Tag Archives: Obama

The Gay Rights Hero?

Comedian S.E. Cupp doesn’t think so:

Wouldn’t it have been more courageous if Obama had evolved a bit before the North Carolina vote, not after? And wouldn’t it have been more sincere and meaningful if his revelation weren’t so obviously connected to his reelection and fund-raising efforts?

Or if it weren’t prompted by a gaffe from the gaffe-prone Vice President Biden, who had declared on “Meet the Press” that he was “absolutely comfortable” with gay marriage, thus forcing the President’s hand.

Considering the timing and the political implications, it’s clear that Obama’s message to gay America wasn’t so much “I love you” as it was “I’m okay with you and want your vote.” It was the equivalent of hitting the “like” button on a Facebook page.


Spreading the Wealth Around

A fascinating and revealing article from an old Dissent about the redistributive dimensions of early Jeffersonian thought.  The founding fathers are often portrayed, particularly by rightists, as devoutly laissez-faire.  In reality, they seemed to divide up between conservative Hamiltonian corporatists and radical Jeffersonian egalitarians, the former urging government collusion with commercialists and the latter urging some form of leveling to the advantage of small holders and craftsmen.  From the start, the only place where laissez-faire prevailed was at the federal level; states and localities had broad powers to police morals and markets.  And even at the federal level, “hands off” inherently meant favoring some against others.

“Wealth, like suffrage,” Taylor wrote in his Inquiry Into the Principles and Policy of the Government of the United States, “must be considerably distributed, to sustain a democratick republic; and hence, whatever draws a considerable proportion of either into a few hands, will destroy it. As power follows wealth, the majority must have wealth or lose power.”

Even the cautious and aristocratic Adams tended to agree, at least in the early days:

In the revolutionary fervor of 1776, John Adams had agreed. “The only possible Way then of preserving the Ballance of Power on the side of equal Liberty and public Virtue,” he wrote in a letter to James Sullivan, “is to make the Acquisition of Land easy to every Member of Society: to make a Division of the Land into Small Quantities, So that the Multitude may be possessed of landed Estates.” Such thinking obviously shaped Jefferson’s Draft Constitution for Virginia (1776), which stipulated that every man without property (or without adequate property) is entitled to fifty acres of public land upon reaching adulthood and, even more striking, that no one else should be permitted to appropriate public land. “Legislators cannot invent too many devices for subdividing property,” he later wrote in a letter to James Madison.

So, contra Republican talking points, President Obama was hardly outside the American democratic tradition when he spoke of “spreading the wealth around.”  Indeed, he was squarely within it.

A Nation of Cowards

There has been a lot of carping about President Obama’s budget from folks on the left and right.  As Steven Taylor notes, the President’s budget is only a proposal and nothing more, but that hasn’t stopped folks from calling him everything but a child of God.

Meagan McArdle once said that the talk of fiscal responsibility is really about politics- an excuse to beat the other side up for not being more prudent with the national bank account.  On Monday, we saw that in droves.  Republicans are quick to say that federal spending by the President and Democrats is driving the country to ruin, while Democrats harken back to the Bush years to talk about how the tax cuts under the former President’s watch have destroyed the American future.

But the fact is, both side are talking out of their backsides.  None of them want to touch the main drivers of the budget: entitlements and defense, so they go after the 12 percent of the budget and make it look like they are saving the country from fiscal disaster.  Ezra Klein isn’t joking when he says that the federal government is basically an “insurance conglomerate protected by a large standing army.”

Two of every five dollars goes to Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid, all of which provide some form of insurance. A bit more than a buck goes to the military. Then there’s a $1.50 or so for assorted other programs — education, infrastructure, environmental protection, farm subsidies, etc. Some of that, like unemployment checks and food stamps, is also best understood insurance spending. And then there’s another 40 cents of debt repayment. Calvin Coolidge once said that the business of America is business. Well, the business of the American government is insurance. Literally. If you look at how the federal government spends our money, it’s an insurance conglomerate protected by a large, standing army.

But you wouldn’t know it to listen to the debate over the budget. When House Republicans talk about cutting spending and the Obama administration talks about freezing spending, neither group is talking about the vast expanse of the government’s commitments. They’re looking at a small corner of the budget, the 12.3 percent known as non-defense discretionary spending. The stuff that’s not Medicare, not Medicaid, not Social Security or the military. It’s the odds-and-ends, so to speak.

