Energy at the Edges Moves the Center

I really like and respect Marc Ambinder, but he is just wildly off base here:

But Democrats are beginning to notice that opponents of health care reform have discredited themselves. They ramped up much too quickly. When smaller, conservative groups Astroturfed, they inevitably brought to the meetings the type of Republican activist who was itching for a fight and who would use the format to vent frustrations at President Obama himself. There were plenty of activists who really wanted to know about health care, and some who were probably misinformed -- scared out of their chairs -- to some degree, but the loudest voices tended to be the craziest, the most extreme, the least sensible, and the most easy to mock.

The American people remain anxious and confused about health care reform. That is an underlying reality that Republican activists are so eager to exploit. But doing so required a certain restraint -- and a willingness to traffic in at least approximate truths -- and an ability to make distinctions within their own ranks about which tactics were valid and which tactics were venomous. It also required a sophistication about the media. ...

Remember, the target audience for Republicans is Blue Dog Democrats in Congress. They won't panic unless they perceive organic anxiety.  The White House's goal was to prevent the Blue Dogs from panicking. The swing constituents in these congressional districts aren't angry Republicans, and the Blue Dogs know this.  They're political independents for whom the sanctity of the process is important. These are the type of voters who like President Obama because he appears willing to bring people together even though they don't agree with their policies.

As usual, in a pattern that the left patented during the Bush administration, the organized right lost control of its message. ...

That last sentence is really the nub of the problem with this post, since the organized left kind of had the last laugh at Bush's expense in 2008.

I know what it's like to work in a political operation controlled by the White House. And I can attest to the fact that the Obama people are following the Bush playbook to a T: first, pivot to the scraggly disorganization and off-messageness of the opposition.

This is what "Rush is the leader of the Republican Party" was all about. It was what the strange recycling the birther stuff months after it first surfaced was all about. And it's embodied in the ethos of Marc's post, in which any failure to act within the received boundaries of political discourse is automatically a liability for Republicans and a plus for the Obama White House.

For the Bush Administration in mocking the anti-war movement, and Obama deligitimizing the "mob," what both White Houses missed is that the general public has different sets of expectations for political leaders and opposition movements. Oppositions are supposed to be loud, vocal, off-message, inchoate. The President of the United States is supposed to have his stuff together.

Take as an object lesson the Bush Administration's treatment of the anti-war movement. Early on, they were, in words Marc used, "easy to mock." The conservative media had a field day roasting Susan Sontag, then Michael Moore, then Cindy Sheehan, then John "stuck in Iraq" Kerry. And, at times, this genuinely rallied the base.

However, the left ultimately won the political argument about the war (even if they lost the policy argument) -- despite the ineptitude of their leading voices -- because the ever-increasing chorus of opposition eventually ignited a media backlash against the war. When Bush was at 70%+, his prosecution of the war was first branded "divisive" because something like 500,000 anti-war activists were marching on CNN. And it was a short hop from branding the war "divisive" to branding it a disaster.

Much the same is now happening with health care. The public option is, at the very minimum, now perceived as divisive. As controversial. As anything but the sweetness and light upon which Obama uniquely depended on to govern.

In the long run, the side that most insistently believes in its own arguments usually wins. This neatly sums up the outcome of the 2008 election, and the current state of the health care debate. I don't think every swing voter would categorically embrace everything that's happened at the town hall meetings (on either side), but the fervor of one side over the other sends important signals to unaffiliated voters that the doubts outweigh the reassurances on Obamacare, and to armchair quarterbacks everywhere, that the President is on the defensive and dogged by opposition.

More than that, it sends signals to swing Congressmen. It's not uncommon for members of Congress to freak out when one, maybe two people, pose uncomfortable questions in town hall meetings. Because members tend to self-perceive a bubble around them, they place high value on anecdotal feedback.

Now, scale this up to the scenes from town hall meetings. What are people who are programmed to overreact to negative feedback from a handful of questioners supposed to do when confronted with hundreds? React the opposite way? Implausible. Even if they believe the bogus astroturf argument, is it not reasonable to believe a seedling of doubt has been sown even in the most partisan Democratic members, that Obamacare is a political dog that's stirred up a hornet's nest. 

More likely than not when September rolls around, the Blue Dogs are going to have a clear message for the White House: "Make this go away."

