Tag Archives: obama

maybe he’s done

12 Oct

Maybe he’s tired: of arguing both sides at once; of everyone else’s frantic expectations and pace. Maybe he’s depressed: with how little his long nights have changed his world; with the blood on his hands–or that he gets a kick from that power. Maybe he’s actually done and like Cincinnatus just wants to go home. He’s only a man in a tough as nails job. But he should’ve let his employer know. Now we are stuck with that or that guy.


Kingmaker in NY

16 Nov

photocredit: David Berkowitz

Pop quiz: Who’s the most politically important person in America right now? No, not him. Nope, not that other guy.

Answer: Michael Rubens Bloomberg.

He is, without a doubt, a kingmaker. What he decides to do in 2011/2012 will have repercussions that will go through the entire political landscape. His decision to run for president or not, as a third party candidate, will dictate the battles, the strategy, and the potential outcome for 2012.

The NYC mayor just replaced one of his most praiseworthy appointments, that of Joel Klein, Chancellor of NYC schools, with another education outsider, former publishing magnate Cathie Black.  This could either be his way of bringing in the new guard, and establishing a new foundation to carry on his legacy once he decides to run, or an infusion of new blood, to keep him going as the king of NYC for quite some time.

If Bloomberg does decide to run (and there is enough concern within the WH that they’ve been rumored to lure a cabinet carrot to keep him out of the race), he may make Sarah Palin a de facto GOP nominee, and giver her a great shot at the presidency, as expanded upon here.  There are a lot of “ifs” in this scenario, but seeing how far Palin has been able to carry her formerly non-existing political relevance, it’s not far-fetched.

IF Bloomberg does run, and IF he runs as a third party candidate, and IF all very-right-of-center voters make Palin the GOP nominee as knee-jerk response, what can we expect? Will Obama face a battle similar to 1992, when Ross Perot shaved off enough of the incumbent’s support (H.W. Bush) to make Bill Clinton the winner. If that is so, President Palin could be uttered on election night in 2012.

The parallels are striking: a formerly popular president who is struggling to stay in the public’s good graces, against a politically savvy upstart on one end, and a sufficiently moderate and well-liked billionaire on the other end. If the Democrats continue to abandon Obama, and he continues to refuse the title of party leader, this prophecy will be fulfilled. Palin would most likely earn a few more Senate seats, enough to either give her a majority in the House and the Senate; or she will be close enough to easily squeeze out the necessary votes on a regular basis. 2012 would not be 1992…it would be 2004.

There is very little Obama can do to avoid such a disaster in addition to what he is doing already. Bloomberg and Obama have had a cordial relationship, but not enough to calm Democratic nerves. Bloomberg is smart enough to know that even though he is immensely popular in his state and in some disparate regions across the country, he is quite a longshot for the presidency. His bid may end his political career a la Whitman: pouring millions into a sinking hole, an anticlimactic ending to a spirited career. Whatever he decides to do will rest either on a gut instinct, superhuman confidence, or an uncharacteristic level of carelessness. Either way, no one or no thing will dissuade him otherwise.

All Obama can do is help his own case and keep moving forward. Soon enough, sunnier times will come. The only recipe for increasing his odds in 2012 is perseverance (and despite what the American public may think, DC insiders know his prospects are not that stark). If he loses a fighting spirit, however, he may as well step aside, because his probable opponent is known for having a hunter’s appetite.

Four Letter Word: WILL

12 Nov

photocredit: ericmcgregor

A tired man is a knife too blunt

To fall through a lump of fat;

He’s a toothless dog of aching gums

Who cannot crush butter though he be hungry;

A man sick for thirty-eight years but cannot stir the waters

To possibilize his own healing!

The tired man’s only cure is rest,

Respite from his toils and tasks

After which he can with enthusiasm

Overcome mountains and level hillocks!

Thus takes this poet a breath,

Till again we meet for the joys of verse!

