The "Make Him Do It" Dynamic

by: David Sirota

Fri Jan 30, 2009 at 13:30

"I agree with you, I want to do it, now make me do it." - Franklin Roosevelt

"We decided to move the center farther to the rigth by starting the whole debate from a far-right position to begin with." - Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay

Tom DeLay was no Franklin Roosevelt on policy, but he understood one of Roosevelt's most important principles: that in order for a movement to be successful, it must bring pressure on presidents, and it must use Congress to administer that pressure. And as my new newspaper column this week shows, it is this principle, so self-evidently true throughout our history, that is now being emulated today by progressives.

In the last month, we have seen a rat-a-tat-tat of examples of the progressive movement working with its congressional allies to administer progressive pressure on the new Obama administration - and with some pretty amazing results. We've gotten Obama to drop some of the most odious corporate tax giveaways he originally floated, we've gotten his original infrastructure spending proposals boosted - and now, overall, as CAF's Bernie Horn says, the stimulus bill is shaping up to be pretty damn good.*  We've gotten Obama to publicly commit to supporting major bankruptcy reforms. We've seen freshman lawmakers like Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) use the bully pulpit of a congressional hearing to humiliate the kleptocracy, which in turn pushed Congress to start taking tougher stands against Wall Street, which in turn forced the Obama administration to pledge to administer the bailout with more transparency and oversight.

This isn't nirvana, and its not (yet) a legislative steamroller with the brutal effectiveness of DeLay's pressure machine. But these are real accomplishments, and this is a real start to a "make him do it" dynamic that will be instrumental to achieving real change.

The beauty, of course, is that while a conflict-averse Obama may not like being pushed (and really, no president likes to be pushed), it politically helps him.  

David Sirota :: The "Make Him Do It" Dynamic
As Chris has previously reported, Bill Clinton complained to then-Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) that progressives hadn't mustered enough public pressure on his left, and that ultimately hurt him, because he couldn't effectively play off the left. He was forced to choose: either he got beat up by remaining in the center, or he had to lurch rightward as conservatives pulled him. And either way, he looked weak.

Congressional progressives seemed to have learned the folly of all that, and are creating a dynamic whereby Obama can use congressional pressure from the left as a negotiating chip - that is, he can go into legislative negotiations and say that he can and cannot do certain things because there will be a progressive congressional reaction that he must deal with. In this sense, he can portray himself as a "centrist," while also moving the center to the left. And since DeLay pulled the center so far to the right over the last decade, moving the center to the left is really just moving the center to the center.

For the progressive movement, the point here is that the more we embolden Congress to act as a progressive force on Obama's left, the more we will strengthen Obama - and the more we will reach our policy objectives. Indeed, Congress and the movement administering this pressure isn't being "disloyal" to Obama - it is at once being loyal to the progressive agenda and helping our new president. Like FDR was to progressives of his era, Obama will be our ally most of the time. If you look at his campaign platform, it's clear he agrees with us, and wants to do what we want to do. But now we have to make him do it.

Read the whole column here.

The column relies on grassroots support - and because of that support, it is getting wider and wider circulation (a big thank you to all who have helped with that). So if you'd like to see my column regularly in your local paper, use this directory to find the contact info for your local editorial page editors. Get get in touch with them and point them to my Creators Syndicate site. Thanks, as always, for your ongoing readership and help contacting local editors. This column couldn't be what it is without your help.

* That doesn't mean we shouldn't keep pushing to make it better - we should absolutely keep pushing. But it does mean that we're headed in the right direction.

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".....we're headed in the right direction." (4.00 / 3)
Thanks David
Good column, good points.

To some, it is amazing that America is listening, but it isn't. Good polling, ones that ask what Americans positions are without pushing them right at the same time, have indicated for a long time that America shares progressive values on actual progressive policies, more than 80% of working America wants to be in a union, for example, on HealthCare and peace and on and on (except of the death penalty) America has been needing leadership. What was always needed was a way to get those values talked about, and to have people willing to lead.

Your articles help, your column helps and your appearances help. America is a better place, has a better chance of becoming a fair and prosperous and peaceful place with you writing.

Help us all out and do as he asks:

So if you'd like to see my column regularly in your local paper, use this directory to find the contact info for your local editorial page editors.Get get in touch with them and point them to my  Creators Syndicate site.

The big thing we have going for progress is new media, we couldn't have ended the Republican rule without it. But adding any every progressive avenue for discussion in every city and town, helps America.

