Tuesday, November 30, 2010

"Robin" Medvedev gets red-breasted over missile defense

Is it unduly speculative to infer that Medvedev's newfound tough-guy demeanor is early fallout from the WikiLeaks cable dump? From The New York Times online:
MOSCOW — President Dmitri A. Medvedev, expressing continued wariness over the prospect of military cooperation with his country’s former cold war adversaries, warned on Tuesday that a failure by Russia and the West to reach an agreement on missile defense could provoke a new arms race. [snip]

The following alternatives await us in the next 10 years,” Mr. Medvedev told an audience of Russia’s top leaders gathered at the Kremlin. “Either we reach an agreement on missile defense and create a joint mechanism for cooperation or, if we do not succeed in entering into a constructive understanding, there will begin a new arms race.”

In the absence of cooperation, he said, Russia would be prepared to deploy “new means of attack.”

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A spotlight on patient diplomacy

In the Times' account of the WikiLeaks revelations vis-a-vis Iran, the authors'* admiration for the Obama's administration's response to Iran's nuclear program is palpable:.

[The cables] also offer new insights into how President Obama, determined to merge his promise of “engagement” with his vow to raise the pressure on the Iranians, assembled a coalition that agreed to impose an array of sanctions considerably harsher than any before attempted.
When Mr. Obama took office, many allies feared that his offers of engagement would make him appear weak to the Iranians. But the cables show how Mr. Obama’s aides quickly countered those worries by rolling out a plan to encircle Iran with economic sanctions and antimissile defenses. In essence, the administration expected its outreach to fail, but believed that it had to make a bona fide attempt in order to build support for tougher measures.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Oh, something else to be thankful for

From the CBO's estimate of the impact of the stimulus (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, ARRA) for the third quarter of 2010:

....looking at recorded spending to date along with estimates of the other effects of ARRA on spending and revenues, CBO has estimated the law’s impact on employment and economic output using evidence about the effects of previous similar policies and drawing on various mathematical models that represent the workings of the economy. On that basis, CBO estimates that ARRA’s policies had the following effects in the third quarter
of calendar year 2010:
  • They raised real (inflation-adjusted) gross domesticproduct (GDP) by between 1.4 percent and4.1 percent,
  • Lowered the unemployment rate by between 0.8 percentage points and 2.0 percentage points,
  • Increased the number of people employed by between 1.4 million and 3.6 million, and
  • Increased the number of full-time-equivalent jobs by 2.0 million to 5.2 million compared with what would have occurred otherwise.
That effect will wane next year. There should have been more. But I'm glad it was there.

curmudgeon's antidote

To erase the taste of my own dyspepsia below, thanks to Bill Easterly for a reminder of facts I try always to keep in mind as the world struggles to naviate its latest terrors:
here goes for what Aid Watch is sincerely thankful for:

For the largest reduction in world poverty in human history, which has already happened in our generation.
For the largest improvement in health and life expectancy in human history, which has already happened in our generation.

For all those who contributed to these successes: whether individuals operating in private, social, nonprofit, charitable, civic, public, aid, or international realms.

For all those who helped themselves and those around them escape poverty through their own efforts.
 Amen to that.

curmudgeonly confession

I do not like thanksgiving. I do not like prayer. I realize that success for humans -- being productive, reaching goals, doing good, feeling good, maintaining healthy relationships -- depends on a kind of auto-hypnosis, training oneself to think positive thoughts -- and that thanksgiving, and prayer, and votive offerings, and praise of the divine, are for many if not most people essential means of putting themselves in a frame of mind that enables them to do good of any kind. 

But still, the whole effort seems dishonest to me -- or at least to part of me, or in some frames of mind (in other frames of mind I do suspect that those endowed with the religious chip may be onto something).  Islam captures the core impulse in its name -- submission.  People may have powerful impulses to dominate, but how we love to submit, to imagine an authority that will bless us for our submission, a heavenly parent who is well pleased with us.  Many of those who are most confident that they have obtained this blessed status then turn it around and use it as a stick to bludgeon those who don't perceive the universe or their place in it in the same way.

