Thursday, February 28, 2013

It's what Woodward represents that matters

TPM has published a helpful timeline in case you've missed how Bob Woodward has jumped the shark lately. The whole episode has many wondering why we're paying any attention to the man - or WTH has happened to him.
I just can't figure out what's gotten into Woodward, or why he's acting so erratically. But at this point, it seems Woodward is doing lasting, possibly irreparable harm to his once-sterling reputation, and that is a genuine shame.
Jonathan Chait does a good job of reminding us that perhaps Woodward is not the god of journalism we've often assumed him to be.
To reconcile Woodward’s journalistic reputation with the weird pettiness of his current role, one has to grasp the distinction between his abilities as a reporter and his abilities as an analyst. Woodward was, and remains, an elite gatherer of facts. But anybody who has seen him commit acts of political commentary on television has witnessed a painful spectacle. As an analyst, Woodward is a particular kind of awful — a Georgetown Wise Man reliably and almost invariably mouthing the conventional wisdom of the Washington Establishment.
 I agree, I've seen Woodward on television doing political commentary. And "Washington Establishment" pretty much nails it...the very bubble President Obama does everything he can to avoid. 

That's why what Woodward is doing matters. And Noam Scheiber nailed it.
There is a body of respectable Washington opinion that considers Obama unworthy of the presidency: he hadn’t put in his time before running, didn’t grasp the majesty of the office, evinced no respect for the way things were done. He not only won without courting the city’s elders, he had the bad manners to keep his distance even after winning. This is the view Woodward distills.
Scheiber didn't say it but I will...the black guy didn't pay his proper respects to the white good-ole-boys club.

That club is the heart of the beast in its death throes. Woodward is simply the latest to be howling at its demise.

The Arc of History: from Rosa to Sonia

I know I've used this quote from Michelle Obama here a lot. But I want to post it again following some of the outrageous things we heard yesterday from the Supreme Court to the punditry.
Here's the thing about my husband: even in the toughest moments, when it seems like all is lost, Barack Obama never loses sight of the end goal. He never lets himself get distracted by the chatter and the noise, even if it comes from some of his best supporters. He just keeps moving forward.

And in those moments when we're all sweating it, when we're worried that the bill won't pass or the negotiation will fall through, Barack always reminds me that we're playing a long game here. He reminds me that change is slow — it doesn't happen overnight.

If we keep showing up, if we keep fighting the good fight and doing what we know is right, then eventually we will get there.

We always have.
Last night as I was trying to absorb all the news of the day, its that last part that I thought about. In a way, she is saying the same thing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was referring to when he talked about "the arc of history being long, but bending towards justice."

So imagine with me for a moment what the world probably sounded like the day after Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on that bus. Just think about what the Scalia's of the world were saying back then about that simple brave act.

And yet, was it the Bull Connors of those days who was honored yesterday with a statue in the halls of Congress? Not even remotely.

No matter what happens with the outcome of the Supreme Court ruling on the Voting Rights Act, we'll keep showing up, fighting the good fight and doing what we know is right. In the end, which of these Supreme Court Justices will go down as being on the right side of history? Will it be the one who said that the Voting Rights Act was a perpetuation of racial entitlement? Or will it be this one?

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Republican Plan B: let the lunatics have their tantrum

Thanks to Ryan Lizza's excellent reporting, we now know the basics of Republican Plan A. This version dates back to the summer of 2011 when they took the American economy hostage over raising the debt ceiling and Speaker Boehner was negotiating a deal with President Obama.
Cantor told me that it was a "fair assessment" that he talked Boehner out of accepting Obama's deal. He said he told Boehner that it would be better, instead, to take the issues of taxes and spending to the voters and "have it out" with the Democrats in the election. Why give Obama an enormous political victory, and potentially help him win re-election, when they might be able to negotiate a more favorable deal with a new Republican President? Boehner told Obama there was no deal. Instead of a Grand Bargain, Cantor and the House Republicans made a grand bet.

The bet failed spectacularly.
The fact that the plan consisted of total obstruction - hoping that would give them a win in 2012 - comes as no surprise to much of anyone who was actually paying attention. And yes, it "failed spectacularly."

We now can begin to see the outlines of Plan B. It happened over the so-called "fiscal cliff" and raising the debt ceiling. And if TPM reporting is accurate, its about to happen over the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.
The original plan was for the Republican majority in the House to pass its version of the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization and then go to conference conference committee with the Senate. The Senate has already overwhelmingly passed a more aggressive bill, with protections for LGBT, Native American and undocumented women that have been at the heart of the dispute with House Republicans.

But all that changed Tuesday night. The Rules Committee instead sent the House GOP’s version of the Violence Against Women Act to the floor with a key caveat: if that legislation fails, then the Senate-passed version will get an up-or-down vote.

The big admission implicit in this latest move is that House GOP leaders don’t believe they have the votes to pass their version of the bill but that the Senate version is likely to pass the chamber. So this way they’ll give House conservatives the first bite at the apple as a way of saving face and still resolve an issue that has hurt them politically.
So Plan B basically comes down to letting the lunatics in their caucus have their tantrum...and then caving. The truth is that as loud as the lunatics are, they don't have a majority in the House. Despite partisan lines, the majority is now held by a coalition of Democrats and sane Republicans. Nothing is going to pass the House without that coalition's support. And so we should all hold a funeral service for the Hastert Rule.

When we apply Plan B to the sequester, we can see that what Speaker Boehner is doing right now is letting the lunatics have their tantrum. The question - as Jonathan Chait points out - is "then what?"
At this point, the question becomes what kind of peace they try to get. Do they try to replace sequestration by taking a version of Obama’s tax-deductions-for-entitlement-cuts offer? Or do they just try to get rid of sequestration and pretend to replace it, but come up with some kind of phony mechanism — future longer-term cuts, commissions, vague formulas — in an attempt to save the Pentagon budget without making the richies cough up any more taxes?
Right now I'd put my money on the latter.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

For those of you who need a reminder about the goodness in humanity...

What it means to "win" in politics

Anyone who is committed to social justice should know by now that you can never declare victory and go home. The struggle in this world is always ongoing. So in that sense - you never "win."

But one of the things that has always intrigued me is how so many on the left seem to almost have a distaste for acknowledging the small steps of progress when we are winning. I'm one who happens to think that if you always see the glass as half-empty, you are likely to miss understanding how progress is actually made.

As we've watched the achievements of President Obama over these last 4 years, many of us have felt the need to remind our fellow progressives that the suffragettes threw black women under the bus to achieve the right of women to vote, FDR did the same thing to women and African Americans to get Social Security, and Congress watered down the 1964 Civil Rights Act's enforcement on private businesses in order to break a filibuster. And yet all of those were milestones in this country's progressive journey. As painful as it is - that's what "winning" looks like.

I was reminded of all this today when reading an article by Digby at Hullabaloo.
But I'm going to guess that the major battles of the coming years are going to be around the fundamental role of government, with labor and social insurance at the top of the list. And on that, I see no signs that the GOP is prepared to moderate. In fact, the Democratic Party isn't much better on those issues and shows little sign of truly pulling in the opposite direction.
I agree...the GOP is showing no signs of moderating. But that's not what opposition parties do. In the face of clear loses in the last election, the Republicans have made the choice to fully embrace opposition.

But it still boggles the mind to think that there are liberals who assume that Democrats aren't much better on issues related to labor and social insurance than the Republicans are. It seems that folks like Digby assume that efforts to voucherize Medicare and privatize Social Security are no different than a pragmatic awareness of the long-term challenges those programs face. We can certainly disagree amongst ourselves about how to address those challenges. But to assume that the ones embraced by Democrats are no different than those of the Republicans is sheer madness.

