Posts Tagged ‘Obama’
Here is what I would like to see. The universe needs to move along two different timelines after election day 2012. In one universe Romney wins; in another Obama. Those who voted for Romney must live in the timeline in which he won. Likewise for the Obama supporters. Let’s also assume that after four years each universe has a window into the other.
Here is my bet. Those in the Romney universe who are not wealthy, who are middle class, women, minorities, students, working people, etc., will curse the day that they voted for Mitt. They will discover that he deceived them. That his five point plan went nowhere. That it wasn’t really a plan. The government will be locked in battles as Romney tries to placate his extreme right-wing. Insurance companies will not have to cover those with pre-existing conditions. Students will have less options to pay for college. The wealthy will be doing better than ever and middle class folks will be stuck just where they are (or worse). The next generation will not be able to count on Medicare and Medicaid as they do today.
How can this be? Mitt’s a businessman, a financier. He will know how to fix the economy. Get things moving again. But there is no evidence that business skills translate into being a good president, especially in terms of the economy. Knowing how to make money in the private sector is simply not the same thing as governing. For what it’s worth, let’s look at the record here. We have had three presidents who were businessmen in the last 60 years: Jimmy Carter, George Bush I, and George Bush II. Carter was a peanut farmer. Bush I was in oil, and he also served in the government. Bush II was a businessman with the same degree from the same school as Romney. Each of these presidents had significant problems with the economy, and Bush II was a dramatic failure. (As a matter of fact, try to name one truly successful president who was a businessman. Perhaps Truman. But I don’t know if running a haberdashery for a short time counts. And farmers and landowners in the 19th century are just not what we think of today as businessmen.)
And what did Mitt’s business experience do for the people of Massachusetts? Oh, he would have you believe he helped create a marvelous economy in the state. But here is actually what happened.
“Unlike Obama, Romney took office during an economic uptick. Massachusetts had a net job growth of 1.4 percent under Romney. However, that was far slower growth than the national average of 5.3%. As Romney’s opponents have frequently, and correctly, noted, Massachusetts ranked 47th in job growth over the entirety of Romney’s term. The only states that did worse: Louisiana, Michigan and Ohio.” [Fact Check, USA Today, 1/5/12]
And what will the Obama universe look like? In the Obama timeline Medicare, Medicaid, and student loans will all be protected. Insurance companies will cover pre-existing conditions and thirty million more Americans will have coverage. Baring a world financial meltdown, the economy will continue to improve and the wealthy will pay a fairer share of the nation’s taxes. The debt will gradually decrease as a proportion of GNP as the economy turns around and reasonable cost cutting measures are put in place. We have seen this universe. It’s the one we are beginning to live in.
What Mitt is really good at doing is selling himself, and he certainly will change his positions in order to do so. But before you vote for this man for any season, try playing the parallel universe game.
[Thanks to a commentator on a newspaper article who suggested that country should split based on which states went which way in the election, that is, people should be forced to live under the president their state voted for. Not exactly my idea here, but close. Sorry that I don't recall where I saw the comment. I read a lot of them.]
There is little question that during Wednesday’s debate Romney lied and changed his positions. (See, for example, “At Last Night’s Debate Romney told 27 Myths in 38 minutes.”) But the biggest lie of the debate didn’t occur on Wednesday evening. In an interview with George Stephanopoulos on September 14, 2012, less than three weeks ago, Romney said that he expected the president to lie during the debate:
But I think the challenge that I’ll have in the debate is that the president tends to, how shall I say it, to say things that aren’t true. And in attacking his opponents. I’ve looked at prior debates. And in that kind of case, it’s difficult to say, “Well, am I going to spend my time correcting things that aren’t quite accurate? Or am I going to spend my time talking about the things I want to talk about?”
Psychologists talk about the phenomenon of projection in which a person claims that someone else is doing what he or she is doing. However, Romney wasn’t only projecting his own expectation of lying during the debate onto Obama. Romney and his strategists knew that he would need his Etch-a-Sketch moment, the one in which he portrays himself as a moderate after tacking far right for months. It couldn’t happen at the convention because of how far right the delegates leaned. So they saved it for the first debate. But there was a small problem. If Romney just shifted his positions, he would appear to be flip flop Romney, once again. Solution: devise a narrative in which Obama is made to appear as if he is lying when he challenges Romney.
