We are living in a “pox-on-both-your-houses” moment. Congressional approval is at an all-time low. More than 40 percent of Americans believe that both Republican and Democrat policies are moving the country in the wrong direction, while Tea Party approval has sunk to the mid-20s. Despite widespread dissatisfaction with President Obama, even Republicans acknowledge the weakness of their 2012 field—giving rise to persistent fantasies about a Chris Christie candidacy. In reaction to D.C.’s division and dysfunction, a record number of Americans now identify as independent voters while a majority says it’s time for a third party. Read More…
The GOP presidential debate in Orlando produced a profile in courage and nine profiles in cowardice.
The profile in courage came courtesy of the brave active-duty solider named Stephen Hill serving in Iraq who chose the Republican debate as the opportunity to come out to his fellow servicemen and the nation via video. He was, of course, marking the newfound freedom to do so granted by the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” And he was greeted with a chorus of boos from people in the conservative crowd who don’t like his kind. Read More…
Tax Day is nobody’s idea of a good time. But get ready for a year of heated tax debates ahead.
In his deficit speech last week, President Obama made clear that he intends to continue his fight to raise the top rate back up to 39.6 percent for any family making over $250,000 a year—arguing this would, in effect, be a millionaires tax. “I don’t need another tax cut,” the president said. “ Warren Buffett doesn’t need another tax cut.” Read More…
Republican Bob Turner won the special election to succeed Anthony Weiner last night, and conservatives are crowing that it signifies a tidal shift against President Obama.
It’s true that this Queens-Brooklyn district, once represented by Geraldine Ferraro, hasn’t voted for a GOP congressman in 80 years. But the same was true in western New York’s 23rd District, which voted for Democrat Bill Owens after being in GOP hands since 1872 and the Buffalo district overlapping areas once held by Jack Kemp, which voted for Democrat Kathy Hochul in May’s special election. Read More…
The 10th anniversary of 9/11 is over, but America is still wrestling with the role of Islam in our society. And Islam, no less significantly, is struggling with its own internal tensions as a faith battered between radicals, reactionaries, and reform.
Perhaps the most fearless advocate for reformation in Islam is Irshad Manji, director of the Moral Courage Project at NYU and author of the important and timely book Allah, Liberty and Love: The Courage to Reconcile Faith and Freedom. Read More…
As news of a new “credible” threat swept across the nation on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, Americans were abruptly reminded that terrorism is always one bad day away from being issue No. 1.
In the latest case, one report said at least three people—one believed to be a U.S. citizen—entered the U.S. in August to plan a car-bomb attack against Washington, D.C., or New York. The suspected terrorists are thought to have come from Afghanistan or Pakistan, and at least two rental trucks are being sought nationwide. White House officials confirmed that President Obama had been briefed on the “specific” terrorism threat. Read More…
So much for the 11th Commandment.
At the start of the Republican debate at the Reagan Library, Mitt Romney and Rick Perry came out swinging, with the former Massachusetts governor jabbing the Texan as a career politician, followed by a Perry roundhouse that compared Mitt’s Massachusetts job creation unfavorably to that of Michael Dukakis?. Read More…
Lower Manhattan is a living symbol of civic resilience; it is evidence of how free people can triumph over fear. The neighborhood surrounding Ground Zero has become the fastest-growing in New York City.
Daniel Libeskind is part of the influx. The Bronx-raised designer of the Freedom Tower was living in Berlin on 9/11: “I was determined to live in lower Manhattan. And I’m so happy because it’s really coming back to life … It’s a kind of renaissance.” 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…
Sarah Palin’s “will-she or won’t-she?” act is getting pretty old.
All eyes will be on her Saturday speech at a Tea Party rally in Iowa, but Palin’s 2012 expiration date is looming.
The scattershot dysfunction that accompanied even this event spoke to the not-ready-for-prime-time quality of her would-be campaign. Read More…
As Hurricane Irene bore down on the East Coast on Saturday afternoon, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie had a simple message: “Get the hell off the beach.”
“You’re done. It’s 4:30 p.m. You’ve maximized your tan,” he bellowed from behind a podium, flanked by state officials. Early the next morning, as the storm hit New Jersey, leaving half a million residents without power, Christie stood vigil at an emergency-operations center, giving updates to the Sunday shows. Days later he was still on the scene, touring flooded areas as rivers swelled, in full view of TV cameras.
Critics say Christie’s tactics were typically heavy-handed and self-aggrandizing. Supporters turned “get the hell off the beach” into a rallying cry, adding to his reputation as the un-Obama: unapologetic, unceremonial, and unmistakably in charge. Read More…
George Clooney is a political junkie. The son of a newsman explored the intersection of government and journalism in the Oscar-winning Good Night and Good Luck. Now he’s taking on presidential campaigns in The Ides of March, a political thriller that fits the feel of this election season—more dark and cynical than hope and change.
Talking from his home in Lake Como, Italy, as he prepared for the movie’s launch at the Venice Film Festival on Aug. 31, Clooney framed his latest effort as actor, director, and screenwriter in almost classical terms: “The story is about ambition—do the ends justify the means? At what price do we sell our souls?”
Ides stars Ryan Gosling as a young presidential campaign aide forced to confront an illusion-shattering scandal on the eve of a pivotal March primary fight in Ohio. It’s a tight little morality tale on the campaign trail that manages to be both timely and universal. Read More…
If you like sweet corn, or presidential politics, this is a good time to be in the heartland. On Thursday night, the GOP field will meet for a pivotal debate in Des Moines, Iowa. On Saturday, the only straw poll that really matters will take place in Ames, Iowa.
I just got back from four days in Iowa, and the dose of Midwest perspective did me some good. First, no one I spoke to was obsessing with the stock-market paroxysms. The London riots were a distant concern. Instead, weather and politics were on people’s brains. Candidate overload was already leading to a healthy degree of skepticism about the current crop. Everything seemed to be heating up at the same time. Read More…
“It pays to be stubborn,” Jindal said. “The press is constantly urging compromise. They root for it like it is the highest possible virtue, the sign of true maturity and achievement in life.” This all-or-nothing impulse is what led 77 percent of the American people to conclude that Congress acted more like “spoiled children” than “responsible adults” during the debt ceiling debate. Not incidentally, it is also the logic that led to our downgrade, according to S&P, which cited “the political brinksmanship of recent months” making “America’s governance and policymaking becoming less stable, less effective, and less predictable.” Read More…
Alan Simpson is ‘Disgusted’ by the debt deal. Hear him blast off about Washington’s incompetence.
