Skip to main content


Showing posts from September, 2012

Talking Smack

For those of you who - like me - were not born with the competitive gene,  here's a little reminder  of the lengths President Obama goes to challenge himself on the basketball court. A dozen players were warming up. I recognized Arne Duncan, the former captain of the Harvard basketball team and current secretary of education. Apart from him and a couple of disturbingly large and athletic guys in their 40s, everyone appeared to be roughly 28 years old, roughly six and a half feet tall, and the possessor of a 30-inch vertical leap. It was not a normal pickup basketball game; it was a group of serious basketball players who come together three or four times each week. Obama joins when he can. “How many of you played in college?” I asked the only player even close to my height. “All of us,” he replied cheerfully and said he’d played point guard at Florida State. “Most everyone played pro too—except for the president.” Not in the N.B.A., he added, but in Europe and Asia... Obama was

Obama's Audacity (updated)

Today Ezra Klein attempts to address the question of  why Obama abandoned audacity  in the 2012 campaign. He suggests that it was a political calculation about the American people not being in the mood to trust big ideas. The American people, their research shows, are tired of audacity and skeptical of big ideas. They’re willing to believe Obama has done about the best job he could have been expected to do given the collapse of the global economy and the intransigence of the Republicans. But if they’re going to believe that, they’re also not willing to believe that he’s got all the answers now, or that his next big idea is the one that will really turn all this around. If they’re going to lower their expectations, he needs to be more realistic in his promises. Of course, there's probably some truth in all of that. And it shouldn't surprise us that the headliner of The Wonk Blog would be focused almost entirely on the policy details of what President Obama is talking about.

State of the Race: Romney's floor = Republican ceiling

Regular readers here know that I don't pay much attention to the national polls but have been slightly obsessed (yes, that's a bit like being slightly pregnant) with the state polls and the electoral map. One of the things I've been saying all along is that  this race has been strikingly stable.  It turns out that nowhere is that more true than Mitt Romney's performance. Romney began this race with a pretty solid 191 electoral votes. That includes all of the states John McCain won in 2008 plus Indiana. Anyone who's been watching these projections from polling aggregates knows that, with the exception of occasionally adding North Carolina to bring him up to 205 electoral votes, Romney has NEVER LED in any other swing state. The only changes we've seen in them is to go from toss-up to Obama. Today, it you take a look at any of the projections - from HuffPo  to  TPM  to  Real Clear Politics,  you'll see Romney is still at 191 electoral votes. In other word

Photo of the Day: " that you?"

J.K. Rowling on Patriotism

Billionaire J.K. Rowling is without a doubt the richest person in the United Kingdom. As the sole author of the mega-hit Harry Potter series, some Republicans in this country would suggest that "she built wrote that" all on her own and should therefore be left to enjoy all the fruits of her labor with no thought to her responsibility to anyone else. I have no doubt that Ms. Rowling lives a very comfortable lifestyle and is never likely to have to forego any material thing she happens to need or desire. But apparently some people think that's not enough and have wondered why she doesn't give up her British citizenship in favor of some more suitable tax haven. She recently  had a few words  for Republicans  folks who think that way. I chose to remain a domiciled taxpayer for a couple of reasons. The main one was that I wanted my children to grow up where I grew up, to have proper roots in a culture as old and magnificent as Britain’s; to be citizens, with everyt

When conversation becomes a threat

We are witnessing a fascinating psychological phenomenon these days from those on the right of the political spectrum. As polling suggests that Mitt Romney is going to loose the election (perhaps badly), conservatives are experiencing the cognitive dissonance of the world not behaving as they've come to believe it would/should. What it comes down to is that their anger/fear of President Obama is so extreme that they couldn't countenance that the rest of the country might not feel the same way. The reality of the polls is challenging their assumptions. And so what do they do? Dismiss the polls. Contrary to what we might think, that behavior is not all that uncommon amongst human beings...we tend to dismiss information that conflicts with how we've come to see the world. Its just that conservatives (and a few liberals I might add) have been able to take this kind of thing to a whole new level. No one described this phenomenon better than  Julian Sanchez  a couple of years

