Monday, December 21, 2009

[AMoMaI] Disappointed with Obama?

BA et al.:

Disappointed with Obama? Certainly not! He's been exactly what I said he would be, only less effective at it. His definition of "bipartisan" is - as I stated long, long ago - "Republicans should join us in what we're trying to do, or they should get out of the way and let us steamroll them." I must say, though, I didn't know he'd have as little stomach for the steamrolling as he turns out to have had.

In 1991 I looked closely at Bill Clinton to see if he would be a viable centrist candidate alternative to George H. W. Bush. Suffice it to say that I did not look long before I was determined to do all I could to keep him out of the White House. I would have rather said, "I was wrong" than feel vindicated after two terms, but he was exactly the President I thought he would be only worse.

In 2006 I looked closely at Obama to see if he would be a viable centrist candidate alternative to what the GOP might put up. I read his first book and loved it. I started to read his second book and hated it. It's not the Audacity of's just Audacity, and his administration has reflected it. Not merely such wasted opportunity to move forward, we have moved backward in our politics and in our safety in the world. I think if I were invited to the White House for another Beer Summit (c'mon, are we serious?!), I would enjoy greatly dialoging with the President and First Lady. I think my kids would enjoy playing with their kids. I am so proud of our country for breaking the color barrier in the White House (though this is NOT the same thing as race not being an issue in the election, with so many more people voting FOR Obama because of his race than voted AGAINST him because of his race, neither one being a legitimate reason to cast a vote). And I do not toss out the same "He's not MY President" stuff that so many Bush-haters spewed about GWB. Obama is my President; I just didn't vote for him, and I wish he had not won. He's done some good things, but more often than not I range from displeased to really upset in response to his rule. It is not simply that he is pursuing an agenda that drives me nuts - granted, I know it's one that you guys like muchly - but he is doing it so poorly and messing up so many things domestically and internationally in the process.

I think Brian's Jimmy Carter allusion may be a good one. Obama apologists blamed Obama's early missteps on "the right wing" who wanted nothing but for him to fail. At this point, still so early in his term, it's tough even for the apologists to defend him. The key to it all for me remains what has bothered me for so long: He is air, "sizzle without the steak" as David Gurgen wrote nearly two decades ago in the NYT magazine about White House communications, empty rhetoric that more and more people are coming to realize they cannot believe because there is nothing behind the speech but the speech. As BA's piece says, as soon as controversy arises he makes like Dennis Miller on SNL's Weekend Update and says, "IIIIIIIIIIAAAAAAAAAAMMMMMMMMMOUTTAHERE!!!" But that's how it's been since campaign days. Friends with everyone without discretion, and shame on someone for impugning the integrity of his friends, until a friend gets inconvenient and then he gets thrown under the bus. Even Grandma got thrown under the bus.

Forgive the rant...haven't had much opportunity to do so. Thanks, BA, for the invitation. Now, have at it, guys!

Merry Christmas to all. May it be a blessed holiday for your families, and as Tiny Tim said, "Tip-toe..." No, wait, wrong one. "God bless us, everyone."


RE: [U.S. Politics and History - AMoMaI] Disappointed With Obama?

Email response from MLB...

----- Forwarded Message ----
From: Michael Busick <>
Sent: Mon, December 21, 2009 3:05:48 PM

I'm not disappointed at all, actually.

Given the mess he's only begun to clean up (and I agree with him when he said it's the biggest mess left for a new president to deal with since FDR took office in 1933)

Just look at how Dubya spent his first 11 months. How many days were spent on vacation? What did he even try to do to help the average American? And he was left with a much smaller mess than Obama. :)

Obama's working his skinny behind off and trying to get things done despite obstructionist, contrarian Republicans and cowardly Democrats (Pelosi and Reid included). He's starting out more like Lincoln than he wanted to, unfortunately.

No way do I regret voting for him. I'll end with a passage I left on a friend's blog:

He's a veggie burger in a steakhouse, a Spock on a ship full of Kirks and a Rubik's Cube in a store of Chinese finger puzzles. And I couldn't be happier about it.

And I agreed with another article on HuffPost that said that Republicans don't want to govern, they just want to criticize. All I'm seeing from them is more of the same (which is how we got here in the first place). Obama should make up things to approve just to see how far FOX News and the GOP will go. The GOP is already twisting themselves in bunches over Medicare's role in the new health-care plan. They can't decide whether to protest its expansion or its existence.

Democrats need to get behind him sooner rather than later or the ones up for re-election in 2010 will find themselves without Congressional health care or their current high-paying jobs.

Disappointed With Obama?

Well, after a long hiatus - I'd like to finally come clean and say that I'm Disappointed in the Obama Administration. Drew Westen captured my feeling succinctly in the Huffington Post, today. Please let me know what you all think? Is is too early to label the Obama Administration a failure? Is anyone sorry that they voted for him? Is it too late for this President to avoid being the Ghost of Jimmy Carter and Christmas past?

Go a head, Brian M. and say, "I told you so." And Young and Mike, looks like you guys were right about Obama's lack of executive experience - - Perhaps, it has made a difference...

Drew Westen: Psychologist and neuroscientist; Emory University Professor
Posted: December 20, 2009 09:34 PM
"As the president's job performance numbers and ratings on his handling of virtually every domestic issue have fallen below 50 percent, the Democratic base has become demoralized, and Independents have gone from his source of strength to his Achilles Heel, it's time to reflect on why. The conventional wisdom from the White House is those "pesky leftists" -- those bloggers and Vermont Governors and Senators who keep wanting real health reform, real financial reform, immigration reform not preceded by a year or two of raids that leave children without parents, and all the other changes we were supposed to believe in.

Somehow the president has managed to turn a base of new and progressive voters he himself energized like no one else could in 2008 into the likely stay-at-home voters of 2010, souring an entire generation of young people to the political process. It isn't hard for them to see that the winners seem to be the same no matter who the voters select (Wall Street, big oil, big Pharma, the insurance industry). In fact, the president's leadership style, combined with the Democratic Congress's penchant for making its sausage in public and producing new and usually more tasteless recipes every day, has had a very high toll far from the left: smack in the center of the political spectrum.

