“On this issue and this day we stand with Mayor Rahm Emanuel.” So said Paul Ryan at the outset of the Chicago’s teacher strike this week.
Now in its fourth day, the Chicago strike affects 350,000 kids. It occurred despite an offer by Mayor Emanuel to support a 16 percent pay raise over four years—on top of an average $76,000 teacher salary—despite the city facing a $1 billion budget deficit. In exchange, educators would need to accept teacher evaluations and principals’ discretion over hiring and firing. The union rejected the deal.
Sometimes policy, not just politics, makes strange bedfellows and Paul Ryan’s status as a charter member of the Republicans for Rahm fan club shouldn’t distract from perhaps an even more surprising dynamic—the growing number of Democrats who are standing up for education reform. Read More…
The two-week convention caravan is now at rest, and Tampa and Charlotte are in the rear-view mirror. So how did the two conventions compare, seen up close and side by side? Well, sometimes stereotypes ring true: Republicans fall in line, while Democrats fall in love.
Conservatives are primarily united by the prospect of unseating President Obama, while at least among liberal conventioneers the love affair with him still seems to be going strong.
On the airwaves, this is a definitively post–Hope and Change election, with both campaigns trying to motivate their base by any means necessary to vote against the other guy. Positive pitches or policy plans have been basically MIA on television, where most Americans are viewing the campaign. Read More…
President Obama’s blessing is his curse—a soaring speech won’t be good enough Thursday night.
Call it the Obama discount or just a credibility gap, but words are cheap where this POTUS is concerned. That’s why he needs to get serious about policy and set forward a clear, distinct second-term agenda in his nomination speech.
The reason is simple: promising more of the same isn’t enough to get reelected.
Look, everybody understands that the fiscal crisis began before Obama took office. But pivoting from “Hope and Change” to “It Could Have Been Worse” is somewhere between insufficient and sad. Read More…
This is literally the most anticipatable question for a presidential re-election—and the fact that Governor Martin O’Malley got caught flat-footed on it is a cause for head-scratching, if not concern, given his otherwise stalwart performance as a Obama surrogate.
If there is cause for the stumble it is because the unemployment rate remains higher than when Barack Obama took office. Add to that fact so many underwater homes and under-employed workers and it seems callous to crow about improvements. And “It could have been worse” is a definitively uninspiring re-election slogan. Read More…
Back in 2008, Barack Obama boasted the support of more than 40 prominent Republicans and conservatives, including Colin Powell, Bush press secretary Scott McClellan, and Reagan solicitor general Charles Fried. These “ObamaCons” were offered as a barometer of Obama’s crossover appeal, evidence of his ability to unite the nation. And surprisingly, Obama won 20 percent of conservatives that fall.
But four years later, how many of these ObamaCons regret their decision to back the inspiring but untested Obama? In the absence of someone as polarizing as Sarah Palin on the GOP ticket, are they planning on returning to their roots as Republicans with Mitt Romney? Or are they sticking with President Obama—and if so, why? Read More…
Republicans have long complained about Democrats playing the Medi-Scare card—trying to scare senior citizens about the affects of entitlement reform.
The most vivid example of this ugly political ploy might have been the 2011 ad showing “Paul Ryan” literally pushing Grandma off a cliff.
Well, now the real Paul Ryan is on the Republican ticket and the Medi-Scare attacks are flowing—but surprisingly, from both sides. Read More…
“Romney Hood.” As the president introduced that phrase Monday night, we saw the next step in the Obama campaign’s strategy that began with the Bain attacks and followed with the focus on Mitt’s taxes. The goal is now to paint Mitt Romney as a “Robin Hood in reverse”—giving to the super-rich and taking from the middle class.
It’s a semi-clever gambit, catchy, with a populist pop-culture overlay. But it unintentionally underscores Obama’s own tax problem—namely that his core rationale for raising taxes on the rich seems rooted in concepts of “fairness” rather than arguments about shared sacrifice or investment in national greatness. It is a social-justice argument rather than an economic one. Read More…
The bodies of the victims are being buried. The court case will continue, without cameras. The horror in Aurora has faded from the front page in favor of Olympic coverage.
