Posts Tagged ‘Jon Favreau’

Defending Obama’s First Year in Office

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

When the press mentions the online hordes who gathered on the tubes of the internets to push Obama to victory, they are talking about people like me. I started a blog because (along with my unhealthy compulsion to write) I decided to support Obama in 2007; I raised several thousand dollars from dozens of my friends and online contacts; I sent out emails making the case for Obama to my family; I bought a sign to place in my front yard and attended rallies in Brooklyn and Manhattan; I fought against smears in emails and in the social media (on reddit, on digg, on Stumbleupon, on Facebook, and on discussion boards); and on November 4, 2008, for the first time in my life, I walked out of the polling center proud of who I had cast my vote for.

A year on, there has been much commentary about what people like me think now – the young, the wired, the inspired. Were we were just naive and now feel fooled by Obama’s promise of “Hope, change, blah, blah, blah,” as speechwriter Jon Favreau referred to the Obama’s magic formula? Do we think that Obama sold-out to the banks and health insurance industry? Has he disappointed us with his escalation in Afghanistan? Certainly, a good portion of the left has turned against Obama with the passion of scorned lovers – as demonstrated by the histrionic pronouncements of Howard Dean (who denounced the health care bill as a “bigger bailout for the insurance industry than AIG“) and the Village Voice (which labeled the president, “George W. Obama.”)

I cannot speak for all of my fellow liberal bloggers, my fellow redditors, my fellow Obama supporters – but I, for one, am not disappointed. During the campaign, I saw Obama as – and exhorted others to support him because – he was an idealistic tinkerer. He inspired with his grand rhetoric but his policy proposals and instincts were epistemologically modest. He understood that the status quo was difficult to change, and that change brought with it its own perils. His proposals sought to pragmatically improve our society a bit at a time – creating processes that would allow for organic change rather than imposing radical top-down measures. For anyone who took the time to investigate his policy proposals, this was clear – that Obama had learned deeply the lessons of Ronald Reagan and the conservative movement – that centralized government action always had unanticipated consequences; yet at the same time, Obama had not rejected the lessons of Franklin Roosevelt and Bill Clinton – that government could also do much good, that collective action was needed to shape our society, and that times of crisis called for, “bold, persistent experimentation.”

Obama has met my high expectations; he has governed seriously and with bipartisan substance. His Congressionalist approach has led to a string of legislative accomplishments rarely seen in Washington and a stronger record of spending cuts than George W. Bush. (Though his predecessor admittedly did not set the highest standard.) He passed a massive stimulus bill supported by policy wonks on the left and right, composed of more than a third tax cuts, but including much needed funding for education, infrastructure, and technological innovation. He pulled the nation back from the brink of a financial crisis and recession without nationalizing the banks or bailing them out yet again. He moved America back from the panicked emergency measures adopted by George W. Bush in the aftermath of September 11. He salvaged some deal from Copenhagen despite the Chinese attempts to undercut America’s position. He appointed a moderate, liberal pragmatist to the Supreme Court. He has made many long-term bets in domestic and foreign policy which we have yet to see play out. And of course, there is his attempt at health care reform – combining the most significant attempt at cost control in a generation with the most significant expansion of access to medical insurance. (The two goals being surprisingly compatible as Milton Friedman acknowledged.) Though this last bill still has not had its fate decided, these are serious and substantial accomplishments that form the basis of a solid legacy. Yet Obama hasn’t been able to achieve his core promise: to overcome the Freak Show that has dominated our political discourse for a generation.

This is the one profound disappointment I have with Obama’s presidency to date. His core promise (which helped him defeat Senator Clinton) was that he would be better able to move past the rabid partisanship and petty squabbles of the Baby Boomers – that he could surmount the influence of the “idiocrats” on our political conversations, as they jumped from petty scandal to scandal, from one moment of faux outrage to another. This Freak Show that dominated our political conversation forced politicians to treat their constituents as children incapable of understanding either why their leaders might be less than perfect or that they could not both lower taxes and increase spending forever. As Obama addressed the issue of Reverend Wright in his campaign, he proved he was capable – at least for a moment – of surmounting this Freak Show mentality, treating the American people as if they were adults capable to wrestling with the difficult issues of race and religion. But since this moment, Obama has seemed unable to fully rise above this Freak Show. With the Tea Party demonstrations in August 2009 rallying against “death panels,” handouts to illegal immigrants, “government mandated abortion” and other myths that were useful in rallying the Republican base (if not in describing the bill), he seemed finally to have lost the conversation. Those with legitimate and conservative concerns, as well as those with progressive ones, were overshadowed by the inchoate anger of the hysterical.