What do you think about the debt-ceiling deal? It’s a start, and that’s all you can charitably say. It really doesn’t get to the big numbers. It doesn’t get to the big spending issues. It doesn’t get into Medicare, which is on automatic pilot, which is just gonna eat through the whole budget. It doesn’t get into Social Security solvency. Defense is not sacrosanct. For heaven’s sake, we found enough fat in there that would choke a horse.
Do you recall a fiscal battle anything like this one during your time in the Senate? No, it breaks your heart. It’s almost akin to disgust, but it’s more than that. It’s heartbreaking. One possible outcome was tax reform—closing loopholes and expenditures. But all of a sudden some Republicans said that was a tax hike. Oh, yeah. Well, that’s old Grover Norquist. He’s a good man with a damn poor idea. I tell people, “Look, Grover is powerful, and let’s just give him the kudos, but what can he do to you? He’s not gonna murder you. He won’t burn your house. The only thing he can do to you is defeat you for reelection. If your reelection means more than doing something for the United States of America and getting out of this hole, then you shouldn’t be in Congress.”
How’s your ex-colleague from Wyoming, former vice president Dick Cheney, doing? He’s got a new book out this month. I’m just gonna love it because it’s gonna be his side, and his side is a remarkable side. Because old Dick Cheney, he is a piece of work. When it’s all over, there’ll be people who will say, “I didn’t know that about him because his views were distorted by people who hated his guts.”
You and Cheney represent an old tradition of Western conservatism. What happened to those views? I say clearly abortion is a terrible, terrible thing, but it’s a deeply intimate and personal decision, and I don’t think men legislators should even vote on it. Now, that takes you immediately from a conservative to a commie. Now I also think that we all have someone we love who’s gay or lesbian. There should be no special prejudices, no special penalties, no special privileges. And so that’ll knock you into the commie box, too.
I heard there’s an Alan Simpson for President Facebook page. That’s a thrill. I just get goose pimples all over.
magine what our election system might look like if it were designed today: No Byzantine electoral college, no long lines on a random Tuesday, no closed primaries that force candidates into the arms of their party’s special interests. Modern Madisons and Hamiltons would try to devise a process that’s open, online, citizen-driven, and capable of producing leaders that can unify the nation once in office. Read More…
When did fiscal responsibility and fiscal conservatism get de-linked?
It’s too simple to call this a fight between the old guard and the Tea Party. The real test is whether government fiscal policy should be focused on reducing the deficit and the debt or whether the real goal is to keep taxes low at all costs. It’s a divide decades in the making between the deficit hawks and the anti-tax absolutists. Read More…
Call them Debt Ceiling Deniers. Believers in faith-based fiscal policy. Math-challenged cause-and-effect-skeptics. And an uncomfortable chunk of the GOP’s 2012 contenders.
The costs of courting conservative populists should be clearer than ever to reality-based fiscal conservatives inside the Republican Party. Their “all-or-nothing” meets “what, me worry?” negotiating stance is not only the newest symbol of D.C.’s dysfunction—it is beginning to have an impact on the entire U.S. economy. Read More…
A new nation was born today, as the Republic of South Sudan officially became the 193rd country on earth.
But the joyous celebration in the new capital city of Juba should not cause observers to think that the struggle for sovereignty is finally over after two decades of bloody civil war. Because without sustained attention from the international community, the youngest nation on earth could find itself fighting for its life within weeks. 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…
Independence Day came a few days early this year, as columnist and author Tom Friedman declared his support for a third party at the Aspen Ideas Festival.
“We need a third party. I am for a third party,” Friedman said to applause. “We are trapped in a corrupt duopoly.”
Expressing disappointment with President Obama, dismay with what passes for Republican policy debates, and frustration with the culture of hyperpartisanship in Washington, Friedman sees a reckoning coming, pushed by new technology. “One thing about the Internet and the hyperconnected world—it has flattened every hierarchy in the world from The New York Times to the banking industry. It’s flattened every hierarchy in the world except the two-party system, and that will not remain. That is a prediction that I will make.” Read More…
If you can make it here, you’ll make it anywhere.
Celebrations erupted in the streets of New York after the Empire State became the sixth and largest state in the nation to legalize same sex marriage after weeks of gridlock and tense debate. There is the sense that this legislative victory marks a tipping point in the larger civil rights fight for marriage equality across the nation.
Albany is rarely the site of high drama—dullness and disappointment are its natural rhythms. It has been named the nation’s “most dysfunctional state legislature” by the Brennan Center at NYU. And that’s not the worst it has been called. 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.
It’s so crazy, it just might work.
Jon Huntsman is set to officially announce his run for the presidency today in sight of the Statue of Liberty, where the Gipper kicked off his fall campaign in 1980.
The Reagan homage is intended to remind Republicans that Huntsman comes from the Western conservative tradition, a genial chief executive whose core electoral attribute is supposed to be the ability to win crossover votes. Read More…
While GOP field is united on fiscal issues and predictably quick to declare President Obama a “failure,” there is open dissension on Bush doctrine-driven foreign policy. And when it comes to social issues, the religious right is determining the new normal in the Republican Party.
Among the night’s revelations: leading candidates Romney and Pawlenty have formally joined the one-note social conservatives in supporting a federal marriage amendment to block same-sex marriages in the states (so much for the guiding principles of originalism and federalism). Read More…
It was an inspiring sight: a protest rally 3,000 strong in the heart of Harlem. Students, parents, and teachers wielding signs and slogans, all standing up for their right to pursue a quality public-school education.
But the target of their anger was unexpected: the NAACP.
In a role reversal, the esteemed civil-rights organization—which helped secure equal access to education a half-century ago in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education—is now decidedly on the wrong side of history. Read More…
That’s the cynical lesson politicos in both parties will take from Democrat Kathy Hochul’s NY-26 special election victory on Tuesday. And that’s bad news for the nation.
We’ve seen a rise in fear-mongering policy attacks in American politics since the “death panel” slurs that disfigured the health-care reform debates in 2009. Some Democrats see the pushback against Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan as their chance for revenge.
