They’re likely going to have a lot of opportunities to protest. Past Republican takeovers of the federal government have led to conservative activists feeling betrayed by concessions to political pragmatism and policy necessity: Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, and the last Republican Congress abandoned various pledges to cut spending and ultimately accrued massive debts. The same political and mathematical realities apply today: Social Security, Medicare, and defense spending are popular among the older voters upon whom the GOP relies. If you do not cut those programs, and you do not raise taxes, you simply cannot balance the budget—even if Republicans fulfill their campaign pledge to cut domestic discretionary spending down to its 2008 levels. “People think the two parties argue about government spending, but they’re really arguing over a very small piece of government spending,” says Scott Lilly, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank, and a former staff director for the House Appropriations Committee. Even Tea Partiers who would be willing to see spending cuts to defense or entitlement programs are being set up for unavoidable disappointment, because Republicans did not even propose any such cuts in their campaign platform.
Friday, November 05, 2010
Thursday, November 04, 2010
Yet as the clip above from Fox Business News demonstrates, the absurdity quickly became fuel for the vast right-wing outrage machine. (My favorite part above is where the outraged host, the genius Eric Bolling, insists: “I will tell you unequivocably, I am not making this up, this has been reported, go to the Internet, go take a look.” Really, they gave this guy a microphone and TV time?)
“If [new Republican members] vote to uphold our core values, against pressure from their party leadership, we can give them the political backing they need,” says Martin [Jenny Beth Martin, national coordinator for the Tea Party Patriots], vowing that the Tea Partiers’ frantic pace of calling, e-mailing, rallying, and lobbying Congress will not slow.
Estimates are that the GOP will be able to cut spending by about $100 billion. Given the mess the Bush administration left us, that's not very much. Too, a huge portion of the Teabagger support comes from (drumroll please) old folks on scooters provided by Medicare who skipped rallies on the third of each month to await their Social Security checks.
Wednesday, November 03, 2010
So what to make of this difficult election? I thought I'd follow up yesterday's critique of Obama with a critique of Congress.
Let's look back for a moment and see what could have been done better.
First, the legislative agenda was completely screwed up, and for that, we have to blame Pelosi and Reid. There should have been a meeting between Reid, Pelosi and Obama in December of 2008 that set priorities, and I'm betting there was.
But the follow up was sorely lacking and it showed. Reid and Pelosi, but mostly Reid, should have caucused with the Democrats and hammered home a final bill for healthcare reform, the bank bailout and the stimulus package. That they got all this accomplished in the first two years is a testament to the will of Obama's underlings to get him re-elected, but Obama's presidency was never about the first term.
It was about the first two years: the golden moment when he'd own Congress.
I understand the laxity. After all, you had a bulletproof majority in the House and a near-bulletproof majority in the Senate. But near bulletproof is not bulletproof and the second any politician senses an opportunity to grab more power, he or she is going to do so.
It was mission critical for Obama that Senators like Nelson and Lincoln (who thankfully lost last night) and Congresscritters like Bart Stupak be brought into the fold and a unified front be presented to the nation and the Republicans.
Had the people of America seen the bills as pre-packaged law, they would have known that Democrats had things under control and would have felt better about the future. Likely, Dems would have retained both houses comfortably.
But there's more: someone over there needs to take control of getting everyone on message.
Say what you will about the GOP: they may be brutish nasty little fucks, but they're ALL brutish nasty little fucks with the same message.
Here's what should have happened.
The second wave of bank bailouts, a follow up to Bush's short-sighted and selfish money pit, should have been rolled out first. It should have been called or at least characterized "Emergency (Rescue works even better) Liquidity Loans".
"Loans" being the operative word. Then as each bank repaid the Fed, Obama should have held a schmaltzy ceremony with an oversize check made out to Uncle Sam which included the amount loaned and interest. A photo op proving that the economy was getting back on its feet.
People know what a "bailout" means. It means that you have low expectations of getting your money back, that it's a gift.
Next up, tackle the stimulus bill. It has to follow quickly, and the reason these all should have been pre-packaged was to avoid the shambles of Senators trying to get a bigger piece of the pie.