Pandering to the purists

Daniel McCarthy has written a very provocative article at The American Conservative titled Is the GOP Still a National Party?  He starts off by telling some hard GOP truth. Republicans have failed to win a plurality of voters (or a majority of the two-party vote) in four of the last five presidential elections. The single win was 2004, when George W. Bush was re-elected by the lowest margin of any successful incumbent since 1828. To explain this phenomenon, he says something that - at first - seems counterintuitive. And yet it makes perfect sense. The GOP base is better organized and more engaged locally than Democrats are. But this actually undercuts the party at the national level. So well organized are the GOP’s ideological constituencies that they prevail in legislative primaries and push the party’s overall identity to the right...These ideological groups also have a great deal of muscle at the presidential primary or caucus level, but even beyond that, their success at the

Obama's record on criminal justice

Once again, reading the crazy wingnut sites has paid off in finding information you're not likely to see elsewhere. This time, it comes from an article in the  Daily Caller  that labels President Obama as "shamefully soft on drugs and crime." Apparently the web site got ahold of the opposition research file that Jack Ryan developed when he was running against Obama for the Senate in 2004. You may remember that Ryan dropped out of that race as a result of a sex scandal. Prior to that, he had combed Obama's record in the Illinois Senate for his position on various issues related to crime and drugs. Given that my professional life is focused on these issues - especially as they relate to young people - I am particularly grateful for this information. I have felt that this is not a topic that President Obama addresses often enough. So contrary to finding President Obama's record "shameful," I was delighted to hear about it. Here are some highlights:

RIP Andy

I'm pooped tonight so I think I'll take a little break from politics. But I thought I'd honor the passing of Andy Williams. The "crooner" crowd was all just slightly before my time. But a woman would have to be stone cold to not melt at least a little bit to this one. Enjoy :-)

President Obama on expanding our moral imagination

As President Obama spent most of his day yesterday on the world stage at the United Nations and Clinton's Global Initiative, I happened to have run across a video of Will and Jada Pinkett Smith interviewing him just after his Nobel Peace Prize speech. Will picked up on a line in President Obama's speech about "expanding our moral imagination." I'd like to provide  some context for that line.  Early on in the speech, Obama had referenced a quote from John F. Kennedy. Concretely, we must direct our effort to the task that President Kennedy called for long ago. "Let us focus," he said, "on a more practical, more attainable peace, based not on a sudden revolution in human nature but on a gradual evolution in human institutions." Towards the end, he returns to that quote. Agreements among nations. Strong institutions. Support for human rights. Investments in development. All these are vital ingredients in bringing about the evolution tha

No commentary required 9/25/12

Here are some stories that caught my eye today. Along with disabusing ourselves of the idea that  Republicans are smart,  we really need to get rid of the myth that they're  frugal when it comes to managing money. What you'll learn at that link is that the Romney campaign's payroll was about the same as the Obama campaign's last month - while they employed half the people. That doesn't even take into account the $200,000 bonuses the Romney campaign paid to 9 of his top staff. And this is the guy who wants us to "trust him" to balance the national budget? ***** So you think President Obama has an enthusiasm problem among Latinos voters?  Think again! ***** We've all heard it over and over again...white working class folks aren't going to vote for President Obama. Well, it turns out that the national polls on that are just a bit skewed by the results in a certain part of the country. Gee...what do you think  that's all about?

Obama as Transformational President

By now you may have seen that this week Andrew Sullivan has another cover story in Newsweek Magazine. The title this time:  President Obama: The Democrat's Ronald Reagan.  He says that an Obama win this fall would be "a transformational moment in American politics." I agree completely. But when I read the article, I didn't hear the argument I would make about why. Sullivan - like any good political junkie - gets down into the weeds of comparing Reagan's policy record to that of a potential two-term Obama. I suspect that's because Sullivan actually found something positive about the way that Reagan was transformative. I don't share that view. My process for comparing the transformative aspects of each president would be to examine the overall forest of the political narrative rather than the trees of specific policies. On those grounds, what we see is President Obama challenging the very heart and soul of the basic message of the Reagan revolution. No

It's Working!