What's costing the president and courting danger for Democrats in 2010 isn't a question of left or right, because the president has accomplished the remarkable feat of both demoralizing the base and completely turning off voters in the center. If this were an ideological issue, that would not be the case. He would be holding either the middle or the left, not losing both.

What's costing the president are three things: a laissez faire style of leadership that appears weak and removed to everyday Americans, a failure to articulate and defend any coherent ideological position on virtually anything, and a widespread perception that he cares more about special interests like bank, credit card, oil and coal, and health and pharmaceutical companies than he does about the people they are shafting.

The problem is not that his record is being distorted. It's that all three have more than a grain of truth. And I say this not as one of those pesky "leftists." I say this as someone who has spent much of the last three years studying what moves voters in the middle, the Undecideds who will hear whichever side speaks to them with moral clarity.

Leadership, Obama Style

Consider the president's leadership style, which has now become clear: deliver a moving speech, move on, and when push comes to shove, leave it to others to decide what to do if there's a conflict, because if there's a conflict, he doesn't want to be anywhere near it.

Health care is a paradigm case. When the president went to speak to the Democrats last week on Capitol Hill, he exhorted them to pass the bill. According to reports, though, he didn't mention the two issues in the way of doing that, the efforts of Senators like Ben Nelson to use this as an opportunity to turn back the clock on abortion by 25 years, and the efforts of conservative and industry-owned Democrats to eliminate any competition for the insurance companies that pay their campaign bills. He simply ignored both controversies and exhorted.

Leadership means heading into the eye of the storm and bringing the vessel of state home safely, not going as far inland as you can because it's uncomfortable on the high seas. This president has a particular aversion to battling back gusting winds from his starboard side (the right, for the nautically challenged) and tends to give in to them. He just can't tolerate conflict, and the result is that he refuses to lead.

We have seen the same pattern of pretty speeches followed by empty exhortations on issue after issue. The president has, on more than one occasion, gone to Wall Street or called in its titans (who have often just ignored him and failed to show up) to exhort them to be nice to the people they're foreclosing at record rates, yet he has done virtually nothing for those people. His key program for preventing foreclosures is helping 4 percent of those "lucky" enough to get into it, not the 75 percent he promised, and many of the others are having their homes auctioned out from right under them because of some provisions in the fine print. One in four homeowners is under water and one in six is in danger of foreclosure. Why we're giving money to banks instead of two-year loans -- using the model of student loans -- to homeowners to pay their mortgages (on which they don't have to pay interest or principal for two years, while requiring their banks to renegotiate their interest rates in return for saving the banks from "toxic assets") is something the average person doesn't understand. And frankly, I don't understand it, either. I thought I voted Democratic in the last election.

Same with the credit card companies. Great speech about the fine print. Then the rates tripled.

The president has exhorted the banks, who are getting zero-interest money, to give more of it to small businesses. But they have no incentives to do that. There are too many high-yield, reasonably low risk investments to make with zero-interest federal loans. I wouldn't mind a few billion to play around with right now myself, and I can't say I'd start with some guy who wants to start his own heating and air company, or an existing small business owner who is hanging on by his fingernails in tough economic times. I'd put my money in something like emerging markets, or maybe Canada. (Have you noticed how well Canadian equities are doing lately?) Or perhaps Chinese wind turbines. (Oh, we're investing there already with stimulus funds.)

The time for exhortation is over. FDR didn't exhort robber barons to stem the redistribution of wealth from working Americans to the upper 1 percent, and neither did his fifth cousin Teddy. Both men told the most powerful men in the United States that they weren't going to rip off the American people any more, and they backed up their words with actions. Teddy Roosevelt was clear that capital gains taxes should be high relative to income taxes because we should reward work, not "gambling in stocks." This President just doesn't have the stomach to make anyone do anything they don't want to do (except women to have unwanted babies because they can't afford an abortion or live in a red state and don't have an employer who offers insurance), and his advisors are enabling his most troubling character flaw, his conflict-avoidance.

Like most Americans I talk to, when I see the president on television, I now change the channel the same way I did with Bush. With Bush, I couldn't stand his speeches because I knew he meant what he said. I knew he was going to follow through with one ignorant, dangerous, or misguided policy after another. With Obama, I can't stand them because I realize he doesn't mean what he says -- or if he does, he just doesn't have the fire in his belly to follow through. He can't seem to muster the passion to fight for any of what he believes in, whatever that is. He'd make a great queen -- his ceremonial addresses are magnificent -- but he prefers to fly Air Force One at 60,000 feet and "stay above the fray."

It's the job of the president to be in the fray. It's his job to lead us out of it, not to run from it. It's his job to make the tough decisions and draw lines in the sand. But Obama really doesn't seem to want to get involved in the contentious decisions. They're so, you know, contentious. He wants us all to get along. Better to leave the fights to the Democrats in Congress since they're so good at them. He's like an amateur boxer who got a coupon for a half day of training with Angelo Dundee after being inspired by the tapes of Mohammed Ali. He got "float like a butterfly" in the morning but never made it to "sting like a bee."

Do you think Americans ought to have one choice of health insurance plans the insurance companies don't control, or don't you? I don't want to hear that it would sort of, kind of, maybe be your preference, all other things being equal. Do you think we ought to use health care as a Trojan Horse for right-wing abortion policies? Say something, for God's sake.

He doesn't need a chief of staff. He needs someone to shake him until he feels something strongly enough not just to talk about it but to act. He's increasingly appearing to the public, and particularly to swing voters, like Dukakis without the administrative skill. And although he is likely to squeak by with a personal victory in 2012 if the economy improves by then, he may well do so with a Republican Congress. But then I suppose he'll get the bipartisanship he always wanted.

No Vision, No Message

The second problem relates to the first. The president just doesn't want to enunciate a progressive vision of where this country should be heading in the 21st century, particularly a progressive vision of government and its relation to business. He doesn't want to ruffle what he believes to be the feathers of the American people, to offer them a coherent, emotionally resonant, values-driven message -- starting with an alternative to Ronald Reagan's message that government is the problem and not the solution -- and to see if they might actually follow him.