So it is worth asking, 10 days after the largest mass shooting in American history, whether it is still too soon to start a conversation about reasonable gun restrictions. What actions could we take to make such slaughters more difficult to perpetrate?
Because if it is true, as the National Rifle Association says, that “guns don’t kill people; people kill people,” then it’s equally irrefutable that people with guns kill people.
Here is the toll, beyond the 12 dead and 59 wounded in Aurora. More than 180 people killed in mass shootings in the past five years, including the 32 people who died in the April, 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech. And dwarfing that total are the 10,000 Americans murdered by gunshots every year. Read More…
Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney and President Obama are exchanging some strong jabs in new ads. But do their attack lines add up?
OutFront tonight: Glenn Kessler, Fact Checker for The Washington Post
Can President Barack Obama depend on 2008-level of support from black voters in November? A new report by the National Urban League says black voters could tip the election this year by staying home and costing the president’s crucial votes in battleground states.
How concerned should the Obama campaign be?
Welcome back to work, Congress. Hope you enjoyed your fourth full week off this year. Now find a way to work together to help get America back to work.
Experts all say not to expect any constructive action from Congress until after the election. There is a reason that cynicism passes for wisdom in Washington. But with economic clouds from overseas depressing our own recovery, there is an obligation to act now. And, in fact, there is a handful of bipartisan bills that could help get the U.S. economy moving again if they were enacted.
These are not Democrat or Republican ideas — they are simply good ideas. And unlike bipartisan pork barrel bills, they cost taxpayers comparatively little to enact.
Let’s take a look at three proposals with bipartisan support that could pass this summer if given a chance. Read More…
China and Ohio are on opposite sides of the globe. But when Air Force One touched down in Toledo, Ohio on July 5, President Barack Obama had China on his mind.
At the opening event of his Rust Belt Bus Tour – awkwardly-billed as “Betting on America” – the president was quick to announce his administration’s latest effort to level the trading field with China: a formal WTO complaint against tariffs imposed on US autos.
“Americans aren’t afraid to compete,” Obama said, sweating in the stifling summer heat.
“As long as we’re competing on a fair playing field instead of an unfair playing field, we’re going to do just fine. We’re going to make sure that competition is fair.” Read More…
Outfront tonight: Republicans in a corner over health care.
The Supreme Court battle may be over, but has the political and policy war just begun?
The House of Representatives has already scheduled a vote to repeal health care reform next week, a vote that will go nowhere considering the Senate is still controlled by Democrats. But Senate Republicans have pledged to follow through on the repeal it if they take back the Senate this fall.
The conservative base is firmly aligned against the health care law. Mitt Romney is campaigning on a pledge to “repeal and replace.” We all saw the sign on his podium last Thursday.
But over the weekend, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was dismissive when asked what happens after repeal. But we have to ask — what would his party do about the 30 million uninsured Americans? When pressed for specifics, even Mitt Romney’s own campaign has struggled to stay on message.
We get it. We know what you are not going to do. We know what you are against. But what are you for? After you repeal, what do you replace it with?
GOP plans to fight for Obamacare repeal in Congress
The U.S. Supreme Court has made their ruling on Obamacare, but in Congress, the fight to repeal and replace the controversial health care reform law is just beginning. OutFront tonight: Republican Rep. Nan Hayworth of New York.
With record amounts of money flowing between donors, SuperPACs, and campaigns, this election is set to be the most expensive in our country’s history.
In fact, Mitt Romney’s campaign is expected to announce their candidate raked in $100 million in June, undoubtedly buoyed by the Supreme Court’s health care ruling. But President Obama has a huge edge when it comes to small donors — overall, 43% of its contributions to date have been from people giving between $2 and $250, compared to Romney’s 13%.
Here to break down the numbers are Ben Smith, editor in chief of Buzzfeed.com, CNN Contributor Margaret Hoover, and Lisa Borders, President of the Grady Health Foundation and Co-Founder of “No Labels.”
