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Bullied Pulpit

- April 24, 2013

Most denizens of the political science blogosphere will know by now of the recent punditry doing violence to what political science knows about presidential success in Congress. First CQ’s David Hawkins, in his usually astute blog, declaimed that “the Obama charm offensive is starting to pay legislative dividends,” citing the 68 Senators who voted to vote on gun control – alas, before they voted (more meaningfully) against it. Then Maureen Dowd caused me to splutter coffee over my Sunday cereal: if only President Obama had watched The American President more closely, she suggested, he would easily have twisted enough arms to win Senate approval of universal background checks. Then yesterday’s NYT piece more or less repeated her claim but with Lyndon Johnson in place of President Shepherd. (Et vos, Michael Shear and Peter Baker?)

My point here is not to respond substantively (which I’ve done on similar occasions (see here and here)), except perhaps to put in a plug for Air Force One, which introduced the masses to the disability provisions of the 25th amendment long before The West Wing. Rather, I wanted to pay tribute to the impressive and sometimes impassioned response of a variety of commentators. As Dan Drezner summed up in an April 21 tweet: “MSM reaction to MoDo op-ed: tough questions asked. Political scientists’ reaction: a steaming pile of…” (well, there is a word there at the end, but this is a family-friendly blog.)

Indeed, Seth Masket, Jonathan Bernstein (with good additional links; and also here, re LBJ), Charlie Pierce (not, last I checked, a political scientist) and many others did a great job of pointing out the errors in Dowd et al.’s accounts. I am particularly partial to Brendan Nyhan‘s take, actually, in comparing the causal logic of these arguments to that of South Park‘s underpants gnomes. (You may remember those gnomes’ business strategy. Phase One: collect underwear. Phase Three: profit. In between, a big “???”)  And, while not a direct response to the Dowd et al claims,  Ezra Klein had written shortly before to advocate narratives of presidential success with Congress along the lines political scientists’ research agenda has suggested are plausible.

In short:  it was heartening to see the quick, broad pushback on this front.