Now that Scott Brown has replaced Ted Kennedy – and with the pundits and media figures and Republicans circling – the Freak Show has declared health care reform dead. Again. For Obama to resurrect this bill, to restore the momentum in his presidency, and prove he is capable of governing and dealing with long-term issues (rather than the political posturing which have marked the past 15 years), he will need to break the hold that the idiocrats have over our political discourse and reconnect with his grassroots supporters instead of playing the inside Washington game. While Obama spent his first year focused on governing and policy, with his State of the Union last night, Obama began to focus on the political task of getting the American people behind him as he attempts to tackle the difficult, long-term issues that have been festering for so long unaddressed by our dysfunctional politics.

We should remember one thing as Tea Party supporters jubilantly support their momentum and energy with Scott Brown’s election: 14 months is a very long time in this political age. Interpreting political movements in light of the Feiler Faster thesis, it’s not surprising that it was just 14 months ago that the Obama grass roots which seemed ascendant now seem dormant; and 14 months from the August birth of the Tea Party movement happens to be November 2010.

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Profiling Holy Cross Grad Mark Walsh

Wednesday, May 6th, 2009

Devin Leonard for the Times wrote this weekend about Mark Walsh, formerly of Lehman Brothers. The article portrays him as one of Wall Street’s top deal makers whose decisions were one of the major factors that led directly to the fall of the bank. Yet the article is also strangely positive in describing Walsh. 

What stood out for me most were the numerous connections Walsh has to me. As the article describes his brief biography:

Mr. Walsh grew up in Yonkers, the son of a lawyer who once served as chairman of the New York City Housing Authority. He attended Iona Preparatory School in New Rochelle; the College of the Holy Cross, where he majored in economics; and, finally, the Fordham University School of Law.

And then a bit later:

He bankrolled Tishman Speyer in its purchase of the Chrysler Building in 1997.

I am a fellow alumnus of Holy Cross – a fact which by itself causes me to be irrationally positive about individuals, from Chris Matthews to Bob Cousy to Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau. He also went to Fordham Law – which is one of the schools I am considering. And I currently work in the Chrysler Building. All tenuous connections, but enough to make me root for the guy.

Of course, it’s hard to get around the damning nature of this reporting:

[I]t wasn’t long before Mr. Walsh found a way to do an even bigger deal with Mr. Speyer’s company. In May 2007, Lehman and Tishman Speyer offered to buy Archstone-Smith Trust, a $22 billion deal struck at the peak of an already dangerously frothy market. Tishman Speyer put up a mere $250 million of its own equity. Lehman, in a 50-50 partnership with Bank of America, put up $17.1 billion of debt and $4.6 billion in bridge equity financing.

The most enlightening aspect of the article were the way in which it spotlighted the oddness of what was going on. Leonard describes one of Walsh’s biggest clients pulling out his money saying that:

 [T]he real estate market — and, indeed, the entire financial system behind it — was becoming increasingly bizarre.

In an example of this from 1997 – well before this observation – Leonard describes one of Walsh’s coups – how he managed to steer Lehman clear of the financial crisis resulting from the failure of Long Term Capital Management that Nassim Nicholas Taleb had predicted at the time:

On the eve of the financial crisis brought by the near collapse of Long Term Capital Management in 1998, Lehman flushed $3.6 billion in commercial real estate loans through its securitization machine, avoiding some of the losses that crippled other firms, including Nomura and Credit Suisse.

I hate to say it – but I have no idea what that means. And that’s not unintional – at least according to a lecture given by Financial Times reporter Gillian Tett at the London School of Economics. (A lecture very much worth listening to – and which I will blog about later.)