America is a nation of immigrants with an illegal immigration problem — a dilemma for both the presidential candidates
America is a nation of immigrants with an illegal immigration problem. For the past four decades, immigration has been a political football, the subject of liberal pandering and conservative demagoguery in the culture wars.
But now the calculus has changed — courtesy the fact that 16 per cent of Americans are of Hispanic descent, making them the largest minority community in the country. Politicians in both parties understand that there are pragmatic as well as principled reasons to deal with immigration, legal or otherwise. That is why President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney both made pilgrimages to the National Association of Latino Elected Officials in Orlando, Florida, last week. Read More…
Right off the top, Romney delivered one of the tightest lines of his campaign: “What the court did not do on its last day in session, I will do on my first day if elected president of the United States. And that is, I will act to repeal Obamacare.”
It went downhill from there. Careful to repeat the word “Obamacare” some 18 times throughout his brief remarks, Romney was careless with the facts in his rebuttal.
Maybe it is the inherent awkwardness of the fact that Romney’s major governmental accomplishment is an individual mandate-driven health-care plan, but his response was fear- rather than fact-based. This is consistent with the “attack and distract” strategy he has deployed when it comes to policy during his general-election campaign. Read More…
Mitt Romney spoke in front of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials in Florida today, but despite pressure to offer his own immigration policy in the wake of Obama’s annoucement earlier this week, he offered few specifics in his broad attack on President Obama’s policies.
New York City Councilman Charles Barron is the real-life embodiment of the paranoid right-wing fantasy about President Obama: a former Black Panther, a backer of wealth redistribution, and an outspoken admirer of leftist dictators worldwide.
But now Barron has risen from a controversial local curiosity, best known for inflammatory statements like calling Thomas Jefferson a pedophile, to the verge of becoming a national newsmaker. He’s running for Congress and threatening to upset the party favorite, comparatively centrist Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries, in next Tuesday’s primary that will effectively decide the next representative of a safely Democratic district snaking through Brooklyn. Read More…
CNN’s Erin Burnett previews Tuesday’s recall election in Wisconsin. Gov. Scott Walker recall election is the most expensive recall in the state’s history. We crunch the numbers and analyze the impact of this race on November’s presidential election. CNN contributors Reihan Salam, John Avlon and Democratic Strategist, Jamal Simmons comes OutFront.
There are storm clouds on the horizon for Barack Obama’s re-election.
Democrats indulged in over-confidence during the Republican primaries. It was an understandable reaction to the chaos that came with all the pandering to the far-Right and the rise of frankly laughable candidates like Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain in the search for an alternative to Mitt Romney.
After that debacle, the Romney campaign manager’s promise of an “etch-a-sketch” moment to re-shake and re-shape public perception about their candidate seemed a dose too hopeful.
But only a month after the Republican primaries all but officially ended, we have a real horserace on our hands.
President Barack Obama holds an edge when it comes to personal qualities – questions about not just likeability but more meaningful measures like “more likely to stand up for what he believes in” and “has the personal character to be president”.
But when it comes to the number one issue of the economy, it is another issue entirely. Read More…
Erin McPike, John Avlon, Ramesh Ponnuru and Howard Kurtz on a potential GOP attack of Obama’s ties to Rev. Wright.
American Way: Why Barack Obama’s Support for Gay Marriage is a Huge Political Gamble by the President – The Telegraph
It was a “profile in courage” moment from the American president, but one loaded with political risk.
Consider the fact that just the previous day the citizens of North Carolina voted to ban same-sex marriage and all forms of civil unions by a 20-point margin, enshrining unequal treatment in their state constitution.
This has not been an unusual result when it has been put to the voters — more than 30 states have taken the same step, while in the half a dozen states where marriage equality is legal it has been achieved via state legislatures or judicial decision. Read More…
It has been a historic 24 hours, with marriage equality rejected in North Carolina and embraced by the president of the United States.
