February 9th, 2017

Has anyone…

…on the left used the term “failure theater”* to describe what the Democrats in Congress are doing these days? That is, empty histrionics that are getting them nowhere so far in terms of stopping the approval of Trump’s cabinet?

Is failure theater of this sort satisfying enough for their base? After all, the idea is that it rallies the troops.

* In case you’re unfamiliar with the term “failure theater,” it’s what was said over and over and over on the right to criticize and belittle the efforts of the GOP in Congress to stop Obama’s and/or the left’s policies, back when the left was in control of the presidency (and also, for much of the time, all or part of Congress).

25 Responses to “Has anyone…”

  1. OM Says:

    Failure theater, it’s a tragedy for the Democrats but a farce for the Republicans.

  2. Big Maq Says:

    Doubt many on the left would be all that familiar with the internal approach, arguments, criticisms on the right during the obama years.

    But, perusing some of the msm and even more left leaning media, it is starting to sound very familiar. There’s even open talk of a left “tea party” movement, and various “litmus test” issues.

  3. Mike K Says:

    It is good for fund raising which was probably behind Fauxcahontas floor speech in the Senate.

  4. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    I’m unfamiliar with the term but the concept is self evident. It also seems obvious that while the dems must realize that their efforts to stop Trump are likely to be as futile as were the republicans with Obama, it serves other worthwhile in their view purposes.

    It will keep the base satisfied that they’re at least trying and the dems will have the media drumming their narrative into the LIVs empty little heads.

    Demonizing and thus illegitimizing Trump in the minds of the LIVs is the purpose of their theater. No representative government can successfully operate without majority public support.

  5. huxley Says:

    I’ve not heard the term “failure theater.”

    Democrats will not be able to stop Trump’s cabinet, but I don’t think this approach should be written off entirely as a Kubler grief stage.

    If Trump stumbles badly a few times, all that base activation will pay off big time.

    I thought Democrats had to moderate after W. won in 2004, but they doubled-down and became even more radical. By 2008 they had the White House, the Senate and the House.

  6. neo-neocon Says:

    Geoffrey Britain; huxley:

    The term “failure theater” was very popular during the Obama years, and often used on blogs on the right to criticize the GOP in Congress, in particular during the years when they had control of the House and Senate (the last two years of the Obama administration), although Obama still had veto power and they were unable to override.

    They were continually accused of not wanting to stop Obama, and their seeming efforts to do so were called “failure theater.” The blogger Ace was certainly not the only person to do this—there were many; it was pretty standard, actually. But Ace was not only a frequent user of the term but a very articulate one. For example, here’s his rather succinct summary of what he means by it:

    Failure Theater is the process by which the Establishment deliberately fails to do achieve anything, but wants credit from the Dumb Conservatives they’re playing to for allegedly “trying.”

    Each of Boehner’s and McConnell’s “defeats” are in fact planned in advance. They are not trying to advance the conservative agenda; they are attempting to con conservatives into believing they have attempted to implement conservative policy, when in fact they were delivering their political deliverables to their Donor Class paymasters all along.

    I certainly didn’t always approve of what the GOP in Congress did and didn’t do. But I didn’t generally ascribe to the “failure theater” notion, and wrote many posts disagreeing with that sort of explanation for their actions.

    “Failure theater” was also referred to as “kabuki theater” at times.

  7. Bilwick Says:

    Sad to say, but I think those of us in the pro-freedom camp are playing “failure theater” in the long run. As I think Jefferson said or wrote, history shows the life-span of free republics is usually short.

  8. M J R Says:

    neo writes of “empty histrionics that are getting them nowhere so far in terms of stopping the approval of Trump’s cabinet.”

    For my money, Mike K (at 1:49 pm) is getting it right: it’s not only very “good for fund raising,” it’s in fact an opening volley in Fauxcahontas’ 2020 run for president — now that Mzzz Hillary’s finally been disposed of (we good guys fervently hope).

  9. neo-neocon Says:

    M J R:

    I meant it was “getting them nowhere” in terms of the stated reasons for the activity. That’s why it could be called “failure theater“—because the appearance of what the goal is isn’t necessarily the reality of what the goal is.

  10. huxley Says:

    Ah…kabuki theater. That I have heard.

  11. M J R Says:



    It’s just that when I read your short piece, I was already thinking in terms of Fauxcahontas eyeing 2020. Then I saw Mike K’s comment, and out came my two cents’ worth.

    Sorry if it came off as disagreement. It wasn’t.

  12. TommyJay Says:

    A couple months ago I came up with an acronym for the Dems antics, which is KTBS or Kabuki Theater BS. Actual Kabuki theater no doubt has some artistry containing some human truths, but this stuff is just BS.

  13. Dan K. Says:

    The difference back then is the Republicans in the House had the votes to stop things beginning from Jan 2011 and the Senate votes to stop things beginning from Jan 2015, but were so terrified of the optics of a government shutdown that they declined to flex their congressional majority power and caved enough to let Obama things pass on through relatively unimpeded (at least until the Merrick Garland situation).