One ad this special election cycle was as ugly as anything aired in recent years, portraying a Paul Ryan stand-in literally pushing Grandma off a cliff. Read More…
Blood is flowing on the dirt roads of Abyei. Airstrikes and artillery fire have compounded the body count. The surviving population has been driven out, their town looted and burned.
Sudan now faces the real prospect of a reignited civil war, just seven weeks from the scheduled formal declaration of independence by the Republic of South Sudan from the Arab and Islamist government of the North in Khartoum. Over two million people were killed before the last extended outbreak of civil war ended in 2005.
This past weekend’s slaughter was not a proxy war between warring tribes, but an outright military conflict with conventional forces. The Northern army now occupies Abyei. And no one can say that they didn’t see it coming. Read More…
Tim Pawlenty unveiled his presidential campaign Monday with a message centered on fiscal discipline and being the self-styled truth-teller in the 2012 race.
It was only a matter of hours before his state’s previous Republican governor, Arne Carlson , unveiled a barrage of fiscal data arguing that Pawlenty wasn’t telling the truth about his fiscal conservative credentials. Instead, Carlson alleged that Pawlenty had presided over a $2.5 billion increase in property taxes, used one-time payments to balance the budget, and handed his successor an unprecedented $5 billion deficit.
Perhaps most infuriating to Carlson was that Pawlenty had essentially undone his efforts to return Minnesota to a triple-A bond rating in the 1990s, presiding over a decline in the bond rating and a shift to a negative credit rating by Moody’s in the last year of his administration because of what was called “ongoing fiscal weakness and heavy reliance on one-shots to balance its books.” Read More…
Doomsday cults have a lousy track record. You’d think that alone would make it more difficult to dupe new recruits.
But devotees of the Family Radio network have been taking to the streets and subways of New York, handing out fliers talking about the “awesome news” that the end of the world is coming. Billboards making similar predictions about the Rapture have been lining American highways for months. D-day, for the uninitiated, is scheduled for Saturday, May 21. Read More…
The cycle of over-reach and backlash is in over-drive these days—with significant implications for the 2012 presidential election. In pivotal swing-states where voters narrowly elected Republican governors in 2010—like Florida and Ohio (with 47 electoral votes between them)—evidence of buyer’s remorse is piling up fast.
The latest sign: on Tuesday, Alvin Brown became the first Democrat elected mayor of Jacksonville—Florida’s largest city—in 20 years.
Just seven months ago, Republicans swept the Sunshine State with Tea Party-backed candidate Rick Scott winning the governor’s office with a 1.2 percent margin of victory. Read More…
There’s new evidence to suggest a demand for something different than hyper-partisanship in the world of talk radio and political media.
It’s not just the sunset of the Glenn Beck Show on Fox or the dispatch of Keith Olbermann from MSNBC to CurrentTV. It’s the shuttering of a pioneering conservative radio station and data showing the demographic decline of Rush Limbaugh.
In contrast, growing numbers of listeners are tuning in to independent voices who can be honest brokers in debates and don’t just angrily parrot talking points.
Conspiracy entrepreneurs are, by definition, shameless.
Nonetheless, it was impressive to see so many professional polarizers be forced to face facts—namely that the president was indeed born in the United States—and still find a way to weasel out of accountability.
There was no “sorry” or “my bad” or “apologies for dragging your name and our nation through the mud by encouraging unhinged birther conspiracy theories.” Read More…
It looks like Ron Paul is running for president again—and libertarians everywhere have reason to cheer.
After the big government conservatism of the George W. Bush era, their ideas seem finally ascendant—and now they have two standard-bearers competing for the Republican nomination in 2012. While the Paul family—recently dubbed “the libertarian Kennedys” by Politico—suck up the media oxygen, there is a comparatively little known but more electorally accomplished libertarian running for president—former two-term New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson. Read More…
New York is on the verge of becoming the nation’s largest state to legalize same sex marriage via its legislature. Supporters are hopeful that this historic civil rights measure will be brought to a vote in the state senate by the end of next week.
Governor Andrew Cuomo, with sky-high job approval numbers in the wake of a balanced budget and landmark ethics bill, is said to be pushing for the measure personally, and may meet with state senate Republican leader Dean Skelos early in the upcoming week to discuss the vote-count in an attempt to green-light a vote. If this effort is successful, it will be in large part because a broad coalition was built, including business and union leaders as well as the activist community. Read More…
The nightly nervous breakdown will not be televised.
Glenn Beck is going off the air on Fox News.
It is a remarkable reversal of fortune for a man who one year ago was banking $32 million annually, teaching Americans how to fear-monger for fun and profit.
But with his ratings down nearly 50 percent and advertisers abandoning the show, Beck’s apocalyptic shtick has been getting rancid fast.
Glenn Beck was the boy who cried wolf, constantly ratcheting up the rhetoric to get attention, and ultimately becoming a parody of himself.
Call off the coronation—the media’s caught on to the slow motion implosion of Sarah Palin’s popularity, and with it her prospective presidential campaign.
A new Washington Post/ABC News poll found that Palin’s approval ratings among Republicans had declined by double digits since October, while her “strongly unfavorable” rating reached 17 percent among the GOP and 28 percent among Republican-leaning independents. This shift in the conservative populist tide provoked a series of memorable (and frankly enviable) headlines like “The Incredible Shrinking Sarah Palin” from Politico and other outlets.
But the real story is the continued erosion of support for Sarah Palin. By the end of her three-month stint as John McCain’s VP nominee, 59 percent of American voters believed that Sarah Palin was not ready for the job, and 47 percent of self-described centrists said they were actually less likely to vote for McCain because of Palin’s presence on the ticket. Read More…
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has an un-played ace up his sleeve in the budget fights that have made Madison the focus of a national struggle between fiscal conservatives and public sector unions.
A little-noticed provision in the Wisconsin State Constitution—Article 8, Section 8—allows non-fiscal bills to be passed by a simple majority of state legislators, rather than the 3/5th threshold that drove Democratic state senators to Illinois in hopes of denying the Republican Governor the ability to go forward with collective bargaining reform as part of his proposed budget cut package.
