Thursday, January 28, 2010

Simple truth, frankly spoken.

DougJ: “Clintonian”

This is just sad, from the Dickwhisperer:

Rochester, NY: Listless is right!

Where is the fire that we so often heard from the previous president? Where are the memorable lines “axis of evil”, “Mission Accomplished”, “git r done”? Can we attribute the lack of powerful rhetoric here to the fact that your brilliant colleague Michael Gerson isn’t writing the speeches anymore?

Dana Milbank:

A word I heard in the gallery last night for the speech was “Clintonian,” and I think that’s right. Clintonian in a bad way (its excessive length) and Clintonian in a good way (smart politics).

  • DougMN

    Sorry, DougJ- I should know this, but just for clarification – you're Rochester, NY right? And Milbank couldn’t recognize sarcasm if it hit him in the face.

  • DougJ

    Sorry, DougJ- I should know this, but just for clarification – you're Rochester, NY right?

    Yes. I’m a lot of the questions in these things now. It’s weird, I used to ask serious questions in these things and they were rarely answered. Now, I spend five minutes typing up the dumbest, snarkiest, craziest stuff I can, send it all in and they take most of it.

Bellantoni (TPM): Giuliani Wrongly Says Obama Didn't Talk About Xmas Bomber (VIDEO)

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani charted this morning on CNN that President "ignored national security" in his State of the Union address last night.

Giuliani (R) said Obama "didn't talk about the Christmas almost-bomber," even though Obama did. He said the president didn't use the word "Islamic terrorism," though Obama used the word "terrorist" twice and "terrorism" once.

Giuliani's interpretation of the amount of time devoted to national security may be accurate - the economy took up two-thirds of the speech - but Obama definitely mentioned it. (Here's a flashback to Giuliani saying earlier this month that the nation had no terrorist attacking during the George W. Bush presidency.)

Today Giuliani said Obama's lack of security talk was comparable to Franklin Roosevelt giving a State of the Union during World War II "not mentioning Nazism and not mentioning the war."

Watch our highlight reel:

Political unity continues to elude Obama Jan. 27: Rachel Maddow reviews President Obama's efforts to overcome political partisanship, going as far back as his 2004 Democratic National Convention speech, and wonders at what point Obama's desire to accomplish his agenda will exceed his patience with recalcitrant Republicans.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Mark Levin (The Corner - RW website):

I have watched many, many State of the Union speeches. This is the most partisan, least presidential of them all. His rhetoric, his glances at the GOP side, and his almost mocking tone at times — not to mention his over-the-top dissembling about the deficit, among other things — will not, I predict, improve his position with the public. Nor should it.

Sully: From The Annals Of Chutzpah

"To present such a proposal as a serious attempt at restraining spending is to reveal a low opinion of the intelligence of ordinary Americans," - Karl Rove.

In the end, all you can do is marvel at the vileness of such people, their total lack of any shame, sense of accountability, responsibility or honesty. Rove will advise Republicans to oppose any tax increases and to blame all spending cuts on Democrats if the debt commission comes through.

What we saw last night was a president, defending his campaign pledges, against a Washington that has abandoned almost any pretense of tackling any of the actual problems faced by this country, in favor of talk radio grandstanding, FNC propaganda, Democratic cowardice, and Republican cynicism. And in his eight years of destroying this country's fiscal balance, moral standing and national security, it takes a man of Rove's deep cynicism to stand up and lambaste the one man prepared to do something.

DiA II (The Economist):

This is a much looser SOTU than I got used to under George Bush--much more house of commons--applause is shorter, but more frequent, jeers are obvious, Mr Obama is anticipating it and working off Republican hostility like a stage comic with hecklers.

I've been trying to put my finger on why I liked President Obama's State of the Union address so much. The content and delivery were strong, but that's to be expected. I think my very positive reaction has to do with the larger context and the pre-speech expectations.

Given the public's palpable frustrations and the struggles the nation endured in 2009, there was a sense that the president would have to be vaguely apologetic during the address. He'd have to explain himself, acknowledge mistakes, and lay a new course for the year ahead. The pundits' use of words like "reboot" and "scaled back" were ubiquitous going into the speech.

The president, though, decided not to follow the conventional script. When he was supposed to be meek, he showed confidence. When expected to be contrite, Obama seemed proud. When Republicans sought deference, the president responded with strength. Indeed, while the GOP believes electoral winds are at their backs, Obama didn't mind teasing, confronting, challenging, and even mocking them in a good-natured way.

