Saturday, January 30, 2010

"a Bolshevik plot"

QOTD, Yglesias:
I debated policy with Mike Pence once and the guy is a stone-cold idiot. That was a years ago and I’ve been surprised since then to learn that conservatives consider him an unusually sharp policy mind and I take leading rightwingers at their word about that. But it’s the kind of thing that I think most Americans aren’t aware of. Obama knows what he’s talking about. A lot of the members of Congress you see on TV all the time talking smack don’t.
An hour and a half of deeply substantive debate, with the president schooling the congressional repugs with fact, clarity, and wit, and the Times right now has this headline: Off Script, Obama and the G.O.P. Vent Politely. After a throwaway lede, here are the third and fourth paragraphs:
For an hour and 22 minutes, with the cameras rolling, they thrust and parried, confronting each other's policies and politics while challenging each other to meet in the middle. Intense and vigorous, sometimes even pointed, the discussion nonetheless proved remarkably civil and substantive for a relentlessly bitter era, an airing of issues that both sides often say they need more of.

But if it was at times a wonky clash of ideas, it also seemed to be a virtual marriage-therapy session -- with the most pointed exchanges shown again on the evening news -- as each side vented grievances pent up after a year of partisan gridlock.
If that's the media narrative, he-said-she said substance-less reporting, then nothing was gained.
And I just saw former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop on the teevee, scaring the elderly about health care reform. I never thought I would see him stoop so low. How depressing. But it was a great 1.5 hours while it lasted.

Michael Kazin:

This was President Obama at his best: informed, subtlely erudite, witty, relaxed, eager to have a rational debate about the big issues instead of to descend into demonization. The White House should plan one of these sessions with the Senate Republicans too -- and do it in prime-time. But I doubt the GOP would go along with the idea: they know Obama would make them sound like dogmatic whiners.

Go to this link to see President Obama Q&A session with House GOP - Full Video & Transcript

As promised, President Obama appeared this afternoon at the House Republican caucus' retreat in Baltimore, delivering a short speech, followed by some fascinating Q&A. If you missed it -- the appearance was aired live on C-SPAN -- you'll really want to watch it when the video is posted online. It was simply fascinating.

During his speech, Obama went over themes from his State of the Union address this past Wednesday. At once, he simultaneously said that Democrats and Republicans can find common ground on issues such as a spending freeze and tax credits for small business, but he also went after the GOP for voting against the stimulus bill while attending ribbon-cuttings for projects in their districts, challenged them to work together on important issues, and called upon them to support his proposed fees on the bailed-out financial sector.

Then came the really interesting part. Obama began taking questions from Republican members of Congress, a sight that isn't normally seen on television in American politics.

There were some similarities to the British Parliamentary tradition of Prime Minister's Question Time -- minus the cheering and booing -- with a sense of political jousting between an incumbent president and the opposition, who for their part pitched one tough question after another.

I'm reasonably certain I've never seen anything like it. GOP House members were fairly respectful of the president, but pressed him on a variety of policy matters. The president didn't just respond effectively, he delivered a rather powerful, masterful performance.

It was like watching a town-hall forum where all of the questions were confrontational, but Obama nevertheless just ran circles around these guys. I can only assume caucus members, by the end of the Q&A, asked themselves, "Whose bright idea was it to invite the president and let him embarrass us on national television?"

Note, however, that this wasn't just about political theater -- it was an important back-and-forth between the president and his most forceful political detractors. They were bringing up routine far-right talking points that, most of the time, simply get repeated in the media unanswered. But in Baltimore, the president didn't just respond to the nonsense, he effectively debunked it.

Republicans thought they were throwing their toughest pitches, and Obama -- with no notes, no teleprompter, and no foreknowledge -- just kept knocking 'em out of the park.

It's easy to forget sometimes just how knowledgeable and thoughtful Obama can be on matters of substance. I don't imagine the House Republican caucus will forget anytime soon -- if the president is going to use their invitation to score big victories, he probably won't be invited back next year.

Nevertheless, the White House should schedule more of these. A lot more of these.

Update: Marc Ambinder noted, "Accepting the invitation to speak at the House GOP retreat may turn out to be the smartest decision the White House has made in months....I have not seen a better and perhaps more productive political discussion in this country in...a long time."

Perhaps the most noteworthy portion of today's event in Baltimore, during the Q&A between President Obama and House Republicans, came during an exchange on health care reform.

