Friday, July 31, 2009

Surprise: Legislator-In-Chief Obama is Not So Good at Legislating

Democratic Party leadership had the choice in the 2008 primary to support the inexperienced Barack Obama for its presidential nominee or Hillary Clinton with her years of proven leadership skills, knowledge, and experience. There were even on-the-air debates as to which was more valuable, Obama’s high likeability factor (that’s what gave George W. Bush the edge in 2004) or Clinton’s more substantive qualifications.

We all know what happened. The DNC went to extraordinary and even unethical lengths to nominate Barack Obama, the haloed motivational speaker, over the wonky down-to-earth Hillary Clinton.

So it should surprise no one today to read Michael Barone’s post at RCP titled Obama Has Aura But Doesn’t Know How to Legislate. What is surprising is that Barone very clearly describes Obama’s lack of legislative experience and pinpoints the problems our president’s thin resume means for a country facing major domestic and foreign relations problems. (Tina Brown was on to something like this in her recent post advising Obama to enlist the aid of Bill Clinton.)

Barone writes (emphases mine):

Aura dazzles, but argument gets things done. Consider the debate on the Democrats' health care bill and the increasingly negative response to Barack Obama's performance. Democrats have the numbers to pass a health care bill -- 256 votes in the House, 38 more than the 218 majority; 60 votes in the Senate, enough to defeat a filibuster. But they haven't come up with the arguments, at least yet, to put those numbers on the board. It's something not many predicted that bright January inauguration morning. We knew that day that Obama was good at aura, at generating enthusiasm for the prospect of hope and change. His inspiring speeches -- the Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner in Des Moines, the race speech in Philadelphia, the countless rallies in primary and caucus and target states -- helped him capture the Democratic nomination and then win the presidency by the biggest percentage margin in 20 years.

But it turns out that Obama is not so good at argument. Inspiration is one thing, persuasion another. He created the impression on the campaign trail that he was familiar with major issues and readily ticked off his positions on them. But he has not proved so good at legislating.

And the reason Obama is not so good at legislating:

One reason perhaps is that he has had little practice. He served as a legislator for a dozen years before becoming president, but was only rarely an active one. He spent one of his eight years as an Illinois state senator running unsuccessfully for Congress and two of them running successfully for U.S. senator. He spent two of his years in the U.S. Senate running for president. During all of his seven non-campaign years as a legislator, he was in the minority party.

In other words, he's never done much work putting legislation together -- especially legislation that channels vast flows of money and affects the workings of parts of the economy that deeply affect people's lives. This lack of experience is starting to show. On the major legislation considered this year -- the stimulus, cap-and-trade, health care -- the Obama White House has done little or nothing to set down markers, to provide guidance, to establish boundaries and no-go areas.

Barone concludes:

Obama's July 22 press conference was intended to rally support for the Democrats' health care bills. It didn't. The president eschewed serious arguments and rattled off campaign-type talking points. Those used to be enough to elicit cheers from enthusiastic audiences in Iowa and Virginia.

But aura can only take you so far, particularly when you diminish it by disrespecting the Cambridge police department. Being president means being more than commenter-in-chief. You need to know how to legislate. You need not just aura but argument.

Yikes! As the renowned David Brooks once mentioned, George W. Bush never learned the difference between campaigning and governing - yet one more similarity between Dubya and Obama.

Here’s my favorite reader’s comment following Barone’s post:

Posted by S. Valenti

We needn't look any further than the trajectory of our Massachusetts Governor, Deval Patrick for a blueprint of how Obama's presidency is unfolding. Like Obama, Patrick came out of nowhere and was swept into office with the same rhetoric of 'hope and change' and with the help of their shared svengali, Axelrod. Many had high hopes for Patrick. He's been unable though to work with the overwhelmingly Democratic Legislature to accomplish any meaningful legislation and his handling of the economy is not reassuring. His poll numbers tanked within his first year and it appears that he'll be a one term Governor.

I supported Patrick back in 2006 but quickly learned that rhetoric is no substitute for a substantive record of accomplishment. I didn't see any reason to buy into Obama's rhetoric last year or make the same mistake twice.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Tina Brown: The Falsehood of Obama Campaign’s Charge of Racism Against Bill Clinton

God knows I’ve referenced often enough at Katalusis Princeton historian Sean Wilentz’s repeated debunking of the Obama campaign’s attempts to smear Bill and Hillary Clinton as racists. Yet I thought I’d never see the day when another prominent old media/new media writer would actually speak the truth on this particular issue.