Isn't this just the most wonderful thing to be able to say:

Like FDR was to progressives of his era, Obama will be our ally most of the time. If you look at his campaign platform, it's clear he agrees with us, and wants to do what we want to do. But now we have to make him do it.


The government has a defect: it's potentially democratic. Corporations have no defect: they're pure tyrannies. -Chomsky

kerry says no to bad bank msnbc (4.00 / 1)
kerry on msnbc-will oppose bad bank idea.

Excellent Post (4.00 / 2)
I have been highly (and probably at times unfairly) critical of many of your posts, so I want to give some props for this one: it is clear, well reasoned, fair to the parties involved, and offers a 'solution'. It is actually one of the better posts I have seen in quite a while.

That said, I want to comment on this:

"Indeed, Congress and the movement administering this pressure isn't being 'disloyal' to Obama - it is at once being loyal to the progressive agenda and helping our new president."

I think this is true as a general principal, although I think how pressure is administered matters. I suspect the best and most constructive thing to do, and the thing Congress is unusually suited to do, is to argue the merits of an action with Obama. Asking questions like "is it fair?" and "will it work?" are exceptionally helpful.

I think pressure could be problematic if it is personal in nature - if it questions the decency, the good faith, the americanism/patriotism or the honesty of an individual. That kind of pressure may be necessary, and it may even be helpful, but it should be rare (at least with Democrats).

One of the things I liked about this entry is that it seems to describe well productive ways to apply pressure.

great post (4.00 / 1)
I see too that Obama is calling for another series of House Parties using his e-mail list.  (As Chris suggested).  What better chance to show up and influence?

New Jersey politics at Blue Jersey.

ert (0.00 / 0)
i agree with you on the "make him do it" philosophy. the only problem arises when you don't give him credit when he implements the right policy, like many here are wont to do. you have to give credit where it's due.

Bernie Horn's weird calculation (0.00 / 0)
In the post David Sirota links in his article, Bernie Horn pronounces Obama's stimulus "98% pure" dedicated to progressive causes because only 2% is devoted to tax-cuts specifically for business, and he leaves out the tiny detail that tax-cuts still total $275 billion. If you add in Obama's decision to break his campaign promise to repeal tax-cuts for incomes over $250K,  that increases the total tax-break by $225 billion per year over two years, for a grand total of $450 billion.

Combined with $275 billion worth of tax-cuts in the "stimulus," Obama's record so far for cutting taxes is already...

$725 billion in tax-cuts.

If that's a "progressive cause," maybe we need a new definition of "progressive" that doesn't turn Grover Norquist into a progressive hero.

So the real score is...

Spending = $819 billion - $275 billion = $544 billion.

Tax-cuts: $725 billion.

How's that for some really "progressive" numbers!

Tax rebates (4.00 / 1)
Most of those "tax cuts" are in the form of rebates of $500 per person or $1000 per family, spread out over the year.  That was also part of Obama's promise and is extremely progressive, as it mostly helps those with the lowest incomes.  It is also good stimulus because those with the lowest incomes are most likely to spend the money instead of save it.  Bush failed at this because he sent out one big check, which people intelligently used to pay of dept, but Obama is spreading it out over the year.  An extra $10 or $20 dollars a week should be spent with the same ratio as their current spending.

Tax cuts are conservative primarily because they serve the rich, but that is not the case here.

[ Parent ]
Tax-cuts, AGAIN (0.00 / 0)
How did tax-cuts work when the great "progressive" leader George W. Bush tried them out last year?

"Americans Plan to Save, Not Spend, Tax-Rebate Checks, Poll Says"

The stimulus plan Congress approved this month may provide less of a jolt to the U.S. economy than intended, as most Americans plan to save rather than spend their tax rebates, a Bloomberg/Los Angeles Times survey shows.

Only 18 percent of respondents said they will spend their rebate on purchases, while slightly more than three in 10 said they prefer to use the money to pay off debt, and a third said they'll pocket it.

Those tax-cuts from the great "progressive" leader George W. Bush also came in the form of rebates, and that other great "progressive" leader Grover Norquist also loves rebates, and...

Maybe Obama has totally failed to unite the political parties by giving away the store to Republicans, but why bother with politics as usual when you can just...

Redefine "progressive" so that George W. Bush and Grover Norquist are "progressives," and forget about insignificant little issues like saving the American economy!