According to  Nate Silver's  now-cast - if the election were held today - President Obama would have a 95.6% chance of winning. So whatever you're doing, KEEP IT UP...its working! Remember, we don't just want to win this thing,  we want to win it BIG  and send those Teapublicans packing. Tomorrow, Tuesday, September 25th, is  National Voter Registration Day.  If you or anyone you know is not registered, be sure to get it done. The Obama campaign has given us this great tool - so use it.

Why Mitt Can't Win (other than that he's a dick)

First of all, lets stipulate that  Mitt's a dick. But beyond that, he keeps getting  really lousy advice  from folks like Bill Kristol. "If this election is just about the last four years, that's a muddy verdict. Bush was president during the financial meltdown. The Obama team has turned that around pretty well. The Clinton speech at the convention was very important in that way -- how horrible was it four years ago." "He's got to make it a referendum on the choice of the next four years, and explain what Obama would do over the next four years that would be bad for the country, and what he would do that would be good for the country." You see Bill, idiots like you who want to assume the mantle of "intelligentsia" haven't caught on to what everyday average voters seem to understand pretty clearly. When Romney starts talking about "what he would do," folks immediately recognize it as the very things that got us into this mes

Ongoing steps to end the indefinite war - Afghanistan and Guantanamo (updated)

While most of our attention is focused on the 2012 election and protests in the Middle East, the Obama administration continues to take some relatively unnoticed steps towards ending the "indefinite war." Let's notice for a minute, shall we? First of all came the announcement almost two weeks ago that the  U.S. has transferred control of the Bagram prison to Afghanistan. The U.S. military prison known as Bagram, a hated symbol of U.S. interference in Afghan affairs, was officially transferred to Afghan control Monday... The prison handover is part of a larger transitioning of security responsibilities to Afghan forces — the linchpin of the U.S. plan to pull out its combat troops at the end of 2014. Then last week the Pentagon announced that the "surge" troops have come home. Nearly three years after it began, the surge of U.S. troops to Afghanistan is over. In December 2009, on President Barack Obama's order, an additional 30,000 troops headed t

The work of a pragmatic progressive

I align myself these days with folks who call themselves "pragmatic progressives." At times I'll use the label "Democrat," but if truth be told - that's more of a "not Republican" in todays climate than anything else. Even as a progressive, I have pulled the lever for a Republican in the past. I think former Minnesota  Governor Arne Carlson  has a lot to teach us about our current political situation.  Republican Senator Mark Hatfield  is one of this country's politicians that I admired most. On the other hand, there is hardly a policy issue I'd find myself disagreeing with  Senator Bernie Sanders  about. Other than our current President, the national politician I have admired the most in my lifetime was  Senator Paul Wellstone. I say all that to put some context around what I mean by the word "pragmatic." It is first of all a refutation of the obstructionist politics of the Republicans these days...the attempt to block legi

Photo of the Day: A Wish Come True

Eight-year old Make-A-Wish child Janiya Penny reacts after meeting President Barack Obama as he welcomes her family to the Oval Office, Aug. 8, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

State of the Race: When it's down to North Carolina, we're winning

A few months ago folks were worrying about President Obama loosing Pennsylvania. Now, according to  Nate Silver's model,  Obama has a 91.6% chance of winning there. Next we worried about Michigan. Now, Obama's chances are at 95.7%. After that came Ohio. Now, Obama's chances are at 74.8%. And then came Wisconsin. Now, Obama's at 82.1%. Should we worry about Virginia? Nah, Obama's at 70.9%. But its supposed to be a close election. Surely that means Obama couldn't win Florida too. Yep, he has a 59.4% chance of winning there. And what about Iowa? 72.2% Or Colorado? 66.5% And certainly no one is worrying any more about Nevada (80.3%) or New Mexico (96.5%). That covers all the swing states except North Carolina - where Romney has maintained a lead all along. Until today.  Two polls show President Obama with a slight lead there.  The  HuffPo model  is basically calling it a tie at this point (Silver hasn't done an update yet today). As  Markos p