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A Hindenburg Event?

 I forget which YouTube vid it was - but the clip of the Congressman melting down in the face of a calm, determined questioner asking about the failed Massachusetts plan was my first time thinking that Obamacare might not only go down in flames, but it might turn this Democratic majority into a Hindenburg event like Hillarycare did in 1994.

Congressional town halls are supposed to be controversy-free.  When constituents show up and they're angry and fearful - or even worse, calm and eloquently opposed - it's a failure.  When elected representatives start sneaking out back doors to avoid answering questions, well, that's full-blown policy failure.

Obama won't surrender, even when he's surrounded

Patrick, Let me start by saying I  agree with your analysis, up to the last conclusion you made.  This is where you logically assumed that when the Blue Dogs tell the White House to make this go away, it would go away.  If President Obama was a normal person, he would do just that.  I believe however that his personal vanity will not allow it.  Watching his speeches over the last few months of his administration, I have come to believe that he is a narcissist.  That may not be his fault, but nonetheless I think it's true.  I guess only time will tell whether I am right or wrong, but all the signs are there.  If you listened to his "town hall meeting", it was almost as if he were speaking about another plan entirely.  The plan he spoke of contained none of the devisive language excoriated by everyone who has read the House bill.  I thought that was really strange.  Refutations of his town hall statements are ridiculously easy.  Just quoting the relevant portions of the bill's text shows it to be completely at odds with his current statements.  In my opinion, he should be talking to Waxman, Pelosi, and Markey, not the American people.

At any rate, it will be interesting to see what happens.

Do Demonstrations Work?

I thought the wacko demonstrations lost the 2002 and 2004 elections for the Democrats. They won in 2006 by an unspectacular drumbeat of bad news and won in 2008 because the economy tanked.

Can Ambinder count?

Maybe not

The swing constituents in these congressional districts aren't angry Republicans, and the Blue Dogs know this.  They're political independents for whom the sanctity of the process is important. These are the type of voters who like President Obama

Virtually every Blue Dog holds a seat where his constituents didn't like Barack Obama enough in 2008 to vote for him over John McCain.  The fact political independents in Jim Himes's yuppie district might be miffed at the tone of opposition to Obamacare isn't going to do Zack Space any good in a blue collar conservative district.

In a low turnout election in a potentially hostile district, keeping the other party from getting riled up and turning its base out in droves is sort of important to political survival.


Nice job Patrick. Well reasoned. Well put.

You get an A for the day on sharpened political insight.  Congressmen are usually weak-kneed; it's why all that arm twisting and promises of White House spending sprees in their districts after a tough vote or promises of unlimited campaign cash for the next election are quid quo pro if a fence-sitting Congressman is going to submit to WH pressure on a tough vote.

What does Arlen Specter, for instance, want more than anything?  To stay in office; to keep the perks; to continue to have power and beat his adversaries.  What would Liddy Dole do differently if she could: keep her constituents happy, appease her opponents.

It was true when the Republic was founded.  It may be the only truism in politics that continues through the centuries --along with the notion that power does corrupt.

I'm not sure we can compare the war with health care...

The difference here is that the war policy was fully enacted - it wasn't until after the policy went south that public opinion turned.  I really don't think the demonstrations on the left had much to do with it at all; the constant stream of caskets without much tangible progress on the battlefield is what did that. But getting in (and out) of a war is in many ways simpler than what's being proposed by the Obama Administration.  I think Rudy Giuliani noted this point on Hannity some weeks ago, but if the health insurance reform that the President is talking about becomes law, it will be impossible to undo.  Just think about what happens when Washington tries to tinker with Social Security or Medicare. This is not an issue where Americans will be able to look back after the fact and say - wow this was a bad policy, we want out.  If this bill gets through it'll be one heck of a bell to unring...

- The Diasporist

yah that iraq war has been a breeze to end

and to undo all the consequences in the region! Otherwise I agree with your sentiment.

No desire for a real debate.