Romney started setting the stage for this narrative weeks ago and carried it into the debate. From the transcript of the debate:
21:16:44: ROMNEY: So if the tax plan he described were a tax plan I was asked to support, I’d say absolutely not. I’m not looking for a $5 trillion tax cut. What I’ve said is I won’t put in place a tax cut that adds to the deficit. That’s part one. So there’s no economist that can say Mitt Romney’s tax plan adds $5 trillion if I say I will not add to the deficit with my tax plan.
Number two, I will not reduce the share paid by high-income individuals. I know that you and your running mate keep saying that and I know it’s a popular thing to say with a lot of people, but it’s just not the case. Look, I’ve got five boys. I’m used to people saying something that’s not always true, but just keep on repeating it and ultimately hoping I’ll believe it. But that — that is not the case. All right? I will not reduce the taxes paid by high-income Americans. (Emphasis added.)
At the moment when Romney is making extremely misleading statements about his tax plan, a crucial issue for him, he pivots and says, “Look, I’ve got five boys. I’m used to people saying something that’s not always true.” So, Obama, if you challenge me, you are a liar. This wasn’t a spontaneous remark. It was at the heart of Romney’s strategy for the debate. Leaving aside the question of the status of truth in the Romney household, this was certainly a prepared response, perhaps one of the “zingers” that Romney’s team promised.
And let’s not forget another memorable Romney zinger, “Mr. President, you’re entitled to your own airplane and your own house, but not your own facts.”
The bottom line here is that Romney didn’t just lie during the debate; he had a strategy to cover his lies by claiming that his opponent is a liar. An old rhetorical gambit. Well played. But it only makes Romney even more of a liar and less trustworthy. If this man is elected president, we will never know if he is telling us the truth.
Ah, Romney and his taxes are back, after his campaign’s Friday release of his 2011 taxes. Not only did they dump the stuff on Friday hoping that less attention would be paid to them, but they would only take questions about them by email. (I know, it sounds like a skit from Comedy Central.) There are hundreds of pages in the filing but one important fact surfaced immediately. Romney had said that his effective tax rate was never below 13% in the last decade. And in 2011 this appears to be true. He paid 14.1% . But this was only after he didn’t use allowable deductions on contributions. Had he used the deductions his rate would have been closer to 10%.
So what’s the issue here? Romney (the hard-nosed businessman) made a rather self-righteous proclamation last summer: if he paid more taxes than he owed, he wouldn’t be qualified to be president. Here is how this was reported in today’s New York Times, “Romney Reveals He Paid 14% Rate in 2011 Tax Return.”
Mr. Romney’s tax return for last year showed just how sensitive a political matter his wealth and tax rate has become. In a bit of reverse financial engineering, he and his wife, Ann, gave up $1.75 million worth of charitable deductions, raising his tax payments significantly.
Had he claimed all the deductions to which he was entitled in 2011, his effective rate could have dipped to near 10 percent, contradicting his past assurances that he had never paid below 13 percent.
But forgoing the full deductions available to him put him at odds with his own past assertions that he had never paid more taxes than he owed and his statement that if he had done so, “I don’t think I’d be qualified to become president,” as he put it to ABC News in July.
We here at UP@NIGHT suspect that Mitt has changed his mind about his qualifications. Not a problem for him. It’s clear that he took Obama’s campaign message in 2008 about change rather personally. (Oh, and one more telling point. It seems that Romney can submit a revised return later this year, which will allow him to take the deductions. Another change.)
We have all heard how furious the Wall Street big wigs are supposed to be at Obama. He is going to regulate us to death, kill the Market, etc. But it’s a good bet when dealing with Wall Street to avoid the rhetoric and follow the money. Forget Wall Streeters’ personal feelings about Obama and the Democrats. It’s clear that they don’t think that the world will end with an Obama reelection. Not only is the Market doing very well right now with Obama leading in the polls, it appears that traders are already betting with their electronic greenbacks on the reelection of the president.
