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Old 06-03-2019, 05:00 PM
Wesley Clark is offline
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Who is the most competent politician who functions in a democracy


I don't want to hijack this thread which is discussing (among other things) which politician is the best at physical fighting or turning a democracy into an authoritarian state.

https://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb...d.php?t=876472

Within the confines of democracy, which politician was best at getting their agenda passed (or blocking the oppositions legislation)?

I"d say Mitch McConnell and LBJ are among the most effective. I have no idea about other countries, but I'm sure there are tons of them out there.
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Old 06-03-2019, 05:22 PM
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Charles DeGaulle managed to outlast the Nazis, chaired the postwar French provisional government, helped rewrite the French Constitution, retired, came back in 1958 and was elected in his own right in 1959. He finally retired in 1969. He rebuilt relations with West Germany, established France as a nuclear power, and escaped several assassination attempts. (He said of one attempt, "They shoot like pigs.") He finally retired in 1969.

Mitch McConnell? Meh.
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Old 06-03-2019, 05:54 PM
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Netanyahu has been PM for over 13 years and has held together a fractious if not mercenary coalition in a divided country.

ETA: Maybe I should have said 'had', as in had held together

Last edited by KarlGauss; 06-03-2019 at 05:55 PM.
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Old 06-03-2019, 07:52 PM
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Netanyahu has been PM for over 13 years and has held together a fractious if not mercenary coalition in a divided country.

ETA: Maybe I should have said 'had', as in had held together
Yes, but "getting your agenda passed" (which is what the OP asks about) and "retaining office" are two very different things.
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Old 06-04-2019, 12:15 AM
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That depends on how liberal you are with the use of "democracy." Strictly speaking, the United States was designed not to be one, and yet it's counted as one. On the flip side, virtually nobody considers the Democratic People's Republic of Korea to be a democracy, and yet it claims to be. Without a real definition, we're all just grasping at straws.

Still, Hitler is probably the winner though. Wiemar Germany was as much a Democracy then as the United States is now, it just happened to be failing when Hitler ax-murdered what remnants were left. Naturally, his exploits would make even the Cocaine Turtle blush.
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Old 06-04-2019, 12:44 AM
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Yes, but "getting your agenda passed" (which is what the OP asks about) and "retaining office" are two very different things.
Fortunately for Bibi, retaining office is his only agenda.
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Old 06-04-2019, 02:15 PM
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Hamilton did pretty good. I couldn't say whether he was the best but, purportedly, he was pretty hardcore about going direct to Congress and selling them on all of his ideas. The central bank, in particular, was a hard sell as I understand it.

And, obviously, there was that whole Federalist thing.

Last edited by Sage Rat; 06-04-2019 at 02:18 PM.
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Old 06-04-2019, 02:18 PM
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That depends on how liberal you are with the use of "democracy." Strictly speaking, the United States was designed not to be one, and yet it's counted as one. On the flip side, virtually nobody considers the Democratic People's Republic of Korea to be a democracy, and yet it claims to be. Without a real definition, we're all just grasping at straws.

Still, Hitler is probably the winner though. Wiemar Germany was as much a Democracy then as the United States is now, it just happened to be failing when Hitler ax-murdered what remnants were left. Naturally, his exploits would make even the Cocaine Turtle blush.
If near-literal axe-murder is part of your arsenal, I don't think that counts. Simply murdering everyone who disagrees with you isn't what one would generally call the finest technique of a master manipulator.
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Old 06-04-2019, 02:40 PM
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If near-literal axe-murder is part of your arsenal, I don't think that counts. Simply murdering everyone who disagrees with you isn't what one would generally call the finest technique of a master manipulator.
The night of the long knives wasn't preamble, it was a culmination of all his earlier political mechanitions. It was the purge one generally performs after assuming power and achieving near total political control.

Before that, though his early political career certainly involved a lot of *ahem* less than democractic methods, he was undoubtedly the underdog who outplayed and outmaneuvered aged, experienced politicians who thought to use him as their yapping puppet. He got himself voted into power, and effectively built the NSDAP from scratch. He was a political monster that simply evolved into an even greater monster once he'd won at playing Democracy.