Let's examine for a minute the "bogus astroturf argument."  Saying it doesn't make it so.  For the last week, Rachel Maddow (with facts in hand and via interviews with the principal actors) has convincingly debunked the myth that the current "uprisings" against healthcare reform are a grassroots phenomenon.  Whatever you think of Rachel's political sympathies, go to her website, listen to what she is saying about astroturfing and tell us WHY arguments like hers are "bogus."  I doubt that you will do this because it's much less threatening for you to throw out unfounded assertions in an echo chamber than to engage in an honest debate with someone you don't agree with.  Our President has said on many, many occasions, "We can disagree without being disagreeable." He also encouraged us in the NH townhall meeting to "talk to each other rather than over each other." Isn't it marvelous that Obama is such a mature and wise leader?

say what?

You mean the same guy who wants something akin to the Postal Service deciding whether my kid needs his tonsils yanked? Please

"undoctored" is anything but... it's more like indoctrinated.

undoctored says to listen to Rachel Maddow for honest political insights? Oh my, the bullsh*t is really getting deep near undoctored.

Maddow's "proven" that the opposition to the Great O's health care reform is astroturfed, coordinated, organized anarchy and fake anger? Really?? Seems strange that her proof is almost ripped from the DNC's opposition research report.

And let's remember, undoctored, the real professionals in this game are the farLeft "community organizers" like BarryO and his ACORN pals who wrote the book on this type of trench-political-warfare with Saul Alinsky's radical help. And, I might add, stole the election.

Now ACORN I can believe is astroturf to the max. SEIU is full of fake angry actors ready when the camera lights get warm. Obama-the-teleprompter is most perfected when he's organizing them into a respectable rabal chanting "End this Endless War" or "Elect me to 4 more years".

And when did you think just taking talking points from the DailyKos or the DNC/MSNBC or CongressionalDemocrats or MoveOn.Org would be a good substitute for your own exercise of some unbaised reflection, undoctored?

We know. We know. You've asked us to take a look at Rachel's webpage and by some quirk of reality, we'll all fall in line with the thinking of great journalist-cum-newsreader-cum-pundit-cum-farLeft activist Maddow.

Honestly, wouldn't it be more useful to sit through old tapes of Wally Mondale speaking during train whistle stops in the old 1984 race... or listening to Mikey Dukakis respond in the 1988 presidential debates. I mean, those guys could tax anyone's ability to stay awake but Rachel is such a typical whiney dyke filled with petty vendetta marching to the DNC's instructions, it's tough to languish through anything she says. She's a sleep induced of the first order. At least her peers in crime like HerrBrownShirtOlbermann use some voice inflections to keep their small, devolving audience awake.

By the way, just for the record, when you write: "Our President" you really mean YOUR president; because BarryO isn't my president in any way shape or form. He lost that claim when he started on his unfettered quest to ignore America's allies, embrace America's enemies and plead with all others to forgive America for the spread of injustice, religious bigotry, hatred, violence, chaos and greed throughout the calm, peace-loving, fair-minded world of Mother Earth. That, and his systematic disembowelment of America's capitalistic economy and generational theft.

Hey, isn't this the same President who said "We won. We get it our way. We don't have to listen" to the minoirty Congressional leaders who met with him on budget reforms in January? Yeah, some prophet of compromise he's turned out to be. 

When you find some real proof that the majority of those opponents to The Great O's "reform" proposal are a coordinated, organized, systematic unit, let us know. Maddow doesn't even come close to a rational, balanced argument in her piece. It's all innuendo and hanging suppositions for her.

I think from what you proposed, "undoctored", you should change your name to "indoctrinated". And be sure to use a capital "I".

Still afraid, huh?


 WHY is Maddow's reporting on astroturfing "bogus"? Tell us or can't you think for yourself? What SPECIFICALLY are the points in her argument that you object to? I know it's a lot to ask a mudslinger like you to reflect on anything dispassionately because you're all about riling up the vilest of passions with your childish name calling and non-stop ad hominem attacks, but that's all you have just like the GOP leadership that doesn't have the brains to draft their own budget or healthcare legislation.  Just say "no" to everything  and constantly throw bones to your rabid base. 





Just watching Maddow claiming that industry is whipping up oppos

I've only watched her two times before, because she is so beyond one-sided, that I get a headache.  But if there are people in industry whipping up all this support, where are the e-mails that are going out?  To get this many people they would have to be sending them to a lot of people, at least one would get into the wrong hands.   Where are any of these e-mails from the insur industry, or any other evil corporate interests?

Besides that when you see these people they are passionate about these issues.  They have copies of the bill, they care about it.  And it's mostly old people, do you really think they are there because the industry called them up?  Ludicrous.

