Tag Archives: Barack Obama

The victory of Paul Krugman

Paul Krugman - Caricature
Paul Krugman. (Courtesy of DonkeyHotey.)

If ever there were an indication of the influence exerted by Paul Krugman and his intellectual kin, take a look at this:

One day after Republicans rolled out a detailed proposal aimed at eliminating the federal deficit through steep cuts and repealing many of the president’s accomplishments, Mr. Obama told them pointedly in a rare visit that their highest fiscal priority was not his.

Our biggest problems in the next 10 years are not deficits,” the president said, according to accounts from the meeting, bluntly rejecting an idea that has become Republican fiscal dogma…

Senator Patty Murray, the Washington Democrat and Senate Budget Committee chairwoman who outlined her budget on Wednesday, summed up her party’s objections to Republican austerity measures, which Democrats have said rob the country of needed investment.

Deficit reduction at the expense of economic growth is doomed to failure,” she said.

Emphases mine. But mostly, Krugman’s.

Another gem from that piece:

“The president seemed to say, ‘If we’re going to do the areas we agree on, you have to also do some of mine,’ ” said Representative James Lankford of Oklahoma, bristling at Mr. Obama’s suggestion. “If we can find the areas we agree on, why can’t we just do those?”

Indeed, Sir Lankford. Why can’t we just enact all the policies that the party who just lost its second straight presidential election wants to implement? It’s truly a modern-day mystery.

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Delusion of the day

Jennifer Rubin in the Washington Post:

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sounded the alarm that Iran was approaching “a red line.” Did the U.S. president even mention any of this? No, he was running around the country crying wolf and catastrophizing about an invented crisis. The real international threats go unremarked upon. For all intents and purposes Netanyahu is now the West’s protector.

What they said:

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Double talk on the sequester

Jamelle Bouie cries foul on Republican attempts to portray the looming sequester as the Democrats’ fault:

A key part of the GOP’s strategy on the sequester is to blame President Obama for the fact it exists at all. One good example is House Speaker John Boehner’s op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal:

With the debt limit set to be hit in a matter of hours, Republicans and Democrats in Congress reluctantly accepted the president’s demand for the sequester, and a revised version of the Budget Control Act was passed on a bipartisan basis.

Ultimately, the super committee failed to find an agreement, despite Republicans offering a balanced mix of spending cuts and new revenue through tax reform. As a result, the president’s sequester is now imminent.

The big problem with this narrative is that it directly contradicts Boehner’s rhetoric at the time. After the deal was crafted, in July 2011, Boehner told GOP House members that “There was nothing in this framework that violates our principles.” Later, in an interview with CBS News following the House vote on the bill, he described the deal as such: “When you look at this final agreement that we came to with the White House, I got 98 percent of what I wanted. I’m pretty happy.” And, as a whole, the House GOP was fine with the deal too—it passed 269-161, with 174 Republicans voting in favor.

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Editor in Chief

President Barack Obama works on his inaugural address with Jon Favreau, Director of Speechwriting, not pictured, in the Oval Office, Jan. 16, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
President Barack Obama works on his inaugural address with Jon Favreau, Director of Speechwriting, not pictured, in the Oval Office, Jan. 16, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Slate highlights this photo from White House photographer Pete Souza:

The photo shows only a portion of the first page of what was a rather lengthy speech, but what we can see nonetheless largely confirms previous anecdotes that Obama prefers to take an active role in shaping his remarks, particularly for major events like an inauguration or State of the Union address…The changes you can make out if you zoom in on this particular photo range from minor grammar tweaks to some relatively heavy rewrites.

Obama Calls for Expansion of Early Childhood Services

Alex Wong/Getty Images.
Alex Wong/Getty Images.

President Obama has been busy in the last few days rousing thousands of early childhood practitioners and advocates with his call for high-quality pre-k for all low- and moderate-income families. The administration has clarified parts of the plan, which have answered some questions and opened some new ones. The proposal is the biggest push for early childhood services since Head Start in the 1960s, a federally funded pre-k program to serve low-income families.