Tina Brown at the Daily Beast chides Obama for his beer diplomacy scheduled today with Professor Gates and Police Officer Crowley and suggests the current president might benefit from the political skills of former president Clinton in attending to a more pressing matter - legislating a decent health care reform bill.

Ms. Brown writes (emphasis mine):

It looks like Obama would rather live on cheeseburgers than let Clinton get into the act on health care—or on anything else, for that matter. Maybe he thinks there’s no stage big enough for both these two Mount Rushmore megastars and never will be. Despite surface cordiality and self-restraint for Hillary’s sake, the former president’s wounds from the harsh charge of racism on the campaign, a falsehood on which Obama created his "post-racialism" campaign, remain deep, and they are not assuaged by the coolly minimal lip service a still mistrustful Obama pays to Bill’s presidential wisdom. “Sure, he calls me every few weeks,” the former president told a person I know. “But it feels as if, you know, he’s just checking a box.”

Isn’t this the racial reconciliation that should be taking place over a beer at the White House?

Good question, Tina.

Sudanese Women Sentenced Forty Lashes for Wearing Trousers - Female Journalist Defies Court

We Americans need reminding from time to time that we are important role models to the rest of the world. Plus, we like to tell other nations how they should be governing themselves, especially on issues such as human rights.

As if we’re on top of our game in human rights.

Never mind Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, our dearth of women political leaders, the upsurge of sexism and misogyny during the 2008 presidential election... oh, that reminds me of President Obama’s head speech writer, Jon Favreau, otherwise known as Jon, the Groper. Nothing like a viral photo going global of tipsy Jon and his male friend sexually molesting a life-size cardboard cutout of our newly appointed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Hey, Jon, way to send a message to women in countries like Sudan where Islamic Sharia law is enforced. Never mind. In spite of the depraved mind of the guy who unbelievably continues to put words in President Obama’s mouth, brave women manage to stand up against the cruel oppression of their cultures wherever they happen to be.

Take Sudanese female journalist Lubna Hussein. The Huffington Post cites an AFP report that Hussein, who was arrested July 3 for wearing pants and is now standing trial, openly defied the court by wearing the very same outfit to trial that she was arrested for.

From the Huffington Post/Associated Press:

A Sudanese female journalist facing 40 lashes for wearing trousers in public in violation of the country's strict Islamic laws told a packed Khartoum courtroom Wednesday she is resigning from a U.N. job that grants her immunity so she can challenge the law on women's public dress code.

Lubna Hussein was among 13 women arrested July 3 in a raid by members of the public order police force on a popular Khartoum cafe for wearing trousers, considered indecent by the strict interpretation of Islamic law adopted by Sudan's Islamic regime. All but three of the women were flogged at a police station two days later.

But Hussein and two other women decided they wanted to go to trial and Hussein invited human rights workers, western diplomats and fellow journalists to Wednesday's hearing.

Some of her women friends showed up in court Wednesday wearing trousers in a show of support.

"This is not a case about me wearing pants," said Hussein, who works in the media department of the U.N. Mission in Sudan and contributes opinion pieces to a left-leaning Khartoum newspaper.

"This is a case about annulling the article that addresses women's dress code, under the title of indecent acts. This is my battle. This article is against the constitution and even against Islamic law itself," she said after the hearing.”

Did I mention earlier that Americans like to promote themselves as role models for the rest of the world? U.S. human rights activists would do well to look to Lubna Hussein and her supporters in Sudan for guidance. Our country's 51 percent female population must unite to make sure that never again will female candidates for the presidency or any other public office be treated with the blatant misogynist contempt experienced by Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin in 2008.

America can do better.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

More Bad News for Democrats, and It’s Way Past Time to Own Up to Mistakes of 2008

As I posted earlier this morning, the latest NPR poll shows both Obama and the Democratic party’s majority in congress on a downhill slide. Adding to worries for the Obama Administration, the headline at Politico this morning reads Backlash: Democratic Dangers Mount, and writers Charles Mahtesian and Josh Kraushaar are hoisting red flags:

Democrats giddy with possibilities only six months ago now confront a perilous 2010 landscape signaled by troublesome signs of President Barack Obama’s political mortality, the plunging popularity of many governors and rising disquiet among many vulnerable House Democrats.

The issue advantage has shifted as well, with Democrats facing the brunt of criticism about the pace of stimulus package spending, anxiety over rising unemployment rates and widespread uneasiness over the twin pillars of Obama’s legislative agenda: his cap-and-trade approach to climate change and the emerging health care bill.

