Posts Tagged ‘E. J. Dionne’

Obama: “I do not accept second place for the United States of America”

Friday, February 5th, 2010

I’ve been meaning to draw attention to Edward Alden’s political take on the most significant sentence in Obama’s State of the Union:

President Obama’s best bipartisan applause line of the speech–”I do not accept second place for the United States of America”–should become the mantra for his administration’s effort to revive its faltering agenda. It captured the central theme of his speech–that the failure of those in the country’s most powerful institutions to rise above their narrow, immediate interests has paralyzed America’s ability to tackle an urgent series of challenges that threaten its future prosperity and global leadership. Yet while Washington fiddles, Wall Street gambles, and the media chortles, other countries are moving ahead.

E. J. Dionne comments on the same line in a column for The New Republic identifying what he labels the sleeper issue of 2010: American decline.

Beneath the predictable back-and-forth between Obama and his Republican adversaries over government spending lies a substantively important difference over how the United States can maintain its global leadership.

For Republicans, American power is rooted largely in military might and showing a tough and resolute face to the world. They would rely on tax cuts as the one and only spur to economic growth.

Obama, Biden and the Democrats, on the other hand, believe that American power depends ultimately on the American economy, and that government has an essential role to play in fostering the next generation of growth.

One thing no one has commented upon is how well this narrative refutes the narrative the right wing is building. I noticed some time earlier that Charles Krauthammer, Rush Limbaugh, Dick Cheney and much of the right wing had been coalescing around the narrative they were pushing about Obama – which I called the Unified Theory of Obama. The conclusion of all their various claims – the story that tied them all together was this:

Therefore, Obama is using his presidency to deliberately and radically weaken America – by spending more money than it can afford to; by destroying its economy with health care reform and cap and trade; by giving up America’s moral leadership of the world (by bowing to foreign leaders and apologizing for past mistakes); by engaging in “various kinds of strategic retreat, most particularly in reversing policies stained by even the hint of American unilateralism or exceptionalism;” by moving away from the Bush administration’s foreign policy and national security approaches thus giving “encouragement — aid and comfort — to the enemy.”

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Must Reads of the Past Two Weeks! (Extended Edition): J Street, NPH, Liberalism, Topless, Colombian Hippos, Grassroots, 1990s Reunion, Insuring Illegals, and the Iranian Time Bomb

Friday, September 18th, 2009

J Street. James Traub of the New York Times profiles the new Jewish lobbying group J Street. For anyone who is interested in the Israeli-US relationship, a very interesting read that tries to profile one group trying to change the dynamic in Washington.

The Unique Figure of Neil Patrick Harris. Andrew Sullivan has an interesting take on Neil Patrick Harris, and speaking with Emily Nussbaum of New York magazine, Neil Patrick Harris also has an interesting take on Neil Patrick Harris. Takeaway line from Sullivan:

Everyone is a shade or two away from normal; and the pied beauty of humanity should not be carved into acceptable and unacceptable based on things that simply make us who we are.

Liberalism Defined and Defended. E. J. Dionne writing for Democracy magazine reviews Alan Wolfe’s book [registration required] (which was one of the inspiration for this post of mine on the 10 Principles of Liberalism). An excellent review of a book I now feel compelled to read:

Wolfe notes that “it is not sufficient for me merely to be left alone, I must also have the capacity to realize the goals that I choose for myself. If this requires an active role for government, then modern liberals are prepared to accept state intervention into the economy in order to give large numbers of people the sense of mastery that free market capitalism gives only to the few.” Exactly right.

Topless. Meghan Pleticha writes for Alternet about her experiment where she “legally exposed [her] breasts in public.”

There they were — in the sunlight, the eyes of God and New York Penal Law 245.01 — my boobs out, nipples blazing. The girls sitting on the blanket next to us giggled. Some passersby glanced over, smiles on a couple of the guys’ faces. My nipple ring glinted in the sun. Amazingly, I felt relatively calm. Warm. Neither lightning nor cops had struck me down. Furtively looking around, I noticed some guys attempting to be respectful. Maybe they were just thinking be cool or she’ll put her top back on, but gentlemen would glance over and grin, but rarely stare.

The Colombian Hippo Problem. Simon Romero of The New York Times describes how Colombia is dealing with yet another of the legacies of the larger than life Pablo Escobar, the drug kingpin who was gunned down sixteen years ago: an infestation of hippos who are thriving in Colombia’s ecosystem after escaping from Escobar’s private zoo.

The Right Wing Grassroots. Daniel Larison has a rather insightful piece on his blog regarding the relationship between the conservative elites and the right wing grassroots. I don’t endorse his entire analysis, but worth reading.

Like the Opening of a 1990s Political Joke. Dana Milbank of the Washington Post sketches a 1990s reunion of Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, President Bill Clinton, and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott. An interesting quote by Trent Lott:

I thought it might be a good time for us to show that a president, a speaker, the leaders, can find a way to come together. If three good ol’ boys from the South like the ones you’ve heard today can find a way to get it done. I know the outstanding leaders that we have in the Congress . . . can get it done.

Insuring Illegal Immigrants. Ezra Klein makes the case persuasively:

Illegal immigrants are clustered in service sector and food sector jobs. They clean buildings, prepare boneless chicken breasts, wash dishes, pick food, and generally do jobs that are much more conducive to spreading germs than, say, blogging is. I don’t know exactly why Rep. Joe Wilson and Lou Dobbs and all the others in their cohort want to make it more expensive to hire American workers and make it more likely that Americans get sick, but that’s why I’m not a political strategist, I guess.