I do realize that the placatory and worshiping impulse that makes us feel in sync with the universe or at one with the will of a benevolent deity is one of the most powerful motive forces for action that makes human life better.  Perhaps some version of this feeling of connection, however obtained, is indispensable to productive action. No one, really, should disparage any activity, social or psychological, that helps to gin this feeling up.  So disregard this post. It just expresses one powerful strain of feeling, or perception, or maybe you could even call it thinking, that won't go away.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The thought thought round the world?

My son, home just in from college for Thanksgiving this evening, is preoccupied with a paper he has to turn in tomorrow morning. In a ten-minute dinner, we talked mainly about paper-writing. Then I asked him if he'd read/heard about the North Korean bombardment of a South Korean island. He said, "Yeah, I hear we may be all drafted." I said, "When I heard the news this morning, I wondered what people thought when they first heard that some prince had been shot in Sarajevo." He said, "I thought the same thing."

I wonder how many people around the world had that same thought today, when they heard that North Korea had shelled a South Korean island. While the world as a whole grows richer apace, that August 1914 feeling keeps growing. In the west, at any rate.

M&A in "Turko-Persia"

In Afghanistan: A Cultural and Political History, anthropologist and Afghanistan specialist Thomas Barfield quickly disposes of two current cliches about the troubled country. First is the notion that Afghanistan has never been subject to unified central rule. It was, via a dynasty that ruled from 1745 through 1978, albeit with a light touch in nomadic and lightly populated areas (and prone to violent transitions).  Second is the notion that the region's inhabitants always proudly repelled foreign invaders.  On the contrary: as part of a broad region Barfield dubs "Turko-Persia," the people of what's now Afghanistan were accustomed to a political economy in which they were always subject to imperial rule, sometimes under empires centered in what's now Afghanistan, more often to those based in Persia, India, or what's now the Central Asian republics (often, different parts of the country were subject to different empires). 

Barfield points out that accommodating themselves to "foreign" rule was a norm not only for inhabitants of what's now Afghanistan, but throughout Turko-Persia and indeed throughout most of the inhabited world.  He gets that norm across with a striking analogy:

Sunday, November 21, 2010

When Mr. Nice Guy won't yield...

As previously noted, and as is now manifest to all, Obama has focused on ratification of the New START treaty as his one must-do in the lame duck session of Congress.

Like most Democrats, I have been frustrated by the President's continued patter about compromise and bipartisanship on the tax front in the wake of the election.  Notwithstanding that large majorities of Americans say that they want compromise between the president and Republicans, and that equally large majorities trust the president more than the Republicans in Congress to bargain in good faith, it seems to most of us that with Republican knives not only drawn but brandished, Obama needs to stake out his own ground -- on taxes, on DADT, on unemployment benefits. No real compromise is possible when one side does all the conceding.

It may be, though, that the show of humility on all those fronts is designed to set up a kind of reverse Nixon-to-China moment for Obama on New START.  "Nixon to China" means only a tough guy has the standing to compromise. Obama's stand on New START signals that when Mr. Reasonable won't yield, the other side must be playing politics. Rhetorically, on New START, it's easy for Obama to wrap himself in Reagan, Kissinger, Baker, Powell, Lugar, etc. And that's precisely what he's done in his latest weekly address.

Saturday, November 20, 2010


What quality would you ascribe to a public official who is willing to toss out any lie or unfounded accusation to whip the extreme fringe of her party into a frenzy?  One political scientist, perhaps a little too immersed in the political culture he studies, has an answer (my emphasis):
“Michele Bachmann does not have a strong record as a legislative strategist, and that’s never been her forte,” said Lawrence Jacobs, a University of Minnesota political science professor. “She says things that are kind of off the wall, but these are often calculated statements on her part, to register with conservative, grass-roots people, and that’s very hard for folks who are not grass-roots conservatives to understand,” he said. “Some of the things she says are zany and embarrassing to other Republicans, but that’s part of what has given her this authenticity.”
"Calculated statements" -- like accusing your political opponents of "un-American values" or conjuring "death panels" out of thin air or retailing invented cost estimates for presidential travel -- confer "authenticity."  I'm afraid the good professor has caught the zeitgeist.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Obama picks his battleground

Those of us who have watched with distress a chastened post-election Obama revert to futile bipartisan gestures and gratuitous mea culpas have wondered what he would choose to take a stand on in the lame duck session, as Republicans move to stymie all meaningful action.  The Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest? Didn't look like it, though the signals have shifted a bit in recent days. DADT?  Votes to bust a filibuster probably aren't there.