Bolstered by historical trends that work in the GOP’s favor — midterm elections are typically hostile to the party in power — and the prospect of the first election in a decade without former President George W. Bush either on the ballot or in office, Republicans find themselves on the offensive for the first time since 2004.

None of this is to say that the Democratic congressional majorities are in serious jeopardy. The GOP has suffered some significant setbacks, ranging from headline-grabbing personal indiscretions to Sen. Arlen Specter’s party switch, and it continues to be plagued by an inability to present its own new ideas.

Yet the possibilities GOP officials now imagine are a dramatic shift from the bleak prospects that the 2010 midterm elections presented for the party at the beginning of the year.

Back then, the newly elected president was fresh off a sweeping victory and riding a wave of inaugural goodwill. The Republican Party’s standing had seemingly hit rock bottom in the polls. The enormous Democratic House majority looked unassailable, and the party’s advantage in the Senate looked nearly as formidable, with the GOP forced to defend more Senate seats in total in 2010 than Democrats — a predicament exacerbated by a handful of Republican retirements in key battleground states.

“There’s a sense building among Republicans that 2010 is going to be a far better political environment than 2008 or 2006,” said GOP pollster Whit Ayres. “Part of that is because we have a Democratic president and a Democratic-controlled Senate and House that are promoting fiscally dangerous policies for the future of the country. Part of it is we don’t have the burden of Iraq as we did in 2006 and don’t have the economy on the Republicans’ watch as we had in 2008.”

In one sign of the reconfigured landscape, Republican candidates lead in the polls in this fall’s closely watched gubernatorial elections — in New Jersey and Virginia. In New Jersey, where first-term Democrat Gov. Jon Corzine trails his challenger by double digits, a far-reaching corruption investigation has led to the resignation of one member of Corzine’s Cabinet and insider speculation about whether Corzine should be replaced on the ticket in November by a more viable Democratic nominee.

Mahtesian and Kraushaar go on to describe in further detail the potential downside for the Republicans in 2010, but their red flags for the Dems still bristle across the landscape; and over at On the Trail, (the National Journal), bipartisan Amy Walter makes similar points. Walter’s post is titled A Regional Party No More and subtitled Far From Being Relegated To The South, The GOP Is Showing Signs Of Life In Democratic Strongholds. Walter writes:

Despite the ongoing hand-wringing among many Republican insiders and pundits about the fate of the party in the Obama age, a mini-resurgence of the moderate GOP brand is quietly taking place in the Northeast.

In almost every state north of the Mason-Dixon Line, Democratic officeholders are struggling and a GOP candidate is polling well. In places like New Jersey, Connecticut and New York, there are signs that moderate Republicans, once considered extinct, are reappearing. Like any endangered creature, they went underground until a better climate appeared.

So it goes. My recommendation to Democratic Party leaders in my previous post stands. So-called liberals are advised to repent of your misdeeds in your fraudulent 2008 primary and convention, rigged to assure an Obama victory; own up to the sexism and misogyny you displayed in your treatment of the better qualified Hillary Clinton; and publicly apologize to voters; only then will you stand a chance of regaining the respect of the American people.

NPR Poll Shows Approval for Obama and Democratically-Controlled Congress Headed South

Scanning online news sources early this morning, NPR's headline leaped out: NPR Poll Finds Tough Sledding For Obama. We would add the same poll finds tough sledding these days for Democrats in general.

NPR’s Mara Liasson reports:

President Obama has hit a rough patch this summer, squeezed between a lingering recession and rising questions about the health care overhaul he has made the centerpiece of his first-year agenda.

The nation is close to evenly split in its assessment of the president's policies to date, and there is great intensity on both sides of the debate with dwindling numbers in the middle.

Those are the chief findings of the latest NPR poll of registered voters conducted nationwide Wednesday through Sunday by a bipartisan team. The pollsters found 53 percent approving of the president's handling of his job, while 42 percent disapproved — the narrowest gap of the Obama presidency to date. Most of the approving group said they approved strongly, and an even greater majority of the disapproving group said they disapproved strongly.

Here’s the NPR poll’s take on the Democratically-controlled congress:

But if the president saw his numbers down, Congress fared far worse, with just 7 percent saying they approved strongly and 25 percent saying they approved somewhat. A 61 percent majority said they disapproved of Congress, with 2 out of 3 of them doing so strongly.