“I am gratified that the president has thrown his personal support and the authority of the presidency behind the goal of justice, equality, and decency for all citizens,” said Ted Olson, founder of the Federalist Society and former Bush administration solicitor general.
Olson gained fame for his pioneering partnership with David Boies, his one-time professional rival in Bush v. Gore who joined with him to argue that California’s Prop 8 gay-marriage ban is unconstitutional. Read More…
It’s been one year since Osama bin Laden was killed. I don’t imagine I’ll ever be as happy again to hear that someone was shot in the face.
Revenge, justice, call it what you will, but it felt good, like a hinge of history finally closing, a bookend to a decade spent with images in our minds of the twin towers imploding.
I was three blocks away in New York on 9/11, working as a speech writer at City Hall and spent the next three months writing eulogies. So yeah, this was personal. But the horror was personal to everyone with a heart and a head. Read More…
The headline should be striking: U.S.A. Stops Illegal Immigration from Mexico in its tracks.
That’s an underlying insight in a study by the Pew Hispanic Center released days before the Supreme Court heard arguments over the controversial Arizona illegal immigration law.
It represents a rare success on a contentious culture-war topic, driven in large part by economic trends that have driven down demand for undocumented labor but also by dramatically increased border enforcement under President Obama. The bottom line: a four-decade flood of illegal immigration through our southern border has been slowed to a trickle. Read More…
President Obama’s re-election strategy is focused on portraying himself as the defender of the forgotten American middle class. And, writes John Avlon, there are signs that this strategy is succeeding.
For the first time since the short-lived boost after the death of Osama bin Laden, a majority of Americans now approve of Obama’s job performance. He is beating the battered, but still presumed Republican nominee, Mitt Romney in a new Washington Post/ABC poll. Read More…
President Obama’s election year State of the Union address was attacked in pre-buttals from the Republican presidential candidates and members of Congress alike. But there were thoughtful moments and policies with bipartisan potential that deserve attention beyond the predicable partisan spin. Yes, there were plenty of contentious election-year policy contrasts—especially a minimum tax on people making more than $1 million a year. And deficit reduction, unfortunately, was almost entirely absent from the speech. Read More…
The U.S. economy is showing new signs of growth—and that’s great news for the country as well as President Obama’s reelection effort.
Friday morning, it was announced that the economy added 200,000 jobs in December, lowering the unemployment rate to 8.5 percent—the lowest in three years, marking six consecutive months of job growth. Read More…
The town of Osawatomie, Kansas, was chosen as the location of a major speech Tuesday framing the 2012 election as”a make-or-break moment for the middle class,” what the president described as “the defining issue of our time.” Read More…
Is President Barack Obama running against the GOP or the GDP?
In exactly one year — November 6, 2012 — we’ll be lining up at polling places to cast our votes for the next president. How much of that decision will be determined by economic data and poll numbers? Read More…
On the campaign trail, President Obama is already offering flashes of his favorite 2012 narrative: “Give ‘em Hell, Harry” redux, running against the “Do-Nothing 112th Congress.” It is the hyper-partisan Republicans in the House, he says, who have stopped his good-faith effort to be the antidote to political polarization he promised back in 2008. Read More…
The buzz is that President Obama is going to use Bush-Cheney ’04 as his re-elect model. This is a bad idea on at least five different levels.
First, the hallmark of the BC-04 campaign was play to the base in battleground states. But here’s a fact that Democrats hate to face—41 percent of Americans self-identify as conservative while just 21 percent call themselves liberal. Read More…
Gov. Rick Perry unleashed an onslaught against President Obama’s Israel policy Tuesday in New York, calling it “moral equivalency,” “appeasement,” “naive and arrogant, misguided and dangerous.”
All this sounds very bad, deepening the narrative that Obama is hell-bent on alienating our closest allies, secretly sides with Muslims in the Middle East and has broken with decades of U.S. policy to do so. On cue, a second spin-driven news-cycle appeared: “Will Obama lose the Jewish vote in 2012?” Read More…
President Obama will unveil a plan today to cut the deficit by $3 trillion over the next decade. A large part of the proposal is expected to be based on raising taxes on Americans making more than $1 million a year.