[ Parent ]
read mark's post again (0.00 / 0)
bush's tax cuts were targeted towards the rich

[ Parent ]
Read my post again! (4.00 / 1)
The Bush rebates weren't exclusively or even predominantly targeted at the rich, unlike the cuts specifically for incomes over $250 that Obama decided not to repeal, even though it was one of his few campaign promises that wasn't incomprehensibly "hopey" or "changey" or just plain vague.

From the same Bloomberg link as before...

Taxpayers are expected to start receiving checks in May, ranging from $300 to more than $1,200 for some families.

These were small rebates, just like Obama's, and $168 billion of them did next to nothing to stop the mortgage meltdown that they were supposed to stop.

Is there a message in there somewhere?

[ Parent ]
oh, I see (0.00 / 0)
I should've read your post more carefully

[ Parent ]
Excuse me as I quote myself (0.00 / 0)
Bush failed at this because he sent out one big check, which people intelligently used to pay of dept, but Obama is spreading it out over the year.  An extra $10 or $20 dollars a week should be spent with the same ratio as their current spending.

The psychological difference between one big check and a slightly higher better payday is huge.  Most people live paycheck to paycheck; the only number they really pay close attention to is how much money they have left before the next paycheck.

Excuse me while a make a few more points...

Conservatives like Bush and Norquist have always used tax cuts for ordinary people as a way to justify giving away billions of dollars to the rich.  Don't confuse the message with reality.

Now it is true that we also have a large wishlist of things that need to be done by the government and these things need to be paid for, so higher taxes overall are required.  Norquist is trying to "starve the beast", so he is particularly harsh.  And yes, we do need to raise taxes, but we need to raise taxes on the rich, not those struggling.

One of the main causes of our fiscal problems is wealth distribution.  For the past 30 years more and more of the wealth has migrated to a small number of people.  Getting a more equitable distribution is vital to our economy, both short term and long.  As Henry Ford once famously said,  if his own employees couldn't afford to purchase the cars they were making, how could he ever expect to sell any.

Every form of stimulus spending has diminishing returns.  Personally I think infrastructure spending should be much, much higher, but that doesn't change the fact that the first billion will make for better stimulus then the second, and so on.  That is true even though there are trillions of dollars worth of spending needed on infrastructure; the resources to do the work are limited.  There are only so many companies, so many tractors, so many bricklayers, and so on.

That means the best possible stimulus will spend money in lots of different ways.  Some of this money is going to high tech infrastructure, for example, which employs a completely different set of people then repairing roads and bridges.  Great!  Having non-business tax cuts for low income workers is a great alternate and very much belongs in the hodgepodge.

[ Parent ]
$145 billion for low and middle, $580 billion for high and "other" (0.00 / 0)
"Roughly $145 billion of the tax bill would be allocated for a tax cut for low- and middle-income workers."

That puts $130 billion elsewhere.

And your calculation about the "progressive" Mr. Obama also leaves out his broken campaign-promise about repealing tax-cuts for incomes over $250K.

So even forgetting for a moment about the enormous ongoing off-the-books Federal Reserve bailout of the banks, the score is...

Low or middle income tax-cuts = $145 billion.

High income tax-cuts = $450 billion.

And garden-variety tax-cuts = $130 billion.

So it's $130 billion for low and middle incomes, and $580 billion for others.

Grover Norquist would be proud!

[ Parent ]
I'm NOT defending the business tax cuts (0.00 / 0)
Just to be clear, I'm not defending the business tax cuts.  Unfortunately, this article is very badly written, just like most every article that involves numbers.  I see where you get the $130 billion but you are subtracting from the wrong number.

The House Ways and Means Committee, which writes tax policy, released a 328-page bill outlining $275 billion in tax breaks. On Thursday, the House Appropriations Committee released a bill that covers the $550 billion spending piece of it.

So only $275 - $130 = $145 billion are in other tax cuts.  The $550 billion number is for spending, not tax cuts.

Also, it appears this is not part of the $130 billion:

Other breaks in the bill that would benefit individuals are an expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit, which is a refundable credit for low-income workers, and an increase in the refundable portion of the child tax credit.

The bill would also remove the requirement that first-time home buyers repay a new credit worth up to $7,500 that they may claim on their federal tax return for buying a home between Jan. 2, 2009, and July 1, 2009.

However, the home buyer credit component also isn't part of my arguement above.  I think the first paragraph quoted fits the dynamic I described, but I'm not sure.  I've heard elsewhere that the House bill only puts 3% to business tax breaks, which would be about $25 billion.  So we seem to be in agreement somewhere in the range of $25 to $175 billion.  (Ok, that's till a freak'n huge number, but small chunk of the overall bill.)