I would remind Digby of the quote EJ Dionne used recently about the stage of the struggle we're currently in: first you win the argument...then you win the vote. According to Pew Research, we're certainly winning the argument when it comes to the role of government.  As I've said before, lets not mistake Republican malevolence for success.

Digby goes on from there.
...on the fundamental battle over the role of government, they [Republicans] have been winning and they know they've been winning. After all, Obamacare, their most hated new government initiative was a GOP plan not even two decades ago.

They aren't all stupid, especially those who are working to restore our society to a pre-New Deal state. It would be really helpful if Democrats stopped being so cocky and started recognizing how much they have been losing on policy even as they've been winning elections. The country is losing either way.
On that reference to Obamacare, please notice that Digby did a bait-and-switch. Her argument is that Republicans are winning the battle on the role of government. Just because previous generations of Republicans supported a larger role for government when it comes to health care doesn't make her point. That would be like saying that because Republicans at one time in their history supported the abolition of slavery, it would be a losing argument for Democrats to embrace the idea now.

The question is whether or not Obamacare advances the cause of an effective role for government in health care. I'd suggest that the largest expansion of Medicaid in that program's history (which Republican governors are increasingly embracing) along with insurance reforms (such as denying exclusions for -re-existing conditions, community ratings, medical loss ratios, exclusion of lifetime caps, and exchanges) do a pretty good job of advancing the idea that government can play an effective role.

So no, I'm not going to stop being "so cocky" because we're not losing. The need to prop this current crop of Republicans up as not being "all stupid" is the losing strategy here. As a matter of fact, my favorite word for what the Republicans are doing these days is not just "stupid," its "lunacy."

The struggle is ongoing, and at this point we're winning. I'd suggest that progressives get on board by recognizing that reality.

Monday, February 25, 2013

"The thing about being a little black girl in the world" by Mia McKenzie

Anyone who stops by here today must go directly to a blog titled Black Girl Dangerous and read the article by Mia McKenzie titled The Thing about Being a Little Black Girl in the World: For Quvenzhané Wallis.

I'd love to pull a quote to entice you. But I can't. The whole thing is just too full of truth and beauty.

I'll only warn you to grab a tissue first.

Thank you Mia for helping to heal some of the hurt.

A stormy night at the Oscars

For the past few years I haven't paid much attention to the Academy Awards because I don't tend to see the movies that are nominated in time to root for my favorites. But this year I had seen Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, Argo, Zero Dark Thirty, Beasts of the Southern Wild and The Impossible. So I settled in for the night to watch the whole thing.

Its possible I just don't get Seth MacFarlane's humor. But it was cringeworthy to me for most of the night and downright offensive occasionally. I could have taken the whole "boobs" song as simply adolescent nonsense, but cracking jokes about assassination, sexualizing a 9 year-old, and anti-semitic jokes from a teddy bear crossed a line for me.

Other than Daniel Day Lewis winning the best actor award for Lincoln, I was completely surprised and disappointed in the winners. I had read The Life of Pi years ago and hated the book. So I wasn't interested in seeing the movie. Perhaps I missed something - who knows? No matter your politics, Jessica Chastain put in an amazing performance in Zero Dark Thirty and deserved the Oscar. For best picture, my sentimental favorite was Beasts of the Southern Wild, but I didn't expect it to win. I thought Argo was good, but not in the same category as Lincoln and Zero Dark Thirty.

The really great moments of the night all seemed to come from the women...performances by Jennifer Hudson, Adele, Shirley Bassey and Barbara Streisand were magnificent. And then when Michelle Obama joined Jack Nicholson to announce the best picture award - now that was fun!!!!

With that said, I was having some mixed feelings about the whole night as my twitter feed was having a blast with the appearance of Michelle Obama. And then came the bombshell. Everything blew up in response to a hateful tweet by The Onion (it has since been deleted but you can see it at that link).

I am one of those people who doesn't care if your business is don't call a nine year old the "c" word - EVER!!!! I'm not sure what prompted that kind of garbage. But it seems that Quvenzhané had to correct several reporters throughout the night who couldn't be bothered to learn how to pronounce her name. Tough shit with it! This is one little girl who isn't going to put up with your nonsense.

 photo fistbumps_zpsc1fc82b4.gif

And to The Onion, I've appreciated your humor in the past. But I'm done with you until you post an apology and take steps to hold the person accountable who is responsible for that hateful racist sexist slur against a beautiful child.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

One should NEVER accuse Republicans of consistency!

Last week Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner said this about the sequester:
A week from now, a dramatic new federal policy is set to go into effect that threatens U.S. national security, thousands of jobs and more.
And then along comes GOP spokesman George Will to totally harsh Boehner's buzz.
Even during this desultory economic recovery, one industry thrives — the manufacture of synthetic hysteria. It is, however, inaccurate to accuse the Hysteric in Chief of crying “Wolf!” about spending cuts under the sequester. He is actually crying “Hamster!”
I guess that it should come as no surprise that since Will is paid to be a writer, he is going to outpace Boehner in the use of analogy. But the title the WP editors gave him says it all: "The manufactured crisis of sequester."

And just when the Speaker was getting his whiplash groove on going from "I got 98% of what I wanted" to "Obamaquester," along come folks like Bill Wilson at Forbes to blow it all up.
But the current debate over sequester – an across-the-board $85 billion reduction of budget authority which translates into just a $53.8 billion cut to outlays this fiscal year ending September 30 – is notable for both its unfounded hysteria as well as a surprising role reversal...

In other words this isn’t even really a cut – “devastating” or otherwise – it’s a modest growth rate reduction following years of unnecessary, embarrassing and unsustainable excesses.
One could perhaps imagine that someone like Speaker Boehner didn't think this one through very well. But whatever the cause, the thing we must never do is accuse folks like this of consistency.


Politics and egos (updated)

Years ago I used to spend a lot of time at our State Capitol trying to get legislators on board with supporting the kind of work we do with young people. After awhile, I could see what was going on. Its a heady game. You gain status as a "somebody" by feeding the egos of people who aren't always the brightest bulbs in the universe. Most of the people who inhabit those great halls have insatiable egos, and so the task is never-ending. I'm not very good at that kind of thing. So I eventually quit trying and found other ways to get the job done.

I thought of that experience when Kevin Drum asked an interesting question.
I'm perplexed by [Bob] Woodward these days. He really seems to have some kind of weird jones against the Obama White House. I can't quite figure out where it comes from.
If my little State Capitol is filled with insatiable egos, I can only imagine what it looks like in Washington DC - not just when it comes to politicians, but journalists like Bob Woodward and the general culture of the place. Its what happens to many people when they're given a certain amount of power.

We've been watching President Obama for long enough now that its become clear that he's not very interested in the kind of ego-stroking that a place like DC has come to expect and demand. We hear the whining about that pretty regularly on all fronts. That's where I'd go to answer Drum's question.

I can imagine that some of the way this gets reported to us is true...President Obama probably looks on the whole culture that has developed with a kind of disdain. As politicians and journalists assume that the way to get anything done is to have their egos stroked in the process, they lose touch with what it is they were sent there to do. When we talk about the "DC bubble," that's how it would be defined.

Many of us knew that in electing President Obama we were sending someone into that bubble who wasn't interested in playing the game. So let's not be surprised when we hear the whining from those who are so terribly disturbed that he's opting out of it all. When someone like Woodward lashes out at the President because he's gotten his feelings hurt, its a sign that Obama is doing just what we sent him there to do.