Today we have our answer. There is one battle Obama can't afford to lose -- and will lose if he defers it. That is ratification of the New START treaty with Russia.  The treaty is essential to national security, future nonproliferation efforts, United States credibility on the world stage, and, by extension, Obama's ability to conduct foreign policy.

Since Kyl's betrayal on Tuesday, I have wondered why Obama has not wrapped himself round with the six secretaries of state, seven STRATCOM commanders and five secretaries of defense who have voiced support for the treaty. Today he did that. And cleverly, he brought Ronald Reagan to the table where also sat James Baker, Madeline Albright, Henry Kissinger, William Cohen, William Perry, Brent Scowcroft, Sam Nunn, along with his current national security team:
If we ratify this treaty, we’re going to have a verification regime in place to track Russia’s strategic nuclear weapons, including U.S. inspectors on the ground.  If we don’t, then we don’t have a verification regime -– no inspectors, no insights into Russia’s strategic arsenal, no framework for cooperation between the world’s two nuclear superpowers.  As Ronald Reagan said, we have to trust, but we also have to verify.  In order for us to verify, we’ve got to have a treaty.
I think that as with healthcare reform, Obama is going to go all out and get this one over the line.  Yesterday Dick Lugar laid out the blueprint: force senators to vote yea or nay on a treaty that the entire foreign policy establishment of the last thirty years not currently holding elective office supports:
"I'm advising that the treaty should come on the floor so people will have to vote aye or nay [even if there's no deal]," he said. "I think when it finally comes down to it, we have sufficient number or senators who do have a sense of our national security. This is the time, this is the priority. Do it."

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Putting a Lugar to Jon Kyl's head

One gets wearily accustomed to Republicans destroying the country's financial viability with enormous tax cuts for the wealthy and skillfully defending those tax cuts to the (fiscal) death. As the ideological embodiment of the personal financial interests of the wealthiest 1% of Americans, that's what they're hired elected to do.

There's more than garden variety opportunism, however, in Jon Kyl's attempt to spike a vote on the New START nuclear arms reduction treaty in the lame duck session.  The administration has negotiated for months with Kyl, the Republican point man on this issue, and accommodated virtually all of his mostly bogus and mercenary demands for more spending on nuclear modernization and expanded commitment to missile defense.  In a reprise of Republican tactics in the healthcare battle, Kyl solemnly declared that a vote before year's end is not feasible, "given the combination of other work Congress must do and the complex and unresolved issues related to START and modernization." To delay the vote until next year, when the Democratic majority shrinks from 59 to 53 and a whole new round of hearings would be required, is to kill the treaty.

No one needs me to make the case for a treaty supported by seven former commanders of U.S. Strategic Command, six former secretaries of state, five former defense secretaries, and a partridge in a pear tree. In brief, New START gets U.S. weapons inspectors back into Russia,  it continues the nuclear force reduction in an equitable manner, it gives both countries nonproliferation credibility, it has enabled and will continue to enable U.S.-Russian cooperation on vital issues such as restraining Iranian weapons development, and it unquestionably leaves the U.S. free to pursue that probably worthless Republican shibboleth, missile defense.  End of story. Only cranks, crackpots and Kyle vile opportunists oppose it.  In support, see George Schultz, Madeline Albright, Gary Hart and Chuck Hagel here, Brent Scowcroft here, Robert Gates and Hillary Clinton here, Henry Kissinger here, and thirty foreign policy grandees from both parties here.  (Opposed: a notorious war criminal and Dr. Strangelove.)