The president explained that the "component parts" of the Democratic reform plan are "pretty similar to what Howard Baker, Bob Dole and Tom Daschle proposed at the beginning of this debate last year." Obama reminded GOP lawmakers that they may or may not agree with those three, but by any measure, "that's not a radical bunch."

He added, "But if you were to listen to the debate, and, frankly, how some of you went after this bill, you'd think that this thing was some Bolshevik plot. That's how you guys presented it.... I know you guys disagree, but if you look at the facts of this bill, most independent observers would say this it's similar to what many Republicans proposed to Bill Clinton when he was doing his debate on health care.

"So all I'm saying is we've got to close the gap a little bit between the rhetoric and the reality."

Hear, hear. The biggest irony of the entire health care debate is that Republicans had a complete meltdown -- and may have very well killed the best chance America has ever had to reform a dysfunctional system -- over an entirely moderate bill. Whether they actually believe their own nonsense is unclear, but Republicans managed to convince most of the country that the reform plan is a wildly-liberal, freedom-killing government takeover of one-sixth of the economy. It's tempting to think no one could possibly so dumb as to believe this, but it is, right now, the majority viewpoint in the United States.

But that's precisely why the president's comments were so important -- Americans probably should learn the truth about this at some point. The Democratic plan is exactly the kind of proposal that should have generated bipartisan support -- it cuts costs, lowers the deficit, and adds wildly popular consumer protections, while bringing coverage to tens of millions who need it. It includes provisions long-favored by Republicans and policy wonks of both parties.

Indeed, as I noted the other day, if you were to have assembled a bipartisan group of wonks a couple of years ago, and asked them to put together a comprehensive plan that incorporates ideas and long-sought goals from both parties, they would have crafted a plan that looks an awful lot like the current Democratic plan. That's just reality.

That the GOP considers this centrist proposal "a Bolshevik plot" only helps reinforce how fundamentally unserious they are about public policy.

Sully: Obama In The Lion's Den

I've just watched the president address the Republican retreat in Baltimore. Address is not quite the right word, because it was a genuine - and remarkable - conversation between Obama and his political opponents - transparently on CSPAN. I don't remember similar public events of this length and this informality and candor in the past, but I may be forgetting some. But the theme was very straightforward: the president does not expect total GOP support on everything he is trying to do; but he does believe that the tactical oppositionism and electioneering that infects our current politics is making it impossible for the republic to grapple with the real and pressing problems we face.

He was especially good on entitlements, the need to reform them - and the impossibility of doing so if every time someone tries to they are hazed for "raising taxes/killing jobs" or "cutting medicine/killing seniors". This applies to both parties, of course. But it has been pretty brutal from the GOP this past year.

But here's the key thing: Obama is best at this. He is best at defusing conflict; he is superb at engaging civilly with his opponents. It's part of his legacy - I remember how many conservatives respected him at the Harvard Law Review. But he needs to do more of this, even though he may get nothing in return. Why? Because unless the tone changes, unless the pure obstructionism and left-right ding-dong cycle stops, we are on a fast track to catastrophe.

That was the core message of Obama in the election. It was one of my core reasons for backing him over Clinton - because he has the capacity to reach out this way. I remain depressed at the prospects for a breakthrough, but this was good politics and good policy. More, please. Do this every month. Maybe over the long haul, the poison of the past has to be worked through with Obama as therapist in chief.

Yglesias: Obama at the House GOP Retreat

I only caught the tail end of it, but just now Barack Obama made an appearance at the House GOP retreat. I assume he opened with some remarks (didn’t see ‘em) and then stood at a podium for a Q&A with House Republicans. It was sort of like Prime Minister’s Questions and it revealed, simply put, that Barack Obama is a lot smarter and better-informed than his antagonists. A lot. He very calmly and coolly dismantled them.

To me, personally, it’s not a surprise. I debated policy with Mike Pence once and the guy is a stone-cold idiot. That was a years ago and I’ve been surprised since then to learn that conservatives consider him an unusually sharp policy mind and I take leading rightwingers at their word about that. But it’s the kind of thing that I think most Americans aren’t aware of. Obama knows what he’s talking about. A lot of the members of Congress you see on TV all the time talking smack don’t. That’s not always clear to people since the TV anchors interviewing them usually also don’t know what they’re talking about. Judd Gregg’s whining freakout on MSNBC yesterday punctured the illusion of calm confidence and so did Obama’s back-and-forth.

House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (R-Ind.) appeared on "Hardball" yesterday, and Chris Matthews asked a reasonable question in response to Pence's stated willingness to "compromise" with the White House. "What compromise would you say 'yes' to on health care? What compromise? Tell me the package; give me the main details."