We should all be preparing ourselves to keep working after the election is over

An awful lot of people have opined about what they think might happen in a second Obama administration. As was the case in 2008, I fear that too many are not listening to the man himself because he's broadcasting what to expect loud and clear. So let's take a listen and see what he's been saying. First of all, there was his  interview with Michael Scherer. Scherer: Coming out of 2008, there was talk from you and from some of your staff that you could bring [your campaign's] sort of grassroots movement, the organization, to Washington. And 2009 ended up being very much an inside-Washington mirror. [The year] 2012 is different. But if you’re able to get a second term, have you thought about ways of doing what the sort of promise of 2008 was that was never achieved in terms of bringing larger numbers of people to have a voice in the political process? Obama: I’ve given that a lot of thought. And I do think that we had the best of intentions in 2009 and 2010. Again

Republicans just aren't as smart as we thought they were

I'm guessing there must have been some kind of ethos in the air while I was growing up in the 60's and 70's that said that the Republicans were the party of smart, thoughtful, disciplined people from the skilled managerial class. On the other hand, Democrats were emotional, passionate, undisciplined working and/or creative class folks. My oh things have changed. In the intervening years, Democrats elected Jimmy Carter - who was seen to be too smart/serious - and then Bill Clinton - who was too undisciplined. But now we have the whole enchilada in President Obama and the Republicans have swung to being the party of the emotionally undisciplined. If you had any doubts about that, read what Steve Benen  just wrote about their bumbling attempts to try to define President Obama. At different times over the last four years, Obama's detractors have said he's a ruthless Chicago thug and a "wuss." He's a bystander who goes golfing too much and

Hope and Change

There are those who would have us believe that four years ago President Obama naively offered us fanciful rhetoric that has now been lost to cynical realities. I beg to differ. Those who think that our commitment to hope and change is gone never understood what the words meant from the beginning. On hope : ...not blind optimism, not wishful thinking but hope in the face of difficulty, hope in the face of uncertainty, that dogged faith in the future which has pushed this nation forward even when the odds are great, even when the road is long...  I'm hopeful because of you. On change: As citizens, we understand that America is not about what can be done for us. It's about what can be done by us, together through the hard and frustrating but necessary work of self-government. That's what we believe. That's what he's been saying all along. Yes WE can!

The Obama Tapes - Oh My! (updated)

Republicans think they've come up with a way to respond to the devastation that Romney's remarks about the 47% have caused his campaign. They're saying..."wait - we have secret tapes about horrible things Obama said, too!" The funny thing is that when I watch those videos, my reaction is the opposite of what most Republicans felt when they heard what Romney said. The "Obama tapes" suggest exactly why it is that I support this President. There are actually two Obama speeches from the past that are making the rounds. The first is the one where he talks about that awful soshulist word - redistribution. In order to get the full import of this segment of what President Obama said in 1998, you have to watch 2 videos. That's the winger's clip. So they end it as soon as he mentions redistribution. But notice how he talks about the fact that "we're going to have to resuscitate the notion that government action can be effective at all.&quo

How racism hurts white people too

I've been suggesting all along that what Romney said about the 47% on that video tape is not something new for Republicans. And now Ta-Nehisi Coates has nailed that assessment with an article titled  We Are All Welfare Queens Now.  He starts out with the infamous Lee Atwater quote about the Republican's Southern Strategy. You start out in 1954 by saying, "Nigger, nigger, nigger." By 1968 you can't say "nigger" -- that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states' rights and all that stuff. You're getting so abstract now [that] you're talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you're talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites . And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I'm not saying that. But I'm saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follo

I'm Dreaming

Newman,  who is white, is openly supporting President Barack Obama. He says he wants the public to find comedic relief in the song, but to also know he's serious about his thoughts that racism is well and alive in the world - and in the current presidential race. He called racism "the great issue of this country." "I felt that that sentiment exists in the country," Newman said in an interview Monday. "I don't know how many people you can get to admit it. I think maybe zero."