This means that if the collective bargaining were delinked from the budget measures and put forward as a separate bill, it could be passed with 51 percent of the legislators—and without Democrats’ participation. Read More…
A few weeks ago, the British music press freaked out when they found a clip of one ‘Maureen Tucker’ being interviewed at a Tea Party rally in Georgia. Could this be the same Moe Tucker who played drums alongside Lou Reed and John Cale in the legendary 1960s rock band the Velvet Underground? Was the backbeat behind ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’ now railing against the Democratic Party with a bunch of Okie from Muskogees?
The answer was yes. It’s the story of unexpected political evolution with a generational twist – an icon of alternative rock turns into a conservative populist, a tale for our times.
The notoriously understated Moe Tucker now lives in a small Georgia town about hour outside Atlanta, though her New York accent endures. She’s a suburban warrior, the woman next door with grown up kids and a rock n’ roll past. She was at first reluctant to talk when I hunted down her number. But her journey might help humanize the Tea Party for members of Alternative Nation – or it might just add insult to the injury that looks like its coming on Election Day. Read More…
Here’s another sign that the tide might be turning against the Wingnuts—Glenn Beck’s TV ratings are down 50 percent and major market radio stations are dropping him.
That’s not all—a look at radio ratings shows that hyper-partisan talk has been declining or flat-lining between ‘09 and ‘10, despite the intensity of the election year. There’s a demand for something different—smart, un-predictable, non-partisan news is gaining market share because it stands out from the pack. And leading industry analysts say there is a market for more independent voices.
“There are a lot of program directors whose radio ‘spider-sense’ is tingling,” says Randall Bloomquist, a long-time radio executive and president of Talk Frontier Media. “They’re thinking ‘this conservative thing is kind of running its course. We’re saying the same things from morning ’til night and yes, we’ve got a very loyal core audience—but if we ever want to grow, if we want to expand, we’ve got to be doing more than 18 hours a day of ‘Obama is a socialist.’” Read More…
Keith Olbermann’s abrupt signoff last night just might signify a break in the hyperpartisan media fever that has afflicted America for the past few years.
Because beneath the rumors of palace intrigue and difficult behavior stands a stark fact: Keith Olbermann’s ratings were down over the past 12 months, especially among the coveted, non-shut-in, 25-to-54 demographic. He’s not the only one—Glenn Beck’s ratings have eroded, along with his advertisers. Sarah Palin’s approval ratings have also similarly plummeted during her foray into the murky world where politics meets reality TV.
The American people are smart. They’ve gotten sick of the predictable hyperpartisan talking points and canned anger. This is Paddy Chayefsky’s revenge—Howard Beale’s appeal became real over the past years. But we’ve slowly come to our senses and flipped around the catchphrase, saying “you’re mad as hell, and we’re not going to take it anymore.” Read More…
There has been more bipartisan accomplishment in Washington over the past two weeks than in the past two years.
That’s because the balance of power is back in the center of the Senate, a shift from the hyperpartisan trench warfare that characterized the first two years of the Obama administration.
Yes, the president deserves a great deal of credit for quickly internalizing the results of the election and resetting the tone in Washington with his tax-cut compromise.
But look at the litany of accomplishments from this lame duck—from the the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell to ratification of New START—and you’ll see that an emerging group of centrist Republican senators made the margins of victory possible. Significantly, the name John McCain is not on that list. Read More…
According to Rush Limbaugh, I’m a hard-core liberal, no different than Michael Moore who paid the bail for “the serial rapist Julian Assange.” Also, I’m not willing to admit who the terrorists are, and I’m helping to kill Christmas.
It’s all because I co-founded a new group that launched this week called No Labels. We’re Republicans, Democrats and Independents—dedicated to confronting the culture of hyper-partisanship that is distorting our debates and stopping our nation from solving the serious challenges we face.
This idea is threatening to professional polarizers like El Rushbo—which is why he devoted an hour of his show this week to attacking us. In particular, he took personal aim at co-founders Mark McKinnon (a Republican Bush/McCain adviser and fellow Daily Beast columnist), Kiki McLean (a Texas Democrat and Clinton administration alum) and myself. In the process, he again proved the need for No Labels. Read More…
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…
The Bipartisan Deficit Commission led by Democrat Erskine Bowles and Republican Alan Simpson voted 11 to 7 in favor of their far-sighted plan to cut the deficit by $4 trillion within the decade.
But it can be classified as only a symbolic victory, because under the rules of the commission, this nearly 2 to 1 margin represented a pointed failure to reach the 14 votes needed pass the recommendations on to Congress.
Three votes more were needed—and Republican Reps. Paul Ryan and Jeb Hensarling, as well as centrist Democratic Senator Max Baucus, are the alleged fiscal conservatives who should be blamed most for killing this proposal. Read More…
Developers of the controversial Park51 Islamic community center and mosque located two blocks from ground zero earlier this month applied for roughly $5 million in federal grant money set aside for the redevelopment of lower Manhattan after the attacks of September 11, according to two sources with direct knowledge of the matter.
The audacious move stands to reignite the embers of a divisive debate that dominated headlines surrounding the ninth anniversary of the attacks this fall, say people vested in the issue.
The application was submitted under a “community and cultural enhancement” grant program administered by the Lower Manhattan Redevelopment Corporation (LMDC), which oversaw the $20 billion in federal aid allocated in the wake of 9/11 and is currently doling out millions in remaining taxpayer funds for community development. The redevelopment board declined to comment on the application (as did officials from Park51), citing the continuing and confidential process of determining the grant winners. Read More…
Terrorism is always one bad day away from being the most important issue in America. With election-eve cargo plane bombing plots disrupted by information from a repentant al Qaeda member who was also an ex-Guantanamo detainee, a timely new counter-terrorism report analyzes the most effective means for achieving the “reverse radicalization” of terrorists in prison. Among the countries whose efforts it examined was Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, where President Obama landed Tuesday morning on his Asian tour.
The report, “Risk Reduction for Countering Violent Extremism,” was unveiled at the Qatar International Academy of Security Studies on Monday—making it one of the first major counter-terrorism studies sponsored by an Arab nation. The president and secretary general of Interpol attended the briefings on site as well as senior representatives from the U.S. State Department, Department of Defense, FBI, NCIS and the U.S. Marshals Service. It was staffed by an international team of national security experts including Ali Soufan, the former FBI special agent in charge of the USS Cole bombing investigation who came to prominence thru a post-9/11 New Yorker profile and his subsequent criticism of the effectiveness of interrogation techniques such as water-boarding by the Bush administration. Read More…
The lesson that hyper-partisans will be tempted to take from Tuesday’s historic “shellacking” is that the more polarizing the candidate, the better the results.