There are a few Republican plans, for example the one that Rep. Ryan from Minnesota or something has been talking about.  They don't get the coverage that, say,  Rush Limbaugh being the leader of the Republican party does; but they are definitely out there.

Do the folks who were at the Murphy event look fake?

I posted the picture that ran in the Courant. Sure look like average CT voters to my untrained eye.

Let's presume some proportion of them were whipped by their employer to attend.  I suppose someone who works for the Travelers should applaud the federal government putting their employer out of business? Funny, we don't expect people working for GM or Boeing to behave that way .

The Left and the Iraq War

The Left won the political debate about the Iraq war because the war went very badly. By 2006, the results on the ground won the argument for them. And by that time, the general popular consensus was, whatever happens from here on out, it wasn't really worth it.

"Insistently believing in your argument" does not win or lose wars. Or make health care policy successful or disastrous, so I do not buy the comparison, or the premise of this post.

However, as to the selling of an argument, there are no results by which to judge the health care proposal, so politics is all we have. But you simply assert that a noisy activist at a townhall meeting will make the biggest impression on a congressman. And you simply dismiss that there is any backlash potential to some of the crazy stuff being said. I think you are missing the dynamic.

It seems to me that Marc Ambinder's dynamic is definitely at work. The only question is, will that backlash win the argument, or spin it into a different direction?

RE: noisy activists

Ambinder's "dynamic" sounds more like wishful thinking to me. He's not a fan of public discourse involving people who scream and shout, so he thinks it's ineffective. (Krauthammer has made a similar argument. You find this kind of debate distasteful, and even if you agree with its ends, you hope your side can win the argument using other means.)

But has anyone who was critical of the Dems' health plans changed his mind (in other words, endorsed those plans) because some rowdy and unruly folks are dominating the coverage of the town halls? I see no evidence of that. in fact, if you look at the polls, the Dems' health plans have lost support since the town halls hit the headlines.

The Dems may stanch the bleeding, but if anything the town halls have merely heightened public interest in the debate and put proponents of the reforms on the defensive.

I have a problem with the

I have a problem with the part:

"When smaller, conservative groups Astroturfed, they inevitably brought to the meetings the type of Republican activist who was itching for a fight and who would use the format to vent frustrations at President Obama himself."


The word "astroturf" is bandied about so much lately it's lost all meaning. I consider it means paying people to protest, or comment, or email, or otherwise gin up support that is not actually out there to make it APPEAR that your side has resonance.

"Smaller groups" and "astroturfing" is an oxymoron. Small groups don't astroturf, they organize, and these groups he addresses are organizing like-minded people and getting them out there. It's not astro-turfing.


For the record, I don't think Obama putting out a call for volunteers is astroturfing either. Genuine support, however it's organized, is not astroturfing. Astroturf is fake grass. Small-time organizing is real grass-roots, however it's encouraged.

Crazy Uncle Vote

"There were boos when Specter reaffirmed his president's Americanness." is the end of the piece you failed to quote.  You can have the crazy uncle vote Patrick, they can't win any elections for your grand old party.

I know Ambinders words bite. Good to know that you are taking no heed.

carlton yates, professional blog agitator for the DNC...

you write: "You can have the crazy uncle vote Patrick, they can't win any elections for your grand old party".

Actually, carlton, it was mostly that angry, white male, CrazyUnclePaul vote staying home on 2008 Election Day that allowed your guys, Barry Obama and Lyin'JoeBiden, to win office.

As Karl Rove and other political strategists have pointed out, if that block of voters hadn't been turned off by McCain's earlier front-row support of the immigration reform package, it's likely they would have shown up on 2008 Election Day and put McCain in office instead of our TeleprompterPrez and his LyingVeep.  The block did show up on 2000 Election Day and 2004 Election Day to make it a decisive Bush win... despite the revisionist crap being pedalled by bitter, angry Hillary Clinton these days.

My, what a different world it would be if McCain had been able to secure that block of voters for his tally.

But you keep agitating for the DNC, clayton.  It suits your limited, narrow mindset.

Oh dear

In 2008 John McCain's vote tally was nearly 9 million votes HIGHER than George W. Bush's in 2000...and just over 2 million lower than W's 2004 tally....and still he lost by 9.5 million votes, and a near landslide in the electoral college.