UPDATE: Noam Scheiber reviewed Bob Woodward's book The Price of Politics. He pretty much nails a response to Drum's question.
There is a body of respectable Washington opinion that considers Obama unworthy of the presidency: he hadn’t put in his time before running, didn’t grasp the majesty of the office, evinced no respect for the way things were done. He not only won without courting the city’s elders, he had the bad manners to keep his distance even after winning. This is the view Woodward distills.
In other words, the black guy didn't pay his proper respects to the white good-ole-boys club.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Ambition and Desire

Ambition takes us toward a horizon but not over it - the line will always recede before our reaching hands. But desire is a conversation between our physical bodies, our work, our imaginations and the territory we seek. Ambition takes willpower and constant applications of energy to stay on a perceived bearing; desire demands only a constant attention to the unknown gravitational field which surrounds us and from which we can recharge ourselves every moment, as if breathing from the atmosphere of possibility itself. 
- David Whyte

What neither the left or right will tell you about the federal budget (in graphs)

As I said a few days ago, we should all hang onto our hats for a bumpy ride over the next couple of months due to the upcoming battles about the federal budget. The sequester is merely the seventh inning in this saga that started back in 2010.

One challenge for all of us as pragmatic progressives is the poor quality of the conversation on both the left and the right about this issue. The result was this depressing news that Steve Benen highlighted the other day.

What's depressing about that? Ninety-four percent (94%) of Americans are unaware of the fact that the federal deficit is actually getting smaller.

As a matter of fact, the deficit is shrinking at its fastest pace since World War II.

With this kind of success, the question you have to ask yourself is why the public doesn't know. Its clear that the Republicans don't want to talk about this because it would give President Obama credit for a victory on their main talking point.

But too many on the left don't tout this achievement because they don't think federal deficits matter and they're pissed that President Obama is clearly intent on doing something about it.

Liberals are right on this one in the short-term. Its understandable and justified that the federal government would engage in deficit spending in order to help the country recover from the worst economy since the Great Depression.

But the truth is that we DO have a problem in the long term.
But CBO’s long-term forecast projects that budget deficits will near the $1 trillion mark again by 2023, when it forecasts a $978 billion budget deficit...

The number of seniors receiving Social Security and Medicare benefits will rise by 40 percent over the next decade, Elmendorf said.

He also warned that waiting to change entitlement programs could mean failing to realize savings before aging baby boomers join the programs in full force.
As Kevin Drum said recently: we don't have a spending problem, we have an aging problem.
So what's our real problem? That's simple: America is getting older and healthcare costs are rising. That means we'll need to spend more money in the future on Social Security and Medicare. There's simply no way around that unless we're willing to immiserate our elderly, and that's not going to happen.
This is one of the reasons it was so important for President Obama to deal with health care reform as soon as possible. The best way to tackle our long term deficit problem is to tackle health care spending...especially Medicare. And this week we got some good news on that front.
The Center for Budget Policies and Priorities had charted a Medicare spending forecast made in 2010 and another three years later. The difference between the two is $511 billion.
 photo medicarespending_zpscf4742c8.jpg
So be sure to pass along the news about the shrinking federal deficit to your friends on the right. And when those on the left tell you its not a problem...ask them about the long term.

Musings on the future of race and national politics

Yesterday BooMan wrote an interesting piece asking whether Hillary can kill the modern GOP. I've said before that I'm not going to write about 2016 for another two years and what I'm about to write probably breaks that promise...again. So sue me ;-)

I agree with the concerns BooMan expressed about the Clinton machine...I don't trust it.  But there was a point in that article where I began to part ways with his analysis.
There are signs that a Clinton candidacy could be strong enough to force the Republicans to play defense in Texas. A recent Public Policy Polling survey found Clinton beating Rick Perry, Marco Rubio, and Chris Christie in the Lone Star State. My explanation for this is that hostility to Obama's skin color is masking the true weakness of the modern Republican Party. In a very real way, racism is propping the GOP up and giving them a false sense of confidence that they are still a force to be reckoned with in national elections.
On the one hand, he's right. I imagine that anti-Obama racism has played a rather large role in propping up the Republican Party over these last 4 years. The trouble with that is that it only applies when you look at it from a white perspective. In other words, if you want more white people to vote for your candidate, the fact that President Obama is black is an obstacle.

The question we might want to ask is "What happens to the Obama coalition if our goal is to attract more white voters?" From the perspective of people of color, is that question not at least equally important?

I know BooMan didn't mean it this way, but there is a suggestion in what he said that indicates our path to success as Democrats is rooted in succumbing to white people's racism. Its almost like...we did that black man thing, now lets get back to really winning with the white folks.

All of that musing reminded me of the magnificent article written recently by Eric Wattree - Why I Love Being Black.
Being Black in America gives one an education and perspective on life that you can't get anywhere else. That's not widely recognized, because public attention is often focused on the most dysfunctional in the Black community. But contrary to popular belief, that might not be an altogether bad thing, because it allows the excellence within the Black community time to incubate, untainted by the public eye. That's what allowed Barack Obama to explode upon the world stage as a fully developed powerhouse, and there are hordes of others just like him who are currently incubating in Black cocoons in suburbs and inner cities all over America...

Charles Darwin would call "soul" a unique adaptation to adversity, and the most insightful within the Black community recognize it as being much like a sixth sense that reaches the very depths of human understanding. When fully developed, it provides Black people with a unique grasp, empathy, and insight into the human experience. That's why it is so effective in conveying human emotion - so effective, in fact, that "soul" has been confused with emotion itself.
I'm not going to suggest that white people can't have that kind of "soul." Its just that Eric has a really good point. There is something about living the black experience in this country and coming out the other side that gives them a perspective on humanity that might be exactly what we need to continue to deal with a world that is facing what David Simon calls the death of normal.
America will soon belong to the men and women — white and black and Latino and Asian, Christian and Jew and Muslim and atheist, gay and straight — who can walk into a room and accept with real comfort the sensation that they are in a world of certain difference, that there are no real majorities, only pluralities and coalitions. The America in which it was otherwise is dying, thank god, and those who relied on entitlement and division to command power will either be obliged to accept the changes, or retreat to the gated communities from which they wish to wax nostalgic and brood on political irrelevance.
I believe that Barack Obama's race, background and upbringing - combined with his innate intelligence and courageous contemplation of his own life - is what has made him uniquely qualified to be not only a great president, but exactly what this country needs right now.

I know we won't be able to completely replicate that in a candidate four years from now. But I want to be clear about what I'll be looking for to keep moving this transformation forward rather than going back by pandering to the racists among us.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Instead of the blame game, how about we look at the Republican alternative?

I see that David Brooks is taking a lot of heat today from liberals for suggesting that President Obama doesn't have a plan to replace the sequester - even though he actually does.

Of course its accepted by everyone that the Republicans have an alternative because they passed one last year in the House. As everyone is putting all their ink into the stupid task of arguing over who is to blame for the sequester in the first place, I don't see many folks comparing the two plans. So perhaps it might be helpful to have a little reminder about just how draconian the Republicans are prepared to be.