And it’s a bad place to focus cuts. Politicians don’t take the axe to non-defense discretionary spending because they think Teach for America or the food safety infrastructure — both of which the Republicans are proposing to cut dramatically — is more wasteful than the Pentagon or the health-care system. They do it because Teach for America and the food safety system is less politically powerful than the Pentagon or Medicare beneficiaries. The budget ends up like the yard of a man who owns only a lawnmower: The grass is trim, but the trees are overgrown and the ivy is everywhere and the gazebo is falling apart. Yet we keep mowing, because that’s what we feel able to do.

-Ezra Klein

The thing is, if anyone proposes cutting entitlements and defense, they will get punished for it.  This is why Obama didn’t release a budget that followed the perscriptions in Simpson-Bowles.  In the long run, it would be great for him to release an outline that really tells it like it is, but in the short run- meaning 2012- everyone would hate him.  Republicans would go after him for cuts in defense (he’s making the nation less safe!) and in the entitlements.  Democrats would start talking about old people having to eat cat food because of  Social Security cuts.  The President may want to reduce the deficit, but he isn’t willing to stick his neck out for no good reason.

Which brings us to the real culprit when it comes to the deficit: us.  The problem isn’t as much the politicians, as it is the American public that wants a balanced budget in the theoretical sense, but not in reality, not when it might take away this program or that tax credit.  Steven Taylor notes:

If one considers that perhaps the most popular piece of legislation in the last two years was the bipartisan compromise in the lame duck session that extended the Bush tax cuts and extended unemployment benefits that may be all one needs to know about the politics of the deficit.  The vast majority of the American public wants a diet of giant cake that they can eat too and that, further, will have no detrimental effects on their long-term health (but, they want to complains about the fact they are getting fat and yet have no energy).

To talk pure politics for a moment:  if the Obama administration had come out with a serious budget proposal that did things like cut entitlements and defense and that, further, raised taxes (the kinds of things that have to be done to deal with the current fiscal trends), does anyone think that it would have been greeted positively?  Again:  this is not to defend the Obama administration, but rather to try to get us to think about where the real problems we face are.

As much as I would like top blame politicians, the bottom line remains this:  the reason that the Obama administration (and ultimately, I predict, the Congress) is unwilling to make serious attempts at dealing with the fiscal challenges facing the United States is because we, the people, would punish them all at the ballot box if they did.  We don’t want our entitlement cuts, we don’t want to cut defense spending, and we don’t want to raise taxes (some “we’s” want some of these things and some “we’s” want others, but there is no critical convergence of interest that will allow any of these to happen at the moment—and really, they all need to undertaken to one degree or another).

Voters needs to stop falling for assertions like cutting “waste” or foreign aid will solve these problems. See here, for example.   Until the public (and, really, most pundits/analysts/politicians) really takes all of this seriously, all this is just so much shouting in the wind.

The American public is like someone who wants to lose weight but still thinks they can eat all the ice cream they want and never eat the spinach.

Until we are willing to eat our spinach and take some sacrifice, nothing will happen.  There has been talk about the fact that we need grown-up politicians when it comes to the budget- we also need a grown-up electorate as well.

Things Fall Apart: After the Welfare State

One question that has been on my mind as of late is how government can still provide some of the services we have become used to it providing (ie: social security), but at a low cost.

The modern American welfare state is crumbling.  It came to prominence under FDR and became a fact of American life in the post-WWII years.  The American welfare state was different from its European counterpart, but it did offer expanded government services such Social Security, unemployment insurance, Medicare and Medicaid.  During those years, states expanded their higher education systems and also expanded their powers, which required more people who were paid handsomely for their work.

But the system, the old model of running government no longer works.  This isn’t something that happened overnight, but over decades.  It has been ignored for a long time, but it is becoming more and more evident that the old ways no longer work.

Walter Russell Mead has been thinking about how to think in new ways.  He has no ideas himself, but he can see the signs and knows that the time has come to develop new ways of thinking.  The problem, as he notes in his latest blog post, is that America lacks an intellectual elite that can think outside of the box and provide a re-imagining of the welfare state (which probably won’t be called the welfare state). Mead notes:

…the biggest roadblock today is that so many of America’s best-educated, best-placed people are too invested in old social models and old visions of history to do their real job and help society transition to the next level.  Instead of opportunities they see threats; instead of hope they see danger; instead of the possibility of progress they see the unraveling of everything beautiful and true.

Too many of the very people who should be leading the country into a process of renewal that would allow us to harness the full power of the technological revolution and make the average person incomparably better off and more in control of his or her own destiny than ever before are devoting their considerable talent and energy to fighting the future.