The exact wording of Pence's initial reply was, "Well, look, you know, I was, uh, yeah, yeah, look, uh." He went on to say (twice) that he was pleased to see the president express support for allowing consumers to buy insurance across state lines.

In other words, Pence's idea of compromising with Democrats is highlighting a provision that's already been in the Democratic health care plan for months.

Indeed, if Pence, one of Congress' dimmest bulbs, was paying attention to the substantive details, the president actually explained pretty well how the Democratic proposal incorporates the GOP idea in a way that actually works.

It's the difference between ideas that sound good and ideas that work well. Republicans focus on the former; Democrats actually think about the latter.

For Pence, the idea sounds simple: just let consumers pick policies from across state lines. But there's no real analysis behind the bumper-sticker approach to problem-solving.

Chris Matthews didn't know enough about the issue to engage Pence, but Matt Yglesias explained why this is more difficult than it sounds: "Right now, health insurance is regulated at the state level. That means that if you want to sell insurance in California, you need to develop an insurance policy that's compliant with California's insurance regulations. It might be a better idea to instead regulate health insurance at the federal level, and say that if you want to sell insurance in the United States of America you need to develop an insurance policy that's complaint with America's insurance regulations.

"Pence's proposal, however, is that one revenue-hungry state should cut a deal with insurers -- move your headquarters' to Sioux Falls (or just bribe enough state legislators) and we'll let your lobbyists write whatever lax regulations you like. Then next thing you know everyone is 'allowed' to buy this unregulated South Dakota health insurance and no other kind of insurance policies are available. This is what's been done with the credit card industry and it's the model that Pence wants to extent to health insurance."

It's why President Obama and congressional Democrats have approved the concept of buying across state lines, but have mandated minimum standards to prevent the so-called "race to the bottom" problem Mike Pence doesn't acknowledge.

Think Progress: Former McCain adviser Mark Zandi: The ‘stimulus was key’ to the strong 4th quarter growth of U.S. economy.

Today, the Commerce Department reported that the U.S. economy grew at 5.7 percent from October through December, a “better-than-expected gain.” The expansion was the fastest in six years. White House economic adviser Christina Romer said the report is “the most positive news to date” on the economy. Speaking on Bloomberg television today, Mark Zandi — who was an adviser to John McCain’s presidential campaign — heralded the positive numbers as a result of the stimulus passed by a Democratic Congress and signed by President Obama last February:

I think stimulus was key to the 4th quarter. It was really critical to business fixed investment because there was a tax bonus depreciation in the stimulus that expired in December and juiced up fixed investment. And also, it was very critical to housing and residential investment because of the housing tax credit. And the decline in government spending would have been measurably greater without the money from the stimulus. So the stimulus was very, very important in the 4th quarter.

Watch it:

Update Jerome A. Paris notes that the stimulus helped spur growth in the U.S. wind industry. White House energy adviser Heather Zichal reports that the American Wind Energy Association credited the stimulus for the growth.

Friday, January 29, 2010

In a nutshell

Exactly right . . . and very funny.

Ezra Klein:

But if it's hard to shine a light on minority obstructionism, it's entirely possible to launch an attack on the tools of obstructionism. Axelrod repeatedly identified the filibuster as the central problem without going quite so far as to say the administration was interested in changing it. "That's a worthy discussion to have," he said. "There were more filibusters in 2009 than in the 1950s and 1960s combined." But, Axelrod continued, "I am more interested in what we get done this year."

The problem, however, is that the filibuster makes it unlikely that the administration will get much done this year. And the White House's disinterest in making an issue out of the filibuster ensures that the public won't really know why they're not getting much done. A Pew poll released today found that only 26% of Americans could correctly identify 60 votes as the numbers needed to break a filibuster. Another 25% thought 51 votes was sufficient, and 37% had no idea.

Similarly, 39% of Americans have no idea how many Republicans voted for health-care reform. Only 32% know that zero Republicans voted for health-care reform, at least in the Senate. For that matter, only 39% of Americans know who Harry Reid is.

It's a depressing poll, and for the White House, it should be a troubling one. Their argument essentially relies on a fairly deep level of procedural knowledge and interest. Enough, at least, to understand that the amount of governing the majority can do is dependent on how much governing the minority lets them do. It's not an easy argument to make, and it's even harder if the White House does not plan to make an issue out of its premises.