Yesterday, Senator Lindsay Graham said that the President’s tax plan would create “class warfare.”
Today on American Morning, CNN contributors John Avlon and Errol Louis respond to this comment and explain the President’s proposal. They also discuss their new book, “Deadline Artists: America’s Greatest Newspaper Columns,” in which they offer a compilation of iconic newspaper columns from legends like Hunter S. Thompson, Art Buchwald and William F. Buckley.
In a call to action on the American economy, President Obama entered a deeply divided U.S. Capitol on Thursday to propose a decidedly bipartisan package of policies backed with an urgent message: “Pass this bill now.”
The address before a joint session of Congress was greeted with now-routine hyperpartisan skepticism, even before its contents were announced. But this was not a windy inspirational speech; instead it was a direct policy appeal full of specifics. Read More…
It’s Labor Day 2011, and all eyes are on the economy—both the stubborn 9.1 percent unemployment rate and President Obama’s upcoming “job creation” speech in front of a joint session of Congress.
There’s evidence that Obama may be looking for inspiration from Bill Clinton—and Newsweek readers might have gotten a sneak preview. Read More…
The enemy of problem-solving in politics is ideological inflexibility.
That is the case President Obama made to the American people on Monday as ongoing debt and deficit talks try to stop the nation from default on August 2.
The president essentially called the bluff of conservatives who constantly call for action on the deficit but are making a habit of walking away from ambitious deals. Read More…
There were lines outside the big tent where Bill Clinton spoke an hour before he was set to begin. A seminar on “The Future of Cancer” was his warm-up act. When he took the stage, spillover crowds were placed in a nearby auditorium to get a secondary dose of Bubba’s political wisdom.
He didn’t disappoint. Throughout this conference, the debt and debt talks were much on attendees’ minds, focused by the cataclysmic game of chicken being played in Congress.
The only Democratic President re-elected since FDR gave this advice to the White House on the debt-ceiling negotiations: “Don’t Blink.” Read More…
President Obama wore the mantle of commander in chief with uncharacteristic ease in his prime-time East Room address announcing the end of the surge in Afghanistan.
The theme was “promises kept.” The frame was America 10 years after the attacks of 9/11. And the new direction was nation building here at home, as the president pivoted to the 2012 election.
Set aside the instant snark and spin of the Twitter-verse, and it’s worth noting that the president’s base-displeasing decision to double down with an Afghan troop surge has largely been vindicated—at least for now.
Almost lost in the debate over the tax cut compromise this week was a striking moment of defiance and self-definition from President Obama.
It came in the final five minutes of Tuesday’s afternoon press conference. With the president under attack from congressional Democrats and the press corps, Obama recaptured some of the 2008 campaign magic when he started to push back and passionately defend his approach to the presidency.
The comments offered an uncensored look into his frustrations with armchair ideologues and his “North Star” philosophy of governing as a pragmatic progressive. It deserves a close reading and a place on the Obama administration highlight reel.
Twenty-six minutes into his press conference, the president took this final question from Jonathan Weisman of the Wall Street Journal.
“Some on the left have looked at this deal and questioned what your core values are,” Weisman asked. “What specifically you will go to the mat on?” Read More…
Hating President Obama has become its own industry—and here’s a new stat to prove it: To date, there have been at least 46 anti-Obama books published. I’m not talking about thoughtful criticisms of his policies, but hyperbolic denunciations, distortions, or outright demonizations of the president. These screeds cannot help but have an impact on the typically low-turnout, high-intensity midterm elections that will take place Tuesday.