Reality does not bear that theory out. In fact, the most celebrated Tea Party-supported nominees trailed more centrist Republican candidates in the same state considerably, putting a drag on the overall ticket and quite possibly costing the GOP control of the U.S. Senate.
The fact that Harry Reid ended up sailing past Sharron Angle in Nevada wasn’t the only important measure of her failure in this marquee Tea Party race. Angle ended up trailing the current Republican Governor-elect Brian Sandoval by more than 61,000 votes. 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…
Christine O’Donnell’s latest face-plant—asking “Where in the Constitution is separation of church and state?”—was not just cringe-inducing. It was revealing and part of a growing chorus from social conservative populist candidates running under the Tea Party banner this year.
O’Donnell’s comments were muted compared to her fellow Delaware conservative Glen Urquhart, who earlier this year offered supporters of his congressional campaign a detailed explanation of how the separation of church and state was not in the Constitution but rooted in Nazi propaganda.
“Do you know, where does this phrase ‘separation of church and state’ come from?” Urquhart asked in a campaign speech caught on tape. “It was not in Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists… The exact phrase ‘separation of Church and State’ came out of Adolph Hitler’s mouth, that’s where it comes from. So the next time your liberal friends talk about the separation of Church and State ask them why they’re Nazis.” Read More…
China has emerged as a key campaign issue in 2010, invoked by Democrats and Republicans alike. But the anger isn’t just the outsourcing of jobs in this Great Recession—it’s the long-term threat to American sovereignty posed by the U.S. debt.
No less than 30 candidates across the country are running ads that negatively tie their opponent to China. On a trip to Ohio this week, my television was flooded with campaign ads, including a telling salvo against incumbent Congresswoman Mary Jo Kilroy, featuring Chinese money, Mao, and the red communist flag. Anti-China themes are also evident in late-inning videos from California and Nevada to Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
Not coincidentally, these are races where The Daily Beast Election Oracle finds the term “China” surging in online digital grassroots conversation. In select House seats in Ohio (18-CD), Florida (12-CD), West Virginia (3-CD) and Alabama (5-CD), debates about China are making up more than 15 percent of the total online conversation. It’s more evidence of what Joe Klein found talking to people on his nationwide road-trip, recounted in a recent Time magazine cover story: “For every occasion they raised Afghanistan, they mentioned China 25 times.” Read More…
Collections of letters are usually academic exercises or vanity projects, rarely read and containing little practical wisdom. The great exception comes from Daniel Patrick Moynihan: A Portrait in Letters of an American Visionary.
This is an autobiography written in real time. It offers a portrait of an American civic original, with an exuberant personality and a vibrant mind, both an optimist and a skeptic, full of a passion for putting ideas into action. And while the book doubles as an intimate history of the second half of the 20th century, its primary impact on me was something more than nostalgia: it made realize how much we need more Moynihans in our politics. No senator then or since deserves the high praise offered by The Economist after his death: “a philosopher-politician-diplomat who two centuries earlier would not have been out of place among the founding fathers.” Read More…
“We as one nation must stand together, must fight the forces of evil, the conservatives in this country across the board,” bellowed Ed Schultz, emcee of the One Nation Working Together rally on the Washington Mall Saturday. “The conservative voices of America, they are holding you down. They don’t believe in your freedom…. They talk about the Constitution, but they don’t want to live by it. They don’t believe in your freedom…. They talk about the founding fathers, but they want discrimination.”
The stated intention of the One Nation rally was to promote an “antidote” rather than just a left-wing “alternative to the Tea Party,” according to NAACP President Benjamin Jealous. The reality fell far short of that unifying goal.
Instead, the rally offered a snapshot of the fragile coalition that is the contemporary far left—a dizzying array of activist organizations and identity politics, with financial muscle provided by the labor unions who bused their members in. Read More…
Stephen Colbert testifying in front of Congress. Bill Maher serving as a one-man opposition research division against Wingnut Queen Christine O’Donnell. Jon Stewart hosting a pre-election “Rally to Restore Sanity” on the Washington Mall.
It’s no joke: Comedians are driving the political debate this year. Consider it a sign of the times – laughter and satire is the only sane response to the sickening spin cycle we’re subjected to on a daily basis.
After all, if a one-fifth of Americans believe that President Obama is secretly a Muslim, one-quarter believe that he wasn’t born in the United States, and over half think he’s a socialist, we’re acting crazy anyway. Might as well add some intentional humor to the funhouse-mirror distortions that pass for political debate. Because the best explanation for belief in the above statistics came from Colbert: “I love the truth; it’s facts I’m not a fan of.” Read More…
Call it the Palin Standard, the new normal creeping into Republican abortion politics—opposition even in cases of rape and incest. When Sarah Palin was plucked from obscurity two years ago to become the VP nominee, McCain’s senior policy aides did not know that she held this extreme position, which is shared by only 15 percent of the population, according to a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll.
Now at least six Tea Party-backed statewide GOP candidates—Nevada’s Sharron Angle, Delaware’s Christine O’Donnell, Colorado’s Ken Buck, Kentucky’s Rand Paul, Alaska’s Joe Miller, and New York’s Carl Paladino—back this absolutist stand.
That’s twice the number of GOP Senate candidates who are broadly pro-choice this year—Illinois’ Mark Kirk, Connecticut’s Linda McMahon, and Oregon’s James Huffman. And it’s telling that Mike Castle and Lisa Murkowski—two centrist GOP candidates who were RINO-hunted in closed primaries—were both pro-choice. Read More…
How does a fringe preacher go from 50 congregants to the front page of 50 newspapers overnight?
Just say you’re going to burn the Quran. It took little more for the “Reverend” Terry Jones and his ironically named Dove World Outreach Center to go from obscure even in their hometown of Gainesville, Florida, to instant international infamy. But this twisted celebrity came at a cost: violent protests in Afghanistan and beyond. Generals, Cabinet secretaries and even the president were reduced to reasoning with an essentially unreasonable and insignificant man. Read More…
It’s enough to make you miss the “Daisy” ad.