At the very least, that poll suggests that there will be little political sympathy for an unsuccessful Democratic majority. Republicans may be responsible if health-care reform fails, but Democrats will bear the blame. "It would be a great political mistake to walk away from this," he said. "It will allow the negative characterization from the opposition and the insurance industry to stand. We will be held responsible for a caricature."

Passing health-care reform through a Senate where the Republicans hold 41 votes and see enormous opportunity in killing the bill once and for all will be challenging, to say the least. The Democrats' only real hope is using the 51-vote reconciliation process to pass a package of amendments in the Senate that will convince the House to pass the Senate's bill.

Asked about reconciliation, Axelrod chose his words carefully. "Reconciliation is a tool that is there to be used," he said.

It's worthwhile to recognize a frustrating political dynamic. It's even more worthwhile to try to do something about it.

Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.) on Thursday admitted the "general feeling on the Democratic side" was that Republicans have so far been able to cast controversial protest votes and stall important legislation "with impunity."

He consequently seemed to suggest Republicans' behavior in Congress over the past year as hypocritical, as Democrats could never vote against important legislation and emerge unscathed.

"Some of the votes [Republicans] cast -- we would be on trial for treason if we had voted against defense appropriations in the midst of a war," he told reporters on his way to the Senate chamber. Durbin was referring to GOP members who tried to block the defense bill out of concern that a hate crimes bill was attached to it.

"They did it with impunity," Durbin lamented.

Durbin's right; they did. Every reckless, irresponsible, hypocritical, dangerous, and incoherent step Republicans take, they do so "with impunity."

They do so because they're pretty confident that Democrats won't effectively raise a fuss, the media won't care, and the public won't know. And they're right.

Let's look at this in a different light by imagining a hypothetical. Let's say Democrats ran the government for several years, and ran the country into a ditch. Disgusted, voters elected a Republican president with a huge mandate, gave Republicans the biggest House majority either party has had in 20 years, and the biggest Senate majority either party has had in 30 years.

Then imagine that, despite the overwhelming edge, Democrats decided -- during times of foreign and domestic crises -- that they simply would not allow the GOP majority to govern. Dems ignored the election results and reflexively opposed literally every bill, initiative, and nominee of any consequence, blocking anything and everything.

In this hypothetical, despite two wars, Democrats rejected funding for the troops. Despite a terrorist plot, Democrats rejected the qualified nominee to head the TSA. Despite an economic crisis, Democrats rejected economic recovery efforts, a jobs bill, and nominees to fill key Treasury Department posts.

Now, in this hypothetical, what do you suppose the political climate would look like? Would the huge Republican majority simply wring its hands? Would GOP officials decide it's time to try "bipartisan" governing? Would Republicans shrink from pursing their policy agenda?

Or would every single day be another opportunity for Republicans to be apoplectic about Democratic obstructionism? How many marches on Washington would Fox News organize, demanding that Democrats allow the governing majority to function?

Put simply, I'd like Democratic leaders to think about what Republicans would do if the situations were completely reversed. Then they should do that.

  • Atrios adds:
    Maybe If We're Nicer To Chuck Grassley

    Dems have no one to blame but themselves. I certainly get that they have media and the noise machine largely working against them on this stuff, but they haven't even tried to make obstructionism an issue for Republicans.

Sudbay (AmBlog): WH Communications Director: 'With 59 Senators, it is mathematically impossible for Democrats to do everything on their own.'

Found this little gem via Greg Sargent:

And [White House Communications Director] Dan Pfeiffer tells Politico that the White House will step up efforts to spotlight GOP obstructionism, but this quote may irk folks a bit:
“With 59 Senators, it is mathematically impossible for Democrats to do everything on their own."
Some will respond that it’s only mathematically impossible if Dems accept the filibuster as an inevitable fact of life, rather than something that might be campaigned against and changed. But the White House doesn’t appear to have an appetite for doing that.
It irks me. Apparently, the White House accepts the fact that Senate Republicans will filibuster every single legislative item. Or, they accept the fact that the Senate Republicans have no fear of repercussions for obstructing the Democrats' agenda because the President doesn't make them pay a price. Mitch McConnell is putting his political interests above the well-being of the nation. We're in two wars and slowly climbing out of the Great Recession (maybe.) But, there's no price to pay for blocking everything and anything in the Senate. Obama should be picking the GOPers off one-by-one. And, he should spend some time in Maine to let everyone up there know the games that the two alleged Republican moderates are playing with our nation's future.

