Rachel Maddow: Obama Has Accomplished 85% of First Term Agenda in 2 Years

Dec 22 2010 Published by under Featured News

On her MSNBC program last night Rachel Maddow highlighted an often overlooked fact concerning the presidency of Barack Obama. Maddow said, “By my estimation it is halftime, right, in the first term and with this vote tomorrow they will have gone 85% of the distance they said they wanted to go in the first term of the president.”

Here is the video of the segment from MSNBC:

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Maddow hailed the passage of START as victory for Obama, “If this treaty gets ratified tomorrow, it will be political malpractice to not call it an unqualified victory for this president and for this presidency. Reducing the world’s nuclear stockpiles, working toward Ronald Reagan’s goal of a world without nuclear weapons, locking down loose nuclear materials so it doesn’t end up in the hands of terrorists, the whole smoking gun could be a mushroom cloud except for real?”

She highlight the ways that this is a win for Obama, “Getting this treaty ratified is a huge victory for President Obama and something that Republicans said they would deny him. It is a political win for the president because it has been on his agenda for a long time. It is a signature issue for him, a tactical win because Republicans said he wasn’t going to get it. It is a save the world win because if you care about, oops, it’s the nuclear end of the world you care about treaties like this getting passed.”

Maddow discussed how historic the past two years have been, “If the Senate ratifies the START treaty tomorrow it caps an astonishing period in American political history. For the last two years, Democrats have held the White House as well as big majorities in the House and Senate. The record of achievement in that time, even in the face of unified at times totally random republican opposition, Republican opposition even to things Republicans had proposed in the first place, unified Republican opposition to their own ideas? Their track record even in the face of that is historic. Whether you agree or disagree with what Democrats have done in the first two years of President Obama’s presidency, they have freaking done it.”

She listed all the accomplishments, “The fair pay act for women, expanding children’s health insurance, new hate crimes legislation they said could not be done, tobacco regulation, credit card reform, student loan reform, the stimulus — which in addition to helping pull this country back from the brink of a great depression, was also the largest tax cut ever, the largest investment in clean energy ever, the largest investment in education in our country ever. There was also a little thing you may have heard of called health reform. Also, Wall Street reform, the improvements to the new G.I. Bill, the most expansive food SAFETY BILL SINCE THE 1930s. And tomorrow, President Obama will officially sign a repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Later Rachel Maddow delivered the kicker, “There are big things this administration said that it wanted to do that it hasn’t done yet. Energy reform, immigration reform, the bush tax cuts for the rich were extended, closing Guantanamo. Those are some of them. Today it looked like one of the important judicial nominees will not get a vote to become a judge this year. There is territory the White House has said it would like to cover that it has not yet covered. By my estimation it is halftime, right, in the first term and with this vote tomorrow they will have gone 85% of the distance they said they wanted to go in the first term of the president.”

If you would have told policy people and political scientists two years ago that halfway through his term in office, Barack Obama will have accomplished 85% of his agenda, they would have laughed at you and told you how impossible that would be given the amount of polarization in our legislative process. If you would go on to tell them that after one year Obama would lose his 60 vote majority in the Senate, and would still pass major legislation the experts would have told you to seek mental help, but this is exactly what President Obama has accomplished.

What Obama has managed to achieve has not been seen in this country since FDR and the New Deal, and on a smaller level LBJ after President Kennedy was assassinated. The past two years have been historic, yet a small vocal minority of Obama’s base is upset with this president and the nation as a whole tends to give him little credit for what he has done.

It would be easy to blame his supporters and the American people for not paying attention, but that isn’t an accurate portrayal of what’s going on here. The problem is that Obama is not interested in victory laps, and publicly taking credit for his accomplishments. Obama wants to get things done, but the President has hopefully learned the hard lesson that if he doesn’t sell his own accomplishments, his opponents are more than happy to use the media to distort and tear them down.

Obama may be a great legislative president, but he needs to also be the Salesman in Chief. After the repeal of DADT passed he should have been out in front of the cameras with a statement. The White House needs to understand that the American people will never give Obama the credit he deserves unless he tells them what he has done. As Rachel Maddow pointed out, Obama has already had an unprecedented, for the modern era, run of success.

Obama will probably win a second term, but it is a shame that so many people don’t understand what this president has done. Recognizing the facts as Rachel Maddow did does not make one an Obama apologist, or an Obama cheerleader, but it is important to note that the facts don’t back up the notion that Obama is somehow a failed president, or unworthy of the left’s support. You may not always agree with what he has done, but there can be no denying the epic weight of his accomplishments. Obama deserves some credit, even if he refuses to take it himself.

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GOP Left In the Dust As Obama Gets All The Credit for Tax Cut Deal

Dec 21 2010 Published by under Featured News

According to the new CNN/Opinion Dynamics poll, confidence is growing among Americans that President Obama’s policies will move the nation in the right direction. 55% of those surveyed believe that Obama will lead us in the right direction compared to 51% who believe that Republican policies will lead the US in the WRONG direction. Most importantly, the poll revealed that Obama, not the GOP is being given the political credit for the tax cut deal.