Two points should have been hammered home in the passage of this bill: one, it contained the single largest tax cut in American history ($300 billion) for 95% of Americans, and it was being passed by Democrats, not Republicans. That should have been the centerpiece of the discussion of the bill and not the "shovel-ready projects" nonsense that was featured.
Second, the additional stimulus spending was given to state and local governments to spend on projects most critical to them. "Shovel-ready" to me meant that these were projects that in an already declining economy, those governments had committed to seeing thru. They were critical. Additional funding would allow those projects to expand without the need for local revenue, freeing those to retain teachers and firefighters. They should have been called "critical repairs" or "vital infrastructure," with images of the I-35 collapse played over and over again on the TeeVee.
"Shovel-ready" to other people just sounded like a pile of horseshit waiting to be moved.
The most important political reason this bill needed to be passed quickly was to get the money into the hands of people. The most important political reason to pass it in the fashion I suggested was to force the GOP to oppose a tax cut. Highlight that fact, early and often, and you can run a year later on that opposition. Also, it blunts the Teabaggers' most effective and contrived weapon.
One more point on this bill: the deficits were out of control, it's true. What the Democrats should have pointed out, and much much more forcefully, is that when Obama took over, the national debt stood at $11 trillion and will come in around $13 trillion this year.
When Bush took over, the national debt was $6 trillion. That's right, Bush's tax cuts and war-mongering cost us $5 trillion, with no consummate spike in economic activity (Bush actually ran a negative job growth figure until 2005, despite his enormous expansion of the government AND three tax cuts). This lays the groundwork for two things: one, this spending is necessary and two, we're going to have to adjust taxes to account for it.
Third, healthcare reform. As I pointed out yesterday, it took a year from proposal to passage. THat was too long, for a very important logistical reason: implementation of even the simplest parts took six months.
Had the bill been passed in the fall of 2009, or better still, the spring, Congress would have had real success stories coming out of HCR. Denial of coverage would have been a thing of the past. Children would be allowed to stay on their parents' plans. On those alone, much good would have been reported upon. Think about the economy and how if people could take money they were spending on emergency healthcare and spend it on paying down the mortgage or even finding some way to buy a few nice things, we'd have an economy primed for recovery already.
It would already have encouraged maintaining good health over specialized care, which to me will be the most important element of the bill. A free mammogram is going to be cheaper for everyone than an uninsured's mastectomy. That's just common sense, and that portion of HCR would be in effect already.
The Democratic leadership blew the roll-out of the Obama agenda and as such, deserved the losses they suffered.
But what to do going forward?
Undoubtedly Boehner will try to push thru some of the Teabagger agenda of lowering taxes and cutting spending. He'll fail miserably at it, but some legislation will get thru, and will get stoned in the Senate.
He'll fail because there really isn't much spending to cut and cutting revenues now will only serve to lower an already decrepit tax revenue stream. Something like 60-70% of Federal expenditures are for defense or Social Security and Medicare.
If you'll recall, much of the Teabagger anger was at "keeping government hands off my Medicare!"
Yea, so Boehner tries it, and he'll see an uprising.
I'm tempted to say to the Dems in the House, sit back and enjoy the show. But there's an opportunity here to mediate the conflict, and to come off as the party of reason between the oligarchists and the populists. This, along with Obama's coattails in 2012, should be enough to recapture the House, if they finally find a message mill who can frame the discussion for them (I'm available, of course).
Keep pointing out that the House was never in this much disarray under Pelosi, that the Congress got more accomplished for the American people and should have earned their trust (for the reasons I mentioned above) but were so focused on doing good work that Democrats forgot we needed to polish up our resumes.
In the Senate, well, I hope they oust Reid as Majority Leader, but I don't see it happening. What Reid needs to do is to hand off the public face of the Democratic leadership to another, more popular Senator. Feinstein's an interesting choice for this, so is Schumer, but my dark horse here is NY's other Senator, Kirsten Gillibrand. She has centrist chops, to be sure, but she's photogenic and has shown a capacity to understand and execute orders. Failing that, Patrick Leahy or Amy Klobuchar would make excellent major domos.
Legislatively, there's an opportunity to pull off a surprise: work with Rand Paul. Bernie Sanders, the Socialist from Vermont, surprisingly had a good rapport with Paul's father, Ron and claimed he was able to work with him. Ask Sanders to approach Rand in the same fashion, and the 2012 campaign can be blunted by pointing to Rand Paul's cooperation with Dems.