Thing is, democracies are no less the Game of Thrones than that played in ASOIAF, it's just by civil agreement that the strategies are limited. The most effective politicians are always those who are willing to play closer to the original rules rather than keep to the gentleman's agreement. Consider the Cocaine Turtle and Garland. Consider Trump and attacking NATO. These things were unthinkable under the "gentlemen's rules" set out by historical precedent and Congressional/American tradition. But there are no fouls in the Game of Thrones, only those too hesitant to play to the fullest of their abilities.

The most "competent" politician will always be the one that "cheats." History just rewrites said "cheating" as competence - unless said cheater ultimately loses.

Last edited by etasyde; 06-04-2019 at 02:41 PM.
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Old 06-04-2019, 03:52 PM
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Fortunately for Bibi, retaining office is his only agenda.
Apparently his more specific agenda is stay out of prison, and he can only do so by staying PM. There's a corresponding situation over here, too. It does seem that he's held on mainly by encouraging fault lines in his opposition.

Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord.
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He worked at the highest levels of successive French governments, most commonly as foreign minister or in some other diplomatic capacity. His career spanned the regimes of Louis XVI, the years of the French Revolution, Napoleon, Louis XVIII, and Louis-Philippe. Those he served often distrusted Talleyrand but, like Napoleon, found him extremely useful. The name "Talleyrand" has become a byword for crafty, cynical diplomacy.
That includes both constitutional and absolute monarchies as well as the revolutionary Reign of Terror.
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Old 06-05-2019, 12:00 AM
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Woops. Misread the OP (I hadn't participated in the other thread). Obviously Hitler fights the question more than answer it. My mistake - allow me to give a more productive answer:

Reagan should definitely come to mind. I don't like or agree with most of his domestic policy, and much of his foreign policy successes merely fell into his lap (right place, right time), but one cannot argue he didn't achieve his goals - no matter how impossible at the time they may have seemed - with seemingly ruthless efficacy. And he did it without bloodying his hands (too much).

He won governorship of California, which I understand was a deeply purple state at the time, then won the presidency and managed to form a bipartisan coalition at home. He revolutionized the economy - yeah, it sucked, but it was a revolution - and rewrote the nature of American politics to this day. Arguably, he still continues to be an effective influencer of policy, and he's dead!
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Old 06-05-2019, 12:16 AM
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I"d say Mitch McConnell and LBJ are among the most effective. I have no idea about other countries, but I'm sure there are tons of them out there.
Definitely LBJ. McConnell has been effective, but not accomplishing much in comparison.
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Old 06-05-2019, 08:21 AM
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Yeah, McConnell plays small ball, but he's effective at it. Name the major legislation he has gotten through: some tax cuts? Is that about it? I mean, passing tax cuts through a Republican-controlled chamber isn't exactly the stuff of legends. Sure, he's loading the judiciary with right-wing judges, but that doesn't go in the history books. He will be better known as an obstructionist, which he has been quite good at.

Compare that to LBJ, with civil rights and the Great Society. Agree or disagree, those were "big fucking deals" in Joe Biden-speak.

More recently, I think Ted Kennedy is probably the most capable legislator in the last couple of decades. He had his hands in a lot of pots. On the R side, Newt Gingrich was quite capable, too... until that coup sneaked up on him.
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Old 06-05-2019, 10:59 AM
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Where’s the line between a hard-man authoritarian and an effective visionary? Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore could fit either category. He was Prime Minister of Singapore from 1959 to 1990, leading the country out of British colonialism, and turning it into an economic hub.
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Old 06-05-2019, 11:11 AM
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Why are authoritarians even part of this discussion?
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Old 06-05-2019, 12:02 PM
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Why are authoritarians even part of this discussion?
Probably because the OP referred to two politicians, LBJ and Mitch McConnell, with authoritarian tendencies who valued their agendas more than egalitarianism.
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Old 06-05-2019, 12:21 PM
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Probably because the OP referred to two politicians, LBJ and Mitch McConnell, with authoritarian tendencies who valued their agendas more than egalitarianism.
You have a weird definition of authoritarianism.
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Old 06-05-2019, 02:08 PM
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Seems like you have to grade on a curve.