According to the CNN poll, Obama’s job approval rating is still holding steady at 48%. His disapproval rating is down two points from last month to 48%. What has to be encouraging for Obama and the White House is the rebound in the confidence of the American people in Obama’s policies to lead the country in the right direction. The confidence in Obama to lead the country in the right direction is at its highest level since May. Just as important is the 7 point drop, down to 42%, in the belief that Obama’s policies will lead the nation in the wrong direction.

On the other hand, the Republican electoral victories in November have not translated into faith in GOP policies. 51% of those surveyed believed that Republican policies will lead America in the wrong direction. Only 44% felt that GOP policies would put America back on the right path. Advocacy on two particular issues damaged the Republicans. While 75% of those polled supported the Bush tax cut compromise, 62% opposed an extension of the tax cuts for those making over $250,000, and 59% opposed a reduction in the estate tax.

The parts of the compromise that Obama argued for have turned out to be the most popular parts of the bill. 89% favored tax cuts for people making less than $250,000. 76% favored extending unemployment benefits for the jobless, and 62% favored a one year reduction in the Social Security tax. While the tax cut deal appears to have cost the President a bit of support among liberals, his approval rating has fallen to 72% with them, among moderates his approval rating jumped to 60%.

What this means is that the drum of compromise that Obama has been beating for two years resonated with the American people. It turns that America was paying attention while Senate Republicans were obstructing everything last year. Republicans appear to be struggling to shed their Party of NO image, as Obama is seen as the force behind the compromise, and he is getting all of the political credit for the tax cut deal. The White House is more than happy to trade a small decline in liberal support for increased support from moderates. Since there are more moderates in the country than liberals, they are a key bloc of voters for Obama in 2012.

The other key point to be taken from this is that those on the left who forecasted that the tax cut compromise would equal political doom for Obama were completely wrong. No one is going to vote against Obama because he cut taxes. Politically this compromise is a windfall for Obama, and I believe that he is only beginning to see the benefits of his move to the middle. Obama could be heading into 2012 with high personal popularity (around 73%), and belief among voters that his policies are the right direction for America. Contrary to being doomed, President Obama looks to be putting himself in a great position to win a second term.

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START Treaty Overcomes Two Republican Amendments

President Obama and Congressional Democrats hope to ratify the START Treaty Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty ) negotiated between the U.S. and Russia back in April, before the 111th Congress breaks for the final time. The 112th Congress with its diminished Democratic majority takes their seats in January; their 58-42 majority was reduced to 53-47 in November.

We have addressed this matter frequently here at PoliticusUSA, and with good reason. Republican opponents have made clear their intention to obstruct passage of the Treaty and in this at least, if not their economic policies, they have been true to their word. I wrote originally about this Republican gamesmanship back on November 17. And as Sarah Jones reported on December 4, and both she and Jason Easley reported again on December 16, the Republicans are guilty of holding our national security hostage.

RMuse reported on December 17 about the Republican attempt to use Christmas as an excuse to ignore important matters of national security. They could apparently impeach President Clinton for Jesus’ birthday but not ratify a treaty. This holiday, they tell us, is all about world peace; but apparently not world peace when it’s sponsored by a Democrat.

The many excuses offered read like a Letterman Top 10 list, and are as unconvincing:

1)      We don’t have time because there is too much else to do

2)      We don’t have time because it’s Baby Jesus’ birthday

3)      We don’t have time because it’s too complex for us to understand

4)      We’ll lose our ability to set up a missile defense system

5)      We want tax cuts for the rich first

6)      We have to modernize our nuclear weapons complex first

The Democrats and the White House have taken note of these many absurd excuses and have been pushing all the buttons they can, and have several cogent arguments to offer:

Wednesday, the Senate voted 66-32 to open debate on the treaty. At that time, nine Republicans voted with 55 Democrats and two independents, including Richard Lugar of the Foreign Relations Committee, and John McCain. Those 66 votes are one short of what would be needed to ratify the treaty.

The Republicans countered with an attempt to amend the terms of the treaty. An amendment by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., failed on Saturday on a 59-37 vote.

The Russians have made clear that any amendment means the treaty is dead. We’d have to go back to start on START, and negotiate an entirely new treaty, which suits Republican purposes well.

On Sunday, that attempt failed on a 32-60 vote. The amendment was put forward by Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho. It would have changed the preamble to the treaty to address the “inter-relationship between non-strategic and strategic offensive arms.

Republicans continue to complain that the preamble would inhibit U.S. development of a missile defense system.

Democrats hope to vote on ratification on Tuesday. Republicans have their hackles up, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell claimed to CNN that “Members are uneasy about it, don’t feel thoroughly familiar with it, and I think we would have been a lot better off to take our time. Rushing it right before Christmas strikes me as trying to jam us. … I think that was not the best way to get the support of people like me.”