The fear that the president might shrink from the moment was backwards -- Obama stepped up and seemed larger than ever.

There was an inherent challenge that falls on any president leading during hard times: conveying to the public that policies are working, and that things are getting/will get better, without appearing ignorant to their pain. I thought Obama threaded needle extremely well -- highlighting not just the economic hardships, but the "deficit of trust" and the pettiness that contributes to American cynicism.

Also note, Democrats have appeared on the verge of a meltdown since Massachusetts's special election. The president not only leads the executive branch, but is also the head of the party, and made it clear to his compatriots last night that they're going to have take a deep breath and get back to work.

"To Democrats, I would remind you that we still have the largest majority in decades, and the people expect us to solve problems, not run for the hills."

Good advice. The underlying message of the night was that the president needs Democrats to follow his lead. Given the strength of the speech, it was an appeal that seems likely to work.

But perhaps the part of the speech that resonated most with me was the president's call to aim high.

"I never suggested that change would be easy, or that I could do it alone. Democracy in a nation of 300 million people can be noisy and messy and complicated. And when you try to do big things and make big changes, it stirs passions and controversy. That's just how it is.

"Those of us in public office can respond to this reality by playing it safe and avoid telling hard truths and pointing fingers. We can do what's necessary to keep our poll numbers high, and get through the next election instead of doing what's best for the next generation.

"But I also know this: If people had made that decision 50 years ago, or 100 years ago, or 200 years ago, we wouldn't be here tonight. The only reason we are here is because generations of Americans were unafraid to do what was hard; to do what was needed even when success was uncertain; to do what it took to keep the dream of this nation alive for their children and their grandchildren."

It was as assertive as it was persuasive. If he can translate this vision and leadership style into a concrete action, 2010 will be far stronger than 2009.

Will Obama have to do it without Republicans? Jan. 27: Chris Matthews, host of Hardball, talks with Rachel Maddow about the likelihood that President Obama's continued call for bipartisanship in Congress will ever be realized.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

NYT Editorial: The Second Year

The union is in a state of deep and justifiable anxiety about jobs and mortgages and two long, bloody wars. President Obama did not create these problems, and none could be solved in one year. But 2009 offered powerful and, at times, bruising lessons for a new president struggling to fulfill the seismic promise of his election.

Mr. Obama used his first State of the Union address to show the country what he has learned and how he intends to govern in the next three years.

He was right to make the creation of jobs and the reform of the far too vulnerable financial system his top priorities. And Mr. Obama made it clear that he would not be cowed by Washington’s venomous politics, his own mistakes, or the Massachusetts election into giving up on health care reform. It was a relief to see him challenge the Senate’s Republicans for their obstruction and his party for tending to “run for the hills” rather than wield the power of its majority.

Watching Mr. Obama, we were also reminded of the world’s relief that he is very much not George W. Bush. He is managing the necessary exit from Iraq. His decision to send more troops to Afghanistan was courageous and sound. On Wednesday, he rejected “the false choice” between security and the rule of law.

At home, Mr. Obama won an economic recovery bill that was too small but staved off an even deeper recession. He raised fuel standards for cars and appointed Sonia Sotomayor to a Supreme Court that had been drifting dangerously rightward. That is good, but not enough, and the president acknowledged that before Congress and the nation on Wednesday night.

Like Mr. Obama, we, too, would like to see bipartisan cooperation. But all too often Mr. Obama has underestimated the Republicans’ determination to block anything he proposed. When the economy was imploding only three Republican senators voted for the absolutely essential stimulus bill; none agreed to back health care reform or even vote to end a filibuster.

So it was good to see him get tougher and clearer about going forward. If the Republicans want to continue to block bills that the country wants and needs, he should let them filibuster so the public can take notice. We would have liked to have heard a more forceful demand — rather than a polite invitation — for the Republicans to either support his health care reform plan or produce their own plan, one that provides real security for all Americans and has a real chance to reduce costs.

After their taxpayer-financed bailout, Mr. Obama was right to call for additional taxes on the big banks. (And he should support the drive in the House to tax bankers’ obscene bonuses.)

