, the FCC is necessary, and should, for example, be more aggressive about promoting Internet neutrality so large corporations cannot effectively ban free speech on the internet.

9. If you do not understand why fruit fly research—which underlies every goddamn area of biological and medical research —is necessary, you are clearly not in a position to deride it. I remember when Sarah Palin brought this up. Fucking retarded.

My general thoughts on the limits of government regulation: The purpose of government, most fundamentally, is “to prevent the strong from oppressing the weak.” The purpose of regulation is to prevent very strong corporations from, for example, effectively enslaving people, or denying them freedom of speech, or denying them education.

It is just as possible to be “oppressed” by a corporation as it is to be oppressed by a government. Both governments and corporations are systems of power. Ideally, both systems are “elected” by democratic voting or by consumer choice. However, corporations have, much more than governments, worked to inhibit consumer choice, which defeats the whole ideological purpose of capitalism. The duty of government, through regulation, is to ensure that consumers still have choices and are protected from the powerful.

Would you agree with that? And please answer my questions now—I’ve answered yours.

CyanoticWasp's avatar


1. I think that government should provide some level of military, police and fire fighting forces. What we have now is extreme overkill, and generally ill-used (in all of those areas).

2. I think that eminent domain powers are necessary for the development of many large-scale infrastructure projects, including dams, dikes, levees, highways and railroads, among others. I think that government “management” of those entities is an abomination. Quasi-public management, such as the Indiana Toll Road, the Mass Turnpike and other toll roads that I’m familiar with are much better managed (and maintained) as a rule. I am not aware of much government regulation (or build-out) of the Internet; its development as a function of the Defense Department was a happy accident (like the development of much of the technology spun off from space exploration).

3. I’m not totally opposed to food safety legislation or auto safety “mandates”, except that those regulations and standards are put in place primarily by lobbyists for the various industries. I know for a fact that boiler safety regulations, for one example, which have been adopted by power boiler designers, manufacturers, constructors and operators, are the type of wholly voluntary self-regulation that can be achieved through private enterprise… even when it is then adopted as regulation by reference. So I reject the notion that government is necessary in your examples.

4. I believe that the Great Depression was caused by government over-regulation, that it had been put off (and in fact worsened when it did happen) by manipulations of the Fed, and that it was protracted by Roosevelt’s attempts to “fix” the economy. (In addition, I think we haven’t seen the bottom of our own crisis yet, and it may still bite us in the ass so bad because of our attempts to “fix” and “prevent” it that we’ll look at the Great Depression as “the good old days”. And I wonder how on earth you think inflation does occur except (or at least “if not primarily”) by government debasement of the currency.

5. I absolutely do not believe that the government needs to involve itself any more with health insurance. Part of the reason we’re in the mess that we’re in now is that government allowed industry to write off “health insurance” as a tax deduction in the postwar economy, which is why health insurance is so much related to employment now. Had a “normal” health insurance industry grown, absent the employment tie-in, then we’d have a much more rational market, as we do now for most other types of insurance. (Flood insurance is another prime example of government bungling of a market.)

I believe that the primary purpose and legitimate function of government is to provide the framework of laws that we can build a society around, and to provide a court and enforcement system to adjudicate and enforce as necessary (and no more), and to provide for a common defense.

Do you think fruit fly research (which I don’t think is a bad idea at all… or any other kind of research, including art history and uses for hemp, among others) won’t be done without the federal government’s involvement? Where do you draw the line, anyway?

My point is that government has metastasized. And what are the legitimate purposes of HUD and USDA, if not “housing” and “agriculture”? If you think that the Department of Education is vital, then there doesn’t seem to be much more point to this conversation; I think it’s a laughable joke, albeit a sadly expensive and stupid one.

Qingu's avatar

Agree with 1 and 2.

Re: 3: I don’t think your reason for rejection makes sense here. How does the fact that lobbyists corrupt the process mean that the process is unnecessary or unimportant?

4. Find me a credible historian or economist who agrees with your interpretation of the Great Depression. As far as I can tell this is simply revisionist mythology. What “over-regulation”? And it got worse when the government stopped spending money.

5. You’re saying the reason health insurance is fucked is because… gov. lets you write it off as a tax deduction? Sorry, that simply makes no sense, even given your premises, which are also wrong. The premise, by the way, that the market is “rational” and would work perfectly if we just leave it alone is plainly nonsense, but it’s especially nonsense in the case of insurance, where externalities conflict with profit motive. IOW, making lots of profits in health insurance markets almost always conflicts with providing care—you are incentivized to not pay out and not get people treatment, which is the whole problem.

6. When you say a “framework of laws”—that’s just begging the question, what is the purpose of laws? Saying this is just restating what a government is — an entity that enforces laws. What laws should it enforce? To what purpose?

7. Funding fruit fly research leads to many biotech and medical breakthroughs which benefit society. I’d like government to fund even more scientific research. As you pointed out, the Internet came from such publically funded research.

8. The way you framed the purposes of HUD and USDA were strawmen. HUD doesn’t “keep us all” from being homeless. There will probably always be homeless. Most people are in no danger of being homeless. However, some people are in danger, perhaps through their own bad choices, or perhaps not. I believe that governments have a responsibility to provide a “safety net”—which is also why I support health reform, food stamps, and other social programs. Why? Because (1) I have empathy, and (2) it is better than the alternative. The alternative being more homeless, jobless, people who have no recourse except to commit crime to survive.

The purpose of the USDA is to coordinate farming because—guess what—in some cases bad farming practices can be incentivized by market forces! Bad farming practices can lead to starvation. This is not an area where I think we should just have “faith” in the magical invisible hand in the market.