Thern there are the Democratic obstructionists who not only don't get called out, they get rewarded for their bad behavior. Ben Nelson, Mary Landrieu and Joe Lieberman come to mind.

Remember how George Bush whined about the mathematical impossibility of doing anything when he only had 49 GOP Senators for most of the first two years of his first term? I don't either. As John noted earlier this month, during Bush's presidency, the most Republican Senators he had to work with was 55.

On the good news front, Chris Bowers reports that David Axelrod seemed somewhat amenable to efforts to supporting a change in the filibuster rules for the next Congress.

Benen: PAYGO

In case we needed additional evidence that bipartisanship is pretty much impossible, we got some yesterday.

The Senate took a vote on extending the federal debt ceiling -- without which the United States would go into default. All 40 Republicans voted no.

The Senate took a vote on requiring Congress not to pass legislation that it can't pay for. All 40 Republicans voted no.

The Senate took a final vote on passing the overall plan. Thirty-nine Republicans voted no. The 40th, Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), skipped the vote.

The paygo vote was especially ridiculous. The idea is to "impose a requirement that key parts of the budget must be paid for with spending cuts or tax increases to prevent the federal deficit from increasing." It's known as the pay-as-you-go approach, or "paygo" -- if policymakers are going to increase spending or cut taxes, they have to figure out a way to pay for it at the time.

A similar rule was in place during the Clinton era, when the deficit was eliminated altogether. Republicans -- you know, the ones who claim to have the high ground on fiscal responsibility -- scrapped paygo in 2002. Soon after, GOP policymakers stopped trying to pay for their policies, and Republicans quickly added $5 trillion to the national debt, and left a $1.4 trillion deficit for Democrats to clean up.

As part of the effort to address the GOP's mess, Democrats have embraced paygo as a matter of common sense. President Obama, in his State of the Union address, urged Congress this week to "restore the pay-as-you-go law that was a big reason for why we had record surpluses in the 1990s."

Just a few years ago, a handful of Senate Republicans -- Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, George Voinovich, and John McCain -- argued that paygo should be brought back. They were unsuccessful in persuading their Republican colleagues at the time, and yesterday, they voted with their Republican colleagues to reject the idea that they'd already embraced.

And that, in a nutshell, is why the notion of bipartisanship with a failed and discredited minority is so hard to take seriously. GOP lawmakers are so reflexive in saying "no" to everything, they end up opposing ideas they support, and at that point, reason has no meaning.


From Fall 2008 through Summer 2009, the nation's gross domestic product retreated. The four consecutive negative quarters was the longest since the government began keeping track six decades ago.

In the fourth quarter of 2009 -- from October to December -- the U.S. economy saw its best performance in a long while. There are, however, some caveats to the good news.

The United States economy grew at its fastest pace in over six years at the end of 2009, but a sluggish job market is still souring economists on the sustainability of the recovery.

Gross domestic product expanded at an annual rate of 5.7 percent in the fourth quarter, well above analysts' expectations. It had grown at an annualized rate of 2.2 percent in the previous quarter.

After struggling for so long, a 5.7% rate looks like an economy that's finally roaring back to life. The AP added that the growth is "the strongest evidence to date that the worst recession since the 1930s ended last year."

That's the good news. The bad news is that the 5.7% number, while obviously heartening, may be a little misleading. Expect to hear a lot about something called an "inventory bounce."

Many economists ... warn against reading too much into a jump in GDP figures for the last three months of 2009. Ed Yardeni, president of Yardeni Research, said that even if there were no change in final sales of goods, the GDP figures would show a 4 percent increase simply because businesses that were emptying their warehouses a year ago are now buying enough goods to keep stockpiles steady.

Still, the 5.7% quarter exceeded several estimates. And with that, here's another home-made chart, showing GDP numbers by quarter since the recession began in late 2007.


* Update: Christina Romer, chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, added, that the "inventory bounce, though likely to be transitory, is a normal part of healthy recoveries. As firms' confidence in the future increases, their desire to run down inventories wanes. This change in behavior is often a powerful force for growth early in a recovery."

Booman: Casual Observation

It's probably silly, but this Sally Quinn piece by Jamison Foser is my favorite kind of blogging. Sally so deserves the mockery. I think it should be put in the party platform that members shalt not party with Sally Quinn. I'm not even really joking. Okay, I am.