The plan, which I will henceforth refer to as “Obama-garten” (you’re welcome), proposes a four-pronged approach to supporting the development of young children through the expansion of high-quality pre-k access, full-day kindergarten, Early Head Start for infants to 3-year-olds, and a home visiting initiative. Many are pleased that the plan involves the under-three crowd, which is often neglected in U.S. policy. The details of the “new federal-state partnership” to expand high-quality pre-k to children up to 200% of the poverty line and incentivize states to “broaden participation in their public preschool program for additional middle-class families” have yet to be fully explained, but my guess is that some pretty tasty looking carrots will be dangled in front of states in order for them to participate. And participate they should. In fact, a handful of states, both red and blue, have already pledged some kind of commitment to supporting young children and their families in the last few months, signaling increased readiness to beef-up their early childhood services.

Several elements of the plan need to be pulled apart and further explained to get a sense of whether the plan is feasible. Continue reading Obama Calls for Expansion of Early Childhood Services

A State of the Union “prebuttal”

Brendan Nyhan at the Columbia Journalism Review tries to dampen the hype:

So far, there has been less hype about the power of the bully pulpit than usual—The Washington Post even ran a story today headlined “Impact of State of Union speeches isn’t very lasting.” But the stakes are lower than the media’s overwrought phrasing often suggests. Politico’s Glenn Thrush wrote yesterday, for instance, that “If Americans perceive Obama as too partisan, he’ll lose a serious share of his personal popularity.” In reality, however, Obama isn’t likely to significantly increase his approvalor significantly reduce it. And even if he did make a major blunder, we wouldn’t know it from the ill-conceived instant polls of speech watchers that tend to shape reporting and punditry in the aftermath of the State of the Union. Here’s hoping some media outlets take a better approach in 2013 so this column doesn’t become an annual tradition.

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Chris Wallace, the boss would like to see you now.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=klzZxOat3mc]

Every once in awhile, someone on FOX News starts feeling a little dangerous and decides to actually do the news, just to see what it feels like to be a real reporter:

In an unexpectedly lively exchange on Fox News Sunday this morning, host Chris Wallace took on NRA head Wayne LaPierre for his group’s tasteless ad calling Obama an “elitist hypocrite” for having Secret Service protection for his daughters while opposing the placement of armed guards in every American school. “It wasn’t picking on the president’s kids,” LaPierre argued, somewhat futilely. “The president’s kids are safe and we’re all thankful for it.” When Wallace pointed out that “[Malia and Sasha] also face a threat that most people do not face,” LaPierre shot back: “Tell that to the people in Newtown!” But Wallace wasn’t buying the indignation. “Do you really think that the President’s children are the same kind of target as every schoolchild in America?” Wallace asked LaPierre, adding, “I think that’s ridiculous, and you know it, sir.”

Obama hearts guns

From New York Magazine:

Ever since President Obama awkwardly insisted to The New Republic last weekend that, “Yes, in fact, up at Camp David, we do skeet shooting all the time,” media fact-checkers (including our own DI Dan) combed through every bit of White House photographic evidence for even a single snapshot of the president in the gun-toting act. Sensing that the ensuing SkeeterGate was getting out of hand, White House officials released the above photo to theofficial White House Flickr stream this morning. “For all the ‘skeeters’,” tweeted White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer, “POTUS shoots clay targets on the range at Camp David on Aug. 4, 2012.” Yet we can already predict the obligatory conspiracy theory backlash, noting that there’s not a clay pigeon in sight. Apparently we’re not the only ones thinking this. As newly-departed White House Senior Adviser David Plouffe tweeted soon after: “Attn skeet birthers. Make our day – let the photoshop conspiracies begin!”

Perhaps this is actually a brilliant strategy: depicting Obama shooting a gun is probably the only way to get Republicans to start banning them.

