Monthly Archives: April 2013

Would another President have passed gun control?


Did he know even then that this wouldn’t work?

With all the attention on the Boston massacre, it was easy to miss the failed votes on gun amendments. With the cloture votes having failed, so have proposals as modest as merely expanding background checks.

Understandably, this has prompted some progressive commentators to question why President Obama couldn’t get this done. I should note at this point that I don’t consider Obama to be as good a negotiator as a campaigner, as many on the left and even a few on the right do. Agreeing to negotiate on the debt limit in 2011 was a mistake. So was the deal at the start of the year that made most of the Bush tax cuts permanent without doing anything about the sequester, which is already doing tremendous damage to the economy.

That said, I don’t see any reason to believe that this outcome was ever going to be different. I’ve seen the historical analogies that supposedly show that other presidents would have gotten it done. They tend to be selective, acknowledging pretty much only the LBJ of 1964-1965, only the pre-court-packing FDR, or they ignore that ending welfare as we knew it was very much one of Bill Clinton’s accomplishments. I’ll do a little analysis of some of these examples that Obama supposedly needs to emulate.

George W. Bush.

President Bush Giving State of the Union Address

I really can’t decide which stupid-ass Bush statement to use. Run “Bush quotes” through Google and you’ll see what I mean.

George W. Bush has long been an intensely disliked figure by the left and rightfully so. It was he who invaded Iraq, smashed the budget, and while certain presidents before him were also responsible, the 2008 financial crisis happened on his watch. So many on the left admire his political skills. They remember him using the bully pulpit to pass both rounds of Bush tax cuts, getting the Iraq War and Patriot Act approved overwhelmingly,  successfully vetoing bills that would have ended the war. Not to mention that he came perhaps the closest of any president to the economic right’s sacred chalice: privatizing Social Security. With this perspective, the idea of the President having limited power doesn’t seem evident to progressives.

Context is necessary, though. The first three of these items happened during Bush’s post-9/11 high or when the polls — believe it or not — showed overwhelming support for the war. If anything, the fact that one of the critical votes for the second round of tax cuts, passed right after Iraq was invaded, was a tie that Dick Cheney broke speaks to presidential limits. So does the fact Bush signed major bills like Medicare Part D and campaign finance reform that conservatives had a tremendously nonplussed take on.

Also note that privatization was a political disaster. The only thing that came of it was the beginning of Bush’s steep decline. Other failures included an energy bill and the outlawing of gay marriage that appears more and more to have been the Christian right’s last shot at it.

Bill Clinton.


Can you believe the least successful politician here didn’t get caught cheating on his wife?

Bill Clinton had a lot to learn. In his earliest days, he proposed stimulus and campaign finance reform bills, neither of which became law. It would not be until his first August that he had a major piece of legislation on his record ( the 1993 tax increase, to be exact). And not to disparage it, but the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act passed with the support of many Republicans and the opposition of many Democrats. In other words, if the Republicans were as fearful of primary challenges then as they are now, it would have failed.

And has everyone forgotten Hillarycare? That plan’s failure was often cited during the health care bill of just a few years ago.

True, Clinton won the government shutdown battle and the vast majority of second term negotiations. But he also signed the kind of welfare reform bill that he had vetoed in the past and that had been voted down by congressional Democrats when Ronald Reagan proposed it in 1982. So to say that he could do anything is as historically revisionist as it gets. The documentary American Experience: Clinton puts his post-1994 Republican Revolution strategy as follows: “It was the politics of the possible. Not the things he dreamed of doing but the things he could do.”

Ronald Reagan.


But the mythology of Clinton’s skills doesn’t go nearly as deep as the mythology of Reagan’s skills. Yes, he passed big tax and federal cuts despite a Democratic House. But while I fear this being taken the wrong way, we’ll never know how many votes these two bills got only because of the Hinckley assassination attempt, because there was a whole bunch of tax increases in the years that followed. In his second year alone the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982 was one of the biggest tax raises in history, and that’s not counting the gas tax hike of a few months later. Other disappointing outcomes for Reagan include amnesty-oriented immigration reform, multiple spending increases despite his veto, and an anti-apartheid bill passed (thankfully, as it goes without saying) over his veto. The only particularly right-wing legislation between 1981 and Reagan’s departure was the Gramm-Rudman budget cuts, much of which were nixed later by Congress and the Supreme Court. So even that outcome was a tad mixed.

And while he did avoid impeachment over the Iran-Contra scandal, there’s some important but small print there in the form of the pulling of funding from the Contras,  a couple of those veto-killin’ spending bills, and Reagan’s approval rating not recovering to its former glory until the usual going-away boost.

Some call Obama the left’s Reagan. Although Reagan never really had a “chained CPI” moment (at least I don’t think he did, but a lot of news is made during legislation) and Obama never won anywhere near 49 states,  there’s at least a bit of a parallel between both presidents’ questionable negotiating skills despite them being great campaigners. Because I am far from convinced that gun control and sequestration suggest that Obama’s policy defeats will be any worse for the left than Reagan’s were for the right.