    The Democrats, on the other hand, are sitting where the Republicans were in 2009-2010. They can filibuster (for as long as that’s around), but aside from that, they can’t do much substantive now just as we couldn’t do much substantive then. For it to count as “failure theater”, they would need to have the ability to stymie the executive but not the will to follow through.

  14. Reformed Trombonist Says:

    Hmmm… With the Republicans, it was definitely failure theater. They finally have their chance to repeal ObamaCare, and they’re really slow-walking it. $10 says it isn’t going to happen.

    They’re like an understudy who have spent the past eight years saying how much better they’d be than the lead — and now that the spotlight is on them, they freeze.

    With the Democrats, it’s more like training than failure. They fight, they fight hard, always, every day, all day long in their religious zeal to ruin the United States of America. No rest for the wicked.

    That way, when they can respond to the curtain call, they’ll know what to do.

  15. Bruce Says:

    Are we really looking at political “Kabuki” or, perhaps “Noh”, a style in which “masks” are absolutely critical?

  16. Bradoplata Says:

    Neo, I think that Republican failure theater was also what Ted Cruz called the rest of the Republicans out for when he exposed their votes for much ado about nothing. They would vote to close voting, which required a super majority, and voting against what ever the bill was, which they couldn’t stop. They could then claim they were “fighting the good fight”.

  17. Tom G Says:

    I haven’t seen Dems being called this, and I don’t believe it’s true. I actually do believe that for many GOPe actions, “failure theater” accurately described the GOPe “push” to seem to do something but not get anything done.

    I liked Ted Cruz (after Carly!) because I thought he’d be a real conservative, and try to do conservative things — and NOT have failure theater.

    Actually, I have read that Trump’s EO might be a small piece of failure theater — that Trump doesn’t really want to do it but wants to blame the courts for not getting it done. I don’t think in this case that it’s true, but if there are cases, or if this is a case, it won’t surprise me.

    The activist Dems really do believe Trump = Hitler, and therefore “extremism in defense” against Trump is no vice. And their leaders really ARE doing “all they can” to stop anything and everything Trump is trying to do.

    Now that I think of it, many Reps will be wondering why the minority Dems have so much success at obstructing when the post 2011 Reps seemed so much less successful, even as the Congress majority.

    I’m enjoying the Dem hysterical morons, and wondering how long before they are made fun of more effectively for wasting so much of their own lives on this posturing.

    If their behavior is not “failure theater”, what is it? There’s clearly room for a good phrase that accurately yet pithily describes it.

    “Democracy denial protests?”

  18. Jeff H Says:

    I prefer “seppuku kabuki”.

  19. Elliott Says:

    It is a form of abuse and manipulation. That so many in DC like it and use it and enable it is cause for concern. The Democrats could just be called the Co-Dependence Party. Hysterical playacting to get their way is very common in adolescents for example.

  20. Jacob Says:

    Failure theater is Trump’s ban on legal visa holders.

  21. JoanOfArgghh Says:

    Smoke signals. No real fire.

  22. submandave Says:

    I don’t think the term applies, because the goals are different.

    The goal of conservatives was to stop Obama’s agenda, and they believed that many in Congress espoused the same goals while simultaneously offering only token resistance. Thus, the GOP lawmakers were seen to be engaging in theater, only acting as if they tried.

    The goal of the left, however, is not only the destruction of Trump personally, but vindication and validation for their beliefs. That they have been powerless to destroy him (yet) does nothing to change the fact that Democrat lawmakers are indeed fully committed to this goal and to clearly demonstrating their loyalty to their constituency. Likewise, their goal of validation and vindication is personal, and the more one of them wails and moans, the more that person is praised and lauded by the community. So, in that regard, even if the Democrats fail to affect implementation of Trump policy throughout his term, they will always succeed in being judged righteous, moral, and good in the eyes of their ideological peers.

  23. Mahon Says:

    I’d go with “kiddie Kabuki” – Schumer, et al, don’t dare act like grown-ups because their base won’t tolerate it.

  24. Tatterdemalian Says:

    Remember when Googling “miserable failure” always resulted in the first result being a picture of George W. Bush?

  25. McG Says:

    If the left-roots do start thinking in those terms, the result will almost certainly be similar to what befell the GOP over the last couple of years, culminating in Trump. The only question is whether theirs will be as successful at the ballot box.

    It doesn’t matter much whether it’s what’s actually happening; a base that isn’t well communicated with by the upper echelons of the party will lose trust in those echelons and be open to conspiratorial explanations. By the time party leaders realize what’s happening it’s too late for them to salvage their relationship with the base, and the only path forward for the party is a new set of leaders.

    In any event, I don’t foresee the Democratic Party correcting its course by 2020.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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