As much as Republicans can be criticized for not having any new ideas, the Democrats have been just as guilty.  I believe one of the reasons they lost so badly last month, is because they misread the results from 2008.  President Obama’s victory and the large Democratic majorities were interpreted as a repudiation of 30 years of conservatism.  The answer to many liberals was to the New Deal 2.0 or least the Great Society 2.0.  But what worked in say, 1962 wasn’t going to work in 2010.  Our society has changed since the days of FDR and the old ways don’t work.

Conservatives aren’t any better.  While they had good ideas around the time of Reagan, they are still using the same old ideas from the 1980s and some are hoping for a tearing down of the welfare state and replacing it with…nothing.

So, what about centrists?  Well, they are better than conservatives, but about as bad as liberals.  All the talk about bipartisanship is usually a longing for the past.  Listen to some of the talk for centrists (and I include myself) and what you get is hopes to go back the 1960s and 70s when there was more cooperation between the political parties.  But that model was based on what Mead calls, the “Blue Social Model” and as he said, that model is fading fast.

I think the new model for government in the coming years and decades is going to be one that is more libertarian, not in the Cato institute let’s-live-in-a-libertarian-anarchist-uptopia, but one somewhat like what is going on in the UK with Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition: the creation of smaller state that still has some duties, but does it at a low cost and is not as expansive as the old welfare state.

Sadly, there are few libertarian bloggers or thinkers out there that are trying to fashion this future. Blogger E.D. Kain has probably been the best one at trying to describe what this could look like.  As for politicians, folks like Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels and former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson might be able to fashion a “neolibertarian” social model.

But I don’t think we will see a new social model for governing for quite a while- at least until the old ways of thinking are exhausted.  If the economy remains weak in the coming years, we might see that warmed-over liberalism and conservatism just won’t do.

Or, we might see the political class and others give it a college try and keep using old ideas that don’t work.

Hooray for us.

Answering a 21st Century Question with a 20th Century Answer

Walter Russell Mead doesn’t buy that the Democrats are going to lose in the midterms because of the economy or just because its the midterms:

Forget the excuses: bad economy, midterm blahs.  Franklin Roosevelt inherited a bad economy from his GOP predecessor.  And the Depression wasn’t over by the 1934 midterms.  Far from it.  Unemployment still stood at 21.7%.  The Depression still had six years to run…

In 1934 Democrats gained 13 seats in the House and an impressive 9 in the Senate.  Today, they are heading for what George W. Bush would call a ‘thumpin.’

Why?  Basically, because voters believed that the Democrats had the answers to the country’s problems. Deficit spending, government intervention, support for the labor movement, heavy infrastructure investment: people believed that the only way forward was to have more of these things.

Mead notes that when the Democrats came back into total power in 2009, the tended to think that the answer was simply a repeat of what they did some 70 years earlier: lots of deficit spending.  But this time, instead of helping the Democrats, it has lead to their undoing:

What is killing the Democrats this fall isn’t the midterm blues.  It isn’t the bad economy.  It is something much deeper, and I don’t see it changing anytime soon.  The national economy is changing in ways that make traditional Democratic solutions less useful even as change makes traditional Democratic concerns more important.  Yes, inequality is rising.  Yes, the standard of living of many Americans is no longer rising.  Yes, access to vital services — especially, but not only, health care and higher education — is increasingly difficult for many Americans to secure.  Yes, the financial system went haywire in the last twenty years, generating enormous amounts of wealth for some without creating lasting value for society as a whole.

All this is very real, and for many Democrats and die-hard liberals it makes the call of the New Deal impossible to resist.  That the history of the 1930s was repeating itself was the core conviction of many Democrats as President Obama took the oath of office.  The economic crisis was a liberal opportunity not to be missed.  Just as the Depression allowed FDR to transform American society and grow the government, so the Great Recession would allow President Obama to reconfigure the role of government in America today.

What Mead is talking about is the “Blue Social Model” something he discussed earlier this year.   The Democrats thought that the advent of Obama meant the advent of a new liberal age…which would look like the old liberal age.

But the thing is, the Blue Social Model has been unraveling since the 70s.  What once worked, is not working so well now.

Mead thinks that the way forward is a kind of governing libertarianism ( my words); a government that would free the economy to encourage small businesses to flourish, using the marketplace to provide social services like health care and providing an affordable plan to rebuild America’s infrastructure.

The problem is that most of these suggestions are an anathema to Democrats because it would mean going against vested interests.

One would think that the Republicans would be the ones that could step into this breach and create a new social model (the Red Social Model?) that would be the blueprint for the 21st century.  The problem is at this point the GOP is not interested in coming up with new ideas. Like the Democrats, they are stuck in a past history- in this case the 1980s- thinking that tax cuts all the time should be the answer to all our nation’s ills.