It’s also evidence that the proliferation of Obama Derangement Syndrome has out-paced Bush Derangement Syndrome—big time. At this point in Bush’s presidency there were only five anti-W books (a total no doubt depressed by the national unity that emerged in the wake of 9/11). It took Bush until November of 2004—the culmination of his contentious re-election campaign—to hit 46. Read More…
The stunningly cynical and stupid Republican National Committee PowerPoint pulled the curtain back on the sleazy culture of hyper-partisanship that is at the root of Washington’s dysfunction. But its impact extends beyond the Beltway…
These appeals have been deployed since before the election and they have, as the PowerPoint explains, caught on among the grassroots. We’ve seen their impact in protest posters, anonymous email chains, and talk-radio hosts’ talking points. But one grassroots expression of Obama Derangement Syndrome has not been properly anthologized. It’s the drivers’ PowerPoint slide: the roadside billboard. Read More…
Here’s how crazy our politics have become: Legendary Republican President Theodore Roosevelt is being called a socialist by conservatives like Glenn Beck. The man on Mount Rushmore, the Rough Rider president, is getting caught up in a party-purity dragnet 91 years after his death, an exaggerated symptom of the rabid hunting of RINOs—”Republicans In Name Only”—that could tank the Grand Old Party.
If conservatives want to kick TR out, Obama seems ready to welcome him in. As if on cue, the president’s press secretary, Robert Gibbs, announced yesterday that the president is now reading the classic The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris, a book that inspired Reagan’s senior staff to tap Morris as their in-house historian during the 1980s. Read More…
In his confident, sprawling State of the Union speech, the president refocused on issues from the ’08 campaign—highlighting a return to fiscal responsibility and offering policy outreaches to both left and right.
It was a Clintonian speech—and I mean that as a compliment. The president was calm, confident, and defiant; the speech was sprawling but dotted with policy details, aimed squarely at moderates and the middle class.
It was not so much a reset as a rediscovery of the themes from the ’08 campaign—with lifted lines like “we are one nation,” also featured in Obama’s first presidential campaign commercial, and dismissals of “politicians who tear opponents down instead of lifting people up.”
Twelve months ago to the day, Barack Obama looked out over a National Mall that represented a 70 percent overall approval rating, and support from most political factions. How both political extremes dashed that promise of hope.
One year ago, our nation was briefly if blissfully united. Nearly 70 percent of Americans believed that Barack Obama would make a great president, Karl Rove was penning odes to his “Team of Rivals”-style Cabinet picks and more than a million people braved the cold to stand on the Washington Mall to listen to the new president’s inaugural address promising “a new era of responsibility.”
Today, the Tea Party protesters will attempt a national day of strike against businesses they accuse of “funding socialism” by advertising on MSNBC, CNN, or donating to Democrats. “We will not become tax slaves to pay for a government-run health-rationing scheme,” its organizers declare, continuing their year-long confusion of losing the ’08 election with living under tyranny.
Hard-core partisans like play-to-the-base politics. They profit from it personally and professionally.
You get graded on a steep curve as president. Getting elected should be accomplishment enough to last a lifetime, but once you enter the Oval Office the goalposts get moved and you’re competing against the ghosts of presidents past.
On Wednesday, President-elect Obama will sit down for lunch at the White House with the four other living members of the club that only 44 men in the history of our republic have joined. It’s an unprecedented meeting, part of an unusually thorough and thoughtful transition orchestrated by the outgoing administration. But as the son of the first President Bush can tell you, even personal experience learning from a previous president does not guarantee future success.
President-elect Obama begins with an historic advantage that lunch companions Carter, Bush, Clinton, and Bush did not have—he enters office as an immediately consequential president, the embodiment of America’s struggle to form a more perfect union, an step toward absolving our original sin of slavery. On that thematic level alone, his place in history is assured even before inauguration.
Obama has another advantage in the presidential sweepstakes—the times are piled high with difficulty. Great presidents require great drama. That’s why Theodore Roosevelt was always cursing the fact that he was not a wartime president, and that’s why Bill Clinton’s self-inflicted scandals will compete with his political and policy accomplishments for history’s headlines. With America embroiled in two wars, and suffering the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, “No-Drama” Obama has plenty on his plate, providing the opportunity for presidential greatness as well as the possibility of a presidential quagmire.