Of course, a vote on Tuesday would not be rushing it. The Senators have had all year to look at the treaty. It is not as if it was negotiated yesterday.

Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, isn’t having any of that. He has pointed out that there had already been several delays to give Kyl and the other Republicans an opportunity to have their concerns addressed. “We kept the door open until we finally are at a point where obviously we had to fish or cut bait.”.

Despite Republican opposition by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. and Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz, Fox News reports that “Sen. Dick Lugar, R-Ind., the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a supporter of the treaty, said several Republicans will support ratification and he believes the votes are there.”

Senator Evan Bayh missed the vote but according to an aide would provide the needed 67th vote, offering some hope that Republican efforts will be for naught.

It goes not only against the spirit of Reagan, who proposed the original START Treaty, but the advice of the military (who, after all, ought to be the experts in this area) to obstruct passage of this very important treaty and which makes clear that continued Republican opposition is simply a continuation of their two-year-old effort to block everything President Obama tries to do.

At least Jim DeMint, R-S.C., has given up his attempt to have the document read on the floor of the Senate, a process which would take some fifteen hours given the treaty’s 17 pages plus 339 pages of protocol and annexes, a sign that perhaps he realizes he can’t stop the process at this point as he turns his wrath on the $1.1 trillion government spending bill, should it come up. There are always new battles to fight, after all, and new excuses to invent. Life’s busy for a Republican senator these days.

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Rachel Maddow Tells the Left to Reward Obama for His DADT Victory

Dec 18 2010 Published by under Featured News

Rachel Maddow was on MSNBC providing analysis of the Senate’s vote to repeal DADT, when she pointed out that today’s vote is a huge victory President Obama, and one that the base should reward him for. Maddow said, “This was a difficult promise to keep, not just a promise kept, it was one that was hard to keep that cost a lot of political capital and a lot of work, and this is the President’s victory and his base will reward him for it.”

Here is the video from MSNBC:

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Rachel Maddow was a guest during MSNBC’s live coverage of the Senate’s vote to repeal DADT, where she discussed the unpredictability of social issue politics, “You know, a lot of people have said that once it would clear that it was going to pass, it would open the door to some unexpected yes votes. I always tend to be a little cynical about these things, so I’m not sure I believed it, but it’s true. To see Richard Burr in particular move on this. To see John Ensign move on this. It just shows you the politics of this are unpredictable, and the people tried to denounce this as a left/right issue, the way that John McCain in particular tried to demagogue this. They’re just wrong. That might have been true 20 years ago, but isn’t true now.”

Maddow talked about this as a huge victory for Obama, “Politically though the thing not to lose touch with here — this is the president’s victory. He took a lot of criticism, a lot of abuse, a lot of skepticism from his otherwise most loyal supporters, but this is an issue on which the president did not waver. He continued to insist this was possible, that it would get done. It in fact was not possible for the President to do it through executive action. This had to be done legislatively. The President did not waver. He did work on the Senate to get this to happen. He insisted it was possible. This was a difficult promise to keep, not just a promise kept, it was one that was hard to keep that cost a lot of political capital and a lot of work, and this is the President’s victory and his base will reward him for it.”

Maddow was right. Once again, Obama managed to accomplish something that most political experts thought was impossible. He got DADT repealed, when it looked like it was going to be filibustered in the Senate, and not have a chance with a new class of Republicans hitting town next month. This is a great victory for all the advocates who have tirelessly fought for almost two decades to get the policy repealed. It is also a much needed victory for the Democratic Party, and it is a huge political victory for President Obama.

Today’s victory begs the question, when is the base going to start giving President Obama credit for his accomplishments? With new polling showing that the tax cut compromise is politically popular with most Americans, and now the DADT repeal, Obama has managed to turn around the perception of his presidency in about two weeks, and I suspect that the next round of polls will show growth in the President’s approval rating.

The only thing keeping Obama from being a very popular president is the economy. If the economy takes off again before 2012, Obama will not only win reelection, but he will return to the White House for his second term in dominant fashion. The base should reward Obama for this victory, but I have my doubts that they will. To some, what Obama hasn’t done is more important than what he has done, and I don’t think one DADT victory is going to change their perception of this president, but one can hope, and at least for one day, everyone should try to enjoy this historic victory, and signal of a sweeping cultural shift in America.

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Obama’s Ability To Compromise Exposes the Politics of Obstruction

Dec 18 2010 Published by under Featured News, Issues

When President Obama made the tax cut deal with Republicans, many on the left felt betrayed that Republicans got everything they wanted while giving up only the unemployment benefit extension. The president made the best deal he could under the circumstances, and if he had waited until the new Congress started in 2011, Republicans would have made no concessions whatsoever and millions of Americans would have lost the unemployment benefit extensions.

President Obama made the deal in part to show the American people that he was willing to compromise for the good of the country. Republicans said they would not vote on anything until the tax deal was passed in both houses, and then they would consider other legislation like the Omnibus spending bill, START treaty, DADT repeal, and the Dream Act. To no one’s surprise, the tax deal was passed and the Republicans balked on any other legislation because they wanted to be home for Christmas.