While the GOP is on the path to winning back Congress, they will do so without a viable idea on how to tackle our economy.  If the public rejected the Dems for wanting a 1930s style solution, they will oust the GOP for their 1980s-style solution.  It’s time both parties look to the present and come up with ideas for the present, not some glorious past.

“It’s the economy again, stupid.”

One of the themes that is dominating recent commentary  on President Obama’s declining approval is the return of the early ’90s Clinton mantra, “It’s the economy, stupid.” Recently, The Economist included a picture of the challenge facing the entire Democratic party going into election season.

About a month ago it was Ezra Klein in the Washington Post that first reminded me of Clinton’s adage. His column, “It’s always the economy, stupid,” asks a very good question, “What do you do when good politics and good governance point you in the opposite directions?” To answer his own question, Klein pointed to recent research that stated, “‘In presidential elections,’ Princeton political scientist Larry Bartels says, ‘a 1 percent boost in election-year income growth has typically increased the incumbent party’s vote share by about 2 percent. So an incumbent party that won 51 percent of the vote in an average economic year like 2004 would be expected to win only 46 percent in a recession year like 2008.’ Which is, as you may remember, pretty much exactly what happened.”

Not that I think Obama’s staff is unaware of the cause of their decline, but they might be unable to stop it. No amount of fiscal stimulus, monetary policy, or economic programs can adequately fix the economy before the election. So why do presidents insist on suggesting otherwise? What good does it do for an incumbent party to tout economic package after economic package to “repair,” “stimulate,” or “fix” an ailing economy?

While I do believe that the “Superman” view of the President is a bit flawed, the fact of the matter is that the economy will always be on voters’ minds. No matter what policy the administration is pushing, what success they are bragging about, or on what the White House Press Secretary gives his briefings voters care about their bank accounts. The jury is still out on 2012 (of course). Andrew Sabl argues that the Obama Administration might just get a Reagan bounce – referring to that of Ronald Reagan in the mid 1980s. Matthew Yglesias in two recent posts (here and here), with support from Megan McArdle, contributes to the argument and tends to think that it will take quite an economic turnaround for Democrats to hold onto the White House.

What does this mean for the GOP? This is an opportunity for the Republican Party to offer long-term solutions based on the facts (FACTS is a very important concept) that are presented. Paul Ryan (R-WI1) is at least putting forward some ideas, I do not necessarily agree with all of his conclusions, but I do like his approach to proposing policy rather than kicking a man when he is down, which is essentially what blaming the Democrats for everything in the economy accomplishes. My opinion is that if Ryan can do it, then there are plenty more on the center-right that can offer some policy solutions to problems and have a true agenda for a successful future of leadership, because the leadership is going change whether they are ready to handle it or not.

Bush's Legacy Debt Nightmare will be doubled by Obama within 5 years.

Someone has a plan to pay for all of this, right?

President Obama inherited a national debt of about $11.4 trillion dollars. That debt had accumulated since President Reagan grew the national debt from a mere $930 million to $2.6 trillion (he had promised in 1980 to 100% pay it off by 1983), Clinton accumulated another $1.6 trillion in debt over 8 years, and Bush 43 gave us $6.4 trillion of our national debt.

We were staggering under the national debt before President Obama. There should be no doubt however that the most prolific accumulators of national debt have had an ‘R’ after their name … until now.

The outlook now is that President Obama will break all records and double the national debt within just five years, hard to believe but PolitFact has looked at the numbers and found them credible.

Our annual GDP is $14.4 trillion dollars (2009). We will soon owe more than our country is even capable of producing.

From the Washington Post, on Sunday April 4, 2010:

“A study we conducted at the Tax Policy Center found that Washington would have to raise taxes by almost 40 percent to reduce — not eliminate, just reduce — the deficit to 3 percent of our GDP, the 2015 goal the Obama administration set in its 2011 budget. That tax boost would mean the lowest income tax rate would jump from 10 to nearly 14 percent, and the top rate from 35 to 48 percent.”

“What if we raised taxes only on families with couples making more than $250,000 a year and on individuals making more than $200,000? The top two income tax rates would have to more than double, with the top rate hitting almost 77 percent, to get the deficit down to 3 percent of GDP. Such dramatic tax increases are politically untenable and still wouldn’t come close to eliminating the deficit.”


President Obama has no hope of paying for the problems he inherited, much less pay for new programs. His numbers and calculations are deeply flawed. The economy will collapse of its own weight and we will be at 8-9% or greater unemployment through 2013-2016.