He doesn't want to talk about social issues, even though they predictably have gotten in the way of health care reform and will do the same on one issue after another. Abortion? You don't advance a progressive position by giving a center-right speech at Notre Dame that emphasizes cutting back on the number of abortions without mentioning that sex education and birth control might be useful means to that end, mumbling something about a conscience clause that suggests that pharmacists don't have to fill birth control prescriptions if it offends their sensibilities, and allowing states to use health care reform to set back the rights of women and couples to decide when to start their families based on somebody else's faith. If you believe that freedom includes the freedom to decide when you will or won't have a child, say it, say it with moral conviction, and follow it up with action. Perhaps something as simple as this: "I won't sign a health bill into law that forces women and couples to have a child they did not intend and are not ready to parent because of the dictates of someone else's faith or conscience." You know what? A message of that sort wins by 25 points nationally, and you can speak it in Southern and win with evangelical Christians in the deep south if you speak to them honestly in the language of faith. That shouldn't be hard for a president who is a religious Christian.

Gays? Virtually all Americans are for repealing don't ask/don't tell (except for conservatives who haven't yet come to terms with their own homosexuality -- but don't tell them that, or at least don't ask). This one's a no-brainer. Tell Congress you want a bill on your desk by January 1, and announce that you have serious questions about the constitutionality of the current policy and won't enforce it until your Justice Department has had time to study it. Don't keep firing gay Arabic interpreters. But that would require not just giving the pretty speech on how we're all equal in the eyes of God and we should all be equal in the eyes of the law (a phrase he might want to try sometime). It would require actually doing something that might anger a small percentage of the population on the right, and that's just too hard for this president to do. It's one thing to acknowledge and respect the positions of people who hold different points of view. It's another to capitulate to them.

Immigration? Joe Wilson yells, "You lie." So instead of acting like a man and going after Wilson on the spot (the man just attacked him in front of the entire nation in a joint session of Congress), he accepts his apology the next day, and a day later rewards Wilson for his incivility and bigotry by tightening the rules so that illegal immigrants can't even buy insurance themselves on the health care exchange the Democrats are creating sometime between 2013 and 2025 (depending on how many seats they lose in the meantime, and hence how long, if ever, it takes for the exchange to get set up).

Good policy? No. Not only is it inhumane -- can you imagine being really sick or in terrible pain but being too afraid even to go to a clinic because you might be deported? -- but it's a public health hazard for sick people not to get care and spread their illnesses, a drain on American taxpayers as illegal immigrants who finally have no choice but to find their way, when they're incredibly ill, to emergency rooms or public clinics, and a despicable policy toward their children, many of whom are American citizens, but who in either case shouldn't have to be sick, in pain, and without preventive care as their bodies and minds are developing, no matter where their parents come from.

Is it good politics? No. During the election I tested messages on just this issue, and a strong progressive message beat the most convincing anti-immigrant message we could throw at it by 10 points. Two weeks ago, I tested messages on just this issue as it applied to health care, and that margin had doubled.

If you just talk sensibly with Americans, they are sensible people. But ask them one-dimensional polling questions like, "Do you think illegal immigrants should get health care?" and you'll entirely miss the art of the possible.

Jobs? Watch for a $25 billion plan that makes good political theatre and that every economist I know says will move the unemployment rate from 10.0 percent to 9.95 percent. Not enough to save 30 seats in November. And not enough to save a generation of families from financial ruin and lower education, higher unemployment, and poorer health for the rest of their -- and their children's -- lives.

The problem with the president's strategic team is that they don't understand the difference between compromising on policy and compromising on core values. When it comes to policies, listen all you want to the Stones: "You can't always get what you want" (although it would be nice if the administration tried sometime). But on issues of principle -- like allowing regressive abortion amendments to be tacked onto a health care reform bill -- get some stones. Make your case to the American people, make it evocatively, and draw the line in the sand. That's how you earn people's respect. That's the only thing that will bring Independents back.

And that's where the problem of message comes in. This White House has no coherent message on anything. The message on health care reform changed even more frequently than the interest rates on credit cards last Spring, and turned a 70-30 winning issue into its current 30-50 status with the public. Last week on the Sunday news shows, I remember watching in disbelief as Larry Summers smugly told the 15 million Americans out of work that the recession was definitively over and that all economists agree. Then Christina Romer, another of the President's chief economic advisors, announced on the next show that the recession is definitely not over.

That's simply inexcusable. The least two members of the economic team can do before they fan out on the Sunday morning shows is to agree on whether we're in a recession, how it relates to joblessness, and how to talk about it sensitively without seeming out of touch. That's the job of the White House messaging team, which has been AWOL since at least the start of the health care battle last Spring.

It's the same problem we've seen with messaging the deficit. Are deficits good -- we're supposed to deficit spend our way out of a severe recession, right? -- or bad -- they're a drag on the economy and stealing from the next generation. So which are they? How about telling the American people, at the very least, when they're good and when they're bad, not flipping back and forth in the same sentence between deficit spending and deficit reduction.

To be honest, I don't know what the president believes on anything, and I'm not alone among American voters. He introduced his recent job summit by saying that even in these times, the role of government should be limited. Really? That was a nicely nuanced reinforcement of the ideology of limited, ineffective government promulgated by Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. Unfortunately, it runs against all the available data and everything Democrats have stood for since FDR.

Abortion? Who knows. Gays? I suspect intellectually he believes in equal rights but deep down he thinks they're icky. Something is sure holding him back from doing the obvious. Immigrants? He probably has an opinion, but he's not going to waste political capital on them; he sold them out in 15 seconds on health care. Foreclosures? Nice speeches, and I'm sure it really concerns him when he hears the stories of families firsthand. But not enough to divert the cash from the lenders to the borrowers. And the problem is, the average American knows it. Job creation? Would be nice, and I presume he believes that people who want to work ought to be able to work. But when 700,000 people were losing their jobs a month in his first few months of office and over millions have lost their jobs on his watch (a process, of course, initiated by his predecessor, whose name, to my knowledge, he has not uttered since entering office), three letters should have come to mind: W - P - A. President Roosevelt had no legs to stand on, but he sure had spine.

