Saturday, June 26, 2021


Politico Playbook tells us that President Biden isn't trying to be a Green Lantern president.
On Thursday, the president helped finalize a bipartisan agreement on an infrastructure deal....

Biden didn’t resort to browbeating. He didn’t attempt some Sorkin-esque stemwinder of a speech to win over skeptical senators. Instead, a patient, low-profile approach to negotiations did the trick; right up until Republicans accused him of changing the terms by conditioning it all on the passage of trillions more in spending via reconciliation....

The president who derives his influence from browbeating, arm-twisting and delivering Sorkin-like drama is a myth. It exists only in activists’ (and screenwriters) fantasies, sporadically reemerging as frustrations with the political system’s rigidities mount.

The desire for it became so predominant during the Obama era that the term Green Lanternism was coined to describe it. The academic who came up with the name [was] BRENDAN NYHAN, a poli sci professor at ... Dartmouth....
But what we saw in these negotiations -- and in last year's presidential campaign -- was Green Lanternism. Middle-of-the-road pundits and voters said that the federal government was hopelessly gridlocked, while progressives wanted a Democratic presidency that got things done. Biden assured us that cutting through partisan roadblocks was his superpower. Biden wasn't an intimidator like Lyndon Johnson in these infrastructure negotiations, but he wants us to believe that patience and dogged persistence are his substitutes for Johnsonesque intimidation.

The political scientists have a point: It doesn't seem to work. A few Republicans agreed to a deal, then party members expressed phony shock when Biden made clear that he intended to pursue a separate infrastructure package via reconciliation, with just Democratic votes, in tandem with the package the bipartisan negotiators had worked out (something they already knew Democrats intended to do).

I agree that Green Lanternism isn't a good way to win a battle over a particular piece of legislation -- members of Congress are rarely swayed by impassioned rhetoric (what Nyhan calls the Reagan version of Green Lanternism) or negotiating tactics (the Lyndon Johnson version).

But I think Nyhan and others underestimate the power of presidential pronouncements. They don't flip votes in Congress, but they can alter narratives, or create new ones.

Donald Trump's behavior in the aftermath of the 2020 election was pure Green Lanternism: He thought he could rally the country to overturn the election on his behalf. It didn't achieve its goal, of course -- he's not the president anymore. But in one way it did work: His base now believes that Democratic cheating in elections is massive, that it proceeds on multiple tracks (everything from overseas satellite manipulation to overnight deliveries of phony paper ballots), and that it's part of a global deep-state elitist plot to control the world (and, in the process, brutalize children).

Green Lanternism doesn't win immediate legislative battles, but it can alter the course of battles in the future. Biden's rhetoric on bipartisanship has inspired Democrats to work hard at reaching bipartisan agreements. Republicans are taking full advantage, while Democrats are getting jammed:

If Biden were to declare that he's tried and tried but the quest for bipartisanship is futile, it might send a lantern signal that changes the way Democrats fight future battles. As it is, he seems to be Green Lanterning us to a dead end.

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