Senator Reid scheduled work through the holidays and Republicans threw a religious fit. They demeaned Reid as being sacrilegious and accused him of insulting Christians by expecting them to keep their word and do their jobs like every other American.  Despite the compromise, Republicans lied and Jim DeMint admitted that he was running out the clock to prevent business from being conducted before the new Congress started work. Incoming Speaker of the House, John Boehner, said that he rejected compromise or cooperation in spite of the compromise President Obama just made with Republican leaders.

Now the American people are seeing what lies in store for the country for the next 2 years, and it doesn’t resemble compromise or cooperation. Republicans in the Senate and the House have no intention of working with Democrats because they want to portray President Obama’s administration as being ineffective. What the Republicans are demonstrating is the hypocrisy and deceit they have been guilty of for the past two years.

Before the tax cut deal was signed, it was evident that Republicans were not going to keep their end of the bargain because they proceeded to obstruct the president immediately. Their complaints about working over the Christmas break had little to do with religious convictions and everything to do with obstruction.

Jim DeMint threatened to have someone read the entire Omnibus spending bill for the sole purpose of wasting time, so Harry Reid postponed the bill so the Senate could spend time on the START treaty, Dream Act, and repeal of DADT. Even with Reid shelving the spending bill, Republicans wanted the START treaty read aloud in an effort to waste time so nothing else could be accomplished. They even brought up the tired objection that Democrats were ramming something down their throats at the last minute in order to get the bills passed.

President Obama now holds the upper hand in the minds of Americans because he compromised and gave concessions that enraged many on the left, but ultimately worked for the benefit of all Americans. He said earlier this week that he did not like extending the tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans and would fight to prevent them from becoming permanent. It may work out better for him in the long run because he kept his promise of bipartisanship to benefit the American people, and Republicans are the ones complaining unemployed people get their benefits extended.

One thing is for sure, if the president had not made the tax cut deal when he did, the Republicans would not have compromised on the unemployment benefits and the wealthy tax cuts would be permanent. The Republicans in the House and Senate have no intention of working with Democrats or the president on any issue, so as egregious as the deal is, it does provide relief for all Americans before Republicans take over the House in January.

It is important that President Obama communicates to the American people his attempts at compromise and bipartisanship because it will expose the Republicans as the obstructionists they really are. There is real promise that because the tax deal is done, the repeal of DADT will happen this year and if Democrats can work together as a bloc, they may get the Dream Act passed and ratify the START treaty as well. If they are unable to pass any of those bills, the blame will lie at the feet of Republicans, and the President will be able to show the American people why they are wrong to vote for Republicans.

Regardless what happens during the lame duck Congress, the president has helped the American people and the economy if only on a limited basis. The tax cut deal did not only give the wealthy their tax cuts for 2 more years, it gave every American a tax cut and will help businesses during the recession. It is disappointing that the deal didn’t punish the wealthy, but President Obama wasn’t elected to punish the wealthy. He was elected to work for all Americans and the deal he made with Republicans goes a long way toward that end.

The president is well aware that Republicans intend to block and obstruct anything he does, and this deal will mitigate the damage Republicans may do. Even if they succeed in obstructing Obama for the next two years, the people will remember who compromised and conceded his personal position for the good of the American people.

Hopefully, the American people will see the Republicans for the obstructionist liars they really are and will vote accordingly. Obama’s detractors on the left should remember that he is president for all Americans and has to do what is best for all Americans. As hard as that is to swallow, it is reality and it may ultimately help to further the cause of the left. It cannot hurt, and Republicans are on notice with the American people that if they don’t work with the president for all Americans, their win in November will be their last for a long time and that is a wonderful prospect.

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President Obama’s Tax Compromise Passed by Congress

President Obama and Republican Leaders

On Thursday, the unthinkable (to many progressives) happened: Congress passed the tax cuts, a compromise deal which includes an $801 billion package of tax cuts and $57 billion for extended unemployment benefits. The bill will extend the Bush tax cuts for two years (all of the tax cuts) and provide for a one-year payroll tax cut for most American workers.The extends for two years all of the Bush-era tax rates and provides a one-year payroll tax cut for most American workers.

As FOX News relates,

Workers’ Social Security taxes would be cut by nearly a third, going from 6.2 percent to 4.2 percent, for 2011. A worker making $50,000 in wages would save $1,000; one making $100,000 would save $2,000.

Many progressives see this as a betrayal. The Republicans, rightly or wrongly, have been accused of holding unemployment benefits and taxes for the Middle Class hostage in exchange for helping out their rich friends. The Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, for example, leveled the accusation that Democrats were forced “to pay a king’s ransom in order to help the middle class.” Representative Jim McDermott (D-WA) said it was “craziness” and Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) said “This legislation creates too few jobs and too much debt.”

The final vote?  277 to 14 with nearly identical numbers of Republicans and Democrats voting “aye”: 139 Democrats and 138 Republicans. The Senate had previously approved the package 81 to 19 on Wednesday.

