Sunday, March 1, 2009

From New York Times: The Ecstasy and the Agony

March 1, 2009
Op-Ed Columnist
The Ecstasy and the Agony
BARACK OBAMA must savor the moment while he can. It may never get better than this.

As he stood before Congress on Tuesday night, the new president was armed with new job approval percentages in the 60s. After his speech, the numbers hit the stratosphere: CBS News found that support for his economic plans spiked from 63 percent to 80. Had more viewers hung on for the Republican response from Bobby Jindal, the unintentionally farcical governor of Louisiana, Obama might have aced a near-perfect score.

His address was riveting because it delivered on the vision he had promised a battered populace during the campaign: Government must step in boldly when free markets run amok and when national crises fester unaddressed for decades. For all the echoes of F.D.R.’s first fireside chat, he also evoked his own memorably adult speech on race. Once again he walked us through a lucid step-by-step mini-lecture on “how we arrived” at an impasse that’s threatening America’s ability to move forward.

Obama’s race speech may have saved his campaign. His first Congressional address won’t rescue the economy. But it brings him to a significant early crossroads in his presidency — one full of perils as well as great opportunities. To get the full political picture, look beyond Obama’s popularity in last week’s polls to the two groups of Americans whose approval numbers are in the toilet. There is good news for Obama in these findings, but there’s also a stark indication of the unchecked populist rage that could still overrun his ambitious plans.

Continue reading at

Friday, February 27, 2009

David Brooks on George W. Bush's Iraq Surge Decision

OK, if you watch PBS or listen to NPR like I do then you heard New York Times columnist David Brooks praise George W. Bush's decision to surge the troops in Iraq as one of the boldest presidential decision he has seen in his lifetime. This is not the first time Bush apologists have said this. In fact during the campaign last year, the complaint was that Obama refused to acknowledge that the surge was a success. If you are Obama who had been against the war from the start, you can understand why.

Truth is that after more than 4,000 US soldiers killed in Iraq and almost $1 trillion dollars later, Iraq is finally safe enough for US troops to start returning home as President Obama announced earlier today. Did the surge help? Sure. But in a way that is just like praising a man who pushes another man into a river then jumps into the water and saves him. One can accept that Bush's decision to surge the troops was perhaps his best presidential decision, but it would also be fair to note that the decision to go to war with Iraq in the first place, instead of finishing the war in Afghanistan, was one of the worst presidential decisions in contemporary times.

Week In Politics Examined - NPR, February 27, 2009

PBS Newshour: Shields and Brooks Weigh Obama's Troop, Budget Plans

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Reaction to President Obama's Address to Joint Session of Congress

New York Times
February 25, 2009
Obama Assures Nation: ‘We Will Rebuild’
Jeff Zelleny

WASHINGTON — President Obama urged the nation on Tuesday to see the economic crisis as reason to raise its ambitions, calling for expensive new efforts to address energy, health care and education programs even as he warned that more money might be needed to bail out banks.

In his first address to a joint session of Congress, Mr. Obama mixed an acknowledgment of the depth of the economic problems with a Reaganesque exhortation to American resilience and an expansive agenda with a pledge to begin paring down a soaring budget deficit.

“While our economy may be weakened and our confidence shaken, though we are living through difficult and uncertain times, tonight I want every American to know this,” Mr. Obama said. “We will rebuild, we will recover, and the United States of America will emerge stronger than before.”

He was greeted in the House of Representatives chamber with gregarious applause, particularly from Democrats who hold a strong majority. Yet even Republicans leaned in close to Mr. Obama as he passed by them in the narrow aisle and made his way to the speaker’s dais at the front of the room.

Mr. Obama said he came to the Capitol not only to address members of the House and Senate who were seated before him, but also to “speak frankly and directly to the men and women who sent us here.”

“If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that for too long, we have not always met these responsibilities — as a government or as a people,” Mr. Obama said. “I say this not to lay blame or look backwards, but because it is only by understanding how we arrived at this moment that we’ll be able to lift ourselves out of this predicament.” Continue reading at NYTimes

Washington Post
Obama Emphasizes Reform, Offers Hope Amid Economic Crisis
By Ben Pershing
Washington Post Staff Writer

Five weeks into an administration already marked by dramatic highs and lows, President Obama sounded a note of hope at a time of crisis tonight, delivering an address to a joint session of Congress heavily focused on the ailing economy and how to fix it.