-Tired Man, by Hannington Mumo

The days after the Democrats’ fall from grace have been particularly unkind to two people: Pelosi and Obama. Understandably so, since these are the most evident and unabashed architects of the new Democratic order. Harry Reid would’ve been “shellacked” as well, if it weren’t for that fact that he was lucky enough to run against a woman who couldn’t tell the difference between Asians and Latinos.

Pelosi has taken it the best. She has never allowed her demeanor to falter, or her future to shiver. She’s planning on staying in a position of power in the House, as Minority Leader, and while she may not eventually get it, her prospects in local SF politics are promising, to say the least. (Mayor Pelosi?).

Obama has not been so lucky. The press conference he had after the elections, along with his “60 Minutes” interview last Sunday, have emptied his image of confidence, resilience, and hope. In a few words, Obama is not anymore.

Image can be fixed: a few passionates speeches here, some small bi-partisan legislative successes there, maybe a good photo-op opportunity to boot. Image and narrative are not set, they are constantly molded, like warm clay.

Political will, however, is definitive. It establishes the rules of the game, the power hierarchy, and an unwritten agreement between all parties as to who speaks for the people. Ronald Reagan was particularly skilled at the latter; he never doubted himself, thereby never letting anyone doubt him, that he was the voice of America.

Obama is shaken, bruised. He needs to refresh and regroup, but he doesn’t seem to be on that path. His recuperation might take longer than most presidents’ who suffered a tossed legislative. At the press conference, he let reporters question his presidency’s values time and again, making him look like a Jr. Manager being scolded by the Board of Directors.

A month ago, Obama and his team were firm: no extension of the Bush tax cuts for those earning +$250k. After the election, and after they (mis)read that as a change in the electorate’s mood, that’s no longer there. David Axelrod, the president’s senior adviser and his former campaign director, said a few days ago, “We to deal with the world as we find it,” calling the extension of all tax cuts a necessary evil in order to keep the relief given to the middle class. So: All of the Bush tax cuts will be extended. For how long, he didn’t say.

President Obama’s realpolitik is refreshing. A stark contrast from the ideologically-fueled political will of the Bush years, Obama is pragmatic and thoughtful. But he can also be overly careful, like a mom not willing to let her son play pee-wee football for fear of an injury. When Careful Mom Obama is in the White House, he demonstrates a loss of political will. He can no longer claim to be on the side of the American people…because he can’t convince people that he even has a side. His fear of a political catfight or bloody debate is logical. But as Reagan knew, will is more heart than logic.

If this presidency wants to recapture it’s groove, it needs to lead with pathos, not ethos. Logic only comes in after you have them nodding along with you, it seals the deal. This administration needs to go into campaign mode, a year earlier than needed. It needs a jumpstart. In particular, Obama needs a jumpstart. He was voted in by the vast majority, he should act like it.

Lincoln knew the talk

4 Nov

photocredit: chadh

The Lincoln-Obama parallels never lost steam in 2008. Both made their name in Illinois; both tall, skinny, writers from working-class backgrounds; both creatures from the state legislature. Both magnificent orators.

Or at least, both magnificent orators during the campaign.

Lincoln’s prowess for “saying what people thought,” as one observer once summarized it, transfered seamlessly into his presidency. He was someone who was sparse with words when he needed to be (he was known for declining to speak, because his “words were carefully scrutinized”), but he also knew the power of well-delivered, and well-timed speech. His Gettysburg address is uncommonly short for a presidential speech, yet it left the audience then and readers today speechless. It captured the mood of a nation and fired up the troops fighting for its survival.

A naturally affable man, President Lincoln was a great communicator in private, as well. Full of stories and funny anecdotes that were not just delivered for amusement, but to make a point or propose a moral. He had a knack for making people feel heard and understood. After Lincoln privately met him to seek his counsel, Frederick Douglass would often tell his colleagues that the President of the United States made him feel “big” inside the White House.