Initial reports suggested that Kyle's opposition would effectively kill the treaty. But I am heartened. Some antibodies remain in the system.  A full-court press is on. Gates, Clinton, Kerry, Lugar. In particular, Lugar's pressure on fellow Republicans -- and direct bid to put some spine in Obama and other Democrats -- seems vital:

Historians, raise your shovels

At the groundbreaking of the Bush spin museum, Dick Cheney cracked, "This may be the only shovel-ready project in America.”

I know of one project for which Americans -- or let us say, American historians -- ought to ready their shovels. That is burying Dick Cheney -- destroyer of this nation's liberties, economy, soft power, hard power --and thousands of its finest men and women, along with hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.

Even as his ideological brethren place destroying Obama ahead of national and global security.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Another crie de coeur from Cassandra

Alas, poor Cassandra Krugman -- impelled to prophesy economic doom while watching those in power ignore his warnings.

On Nov. 7, Krugman lamented thusly regarding the likely course of Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke's announced plans for a new round of quantitative easing:
For the big concern about quantitative easing isn’t that it will do too much; it is that it will accomplish too little.

Reasonable estimates suggest that the Fed’s new policy is unlikely to reduce interest rates enough to make more than a modest dent in unemployment. The only way the Fed might accomplish more is by changing expectations — specifically, by leading people to believe that we will have somewhat above-normal inflation over the next few years, which would reduce the incentive to sit on cash.

The idea that higher inflation might help isn’t outlandish; it has been raised by many economists, some regional Fed presidents and the International Monetary Fund. But in the same remarks in which he defended his new policy, Mr. Bernanke — clearly trying to appease the inflationistas — vowed not to change the Fed’s price target: “I have rejected any notion that we are going to try to raise inflation to a super-normal level in order to have effects on the economy.”

And there goes the best hope that the Fed’s plan might actually work.

Think of it this way: Mr. Bernanke is getting the Obama treatment, and making the Obama response. He’s facing intense, knee-jerk opposition to his efforts to rescue the economy. In an effort to mute that criticism, he’s scaling back his plans in such a way as to guarantee that they’ll fail.

Monday, November 15, 2010

"Cuts"? Or "tax cuts"?

The Dish flags Heather MacDonald's challenge to the Tea Party to get serious about deficit reduction. I find MacDonald's terminology interesting. It points to a kind of liminal zone on the ideological battlefield of tax hikes vs. spending cuts:

It would be refreshing if, instead of exclusively blasting the proposal’s relatively modest tax increases, such as raising the federal gas tax fifteen cents to pay for transportation projects (a legitimate user fee), they supported the proposal’s more audacious cuts, such as reducing the mortgage deduction.   (The commission would eliminate the deduction only for mortgages over $500,000, alas.)  The willingness to take on this middle class subsidy would be stronger proof of iconoclastic independence than pushing for repeal of 17th Amendment, a favorite piece of Tea Party arcana.   Both would be an uphill battle; I’d rather see political capital expended on getting rid of a constitutionally-suspect government hand-out, especially given the contribution of the federal government’s obsession with increasing home ownership to the 2008 fiscal crisis.

MacDonald seems to think of eliminating 'tax expenditures' (targeted tax breaks) as spending cuts rather than tax hikes. Those expenditures are in an ideological nether zone; conservatives and liberals alike could swing either way on them, or differently on different ones.  By focusing on them, Bowles-Simpson opens up a negotiating space, albeit one stocked largely with sacred cows.


David Rothkopf has an incisive post-mortem on Obama's Asian trip, the upshot being that Obama is reaping the bitter of harvest of Bush's destruction of U.S. economic power and prestige.

A perhaps unintended pun in the headline is telling, I think -- or at least my inadvertent response is:

The perils of America's Pacific presidency
I had to check back whether "Pacific" was capitalized (maybe because of the triple alliteration).  Obama's approach to world affairs is more pacific than Bush's (and perhaps prior presidents') by design, by necessity (in large part thanks to Bush's disastrous foregin gambits and tax cuts), and by character and inclination. "Pacific" needn't mean "weak" -- the coming age should be about leading by example and building multilateral coalitions and institutions (see here and here).  But weakness is a worry -- as Krugman once again forcefully suggests.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Best healthcare post ever...