Mcjoan (DK): A Reminder about that Republican HCR Plan

In his State of the Union speech, President Obama gave this challenge:

As temperatures cool, I want everyone to take another look at the plan we’ve proposed. There’s a reason why many doctors, nurses, and health care experts who know our system best consider this approach a vast improvement over the status quo. But if anyone from either party has a better approach that will bring down premiums, bring down the deficit, cover the uninsured, strengthen Medicare for seniors, and stop insurance company abuses, let me know.

Up steps House minority leader John Boehner to declare:

"The President said when he was talking about health care and I'll quote, 'but if anyone from either party has a better approach that will bring down premiums, bring down the deficit, cover the uninsured, strengthen Medicare for seniors, and stop insurance company abuses, let me know.' That's when I put my hand up, because that's exactly what the Republican health care proposal does, much more so than the proposal that he and Democrat leaders are trying to shove down the throats of the American people."

Um, except that it really doesn't do any of those things. Not a one, as a Media Matters fact check details. But don't just trust the "liberal" online media. Here's what the CBO said about the Republican bill back in November when they released it, courtesy the Speaker's blog.


The House Republican bill covers just 3 million more Americans. Today, 83% of nonelderly Americans are insured – under the GOP plan, only 83% of nonelderly Americans would be insured in 2019. No change.


The House Republican bill does not reduce the number of people who must buy insurance on the individual market – because they’re self-employed, don’t have coverage from their employer, are lose their jobs. This segment of the market now pays the highest premiums and consumer abuses by the insurance companies. No change.


The House Republican bill fails to require insurance companies to end the practice of discriminating against Americans with pre-existing medical conditions. No change. The House Republican bill does not repeal anti-trust exemption for health insurance companies. No change. The House Republican bill does not include provisions to stop price gouging by insurance companies. No change.

For the visual learners among us, here it is in graphic form:

The Republican plan, will bring down the deficit, some. Just not nearly as much as the House Dem's plan. Looks like it's back to the drawing board for Boehner and pals. Except of course that they don't want comprehensive healthcare or insurance reform.

Sargent: The Campaign To Salvage…Public Option?

The idea seems extraordinarily far-fetched: Could the public option make a comeback?

With health care reform in serious trouble, you’d think the last thing Dems should be doing is wasting their time trying to revive the idea of including a public plan as part of reform. But a growing number of House Dems are pushing an interesting strategy along these lines that’s worth a look.

To wit: Now that the idea of passing a fix to the Senate bill via a majority vote is being considered, why not revive the public option as part of that fix? A simple majority of Senators favors one, so such a fix could presumably pass via reconciliation.

But more to the point, such a move would make it easier for the Senate bill to pass the House, because it could win over enough liberals — many of whom don’t want to pass the Senate bill — to make it easier to secure the 218 needed for passage.

There’s been an interesting development along these lines, too: The number of House Dems who have signed on to it has now jumped to 64.

The House Dems pushing this strategy are circulating a letter urging Senate leaders to consider this approach. The letter picked up its 64th signatory this morning, and in an interesting twist, the latest signatory, Rep Scott Murphy, was originally a No vote on the House bill — suggesting that this approach could in fact make it easier for the Senate bill to pass the House.

To reiterate: To put it mildly, it seems extremely unlikely, given everything that’s happening, that Harry Reid would acquiesce to this. But it’s an interesting maneuver that’s picking up some support, and it bears watching.


Update: Also worth mentioning: The effort is being led by two freshman Dems — Jared Polis and Chellie Pingree — which is interesting, because last week’s Research 2000 poll of freshman Dem districts showed strong support for the public option — and opposition to the current Senate bill.

An Important Tell

Joe Sudbay
Capping off his busy week, Obama is heading to Baltimore today to meet with the House Republicans at their "Issues Conference." The President is committed to bipartisanship. The House Republicans are committed to destroying his agenda. But, this will undoubtedly be a productive meeting with lots of smiles and good photo ops for both sides. They can resume the battle when they're all back in D.C.
Greg Sargent

* With Obama meeting House GOPers today in big show of bipartisan outreach, Republicans are grappling with a thorny strategic conundrum: Is the only way to shed the “Party of No” label to stop saying No to everything?

* Conservatives grudgingly accept the reality that forcing GOP candidates to hew to a rigid set of right-wing principles might not help the party grow nationally.

* No one could have predicted that Republicans would declare victory if Obama based his policies on their ideology and world view! As Dave Weigel reports, that’s exactly what they’re doing: Taking credit for Obama’s spending freeze.

* Those hoping to rally the public with a campaign to kill filibusters have a problem: Only one in four Americans knows that 60 votes are required to break them. Takeaway: Dems have not successfully communicated the depth of GOP obstructionism to the public.