The Senate under Reid for the next two years will be the Senate under Reid for the past two years: a place where bills go to die (unless they water them down). With a majority party in opposition in the House, this should be a pretty dull Senate session.
I can't recall a situation in recent memory where the Senate was firmly held by one party and the House by the other. This ought to be an interesting two years.
Tuesday, November 02, 2010
If the postpartisan Obama of the campaign was largely absent in the first half of his term, many other aspects of the political character revealed in Game Change — the strengths, the weaknesses, the temperament, the tendencies — have been on vivid display in his White House. Four examples spring to mind.The first is Obama's aversion to the artifice of politics. For much of 2007, as our book makes clear, the candidate's performance was weak, in no small part because he recoiled from the performance-art elements of the job. And so it was again in 2009 and 2010, as Obama often lapsed into an odd passivity, evincing a stubborn reluctance to engage with voters on a visceral, emotional level and causing supporters and detractors alike to wonder, What's wrong with this guy?
The second is Obama's tendency to perform at his highest level when — and only when — the game is on the line. In the campaign, this penchant, which he demonstrated in the final weeks before Iowa and later during the financial crisis, served him well and earned him the sobriquet of the ultimate fourth-quarter player. In the White House, he has done the same, notably in the last-minute push for the passage of health care reform. Yet, faced with sustained challenges like the BP oil spill, Obama has struggled to calibrate his inner clock and rouse himself to palpable intensity and action.
The third example is Obama's approach to designing and deploying his inner circle. Obama demanded that his people be good at what they do and get along with their colleagues. He filled his Cabinet with strong men and women of great ability and accomplishment. But, just as he did during the campaign, Obama has relied on only a tiny claque of trusted aides for advice on the major decisions confronting him. Though this kind of tightly controlled, top-down approach was effective during the election, more than a few seasoned Washington hands wonder if it is the optimal way to run a White House, let alone the entire federal government — and they argue that Obama should widen the circle, opening himself up to more contrary (and contrarian) counsel.
Fourth, and final, is Obama's failure to put forward what might be called a "theory of the case": a sustained, compelling distillation of his vision of the role of government at this moment in history, the connective tissue between his inspirational rhetoric and concrete policy proposals. In the campaign, Obama found it unnecessary to lay out such a thesis; what he had to do instead was show, during the nomination fight, that he was not a Clinton, and then, during the general election, that he was not a Bush. Yet the absence of a theory of the case has persisted since Obama arrived at the White House. And it has left him a worryingly indistinct figure, even among his supporters, with many on the left seeing him as a temporizing, compromising moderate and many in the center perceiving him as having pitched to the left.
Let's dissect these one by one.
First point, I think Halper-mann is off kilter. If anything, Obama was selective in his artifice. He certainly convinced enough people that he was neither Clinton nor Stokely Carmichael, while maintaining elements of both moderation and radicality. Even Bill Clinton couldn't pull this stunt off. He left it to the right wing to paint him as a radical (remember his trip to Moscow in college?), which sadly laid the groundwork for the opposition to his administration.
The second point, the last-minute sudden death overtime winner, is I think the most valid point the article makes. Take healthcare reform. It took a year to get the bill that we got, a bill that capitulated and compromised so badly that when he couldn't get 60 Democrats in the Senate, out of 60 Democrats, he nearly needed to find support in the GOP!
Imagine if, in that year between proposal and passage, the bill had passed much earlier. Already, portions of the bill, the parts about universal coverage for children up to age 26 or the abolishment of the pre-existing condition clause, would have been effective and millions of stories would be coming out about how HCR helped working families keep working.
The BP crisis showed another side of this inability to focus on a task from the get-go, as the authors point out. It's not that Obama was wrong to initially let BP and the EPA work out the response there. The magnitude of the crisis and the enormity of the task (as well as the criminal behavior of the drillers) was unknown. Obama could have, however, made it clear that action had to be prompt and effective, or he'd "call out the troops" to coin a phrase.
Point three: Howard Dean, on the Keith Olbermann show last night, made a couple of salient points with regard to this concept, that Obama staffed himself with yes-men.