There was an attempt to change an estate-tax provision in the bill (one that Obama had previously agreed to in his negotiations with the Republicans) but even after that failed, 139 Democrats voted for it as opposed to 112 against.

Two years, of course, will bring us right to 2012, when the future of the tax cuts will become more important than ever in the midst of a presidential election. This is not the last we will hear of the matter by any means. Some Republicans would like to see the tax cuts made permanent. Since tax cuts for the rich demonstrably do not create jobs, this position will be a tough sell for Republicans, particularly if the groundswell of opposition swings the other way at the end of the next two years, and it is the Republicans who find themselves under attack for perceived failings.

It is obvious to many people that the economic stability of our nation is at stake and that this deal is not going to fix those problems. It is no more than a finger in the dyke.

For now, the New York Times reports that administration officials say President Obama will sign the bill into law today.

This moment marks both a way forward and signals a lack of progress. Cooperation and compromise are essential facets of government in a modern liberal Democracy like ours and the willingness of Republicans to compromise at last should take center stage over what is seen as President Obama’s capitulation to Republican demands. The President has governed as a centrist and he did what a responsible president would do. Rather than stand on principle and make people suffer, he made a deal.

Rather like the framers of the Constitution back in 1787, none of whom got everything out of that deal they wanted and the New York Times tells us “The White House and Republicans hailed the deal as a rare bipartisan achievement and a prototype for future hard-bargained compromises in the new era of divided government.”

FOX News called it “a remarkable show of bipartisanship.” Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite (R-FL), called it “a bipartisan moment of clarity.”

And so it is.

Progressives, like their Republican opponents, seem of late to have forgotten that lesson. To stand on ideological purity and refuse compromise while the country crumbles around you is not an admirable thing, however they frame it. Government needs to continue to govern. In a sense, a politician hasn’t the luxury of principles, and that includes the president.

Ideological purity is for dictatorships.

For the first time in two years we have seen government function as it should. And if nobody got everything they wanted out of it, so be it. That’s how it works. That is how it has always worked. Sometimes one side gets more, sometimes the other. As House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said, “There probably is nobody on this floor who likes this bill. The judgment is, is it better than doing nothing? Some of the business groups believe it will help. I hope they’re right.”

In this case, most Republican opposition centered around the creation of additional federal debt, but most of them voted for it anyway. Of course, Republicans did not get everything they wanted either.

Political reality suddenly meant something again to the arrogant GOP, as Eric Cantor (R-VA) was forced to remind his colleagues:

“We could try to hold out an pass a different tax bill, but there is no reason to believe the Senate would pass it or the president would sign it if this fight spills into next year.”

It remains to be seen if Democrats and Republicans can find other ways to work together, other areas in which compromise is a possibility, such as repeal of DADT and the DREAM Act, an amnesty program for illegal aliens who came to the United States as minors. There are things the Republicans will want and things the Democrats will want and the current balance of power does not grant to either the ability to pass that legislation without regard for the opinions of the other.

If anything at all is to get done for the next two years, this will not be the only compromise. In the end, both the achievement of bipartisanship in the face of ideological purity and the continuing problems (and its root causes) must be underscored. Fingers in dykes won’t make the flood on the other side of the wall go away. That deluge remains, waiting to sweep us all away. The question is, can our two major political parties stop their bickering long enough to fix it?

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Your Moment of Wonk: Obama and The Limits of Presidential Power

Dec 15 2010 Published by under Featured News

In his 1960 work Presidential Power and The Modern Presidents political scientist Richard Neustadt came up with the classic concept that despite all of the formal powers and statutory and constitutional authority granted to the office, any President of the United States’ power is basically limited to the ability to persuade.

Neustadt wrote, “In these words of a President, spoken on the job, one finds the essence of the problem now before us: “powers” are no guarantee of power; clerkship is no guarantee of leadership. The President of the United States has an extraordinary range of formal powers, of authority in statute law and in the Constitution. Here is testimony that despite his “powers” he does not obtain results by giving orders-or not, at any rate, merely by giving orders. He also has extraordinary status, ex officio, according to the customs of our government and politics. Here is testimony that despite his status he does not get action without argument. Presidential power is the power to persuade….”

Former president Harry Truman described the limitations of presidential power as, “I sit here all day trying to persuade people to do the things they ought to have sense enough to do without my persuading them…. That’s all the powers of the President amount to.”

Neustadt described the type of authority that the president used to hold, “A President’s authority and status give him great advantages in dealing with the men he would persuade. Each “power” is a vantage point for him in the degree that other men have use for his authority. From the veto to appointments, from publicity to budgeting, and so down a long list, the White House now controls the most encompassing array of vantage points in the American political system. With hardly an exception, those who share in governing this country are aware that at some time, in some degree, the doing of their jobs, the furthering of their ambitions, may depend upon the President of the United States. Their need for presidential action, or their fear of it, is bound to be recurrent if not actually continuous. Their need or fear is his advantage.”