So, for this mythical "block" to have had made a difference, it would have to be gigantic AND we would have to accept that it also stayed at home in 2000 and 2004.

Don't believe everything Karl Rove says. In fact, don't believe anything Karl Rove says, especially if the theme is "I am so smart why don't people listen to me?".

Mead50, like your similar namesake in the Civil War era...

(Gen George Meade) you are "... all smoke and little fact, all rumble and little ground" -Pres Abe Lincoln.

I can't understand why guys like you can't admit that Karl Rove is the modern-day genius of political strategy and tactics.  Gheesh, Rove saved the 2000 election; he repeated his performance in the 2004 election... and with what? A president at under 40% approval rating?  Conservatives in rebellion.  The media taking more pots shots at him than IEDs daily alighting in Iraq AND Afghanistan.  Dems whomping on every single little chink in the armor --real or imaginary.  And 3+ years of relentless fake anger from Democrat Party activists & allies scrambling for any leverage, any pressure point that could portray the President as either unsure or incompetent.  Like when they badgered Bush about being unable to admit a mistake about active WMDs in Iraq and, then, when he did admit, they stoned him for being wrong?

And now Rove is more popular and loved and admired than when he was Bush's right hand guy.  It's gotta hurt you all who wanted him frog-marched in cuffs along with Scooter.

You are so wrong on so many points, I wonder where best to begin?

First, you've evidently been reading the HillaryClinton edition of "Presidential Election Facts", it seems, and are suffering too from selective memory.  While McCain had "only" (LOL) 2 million less votes than W's 2004 record, the point is that more voters in total were at the polling places (without debating whether or not Obama's ACORN manufactured frauduent votes). 

2008 turnout was, following a long trend since 1968, up over the prior years.  Therefore, the point isn't what turnout ended up being to ascribe the impact of voters who stayed home on 2008 Election Day, the point is the folks who should have turned up and didn't.  And why?

It's well documented by Pew and others that social conservatives, portrayed in the turnout of church-a-going religious voters, did stay home on 2008 Election Day.  Not only that, but the stats literally flipflopped: where Bush had a decided advantage over Kerry, Obama gained a decided (20% advantage, btw) advantage over McCain --and the results were reflected in the then-current quote in vogue by a famous Christian church activist who said that "his people" stayed home on 2008 Election Day because "Not voting is better than voting for a half-a-loaf" (referring to McCain's perception as a squishy social conservative).

Second, both in the 2006 and 2008 elections, economic conservatives stayed home in droves... actually, they stayed home in a spiteful snit of pettiness because the GOP had the gumption to nominate McCain over Romney or Tancredo or FreddieThompson and the GOP leadership worked to pass an Immigration Reform bill that was flawed.

Not only that, but the angry economic conservative and social conservative took their ire out on McCain and the GOP White House to such an extent that it destroyed the 20+ yrs of GOP work to bring the Latino and Asian vote home to the GOP... an effort begun by RonnieReagan and carried on by the Bush presidencies.  Need we revisit the racist tone of the social and economic conservatives toward immigrants and illegal workers in the US during the spring and summer of 06?

Add up those numbers, Mead50, and add in the likely substantial vote fraud perpped by the White House's own fraud-mongers over at ACORN, and it's a sea change shift in American politics.  Did anyone forget that Chicago is still known as the vote-fraud capital of the free world?  Kennedy knew it; Obama took it national.

One trend that can be righted (no pun) in 2010/2012 with the proper GOP candidate and a continued drumbeat of public cynicism and anger toward the Dems in Congress and the White House.

It's why the best thing going right now is to keep the mic on NancyP and LyinJoeBiden and HarrygReid and BarryO... they're doing a great job in creating the perfect storm for the GOP to Take Back Congress from the corruption of power and arrogance... and seriously, lastingly damage Obama-Biden so their approval ratings dip below 40%.

There's no mythical block of voters who stayed home on Election Day --the mythical block of voters on Election Day were all those fraudulent and fictitious "voters" that the ACORN and crooked urban mayors created for Barry Obama.

By the way, Mead50, did you know that each decade the descendents of Gen George Meade gather in his hometown of Philadelphia and engage in a type of revisionism that rivals the pure flight of fancy in your post above?  To them, Gen Meade could do no wrong and Lincoln was the indecisive and untested one.  Kind of like looking to blame Rove today --you do a great job of flipping reality on its head just like Gen Meade's descendents.