That was the problem with the inside the beltway folks who -- I think the president never really got the view of what was going on outside the beltway. This is not an election about left or right. And the -- and the tea party is not against big government. That's -- these are big fallacies that are put forward by people like fox... It's not a matter of left and right. it's a matter of being clear and being much tougher. We should have used reconciliation from the very beginning. but that's over. That's all water over the dam. We've got a big problem tomorrow.
He's right: for a man who ran on change, there wasn't a whole lot changed. You could easily have fit the Obama administration inside Clinton's and not that that is a bad thing necessarily, but it was the wrong message to send to the people and it was likely the wrong administration at the wrong time. He needed outsiders, at least to keep an eye on the insiders, and Elizabeth Warren late in the game was not the move he needed to make. Make that move earlier, much earlier, and you have some legitimacy.
When Bill Clinton was in his second term and his entire legacy was going to be put on trial, he didn't go out and hire cronies. He went out and hired the most unctious, hateful enemies he could find: David Gergen and Dick Morris. This sent a message that he would listen to any opinion, no matter houw foul and far afield of his own thinking. Obama needs to do this, but with a wrinkle: he needs to people who will stiffen his spine and force him to confront the folks on the right.
Fourth point...this one is iffy. Like the Teabaggers, Obama ran as the anti-establishment candidate. He had to, and he had the opportunity to. Had he spent another four or eight years in the Senate, he would have lost the luster of the Outsider. This was his time, this was his chance. And he ran a platform that really put the onus of his success on us, a dangerous proposal for any politician with a population that has an attention span as short as ours.
You know, "We are the change we seek," that sort of thing.
I mean, he was right. And wrong.
He was right in that, if we lose our democracy to the corporatocracy that is, first inch by inch and now mile by mile, absorbing our freedoms and our rights, it's not the politicians fault. It's ours. We are the "WE, THE PEOPLE".
And he was wrong in that when the shit hit the fan, we weren't going to blame ourselves, we'd blame him and Congress and the Teabaggers. He needed to own up to that the minute he set foot in the Oval Office.
By abrogating that responsibility on the campaign trail and in the Oval, he has effectively set in motion an administration adrift. There are good reasons and plenty of them why he might have been caught off-guard, the economic collapse primary amongst them.
But to bailout the banks to the tune of nearly a trillion dollars while not even being able to scarf up one percent of that for homeowners, the "WE, THE PEOPLE," speaks volumes to me about his lack of focus and disappated energy.
He will win in 2012. He has the personal appeal that Jimmy Carter lacked, and will still draw enough votes in enough purple states that he can comfortably plan on redecorating the Oval in 2013. And his appeal will bring many of the seats lost today back to the Democratic party.
Will it be enough to really and vigourously attack the agenda he set out with in 2007? That's the $64 question!
Monday, November 01, 2010
Bank regulation, healthcare reform, rescuing the financial system ... the president has done many good things in his "yes we can, but" two years. But he still hasn't learned how to govern as a centrist or a populist which is what you have to do to govern the United States.
But anything he can do badly his opponents can usually do worse, as George Bush so often proved. So let's hope that Middle America decides tomorrow that it would prefer an honest prig to some of the shyster rascals offering themselves for office. America, we still need you, but we need you sane.
If the rally on Saturday taught us anything, it is to discount anyone who comes at us with hate and fear. Anyone who tries to get our vote by telling us that so-and-so is Hitler is someone who doesn't deserve the time of day. As Stewart said in his keynote, "There are terrorists and racists and Stalinists and theocrats but those are titles that must be earned. You must have the resume. "
When some rightwinger tells you Obama is a Muslim terrorist socialist hellbent on destroying America, change the channel. It doesn't matter how much "evidence" he claims to have. He's lying and you know it, so why listen to him? And if you DO listen to him, what does that say about you? If you believe him, it's because you want to believe him, you want to believe that some Muslim terrorist socialist fanatic somehow managed to bamboozle 60% of the American public into electing him, when that clearly would never happen here.
When people complain about a cultural center a half mile from Ground Zero, ask them for the facts: is it illegal to be Muslim and want to reach out in this nation?
When people tell you universal healthcare is bad, ask them if its better that 40 million people live with the fear of losing their homes because they can't afford to let a corporation profit from their bodies?