Much of what Neustadt described in the paragraph above was an accurate description of presidential power until the terms of Bill Clinton. Although the 1995 Republican lead government shutdown ended up being a PR disaster for the GOP, it was a watershed moment that marked the beginning of shift in presidential power. By carrying out the government shutdown, Republicans learned that inaction can be a preferred political outcome. Neustadt’s concept of presidential authority was based on the assumption that all actors want to act, but what if they don’t? What if their goal is to prevent action? This is situation that the 21 Century president faces today.

The undercutting of a president’s traditional power base began under Clinton, and continued into the terms of George W. Bush. Except for a brief period after 9/11, when Bush enjoyed a surge in presidential power fueled by patriotism, he also saw battled with a legislative branch that saw inaction as the preferred political outcome. One has to look no further than Bush’s attempt to pass bi-partisan comprehensive immigration reform to see how the balance of power had shifted. Bush’s immigration reform proposal was dealt a death blow by his fellow Republicans, who feared other consequences more than presidential power.

In the first two years of the Obama administration, we have seen presidential power virtually neutered by both congressional Democrats and Republicans, as the president argues for passage of legislation, he now faces Democrats who more interested in maintaining their own power bases, and Republicans who see blockage and inaction as the path to future electoral victories. Any perceived failure to persuade is deemed a personal failure of the president, because the public perception of the presidency is still based on a largely imaginary power. The notion of a decline in presidential power defies centuries of national mythology, and is out of the realm of comprehension for many Americans.

This new environment of decreased presidential power will only serve to make the job of future presidents more difficult. As Obama is learning, the American belief in the myth of titanic presidential power is engrained in our collective conceptualization of the presidency. Even though the foundation of presidential power is still based on a willingness of all to act, as long as inaction remains a desired outcome future presidents beyond Obama will continue to struggle with balancing exaggerated public expectations with a declining power to act.

The moment of wonk is stitch of time in our little cyber universe where I will take classic concepts, theories, and works in political science, and apply them to the modern American political universe as it exists today. These aren’t be all/end all discussions. They are simply little moments in our day when we can sit down and embrace our inner wonk.

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The 2010 Beck Apocalypse: A Year of Lies in Review

Glenn Beck Sells the Apocalypse

With the year drawing to a close, Media Matters remembered some of Glenn Beck’s low points for 2010. They’re pretty low; after all, Beck was Media Matters’ “Misinformer of the Year” for 2009. Unfortunately, he seemed more than equal to the task:

  • Asserting that “violence will come. And violence will come from the left. Violence is part of the plan.” He accused the Left of “setting up another Oklahoma City” and claimed that progressives support “armed insurrection.”
  • Claiming that “We are headed towards a thugocracy.” Glenn Beck has likened the Obama administration and progressives to Mussolini, Stalin, Nazis, Al Qaeda, and vampires. He insists that a cabal of radicals who hate the country is operating out of the White House.
  • Equating unions for TSA employees to a “private army” for Obama. Beck also said unions have “raped” police and fire fighters, and that violence is a “self-fulfilling prophecy” of labor unions.
  • Describing progressive policies as murderous, apocalyptic and conspiratorial. Beck called a proposed food safety bill a “perfect storm” that was about “control and eventually starvation.” He called net neutrality a “hostile takeover” and said health care reform amounted to “pulling the plug” on seniors.

They started me thinking, these absurdist claims.

  • Violence is in the rhetoric of the right-wing, in Tea Party and the Republican Party. It is notably absent in left-wing rhetoric. It is the conservatives who are pro-gun, pro-secession, armed, and forming militia units and talking about asserting Second Amendment rights. The allusion to Oklahoma City is especially ironical since that terrorist act was the work of a right-wing bomber, not a progressive.
  • Thugocracy, if this charge can be taken seriously at all, thugocracy came about when Bush won in 2001, immediately setting about plundering not only the United States but Iraq when it was conquered. Halliburton is only the tip of the iceberg. The real threat at this point is from theocracy, which Republicans, Tea Partiers and Beck all seem to support. Of course, this theocracy will support a right-wing thugocracy as a matter of course, especially if in the control of Grifterella herself, Sarah Palin.
  • The TSA reference is fascinating, since it is Republicans who want to outsource the TSA’s job to some private firm, which would make it a private army in the same way Blackwater became a private army for President Bush. But they won’t just peek through you clothes, they will rape you, and you won’t have a right to complain. We’ve seen how Republican-sponsored private security firms behave.
  • Progressive policies are murderous, apocalyptic and conspiratorial? Yes, Glenn, and your Christian fundamentalism is not at all apocalyptic, or don’t you share the beliefs of your close friend Sarah Palin? Fundamentalist Christianity is all about the apocalypse. And murderous? It was a Republican administration that invaded Iraq and killed hundreds of thousands of innocent people, and brutalized and tortured others in violation of International Law and the Constitution. And conspiratorial? Really? It’s the corporations who want to take over the Internet, Glenn, not the government.