But to demonstrate the oddly positive take on Walsh, here’s how Leonard concludes his piece:

His friends say they believe that Mr. Walsh will eventually emerge from the rubble of Lehman’s collapse and return to deal-making.

“Guys like this are very rare,” says Mr. Rosen, the developer. “He’ll be back. He picked up the phone and people listen. Nobody can take that away from him.”

Back in the game perhaps – but hopefully a bit wiser.

A Defense of Indiscretion (cont.)

Monday, December 15th, 2008

Kathleen Parker, who since breaking with Republican orthodoxy and criticizing Sarah Palin with her obvious flaws, has been a writer I pay attention to found time to comment on the mini-scandal of a former Holy Cross alum:

One day, Favreau was the golden boy of silken tongue. The next, he was just another dimwitted dude acting dumb…Feminists groups such as NOW and The New Agenda are outraged that Clinton – or at least her image – is being treated disrespectfully by the boys. Conservatives are outraged that there’s not enough outrage, as would be the case were the party boys Republicans…

Only Hillary Clinton has made light of the “incident,” hereinafter known as Night of BBB (Boys Being Boys). In an e-mail to The Washington Post’s Al Kamen, a Clinton adviser wrote: “Senator Clinton is pleased to learn of Jon’s obvious interest in the State Department, and is currently reviewing his application.”

Hear, hear. Nipping nonsense in the bud is an essential skill for a secretary of state and Clinton used her shears deftly. If anyone recognizes a little harmless male sport, it would be the bride of President “Is.” One thing is harmful; another thing isn’t…

Puritans and prohibitionists would adore our brave new world of shutterbug infamy. The fact is, no one’s having fun anymore, especially in the nation’s capital, where one can’t afford to let the tongue slip or risk being caught in the cross hairs of a cell camera.

Of course, Parker had the good sense to see Sarah Palin for what she was – a dazzling media phenomenon with little substance. People like Amy Siskind and Campbell Brown couldn’t see beyond Palin’s ovaries – defending her and blaming “the boys” in the McCain campaign for holding her back.

Robert Schlesinger of U.S. News & World Report manages to look beyond sexism to the more fundamental issues involved.

The trifecta of a lack of privacy, a disappearing sense of humor, and a zero-tolerance attitude regarding offenses real and perceived will leave us dysfunctional: We’re all human, after all, and make mistakes. Show me someone who has never in their life done something embarrassing, inappropriate, rude, or regrettable and I’ll show you someone either too inhuman to work in a position of power or someone who was fortunate that a camera phone wasn’t around when they erred.

Amen. That’s exactly the argument I made last week.

Signs We’re Back in the 1950s

Monday, December 15th, 2008

Dear Ms. Tina Brown:

I just read Amy Siskind’s characteristically sharp blog post explaining why recent happenings in Obama-land demonstrate that we’re “back in 1950s.” Yes – Obama – by appointing women to three of his top national security posts – is demonstrating the kind of chauvinism that imbued the 1950s. Dwight D. Eisenhower and Harry Truman combined only had one woman serve in their cabinets in the 1950s – Oveta Culp Hobby. She was Eisenhower’s Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare for two years. Barack Obama will nominate Hillary Clinton, a woman, to the most powerful cabinet position, Secretary of State; he will nominate Janet Napolitano, a woman, to be Secretary of Homeland Security; he will nominate Susan Rice, a woman, to be the Ambassador to the United Nations – and will raise the position back to cabinet-level. In contrast, the only woman of real influence in the Bush cabinet was Condoleeza Rice – as National Security Adviser and then Secretary of State. But Siskind values sheer numbers over influence and power it seems – as she praises Bush for having more female cabinet members than Obama (so far.) Bush appointed women to head departments dealing with environmental issues (Christie Todd Whitman and Gale Norton), agriculture (Ann Veneman), labor (wait – Bush had a Department of Labor? yes, and it has been led by Elaine Chao, a woman!), education (Margaret Spellings), and transportation (Mary Peters.) Of these departments, the only one Bush seemed to care for were the Interior (including the EPA) in which Bush-Cheney wanted obstructionist heads of the departments (which is why Whitman soon left). Obama has yet to announce his appointments to these positions in which Bush had women appointed.