Jeffrey Kleintop, chief market strategist at LPL Financial, has developed an index that tracks how well industries are doing that would benefit from either a Republican or Democratic win in November. The index is clearly showing a move toward the Democrats. You can find the latest report at http://lplgraphics.com/~rss/LPL_RSS_Feeds_Publications/WSEP/Election_Polls_09132012.pdf
An article by Mark Gongloff, “Wall Street May Hate Obama, But It’s Betting On His Victory,” summarizes what Klientop has been up to.
Normally I wouldn’t bother to quote statements by college friends of politicians. But I was struck by what a friend of Paul Ryan said. As reported in the NY Times today,
“Paul was always a politician,” said Scott Friedman, a former fraternity brother who was a year behind Mr. Ryan. “He was friendly with everybody. He was into debating the issues, and he was into talking about policy and economics.”
Conversations centered less on girls and football and more on the policy issues of the day. “I always knew that he was a conservative Republican, and I knew that he wanted to be a congressman from his college days,” Mr. Friedman said. “Typically, the discussions with him were around adultlike stuff. He would talk about trickle-down economics and why that would be a better approach to running the country’s economy.” (Emphasis added.)
The last sentence is worthy of emphasis because of how early Ryan’s views were formed and how little they seem to have changed. Whether he actually used the phrase “trickle-down economics” in discussing his views is really besides the point. His friend got it right. This is what Ryan believed and does believe. Just read his words. And unlike Obama he hasn’t become more moderate or more pragmatic with age. With regard to the economy he just digs his heals in deeper in the sterile soil of Ayn Rand and her fellow radical rightists. (Although his views on many social issues, e.g., birth control, are decidedly non-libertarian.)
Ryan clearly believes that he is on a mission. This latter can have its upsides. Passion can be a virtue, etc. But there is a point at which passion turns into ideological fanaticism and then only one’s ideas can save the world or a country. It appears that Ryan has made this turn. For example, we can point to one of Ryan’s most recent interviews. The exchange below is from the 60 Minutes interview which aired yesterday, Romney and Ryan’s first joint interview.
Bob Schieffer: Congressman, this is going to change your whole life. What did your family think about it?
Paul Ryan: Well, we’ve dedicated much of our lives to saving this country, to public service.
Ryan, at 42 years old, has dedicated much of his life not to serving the country or assisting the country through public service, but to saving it. That’s chutzpa from a 42 year old congressman. I don’t believe that even Lincoln, who could have claimed to be saving his country, would actually have ever uttered these words. Missionaries have their place but not in the White House.
If you want to know why Obama couldn’t get the House Republicans to compromise with him, you don’t have to look much further than to Paul’s passion for saving us and his belief in the miracle of the trickle-down. None of this is to say that Ryan the politician wouldn’t vote for policies that run against his libertarian economic principles if expedient. He certainly voted for measures that markedly increased the debt during the Bush years. This doesn’t make him less ideological. Paul needs to survive and thrive to fight for his principles, and this means sidestepping them if necessary in order to hold his place in the sun. This is very different from the mindset that is actually willing to compromise and debate in good faith.
One of the recurring themes of pieces on Obama at UP@NIGHT is the nature of his pragmatism, which is as much philosophical as it is purely political. With three months or so to go before the election, I thought I would collect here several links to discussions of Obama’s political thought and politics from the past few years at UP@NIGHT.
The entries most relevant to philosophical pragmatism are listed first. There are a couple of critical pieces further down the list. But I think it important that we understand with whom we are dealing as we criticize Obama or his administration. We should not fault him for seeking the possible when the more desirable was out of reach.
And for those who may still not have had enough, there is a discussion of Obama’s pragmatism and cosmopolitanism in an online (read, free) “Afterword” to my new book, Transcendence: On Self-Determination and Cosmopolitanism (Stanford University Press).