Offering the prospect of a brighter future after weeks of grim rhetoric, Obama sought to put a human face on complex policy proposals. He linked his banking rescue plan to the ability of a "young family" to "finally buy a home." And he acknowledged populist anger at the prospect of more Wall Street bailouts, vowing to crack down on CEO bonuses and conduct tough oversight of the hundreds of billions of dollars already pledged to address the economic crisis.

Though he began by recognizing that "the impact of this recession is real, and it is everywhere," Obama said he sees light at the end of the tunnel, despite rising unemployment, a cratering stock market, teetering banks and an auto industry gasping for breath. Continue reading at WPost
Obama puts forth ambitious agenda in speech

In his first speech to a joint session of Congress, President Obama outlined an ambitious agenda to revive the economy, saying it's time to act boldly "to build a new foundation for lasting prosperity."

Obama focused on the three priorities of the budget he will present to Congress later this week: energy, health care and education.

The president said he sees his budget as a "vision for America -- as a blueprint for our future," but not something that will solve every problem or address every issue.

Obama said his administration already has identified $2 trillion in government spending cuts that can be made over the next decade.

Obama said he would cut spending considered wasteful, and invest in programs that will help the economy recover.

The president touted the $787 billion stimulus plan he signed into law last week, saying it will invest in areas critical to the country's economic recovery.

The United States has "fallen behind" other countries when it comes to producing clean energy, he said, but thanks to the stimulus, he said the United States will double its supply of renewable energy in the next three years.

Obama asked Congress to send him legislation that places a market-based cap on carbon pollution and drives the production of more renewable energy in America.

He said to support that innovation, the country will invest $15 billion a year to develop new technologies.

Saying the United States can no longer afford to put health care reform on hold, Obama said his budget proposal will include a "historic commitment" to it. Continue reading at
Obama Says Country Will Rebuild, Recover in Wake of Recession
President Obama warns about the danger of an "open-ended recession," but also urges lawmakers to join him in doing whatever is necessary to prevent it during his first address to Congress.

The economy will recover and the nation will rebuild, President Obama declared Tuesday in his first address to Congress as he tried to assure the country that the end of the recession is in sight.

The president struck a more optimistic tone than in recent speeches, balancing honesty about the challenges of the economic crisis with confidence in the ability of Americans to confront the recession and emerge stronger from it.

He warned about the danger of an "open-ended recession," but also urged lawmakers to join him in doing whatever is necessary to prevent it.

"I refuse to let that happen," Obama said about the possibility of the economy sputtering along for years. He said investments not only in the financial system but energy, health care and education will ensure a sustained recovery. Continue reading at

From New York Times: Selling a New Deal, but Promising It Will Be Brief

February 25, 2009
On Washington
Selling a New Deal, but Promising It Will Be Brief

It was only 13 years ago that Bill Clinton declared before a joint session of Congress that “the era of big government is over.” President Obama’s challenge on Tuesday night is to declare that, out of ugly necessity, big government is back — and then to make a persuasive case, with a specificity he has avoided until now, that if done right, this era will not last for long.

His aides say this is no moment for the lofty idealism of the inaugural address, 35 long days and roughly a thousand Dow Jones points ago. His task is to be at once reassuring and realistic, or, as one of Mr. Obama’s economic advisers said over the weekend, “to convince the country we’ve finally pulled the ripcord on the parachute, even if we can’t tell you how long we fall or where we land.”

The hardest part will be convincing his countrymen that they cannot save themselves without first saving the banks that let greed blot out prudence, the carmakers who ignored competitive reality for a quarter-century, and the homeowners who somehow persuaded themselves that housing prices only move up.