9. Okay, let’s abolish the department of education. What do the tens of millions of students whose families are too poor to pay for private education, and who have to work instead of educate their kids, do now? Do you understand what the state of American education (or education elsewhere) was like before public education?

There are certainly serious problems with public education. There are serious problems with pretty much every area of government that you’ve brought up. The correct response to serious problems is to try to fix them. Not throw out the entire system. Every system you have pointed out, as flawed as they are, is a vast improvement over no system at all. If you are going to argue “we shouldn’t have a dept. of education,” or fund science, you need to propose an alternative and show how it will fill the gap left, and how it will be an improvement. By the way “the market is magical and will make everything better” is not an actual alternative.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

@Qingu you are the one using words like “perfection” and “magic”; I don’t use those words in this context. We can agree that every human endeavor is flawed. Fine. On that basis, endeavors that people pay for directly out of their own pockets (and for their own selfish reasons—human selfishness being part of the species we are) are much more apt to be modified and improved—or junked—over time depending on need. “Government programs” just suck up more money, more resources, and more “need”; the perversity of government is that the worse it fails, the more resources are allocated to it. (Department of Education is a perfect example.)

You completely misunderstood my third point. You got it entirely backwards. My position is that “government mandates” for safety in food and automobiles (to use the examples you provided) only worked because of corporate and lobbyist involvement. Without that they would have been worse failures. (Without government import restrictions on foreign cars in the 60s and 70s the market itself probably would have gotten to the same point, or better, sooner.)

You also misunderstood my point about health insurance. I’m saying that if employers had not been involved in the process (because of government tax write-offs to employers who wanted to add this benefit to attract workers after WW2) then I would be my health insurance company’s policy owner, and not my employer. My auto and homeowner’s insurance companies operate under the same “perverse incentives” that you mention above—to refuse payouts—but since I shop and own those policies directly the market place for those products is far more competitive. My auto and homeowners insurance companies know that I can drop them in a heartbeat, and that my continued patronage—and word-of-mouth advertising—is vital to their continued success. With my employer’s health insurance provider, the employer is the customer, and I’m just a “client” ... with very little choice other than “Plan A”, “Plan B” or “Plan C” from this employer / insurer. The company gets the best group plan it can to minimize its cost and provide some level of benefit, and I get a Hobson’s choice: this horse or none.

You seem to have the fundamental misunderstanding of USDA and Department of Education. Do you really believe that USDA in some way “coordinates” farming… better than established futures markets? Do you think that Department of Education really promotes or pays for education in some way?

The golden age of education in this country was some time before “mandatory public education”. (I don’t base all of my knowledge of the past on Little House on the Prairie, but there were some valid representations of “how education was done” in those days.) I don’t believe schools that function to warehouse children are a valid use of resources, especially for the children who would rather not be there.

If left to “government provided Internet” we wouldn’t be discussing this over the World Wide Web as we are, but over “the Internet” ... I don’t even know anyone who uses “the [original] Internet” any more. I haven’t been on UseNet in years.

Qingu's avatar

On that basis, endeavors that people pay for directly out of their own pockets (and for their own selfish reasons—human selfishness being part of the species we are) are much more apt to be modified and improved—or junked—over time depending on need.

This is just demonstrably not true, @CyanoticWasp. It is, as I said, market fundamentalism. It relies on the myth that people have perfect information and have the time or energy to make rational choices about what they consume and who they buy it from. They don’t, and they rarely do. And corporations typically work very hard to obscure that information and limit those choices.

Markets do work, wonderfully even—if there is real choice, and readily available information. Would you agree that ensuring these things is the role of the government?

As for the “golden age of education” ... okay, shall we compare literacy rates? What years are we talking about here?

BoBo1946's avatar

Hey guys, no one ever wins a political debate. loll

jerv's avatar

@BoBo1946 Not entirely true. Anybody watching from the sidelines might absorb at least enough to start their brains working again, and when we have more informed voters then society wins.

Dr_Dredd's avatar

@jerv I’ve been amused at the reaction to the new Senator Brown. The Republicans couldn’t say enough nice things about him when he was running for election. Now that he’s made ONE vote they don’t like (the jobs bill, wasn’t it?), they’re dropping him like a hot potato. I’ve heard that his political contributions have dropped off significantly.

jerv's avatar

@Dr_Dredd What I’ve heard a bit is that he voted, ”... like someone who plans to get re-elected.”.

But consider where he is from. Sure, he could have gone with the party and his (now disappointed) base but you have to remember that many of the people who voted against him in MA did so just to try and maintain a fillibuster-proof 60–40 split in the Senate. Coakley was a bad candidate all around, thus causing many Democrats to cross the party line just to avoid electing a buffoon, but this move makes Brown a viable candidate for the next Senate race despite being a Republican.

BoBo1946's avatar

@jerv yeah, that is a given, but as we all know, you would never change the mind’s of others about politics and religion. Well, almost never…it occasionally happens.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

Fact from fiction truth from diction. The Democrats are basically feckless because they can never get together under the same umbrella they are not good boot lackeys like the Republican underlings. The rank and file of the Republican will do whatever their leaders tell them, fight dirty with Swift Boat tactics, and throw ethics to the wind so long as they can get the party agenda done. The Democrats want to appeal to their constituency over doing what the party wishes.

Basically they are still politicians and many of them are the biggest whores on the planet, they will do any and everything to stay in office as long as they can. Why would so many spend millions of their own money to get into and office that pays less then their civilian job? They are a horde of self-absorbed egomaniacs.

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