Their replacement plan was called the Spending Reduction Act of 2012 and of course it eliminated the cuts to Defense spending. They replaced them with the following:
  • It entirely eliminates the Social Services Block Grant, which serves 1.7 million seniors through programs like Meals on Wheels. This would also cut federal funds for child care and related assistance for 4.4 million children; services for nearly 1 million disabled individuals; and child protective services which serve 1.8 million at-risk children 
  • They also dismantle programs that help homeowners and prevents foreclosures, one of the most critical sources of federal assistance for homeowners who are struggling with foreclosure and need loan modifications. Not only would this limit the home preservation options available to struggling homeowners but would also undermine efforts to support the housing market’s fragile recovery 
  • And they eliminate guaranteed funding for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, significantly weakening its ability to make sure that the financial products and services that Americans depend on every day —including credit cards, mortgages, and loans—work better for the people who use them.
The bill also advances Rep. Paul Ryan’s approach to domestic discretionary spending, cutting the discretionary cap level far below the bipartisan Budget Control Act total for 2013. The Ryan Budget approach would ultimately impose deep cuts on federal support for education, scientific and medical research, clean energy programs, key infrastructure investments, public safety protections, women’s and public health programs, and critical services for families in need.
In other words, in addition to further reducing the spending caps on ALL federal discretionary programs, their plan is designed to inflict more pain on the most vulnerable in our society...elderly poor, disabled, abused children, struggling homeowners, and those who are victims of financial predators.

You can pick your poison in all of that, but what particularly caught my eye was the elimination (not merely reduction...elimination) of the Social Services Block Grant. I happen to know from my own professional experience that those funds are the backbone of the paltry services we provide in our communities to abused children.

I just got a pretty good dose this week about how far we have to go in creating systems that actually care for these children when I heard the stories of 2 young women who spent the better part of their young lives being shuffled around between foster homes AFTER being traumatized by the abuse in their own families.

Frankly, I'm already enraged by the reality that - while we abhor stories of abuse - as a society we don't really seem to give a damn about the lives of children who experience it. So I guess it shouldn't surprise me that the Republicans think they can get away with gutting the crumbs we currently spend to try to protect them from further abuse.

< end of rant > bad as the sequester might be - if this is the Republican's idea of an alternative and they refuse to compromise - then let that baby happen. Anyone who wants to blame that on the President or Democrats...bring the fucker on!!!!!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

GOP: Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory

E.J. Dionne sums up the Republican's problem.
On the merits, Obama has public opinion in his corner. His proposal to avoid the economic drag of the sequester with a reasonable amount of deficit reduction built on a mix of spending cuts and revenue increases through tax reform occupies the debate’s broad middle ground. If the GOP wanted, based on its past positions, it could take a deal of this sort and declare victory, given all the cuts that have already passed.

But that is not the victory the Republicans seek.
It reminds me of the question President Obama asked in a news conference during the 2011 debt ceiling negotiations..."Can Republicans say 'yes' to anything?"

But it was David Frum who nailed it two years ago when he suggested that the Republican approach to health care reform would be their Waterloo.
Conservatives and Republicans today suffered their most crushing legislative defeat since the 1960s...

A huge part of the blame for today’s disaster attaches to conservatives and Republicans ourselves.

At the beginning of this process we made a strategic decision:...we would make no deal with the administration. No negotiations, no compromise, nothing. We were going for all the marbles...

Could a deal have been reached? Who knows? But we do know that the gap between this plan and traditional Republican ideas is not very big...

We followed the most radical voices in the party and the movement, and they led us to abject and irreversible defeat.
If the Supreme Court ruling and the 2012 elections weren't enough to demonstrate that defeat, Jonathan Chait points out that FL Gov. Scott - by agreeing to Medicaid expansion - has just delivered the death blow to Obamacare repeal.

It all brings to mind that colloquial definition of insanity...doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results. The Republicans seem poised - once again - on snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

Boehner's dilemma and why Dems won't deal on the sequester

I've seen people trying to figure out what Speaker Boehner's game plan is on the sequester and other budget issues. A few people have pointed back to something an anonymous GOP leadership advisor was quoted as saying last month in an article at Politico.
GOP officials said more than half of their members are prepared to allow default unless Obama agrees to dramatic cuts he has repeatedly said he opposes. Many more members, including some party leaders, are prepared to shut down the government to make their point. House Speaker John Boehner “may need a shutdown just to get it out of their system,” said a top GOP leadership adviser. “We might need to do that for member-management purposes — so they have an endgame and can show their constituents they’re fighting.”
If there's any truth to that (remember, its Politico), his strategy is to appease the lunatics in the House and hold on to his job. End.of.story. It has nothing to do with any concerns about actual governing or making a conservative argument about the deficit.

When it comes to appeasing those lunatics, Jonathan Chait perfectly captured the Speaker's dilemma.
Boehner’s end goal, as explained in the op-ed, is to “reform America's safety net and retirement-security programs.” He has no proposal to do so, however. And for good reason. Cutting Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid is really, really unpopular. Boehner wants Obama to offer his own proposals to cut these programs to give Republicans political cover. But Obama won’t do that unless Republicans offer to increase tax revenue. And that is the thing they absolutely, positively refuse to concede on. (Cutting a deal on spending and revenue could cost Boehner his post.)
That's why there's no deal to be made on the sequester. Greg Sargent talked to a Senior Democratic Senate aid who spelled it out this way.
There is simply no endgame in which Dems cave and accept only spending cuts to offset the sequester, the aide insists. That’s because no set of spending cuts is preferable to the sequester, from the point of view of Dems, so there’s no incentive to make such a deal.
So despite all the noise these days about who is to blame, you can count on the sequester going into least until an overall budget showdown later in the month.

The aide Sargent spoke to basically agreed with the scenario unfolding much like I suggested a few days ago.
That “harder backstop” is the threat of a government shutdown, which gets the attention of the public — and with the GOP brand in trouble, Dems hope, it will be hard for Republicans to cling to their no-revenues-at-any-costs stance. “March is the month where negotiations will really ramp up,” the aide says.
That's where Boehner might have really backed himself into a corner. By demanding that both Houses of Congress produce a budget, he's put all the weight on Paul Ryan to propose one that balances in 10 years. Minus smoke and mirrors, that means that he won't be able to dodge the question of cuts he's been trying to force President Obama to put on the table.

As ugly as it is - the sequester is likely to go into effect March 1st. And then we wait for the release of the Senate and House budgets...and the battle that ensues over them.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Mr. "I got 98% of what I wanted" Boehner (updated)

Let's take a trip into the way back past with our time machine...all the way back to August 2011. I know that was such a long time ago that our memories fade. But we have this thing called the internet where we can almost magically refresh our memories.

The Republicans had created a hostage situation where - for the first time in the country's history - they were threatening the full faith and credit of the United States if they didn't get the spending cuts they wanted. On the brink of a global financial collapse, a deal was finally struck - including the sequester which is about to go into effect in a week and a half. Here's what Speaker Boehner had to say about that deal.
"When you look at this final agreement that we came to with the White House, I got 98 percent of what I wanted. I'm pretty happy," Boehner said in an interview with CBS News on Monday evening.
Either Mr. Boehner is losing his mind or he is a congenital liar. Because yesterday, here's what he wrote in the Wall Street Journal.
So, as the president's outrage about the sequester grows in coming days, Republicans have a simple response: Mr. President, we agree that your sequester is bad policy.
And if that wasn't whiplash-inducing enough, he also said this:
The sequester is a wave of deep spending cuts scheduled to hit on March 1. Unless Congress acts, $85 billion in across-the-board cuts will occur this year, with another $1.1 trillion coming over the next decade. There is nothing wrong with cutting spending that much—we should be cutting even more—but the sequester is an ugly and dangerous way to do it.
You see that? The sequester isn't cutting enough...that's what the Republican Speaker of the House is saying. Think about that one for a moment.