But Jim Messina, the manager of the president’s re-election bid, said the discord among Democrats in Washington did not reflect what campaign officials were hearing from rank-and-file supporters of the president through nightly telephone calls and door-knocking.
And here are comments from Plouffe, Obama’s top campaign strategist, same piece.
“There’s a lot of enthusiasm, and I don’t see anything as contentious as this coming down the pike in terms of an intraparty situation,” said David Plouffe, a senior adviser to the president. “There will be a unified, motivated and very aggressive Democratic Party supporting the president next year.”
Just tell me it ain’t so, Joe (Biden)…..Is this really the line that Obama’s team is going to take: Democrats aren’t that unhappy with the debt deal and there isn’t any deep frustration? It’s only Washington Dems who are pulling their hair out? Heaven forbid!! This could be the beginning of the end if they really believe this. And if it is just a cover, it’s lame. There is a real problem “out there.” They need to address it.
Much more to the point were comments by Tom Strickland, found in the same article.
“There are parts of the base that are discouraged,” Ted Strickland, a former Democratic governor of Ohio, said in an interview. “I don’t know that it’s the result of any personal animosity toward the president, but going forward it’s going to be important for him to inspire us, lead us, challenge us and be a real leader.”
Yes, as it turns out, the deal that Obama cut with the Republicans is not as bad as it could have been. They could have gotten away with the kitchen sink, that is, cuts in medicaid and social security without any tax increases for the wealthy. But instead the Republicans will be getting cuts that won’t really hit the economy until 2013, and medicaid and social security are safe from arbitrary cuts, for now. Perhaps we should be thankful, especially given the state of the economy.
But I don’t feel thankful. I feel like the American people got rolled. The Tea Party activists set the agenda and then engaged in blackmail. Cut now or else…and of course no increase in taxes on the wealthy. Yet without a revenue increase there isn’t a way to bring down the debt that won’t also bring down (almost all of) the American people. But most thoughtful Americans know that we can’t get out of this economic morass through some magic bullet on the reduction side. Most Americans wanted a deal that included budget cuts and revenue increases.
So what happened? Obama and Co. made a set of calculations: Better to give in now and (perhaps) fight another day when there isn’t a sword of Damocles hanging over the country. They assumed that the political costs could be contained. Independents will blame Congress more than the president. And upset Democrats will eventually fall in line. After all, where can they go in 2012? (As I write the House just voted to pass the “compromise” bill on the debt ceiling. Most Republicans voted for it. The Democrats split.) Last but not least, The White House welcomed not having to deal with a new economic crisis.
It all sounds so reasonable and politically expedient. But they may have miscalculated. Take me for instance. I have been a strong supporter of the president. I have viewed his deep (philosophical) pragmatism as a virtue. I never assumed that he was an old-fashioned liberal. I thought he had mildly progressive leanings but was quite capable of centrist or even center right positions. Given our time and place in American history, this was about as much as one could expect out of a Democratic Party nominee. I also liked that fact that he sought to play long ball. That he seemingly wasn’t looking for superficial or quick balms. And that he had the intelligence to play long ball.
But you can’t play long ball (in politics) unless you can move the ball. Or better still, unless you can convince your teammates and the fans that you can do so. What we have seen in this latest round is Obama drawing a line in the sand and then hopping over it when it looked like he might actually have to fight a serious battle. And it was a very important battle. The extortion that took place was not solely about getting the government to spend less. It was about setting an agenda. It was about how Americans understand who and what are responsible for the rut we are in, and who is responsible for helping to dig us out.
Corporations are sitting on mountains of cash. And as the chart above shows, the rich continue to do exceptionally well. Income and wealth disparities are becoming chasms. Yes, we have had fine words from the White House about this. But words are no substitute for actions, unless the words themselves are actions. Obama should have called the Republicans’ bluff. He should have said, ‘you want a default, go ahead and don’t compromise. Go ahead and insist on no new revenues from the wealthy. You will answer to the American people. You will even have to answer to Wall Street when the Market sinks or crashes. And you know what, you will have to answer to me.’ (He could have let them believe early on that he just might invoke the 14th Amendment if he got angry enough. Instead he gave this bargaining chip away.)