The Politics of the Lowest Common Denominator

And capping off all of these aspects of the president's leadership style is his preference for the lowest common denominator. That means you don't really have to fight, you don't have to take anybody on, you don't take any risks. You just find what the public is so upset about that even the Republicans would stipulate to it if forced to (e.g., that excluding people from health care because they have "pre-existing conditions" is something we can't continue to tolerate) and build it into whatever plan the special interests can hammer out around it.

Unfortunately, what Democrats just can't seem to understand is that the politics of the lowest common denominator is always a losing politics. It sends a meta-message that you're weak -- nothing more, nothing less -- and that's the cross the Democrats have had to bear since they "lost China" 60 years ago. And in fact, it is weak.

Want health care reform? Let Congress work it out, and whatever comes out, call it a victory. It's telling that when the Senate triumphantly announced that it had the 60 votes for cloture on Friday, insurance stocks hit a 52-year peak.

Energy? Okay, if you don't really want to mess with the oil and coal industries, let the caps slip higher and higher and industry will cut pollution around the edges. It won't really solve the problem, but it's the golden mean between the right thing to do and the wrong thing to do, which is the essence of Obampromise. It also hamstrings you in Copenhagen, but oh well, they could use a little global warming there this time of year anyway. Have you noticed it's cold as hell over there?

Financial regulation? The president's all for the good stuff: regulating derivatives and other fancy financial products no one but the people making bundles off of them who crashed the economy (and now run it) understand. Tell bankers the days of wine and roses are over. But if we have to have half-reform so Goldman Sachs is willing to keep sending its best and brightest through the revolving door at Treasury, that's okay; the Dow is up. So jobs are bleak and the average American is enraged that Wall Street had a bumper year -- with record bonuses -- as they're losing their homes. But you know the old adage about a half a loaf.

That's in fact what the health care debate is over. We shouldn't have had to settle for half a loaf. If the president had simply placed appropriate blame on the health insurance industry for its pre-existing conditions, it's cutting off care for breast cancer victims in the middle of treatment, and its doubling our premiums and co-pays during the Bush years, he would have harnessed populist anger and pushed this bill through six months ago, and it would have looked like the change we were told to believe in. But if you cut backroom deals with every special interest who is part of the problem and offer the American people no coherent message while the other side is messaging straight out of the messaging memo written by Frank Luntz ("government takeover," "a bureaucrat between you and your doctor"), you can expect half a loaf. And the other half will be paid for by middle class taxpayers, as in the Senate bill, which includes provisions like taxing good middle class tax plans like PPOs, which will disappear as soon as insurance companies and big businesses have the excuse of the missing tax break. Remind me, when we've just had the largest transfer of wealth to the upper 1 percent of the country from working and middle class Americans in a century, why it would be such a terrible thing instead, as in the House bill, to ask people who make over a million dollars a year to pony up for the health care of their (and their friends') housekeepers, instead of taking away health care plans union workers traded for salary increases?

The president's biggest success has been on the international stage: He's not George W. Bush, and he's eloquent to boot. He's done a great deal with that eloquence to speak to Muslims around the world and to make clear to others in the international community that America is back -- mostly. But that international community is just starting to learn that his eloquence doesn't always have much behind it.

Am I being too hard on the president? He's certainly done many good things. But it would be hard to name a single thing President Obama has done domestically that any other Democrat wouldn't have done if he or she were president following George W. Bush (e.g., signing the children's health insurance bill that Congress is about to gut to pay for worse care for kids under the health insurance exchange, if it ever happens), and there's a lot he hasn't done that every other Democrat who ran for president would have done.

Obama, like so many Democrats in Congress, has fallen prey to the conventional Democratic strategic wisdom: that the way to win the center is to tack to the center.

But it doesn't work that way.

You want to win the center? Emanate strength. Emanate conviction. Lead like you know where you're going (and hopefully know what you're talking about).

People in the center will follow if you speak to their values, address their ambivalence (because by definition, on a wide range of issues, they're torn between the right and left), and act on what you believe. FDR did it. LBJ did it. Reagan did it. Even George W. Bush did it, although I wish he hadn't.

But you have to believe something.

I don't honestly know what this president believes. But I believe if he doesn't figure it out soon, start enunciating it, and start fighting for it, he's not only going to give American families hungry for security a series of half-loaves where they could have had full ones, but he's going to set back the Democratic Party and the progressive movement by decades, because the average American is coming to believe that what they're seeing right now is "liberalism," and they don't like what they see. I don't, either.

What's they're seeing is weakness, waffling, and wandering through the wilderness without an ideological compass. That's a recipe for going nowhere fast -- but getting there by November."

Drew Westen, Ph.D., is Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at Emory University, founder of Westen Strategies, and author of The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Steele's Take on Obama Health Care Speech

Wow, socialist power grab, you say? What the hell? I better get off my butt and donate to the RNC! "Are you now or have you ever been a socialist, President Obama?" You can't trust an Obama Democrat as far as you can throw one, am I right, people?

Seriously, is this what conservatives are truly worried about, a socialist power grab? How does health care reform benefit the gov't and elitist liberals by providing insurance for those who don't have it? Let's see...The public option could allow more people to get lower-cost health insurance so that insurance company profits could go down, which in turn could mean dwindling political donations and lobbyist monies to the RNC and others who are pro-insurance companies...Damn it, we better stop them now!

Steele's Response to Obama Speech via HuffPo

Fwd: The False Hope of Bipartisanship - BRM

Apologies to BRM as the article below (and others which I will post here shortly) had been stuck in our Google Groups site since Feb. Doh! And for some reason, I did not have email forwarded from that site, so I never received it. Since we don't really check that site, please post to our blog, not that we're "crazy go nuts" blogging all the time. ;-) Appreciate your support.

Thanks, BRM, for the article. I think this is quite telling and topical even months later, given the current health care debate, distortion and disinformation. More comments to come after reading the article more thoroughly.