Also, there is no reason for rolling back the Bush tax breaks for the rich in this bill; in fact I think it would be a bad idea.  The press would still give the full spending number and then add the tax increase as well, as apposed to making the bill look cheaper.  Better to leave those increasing in place so they can be used to justify other spending later on as the pressure to move to pay-go increases.

[ Parent ]
Is this a joke? (0.00 / 0)
A worthless $700 billion bailout, and $2 trillion in toxic debt already assumed by taxpayers through the Fed, and $725 billion in tax-cuts...

And because low and middle incomes get $130 billion in tax-cuts, about 4% of what Obama has already flushed down the toilet...

4% for low and middle income tax-payers...

96% for bank speculators and high incomes...

This is a triumph of progressivism!

Thanks for clearing that up!  

[ Parent ]
Dude (0.00 / 0)
Check your numbers.  

High income tax-cuts = $450 billion.

And garden-variety tax-cuts = $130 billion.

Those numbers are wrong.  You simply don't know what you are talking about.  You are ignoring the actual spending.  You are blaming Obama for what the Fed did during the Bush administration (making your statement on the $2 trillion stupid on two counts.)

So yea, apparently it is a joke.

And I apologize to the others for encouraging you.  I'll stop, now.

[ Parent ]
What bugs me about (4.00 / 3)
the examples you've raised so far of how progressives have pushed Obama to the left is how much, overall, they have turned out to be inadequate.

In the main, what's happened, so far, is this. Obama sets the parameters of the debate upfront by introducing the initial point of negotiation well toward the Center-right. Criticisms from the left, via progressives inside or outside Congress, get him occasionally to shift somewhat toward the left.  

The problem is that the initial set point can't be much deviated from, no matter how severe the criticisms; typically, a smallish move to the left is considered to be adequate, and progressives declare their eternal gratitude for the little they got.

As simply one case in point, the stimulus legislation was initially proposed with a dollar figure that was well below what many liberal economists seem to think would do the trick. After input from the left, this was adjusted up only by the most trivial of amounts. Politically, the only way the package might have stood a chance of being in the proper range would have been had it been introduced in that high range.

This general approach is no way to get good progressive policy adopted on a systematic basis. It doesn't work to be burning the toast every time and then scraping it off every time. We need a better, more progressive process from the beginning.

What might make for a better process? Widespread rejection by the left of Obama's governing approach as being far too consistently center-right. That is, a sense on the part of Obama that he might really lose support of a wide swath of progressives if he doesn't take their views seriously from the beginning when proposing policy.

And I don't think that such anger can be faked, while we and Obama wink back at each other over our ginned up "outrage", knowing that it is really only theatre.  

gang of 14 returns! (0.00 / 0)
gang of 14 returns to comrpomise the stim bill!

Very true (4.00 / 1)
but part of what needs to happen is for the Progressive Caucus to get it's act together. It's disorganized, has all of one staffer and doesn't take many unified stands. Also it doesn't have an active PAC (like the Blue Dogs) or active policy arm (like the New Democrats). They need to find out how to hire more staffers. At like 5-6. Mostly policy and communications staffer. Get programs started to come up with unified positions on as much as possible, push hard and start a program to get Progressive in the media. In addition, start a PAC and campaign hard for every endorsed candidate. There is what, 80 members of the caucus? If whenever a candidate was endorsed all of them transfered the max of 2k from their accounts that would add 160k to any Progressive endorsed challenger, that would be a game changer.  

John McCain: Beacuse lobbyists should have more power

"Obama will keep Republican John Dugan, chief supervisor of national banks, on the job for another year" (0.00 / 0)
Bloomberg --

President Barack Obama will keep Republican John Dugan, chief supervisor of national banks, on the job for another year as the administration grapples with the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, two people familiar with the decision said.

Dugan, who heads the U.S. Treasury's Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, has been involved in the policy decisions to rescue the nation's banks. His agency oversees the banks of institutions including Citigroup Inc. and Bank of America Corp. His term expires in August 2010.

OCC spokesman Kevin Mukri declined to comment.

Dugan, 53, participated in discussions this week with Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Chairman Sheila Bair on reshaping the administration's approach to the $700 billion bank bailout. Obama has decided to keep Bair, House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank has said.  ...

Did we make him do this?

Tools (0.00 / 0)
If you want to "make him do it," then you need better online organizing tools than just blogs, youtube and email.  See the story just below yours, "The Next OpenLeft."


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