Yet another indication that we are back in the 1950s is that prospective Treasury head Timothy Geithner does not want Sheila Blair to remain head of the FDIC. Siskind characteristically gets to the heart of the issue by ignoring issues altogether:

So now, Geithner wants to silence a woman that disagrees with him. Sound familiar?

Yes it does. I don’t know the reason why Geithner wants to replace Blair – but based on Siskind’s “analysis” it’s clear that it’s simple misogyny. At the same time, Siskind points out, a woman, Brooksley Born, warned Robert Rubin, Larry Summers, and Alan Greenspan about the dangers of derivatives. Siskind doesn’t need to explain what this implies. But I will: yes – men and women both warned of these dangers, and men and women ignored these warnings (in fairness, mainly men were in charge) – but what is significant – and like the 1950s – is that a woman was “ignored” by men. Just because Warren Buffet was also ignored by men when he called derivatives “weapons of mass financial destruction” doesn’t make the “silencing” of Born any less proof of sexism.

The final incident discussed by Siskind is the infamous assault on Hillary Clinton. Yes – it was only a cardboard cutout. But the fact that this was made of cardboard means that it could not give consent, making the groping non-consensual by definition. Siskind calls again for Favreau to be fired and for the “all boys club” atmosphere to be ended. She shows the photograph again – although this time blurring out the actual woman in the photograph of the “all boys club.”

Ms. Brown – I guess my point is: I too can make analogies to historical time periods that bear no relation to reality. Maybe I should be writing for the Daily Beast as well. Here’s a few sample headlines I’m working on:

And there are plenty more where these have come from. So hire me, please.

Respectfully,

Joe Campbell

</sarcasm>

P.S. Discussions of sexism and gender bias are ill-served by voices like Amy Siskind’s. I’m not trying to silence her. She can talk all she wants – and as long as she is provocative enough, the “Freak Show” that is our current media-political environment will pay attention to her. But the issues she claims to support are drowned in the idiocy of her commentary. Back to the 1950s? – c’mon. Fire someone for a Facebooked photograph? – let’s be serious. Has this woman seen the sexism and misogyny in fifties sitcoms or as portrayed in Mad Men?

On a technical note: It’s not clear to me that Favreau’s hand is actually on the place where Ms. Clinton’s cardboard breast would be. And he could be just as easily holding the cardboard cutout up as pretending to fondle it. It’s less fun to look at the photo that way – and with the booze and the other guy in the photo, the slightly scandalous version seems more interesting. But it just goes to show how ridiculous these puffed-up claims by Siskind and her like are – as they not only presume he is fondling the cardboard place where the breast would be, but that he is also pretending to assault the cutout.

In Defense of Indiscretion

Wednesday, December 10th, 2008

Or, In Defense of Fondling Cardboard Cut-Outs

Dahlia Lithwick, writing in Slate about the character of John Roberts as he was being vetted for the Supreme Court in 2006:

I knew guys like [John Roberts] in college and at law school; we all knew guys like him. These were the guys who were certain, by age 19, that they couldn’t smoke pot, or date trampy girls, or throw up off the top of the school clock tower because it would impair their confirmation chances. They would have done all these things, but for the possibility of being carved out of the history books for it.

An acquaintance of mine from college has been in the news recently. No – I’m not talking about this profile in Newsweek (which was reddit-famous), this one from The New York Times, or this piece in Time magazine. I’m talking about the headline on The Drudge Report linking to this piece in the Washington Post. I ignored that piece when it first came up, hoping the story would die. It’s certainly not news in any meaningful sense. But it does turn out to be “news” in the sense that matters most these days: It provides a hook for people to fake righteous outrage over.

Jon Favreau, a speechwriter for Barack Obama now slated to move to the White House as chief speechwriter for Obama, had a picture taken of him at a party. I include the picture to keep matters in perspective – for without it, an observer would probably imagine something quite shocking.

(The Wikipedia entry’s description of the photo, Favreau “performing a suggestive gesture to a cardboard cut-out of Hillary Clinton.” With that description, I would have pictured something else entirely!)