LBJ was effective, but he had a very peculiar set of circumstances to work with, coming right at the end of an era in which ideological polarization was unusually low, he got to take credit for the work of the most effective popular movement of the twentieth century, and he got to ride the groundswell of the assassination of an extremely popular president. There are headwinds too, of course. War, to name one. But he found himself in pretty favorable conditions. Plop him down in 1997 or 2011 and I'm not sure he acquits himself better than the people in power in those years.
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Old 06-05-2019, 05:34 PM
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Seems like you have to grade on a curve.

LBJ was effective, but he had a very peculiar set of circumstances to work with, coming right at the end of an era in which ideological polarization was unusually low, he got to take credit for the work of the most effective popular movement of the twentieth century, and he got to ride the groundswell of the assassination of an extremely popular president. There are headwinds too, of course. War, to name one. But he found himself in pretty favorable conditions. Plop him down in 1997 or 2011 and I'm not sure he acquits himself better than the people in power in those years.
I considered this. This is one reason I didn't include FDR. Democrats had a congressional supermajority when the new deal was passed. FDR was brave and willing to stand up for his agenda, but he had a congress willing to work with him.

But LBJ managed to pass civil rights legislation when the south was almost purely democrat. That took a lot of competence and strategic thinking. Some of LBJs policies like medicare and medicaid, or the great society had a lot of support from southern democrats. But southern dems almost universally opposed civil rights for black people But LBJ still got it passed.
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Last edited by Wesley Clark; 06-05-2019 at 05:35 PM.
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Old 06-05-2019, 05:35 PM
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Yeah, McConnell plays small ball, but he's effective at it. Name the major legislation he has gotten through: some tax cuts? Is that about it? I mean, passing tax cuts through a Republican-controlled chamber isn't exactly the stuff of legends. Sure, he's loading the judiciary with right-wing judges, but that doesn't go in the history books. He will be better known as an obstructionist, which he has been quite good at.

Compare that to LBJ, with civil rights and the Great Society. Agree or disagree, those were "big fucking deals" in Joe Biden-speak.

More recently, I think Ted Kennedy is probably the most capable legislator in the last couple of decades. He had his hands in a lot of pots. On the R side, Newt Gingrich was quite capable, too... until that coup sneaked up on him.
He also blocked a lot of judges, and is now packing the courts. He also kept the appellate court empty (the appellate court is where the real power is, not the district or the supreme court) and is now stacking that court.
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Old 06-06-2019, 10:30 AM
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But LBJ managed to pass civil rights legislation when the south was almost purely democrat. That took a lot of competence and strategic thinking.
It surely did. But I'm not sure it required more competence and strategic thinking than other Democratic presidents possessed. He benefited greatly from JFK's popularity and death, especially on this issue, having one of the most successful mass movements in American history pushing toward the same goal, and being the head of the party of the elected officials he needed on board.
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Old 06-06-2019, 10:40 AM
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He also blocked a lot of judges, and is now packing the courts. He also kept the appellate court empty (the appellate court is where the real power is, not the district or the supreme court) and is now stacking that court.
That's why I called him a good obstructionist.
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Old 06-06-2019, 11:14 AM
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To widen the discussion, in the British context, I'd say Attlee (whose government established the postwar welfare state) and (through gritted teeth) Thatcher (who reversed a lot but not all of the assumptions that went with it). But for both a lot depended on having a solid parliamentary majority and a reliable (ish) team of cabinet members. In Attlee's case, there were some powerful personalities who'd already had significant and high-profile responsibilities in the wartime coalition, and he was more the seemingly dull committee chairman holding the balance. Thatcher on the hand, after a few years balancing out the different tendencies in her party finally put her foot down and became very much the agends-driving boss (hence the joke about her ordering a steak for a dinner with her cabinet - "And the vegetables?" "Oh. they'll have the same').
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Old 06-06-2019, 11:27 AM
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PS: Re De Gaulle - he had his setbacks. Successful in getting himself recognised as leader of the Provisional Government, and seeing off the US-favoured alternative candidates, he none the less couldn't get his way over the postwar Constitution and fell out with ministers, so went off in a huff and founded a party no-one wanted in government, until the military coup in Algeria in 1958. He got his way then, and survived 1968 - but lost a referendum on a relatively minor issue and resigned again .

Couple of suggestions of German politicians - Adenauer, Willy Brandt and Helmut Kohl - except that for all their successes, Brandt and Kohl had to go in fairly embarrassing circumstances.

As another British politician said, all political careers end in failure.
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