And Glenn won’t tell you how he’s profiting from selling the Glenn Beck apocalypse:

Glenn has taken everything conservatives have done and want to do (publicly) and leveled them at the door of the left. It isn’t the work of a few minutes to show what he has done. Google or Bing it, and see for yourself.

There is no more substance to Beck’s rants than there were to Coulter’s. And what’s going on anyway, has there been some passing of the torch? Or did they agree that Coulter would condemn liberals while Beck took care of progressives? Whatever happened, they are both consistently and diligently avoiding facts in their nasty, fantastic narratives.

Beck is a purveyor of fiction, and poor fiction at that. Good fiction, at least is believable. But Beck can’t offer us anything of the sort. His blackboard can’t conjure anything remotely believable. He invents things, yet constantly complains that nobody is talking about it. “Why isn’t anyone talking about it?” he shrieks.

There is nobody talking about it because it is untrue, Glenn. You made it up. Until you lied about it on your show today, nobody had even heard of it. You might as well start your show by saying a dragon ate your underwear. Why isn’t anyone talking about that?

Oh that’s right: it didn’t happen.

Sadly, all too many people do believe Glenn, including people who go on to murder others, inspired to do so by his lies. People gather around the radio to eagerly take in his most salacious gossip, all too willing to believe it because it feeds their fear and their suspicions. This is how Hitler worked too, sowing doubt and fear, feeding paranoia and suspicion and xenophobia and homophobia. Little separates them in terms of what they say and how they say it. And that’s not Godwin’s Law; it’s a fact.

Sadly, Glenn Beck is living proof that dishonesty pays. There is such a thing as a perfect crime, and Glenn Beck is committing it.

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President Obama Embraces the Liberal Spirit of Christmas

Dec 13 2010 Published by under Featured News, Issues, White House

President Obama reminds Americans to have empathy this holiday season

President Obama Ties Christmas in With Liberal Ideology

President Obama spoke at the Christmas in Washington celebration last night at a performance to benefit the Children’s National Medical Center, during which he tied the Christmas holiday to the liberal themes that we are all our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, and that Christmas is a time to remember those in need as well as to celebrate.

President Obama spoke movingly about the Christian themes of charity, compassion, and goodwill, tying these tenets of faith to the notion that as Americans we have a responsibility for our neighbors.

Video courtesy of the Whitehouse Blog:


“This season reminds us that more than 2,000 years ago, a child born in a stable brought our world a redeeming gift of peace and salvation. It’s a story with a message that speaks to us to this day — that we are called to love each other as we love ourselves, that we are our brother’s keeper and our sister’s keeper, and our destinies are linked.

It’s a message that guides my Christian faith and it focuses us as we think about all those whose holidays may be a bit tougher this year. We pray for our troops serving far away from the warmth of family and homespun traditions. We remember those who are out of work, or struggling just to get by. We hold in our hearts all those who’ve fallen on hard times this holiday season.

Because while Christmas is a time to celebrate, a time to sing chorales and exchange gifts, it’s also something more. It’s a time to rediscover the meaning of words like “charity” and “compassion” and “goodwill”; to do our part for our neighbors; to serve God through serving others. So from our family to yours, happy holidays, everybody. Merry Christmas, and God bless you all. And God bless the United States of America. Thank you very much.”

Cue the right wing head’s exploding as the President ties the core foundation of Christianity to the liberal notions of compassion, charity and goodwill. I can hear the flag pins popping over at Fox as I type.

As the President struggles with the obstructionism of the Republicans on one hand and the betrayal of his Democratic Senate on the other, his words serve to remind us that at the end of the day, the unemployment benefits he salvaged for those in need this season represent a core value of our democracy – the value of empathy. Indeed, while it may be a nasty business to negotiate the public theft of tax breaks for the rich in order to provide a social safety net for the poor, it is not only our moral mission but also our patriotic duty to act on behalf of the least among us.

It is this spirit of civility and empathy that represents the best of America, it’s what motivated millions to work tirelessly to get President Obama elected, and it is ultimately the place we need to rediscover as a nation. We need to abandon the sports mentality of a win for us a loss for the other team, we need to set aside the tea party selfishness along with our own grievances, and we need to stand up as the mighty Americans we are and take ownership of the tremendous spirit of this land.

We may have been kicked around for years and abused by corporate interests, we may be battered and enraged and feeling helpless as we look around this great country at the state of our infrastructure (e.g., education), but we can overcome this together. We can keep our eye on the eternal rightness of the American cause as we support this President in his goals of long-term paradigm shifting regarding the role of government as a government that cares about the least among us.

The American people support the concept of a social safety net. The American people want those among us who are suffering to be afforded some protection. They want a government that will not do for them, but will protect them from the for profit motive of corporations in a balancing act between capitalism and democracy. The American people want a government that will protect and empower them to be their best.

We can do this if we remember who we are.

We can do this by working for the good of the whole. We do this by softening our hearts to anger and injustice for long enough to look behind us and acknowledge the suffering of others. And instead of turning a cold shoulder as we raise pitchforks to the corporatist rapers of the American dream, let’s take this battle to a place where we can win our democracy back, one step at a time.