Lyndon Johnson.

LBJ staredown

“A tough guy, huh? You wanna say you’ll vote ‘no’ in my face? Didn’t think so.”

I could make the refutation of LBJ as an unbeatable progressive warrior with one word: Vietnam. Why some on the left gush over him is beyond me.

But I should be more fair than that. He was one of the best presidents at getting things done. This was because he had an unusual amount of congressional experience for a President. So he accomplished a great amount in 1964 and 1965.

Thing is, though, that as the war in Vietnam began to destroy his presidency in mid-1966, his legislative agenda slowed down a great deal. To his credit, LBJ did whether the storm of failed midterm elections to prevent a conservative coalition of Republicans and conservative southern Democrats from controlling the House like it did in the early Reagan era, but said conservative coalition did slow the Great Society to a snails’ pace.

Keep perspective in perspective.

That’s enough. I could continue, but my point has been made. My guess is that the reason theses presidents are partially misunderstood is a matter of wishful thinking. We want to believe that the political system is less limited than it truly is. We want to believe that our favored policy can overcome any hurdle with the right messenging. But that’s really not how it works. Usually, the political climate and balance of power are what really count.

My advice to you is to put pressure on politicians who might support your positions and vote at least every even-numbered November. That is how political battles are won.

The 7th Saga

7th Saga

Remember Enix? It was Square’s main console RPG competitor before they  merged to form Square Enix. It was probably best known for Dragon Quest games. Here we have a forgotten RPG from that same company. It has many qualities but is rendered so-so by its extreme difficulty.

Plot: 6 out of 10

Pretty generic. Our story involves seven characters, one of whom you pick, who have been trained by King Lemele for five years. The game opens with Lemele sending all seven students out into the world to find seven runes. The one who finds them all will rule the world.

So basically, it’s a rehashing of something that really didn’t always work in the Final Fantasy series. The concept of all-powerful magic items is kinda cool but it’s got its problems. Firstly, there’s the question of where the protagonist would be without these things. Second, why didn’t the whoever who had the runes last do more with them?

Still, the story does redeem itself with the different motivation of each of the seven characters you have to choose from. Not much, though. Your character choice doesn’t impact the ending enough for that.

Graphics: 4 out of 10

The graphics of the 7th Saga can be described in one word: gimmicky. This game makes full use of the SNES’ Mode 7 graphics. That’s a fancy item to describe advanced (for the time) rotating and scaling that the SNES perfected in games like Pilotwings and Star Fox. This is used especially effectively in battles, where there is the sort of face-to-face staredowns that were otherwise unheard of in this era.

7th Saga2

An orc. Shockingly enough, he’ll make you break a sweat.

Beyond this trick, though, there’s not much to write home about. Everything is rather basic and of limited variety. Backgrounds also repeat themselves a lot. Finally, there’s a problem both Enix and Square always had: they’ve never been good at doing faces. The character designs in this game often even lack mouths.

Sound: 7 out of 10

The music is certainly the high point of this game. The music is very solid and memorable. The same can’t be said for the sound effects. They’re not bad but They’re not particularly good. They’re simply generic effects.

Gameplay: 8 out of 10

Those who have played the Dragon Quest games will find themselves on familiar ground. You begin by choosing a character. He begins at the first level and has some level grinding to do. You can also find treasures in chests. Some items are hidden in pots or underground and can only be found with the Search command.

Dungeons and the outside world are easier to find your way through than some other RPGs. This is because you have a map that shows you nearby locations outside and treasures in dungeons.  It’s very convenient.

On a number of occasions, you’ll find another of the seven in a town. Talking to this character will get you conversation, an offer to join up (this doesn’t happen if you already have two people), or a really tough fight.

7th Saga3

Why not challenge me now, punk?

Challenge: 3 out of 10

The biggest problem by far with this game is the difficulty. You see, the opposition is overpoweringly hard. The normal enemies are actually only moderately challenging, but the bosses are exceptionally difficult. They hit hard, boost their stats, and use magic that can kill you very quickly. You better be at full strength before you take one of them on.

Which would be perfectly fine, except that your attacks don’t hit much more than half the time. And not just your physical attack but your spells as well. That’s just wrong. Who thought handicapping the player like that was a good idea?

It gets better. Your attacks strengthen if you Defend. This wastes a turn but halves the physical damage you take for a turn and increases the damage you inflict the next time. In fact, you have to do this a lot after a while. The problem is that you’ll often end up wasting lots of turns because, as noted, you miss a lot.

Difficulty is one thing, but combining it with a handicap is just too much. Who would really suggest climbing a mountain with a disabled limb?

Overall: 5 out of 10

If the difficulty were fair, this game would actually be quite acceptable. I frown on giving a game low marks based on high difficulty unless absolutely necessary. But if being stuck with unqualified characters doesn’t count, what does?