As Mr. Boehner goes on to say, the problem with the sequester is that it cuts Defense spending instead of "America's safety net and retirement-security programs."

There's your Republican Party today folks. Is it any wonder that sane people think they've gone batshit insane? 

UPDATE: If you'd like a point-by-point takedown of what Mr. Boehner said yesterday, Steve Benen is your guy.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Obama stole all the GOP's good ideas

Jonathan Bernstein nails it with this commentary on the current GOP.
The problem with Republicans today on public policy isn’t that they’re stuck in the 1980s; it’s that they’ve given up entirely. More often than not, what passes for Republican “policy” is just symbolic, not substantive...

The first step out of the policy wilderness for Republicans, then, is for them to decide that developing substantive public policy ideas is a good idea at all. 
But lets take it a step further and understand WHY they don't have an substantive policy ideas.

Remember a few weeks ago when several Republicans and conservative commentators were suggesting that President Obama was trying to destroy the Republican Party. Well, they had a point.

If you look at what the President has embraced in terms of policy - he's stolen all the good ideas the Republicans had and turned them into pragmatic solutions. For example:

  • On national security - he targeted al Qaeda, killed bin Laden and negotiated an agreement with the rest of the world on tough sanctions against Iran  
  • On immigration - he secured our borders while working towards a pathway to citizenship for those who are undocumented
  • On gun control - he embraced the 2nd amendment and proposed common sense gun control
  • On the federal deficit - he cut spending and called for a balanced approach to deficit reduction
  • On energy - he increased oil drilling while calling for an "all of the above" approach to energy independence
I could go on. But we'll leave it there for now.

Tell me where he's left room for the Republicans to develop any meaningful alternative. As I've said many times, their choice has always been to either work with him or paint themselves into a marginalized extremist corner.

We see this playing out right now as Sen. Rubio works desperately to both embrace meaningful immigration reform AND tries to pick a battle with the President. He's having one hell of a time trying to find some real estate not already covered by President Obama on which to make a stand.

While the extremes on both the right and left continue to fight their battles, President Obama has turned all of their ideas into pragmatic solutions to actual problems. That leaves both groups with the choice of either fighting for ideological purity or getting to work with him on finding real policy solutions. With the American people behind him now, those who choose the former are seen to not be terribly interested in the latter. That's why they're losing.  

Monday, February 18, 2013

My worst nightmare...Clinton II vs Bush III 2016

I have vowed to myself that I will not write about the 2016 presidential race for at least two years. But today I just can't help it.

This week we heard rumors that there are Clinton insiders saying that running in 2016 is a done deal.

And Jeb Bush gave a speech where he certainly sounded like someone who has decided to run.

Personally I can't think of anything that would kill the buzz created by 8 years of President Obama more than to have it followed up by a Clinton II vs Bush III campaign. Been there...done that doesn't even begin to describe it. The whole idea of "going forward" instead of "taking our country back" would be stood on its head.

Please Goddess...don't let that happen.

OK, that's it. I'm done with 2016 and will corral myself back to the present.

No, Obama isn't like Clinton either

Just as some on the left try to make the ridiculous argument that Obama = Bush, some lovers of centrism can't stop themselves from suggesting that the President is following in the path set by Clinton. Case in point...Doyle McManus.
We got a good long look at the second-term edition of Barack Obama last week, and he's sounding more like Bill Clinton every day.

It's not all that surprising. Over the last two years, Obama has turned repeatedly to Clinton for counsel...

Obama's rhetoric still aims high; he hasn't given up all hope of transforming American politics. But his concrete proposals these days are smaller and more Clintonian, a necessary adjustment in the face of entrenched Republican opposition.
Was this guy watching the same SOTU I was?

Because Jacob Weisberg knocked this one so far out of the park, I'm simply going to quote him.
Looking beyond what he was right to call the “manufactured” fiscal crisis that continues to preoccupy Washington, Obama offered a new program that was broader and more comprehensive than his first term’s.

This includes the night’s biggest surprise, a proposed hike in the minimum wage of nearly 25 percent, to $9 an hour, which would lift millions of workers out of poverty. The speech also proposed major new investments in infrastructure and early childhood education, a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, marriage equality for homosexuals, voting reform, gun control, a U.S.-EU free-trade zone, comprehensive tax reform, market-based rules on greenhouse gas emissions, national energy conservation goals, more research into clean energy technology, an accelerated troop drawdown in Afghanistan, and more...

When Republicans won control of Congress in 1994, Bill Clinton responded with a long list of small-bore initiatives: gun safety locks, school uniforms, the v-chip, cellphones for citizen patrols, and so forth. Clinton wanted to show that he was still relevant and that he could still accomplish something even with a divided government. Obama, by contrast, has little appetite for legislative hors d’oeuvres. His program is designed to show not what he can do with a Republican Congress but what he can’t do with one.
I know that pundits love to compare current presidents to those who have held that office in the past. But there's a dose of PUMA in this particular commentary from McManus.
There's an irony, of course, in the echoes of Bill Clinton that turn up in Obama's strategy today. In the race for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008, Obama not only ran against Hillary Rodham Clinton; he dismissed her husband's tenure in the White House as unimpressive.
Overall, it seems to me that some people just can't let go of their "great white hope" and recognize that the black guy has his own way of doing things...and its working!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

For those who think I never criticize Obama

What they did to Bo in this photo is inexcusable.


Dear Melissa: Its about fatherhood

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

In case you missed it, Melissa Harris-Perry stepped into quite a storm in reaction to President Obama's speech in Chicago on Friday.  Watching the clip up above should get you caught up on why.

I have very often praised Melissa on this blog - but I have to say that I disagree with her take on this one completely.

Overall, I think its important to say that what President Obama was talking about was fatherhood - not marriage. He did mention marriage, but only in saying that we should remove obstacles for those who want to get married.

I think that's an important distinction to make because not all dissolutions of a marriage end in an absent father and not all marriages result in a present father. As someone who grew up in a family where my father was physically present but emotionally absent, I'll claim to have "daddy issues" myself.

In some ways, this might be the tie that binds the whole issue of gun violence across its permutations of white men involved with mass shootings and those in predominantly urban areas by men of color. It comes down to a question of manhood - and what does that mean. Melissa rightly points to some of those white men but fails to make the connection.
Rachel Kalish and Michael Kimmel (2010) proposed a mechanism that might well explain why white males are routinely going crazy and killing people. It's called "aggrieved entitlement." According to the authors, it is "a gendered emotion, a fusion of that humiliating loss of manhood and the moral obligation and entitlement to get it back. And its gender is masculine.
No matter our race, as children we learn what it means to be a man (or how to relate to men) from the adult men in our lives. And for most of us - that means that we learn it (or don't) from our fathers.

I'd suggest that for the last few decades, our entire culture has been struggling with the whole question of what it means to be a man - and just as importantly, what it means to be a father. Yes, there are some differences in how that has played out in communities of color as it is wrapped in to our history of racism. But the central question is the same.

As a woman and a feminist, I want to do all I can to encourage dialogue about that question while I also recognize that it is not my place to answer it. That's why I found this video so important.

Yep, I think that if boys (and girls) had men like that in their lives, it would make a huge difference.

What I particularly found offensive about what Melissa did with this was to derisively cast President Obama's admission that he wished he'd had a father as a "daddy issue." The way I see it, the President has grappled deeply with this particular loss he shares with so many of us. In talking about that - he's made himself vulnerable. His journey - and his honesty about it - should be something we respect and emulate.