He was a preternaturally cool president, yet he was never really labeled as ‘out-of-touch.’ This in spite of presiding over the bloodiest war this country has ever seen, pitting brother against brother, and patriot against patriot. He was beloved by his troops, admired by his peers, and called endearing nicknames like “Uncle Abe” by many Americans.

Lincoln’s biography lends itself to a lot of lessons, both in life and in politics. President Obama could learn from Lincoln after the major setbacks on Tuesday. The “shellacking,” to use Obama’s phrasing, was not due completely to voter discontent, but to voter disconnect. The oratorical mastery he showcased during the campaign has nearly evaporated. While it’s true that you govern in prose, his prose has been emptied of all emotional and dramatic content. He has become, in the worst sense, professorial.

If President Obama wants to recapture the hearts of Americans, and rile up his base–which, by all accounts, he and the Democrats were unable to do this election–he needs to embrace the stage he is sitting on. Political theater might not be his preferred mode of communication, but he cannot completely throw out what has worked for centuries. Lincoln did not sacrifice style for substance, but embraced both and mixed them accordingly. The Obama that echoed “Yes, We Can,” no longer communicates the thoughts of a country, just his own.

The Gettysburg address followed a 2-hour long speech by a local politician that failed to win over any critic, friend, or foe. Lincoln’s speech that day was only 256 words; it took him 5 minutes to deliver. It was said that people hesitated to applaud until he started making his way back to his chair, thinking more was to come. The silence in that outdoors setting allowed for people to hear his shoes step on the wooden stage back to his seat, “as if someone were walking through the hallways of an empty house.” Soon after, the crowd erupted, and the speech was praised by every newspaper in the Union.

Lincoln knew that embracing the theatrics and the stage of the presidency was a tool to raise the spirits of an embattled country. It was a power that no other figure can lay claim to. Even in today’s 24-hour news cycle, if Obama wants to regain the fervor he cultivated 2 short years ago, he must embrace political Shakespeare, and ditch the academic prose.

The Anti-Samson

14 Apr

photocredit: rayphua

Even the most jaded political observer can take one thing from Obama’s term thus far: he knows harmony. This shouldn’t be a shock, since his campaign platform was as much about “hope” and idealism as it was about bipartisanship and finding mutual interests. But, then again, idealists are often closet ideologues, and bipartisanship can be cast off as an empty promise or annoying kumbaya. The one reason Obama has been able to fly over either criticism is his success at achieving tangible results.

There is a discipline in Democrats today that has been missing for years, even decades. Their ambitious agenda, while inciting sparks with those hoping for a timid government, is achieving results. Campaign promises and wishful thinking are materializing at an unprecedented pace. Healthcare reform, a Keynesian economy, a nuclear-free world, and a nuclear-less (or is it de-nuclearized) Iran are either reality or look like they will soon be.

The Democrats tend to rock their own ship from clashes that are bound to occur under a big tent. But this time, they are not allowing themselves to fall off of it. Much of the credit for that discipline goes to Pelosi, but the true commander is President Obama.

In yesterday’s nuclear summit, he produced another victory: a 47-nation pact, where each will take steps to rid the world of loose nuclear materials. This, like the recent US-Russia nuclear arms reduction treaty, is not pie in the sky. They are public agreements that will play into the politics at home for each of those nations. Heads of state do not sign such pacts freely; the political impact of a signature is carefully calculated before the ink reaches paper. If that were the case, Iran and North Korea would have long ago signed such a treaty and gone back to working under the radar. Obama earned that victory the same way he has managed to herd the pack of cats known as the Democratic party. He is best when surrounded by chaos. And, put simply, that is why he is most comfortable with his party and with foreign policy.

The anarchic nature of foreign policy is so because all states fend for themselves. In the days when mercantilism was favored and countries were expected to sabotage each other’s commercial routes, or destroy their neighbor’s fleet to have an advantage in regional commerce, the anarchy was unmanageable. It was true chaos. Today, however, as so many countries have many trading partners, both for goods and finances, there is a gentleman’s agreement to be civil. Henry Kissinger knew that one way to avoid nuclear war with the USSR was to become their economic partner. Co-dependency would keep the world afloat.