The Iranian Time BombGeorge Friedman of Stratfor sees a world of trouble arising from the Iranians’ pursuit of nuclear weapons – as he analyzes how almost every interested party seems to misunderstand the interests and willingness to act of every other interesting part, which he believes could result in catastrophic consequences à la the opening of World War I.

[Image by Eamonn.McAleer licensed under Creative Commons.]

The Back of Obama’s Hand

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2009

Obama has clearly been trying to stay above the fray in this debate over the stimulus bill. He set guidelines as to what he wanted in the bill and let Congress fight over the specifics. He wanted a bill:

  • in which 75% of the spending would occur within two years; 
  • that would focus on long-term projects such as infrastructure, health care, and educational improvements and on short-term stability measures dealing with unemployment; 
  • that would have little to no “pork”; 
  • that would include significant tax cuts; and 
  • that would be ready to pass as soon as possible – by last week.

But as E. J. Dionne of the Washington Post explained:

The president has been willing to give House and Senate Democrats substantial leeway in crafting their proposals because he knows that both will end up being broadly to his liking. He can influence the final outcome when the two houses work out their differences next month.

The administration did intervene, however, to chip away at a few small but politically troublesome expenditures…

Dionne is referring to the items the Republicans voiced displeasure over (with press releases and coordinated apperances on cable news shows). Obama pressed the Democrats in Congress to remove the items (including state funding for contraception and STD prevention and a museum of the mob in Las Vegas). The Republicans wanted tax cuts – and Obama obliged with over 35% of the cost of the stimulus going to tax cuts. A number of other Republican proposals have been incorporated into the bill from Chuck Grassley’s Alternative Minimum Tax fix to Arlen Specter’s additional funding for the National Institute of Health to Eric Cantor’s proposal to place the bill on the internet. 

The Republicans who have been criticizing the bill have praised the popular President Obama’s outreach and tried to place the blame on the unpopular House Democrats. The talking point is that Obama is too timid to stand up to the House Democrats who are foisting this awful bill upon us. This seems to me to be a misleading interpretation of the above events designed to undercut Obama politically. From what I can see and from what I read – the Democrats, and especially Obama, are making a good faith effort to make sure this bill has bipartisan support. They are incorporating Republican suggestions and principles; they are involving them in some, though not all discussions of the bill. Even if there is truth to the complaints of House Republicans that they are being frozen out of the House’s deliberations, their input is clearly being taken into account by Obama who has presssed the House Democrats to make changes suggested by the House Republicans. The Senate bill seems to be even more reflective of Republican concerns, with 78% of it’s spending projected to be done by 2010.

Which is why the unanimous opposition of the House Republicans is disappointing. It is best explained, it seems, by politics, as the AFP described the dynamic at work:

[I]f Obama’s stimulus works and revives the reeling economy, they would be unlikely to get any credit even if they voted for it – by opposing the measure they can at least expect some political gain if it fails.

But the battle of whether the Republicans are being true to their ideals or merely obstructionist hasn’t yet been resolved. The Republicans have been dominating the media coverage while the Democrats have hung back. They have been expressing their criticism of the stimulus plan in partisan terms – bringing up culture war issues related to sexual morality, calling the bill a mere sop to Democratic interest groups, and failing to acknowledge the significant concessions that have been made. Rush Limbaugh – as part of his continuing quest to hijack the Republican Party – wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal full of his usual misinformation: exaggerating the cost of the bill; downplaying the tax cuts within the bill (when his real objection is to who these tax cuts are going to); and most of all claiming that it was an example of Democratic policies being forced down the throat of an America who wants a bipartisan approach – like the one Rush Limbaugh is offering.

There are major changes that should be made to this bill – the most pragmatic and popular one being to eliminate the portions of the bill extending past 2010 and keeping those provisions for other legislation. But by necessity, out of a need for quick action, this bill will be far from perfect – utilizing existing programs rather than creating more appropriate and effective ones. Obama should ensure that the Senate Democrats make this change to the bill, which is already an improvement over the House bill in that 78% of it’s monies will be disbursed within two years.

But regardless of whether this bill is the right bill or not, Obama will soon face a choice. The Republicans seem to be interpreting Obama’s civility and openness to dialogue as weakness. They do not seem to realize where they are headed. Voting against tax cuts. Voting against a stimulus measure. Obstructing the government from acting in the midst of a crisis. Obama will likely continue to reach out for the rest of this week, making obsequious efforts to woo Senate Republicans to his side. Given the dynamics that are dominating in Washington, I find it difficult to believe they will give in, although some might. (The question would become, did Obama get enough Republicans.) As described above, most Republicans have far more to gain by being obstructionist – especially if they are misinterpreting Obama’s attempts at biparisanship as weakness – and think there will be no consequences.

My bet – and my advice if it were needed – would be for Obama to make a final private plea for Republican support later this week. Then, if it fails, to schedule a speech this coming weekend in one of his more vulnerable opponents’ states. He should make clear that this bill is not perfect – but that decisive action in the midst of this crisis is important. He should make clear that bipartisanship is not unilateral disarmament. He can only work with those who will unclench their partisan fists and are willing to get down to the work of governing. He should make it clear that this bill is not our only response to the crisis – that we will likely need to do more – to reform the banking and mortgage industries; to continue to create liquidity in the credit markets. He should make clear that this stimulus bill is only one part of his overall plan. Shortly after this speech, he should sent out an email to his supporters asking them to write their Congressmen and Senators and ask the Obama movement to prove it’s continued political worth.

In short, he should give a brief demonstration of the consequences of crossing Obama – he must show his opponents the back of his hand. It may not be civil – but politics cannot be civil without respect. Perhaps it is time for Obama to demonstrate his ability to change the debate in Washington – and in the country.