On Wednesday, Mr. Obama said he would veto any financial regulatory reform bill that was not strong enough and warned that lobbyists in the Senate were weakening the version passed by the House. To our minds, the House bill was not good enough — creating a weak consumer protection agency and leaving loopholes in derivatives regulation. We hope Mr. Obama quickly spells out his bottom line for the reform package.

Mr. Obama acknowledged Americans’ anxiety about the deficit, and he was right to announce that he would create a bipartisan panel to come up with ideas to address it now that Senate Republicans have rejected the idea without a vote. But the first priority must be creating more jobs and helping more Americans with their mortgages.

The private sector seems unlikely to propel a self-sustaining recovery any time soon. That means more stimulus spending, not less, much more than the $154 billion jobs bill the House has passed. Mr. Obama offered some additional ideas, lending money to small businesses and giving them incentives for capital investments. The country will need to hear a lot more about that and how he plans to keep Americans in their homes.

We respect Mr. Obama’s deliberative nature. But too often in the last year he lingered on the sidelines, allowing his opponents to define and distort the issues and, sometimes, him — as happened last year in the health care debate.

His speech Wednesday was a reminder that he is a gifted orator, able to inspire with grand vision and the simple truth frankly spoken. It was a long time coming.

Gail Collins: United We Rant

My fellow Americans, the state of the union is angry. Also strong. Presidents usually say the state of the union is strong. But this year you would have to go with strongly angry.

In his speech on Wednesday night, President Obama actually dropped that traditional state-of-the-union-is rhetoric completely in honor of the new irascibility. “We all hated the bank bailout,” he said in one of his first big applause lines.

Yes, the one good thing you can say about our highest elected officials is that they are ticked off at so many people that sooner or later they’ve got to climb up on some common ground. The House hates the Senate. The liberal Democrats hate the moderate Democrats. The normal conservative Republicans hate the hyper Tea Party-types. The Tea Party-ists are having so many internal fights that there’s a definite danger of broken crockery.

And, of course, everybody hates the bankers, except the Republicans who sat on their hands when the president called for taxing them.

Obama does not really do angry. Peeved, yes. He looked pretty peeved when he was being interviewed by Diane Sawyer of ABC News the other night. If he can’t manage mellow with Diane Sawyer, what’s he going to do on Friday when he has scheduled a meeting with the House Republicans? Have you ever seen all the House Republicans in one place? It’s like a herd of rabid otters.

Looking out at the motley crew seated before him for the big speech, the president seemed at times to be pretending that he had never seen these people before in his life. “Washington has been telling us to wait for decades,” he complained at one point, as if he was a visitor from the heartland with a petition that he wanted to deliver if only he could get an appointment with someone on the appropriations committee.

Obama Year One began with euphoria. At the start of Year Two, crankiness rules. The House Democrats jumped up in triumph whenever the president dissed the Senate for holding things up. The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid — has Harry Reid had a single sunny moment in the last year? — got caught yawning by the cameras. There were occasionally scattered Republican jeers, although it probably counts as an improvement that nobody shouted a full insult at the president this time around. When Justice Samuel Alito took exception to the president’s assault on the Supreme Court’s recent campaign finance decision, he shook his head and mouthed “not true.”

Justice John Paul Stevens, who hated that decision more than anyone, was absent for the speech. There are rumors that he’s planning to retire. And can you imagine how Congress is going to behave if Obama has to try to name a successor? There isn’t a single jurist in the United States who doesn’t hold some opinion that 41 members of the Senate would find outrageous. Maybe they can locate a nice 50-year-old lawyer who was plunged into a coma on the day he or she passed the bar, and emerged only last week.

On Wednesday, the things that seemed to elicit the most bipartisan reactions were: hope (standing ovation), cutting the capital gains tax for small businesses (ditto) and Obama’s plan for deficit control, which caused a cold breeze to blow from both the Republican and Democratic camps.

Democrats hate the proposed freeze on discretionary spending because they like discretionary spending. Republicans say it’s too little too late, and, besides, it’s their issue. Hands off.

While the reaction certainly suggested this idea is a goner, it’s likely that Obama’s most conservative proposals are still the ones with the best odds of survival. The last few presidents had their best — and often only — luck getting big domestic bills passed when they were the other party’s programs. Bill Clinton got welfare reform. George W. Bush got No Child Left Behind and the Medicare drug plan. Both of those were basically Democratic ideas, although Bush added his own personal twist of not paying for them.