Perhaps it’s time for the Democratic party to begin some long over-due soul searching. It could start by reviewing its unethical tactics during the 2008 primary for selecting Barack Obama when Hillary Clinton was clearly the people’s choice and follow-up with a close examination of the questionable procedures followed during the Denver spectacle that set up a rigged roll call vote to assure an Obama victory. We would also strongly suggest the party initiate an all-out effort to cleanse itself of sexism and misogyny. In the event of a public apology for all the above, those of us who left the Democratic party and registered as non-affiliated could possibly consider returning to the fold. And who knows? Democrats might even regain the respect of the American people.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Ongoing Saga of the Haloed Barack Obama and the Lobbyists, Part II

If you don’t recall from the Democratic primary how the haloed youthful males Barack Obama and John Edwards pilloried Hillary Clinton for her pragmatic approach to lobbying, it isn’t because I haven’t reminded you often enough here at Katalusis. You remember the experienced Clinton contended there were ethical as well as unethical lobbyists. In contrast, the self-righteous Obama and Edwards, in typical neophyte fashion, pledged to ban all lobbyists from Washington.

So Edwards bit the dust in his betrayal of his cancer-stricken wife, and we’ve heard no more about his valiant stand against the corporate world. Obama’s sellout began early in his administration with the appointment of William Lynn III, the Raytheon Company’s top lobbyist, for the number two position at the Pentagon.

If you’ve been following the saga of Obama and the lobbyists, Part II, you won’t be at all surprised by yesterday’s headline at The Hill: Lobbyists Gain Upper Hand In Obama Battle. Bob Cusack writes:

Lobbying interests that President Obama campaigned against last year have gained the upper hand on the White House in recent weeks.

In stark contrast to Obama’s first few months in office, special interest groups this summer have aggressively opposed the president’s top domestic priorities. And they have succeeded in slowing legislation to revamp the nation’s healthcare system, won an essential change to climate change legislation and put off efforts to set up a consumer agency in the financial sector.

Read more:

Monday, July 27, 2009

Enabler or Reformer? From Chicagoland to Washington to Wall Street

Prior to the Democratic primary, political news from Chicago usually concerned the latest exposure of corruption, and a good deal of it was linked to the Daley Administration(s). But riding on a white stallion, Barack Obama blazed forth out of the windy city promising to “change the world,” “transform this country,” and create a Kingdom right here on earth.”

To help him achieve all the above, Lynn Sweet at the Sun Times, reports that Obama has brought with him to the nation’s capitol a startling number of old friends from Chicago’s 51st Ward:

WASHINGTON -- It's a Tuesday in June, and I am in one of the high-ceiling big rooms of the old office building next to the White House.

As I look around the room at the players assembled here -- including this scribe -- I'm thinking that with a few twists of fate, this all-Chicago gang could be huddling in Mayor Daley's City Hall.

It’s not terribly reassuring to be reminded of the Chicago influence on the guy steering the ship during a global financial meltdown and rising concerns about health care reform. And there probably aren’t any direct links from Chicagoland to what’s happening on Wall Street these days as described by Robert Kuttner’s recent piece at Huffpo:

The New York Times recently reported that the latest scheme--or scam--on Wall Street is something called High Frequency Trading. Very sophisticated financial firms, such as Goldman Sachs, are tipped off by the New York Stock Exchange's own computers to pending buy and sell orders. Armed with ultra sophisticated computer algorithms, the insiders anticipate the direction of the market based on what they learn about supply and demand for a given security. They can make an extra penny here and an extra penny there at the expense of us suckers, adding up to billions.

"Nearly everyone on Wall Street is wondering how hedge funds and large banks like Goldman Sachs are making so much money so soon after the financial system nearly collapsed," wrote the Times' Charles Duhigg in a front page piece that was the talk of New York and Washington. "High-frequency trading is one answer."

As debates in the blogosphere in the last couple of days have made clear, there are a couple of possibilities of what is at work here. One is that Goldman and others are literally using privileged information to make trades ahead of markets, in which case they are committing a felony. Specifically, the abuse is known as "front-running," or trading ahead of customers, and it is an explicitly illegal form of market manipulation. Front running is epidemic on Wall Street--the whole point of an investment bank trading for its own account is to take advantage of its specialized knowledge of markets--and the SEC or the Justice Department shuts down front-running when it becomes too blatant to ignore.

Kuttner concludes:

If the financial crisis has proven anything, it is that capital markets have become an insiders' game in which trading profits crowd out the legitimate business of investment. The whole business-models of the most lucrative firms on Wall Street are a menace to the rest of the economy. Until the Obama administration recognizes this most basic abuse and shuts it down, it will be more enabler than reformer.

More enabler than reformer? I hate to break the news, but that sounds a lot like the Daley machine’s modus operandi in Chicago.