Hold onto your hats and strap on the safety belt for a bumpy ride!

It looks to me like the Republicans have decided to let the sequester go into effect in 11 days - unless their defense hawks can pull off a magic trick before then. That could explain some of the incoherent ramblings coming from the likes of McCain and Graham lately.

And so the media will howl with attempts to decipher who is to blame for this least until the next crisis shapes up around mid-April. That's when Congress needs to either pass a budget or a continuing resolution to keep the federal government running. And in order to delay another round about the debt ceiling until May, Republicans insisted that each Chamber of Congress pass a budget or have their pay withheld.

In the Senate, that job will be in the very capable hands of Senator Patty Murray.
Murray promised a budget that would pursue a “balanced approach” that protects programs for the middle class.
The task of coming up with a House budget has been given to Paul Ryan. And in order to appease the lunatic wing of his party and get them to extend the debt ceiling until May, Speaker Boehner promised that it would be balanced in 10 years. Its important to keep in mind that Ryan's last budget didn't balance for 30 years.

And so sometime over the next 2 months, we'll see what Rep. Ryan comes up with. Given his track record, most sane folks assume it will simply be filled with smoke and mirrors. But one of the first questions will be whether or not he includes the $1.2 trillion in sequester cuts. If he does, that makes it kinda hard to call them "Obamaquester" and blame them on the President. It also likely ensures that he won't get support from the defense hawks for his plan.

In Ryan's last budget, one of the reasons why it didn't balance for 30 years is that he made a promise to protect Medicare in its current form for people 55 and older. To shrink it to 10 years probably means breaking that promise. And some folks in his own party are already starting to squirm about that.
“We are saying a 10-year balance — that’s tougher than the last Ryan budget,” said Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), a former Budget Committee member and currently an Appropriations cardinal. “There could be a significant number of Republicans that say, ‘I’m not going there because it would be too dramatic.’ I have said to my constituents, nobody is talking about changing Social Security and Medicare if you’re 55 years or over.’ I’ve been selling it for three or four years that way. So have many other members. Well, to balance in 10, that 55 years is going to move up to 58, 59, 60. It makes us look like we’re going back on what we were telling people when we were trying to sell this.”
Its pure lunacy to think that we can balance the federal budget in 10 years with nothing but spending cuts. And yet that's exactly the corner Republicans have painted themselves into by pandering to the extremists in their party. Its all on Paul Ryan to put up or shut up.

For months now, Republicans have managed to demagogue this issue of the federal deficit - blaming President Obama while they hold their fragile coalition together simply on the basis of obstruction. It might be that their insistence on both houses of Congress producing a budget is what finally comes back to bite them in the shorts and produces a moment of truth for any remaining sanity in the Republican Party.

In the meantime, you might want to start preparing yourself now for a government shut-down in mid-April. Because that's where these Republican shenanigans are headed. And right on the heels of that will come another debt ceiling challenge the first of May. That means that Republicans will be facing the wrath of the American public - along with the financial industry and defense contractors - to finally come to their senses.  We'll see if they can pull that off.

I suspect that this is a show-down President Obama is prepared to have with Republicans and that any attempts to simply extend it (like the 2011 debt ceiling deal) will not be taken seriously. He signaled as much last October.
In the short term, the good news is that there’s going to be a forcing mechanism to deal with what is the central ideological argument in Washington right now, and that is: How much government do we have and how do we pay for it?

So when you combine the Bush tax cuts expiring, the sequester in place...we’re going to be in a position where I believe in the first six months we are going to solve that big piece of business.

It will probably be messy. It won’t be pleasant. But I am absolutely confident that we can get what is the equivalent of the grand bargain that essentially I’ve been offering to the Republicans for a very long time, which is $2.50 worth of cuts for every dollar in spending, and work to reduce the costs of our health care programs.
 There are two reasons that it will be different this time:
  1. The economy is basically back to pre-recession levels and there is less risk involved in such a show-down. During his first term, every move President Obama made was calculated to avoid upsetting the fragile recovery. Its different now. Sure, we still have a long way to go on things like unemployment, but to actually tackle that problem requires that we resolve this question.
  2. The majority of American voters said clearly in the last election that they support the plan of President Obama and the Democrats to take a balanced approach to deficit reduction. The lunatic fringe in the Republican Party overplayed their hand coming out of the 2010 mid-terms and the political tides have turned.
So this could be the big one folks. Hang onto your hats and strap on your safety belts - the ride is probably going to get bumpy for awhile.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

What happens when a politician actually believes that "Children are our future"

I would suggest that the second most common thing for a politician in any party to say on the campaign trail is "Children are our future." Its likely that the only thing more ubiquitous would be "God bless the United States of America."

But we all know that since children can't vote, that kind of verbal commitment to children usually disappears once they get into office. Politicians like to pretend that they care about children, but its usually a lie.

That lie is exposed in a report from the Urban Institute (pdf) that was highlighted yesterday by Ezra Klein.

Looking solely at the federal budget, an elderly person receives close to seven federal dollars for every dollar received by a child.
Via FDR's New Deal and LBJ's Great Society, this country took great strides in lifting our elderly out of poverty.
Between 1960 and 1995, the official poverty rate of those aged 65 and above fell from 35 percent to 10 percent, and research has documented similarly steep declines dating back to at least 1939. While poverty was once far more prevalent among the elderly than among other age groups, today's elderly have a poverty rate similar to that of working-age adults and much lower than that of children.
Today, 22% (16 million) children live in poverty in the United States - and too many will stay there for the rest of their lives.
The longer a child lives in poverty, the tougher it can be for them to climb out later in life. According to an analysis by Columbia University’s National Center for Children in Poverty, 45 percent of people who spent at least half of their childhood in poverty were poor at age 35. Among those who spent less than half of their childhood in poverty, just 8 percent were poor at age 35.
Its not just the lack of financial resources that seals the fate of so many of these children. Its the effect that living in deep poverty has on their development.
There are now seven million American children whose families earn below 50 percent of the poverty line. And in the last decade, we learned quite a lot about what it does to children to grow up surrounded by the kind of everyday chaos that often accompanies life in a family that is earning less than $11,000 a year. Neuroscientists and developmental psychologists can now explain how early stress and trauma disrupt the healthy growth of the prefrontal cortex; how the absence of strong and supportive relationships with stable adults inhibits a child’s development of a crucial set of cognitive skills called executive functions.
This is probably why Nobel laureate and early childhood education expert James Heckman said “Holy smokes!” in approval when he read President Obama's pre-K plan. His reaction stems from the fact that it is based on all of the best information we have right now about how to tackle these challenges.

That's what happens when a politician actually believes that "children are our future."

Friday, February 15, 2013

Why President Obama went to Chicago today

In the push to pass sensible measures to prevent gun violence - the face of the problem has become the victims of the Sandy Hook shooting in Newtown, CT. And that is understandable.

But it doesn't end there. As President Obama said today:
...last year, there were 443 murders with a firearm on the streets of this city [Chicago], and 65 of those victims were 18 and under. So that’s the equivalent of a Newtown every four months.
If we're going to do something meaningful about gun violence, it has to have an impact on the lives of those children as well.

President Obama then said something that was reminiscent of part of his speech to the Urban League last summer (almost 5 months before the Newtown shooting). Here's how he talked about it today:
When a child opens fire on another child, there’s a hole in that child’s heart that government can't fill -- only community and parents and teachers and clergy can fill that hole. In too many neighborhoods today -- whether here in Chicago or the farthest reaches of rural America -- it can feel like for a lot of young people the future only extends to the next street corner or the outskirts of town; that no matter how much you work or how hard you try, your destiny was determined the moment you were born. There are entire neighborhoods where young people, they don’t see an example of somebody succeeding. And for a lot of young boys and young men, in particular, they don’t see an example of fathers or grandfathers, uncles, who are in a position to support families and be held up and respected.