There is equilibrium as long as no one makes up their own rules. That is why rogue nations have the spotlight right now. Their volatility is dangerous not only for the region, but for the entire international system.

Obama is much more effective in this chaos than many of his predecessors, because of his natural cool and appreciation for harmony. As was evident at the nuclear summit yesterday, and at the healthcare summit in February, the president knows how to mediate. He can take the good and bad of various opinions and find enough common ground to make all parties feel they are getting some of the pie, thereby fostering an honest and productive dialogue. In foreign policy, this is the core of diplomacy.

President Obama has shown time and again that he is no idealist. If anything, he is a pragmatic reformer that has studied Niebuhr enough to know progress is slow and frustrating. The best an ambitious man can do is keep pressure on the issue and keep the columns from breaking. Unlike his predecessor, George W., Obama does not believe in going for the knockout. Even the push to pass healthcare was not a swoop from above; after nearly a year of debate and delirious politickin’, the bill was modest and tactical. While W. tore down the columns, Obama is applying consistent pressure on each, moving them where he wants. Obama prevented the hull of his ship from breaking through careful calculation, and that is something the typically energetic (i.e. neurotic) Democratic party hasn’t seen since LBJ.

The recent string of foreign policy victories will help him with the two behemoths in front of him: Iran and Israel. Many before him have failed in finding a peaceful medium when it comes to these two. He must use his calm if he wants to achieve harmony in such places that have long ago discarded civility toward neighbors.

Ain't No Party Like a Tea Party

8 Apr

While the tea party rally in Milwaukee was much milder than those making headlines, it did offer an interesting perspective of this social movement that is, according to Chairman Mark Williams, “sweeping” the nation.

Prior to 2010, the tea party protests had a narrow focus.  In 2009 they protested the TARP Bailout Bill and mainly focused on taxation like that of the original Boston Tea Party.  With the Obama Administration making broad changes, especially to health care, the rallies have become a place to vent about anything and everything that the Democrats are doing.

The main argument of the tea party movement is that our government is not strictly adhering to the Constitution (specifically by forcing the purchase of health insurance and ignoring legislative process to pass HCR in the “cover of darkness”).  Several people interviewed after the rally in Milwaukee reiterated the same message that the Constitution, as the founding fathers wrote it, should be enforced.

Ironically, while most people who support the tea party agree with this ideal, they act as though Obama has no right his presidency. It seems as though the constitution is only worth following if Republicans are in office.  How easily they forget that 53% of Americans voted for Obama using their constitutional rights to vote. The fact that his approval ratings have dipped does not cancel out that the majority of Americans chose him over McCain.  (Do they not remember Bush’s approval ratings?)

As a group, tea partiers are angry about the way the country is being run, however they don’t offer any fixes.  The speakers rile up the crowds with complaints about health care reform, taxes, abortion and government spending, but even Republicans in office know that if they don’t agree with the current fixes they must come up with alternative solutions.

This is why the tea party remains a fringe movement – the majority of these followers are not politically savvy, they are just tired of the economy and unhappy with the direction the government is taking.  These protests give them a place to express their anxieties, while feeling as though they are taking proactive steps toward putting candidates with more conservative values back into office.

That being said, it is great to see people actively take a role in politics.  The people at these protests honestly believe that they can change the government by using their voting power. The level of enthusiasm of the crowd rivals that of Obama’s campaign days.

So how seriously should we take the Tea Party?  Is this nothing more than a social-protest movement or will these rowdy rallys have a substantial effect on November elections?   At first glance, the movement seems far too extreme to gain and maintain a significant following.  Throwing around words like “socialism” and using highly-divisive speakers like Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin will prevent them from gaining support from Independents.  The real effectiveness of the tea party will be reflected in its influence on the Republican Party, whether positive or negative.