I deeply believe that our economy will continue to improve through early summer 2010 and then take a dramatic downward plunge — perhaps before November or just after … our economy cannot sustain more debt. The dam will break and make 2008 look like a practice warmup.

And in all fairness to President Obama, I do not believe that the Republicans have a plan either. Actually they do or did have a plan called ‘starve the beast‘ which was to push the government (but not the country) to the brink of bankruptcy. The idea is to let economics do what they were not willing to champion through legislation. Once the beast really did start starving they had no plan … other than do more of the same. The bad news for President Obama is that he may deliver the coup de grace always wanted by starve the beast supporters — and it will happen with a Democrat at the helm.

Obama on the Environment: A Republican View

David Jenkins, the political affairs director for Republicans for Environmental Protection looks at the President’s environmental record so far.  He praises the president for some ideas, but also shares his disappointments.  Here’s the good:

To Obama’s credit, his administration has taken some important steps to address the nation’s energy and climate challenges.

Perhaps his greatest accomplishment in this regard is the deal he struck with automakers to raise automobile fuel efficiency standards to an industry average of 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016.

The deal marked the most significant government action to improve automobile fuel efficiency since 1975, when President Ford signed legislation establishing Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards in the wake of the Arab Oil Embargo.

Using unprecedented government leverage created by bailouts for General Motors and Chrysler, the subsequent bankruptcy and government buyout of General Motors, and the threat of states setting their own standards, Obama ended decades of auto industry resistance to stronger fuel efficiency requirements.

While the deal irked some of the libertarian-minded hosts that populate talk radio, conservative FOX News commentator Bill O’Reilly praised the action. Improving the gas mileage of automobiles and light trucks enjoys overwhelming public support as Americans are justifiably concerned about their overdependence on foreign oil. They understand that better fuel efficiency means less money spent at the gas station and fewer dollars lining the coffers of rogue regimes and the terrorist malefactors they support.

Obama’s deal will not only improve the environment, it will strengthen America’s energy security and reduce the flow of U.S. dollars to the Middle East. It will also make U.S.-based automakers more competitive regardless of gas prices.

And the not so good:

While most major environmental groups have not acknowledged President Obama’s missteps on climate and are inclined to grant him the benefit of the doubt on most matters, he is taking heat from regional and issue-specific organizations on a variety of subjects.

One such issue is mountaintop removal (MTR) mining. During the presidential campaign Senator McCain pledged to end the destructive and unnecessary practice of blowing off the tops of mountains to access coal seams. Obama did not quite match McCain’s pledge, but implied that he would like to see the practice end.

Advocates opposed to the practice were disappointed last June when instead of ending the practice, the Obama administration announced a new interagency plan to regulate MTR coal mining. Since then, the random granting or rejecting of MTR mining permits has left people on both sides of the issue perplexed.

It’s well worth the read.

The Healthcare Circus is Just Beginning

The core of the Democrats’ health care proposal is a new requirement that everyone maintain health insurance coverage.  The mandate, as it has come to be called, is critical to their plans because eliminating exclusions for pre-existing conditions creates a moral hazard encouraging younger, cheaper potential insureds to simply defer paying for insurance until they are older and sicker – and more expensive.  This mandate is backed up by penalties, starting out at a few hundred dollars a year and climbing by 2016 to 2.5% of income.

There are serious doubts about the constitutional legitimacy of this mandate.

Where exactly does the federal government derive the power to force every American to buy a certain product and charge them a fee if they don’t?  The Democrats as usual are pressing this as a Commerce Clause power, which has long been the catch-all for any suspect thing that Congress wants to do.

The Cato Institute has a good, if predictable analysis.  There is a decent defense of the Democrats’ plan from a law professor at Wake Forest.

All of the arguments in favor of constitutionality seem to revert to a shrug and an assertion that Congress can ultimately do anything it wants.  Does anyone really believe that the current Supreme Court is going to swallow that?

In particular, the argument that Congress’ taxing authority grants this power seems strained.  The way the bill is structured (at least as of 3/20, it somehow keeps changing) the penalty for non-compliance with the mandate is a set amount (not an income tax) until 2016.  The federal government needed the 16th Amendment to start charging an income tax.  Where does it get the authority for this tax?  Dust off the poll tax?

Better yet for policy nerds, what happens to this entire process if the courts strike down the mandate portion of the bill?  The mandate could be rendered unenforceable without affecting the rest of the law.  What you would have then is a sort of headless zombie of healthcare reform wreaking havoc.   Without the mandates Congress would have to revisit the entire program – in a hurry.

Interesting times.