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: "Brian Menard" <>
Date: Feb 16, 11:05 am
Subject: The False Hope of Bipartisanship
To: AMoMaI Group


Great piece by political scientiest Alan Abramowitz, from Larry
Sabato's Crystal Ball (see Sabato's Crystal Ball - Vol. VII, Iss. 6 -
SENATE 2010 UPDATE - @ Larry J. Sabato

In it, a not-by-any-measure-conservative academic argues effectively the point that is the source of great frustration with President Obama for conservatives like me. I disagree soundly - though not surprisingly - with Abramowitz's suggestion that we stop pretending to be bipartisan and just push the socialist agenda. I agree soundly, though, that President Obama is trying to push two incompatible rhetorical lines. To put my own priority in place of Abramowitz's preference for the abandonment of bipartisanship, I echo his essential point that you can't claim you want bipartisanship without being willing to make concessions to bipartisanship. I wrote an unpublished op-ed (after Senator Obama announced formally his candidacy on the steps of the Springfield Capitol two years ago) that argued his bipartisan/postpartisan appeal essentially said, "Hey, all you Republicans, if you would just join our left-wing socialist agenda and get out of the way, we could work together to do great things for the country." While I had the audacity to hope the new administration would prioritize its rhetoric pushing bipartisanship over its rhetoric pushing leftist policies, President Obama seems to dismiss the moderates who helped elect him and conservatives like me who didn't but nonetheless want to work with him on a truly bipartisan basis. As Newt Gingrich stated a couple weeks ago on ABC's "This Week", you can't bake the cake yourself and then write the other side's name in the frosting on top to call it a bipartisan effort. "We won" keeps getting shoved in the face of such folks like a scoop of misplaced doggie-doo to remind people that - contrary to claims of messianic Barack disciples - we should not repeat the mistake they made in electing someone who promised to change the tone of Washington. I argued during the campaing that McCain was the real candidate for changing how things are done in Washington. Obama made a much better case, though, disingenuous as it was. After the election I argued that President-Elect Obama had a special opportunity to make real change, not just partisan policy change, and that doing so would elevate him from being another partisan President to being a real statesman and leader. He has gone the wrong direction in this regard, and he is killing fast the good will that people like me have maintained. I will hold on to hope. Increasingly, though, whether because the President is too naïve/weak/insecure to lead the left-wing leadership of Congress or because his rhetoric of bipartisanship/postpartisanship is truly meaningless, what I see is just audacity without much cause for hope in the long run.

The False Hope of Bipartisanship
[from Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball: see Sabato's Crystal Ball - Vol.
VII, Iss. 6 - SENATE 2010 UPDATE - @ Larry J. Sabato

Alan Abramowitz

It's not a matter of "if." It's a matter of "when." As in, when will all of the feel-good rhetoric about Democrats and Republicans joining hands to solve the nation's problems come to an end and open partisan warfare resume in Washington? In fact, that time may already be here. Despite Barack Obama's efforts to reach out to Republican leaders and conservative intellectuals since his election and his willingness to modify his economic stimulus package to accommodate Republicans' desire for smaller spending increases and larger tax cuts, the President isn't getting much love from the other side of the aisle.

One day after Mr. Obama ventured to Capitol Hill to urge Republican lawmakers to support his $819 billion stimulus package, House Republicans voted 177-0 against the bill. And despite intense efforts to reach an agreement acceptable to moderates in both parties, only three Republicans ended up supporting the bill in the Senate--just one more than the bare minimum needed to avert a filibuster. Meanwhile, conservative pundits and talk-show hosts have been hammering the President's plan as old-fashioned pork-barrel politics or socialism in disguise, and some former Bush Administration officials, including Dick Cheney, have been suggesting that his orders to close the Guantanamo Bay prison and ban the use of waterboarding and other
"enhanced interrogation techniques" are jeopardizing the safety of the American people.

The new president is still enjoying a honeymoon with the public. According to the Gallup Poll, almost two-thirds of Americans approve of the job that he is doing so far. That's quite a change from his predecessor who left office with an approval rating of about 30 percent. Even among Republicans, Mr. Obama started his term with a 43 percent approval rating and only a 30 percent disapproval rating--which is why most Republican leaders and conservative commentators, with the notable exception of Rush Limbaugh, have been reluctant to criticize the new president too harshly, claiming that they wish him well despite their disagreements.

Don't expect the honeymoon to last very long, though. The more decisions the president makes, the more he is going to offend the Republican base and the more free Republican leaders and conservative pundits are going to feel to attack him. That's because many of the policies that Mr. Obama supports, from withdrawing American troops from Iraq and lifting the ban on American aid, to international organizations that provide abortion counseling, to expanding government-sponsored health insurance and making it easier for unions to organize workers, are anathema to the large majority of Republican voters as well as the large majority of Republican office-holders.

One of the most important characteristics of public opinion in the United States today is polarization. Americans agree that the country has serious problems but they disagree sharply about what needs to be done about the economy, health care, climate change, the war in Iraq, gay rights, abortion, and a host of other issues. Democrats generally line up on one side of these issues while Republicans generally line up on the opposing side. And the biggest differences are found among the most interested, informed, and active members of the public--the people whose opinions matter the most to political leaders.

Journalists and editorial writers tend to see partisan conflict as a product of petty rivalries and personality clashes. They assume that Democratic and Republican leaders could settle their differences if they really wanted to, and that policies with broad bipartisan support would be better for the country than policies supported by only one party. But the major reason why partisan conflict has been so intense in the United States in recent years is not that Democratic and Republican office-holders don't like each other, but that they have fundamental disagreements on the major issues facing the country.

Since the 1970s the Democratic Party has been moving to the left, the
Republican Party has been moving to the right, and the center has been disappearing. The conservative Democrats and liberal Republicans who once exercised considerable influence in Washington are almost extinct. There are so few remaining moderates, and the ideological gulf separating the parties is so wide, that bipartisan compromise on most issues is almost impossible. And rank-and-file Democrats and Republicans, especially those who pay attention to politics, have been moving apart as well. As a result, politicians who try to compromise with the other side risk antagonizing their own base.