And moreover, don't let me or anyone else do your thinking for you. It's your life. Take responsibility for it. Inform yourself. Pay attention.
Fear is ignorance. It's one thing to fear a wolf that's actually at the door, it's a very different thing to fear a wolf that might show up at your door someday if traffic is just right and he manages to get on the right train, walk the right street, and press the right door bell. It's one thing to fear the bear in the woods IF you're already in the woods, it's another thing to fear the bear that's in a cage at the zoo.
Most of life is about preparation, in my experience. Things happen, sure. Horrible things, terrible things. Our mainstream media makes sure to supply us with healthy doses on a daily basis of fear. Just watch the evening news tonight, but instead of swallowing everything Couric or Brokaw or Bill O'Reilly feed you like a little baby sucking the spoon mommy thrusts in his mouth, bring your laptop to the couch with you, and Google the news. Sure, you'll see those stories, but for every fire or tsunami they cover, there are six other things going on that are more relevant to you, things that you need to know about because, guess what? By the next election cycle, those will be the things candidates and their handlers will try to scare you with.
There are facts out there. When someone tells you a fact second hand, you are hearing it thru his or her filter, and trust me, most of the filters I've seen in this country need a good scrubbing. Go find out for yourself. Skip "Glee" this week and spend that hour of entertainment...it's called TiVo or a VCR, use it!...learning five facts about the news you're hearing.
People are fallible. Obama is fallible. I'm fallible. And here's the shocking news: you are fallible, too.
When Christine O'Donnell was haunted this year by a stupid comment on a show many years ago about dabbling in withcraft, she wasn't mocked for that comment. She was mocked because she set a narrative for herself that she was above sin, above humanity, and infallible, and that we should listen to her because she has the answers, and she not only failed to live up to that narrative (as seems to happen anytime someone sets that narrative, usually a Republican) but we saw that narrative was a sham from the get-go. She was saying now whatever it took to get her fifteen minutes of fame and possibly steal an election.
Same for Sarah Palin, and Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, except they were more successful at avoiding the exposure of their narrative until the concrete had set. Still, none of them is going to get elected to high national office, and they know it. This is why they avoid the topic at all costs, except to tease a little more money from the rubes.
As fallible as they are, could any of us stand up to the withering dissection of politics? This is why Obama ran as soon as he could, because he didn't want to leave a trail. This is why George W. Bush paid great money to hide his TANG records. This is why Presidents nominate cyphers to the Supreme Court. And all of this is damaging to the nation. We need people we can be sure are sane, not ideologues. People who can reach out and compromise with the opposition because, like it or not, those folks deserve a say in how the nation moves forward too.
Barack Obama tried and got his hands burned not because he was wrong to reach out, but because the opposition was going to play dirty.
"Playing dirty" is not a good enough excuse to not try. Getting burned and not trying anymore, that might be. But Clinton managed to get stuff done with Republicans and he was under investigation for impeachment for most of his second term. Obama is going to have to do that, especially if both houses flip (unlikely).
I suppose it's hard to fathom a comedy show in DC not being political and kudos to Stewart and Colbert for pulling it off. A lot of liberals were angry that the rally wasn't more political.
These liberals miss the point. At the end of the day, we're all Americans, and we may be right and they wrong, but that doesn't mean we get to dictate terms of a surrender. We have to make the case, and in terms the other guys can understand. We can lecture all we want, but as Obama put it on The Daily Show last week, when people are afraid, they don't think so clearly.
Fallible, in other words. We have to communicate with them on their level. And we don't have to persuade everyone, we just have to persuade enough of them of the rightness of our cause. We don't have to find each and every nutbag in a bunker and describe to him how he benefits, but we have to find the moms in minivans and the dads at the bowling alley and the soldier at boot camp and the girl behind the counter at Burger King and explain it to them in terms that mean something to them.
Tomorrow, we will lose some power to the people who want boogeymen in the closet and zombies under the bed because that's how they retain power, distracting us with fear while they do things that truly will be fearful. There's not a whole lot we can do about that, even if I think the rally over the weekend may have finally brought some sense to some of these people and may salvage a few races that we might have lost.
