“Precedent? Megan McArdle keeps using that word …”

Jim Bales here, and my thanks to Tom for the loan of the soap box!

Ms McArdle has a piece in which she claims that the Republican obstructionism in Congress to the Obama Administration has a precedent in Democratic obstructionism in Congress to the Hoover Administration.

Sadly, Ms McArdle presents no evidence to support her assertion.

The closest she comes to evidence is quoting Prof. David Kennedy, of Stanford’s History Department, as saying:

“Hoover also faced a very obstructionist Democratic Congress–they understood, as these guys do today, that if they just go in the middle of the road and refused to move, that would benefit them at the next election.  And it paid off.”

Unfortunately, Ms McArdle gives us no information as to how Prof. Kennedy knows that the motives of the Democrats in the 71st and 72nd Congresses (1929-1933) were the same as the motives set forth by Republican Mitch McConnell:

The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president”

Think about it. Retaking the White House is more important to the Senate’s most senior Republican than, say, reducing unemployment, feeding the hungry, healing the sick, clothing the in needy, etc. All pale in comparison to putting a Republican in the White House, and so Mr. McConnell has obstructed them all.

Now, is the good Senate Minority Leader true to his word? Well, since Ms McArdle couldn’t take the time to substantiate her assertions (or tell us how Prof. Kennedy substantiates of his assertions), we will have to do a bit of her homework for her.

A simple measure of obstructionism in the Senate is the number of cloture motions introduced over the two years of a particular Congress. (If one does not consider this a measure of obstructionism, then one needs to explain how filibustering is not obstruction.)

As the Republican leader in the Senate, McConnell’s obstructionism in the 111th Congress (2009-10) led to a mere 136 cloture motions. So far (as of Oct. 12) the 112th Congress has had 32 cloture motions.

This level of obstructionism is, according to Ms McArdle, “quite precedented“. In fact, she claims that the precedent can be found in the 71st and 72nd Congresses (1929-31 and 1931-33).

Just how obstructionist were those anti-Hoover Democrats? In the 71st Congress there was precisely one (1) motion for cloture. Such motions skyrocketed in the 72nd Congress, when those dastardly Democrats forced two (2) of them.

If precedent means what the rest of us think it means*, Ms McArdle is claiming that forcing a motion for cloture three times over four years is precedent for forcing 136 such motions over two years (and 168 such motions in less than three). On the other hand, maybe precedent actually means whatever it is she thinks it means.

Vizzini Lives!

[*] Precedent (n): ” An act in the past which may be used as an example to help decide the outcome of similar instances in the future.” Source: Wiktionary

Image:  Jane Sutherland, The Obstruction on Box Hill, 1883.

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2 Comments on ““Precedent? Megan McArdle keeps using that word …””


  1. Classic McArdle. She does not look at any data, she goes by the word of a professor she interviewed, who wrote a book that fits into her ideological preconceptions.

    The Steven Taylor article she links to clearly discusses filibuster but McArdle ignores filibusters and cloture to discuss Kennedy’s theory that Hoover was stymied because he didn’t “seem to be able to dream up any new tool to get them to move.” Actual data is rejected in favor of the belief that poor Hoover lost some vague battle of wills.

  2. Jim Bales Says:

    Susan,

    Good point on what McArdle did in her post. I particularly was amused that the *myth* of his inaction was a product of the obstructionism.

    If he was obstructed, then he *was* inactive — it’s not just a myth.

    Best,
    Jim


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