Obama should have come into office declaring a national state of emergency. He should have not promised to lower the unemployment rate with “traditional” measures. He should have emphasized that unemployment was actually much higher than the “official” figures, closer to 16%-20%. He should have used the fierce urgency of now to enact emergency measures. He should have done this when he was riding high.
Yes, I know. This is all history now. It’s water under the bridge. It’s Monday morning quarterbacking. Yet it is still relevant. If Obama doesn’t draw a tighter connection between what he he says and what he does, he may win reelection but his presidency will never be known for great things. He will be the president who helped us muddle through our declining place in the world, instead of the one who assisted us in confronting the economic and political realities of the 21st century.
This is a, “I told you so” blog. I have been arguing here and in other venues that Obama is a philosophical pragmatist and not just a political one. At his press conference yesterday, in which he defended his compromise with the Republicans over taxes, he directly confronted a question about his core values. He specifically placed his values in a wider framework, one that is clearly congenial to philosophical pragmatism.
Why is this important? We need to understand the man if we are going to be able to work effectively for change. Obama has a set of values that one might call “progressive” (and other values that might be termed “moderate” or even mildly conservative). He is going to act on his (mostly) progressive views within a broader framework, which is his commitment to philosophical pragmatism. This is not a sell out. It is not a weakness in itself. It is different from what we have seen in quite some time. (This is NOT merely Bill Clinton’s political pragmatism, for example.) Listen to how Obama defends his initiatives by citing the history of social security in the clip below. There is passion here. And not the passion of someone defending a merely expedient outcome. His commitment to pragmatism may often make him appear more conservative than he actually is. For him, it’s about getting the best outcomes over the long term. This is not to say that he hasn’t made tactical errors or errors in judgment and timing. He certainly has. It’s only to place his specific values in a broader context.
For those interested in learning more about the connection between Obama and pragmatism, there is James T. Kloppenberg’s new book, Reading Obama. The Afterword to my new book, Transcendence: On Self-Determination and Cosmopolitanism (Stanford) is on-line. It discusses Obama’s pragmatism. There is also the web site Barack Obama’s Pragmatism.
Since the days of the Federalists and Anti-Federalists our Republic has always been, more or less, a house divided, and it will continue to be so for the foreseeable future. Even wars don’t typically unite us. To move the nation often requires an economic crisis, and then we argue about how to respond. What then is a politician to do if he or she believes that change is necessary, for example, in health care? Move too far to the right or left at any given time–unless there is a grave crisis, for example, the Depression–and your legislation is unlikely to make it through Congress or face repeal down the road. And even if it isn’t repealed, there is the risk that it will not generate enough support to move the legislation off the books and into the real world.
When Obama said that he offered change that we can believe in, most on the right and left took him to mean change that was so different, we could believe in it. The argument seemed to be about whether we wanted dramatic change. But this is not what someone with his temperament and political philosophy would emphasize. It wasn’t the dramatic nature of the change that we were being asked to believe in, but its staying power, its resiliency, its endurance.
Am I pleased with all of the moves that Obama has made. No. Do I think that he has gone back on his campaign pledge? Hardly. What he asked us, and is asking us, to believe in is legislation that will stick, in policies that will have staying power, ones that will take root over time and lead to other changes. But this is the route of the sell out, those on the left say. Of one who has given up on principles. No. It is a reasonable way of trying to get as much of the cake as possible given the nature of our political and economic system, which is not changing in a fundamental way any time soon. Of course those on the left may disagree about how much of the cake might be acquired. This, however, is a debate about the possible, which is just how Obama approaches these matters. In this regard, the slogan was always there for all to see. Come the next presidential election I don’t doubt that one of Obama’s major themes will be: I brought you change that was positive and sustainable. (If you think it is a weak message, I ask you to consider how many “mainstream” Republican politicians are furious about health care. I submit that one reason, and a big one, is that they know his plan can stick and it will be a game changer, and not a good one for them over time.)