Continue reading at NYTimes

Sunday, February 22, 2009

From New York Times: America in Denial

February 22, 2009
Op-Ed Columnist
What We Don’t Know Will Hurt Us

AND so on the 29th day of his presidency, Barack Obama signed the stimulus bill. But the earth did not move. The Dow Jones fell almost 300 points. G.M. and Chrysler together asked taxpayers for another $21.6 billion and announced another 50,000 layoffs. The latest alleged mini-Madoff, R. Allen Stanford, was accused of an $8 billion fraud with 50,000 victims.

“I don’t want to pretend that today marks the end of our economic problems,” the president said on Tuesday at the signing ceremony in Denver. He added, hopefully: “But today does mark the beginning of the end.”

Does it?

No one knows, of course, but a bigger question may be whether we really want to know. One of the most persistent cultural tics of the early 21st century is Americans’ reluctance to absorb, let alone prepare for, bad news. We are plugged into more information sources than anyone could have imagined even 15 years ago. The cruel ambush of 9/11 supposedly “changed everything,” slapping us back to reality. Yet we are constantly shocked, shocked by the foreseeable. Obama’s toughest political problem may not be coping with the increasingly marginalized G.O.P. but with an America-in-denial that must hear warning signs repeatedly, for months and sometimes years, before believing the wolf is actually at the door.

Continue reading at NYT

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

From Associated Press: Daschle out as health nominee due to tax problems
Daschle out as health nominee due to tax problems
By JENNIFER LOVEN, AP White House Correspondent Jennifer Loven, Ap White House Correspondent

WASHINGTON – Tom Daschle withdrew Tuesday as President Barack Obama's nominee to be health and human services secretary, dealing potential blows to both speedy health care reform and Obama's hopes for a smooth start in the White House.

"Now we must move forward," Obama said in a written statement accepting "with sadness and regret" Daschle's request to be removed from consideration. A day earlier, Obama had said he "absolutely" stood by Daschle in the face of problems over back taxes and potential conflicts of interest.

The stunning Daschle development came less than three hours after another Obama nominee also withdrew from consideration, and also over tax problems. Nancy Killefer, nominated by Obama to be the government's first chief performance officer, said she didn't want her bungling of payroll taxes on her household help to be a distraction.

"They both recognized that you can't set an example of responsibility but accept a different standard of who serves," said White House press secretary Robert Gibbs.

Daschle, the former Senate Democratic leader, a strong and early backer of Obama's presidential bid and a close Obama friend, said he would have been unable to operate "with the full faith of Congress and the American people."

"I am not that leader, and will not be a distraction" to Obama's agenda, he said.

Obama had given Daschle two jobs — to be White House health czar on top of the post leading the Health and Human Services Department — and Daschle is relinquishing both. The developments called into question whether Obama will be able to move as quickly as he has promised on sweeping health care reform — one of the pillars of his first 100 days agenda and expected to be among the hardest to accomplish.

"It really sets us back a step," said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill. "Because he was such a talent. I mean he understood Congress, serving in the House and Senate; he certainly had the confidence of the president."

Said White House spokesman Gibbs: "We're looking for a new nominee, but the problem has existed for quite some time and the work toward a solution to make health care more affordable won't stop or won't pause while we look for that nominee."

Among those considered for the post before it went to Daschle was Howard Dean, the physician-turned-politician who ran for president in 2004 and recently left as head of the Democratic National Committee.

Asked repeatedly whether the White House sought Daschle's withdrawal, Gibbs said it was Daschle's decision alone. He "did not get a signal" from the White House to step aside, the spokesman said.

Daschle is the third high-profile Obama nominee to bow out. Obama tapped Bill Richardson to be Commerce secretary, but the New Mexico governor withdrew amid a grand jury investigation into a state contract awarded to his political donors. Obama named Republican Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire to the position Tuesday.

Last week, the Senate confirmed Timothy Geithner as treasury secretary, but only after days of controversy over the fact that he had only belatedly paid $34,000 in income taxes.

Asked whether tax questions are going to arise with any other nominees, Gibbs said only that "the president has confidence in the people he has chosen to serve in government." He also defended the administration's vetting process.

He added: "the president takes responsibility" for the spate of nomination troubles.