Contrary to the claims of some pundits and editorial writers, there is no clear relationship between bipartisanship and good public policy. The U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 had broad bipartisan support. Twenty-nine Senate Democrats and 82 House Democrats voted for the resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq; almost all of them ended up regretting it. And some very successful policies have been produced by highly partisan decision-making processes. In 1993, President Clinton's first budget passed Congress without a single Republican vote. Despite claims by Newt Gingrich and other GOP leaders that the tax increases included in that budget would throw the economy into a tailspin, the result was eight years of economic growth and shrinking deficits.

To win Republican support for his budget, President Clinton would have had to give up the tax increases on upper income Americans that were a critical component of his economic plan. Similarly, to win more than token Republican support for his economic stimulus package, President Obama will almost certainly have to agree to much larger tax cuts and much smaller increases in public expenditures than his economic policy advisors believe are desirable.

Barack Obama was elected on a promise of bringing change to Washington. But during the campaign he talked about two kinds of change: change in the content of public policy and change in the way Washington works and especially in what he described as the excessive partisanship of the Bush era. The problem is that these two kinds of change may be incompatible. Appointing a few Republicans to the cabinet and inviting some Republican members of Congress over to the White House to watch the Super Bowl may win Mr. Obama some compliments, but it's unlikely to win him any votes on legislation. That would require making significant concessions on the content of that legislation.

The last two elections have drastically reduced the number of moderate Republicans in the House and Senate, leaving the party more dominated than ever by hard-line conservatives who represent safe Republican districts and states. In order to win more than token support from congressional Republicans, therefore, President Obama would have to make major policy concessions to these hard-line conservatives--concessions that would almost certainly be unacceptable not only to the vast majority of congressional Democrats, but also to the vast majority of politically engaged Democrats in the country. Such concessions would require him to abandon commitments that he made to key Democratic constituencies during the 2008 campaign on issues such as health care, education, climate change, reproductive rights, and labor law reform.

Despite the President's rhetoric about the need for both parties to work together to solve the country's problems and his efforts to reach out to Republicans and conservatives, there is no indication that he is willing to make such concessions and he would be foolish to do so. It would only be seen as a sign of weakness and would lead to demands for even bigger concessions in the future.

Like it or not, in order to produce the kinds of policy changes for which he campaigned, Mr. Obama is going to have to depend overwhelmingly on the support of his fellow Democrats in the Congress and in the country. So expect more party-line votes in the House and Senate, more complaints from Republican leaders about being ignored, and more strident attacks on the president by conservative pundits and talk-show hosts. As a wise man once said, "politics ain't beanbag."

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

"Gifted and Flawed" Teddy Kennedy Dies

I suppose you could say "Gifted and Flawed" about a whole slew of politicians who came and went. Regardless of your politics, it is the end of an era. Even Orrin Hatch would listen to Teddy on the health care issue; now who will fill his shoes?

NY Times Obit on Kennedy

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

It's Like That (and That's the Way It Is)

I was listening to Run-D.M.C. this morning on the bus, and these words from 25 years ago still ring true today. There be some wisdom in them old-school rap! And the words are not one-sidedly political, either. Yet another testament to the fact that if you live long enough you see that history tends to repeat itself, for better or worse. Enjoy.

Unemployment at a record high
People coming, people going, people born to die
Don't ask me, because I don't know why
But it's like that, and that's the way it is

People in the world tryin to make ends meet
You try to ride car, train, bus, or feet
I said you got to work hard, you want to compete
It's like that, and that's the way it is

Money is the key to end all your woes
Your ups, your downs, your highs and your lows
Won't you tell me the last time that love bought you clothes?
It's like that, and that's the way it is

Bills rise higher every day
We receive much lower pay
I'd rather stay young, go out and play
It's like that, and that's the way it is

Wars going on across the sea
Street soldiers killing the elderly
Whatever happened to unity?
It's like that, and that's the way it is

Disillusion is the word
That's used by me when I'm not heard
I just go through life with my glasses blurred
It's like that, and that's the way it is

You can see a lot in this lifespan
Like a bum eating out of a garbage can
You noticed one time he was your man
It's like that (what?) and that's the way it is

You should have gone to school, you could've learned a trade
But you laid in the bed where the bums have laid
Now all the time you're crying that you're underpaid
It's like that (what?) and that's the way it is
You know its like that and thats the way it is
Because it's like that and thats the way it is

One thing I know is that life is short
So listen up homeboy, give this a thought
The next time someone's teaching why don't you get taught?
It's like that (what?) and that's the way it is

If you really think about it times aren't that bad
The one that flexes with successes will make you glad
Stop playing start praying, you won't be sad
It's like that (what?) and that's the way it is

When you feel you fail sometimes it hurts
For a meaning in life is why you search
Take the bus or the train, drive to school or the church
It's like that, and that's the way it is

Here's another point in life you should not miss
Do not be a fool who's prejudiced
Because we're all written down on the same list
It's like that (what?) and that's the way it is

You know it's like that, and that's the way it is
Because it's like that, and that's the way it is

Monday, August 24, 2009

Whither Healthcare Reform?

The Obama honeymoon's been over for a while, so we should pick up the debate of the moment. Will healthcare reform die on the vine once again like the many previous efforts to insure all Americans? Will the health insurance companies escape unscathed and actually benefit via the proposed reforms being considered in the Congress now? Big-money lobbying efforts will win out again? Will this country ever take its collective head out and figure out what the hell is going on?!! From gun-toting protesters to shoutings at town halls made to look like grassroots uprisings, you didn't really think this was going to be easy, did you, Obama?

Daiy Kos - L.A. Times: Insurers winning health reform battle
The LA Times article referenced above

Monday, July 6, 2009

Fwd: "happening world of Politics"

From BRM via googlegroups... I think we received this one before but posting to our blog anyway.

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: "Brian Menard" <>
Date: Jul 6 2009, 1:50 pm
To: AMoMaI Group

Read the attached from one of my UVA friends who is an assistant
professor political science at Bentley University. No surprise to any
of us, but good to confirm academically that we are in the happening
world of politics.<>

Friday, February 13, 2009

Reps' Bipartisan Lip Service BS

As I suspected but hoped would not be the case, it is quite evident that the Republicans in the House want absolutely no part of this stimulus package. That's a message, to me at least, that the Limbaugh-agreeing mob mentality in the party are herding as a block; i.e. they will bet on this package to fail and don't want any bit of its "stink" hanging on them, hoping to charge a comeback in power in 2010. And that in a word is bullshit, and in three words, bipartisan lip service. What more do the Reps want, tyranny by the minority? Already there's the compromise of about a third of it going to tax cuts, not to mention the $70 billion alternative minimum tax cut that will do virtually nothing to stimulate the economy.

