Monthly Archives: July 2011

Balancing the budget

Not that it should be balanced with 9% unemployment, but if you absolutely must do it:

Play Budget Hero.

The problem is, the commentary on the political effects of your ideas are not dynamic. Changing one thing doesn’t change the commentary, but think about this:

The game does not allow you to create a single-payer health care system. But it does allow you to create a public option, which saves $104 billion.

But in adding a public plan, you reduce if not eliminate a lot of the fallout from raising the Medicare age, means testing it, and doing likewise to other government health care programs, because… who cares?

If you’re covered, you’re covered.

If you make those adjustments, end the Bush tax cuts, end the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, close a few small tax loopholes, and do a few other minor tweaks and you have a surplus in 10 years.

No one is serious about balancing the budget if they are not an advocate of at least including the public option, if not simply opening Medicare to everyone.

Sorry, Mr. President, but there are blue states and there are red states.

For a President that spent all of his political capital passing the other party’s version of health care reform, it should be no surprise that the Republicans stand on the verge of winning a political battle by purposely stalling the anemic recovery in a stunt they announced they would be pulling before the end of the last Congress’s lame duck session. Bill Clinton would have never let them get away with this. But Clinton understood, as a President elected both times with a minority of votes, that he was not a unifier-in-chief.

But Obama created his national political identity on the substance of his 2004 DNC speech and now has repeatedly staked his presidency on it. He continues to bargain away positions that the majority of voters support to the right-wing, never mind the positions of voters in the states that he will need to not even think about campaigning in if he wants to get reelected.

The Obama White House has refused to call the Republicans’ bluff on anything and now stands in a position that is perhaps the worst one to be forced into a bluff-calling situation, with the other side knowing they can win with a pair of twos. This is an administration so deeply seduced by right-wing tropes that it touts its economic performance as being good because it has created so many private sector jobs, even as the country hemorrhages public sector jobs–those jobs don’t count to conservatives, you see. But to the families whose food and clothing comes from those jobs, they matter. So too to the private companies that depend on their patronage.

But America is unlikely to be united by politics. With the possible exception of 1820, it never has been. And even if there was a unifying political mandate, such as in 1932, it cannot be solidified by the milquetoast politics of Obama’s establishment centrism.  And even world events like 9/11 and wars have failed to unite us because they are so often of late exploited for political advantage or carried out for dubious purposes. Only bold action has ever carried a political mandate into a healing cultural one, and even then, only for a little while.

And these bold steps were taken by Presidents that understood the uses of power and understood the dimensions of their adversaries’ power. Lyndon Johnson knew Civil Rights would heal culturally, but divide politically (for at least a generation). FDR knew that the “money power” that opposed him would do anything to stop his plans to fix the very system that money power depended.

Obama seems to be a smart man. But I wonder if he doesn’t see himself as trying to perform some Lincolnesque role–from the Lincoln of historical myth, practically sainted by American historians. Yet I’m sure Lincoln did his fair share of wrangling with Congress. I bet his shit stunk, too.

It’s not that I don’t want to see the deep divisions in this country healed. It’s that I don’t see politics, and certainly not this certain politician, as the way to do it.

The other side is wrong. They are hurting our country. They do not respond to concessions other than to be emboldened to do more damage.

It’s still inconceivable to me that I could seek Obama’s defeat in 2012. He must win, if only because the other side is so emboldened that they are seriously considering nominating some of the most insane candidates for president ever. A Republican president would lock up the Supreme Court in a rightwing knot for another generation.

Despite that, I no longer believe that Obama’s presidency has done anything other than fatally poison the new liberalism that was created as a reaction to Bush, that liberalism that promised to start repairing the damage of the Bush years and move us forward, that liberalism that won in unlikely places to take back Congress in 2006, and, we thought, had appeal in places like Virginia and North Carolina as Obama was elected.

But Obama has misappropriated that energy in an attempt to transcend partisanship instead of growing liberalism. And now the question of his presidency has once again divided the fragile left coalition that was unified against Bush.

Phone Hacking Scandal

I’d get an orgasm of schadenfreude if Fox News did hack into 9/11 victims’ phones, I admit. Fox News and talk radio have been the source of so much misinformation for so long that I have little hope that rifts between Americans they have exploited and widened will ever be healed until many generations pass, if at all.