The offending picture was posted on Facebook by a friend of Favreau’s for some two hours before it was taken down. Now it’s in the Washington Post and the New York Times and analysts on CNN are making profound noises about it. According to The New Agenda, a supposedly feminist group, Favreau should be fired. Campbell Brown of CNN, the individual whose brilliant first name inevitably leads her to disappoint viewers expecting profundity (“Free Sarah Palin!”) decided her counterintuitive response would be to attack Senator Clinton’s lack of outrage over the degradation of womankind that this photo represents:

Really, Sen. Clinton? Boy, have you changed your tune. You really think this photo is OK?

Put another woman in that photo, just an average woman who supported you during the campaign. Have it be her image being degraded by a colleague of hers. Would you be OK with that?

Yes – Campbell Brown is outraged over Hillary Clinton’s shrugging-off of an unfortunate photo while the economy is melting down and two wars are raging. Clearly, Hillary’s priorities are out of order – not Brown’s. Walter Cronkite must be ashamed to call himself a newsman these days.

There is a sensibility that infects mainstream coverage of any material that is tawdry and cheap – a kind of Hayes Code for today’s newsroom that makes every sexual scandal or embarrassing photograph into a morality tale. Without that cover, it’s hard to justify the right to show scandalous photographs repeatedly and talk in graphic details about the sex lives of politicians. (Remember the New York Post‘s scolding headline about the Miley Cyrus photograph, the scandalous photograph that they then enlarged on their front page to scold her about?) The goal of these morality tales is to pull readers or viewers in with titillating details while simultaneously and self-righteously denouncing the behavior.

What’s worse though than the faux-outrage and real outrage over such petty scandals is the type of public servant it encourages. We can’t all live as Dahlia Lithwick imagines John Roberts has. To view a scandal with good humor is one thing – to view it with the knowledge that we are all human, are all imperfect, all make mistakes – with the knowledge that if a perfect inquisitor came to judge us by our own standards, each of us would be found wanting. None of us are pure – and often those most obsessed with purity turn out to have their own demons. (See Haggard, Ted.) Our current political and media environment penalizes anyone who has lived and left any evidence to show for it. And we wonder how we’ve gotten in so much trouble.

At the same time, the self-appointed inquisitors have often been found wanting themselves. From preachers to journalists to politicians to news anchors to judges to each one of us – all of us, having lived, have done things we regret. Whether our regrets are dragged into the light of day and made into a media spectacle is largely a matter of happenstance. If you live in the public eye, then having the media pore over the worst moments of your life is a risk you take.

But we don’t really want to limit our politicians and public servants to those who have never done anything to have offended anyone in their lives.

Thankfully, Barack Obama has not taken this approach. If he wanted to avoid scandal and hypocritical tsk-tsk-ing, he would not have named Hillary Clinton Secretary of State with her long history. Lawrence Summers, as necessary as his brilliance may be to saving our economy, would have been eliminated because of controversial remarks he made some years ago. Eric Holder, despite his almost spotless record, would have been eliminated for that one spot – his minor role in the Marc Rich pardon. Joe Biden’s runaway mouth has led him to offend many constituencies.

Barack Obama campaigned saying he would change Washington and politics as usual. It seems his first order of business is to ignore the hypocrites of the media (and media-parasites like The New Agenda). With Hillary Clinton downplaying the incident and Obama having a history of ignoring this type of media scandal, I hope and trust that Jon Favreau’s job is safe.

But that’s not the point. It should never have been called into question over an incident like this. If the media wants to report on some lewd scandal, they can at least do their audience the favor of avoiding the hypocritical moral posturing and just revel in the tawdriness of it. It would at least be honest.

***

By the way, The New Agenda managed to insinuate that my college inculcated “less-than-respectful attitudes toward women”:

Ironically, other famous alumni of Jon Favreau’s alma mater, the College of the Holy Cross, are Clarence Thomas and Chris Matthews, also noted for their less-than-respectful attitudes toward women.

Apparently, the writer of this piece for The New Agenda never quite understood the meaning of the word “ironically.” That’s what a second-rate education will get you – a lack of knowledge of basic English vocabulary and a deficient sense of humor.

To complain about The New Agenda’s misuse of the word, “ironically,” you can email:

Or preferably, email each address to make sure someone gets it.

(It’s harder to get in touch with Campbell Brown – but you can comment to CNN here.)

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