I believe the bill as is does not do enough to help those who really need it, namely the unemployed, the uninsured and the foreclosed. Yes, I will agree with a Nobel Prize-winning economist over some Rep party leader from Ohio.

Get a load of these comments from the Reps:

Originally I was going to link the NYT article but WSJ had a more thoroughly assessed article so here it is: House Passes Stimulus Bill Without Republican Support

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Petraeus Tests Obama

Joe Biden got a talking to when he said that world leaders will test the "young president" Obama. It appears that most of the tests in his first 3-4 weeks have been coming from leaders within our own country, first the Republicans in Congress and now General David Petraeus, who apparently has some political aspirations of his own. But doing an end-around the president is not too smart, is it? Yet another sideshow to distract him from the economic troubles at home? Thanks, but no thanks, General.
Petraeus Leaked Misleading Story on Pullout Plans

WASHINGTON, Feb 9 (IPS) - The political maneuvering between President Barack Obama and his top field commanders over withdrawal from Iraq has taken a sudden new turn with the leak by CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus - and a firm denial by a White House official - of an account of the Jan. 21 White House meeting suggesting that Obama had requested three different combat troop withdrawal plans with their respective associated risks, including one of 23 months.

The Petraeus account, reported by McClatchy newspapers Feb. 5 and then by the Associated Press the following day, appears to indicate that Obama is moving away from the 16-month plan he had vowed during the campaign to implement if elected. But on closer examination, it doesn't necessarily refer to any action by Obama or to anything that happened at the Jan. 21 meeting.

The real story of the leak by Petraeus is that the most powerful figure in the U.S. military has tried to shape the media coverage of Obama and combat troop withdrawal from Iraq to advance his policy agenda - and, very likely, his personal political interests as well.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

First Black RNC Chairman?

From The Root giving some perspective on the vote for the new RNC Chairman. An excerpt:
"It’s true that two black men--of very different political leanings--are among the six men fighting to represent the party of Abraham Lincoln. Blackwell is a rock-ribbed conservative who writes for the far-right Town Hall, belongs to the Family Research Council as well as the National Rifle Association. Steele is a moderate who helms the revived Republican Leadership Council, a centrist political action committee, alongside others like Christine Whitman, Jane Swift and Tom Ridge. But how can we forget that Chip Saltzman, another potential RNC head, recently sent supporters an e-mail making fun of “Barack the Magic Negro?” Just this week, a fake cover of USA Today began to circulate among RNC membership, with the unpleasant headline “RNC Members Choose ‘Whites Only’ Chairman”—a reference to Katon Dawson, a South Carolina operative said to be the front-runner, who joined a private club that does not admit blacks."
Grand White Party: Can Republicans get down with the brown?

Conyers Subpoenas Rove for US Attorney Firings

See, we'll never run out of stuff to blog about. Oh, that John Conyers! Conservatives hate him as much as liberals hate Rush Limbaugh, I bet. Give 'em hell, John, but we shall see if Rove ends up at your hearing first. So much for post-partisan D.C.? Hey, the law is the law, and you must pay if you broke it in the most egregious way possible.

Ball in Obama's Court on Rove's US Attorney Testimony
Here's an interesting bit from the above article:
"And just now, Rove's lawyer, Robert Luskin, told TPMmuckraker that he had already forwarded Conyers' subpoena to the Obama White House, asking them to give an opinion as to whether President Bush retains his ability to assert executive privilege.

In other words, the Obama White House will decide, essentially, whether to back Rove's claim of privilege, or to deny it. (And given that Rove is supposed to appear February 2, that decision from the White House should come soon.) In the latter case, said Luskin, a negotiation would ensue between the Obama White House, President Bush, and Rove. That would likely result in the matter going to court."

Well, the Sierra Club is pleased...

Yes, I am on their email list. Here's what I received today entitled, "Now That's What I Call a President!":

President Obama Wastes No Time

If anyone was still wondering whether President Barack Obama would make a significant difference in the White House, it took less than a week to settle the question. The announcement that President Obama had requested that EPA Director Lisa Jackson to look into granting California a waiver for its clean car law is, by itself, a stunning break with the policies of the past. Significantly, it's also one of four "Clean Slate" energy initiatives that more than 50,000 Sierra Club supporters asked President Obama to enact immediately upon assuming office. (You can still encourage him to act on the remaining three.)

But that was only some of the good news last week. President Obama also indicated that his administration will issue new fuel-economy standards in the coming months that will go beyond what the Bush administration had started. Equally exciting was an announcement that the EPA, for the first time ever, would oppose a coal-fired power plant permit (the Big Stone II project in South Dakota).

In addition, President Obama lifted the "global gag rule" that has prohibited U.S. funding for international organizations that speak about abortion to women and girls seeking reproductive and family-planning services. And Abraham Lincoln's Bible probably hadn't even made it back to the Library of Congress before the Interior Department announced that it was withdrawing a rule change that would have prematurely dropped gray wolves in the Great Lakes and Northern Rocky Mountains from the endangered species list.

Of course much work remains before eight years of environmental neglect can be reversed, but what a start!

I promise our blog won't be just a long list of gushers for "President Obama." Still can't get over how good that sounds...

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Obama Inauguration Thoughts

I will confess that I played hooky and called in sick so I could stay home to watch and to tape the inaugural proceedings. It starts from the various dignitaries entering the platform to the actual inauguration (botched oath and all) to the luncheon (NBC screwing up the report that Byrd had a seizure instead of Kennedy) to the parade to the D.C. Neighborhood Ball to the first half of that night's edition of Charlie Rose. All in all, eight hours of VHS recorded. Is that so wrong? I'm only sorry that I couldn't capture it digitally on a DVD and even that the tape was recorded in EP mode instead of SP for better picture quality.