It all starts with remembering who we are as a country. Compassion, charity, goodwill and a fighting, can-do spirit. Regardless of your spiritual or religious beliefs, these timeless values inform the foundation of liberalism and of American patriotism. This holiday season, we can embrace the positive, highest aspects of our beliefs and own them proudly.

While there are philosophical differences in the way the left and right approach these problems, no serious person can say this country did not intend to provide a social safety net for its people and yet here we are, the left forced into the street to argue and defend the absurd premise that it’s un-American to not hand all of our hard earned money over to the top 2 percent, as they grift and steal from the people. We’ve gotten so far off course as we’ve been forced further and further off the cliff that we’ve forgotten who we are.

We are the only people out there fighting for the least among us. Let’s not forget that this holiday season. How long I waited to have a President who could and would remind us of the best in ourselves, who would use the holiday season to bring us home to our core values, who shared my beliefs regarding the role of government. And he’s here now. Imperfect, perhaps, but still leading the soft charge forward to a better America.

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Howard Dean Explains To Democrats Why Primarying Obama Is a Bad Idea

Dec 12 2010 Published by under Featured News

Lately there has been a lot of talk in liberal circles about mounting a primary challenge to President Obama in 2012, but on CBS’ Face The Nation today, Howard Dean explained why primarying Obama is a terrible idea, “The history of people running against Presidents in their own party as the challenger, you lose and then the President is weakened and loses.”

Here is the video:

When host Bob Schieffer asked Dean about the possibility of Obama facing a primary challenge in 2012, the former DNC Chair explained why this would not be a good thing for the Democratic Party, “I don’t think he’s going to face an opponent in the democratic primary. I think that would be bad thing for the country and I think it would be a bad thing for the Democratic Party. The history of people running against Presidents in their own party as the challenger, you lose and then the President is weakened and loses. Now the President has done some things that I think are terrific. This is not one of them. But I– I think he will not get an opponent.”

Dean is correct. Recent history shows that incumbent presidents are almost certainly dead men walking in the general election if they have to fend off a tough primary challenger. In 1992, President George HW Bush had to tussle Pat Buchanan. This was a primary that weakened an already weak incumbent and blew the door wide open for Bill Clinton to roll into the White House. The most famous example is the bloody primary between Jimmy Carter and Ted Kennedy in 1980, which savaged Jimmy Carter, but you can also go as far back as 1968 with Eugene McCarthy’s strong showing against President Lyndon Johnson in New Hampshire that lead to Johnson deciding not to seek another term in office.

Primary challengers to incumbent presidents only serve to weaken the party and the president. It is a doomsday device that blows up the president’s party. For those on the far left who want to primary Obama, a more rational question is who would challenge him? The talk of Sen. Bernie Sanders challenging Obama is nonsense, because Sanders is not even a member of the Democratic Party. He is an Independent socialist, and no a third party run is not in his future. Contrary to the dreams of the left Sanders has a good relationship with Obama and the White House. He is not a frequent administration critic. In fact, he was endorsed by Obama in 2008.

Sen. Al Franken owes his Senate seat to Obama being on the ticket, and all the help the Obama operation gave his campaign during the recount. Obama campaigned hard for Franken, and the Minnesota senator is not going to forget that. After these two names the bench gets thin pretty quickly. Hillary Clinton is a giant no. Evan Bayh is too conservative for the liberals. The only possibility is that someone like Rep. Dennis Kucinich runs again in order to provide the president with token primary opposition.

Later in the Face The Nation discussion Dean gave his thoughts on why the tax cut deal is a good political move for Obama, “Well, I mean, the– the– this is a– already on down the track. I mean, it’s–you know, once you make the offer and you come to the deal, it’s going to be pretty hard for the President to pull back and then change his mind in the midstream. The truth is I don’t think this is all that bad for the President politically because he– he is going to be seen as acting presidential and bringing both sides together and all that stuff. The thing that bothers me about it is we have yet to deal with the biggest problem that is facing this country, which is the size of the deficit and nobody is doing anything about it. If you just keep it– if you keep doing what people like, which is cutting their taxes, you’re going to have a bigger deficit and we’re going to be weaker in the long term and I– I just don’t see how that contributes to the long-term future of the country.”

Dean is right about the deficit. Everyone campaigned on it then after the election promptly returned to the business of spending money, so much for the fiscal conservatism of the Tea Party. Politically after the furor over this tax cut deal dies down, this will not hurt Obama at all. How many Americans are really NOT going to vote for Obama because he cut their taxes? Even those on the left who are ready to throw Obama out of office right now are going to benefit from the tax cut.

A poor economy, not the tax cut, is Obama’s biggest 2012 threat. I can see being opposed to the tax cut deal based on principle, but no Democrat who could actually damage Obama in a primary will run against him. Everybody understands the consequences of a tough primary, and no Democrat wants their party to lose the White House in 2012.

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