For many people, though, there’s no going back. Even if Murdoch is sent to some dank English prison in manacles—even if he’s quartered in the Tower of London—I’m sure it’s only going to be a liberal plot in some people’s minds. There is already a Judicial Watch report claiming that the Obama administration used “mafia” like language in trying to ostracize Fox in 2009 and that they have shown an anti-Obama bias. (Of course Fox is fair and balanced…) Fox News is the victim! Being attacked by the black/Chicago thugs of the Obama administration while they try to defend us from godless communism and sharia law!

Even if there is some demise of Fox News, I don’t see it as the dawn of a new day. Some other outlet will seek the conservative echo market and continue the work of trying to delegitimize Democrats and liberals and anyone who believes in evolution.

 

One more thing, Mr. Rich.

You forgot to add a reckoning of the crimes of the Bush administration

Three weeks before 9/11, enraged by television footage of an Israeli soldier putting his boot on the head of a Palestinian woman, he had snapped. Bandar, the crown prince’s nephew, was told to deliver an uncompromising message to President Bush.

“I reject this extraordinary, un-American bias whereby the blood of an Israeli child is more expensive and holy than the blood of a Palestinian child. . . . A time comes when peoples and nations part. . . . Starting today, you go your way and we will go our way. From now on, we will protect our national interests, regardless of where America’s interests lie in the region.” There was more, much more, and it rocked the Bush administration. The president responded with a placatory letter that seemed to go far toward the Saudi position of endorsing the creation of a viable Palestinian state.

The Bush Crime Family was, in addition to everything else,:

  • Soft on terrorism
  • Buckled to Saudi pressure against Israel
  • Responsible for the ascendancy of HAMAS in Gaza

If I was a Wall Street banker reading Frank Rich’s article in New York, I might ask why my shenanigans over money are more important than all of the thousands–perhaps almost a million, including civilians–killed in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the United States due to the negligence, fraud, and malfeasance of the Bush administration, which no one has done anything about.

The Legislative History of the Obama Administration

Presidents have, on occasion, gotten their second winds. Often times, those victories come from foreign policy, over which they have asserted more control. But no signature legislation got through Congress. Baby Bush’s legislative history could be written when he declared after his reelection that he would spend political capital “reforming” Social Security. 2005 was a terrible year for Bush and his agenda was finished.

Clinton never really recovered from losing the fight over health care reform. By the time that was done, and Congress turned over, only things like reforming welfare that the GOP wanted anyway inured to his credit. The rest was administrative.

The elder Bush isn’t remembered for much in his one term other than a war. Reagan managed to rewrite major aspects of the tax code in 1986, it’s true. But even giants like FDR and LBJ who passed seemingly impossible legislation did so in very tiny spurts close to the beginning of their administrations.

While it’s possible Obama will get his groove back, I doubt we’ll be seeing any major reforms in the next 5 years even if he wins reelection—a reelection made critical by the fact of the Supreme Court and the depraved insanity of his opponents.

But you probably could have written the book on Obama based on his first few initiatives: the ARRA (“Stimulus Bill”) and the “Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.”) The ARRA was either wasteful spending to classical economists or too small to Keynesians. And the argument that $700b was all that was available shows just how low the sights really were set by the Obama team. How long could even the U.S. Senate hold out against a newly elected president in an economic emergency? They didn’t even find out.

And instead of introducing the Civil Rights Bill of 2009 that would have plugged some of the leaks that have sprung since, but no. Just a slight tweak to overturn a Supreme Court ruling that seemed unfair.

But we all know where the tide really turned. It was in having a large majority in the House, a filibuster proof majority in the Senate, and not at least getting health care reform with the public plan in it. I have no doubt that the system that will go into effect in 2014 will be better. The point of this post isn’t to attack the PPACA.

But if there is any question over the “enthusiasm” gap in 2010, it has to come from the fact that all of the blood, sweat, tears, and dollars spent in 2008 resulted in very little “change” despite those large majorities. You would have thought a majority that large would have led to a Medicare-for-all style plan, maybe even through reconciliation if necessary.

But no. We got Romney care, or Nixon care, or the Heritage Institutional care, or Dole Care… Obama Care! This is, apparently, the maximum that can be realistically achieved in politics.

Well, maybe.

I think Obama believed his “no red states and blue states” speech. I think he believed he should and could inaugurate a new Era of Good Feelings. He didn’t realize that couldn’t happen with the paid assassins on the other side of the aisle. And it made him too willing to compromise.

He will probably win reelection. And he may even settle this debt ceiling fight, but I seriously doubt we get another signature piece of legislation from this president. God willing, he will save the Supreme Court.