* And Dan Pfeiffer tells Politico that the White House will step up efforts to spotlight GOP obstructionism, but this quote may irk folks a bit:

“With 59 Senators, it is mathematically impossible for Democrats to do everything on their own.”

Some will respond that it’s only mathematically impossible if Dems accept filibuster abuse as inevitable and immutable, rather than something that can be campaigned against and even possibly changed. But the White House doesn’t appear to have an appetite for doing that.

Right wing demonstrates strange affinity for pimps Jan. 28: Dale Robertson, who owns embarrassed some of his tea party colleagues by sending a fundraising letter with an altered photo of President Obama as a pimp.

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

Kleefeld (TPM): Franken: Pro-Reform Bumper Stickers Have 'Just Way Too Many Words'

Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) spoke to a group of health care reform activists today, and called upon the House of Representatives to pass the Senate bill. He also discussed the political disadvantages that reform advocates face.

"The opponents of reform have found their bumper sticker, their slogan, their rallying cry, it's one word: No. You can read that on a bumper," said Franken. "Our bumper sticker has -- it's just way too many words. And it says, 'Continued on next bumper sticker.'"

Franken also sought to calm liberals' objections to the Senate bill: "We have to stop letting perfect be the enemy of the merely very good. And I believe that the bill we passed in the Senate is a very good foundation on which to build."

DougJ: Go for the jugular

Personally, I don’t have a problem with Sam Alito mouthing “not true” when Obama said the SCOTUS ruling could open the door to an influx of campaign money from foreign donors. If the president bitch-slapped me on national tv, I might mouth something too.

I do have a problem with the disingenuous right-wing push-back on this and with the fact that PolitiFact and Dana Milbank are carrying the right’s water about it. Josh Marshall makes a very good point about:

The president is clearly correct. And it’s only a highly tendentious argument that claims otherwise. But what stands out to me is how sensitive Republicans seem on this point—Alito included. This is an important tell.

(emphasis mine)

I come from a long line of verbal sadists (though I don’t like to think of myself as one) and I know how the game is played—you prick, prick and when someone flinches, you know you’ve hit a nerve and you plunge the needle in as far as it will go.

The Republicans are flinching on the issue of foreign money in elections. Look for Bobo and chunky Bobo to start whining about the xenophobic implications of legislating this issue. That’s how you’ll know it really hurts Republicans.

If Democrats are smart, they’ll hit them so hard they’ll knock their clothes backwards like Kris Kross.
Think Progress: Corporation Runs For Maryland Congressional Seat To Protest SCOTUS Campaign Finance Decision
Last week, “all five of the [Supreme] Court’s conservatives joined together…to invalidate a sixty-three year-old ban on corporate money in federal elections,” a move that Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) said “opens the floodgates for the purchases and sale of the law” by big corporations. While progressives were outraged by the court’s judicial activism, many Republican politicians applauded the decision, with RNC Chairman Michael Steele even calling the ruling nothing more than “an affirmation of the constitutional rights provided to Americans under the first amendment.”

The progressive PR firm Murray Hill Inc. has announced that it plans to satirically run for Congress in the Republican primary in Maryland’s 8th congressional district to protest the Supreme Court’s disastrous decision. A press release on its website says that the company wants to “eliminate the middle man” and run for Congress directly, rather than influencing it with corporate dollars:

“Until now,” Murray Hill Inc. said in a statement, “corporate interests had to rely on campaign contributions and influence peddling to achieve their goals in Washington. But thanks to an enlightened Supreme Court, now we can eliminate the middle-man and run for office ourselves.”

“The strength of America,” Murray Hill Inc. says, “is in the boardrooms, country clubs and Lear jets of America’s great corporations. We’re saying to Wal-Mart, AIG and Pfizer, if not you, who? If not now, when?” [...]

Campaign Manager William Klein promises an aggressive, historic campaign that “puts people second” or even third. “The business of America is business, as we all know,” Klein says. “But now, it’s the business of democracy too.” Klein plans to use automated robo-calls, “Astroturf” lobbying and computer-generated avatars to get out the vote.

Murray Hill Inc. plans on spending “top dollar” to protect its investment. “It’s our democracy,” Murray Hill Inc. says, “We bought it, we paid for it, and we’re going to keep it.”