But Obama has another natural advantage–he is entering office with not just the admiration but the affection of the American people. We haven’t seen a truly pop-culture president since the Kennedy Camelot years, and after the historic unpopularity of President Bush in his second term, the shift to the Obama phenomenon in the White House will be stark. Obama’s actions won’t just be covered in Time or Newsweek, they’ll be covered in People and Rolling Stone as well. And it will be a key reason that any Republican attempts to pursue a simply obstructionist “No-Bama” strategy will fail.
Obama’s approval ratings won’t remain sky-high over the course of his presidency, but he will connect personally with the American people in a way that George W. Bush never did and in so doing redefine Teflon for a new generation.
But importance is not the same thing as success, just as popularity does not necessarily translate to effectiveness. As Obama is having lunch today, he might look across the table and ponder this presidential cautionary tale:
Once there was a president who campaigned on hope and change after a period of disillusionment, division, and economic downturn. He was a virtual unknown when the campaign began, a long-shot dark-horse with a brief record in public office, criticized by party-elders for having the self-assurance to believe that he should be president instead of waiting his turn. But people across the political spectrum responded to the candidate’s calm candor and thoughtful intelligence—they saw in him a different kind of politician who could heal old divides and make them believe in our democracy again. Armed with a disciplined campaign, he pulled off what Time called “something of a political miracle.” Before inauguration day, over 60 percent of Americans believed he would make a good or great president. By March, proposing a far-sighted energy bill and an economic stimulus plan that balanced job-creation with targeted tax-cuts, his approval ratings reached 72 percent. Things fell apart from there.
Conservatives like to tar every Democrat as the second coming of Jimmy Carter. Already, snarky t-shirts are being advertised on the Drudge Report showing Obama’s face with the slogan “Welcome Back, Carter.” These are likely to wear as badly as the campaign attacks on Obama that suggested he was a socialist.
Obama has already avoided two traps that ultimately fell Jimmy Carter. First, his transition has been disciplined and inclusive, despite the circus sideshow of the Blagojevich scandal. Obama took a page from JFK, who appointed three Republicans to his cabinet (at Defense, Treasury, and the CIA) as a way of building on his narrow Election Day margin of victory. Carter offered a straight Democrat cabinet, with White House positions staffed mainly with loyalists dubbed “the Georgia Mafia” (a mistake which Clinton replicated by appointing his childhood friend Mack McLarty as Chief of Staff). Second, while Carter wasted much goodwill and political capital warring with Tip O’Neill’s Democratic Congress, Obama understands that his success will be tied to the cooperation of Congress – that’s why his first two appointments were Joe Biden and Rahm Emanuel, people known for their their experience and respect in both houses of Congress.
But there is one area where the Carter cautionary-tale could still prove troublesome to President Obama. As former Carter speechwriter James Fallows wrote in 1979, “The central idea of the Carter Administration is Jimmy Carter himself… Hubert Humphrey might have carried out Lyndon Johnson’s domestic policies. Gerald Ford, the foreign policies of Richard Nixon. But no one could carry out the Carter Program because Carter has resisted providing the overall guidelines that might explain what his program is.”
Obama has spoken frankly of his Rorschach-like political appeal, where people across the political spectrum project on him what they wish to see. It is a quality he shares with the early Jimmy Carter. To meet a different fate, he will need to lay out the consistent philosophical vision of his administration, the overall policy guidelines his supporters can carry on in his name. This is a challenge to be taken seriously by President Obama in the opening months of his presidency, because it is underscored by the warning of history.
Politics is history in the present tense. It fascinates us because it is a participatory sport, we all contribute to making it in some small way, and the gains that are made are not reflected in points on a scoreboard but in the progress of society.
Presidents are playing simultaneously on a larger field, competing against the giants of the past and judged in comparison to their predecessors, both living and dead. And while recent occupants of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue have been content to compare themselves with Truman, Kennedy, or Reagan, Obama is aiming far higher, inviting comparisons to Lincoln and FDR. He does not seem awed by the responsibility, but honored by the opportunity, to compete with the ghosts of presidents past.