The tea party will play a substantial role in determining the direction of the GOP.  Though many Republicans have distanced themselves from the movement Sarah Palin has advocated “absorbing” the tea party, a move that many are leery about.

The tea party demands ultra-conservative candidates, a far cry from the fairly moderate John McCain.  A strong push to the right could make or break elections for Republicans in November, depending on the direction the country takes in the next few months.  Recently, Republican candidates have been edging towards the right out of fear that they may not be seen as “conservative enough.”

On the other hand, if the Republicans choose to keep the tea party separate, it could end up splitting the conservative vote.  Even chairman Mark Williams acknowledged that creating a new conservative party would be “political suicide.”

Though far from being considered a third political party, the tea party doesn’t seem to be backing down anytime soon.  The creation of the National Tea Party Federation was announced on Thursday, a sign that the movement is becoming more and more organized.  Recent Rasmussen polls have also suggested that tea party is going mainstream, with more Americans indentifying with the movement’s values than Obama’s views.

November elections may determine the future of the tea party.  If Republicans retake the majority, the movement may fade quickly.  If not, expect them to stick around until 2012, possibly with their own candidate.

Cooking the Sausage

31 Mar

photocredit: globevisions

Research has shown that there is a strong correlation between the health of the economy and “trust” in government. Unemployment, GDP growth, foreclosures rates and economic boons may lead people to believe in their government more than lack of corruption scandals or unsavory politicians. This makes perfect sense. As James Carville used to remind Governor Clinton in ’92, “It’s the economy, stupid.”

But with today’s multi-tasking administration, it’s not just the economy, stupid. There’s more than one 500-lbs. gorilla: healthcare, Afghanistan, Iraq, immigration, nuclear weapons, Iran, and global warming, just to rattle off the ones populating the front pages. Reform is used often enough by President Obama to dizzy some Americans unsure of change. The massive undertaking underway is enough to stoke claims of “radicalism,” “socialism,” and any other -ism that oversimplifies reality.

Obama’s numbers began to sag after his first big push, the stimulus package. This was in part due to his team not controlling the narrative, and being too cautious in selling the measure, avoiding accusations of overzealousness. The fight for healthcare, the wars, and overhauling the economy seemed to sap his already dwindling political capital. Many pundits, from Left to Right, considered his presidency dead soon after his first anniversary. What these pundits failed to understand, or maybe decided to ignore, was that approval numbers and overall trust in government were bound to fall. The sausage was being made.

In politics, when the sausage is being made, it is not a pleasant sight to see. Deals are cut, compromises are accepted, denied, and renegotiated, and unlikely alliances are built, leaving some Americans with an awful aftertaste of “opportunism.” But once the politics are pushed aside, and tangible benefits and reforms are enacted, people can see government for what it is: gradual progress based on consensus-building. That is not the sexiest thing in the world, but neither is a sausage factory.

The last couple of weeks before healthcare was passed (and then passed again, thanks to the Senate Republicans doing some parliamentary shenanigans that amounted to fouling the other team, 15 points down and with 5 seconds left in the 4th quarter), you could sense a bit swagger emanating from the White House. Even if healthcare reform would not be all it could be (no public option, no strengthening of reproductive rights), it was reform, and it was substantial. It was considered on life-support by almost everyone at least once in the past year, and nearly moribund after Scott Brown was elected. Once Obama used 22 pens to sign the most sweeping domestic legislation in the last 30 years, the sausage began to cook.

His poll numbers have jumped considerably, almost over night. The legislation is already favored by the majority of Americans, when just a month ago most considered it unsavory. Talks of a GOP takeover in November are falling to a whisper. One victory has led a couple more (student loans, nuclear arms pact), and may lead to yet a few more (global warming and immigration). The American people woke up the day after healthcare reform was passed and saw America as they knew it was still there, intact and on solid ground. The sausage was made, and they, along with Obama and Pelosi, were able to stomach it. Now, they are starting to smell the treats.