Murray Hill Inc. released its first campaign video Monday. A narrator in the video explains, “The way we see it, corporate America has been the driving force behind Congress for years. But now it’s time we got behind the wheel ourselves.” Watch it:

Update Radio host Thom Hartmann interviewed Murray Hill Inc's spokesman Eric Hansel yesterday on his radio show. Hansel explained to Hartmann that his company chose to run in the Republican primary because the GOP is more sympathetic to corporations. Watch it:

Obama finds a unifying enemy Jan. 28: Senator Bob Menendez talks with Rachel Maddow about the politics and economics President Obama's criticism of big banks and corporate interests.

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Amato (C&L): Judd Gregg freaks out on two female MSNBC anchors. He owes them an apology
Judd Gregg just had a meltdown on MSNBC that came out of nowhere. He's been attacking everything Obama, almost from the minute he turned down a Cabinet post offer from the White House, but his performance today was really weird. The conversation was about spending and, as usual, Gregg was acting like the incredible deficit freak that he is.

Melissa Francis is a CNBC talker who believes just like he does, and for some reason he mistook her for a dirty f*&king hippy and claimed she was setting him up as a man who wants to cut all spending on education. In fact, the only thing people like him and Ron Paul believe will work for America is to cut all government spending and federal programs and then just give tax cuts to the rich.

Then, Contessa Brewer brought up the fact that many economists think that when FDR became a deficit hawk so soon after expanding spending that he helped stop the country's economic growth. She asked him if he thought money from education should be cut, he went off and called them liars.

Gregg: First off, nobody is saying no money for schools, what an absurd statement to make. And what a dishonest statement to make. On its face you're being fundamentally dishonest when you make that type of statement.

Brewer: Senator, you're going to be asked to cut certain programs from government if you're on the Senate banking committee. Which programs -- just tell us -- would you cut?

Gregg: And then it gets misrepresented by people like yourself who say they are going to, if you do any of this stuff you're going to end up not funding education. I mean that statement alone is the most irresponsible statement I've heard from a reporter probably in a month.

Brewer: It wasn't a statement, it was a question.

Gregg deliberately misconstrued what they said, and the conversation went downhill from there. Gregg acted like a typical conservative bully around women, and if they were both men he would not have tried to call them liars. Meanwhile, Contessa ended the interview very professionally. He owes Brewer and Francis an apology for his behavior.

Think Progress: Senate Republicans Called For Commitment To PAYGO Before Voting Against It

In his State of the Union address last night, President Obama urged the Senate to adopt pay-as-you-go rules (PAYGO), which essentially stipulate that all spending increases will be offset by either cuts elsewhere or tax increases. “When the vote comes tomorrow, the Senate should restore the pay-as-you-go law that was a big reason for why we had record surpluses in the 1990s,” Obama said.

Today, the Senate followed through, and considering all of the deficit fearmongering that has been going on in Congress, you’d think that it would have passed by a fairly wide margin. But no. Instead, the rules passed on a party line vote of 60-40.

And the blanket Republican opposition is particularly interesting considering that some Senate Republicans used to support PAYGO, even when it was opposed by their own party. For instance, in 2004, three current Senate Republicans — Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) — joined 47 Democrats in adopting PAYGO, against the majority Republicans’ wishes (although the rule was ultimately scuttled when Congress failed to pass a budget). The next year, the same three senators were joined by Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH) in a failed attempt to implement the rule.

Yet all four of them opposed the rule today. Here’s what they’ve had to say in favor of PAYGO in the past:

VOINOVICH: I just don’t understand how we can continue to go this way. We’re living in a dream world. This deficit continues to grow.

COLLINS: [PAYGO is] much-needed restraint for members of Congress as we wrestle with fiscal decisions.

SNOWE: I believe now is the time for both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue to commit to pay-as-you-go rules for both revenues and spending.

Just last year, Snowe approved of Obama’s advocating for PAYGO. And in the last few weeks, all of these Republicans have voiced concerns about the deficit and spending. So what changed? And why did all the supposed deficit hawks in the Senate — like Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH) — vote against it as well? Could it be that they’re actually deficit peacocks, who “like to preen and call attention to themselves, but are not sincerely interested” in addressing deficits?

In last night’s address, Obama chided Senate Republicans, saying that “just saying no to everything may be good short-term politics, but it’s not leadership. We were sent here to serve our citizens, not our ambitions. So let’s show the American people that we can do it together.” They’re not off to a good start.

GOP hopes to bury its past Jan. 28: Rachel Maddow points out an apparent Republican effort to reinvent the party with fresh blood and new faces, hoping to erase the baggage of the Bush administration.

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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.

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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.

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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.