False equivalency and the White House: Obama becomes a media critic

From the newly released New Republic interview with the president, Obama had some thoughts on the prevailing practices of today’s political media:

One of the biggest factors is going to be how the media shapes debates. If a Republican member of Congress is not punished on Fox News or by Rush Limbaugh for working with a Democrat on a bill of common interest, then you’ll see more of them doing it…

The same dynamic happens on the Democratic side. I think the difference is just that the more left-leaning media outlets recognize that compromise is not a dirty word. And I think at least leaders like myself—and I include Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi in this—are willing to buck the more absolutist-wing elements in our party to try to get stuff done…

In fact, that’s one of the biggest problems we’ve got in how folks report about Washington right now, because I think journalists rightly value the appearance of impartiality and objectivity. And so the default position for reporting is to say, “A plague on both their houses.” On almost every issue, it’s, “Well, Democrats and Republicans can’t agree”—as opposed to looking at why is it that they can’t agree. Who exactly is preventing us from agreeing?

The usefulness of the wacky fringe

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AtyKofFih8Y]

As Barack Obama enters his second term, speculation is predictably high about every aspect of what’s coming up: new policy proposals, the specter of continued gridlock on Capitol Hill, a heavy docket of significant rulings pending at the Supreme Court, and so on.

Central to this debate is the question of whether Obama will be able to leverage his electoral triumph into real momentum for his policy agenda. Will the Republicans continue to draw from their playbook of the last four years, or will they be inclined to compromise more in the wake of their poor showing at the polls in November?

Despite the partial fragmentation of the national GOP between moderates — in the most relative, unanchored sense of the term — such as John Boehner and party hardliners like Michele Bachmann, early indications are that Republicans are unlikely to shift much until at least the 2014 midterms, depending on how they do.

Which brings me to the above video, of radio host Alex Jones displaying an alarming mental instability on a nationally televised show inexplicably hosted by Piers Morgan. Say what you want about Morgan, but at least he had the good sense to shut up, for the most part, during this “interview” and allow the world to see just how unhinged the gun nut really was.

But it also made me think about the nature of political conversation in the U.S. these days. For years now, the right has not only allowed, but often actively encouraged, radical and unreasonable rhetoric, for the simple reason that it helps rile up the base and inspire them to increase public pressure on Democrats, vote for Republicans, donate money, and so on. That’s an understandable short-term goal (it helps in the next election), but it’s produced impressive long-term benefits as well: each time a foaming-at-the-mouth conservative espouses an armed takeover of Washington or impeachment of the president for allegedly not being a naturally-born American or whatever else, the right-wing boundary of acceptable conversation shifts further right.

The problem is, there’s no counteroffensive from the left, which generally polices its commentary to an astounding degree (especially surprising given the increasingly partisan nature of American politics). Insane leftists don’t fare well in the United States. But crazies are the mainstream across the aisle.

There are several reasons for this. For one, there’s really no American far left to speak of these days. Even in Europe, which has moved steadily right in recent years to the jaunty tune of “austerity measures” and “shutting borders to Islamic fundamentalists,” lefties retain much of their glamour. (See Jean-Luc Mélenchon in France, for example.) But in the U.S., we’re confined largely to the likes of Michael Moore, Noam Chomsky, and a smattering of others, all of whom have their devoted followings but none of whom enjoy the warm embrace of large swaths of the population at large or have any real political power.

Another reason for the prominence of right-wing insanity is, ironically enough, liberal media establishments. (No, I do not mean that the media establishment at large is liberal; I’m referring specifically to the media institutions that are liberal, such as MSNBC and a host of online blogs and news sites such as the Huffington Post.) The first one to trumpet something stupid said by a lowly or irrelevant Republican is usually a member of a Democratic-leaning media organization. This makes sense when the said troublemaker is reasonably significant, but in recent years the left has played an outsized role in promoting people such as Orly Taitz, ineffective and mostly impotent members of Congress like Allen West and Michele Bachmann, and even a thoroughly discredited post-2008 Sarah Palin — the last of whose every sideways glance the press breathlessly reports as if it signaled the Second Coming, even as she and her family have drifted into tawdry, broadsheet-worthy behavior (see Palin, Bristol).