So let's have some thoughts on this historic day and beginning of a presidency.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Prelude to the Inauguration - BRM/YHK

From: Brian Menard
Sent: Tuesday, January 13, 2009 7:03:37 AM


Been thinking about you much as we get closer to Inauguration Day. Johanna, who lives just outside DC, will have no floor space in her apartment as every inch will be filled with out-of-towners joining the throng on the Mall for the big event. I'm very jealous - just 'cuz I didn't vote for him doesn't mean I can't appreciate the incredibly historic moment this is in our nation's history. You know, of the two inaugurations I've attended, one was GOP (1973) and one was Dem (1993).

So far I am about as pleased as I could HOPE to be with the way Obama has set things up. There are things I really don't like, people he's bringing in that worry me greatly or that just make me nervous regarding what I expect they will do, etc. But that's part of reaching across the aisle, and so far I believe he IS following through on his rhetoric to do so. He's pre-governing quite differently than his campaign policy pronouncements implied, probably as much to your chagrin as to my relief. Not that I'm pleased with the policy overall; were it up to me, I'd move things much further my direction; but, I'm pleased that he's making the early movements to bring folks together in a way that both you and I can be equally displeased with the ultimate output! That's what deliberative democracy is all about, right?

Cheers in the new year!

From: Young H. Kim
Sent: Tuesday, January 13, 2009 3:48 PM

Well, I know one thing; our blog is awfully lonely these days. ;-) I know I sound like a broken record, but let's get more of our thoughts there.

I may have given many people here and elsewhere the impression that I am some sort of a fan or a diehard supporter of Obama, but I realized over the course of our emailing/blogging that I'm more of an ideologue/pragmatist but probably an extremist when seen from conservative views. However, I would never partake in anything even remotely resembling a "cult of personality," let alone over a politician. When I saw/read the contents of the Time Person of the Year issue, it made me cringe. For one thing, I don't get the hubbub over Rick Warren being chosen for the invocation. Not that I totally agree with the man, but is this where the liberals must draw the line? And always over the gay rights issue? Are we to dismiss people who have strongly held religious beliefs whether they are right or wrong depending on the argument?

It is obvious that many are/will be disappointed with the Obama transition's and future admin's decisions and policies. The pre-election PBS Frontline program illustrated and foreshadowed this by telling the fallout from Obama becoming the Harvard Law Review president. He ended up removing the doubts of the conservative wing and disappointing the liberals. So I have no illusions of Obama being the savior of the liberal agenda. I believe he has and will always follow the prudent and compromising path, not to mention that the current economic and national security concerns will dictate his limited options and no-drama decisions. As you said, in the end, he will disappoint and displease both parties, and I have been ready for a while to accept that as the reality. Obama will set his mark as a politician and a statesman in this fashion, much like Lincoln and FDR, as I can only hope. One thing I do still wonder about him is where will he draw the line and take a stand (e.g. economic stimulus, universal healthcare and the Iraq war) or will his "achievements" be a string of lukewarm compromises and could-have-beens?

My best to you as always,

From: Brian Menard
Sent: Tuesday, January 13, 2009 1:29:01 PM

Agreed on the issue of "the line". He could be a statesman like Lincoln or FDR, or he could merely be a policy production factory like LBJ. As always, time will tell.

Let's hope for the good, and keep doing our part to come together. I think it was Mike Huckabee who said recently that it is good Obama won decisively, so he can clearly be the president for all of us. I think that is one deficit from which Bush could never break free. His Texas record was very much crossing party lines and working in bipartisan fashion, but because there was so much bad blood over 2000 (and even 2004), folks were not inclined to move that way in DC. As I've maintained previously, Obama has a great opportunity that allows him to be a statesman instead of just another politician. There is much he can do to screw that up, and little he can do to keep that opportunity alive. So far, I've got to give him credit for sticking to the harder, higher, better path.

Onward...e pluribus unum, meus amicus.

From: Young H. Kim
Sent: Wednesday, January 14, 2009 1:41 PM

And you know I have to respond as to the following:

1) LBJ the "policy production factory"? I suppose you refer to the War on Poverty/Great Society (and the Vietnam War to a certain extent), as many conservatives pinpoint that as the great downward spiral into a welfare society. Would you include the Civil Rights Act as a product of that factory as well? That seriously demeans the accomplishment, which was a landmark legislation in US history, wouldn't you say?

2) Dubya had many, many chances to "cross party lines", especially after 9/11 when the political support was overwhelmingly behind him and our nation. But what were his bipartisan iniatives to reach out to Dems? I don't agree that he wasn't given a chance (let alone how he ascended to the presidency); he squandered it, mainly with the ill-conceived Iraq War. I'm sure there will be many a Dubya apologist in the next few years (e.g. no terrorist attacks since 9/11, etc.), but really there's not much there in terms of what he accomplished over two terms, and certainly not in a bipartisan mode. The country is worse off by his administration in all aspects.

I must say that there are plenty of GOPers and conservatives who definitely are breathing a collective sigh of relief that they are not running show and not (necessarily) directly responsible for cleaning up and fixing all of the current problems.

"What is past is prologue"...let's look to the future but not forget how we got here.

From: Brian Menard
Sent: Wednesday, January 14, 2009 6:16:14 PM

No intent to demean any of the legislation itself (I'll spare the debate over the failure of the Great Society, and will remind you that the civil rights legislation passed in the 1960s was passed only with the help of congressional Republicans over the opposition of many leaders among congressional Democrats who had stopped it up in committee for years), nor to take away from LBJ's acumen as an accomplished legislator. Remember that he was the Senate Majority Leader before he went to the executive branch. My intent was to distinguish LBJ's legislative style (figure out what we can pass and get it passed) from statemanlike leadership. Much of LBJ's agenda he inherited from the Kennedy administration, rather than initiating it himself. LBJ, bigoted Texan that he was, never would have pushed for the Civil Rights Act - or the Voting Rights Act, which you left off your list - from his own moral volition. What he cared about more than the details of policy was legislative accomplishment, whatever the details needed to make things work out. Speaking as a political scientist, not as a partisan, prioritizing legislative accomplishment is often antithetical to statemanship, and vice versa.