LBJ’s invocation of nuclear war if Barry Goldwater won the ‘64 election was substantive and civil compared to the worst of the campaign ads we’ve seen so far this season.
It’s not that our ads today are necessarily uglier or more mean-spirited than those in the past. But they are palpably weirder.
The craziest campaign spots this year to date include a cranked-up interview with an Abe Lincoln impersonator who compares health care to slavery, and Terry Gilliam-inspired “Demon Sheep” that just might provoke acid flashbacks. There’s Muslim-baiting imagery borrowed from 24 and an absurd ‘80s nostalgia sing-along that would make the boys from Wham! blush. Read More…
Closing arguments in one of the prime civil-rights fights of our time is scheduled to take place this Wednesday in San Francisco, with the high drama surrounding the constitutional challenge to California’s Prop 8 ban on same-sex marriage heightened by the unlikely duo making the case—conservative Ted Olson and liberal David Boies.
The two legal legends famously squared off in Bush v. Gore, but their personal friendship and shared principle on this issue have led them to push for marriage equality in the courts via Perry v. Schwarzenegger. It’s a partnership that has many conservatives fuming and even some liberals suspicious in opposition, but it just might point to a way beyond the hyperpartisan politics that characterizes the culture wars.
I spoke with them both Sunday night as they prepared their closing argument. “This is not and should not be viewed as a conservative or liberal or Republican or Democratic issue,” says Boies. “This is a civil-rights issue and a human-rights issue.” Read More…
Professional partisans present a vision of American politics where everything is divided between the far left and the far right. Lately, they seem to be dominating the nation’s political debate. But there’s a powerful backlash brewing—a movement of voices from the vital center who are declaring their independence from play-to-the-base politics. 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…
The Birthers were back in force at the National Tea Party Convention in Nashville.
WorldNet Daily founder Joseph Farah used his prime-time speaking slot, broadcast on C-Span, to pump up claims that President Obama was not born in the United States—and received enthusiastic applause from the audience. Birther queen Orly Taitz was in the house, making the rounds as a celebrity conspiracy theorist.
The persistence of this much-debunked rumor is a reminder of how the fringe is blurring with the base in American politics. It provoked conservative Internet impresario Andrew Breitbart into a confrontation with Farah, the new guard vs. the old, with Breitbart arguing that attempts to prove Obama was born abroad are stupid and self-destructive, “a losing issue.”
The high-profile resurgence of the Birther claims on cable television provoked much self-satisfaction from liberals as the latest evidence of the influence of wingnuts on conservative politics. Read More…
One year ago, the first Tea Party protest hadn’t even been held yet and the phrase remained safely ensconced in American history textbooks. This weekend, the first national Tea Party Convention will be held in Nashville, and the fractious movement has secured a place in the history of the Obama administration. But for all the attention it has earned, misconceptions abound. Here are the top five. Read More…
With less than 100 days left to the midterm elections, it’s clear that anti-incumbent anger is going to be a bad wind blowing through Nov. 2.
But not all incumbents are created equally weasel-y, and the best way to judge the ones who deserve to be kicked out of Congress is not just by looking at their party affiliation in the voting booth. There is plenty of blame to go around for the hyper-partisanship that’s contributing to an escalation of hate with a side order of stalemate—neither party has a monopoly on virtue or vice. The Wingnut extremes encourage each other, providing fodder for a cycle of fear-mongering and fundraising.
The House of Representatives is the key battleground of the midterm election. Republicans need 40 seats to take back control, and the smart money spread right now says that between 29 and 50 are seats in play. But just changing the party in control is not going to solve the problem of hyper-partisanship and escalating incivility. Voters have got to take on the people who have made the politics of incitement part of their business plan, with points added for incompetence and unethical behavior.
And so I’ve created a list of what I’m calling “The Kick ‘Em Out Caucus” of 2010. It’s an incomplete rogue’s gallery. With just one-third of the Senate up for reelection, I’ve sidestepped that august body, for now—something that shouldn’t give the prostitute-procuring, Birther-baiting senator from Louisiana, David Vitter, any comfort. Other candidates for inclusion, like the Castro-praising Rep. Diane Watson, are missing from the list because they wisely opted for retirement or unwisely aimed for higher office. (I’m looking at you, Zach Wamp, for your secessionist talk.)
Not all these characters are in competitive races; after all, the rigged system of redistricting is what enables most of them to avoid forming broad coalitions and winning over the reasonable edge of the opposition. Despite the divisions they deepen in the country, it’s possible that most of this list will be reelected—but that’s why it’s worth calling them out as among the worst members of Congress from a Wingnut perspective. Where possible, I’ve included a link to their general-election opponent’s website, so readers can check out the alternative and consider whether he or she deserves support. With Congress heading out for August recess, it’s a constructive way to keep the heat on. Read More…
From savior to heretic in one week—well, that was fast.
Some conservative activists are already taking aim at Massachusetts Senator-elect Scott Brown by calling him a RINO, or Republican in Name Only.
With Martha Coakley out of the way, they’ve belatedly discovered that Brown is (gasp) pro-choice. It’s an accusation that was always hiding in plain sight. A glance at his campaign Web site revealed that Brown believed “this decision should ultimately be made by a woman in consultation with her doctor.” It’s not that he was ever going to be on NARAL’s Christmas card list; he opposes partial-birth abortion and supports parental notification. But like a libertarian, or a centrist Republican, he believes that government shouldn’t ultimately make this most difficult personal decision for a woman outside reasonable restrictions. Read More…
As we approach tomorrow’s eighth anniversary of the September 11th attacks—the first since President George W. Bush left office—there’s been a creeping complacency to the remembrance, a feeling of obligation bordering on inconvenience. It’s as if America wants to turn the page, but can’t quite bring itself to ignore the hole that’s still at ground zero or the war that’s still going on against the Taliban in Afghanistan. Read More…
Conservatives love to complain about Hollywood liberals hijacking our culture and our politics. With the likely seating of SNL-alum Al Franken in the Senate and the possible candidacy of actor Val Kilmer for New Mexico governor, you can expect such riffs to hit a fever pitch.
But there’s a dirty little secret behind this stereotype: The most successful celebrities turned politicians are Republicans.