And so that means that this is not just a gun issue. It’s also an issue of the kinds of communities that we’re building. And for that, we all share a responsibility, as citizens, to fix it.
As I listened to the President speak this afternoon, I thought he sounded rather somber - and actually a bit raw emotionally. I think that was because just before the speech, he took his own advice and spent some time with a group of young men who are involved with the B.A.M. program in Chicago schools. In other words, he was doing what he could today to "fill that hole."

I was reminded of what the President said he might do once his second term is over.

The moral argument

Just after I finished writing about the argument this morning, I read a wonderful article by George Lakoff that outlined exactly how President Obama tied his moral vision to specific policies in his State of the Union speech.

That moral vision has always been at the core - not simply of our President - but of the man Barack Hussein Obama. 
Throughout his career, Obama has refused to demonize his opponents. Instead, he has sought them out and listened to them. He has tried to understand how they think and why they see the world as they do. His mother encouraged this sense of empathy, and it’s a lesson Obama learned well...

Although Obama’s reform agenda echoes aspects of those advanced by many Democrats over the last century, he has admitted—and this is the decisive point in understanding his outlook—that his opponents hold principles rooted as deeply in American history as his own. “I am obligated to try to see the world through George Bush’s eyes, no matter how much I may disagree with him,” he wrote in Audacity. “That’s what empathy does—it calls us all to task, the conservative and the liberal … We are all shaken out of our complacency.”
Throughout his public life and presidency, Barack Obama has always grounded himself, his message, and his policies in the principle of empathy. Most of us first heard it in his 2004 Democratic Convention speech.
...for alongside our famous individualism, there’s another ingredient in the American saga, a belief that we’re all connected as one people. If there is a child on the south side of Chicago who can’t read, that matters to me, even if it’s not my child. If there is a senior citizen somewhere who can’t pay for their prescription drugs, and having to choose between medicine and the rent, that makes my life poorer, even if it’s not my grandparent. If there’s an Arab American family being rounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process, that threatens my civil liberties.

It is that fundamental belief -- It is that fundamental belief: I am my brother’s keeper. I am my sister’s keeper that makes this country work. It’s what allows us to pursue our individual dreams and yet still come together as one American family.

E pluribus unum: "Out of many, one."
This theme has been part of almost every speech the President has ever made. Here are just a few more examples.

His healthcare speech to Congress:
That large-heartedness – that concern and regard for the plight of others – is not a partisan feeling. It is not a Republican or a Democratic feeling. It, too, is part of the American character. Our ability to stand in other people's shoes. A recognition that we are all in this together; that when fortune turns against one of us, others are there to lend a helping hand. A belief that in this country, hard work and responsibility should be rewarded by some measure of security and fair play; and an acknowledgement that sometimes government has to step in to help deliver on that promise.
At the Tuscon memorial service: 
As we discuss these issues, let each of us do so with a good dose of humility. Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let’s use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy and remind ourselves of all the ways that our hopes and dreams are bound together.
And just most recently in the SOTU address: 
That’s just the way we’re made. We may do different jobs and wear different uniforms, and hold different views than the person beside us. But as Americans, we all share the same proud title -- we are citizens. It’s a word that doesn’t just describe our nationality or legal status. It describes the way we’re made. It describes what we believe. It captures the enduring idea that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations, that our rights are wrapped up in the rights of others; and that well into our third century as a nation, it remains the task of us all, as citizens of these United States, to be the authors of the next great chapter of our American story.
Back in 2008, then-Senator Obama gave a whole speech on the subject at Ebenezer Baptist Church celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
Unity is the great need of the hour - the great need of this hour. Not because it sounds pleasant or because it makes us feel good, but because it's the only way we can overcome the essential deficit that exists in this country.

I'm not talking about a budget deficit. I'm not talking about a trade deficit. I'm not talking about a deficit of good ideas or new plans.

I'm talking about a moral deficit. I'm talking about an empathy deficit. I'm taking about an inability to recognize ourselves in one another; to understand that we are our brother's keeper; we are our sister's keeper; that, in the words of Dr. King, we are all tied together in a single garment of destiny.
If you have a few minutes, I'd highly recommend watching this beautiful summary of his remarks that day.

As you can see, whether he's campaigning, preaching, talking about policy, comforting the nation during a time of crisis or reporting on the State of the Union, these are the grounding principles upon which everything else rests...that is the nature of the transformation that President Obama has envisioned all along.

And so, as Lakoff says, its time for us to do our part.
That is how the president has changed public discourse. He has changed it at the level that counts, the deepest level, the moral level. What can make that change persist? What will allow such an ideal citizenry to come into existence?

The president can't do it. Congress can't do it. Only we can as citizens, by adopting the president's vision, thinking in his moral frames, and speaking out from that vision whenever possible. Speaking out is at the heart of being a citizen, speaking out is political action, and only if an overwhelming number of us speak out, and live out, this American vision, will the president and the Congress be forced to do what is best for all.

"First you win the argument...then you win the vote"

Over the last few weeks I've noticed that something is changing in me in terms of what I want to pay attention to and what kind of political conversation I'm interested in having. I think it had something to do with Inauguration Day and the speech the President gave. But I haven't been able to pinpoint it exactly.

What I do know is that if feels like - at a deeper level - I've incorporated something Michelle Obama said about the President.
Here's the thing about my husband: even in the toughest moments, when it seems like all is lost, Barack Obama never loses sight of the end goal. He never lets himself get distracted by the chatter and the noise, even if it comes from some of his best supporters. He just keeps moving forward.

And in those moments when we're all sweating it, when we're worried that the bill won't pass or the negotiation will fall through, Barack always reminds me that we're playing a long game here. He reminds me that change is slow — it doesn't happen overnight.

If we keep showing up, if we keep fighting the good fight and doing what we know is right, then eventually we will get there.

We always have.
Above all the madness about specifics like filibusters, sequesters, the insanity of the NRA, the nativists, etc, there is an overarching battle going on. I spoke to that a bit yesterday in writing about President Obama's long game on transformational politics. And today when I read Eugene Robinson's column, I understood it a bit better..."first you win the argument, then you win the vote."

Our side of that overarching argument was summed up this way by President Obama at the end of his SOTU address:
We may do different jobs and wear different uniforms, and hold different views than the person beside us. But as Americans, we all share the same proud title -- we are citizens. It’s a word that doesn’t just describe our nationality or legal status. It describes the way we’re made. It describes what we believe. It captures the enduring idea that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations, that our rights are wrapped up in the rights of others; and that well into our third century as a nation, it remains the task of us all, as citizens of these United States, to be the authors of the next great chapter of our American story.
Whether we're talking about budgets, immigration reform, gun violence, equality, education, climate change, or any other issue - they come back to the question of whether we're all in this together or whether, as the Republicans suggest, you're on your own.

On specific votes these days, we'll win some and lose some. But its important to always keep our eye on the state of the overall argument. We're clearly winning that one.