Without a huge assist from left-wing media promoters, all such tragic humans would have faded slowly from the spotlight (to varying degrees, of course: Sarah Palin will always be more interesting than Orly Taitz). Instead, they’re kept front and center in our public consciousness by “media watchdogs” like Mediaite — which, by the way, uploaded the above video. It’s time to start ignoring people whose most recent credentials include, for example, stints on reality TV (a growing subset of Americans, to be sure, but not one I’m ever interested in hearing about).

But whatever the causes, one consequence consistently remains: right-wing brashness dominates the news cycle while liberals mostly cower in fear. And this state of affairs has started to make me wonder whether the American progressive sector would do well to unleash its own attack dogs a little more often.

Take the Newtown massacre, for example, and try to imagine the GOP and Democrats on opposite sides of the gun control debate from where they are now: in other word, Democrats against gun control, and Republicans in favor of it. Would the right have waited several days, as did Obama, and then given a speech in favor of some very vague “changes,” then waited even longer before finally announcing the conclusions of a study group led by the vice president that would result in a myriad of mostly ineffective and insignificant executive orders and a thoroughly unambitious legislative agenda?

Of course not. We know this because guys like Rep. Louie Gohmert were appearing on TV shows within a day or two of the shooting and saying they only wished there’d been more guns at the school. Then the NRA held its notorious press conference and made things even worse. I’m using the words “notorious” and “worse,” however, in a very relative sense, since in reality the event was quite successful from a far right perspective: it once again slammed the door in the face of timid liberal attempts to ever so slightly nudge public policy.

So what I’m saying is, the next time something like Newtown happens — and there will be a next time, as we all know by now — I don’t want to hear Democrats and liberals clamoring all over each other to be the first to demand an assault weapons ban. That is a quintessential Democratic tactic, and one that Barack Obama has practically made his trademark: beginning the negotiation by asking for exactly what he hopes to get by the end. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that this is a horrendous strategy in any situation, but it’s even worse when the counterpart is an increasingly unpredictable and radical political party.

Instead, we should hear people calling for a repeal of the Second Amendment. I’d love to have that conversation play out on the national stage. Of course, there are several issues with this approach. For one, the media has a funny way of discounting staunch leftist rhetoric in a way it doesn’t on the right. But again, I think this has become a chicken-or-the-egg scenario: the media doesn’t necessarily have any ingrown bias against leftism, but they’ve developed artificially skewed boundaries of acceptable discourse anyway because that’s what they’ve been exposed to for so long. Destroying that stasis won’t happen overnight, but it has to start somewhere.

Perhaps the larger problem is that almost no Americans would support such a proposition (repeal). But why does that matter? A wide array of social movements — from women’s to civil to gay rights and more — took their first steps in a landscape of profound public hostility to their objectives. And anyway, my point isn’t actually to repeal the Second Amendment. The point is to make a big enough deal about it so that the proposals from the opposite side — say, arming teachers in every school — get taken right off the proverbial table.

Indeed, such was the promise of Occupy Wall Street. Unfortunately, the movement failed to crystallize into something truly permanent. But despite Occupy’s short, limited role, the entire national conversation shifted rather dramatically for a time. Today, it is commonplace to hear politicians and public figures speak of the 99%, the 1%, and so on, but these were concepts only just recently introduced into the broader lexicon. And at least as importantly, it served as a heavy counterweight to the classist “takers” rhetoric coming from the right. Would Mitt Romney’s infamous “47%” comment have exploded nearly as loudly as it did if Occupy Wall Street hadn’t raised the issue of middle-class exploitation just months before?

I think not. Although the movement ultimately fizzled out, the ragtag group consisting largely of students, social misfits, hipsters, and the unemployed briefly jolted the boundaries of discourse in the opposite direction from their long-term trajectory. The question is whether that shift represented an insignificant and temporary diversion from the mean, or a useful lesson on how to conduct political warfare in the future. Yes, the Democrats have managed to win the popular vote in five of the past six presidential elections. But just imagine what the left could accomplish if it actually started fighting.