Ronald Reagan began the modern celebrity-turned-politician era, with his unlikely campaign for California governor in 1966 before being elected president in 1980. Conservatives love to recall the Gipper giving the “evil empire” speech to the National Association of Evangelicals, but Reagan called Hollywood home for most of his adult life and Merv Griffin was a far more common family-dinner companion than Jerry Falwell. If he’d stayed a Democrat instead of changing his registration before running for office, the attack ads would have written themselves. Read More…
It’s time for a reality check.
More Americans have been murdered in mass shootings over the last month than have been killed on the battlefields of Iraq or Afghanistan this year.
Here are the grisly statistics: 54 innocents dead in nine shootings over the past four weeks. In Iraq, 45 U.S. soldiers have made the ultimate sacrifice in 2009. In Afghanistan, 43 soldiers have been killed since New Year’s Day.
There are the 13 murdered in Binghamton, New York, last Friday—four more than the March death toll in Iraq. There are the 10 killed last month in Samson, Alabama. Eight murdered in a North Carolina nursing home. Six killed in Silicon Valley. Five children murdered by their father in Washington state. Four Oakland police officers cut down. Three Pittsburgh police officers allegedly shot by a drunk white supremacist who believed the Obama administration was coming for his guns. This Tuesday, four family members were found dead at the hand of a fifth in Greenhill, Alabama. And just yesterday, one person was killed and three injured in an assault on a Korean Christian retreat in California. Read More…
Today is the 200th birthday of Abraham Lincoln and rarely has Honest Abe been in such demand.
Our nation’s first African-American president—also a self-made lawyer from Illinois—rarely loses an opportunity to compare himself to the Great Emancipator. There are new documentaries like Looking for Lincoln on PBS and best-selling biographies like Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals that inform our political debates. Lincoln looms large because his wisdom, integrity, and humility are always in short supply among politicians.
But for the Republican Party this anniversary is at best bittersweet. Lincoln was, of course, the first Republican president—and the GOP has called itself with justifiable pride “the Party of Lincoln” ever since. And, yes, just weeks ago they elected the first African-American chairman of their party, marking a considerable step towards reclaiming their roots. Read More…
With tax snafus scalping Tom Daschle and Nancy Killefer—and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner narrowly escaping a similar fate—the Obama administration has hit its first rough patch.
From Zoe Baird to Linda Chavez, we’ve seen this movie before. The tax code’s complexity (and, sometimes, the nominee’s laxity) invites gotcha politics. Even otherwise-honest filers can make career-crushing mistakes. The silver lining is that maybe Democrats will now embrace tax simplification as change they can believe in. Read More…
What are you doing for your family’s summer vacation? Shirley Phelps-Roper decided to take her two daughters to New York City from Topeka, Kansas. To protest outside Walter Cronkite’s funeral yesterday. They even had a fancy sign made up that said “Cronkite in Hell.”
“He’s in hell right now,” eagerly explains 23-year-old Megan, as mourners entered St. Bartholomew’s Church across Park Avenue. Her mom told me that Cronkite “had a platform to influence people in the right direction and he failed to do that. He chose to worship the flag and not God.” Also, he was a “fag-lover.” It says it right there on their press release: “We protest all this holy Cronkite worship. He was no hero to God. On his Cronkite Watch, America was surrendered to the fag-agenda. Ergo, Cronkite is now in Hell. And that’s the way it is. God hates Cronkite. “ Read More…
At his final press conference, President Bush seemed mystified by one aspect of his legacy in particular—his failure to change the tone in Washington. The man who campaigned on his bipartisan record as governor of Texas, and was confident that he could impose freedom and democracy on the Middle East, feels like a victim of DC’s culture of poisonous partisanship, even as Obama seems to transcend it.
Bush failed in large part because there were too many conservative apparatchiks in his administration who did not share that goal—they saw government as a warfare of interests, where service to ideology was idealism. They hijacked his administration in ways both big and small. I saw it with my own eyes. It’s a story I haven’t told until now.
It was a few months after the attacks of September 11. The country was briefly united around the Bush administration. The divisions left by the 2000 election had faded away in the face of our common grief and resolve. We remembered that we were all Americans first—not Democrats or Republicans. (If that sounds naïve to you now, you’re part of the problem.)
I’d been working as chief speechwriter to Rudy Giuliani, who had left office respecting the two-term limit imposed by New York’s voters. I was tired—writing eulogies for three months will do that to you. But the memory of the towers’ collapse was still fresh. I wanted to serve my country and see the work to completion. I was asked to come down to the State Department, to interview for a position vaguely described as writing for the war on terror.
I met with a woman who shall remain nameless—no point in dragging her through the mud now. She was a southern political operative who’d worked on the first President Bush’s campaigns. She pointed proudly to a blown-up photo of 41 and 43 on the wall as she asked me to sit down. She felt a familial loyalty to the clan—she was part of the restoration after the stain of the Clinton years.
My first sign of the trouble to come was during the pre-game small talk. She’d asked me to describe what I’d been doing the past few months, and I gave the story of my recent life, capped by something to the effect of how I took this all (meaning 9/11 and its still-unfolding aftermath) personally. She stiffened in her chair and said, “Nobody takes this more personally than the president.”
I quickly tried to clarify that I hadn’t been trying to one-up the president, just that the attacks had affected a lot of people personally in different ways. But the snowball of suspicion had begun to build in her mind—where did my loyalties lie? Soon came the question:
“Who did you vote for?” she asked.
“I don’t think I have to answer that question,” I replied.
I’d expected an interview, not an interrogation, and while I took no special pride in giving the political equivalent of name, rank, and serial number, I was dizzy and pissed. We were at war, and I was being asked about a vote cast in another era. I’d taken the president’s talk of national unity seriously—his staff had not.
She tried a different tack, asking whether I’d volunteered for the campaign, donated money, or attended any rallies. I said that I’d been working in city government at the time and it would have been inappropriate for me to be involved in partisan politics, but added that I’d seen then-Gov. Bush speak on education reform at the Manhattan Institute and been impressed. I reiterated that I’m a registered independent and to calm any fears that I was a knee-jerk New York liberal, I (lamely and no doubt unwisely) said I’d supported John McCain during the 2000 primaries. This she noted in a file.
During a perfunctory walk down the marble hallways she explained with a cold smile that the State Department was full of liberal careerists who tried to obstruct Republican presidents’ attempts to implement their foreign policy. They were, in effect, the enemy within. I recalled the old Truman/Eisenhower-era line about how partisan politics ought to end at the water’s edge.