But Obama insisted he was going to hang in there and fight the good fight for health care reform and energy and — good for him — getting rid of the military’s don’t-ask-don’t-tell rule. Plus, he urged Congress to reform itself and regulate lobbyists and campaign donations. (Silence ruled.)

He also threw in a call for earmark reform. Although those porky earmarks are certainly an undesirable thing, ever since John McCain’s presidential campaign I have regarded calls for their reform as a small sign of desperation. On Wednesday, earmark reform got more time than immigration reform.

Obama has been saying that he’d rather be “a really good one-term president than a mediocre two-term president.” Being a good one-term president probably sounds great to him right now. Run the Obama Foundation and never have to deal with Joe Lieberman again.

But he’s definitely going for the double. For one thing, there is no such thing as a really good president who walked away after one term. James Polk? Barack Obama did not leave Hawaii to wind up remembered as the James Polk of the 21st century.

Atrios on The Royal Court

And some people don't quite understand why we call them Villagers...
DougJ: Why we fight

Obots and PUMAs alike should recognize that this is a big part of what Obama is up against:

The Clintons brought in a whole new crowd, many of them young and arrogant and clique-ish, which created such a competitive social atmosphere that the environment became toxic. In the beginning, advised by bipartisan fixer David Gergen, the Clintons hosted a series of small dinners for the chattering classes; these petered out as the first couple didn’t find them useful (or fun). Ironically, President Clinton had given a toast at Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham’s welcoming dinner for him shortly after he was elected. He talked about Washington being a place that was obsessed by “who’s in and who’s out, who’s up and who’s down.” It was as though he were predicting his own tenure: A lot of enemies were made. When the Monica Lewinsky affair turned into a debacle, during his second term, Clinton was impeached partly because of the ill will toward him in the city. After that, the Clintons went underground and very few from the administration were seen out and about.


Indulge me for a moment on the topic of our cultural bellwether, “Avatar.” In the film, the Pandora natives worship the goddess Eywa, who is the spirit that connects them to their planet. If there is such a goddess in Washington, I believe, it is the spirit of community. Those who live here want to welcome new friends. Washingtonians are open and willing to invite newcomers and make them part of their lives. If they can’t do that, there is automatically a distance that is created so that if—no, make that when—the administration gets into trouble, there is too little sympathy or support.

When an administration begins to express hostility to those in the community, the Na’vi pull out their arrows with the poison tips and begin taking aim. The rougher things get, the more members of the administration need to reach out, not withdraw. Nobody has ever been able to master this yet. Consequently everyone suffers—needlessly.

It would be inspiring to see a new administration understand the simple secret of how to belong to the community. Then, they would never have to hear, as the heroine of Avatar, Neytiri, says to the would-be hero, Jake Sully: “You will never be one of the people.”

Sully: "What Does It Matter Who Caused The Problem?"

Clive Crook writes:

What does it matter who caused the problem? Obama's job is to solve it.

This with respect to the crippling fiscal legacy bequeathed by the Bush administration and the appalling recession that subsequently wiped out revenues. Yes, he actually wrote the words:

What does it matter who caused the problem?

Let me try to explain: it matters who caused the problem and why because if we do not understand the causes we cannot fix the problem and it matters because any adult judgment of a politician's first year that does not take into account the inheritance he was bequeathed is impossible.

It matters because the most important fact in American politics is the worst presidency in modern times that preceded Obama.

Two failed, unwinnable wars that continue to destroy lives and cripple our finances, a massive splurge in entitlement and discretionary spending, a huge increase in defense spending and massive tax cuts: this we now have to forget? This context should be removed from the picture?

It matters too because the very people who gave us this mess are now adamantly refusing to do anything to get us out of it, and pledge to return to exactly the same policies that got us there in the first place: more tax cuts, more war, more entitlement spending, more debt, no health insurance reform, no action on climate change. Clive acts as if there were some viable alternative out there. There isn't.

I'm not saying that Obama should not be held responsible for actions he has taken; I am saying he should not be held responsible for actions he did not take and an appalling inheritance he was forced to grapple with. Removing that context, as the GOP has largely done, and Crook now endorses, is to rig the entire debate so that Obama cannot win. It is a function of the kind of punditry that is, in fact, far more of a problem for the country than anything Obama has done - because it bases political judgment on unreality, and distorts the body politic's capacity for reasoned argument. It treats all of this as a game.

Many of us backed Obama to try and end that game. But so many are invested in continuing it.

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