You've answered your own question.

You ask why I don't revere Rove.  You then ascribe the disastrous results of 2006 and 2008 to evangelicals who proved to be perfidious, and to economic conservatives who were repulsed by what the party had become.  Well, there is the answer to your question - I don't revere Rove because he is the architect of the party's destruction.



You ask...

ummm, no I didn't ask why you didn't revere Karl Rove, Mead50.  But nice try to spin it otherwise.

I know why you don't and there's no need to kid anyone here of the real reasons why you won't acknowledge Karl Rove's mastery of political strategy.

Karl Rove didn't "make" the GOP anything nor is he the architect of its destruction, as you and DailyKossacks like to contend.  The conservative leadership in the House and Senate, by volition of the repeated violations to core GOP principles like small govt, fiscal restraint, lower taxes, economic growth and support of small business and Midwest values, did the GOP in and ruined the brand.  Not Rove.  And not moderate, so-called RINO Republicans.  Conservatives like TomDelay, Bill Frist, Denny Hastert, Henry Hyde, Orrin Hatch,  FreddieGetURGunsThompson and Tancredo ruined the Party by burning down the Big Tent.

Rove, on the other hand, was trying to work to bring together and enhance what he and Geo W saw as the three legs of the future GOP -- 1) hispanic voters (which the social conservatives screwed up in their childish rants about immigration reform), 2) small business interests on Main Street USA and 2) independent voters... along with the anti-tax, strong defense crowds and those who are inherently distrustful of the fed govt doing anything other than natl defense.

But you keep on with the anti-Rove movement.  It's making him very, very rich.  And very, very influential.

The word "astroturf" is

The word "astroturf" is bandied about so much lately it's lost all meaning. I consider it means paying people to protest, or comment, or email, or otherwise gin up support that is not actually out there to make it APPEAR that your side has resonance.

Air jordans 


The flaw in Patrick's argument... the quality of the argument(s) each respective opposition was/is making. 

The Iraq war protesters were correct, and they had their facts right.  They won.

The health reform protesters are the exact opposite of that - they're wrong on all individual accounts and collectively.  They're protesting in favor of complete fabrications, and they're not even good, smart, coherent or even believable fabrications.  Even if some of their objections win the day, it'll only be short term victories.  The votes for some type of meaningful reform are already there, with our without Republican votes.  This opposition will lose.

Health care reform on a scale much more progressive than anything the current administration or congress is proposing WILL win over the long term.  Looking at how this will move over the next 20-30 years, the entire country's health care delivery system will very much mirror the existing Medicare/caid program.  Remember, when Medicare/caid was first enacted it wasn't nearly as generous or effective as it is now, with a number benefits added post-enactment coming from Nixon, then Bush II. 

The right's foolhardy and faulty arguments not withstanding, we simply can't afford the alternative.

Can you count?

 Looking at how this will move over the next 20-30 years, the entire country's health care delivery system will very much mirror the existing Medicare/caid program.

The Country can't afford Medicare/Medicaid for the existing serviced population without rather punitive tax hikes or in Medicare's case; premium increases.  The unfunded liabilities in these programs are already in the trillions. And you think they are a model for the larger system as a whole?

Also, it appears the adminstration you elected does not agree with you.

The Iraq war protesters were correct, and they had their facts right.  They won.

And how's that "bring the boys home" agenda workin out?



you're once again guilty of reminding the farLeft of the facts on "End this endless war" political campaign sloganeering of their Chimp-in-Chief.

My what a difference BarryObama has made as Commander in Chief.  He met with the JCOS on his first day to end the war in Iraq, bring the boys home from Afghanistan, increase NATO country involvement in Afghanistan to replace US soldiers coming home, all while stopping the violence caused by the drug-running Taliban in Afghanistan by meeting "unconditionally" with their leaders and to ask for their forgiveness for what Geo Bush wrought. 

On the same day at the same meeting with the JCOS, he was going to repeal DADT for his gay constituents. 

And, if memory serves me correctly, he promised to root out and capture Usama bin Laden before lunchtime.

Yep, I wonder how that 1st Day of Obama's Presidency is working out?