Needless to say, I didn’t get the job. It was nothing approaching heartbreak—there are other ways to serve your country. But when the Monica Goodling scandal broke, I was not surprised.
You might remember Goodling as a revealing footnote in the autumn of the Bush administration. She was the 34-year-old Justice Department White House liaison—known as “she who must be obeyed” by her staff—who illegally imposed partisan litmus tests on prospective Justice Department civil-service employees. An investigation found that Goodling asked about abortion in 34 interviews and gay marriage on at least 21 different occasions. She recommended Internet searches be applied to job applicants to gain insight into their political beliefs, and just before Christmas 2006, Goodling emailed political appointee John Nowacki urging him to “hire one more good American”—a phrase he later testified applied exclusively to conservatives. Most amusingly from the perspective of my State Department escapade, when one applicant expressed admiration for Condoleezza Rice, Goodling frowned and said, “But she is pro-choice.”
Monica Goodling’s actions were standard operating procedure in the belly of the Bush administration, as second-tier appointees advanced a narrower partisan agenda than the president ever professed. Bush’s centrist rhetoric was understood to be empty rhetoric by these operatives who remembered that the affable Bush had also been an advocate of Lee Atwater’s scorched-earth politics in his father’s 1988 campaign.
Professional partisans’ fundamental analysis of American politics is us against them—their ideological intolerance is a key reason why Bush was ultimately unable to unite the country even after a massive attack. This is more than just the latest flavor of partisan hackery—it is a sign that Washington team-ism has metastasized to the core of our body politic. Obama is trying to cure this capital-culture cancer by showing that presidents do not have to be a prisoner of partisan politics—witness his recent dinner with conservative columnists and substantively centrist cabinet—but he will have to make sure that message resonates on every level of his administration to truly put this Bush-league legacy behind us.
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.
After billion-dollar-bailout binges, bankruptcies, and the death of the Big Three, it’s time somebody said thank you to Ford on behalf of the American taxpayer.
The last man standing is also the only major U.S. automaker to choose free markets over freeloading. At a time when direct competitor General Motors took a total of $50 billion in taxpayer dollars while easing into bankruptcy and the privately controlled Chrysler helped themselves to $4 billion and a shotgun marriage with Fiat, Ford acted with a rare sense of responsibility and restraint in an unreasonable time.
When government is giving out free money by the barrel, short-term self-interest might dictate that it makes sense to line up and get yours. But thanks to a well-timed recapitalization and a long-term outlook, this American icon is primed to succeed as the others fail. Ford is far from out of the woods entirely, but anyone who cares about forgotten principles of fiscal responsibility ought to applaud Ford’s decisions to date and root for their success in the future.
There are at least three instructive actions Ford took to put them in this pole position.
1. Get Perspective on Your Problems
When Ford failed to execute on its umpteenth turnaround attempt, they didn’t just replace one CEO with another company car guy. Instead, they went outside the auto industry to former Boeing CEO Alan Mulally in 2006.
As the old saying goes, “in a place where everyone’s is thinking alike, no one’s thinking very much” and the American auto industry has long suffered from a severe case of Detroit myopia. Mulally approached the leadership of Ford with a clear-eyed perspective that defied industry conventional wisdom and compelled urgent action. He cut costs and shareholder dividends while borrowing $23.6 billion against company assets in the comparatively flush ‘06 business cycle.This set the stage for their survival.
It was institutional resistance to change that led to Ford’s toppling as the top U.S. car manufacturer early in the American Century. Founder Henry Ford imperiously insisted that customers could have “any color car they’d like as long as it was black,” while Alfred P. Sloan at General Motors pioneered the use of color to broaden the palate of taste for the American consumer. Echoes of that optimization of individual choice and customer responsiveness are what’s been missing from U.S. carmakers in recent decades.
2. Leaders Think in Decades, Not Quarters
The tail has been wagging the dog in American industry. In the buildup to this economic crisis, too many executive decisions were made with an eye on impressive quarterly reports rather than achieving real strategic goals. This opened the door for the type of con-man gamesmanship that pumped up the appearance of short-term profits at the expense of long-term shareholder value.
Mulally is fond of saying that he wants to “look decades down the road, not months.” And Ford was making early investments in next-generation auto technology even before this crisis compelled such actions. Former CEO and family scion William C. Ford, Jr. put an emphasis on environmentalism that many of his more conservative colleagues thought was a baby-boomer indulgence instead of long-term market savvy. While General Motors pulled the plug on its pioneering electronic vehicle—the EV1—over the protests of its devoted owners, Ford continued development of hybrid, flex-fuel, electric, and hydrogen vehicles, some of which will hit the road in the coming year. America’s own startup car company Tesla has the clear edge in high-end electric performance vehicles, but Ford is obeying a rule which was too long ignored among the Big Three—make change your ally, not your enemy.
3. Keep It Simple
CEO Mulally is a devotee of Japanese simplification processes (ironically, introduced to post-war Japan by American management guru W. Edwards Deming) which focus on improving essential efficiencies at the expense of complicated indulgences. Accordingly, Ford shed its less-profitable prestige brands like Land Rover and Jaguar in advance of the economic crisis, while Mulally ordered a revival of the popular former flagship brand, the Taurus.
Further simplification in terms of brands and especially union contracts will be necessary for Ford to become truly competitive in the long run. It shares the commitments that turned General Motors into a pension-delivery business rather than a car-manufacturing company, while foreign-owned, nonunionized auto companies such as Nissan have thrived in the American South. giving parity-level wages to its employees without the overgenerous pension benefits.
At a time when former apostles of the free market bellied up to the government bar and asked for billions in taxpayer bailouts, Ford was almost alone in showing respect for the American taxpayer. They deserve to be rewarded not only with accolades, but with a newfound loyalty from American consumers.
UPDATE: Looks like the tsunami has arrived in California, with state legislators one vote short of a spending cut and tax-hike compromise to close a $42 billion budget deficit. (By comparison, that’s twice the national debt during the Great Depression.)
California has been sending out IOUs instead of tax refunds, bills aren’t being paid, workers have been furloughed two days a month without pay, and now Arnold is preparing to send out 20,000 pink slips—10 percent of the governor-controlled state headcount—in an attempt to save an additional $750 billion a year. Read More…