The class warfare of "makers and takers"

When something is as big of a story as Romney's remarks about the 47%, it becomes almost impossible to add anything that hasn't already been said. But I want to echo something Steve Benen  wrote about it this morning. Romney accuses Obama of being divisive, especially when it comes to class, but here's a video of Romney castigating nearly half the country based on class. Romney's rhetoric says he wants to bring people together, but the clip shows him saying he considers it his job "not to worry about those people." And for my money, the most damaging phrase of all is, "I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility." Half the country, in Romney's eyes, is made up of slothful and pathetic losers. When Democrats talk about needing to raise taxes on the wealthy (back to Clinton levels), we're talking about shared responsibility. But Republicans cry "class warfare." But the real class warfare being waged

No commentary required 9/17/12

OK, so Mitt Romney had a  terrible awful not-so-good day ...again. What other stories caught my eye? Tina Brown and the  entire Newsweek organization  ought to be ashamed. Even  Erick Erickson at Red State  admits Romney is loosing. Like it or not, spin it or not, put your head in the sand or not, attack me as the messenger or not, the very simple truth is that Mitt Romney has failed to close any deal with the voters and his message is so muddled no voter really knows what they are getting. You really need to read Markos' rundown on the battle for the Senate.  His conclusion: One thing's for sure—this is nowhere near the disaster map Democrats feared just six months ago. There's a realistic (if outside) possibility that we can actually emerge from this cycle picking up a seat or two. Worst case, we can still lose the Senate, though that looks to be a remote possibility for now. It happened a little over a week ago, but my hero - David Simon - was on Real Time w

Hope vs Fear

Some pundits  are asking why the Romney campaign seems to have turned its back on talking about the economy only to delve with blistering ignorance  into attacking President Obama on his foreign policy in the wake of the protests in the Middle East and North Africa. I can give you a one-word answer to that one...fear. Fear is the mother's milk of the Republican Party and has been for decades. This time around we were served up huge doses of that suggesting that our current president is somehow "foreign" and doesn't share our values. And then it was on to instill fear about what they say he's doing to the economy and the American way of life. Along the way, we were fed diets of fear about the welfare state (read: black people) and immigrants. But that wasn't working for them. And then along came these protests and the attack on the American embassy in Benghazi. And you wonder why the Romney campaign pounced on that? Some have suggested that it fit the nar

President Obama on the bully pulpit and dealing with an obstructionist Congress

I want to highlight another item from Michael Lewis' article on  Obama's Way  and his interview with  Terry Gross on NPR. During the interview, Lewis says that President Obama told him that the bully pulpit is broken. He said that is partly because of our polarized media, but also ties in to this whole Republican strategy of obstruction. The President knew that the minute he proposed something - even if it was originally a Republican idea - they would oppose it. And the louder he fought for it, the more strenuous their objections would be. My take on that would be that it opens the door to a powerful strategy for Democrats in a campaign. And we've seen the President use that opportunity very well over the last few months in making this a choice election rather than a referendum. But when you need to actually get something done legislatively - like a stimulus or health care reform - it means that using the bully pulpit to advocate for policies can actually work against

"They hate us for our freedoms" (updated)

When Americans were trying to understand 9/11, neocons in the Bush administration tried to convince us that we were under attack by Islamists because "they hate us for our freedoms." Of course it was a ridiculous attempt to gin up the anger and revenge so they could lie us into an unnecessary war. But I'm hearing that same battle cry from too many people these days in response to current unrest in the countries of the Middle East and Northern Africa. In America we tend to value our freedom of speech over most any other constitutionally endowed right. And its clear that many Muslims in those parts of the world are angry that we allowed a citizen of this country to make a movie that is blasphemy to their religion. So do they really hate us for our freedoms? This morning I let myself ponder that question. There are clearly some misunderstandings going on here. And rather than simply manipulate those for our own political ends , I think it behooves us to try to understand

President Obama's process for making the tough calls

Yesterday when I wrote about Michael Lewis' story titled  The Obama Way,  I included this quote. “Nothing comes to my desk that is perfectly solvable,” Obama said at one point. “Otherwise, someone else would have solved it. So you wind up dealing with probabilities. Any given decision you make you’ll wind up with a 30 to 40 percent chance that it isn’t going to work. You have to own that and feel comfortable with the way you made the decision. You can’t be paralyzed by the fact that it might not work out.” Lewis fleshes out the process by which President Obama makes these difficult decisions by describing the meeting that was held about whether or not to join Britain and France in supporting "no-fly" zones over Libya during the uprising there. In White House jargon this was a meeting of “the principals,” which is to say the big shots. In addition to Biden and Gates, it included Secretary of State Hil­lary Clinton (on the phone from Cairo), chairman of the Joint Chief