As I've been saying for a while now, watching the beast in its death throes is not going to be pleasant. But make no mistake...that is exactly what is happening. As Andrew Sullivan put it:
But the anti-conservative revolutionary party that Gingrich began and Kristol egged on is now in its zombie stage – with no viable way back to majority status but lunging slowly and malevolently toward anything that is not far right.
What we can't do is assume that the level of malevolence is any indication of success. As a matter of fact, its the exact opposite - the more malevolent they get, the surer sign it is that they're losing the argument...and will soon lose the votes.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Photo of the Day: For better or worse

I just have to say a word about this one. It wasn't taken today, but I can't think of any better picture to highlight on Valentine's Day.

We all know that Gabby has been to hell and back over these last couple of years. What any human being needs for a journey like that is someone to be by their side. Its clear that Mark has been that someone - for better or worse.

Michelle Obama goes bold for Black History Month

Yesterday First Lady Michelle Obama hosted a workshop at the White House for 80 middle/senior high schoolers from the D.C. area and New Orleans to view and discuss the movie Beasts of the Southern Wild in honor of Black History Month.

Because I recently watched the movie, I was a bit surprised. It is a tough gritty tale - told through the eyes of 6 year old "Hushpuppy" - of life and survival in the Louisiana bathtub.

Here's how Ms. Obama described the movie yesterday.
But it's rare these days to find a movie that can so completely and utterly captivate such a broad audience, and that was one of the things that struck me about this movie. It managed to be beautiful, joyful and devastatingly honest.

It's a movie that makes us all think deeply about the people we love in our lives who make us who we are. It shows us the strength of our communities, no matter what they look like. It shows us that those communities can give us the power to overcome any kind of obstacles. And it also tells a compelling story of poverty and devastation, but also of hope and love in the midst of some great challenges.
The challenges Hushpuppy faces are indeed great and Michelle is not exaggerating when she says that the movie is "devastatingly honest." Too many adults today want to pretend that we can somehow shield young people from that kind of honesty. Obviously Michelle is not one of them. She knows that many of them already face similarly great challenges in their lives. And as she said in the introduction to this workshop, she loves and trusts them enough to be honest about that.

Go watch this movie if you haven't already. When you do, you'll understand what a bold move this was from our First Lady - and what that says about her commitment to ALL of our children.

Rubio's desperate play on immigration reform

Give him some credit - Sen. Rubio is trying desperately to balance the impossible tension between the need for Republicans to appease Latino voters and the rabid nativist base of his party. But the truth is that his game-playing in an attempt to do that is totally transparent.

Rubio knows that kiss of death on immigration reform for his base is the "path to citizenship" for the 11-12 million undocumented people currently in this country - what they refer to as "amnesty." He also knows that Latino voters committed to immigration reform won't accept a plan unless it includes a path to citizenship.

In the Senate bi-partisan plan that Rubio signed off on - he's already caved on that one.

So he's trying a bait and switch. What Rubio also knows is that what the base of his party wants more than anything is a knock-down battle with President Obama. With a cave on the big one already done, he wants to distract them with another one. Thus...the "triggers" on border security. Here's a statement Rubio released after Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano's testimony yesterday on immigration reform.
If we are going to pass bipartisan immigration reform this year, the Administration must accept the principle that security triggers must be met before anyone who is currently undocumented is allowed to apply for a green card. This is a principle agreed to by the bipartisan group of senators I am working with and it is something that must be included in any legislative proposal if it is to be successful. Secretary Napolitano’s refusal to accept this bipartisan principle at today’s Senate hearing is discouraging for those of us who are serious about permanently fixing America’s immigration system. By continuing to oppose a key security principle with bipartisan backing, Secretary Napolitano and this Administration appear to be laying the groundwork to scuttle the bipartisan effort in the Senate.
The only trouble is, Napolitano didn't refuse to accept the security triggers.
Napolitano told Senators that she thought new border security measures were less important than legalizing undocumented immigrants and cracking down on employers who hire undocumented workers and expressed some concern a trigger could get in the way of implementing other reforms. She did not explicitly rule out the idea of a trigger or increased border security, however.
And as we all know, President Obama has embraced the Senate bi-partisan plan.
"The good news is that -- for the first time in many years -- Republicans and Democrats seem ready to tackle this problem together," Obama said in his speech in Las Vegas, according to prepared excerpts.

"And yesterday, a bipartisan group of senators announced their principles for comprehensive immigration reform, which are very much in line with the principles I've proposed and campaigned on for the last few years," the president also said. "At this moment, it looks like there's a genuine desire to get this done soon. And that's very encouraging."
What will happen is that the "triggers" will be negotiated in a pragmatic way that not many people will really pay attention to. President Obama and Democrats will agree to them amidst howls from the emos about another cave. Rubio will claim a victory in his pretend big battle with President Obama. And immigration reform - including a path to citizenship - will pass the Senate and move on to the House.

The long game of President Obama's transformational politics

While many of us on the left extolled the boldness of President Obama's State of the Union address, it also spurred a reaction by pundits and ideologues that basically amounted to "can't get it done." There might be some truth to that. Most of the ideas are likely to face something we've all become used to - a Republican commitment to obstruction.

But its also likely that there's a method to President Obama's "madness" on that front. First of all, as Jacob Weisberg says, the Republicans will have to consider the impact of their obstruction on the 2014 election.
While a few Republicans have signaled flexibility on immigration, the current House leadership is unlikely to take up a minimum-wage law or new spending programs. Obama knows that and has incorporated the reality of obstructionism into his political strategy. His big speech set what he hopes will become a lose-lose trap for Republican legislators: accede to his agenda, or face his mobilized supporters in 2014. In his first term, Obama’s message to the GOP was, “I will meet you halfway.” They refused to budge. His second term message is: “Compromise or pay the political price.”

To the public, the implicit message was: “If you want any of this stuff, I’m going to need a Democratic Congress next time.”
Secondly, Michael Tomasky takes an even longer view.
There’s an old joke in the politics world about mayors and governors who’d never approve a highway project that might take more than three years out of mortal fear that they might not be around to don the sash and cut the ribbon. Whatever problems Barack Obama has, he doesn’t have that one. A lot of commentators are amusing themselves by pointing out that very few of Obama’s long list of State of the Union goals are likely to make it into law while he’s in office. I say that seeing as how he’s a pretty smart man, he knows this. But he’s doing it anyway. Because he’s thinking more about history than his story, and because he understands that if he wants to be a transformational president, the change he initiates is going to have to continue well past his time—and yes, the great presidents have all thought this way... 
Barack Obama is going to retire in January 2017, but history isn’t likely to end then. Obama knows that fighting climate change and getting universal pre-school and doing something to help the working poor are big jobs, long jobs. They’re certainly not going to happen under the current legislative configuration, and they’re probably not going to happen while he’s in office.

But they are going to happen.
The only thing both Tomasky and Weisberg fail to talk about is the reason they're going to happen.  Some of the credit goes to Republicans. They gave Bush/Cheney 8 years and watched every one of their principles lead to abject failure. But President Obama - rather than fuel ongoing ideological battles - gave them the opportunity to either work with him towards solutions or paint themselves into an ever more extremist corner. Of course we all know that they chose the latter.

Now he has a majority of the public firmly behind his pragmatic progressive approach with Republicans totally marginalized. That is HUGE! After winning re-election, he laid out progressive principles in a way that Americans across a broad spectrum embrace during his Inaugural address and followed that up with specific proposals tied to those principles in his State of the Union speech.  We're currently watching him take that plan to people all over the country and engaging them via Organizing for Action.

What doesn't get done on that agenda over the next 2 years will become fodder on which the 2014 election will be fought. And what doesn't get done by the end of his second term will lay the foundation for Democratic victories in the future.

Its only those that are completely focused on the immediate who can't see the long game in all of this. That's their loss.

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