But the lesson to learn from this season is to take nothing for granted in American politics. You're one apathetic electorate away from disaster.
Sunday, October 31, 2010
"I can’t control what people think this was. I can only tell you my intentions. This was not a rally to ridicule people of faith or people of activism or to look down our noses at the heartland or passionate argument or to suggest that times are not difficult and that we have nothing to fear. They are and we do. But we live now in hard times, not end times. And we can have animus and not be enemies.
But unfortunately one of our main tools in delineating the two broke. The country’s 24 hour political pundit perpetual panic conflictinator did not cause our problems but its existence makes solving them that much harder. The press can hold its magnifying up to our problems bringing them into focus, illuminating issues heretofore unseen or they can use that magnifying glass to light ants on fire and then perhaps host a week of shows on the sudden, unexpected dangerous flaming ant epidemic.
If we amplify everything we hear nothing. There are terrorists and racists and Stalinists and theocrats but those are titles that must be earned. You must have the resume. Not being able to distinguish between real racists and Tea Partiers or real bigots and Juan Williams and Rick Sanchez is an insult, not only to those people but to the racists themselves who have put in the exhausting effort it takes to hate--just as the inability to distinguish terrorists from Muslims makes us less safe not more. The press is our immune system. If we overreact to everything we actually get sicker--and perhaps eczema.
And yet, with that being said, I feel good—strangely, calmly good. Because the image of Americans that is reflected back to us by our political and media process is false. It is us through a fun house mirror, and not the good kind that makes you look slim in the waist and maybe taller, but the kind where you have a giant forehead and an ass shaped like a month old pumpkin and one eyeball.
So, why would we work together? Why would you reach across the aisle to a pumpkin assed forehead eyeball monster? If the picture of us were true, of course, our inability to solve problems would actually be quite sane and reasonable. Why would you work with Marxists actively subverting our Constitution or racists and homophobes who see no one’s humanity but their own? We hear every damn day about how fragile our country is—on the brink of catastrophe—torn by polarizing hate and how it’s a shame that we can’t work together to get things done, but the truth is we do. We work together to get things done every damn day!
The only place we don’t is here or on cable TV. But Americans don’t live here or on cable TV. Where we live our values and principles form the foundations that sustains us while we get things done, not the barriers that prevent us from getting things done. Most Americans don’t live their lives solely as Democrats, Republicans, liberals or conservatives. Americans live their lives more as people that are just a little bit late for something they have to do—often something that they do not want to do—but they do it--impossible things every day that are only made possible by the little reasonable compromises that we all make.
Look on the screen. This is where we are. This is who we are. (points to the Jumbotron screen which show traffic merging into a tunnel). These cars—that’s a schoolteacher who probably thinks his taxes are too high. He’s going to work. There’s another car-a woman with two small kids who can’t really think about anything else right now. There’s another car, swinging, I don’t even know if you can see it—the lady’s in the NRA and she loves Oprah. There’s another car—an investment banker, gay, also likes Oprah. Another car’s a Latino carpenter. Another car a fundamentalist vacuum salesman. Atheist obstetrician. Mormon Jay-Z fan. But this is us. Every one of the cars that you see is filled with individuals of strong belief and principles they hold dear—often principles and beliefs in direct opposition to their fellow travelers.
And yet these millions of cars must somehow find a way to squeeze one by one into a mile long 30 foot wide tunnel carved underneath a mighty river. Carved, by the way, by people who I’m sure had their differences. And they do it. Concession by conscession. You go. Then I’ll go. You go. Then I’ll go. You go then I’ll go. Oh my God, is that an NRA sticker on your car? Is that an Obama sticker on your car? Well, that’s okay—you go and then I’ll go.
And sure, at some point there will be a selfish jerk who zips up the shoulder and cuts in at the last minute, but that individual is rare and he is scorned and not hired as an analyst.
Because we know instinctively as a people that if we are to get through the darkness and back into the light we have to work together. And the truth is, there will always be darkness. And sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t the promised land. Sometimes it’s just New Jersey. But we do it anyway, together.
If you want to know why I’m here and want I want from you, I can only assure you this: you have already given it to me. Your presence was what I wanted.
Sanity will always be and has always been in the eye of the beholder. To see you here today and the kind of people that you are has restored mine. Thank you."