The White House dispatched senior adviser David Axelrod to Capitol Hill to soothe Democrats whose nerves were frayed by the loss of Daschle.

Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Daschle's former Democratic colleagues had rallied to Daschle's defense in the wake of questions about his failure to fully pay his taxes from 2005 through 2007. Last month, he paid $128,203 in back taxes and $11,964 in interest.

"Tom made a mistake, which he has openly acknowledged," Obama said Tuesday. "He has not excused it, nor do I. But that mistake and this decision cannot diminish the many contributions Tom has made to this country."

"I was a little stunned. I thought he was going to get confirmed," said Max Baucus, D-Mont., chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, the panel that would have voted on Daschle's nomination. "It's regrettable. He's a very good man."

Daschle also was facing questions about potential conflicts of interests related to speaking fees he accepted from health care interests. He also provided advice to health insurers and hospitals through his post-Senate work at a law firm.

The controversy has undercut Obama's promise to run a more ethical, responsible and special interest-free administration. Republicans and major newspapers had been questioning Obama's decision to stick with Daschle.


Associated Press writers Ron Fournier, Charles Babington and Liz Sidoti contributed to this story.

Friday, January 30, 2009

From The RNC Name Michael Steele as the New Chair

It's Steele!
By: Alexander Burns
January 30, 2009 04:09 PM EST

Former Maryland Lt. Gov Michael Steele triumphed over four opponents in the race for Republican National Committee chairman Friday, giving the party its first black chairman as well as a forceful communicator at a time of political weakness.

“This is awesome,” Steele told RNC members in a victory speech. “It is with a great deal of humility and a sense of service that I accept and appreciate and thank all of you for the opportunity to serve.”

Steele emerged victorious from a lengthy, six-ballot voting process. Running against him were incumbent RNC Chair Mike Duncan, South Carolina Republican Party Chair Katon Dawson, Michigan Republican Party Chair Saul Anuzis, and former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell.

The Marylander, who entered the race in November, received 46 votes on the first ballot, but gained momentum in later rounds after Duncan faltered on the third ballot and Anuzis withdrew after the fifth. He was declared the winner after collecting 91 votes from a total of 168 on the committee.

In the last round of voting, Steele faced off against Dawson in a one-on-one contest that pitted Dawson’s insider credentials against Steele’s celebrity profile.

In past elections, the committee has been reluctant to elect a non-member to the chairmanship. But this year marked a departure from tradition, perhaps indicating the strength of the RNC’s desire for change.

See Also
GOP fights to keep Gregg in the Senate
Conyers-Rove showdown postponed
Are you with Obama or Rush?

“It’s time for something completely different,” Steele said in his victory speech.

Steele’e emergence as the victor appeared to signal a desire on the committee to distance itself from the eight years of the Bush administration and put forth a new face for the party.

The election of an outsider, however, was not the only respect in which the race was unconventional. Usually a low-profile, inside-the-Beltway affair, the chairman’s race took on an outsized importance for the GOP this year after the party lost the White House and suffered heavy defeats on the congressional level last November.

For a party seeking to define itself in the post-Bush era, the chairman’s election provided a first opportunity to chart a fresh course for the GOP. And throughout the day RNC members emphasized the potentially pivotal nature of the vote.

“This may be the most important decision we ever make as members of the RNC,” Oklahoma Republican Party Chair Gary Jones said in a nominating speech for Blackwell at the beginning of the day.

Florida Republican Party Chairman Jim Greer was even more emphatic as he delivered a seconding speech for Steele.

“The eyes of the nation today are looking upon us,” he said. “This vote will be the greatest contribution you will have ever made to the Republican Party.”

In the last few weeks the election took a divisive turn as candidates began leveling harsh, below-the radar attacks on each others’ ethics and political track records. Dawson’s past membership in an all-white country club came under assault, as did Steele’s performance as chairman of GOPAC, Blackwell’s experience as secretary of state and Anuzis’s mixed track record winning elections in Michigan.

The election process was the longest in decades, indicating a lack of strong consensus behind any one contender. The last two open chairman’s races, in 1993 and 1997, went to three and five ballots, respectively.