Ezra Klein offers up a short history of healthcare reform, a simple narrative as shapely as a fairy tale:

it's worth thinking about partisanship and health-care reform not in terms of President Obama, but in terms of presidential efforts over the last century or so. And that story has gone something like this: Democrats moved right every time they failed. And Republicans moved further right every time Democrats tried.
This story has been told before, but never so neatly. In its way, it's a short hundred year history of U.S. politics.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

"Economic power grabs slowly, like the tide..."

Arguing in November/December Foreign Policy that U.S. foreign policy must focus on using soft power to advance economic goals, Leslie Gelb issues a warning that could serve as postscript for this week's G-20 meeting. The passage also deploys a metaphor that has real conceptual force (my emphasis):
U.S. policymakers must also be patient. The weakest of nations today can resist and delay. Pressing prematurely for decisions--an unfortunate hallmark of U.S. style--results in failure, the prime enemy of power. Even when various domestic constituencies shout for quick action, Washington's leaders must learn to buy time in order to allow for U.S. power--and the power of U.S.-led coalitions--to take effect abroad. Patience is especially valuable in the economic arena, where there are far more plays than in the military and diplomatic realms. To corral all these players takes time. Military power can work quickly, like a storm; economic power grabs slowly, like the tide. It needs time to erode the shoreline, but it surely does nibble away.

To my mind, this is the very definition of the Obama administration's policy -- in its marshaling of the coalition for sanctions on Iran, as Gelb acknowledges, and also in its alternation of pressure and forbearance in urging China to let its currency appreciate. But Gelb complains in a concluding paragraph sideswipe:
President Barack Obama, in particular, has often struck just the right themes, only to let them fizzle in the din.
'Splain, Gelb. Perhaps he's thinking of the Israeli settlement debacle. Or a missed opportunity to cut back in Afghanistan, after Karzai rigged the election.

Friday, November 12, 2010

New York Times Overreacts to Strife at G-20

Looks like the Times overreacted to the lack of substantive agreement at the G-20 with its print headline this morning:

Obama's Economic View Is Rejected on World Stage

From the Times' online report later this morning:
SEOUL, South Korea — Leaders of the world’s biggest economies agreed on Friday to curb “persistently large imbalances” in saving and spending but deferred until next year tough decisions on how to identify and fix them.

The agreement, the culmination of a two-day summit meeting of leaders of the Group of 20 industrialized and emerging powers, fell short of initial American demands for numerical targets on trade surpluses and deficits. But it reflected a consensus that longstanding economic patterns — in particular, the United States consuming too much, and China too little — were no longer sustainable...

The G-20 leaders largely endorsed an approach to imbalances that finance ministers, including Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, hammered out last month at a meeting in Gyeongju, South Korea, but added a timetable.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A vote and a prayer

Courtesy of the Dish, a look at why people vote from YouGov's Ryan D. Enos and Anthony Fowler:
Amazingly, turnout is negatively correlated with the perceived chances that one vote will make a difference—meaning the less likely you are to think your vote will actually matter, the more likely you are to vote.

If citizens realize that their vote won’t affect the electoral results, why do they vote at all? Is it the sticker?—In a way, yes. Citizens receive extrinsic benefits from voting that are unrelated to the chances that their vote will actually matter. We spent the Election Day talking to voters in two Boston suburbs. We asked them all a simple question, “Why did you vote?” Two-thirds of voters first mentioned extrinsic benefits while only one-third mentioned their concern for the results of the election.

“I always vote.” “It’s a civic duty.” “Many have fought for our right to vote.” “Voting gives you the right to complain.” These were the types of answers we received. Most voters made no mention of issues, candidates, or policies. When asked about whether their vote would change the election results, most acknowledged that the chances were low. Nonetheless, many held out hope saying, “You never know” or “The election could be close.” It appeared that most voters had never even thought of the chances that their vote would matter until we asked them, and some admitted so. This observation tells us a lot about why people vote. If forced to think about it, most voters know that they won’t change an election result; but they don’t care. They benefit from voting, regardless of the electoral outcome. Voters enjoy wearing stickers, expressing their views, fulfilling their civic obligation, and earning the right to complain. For them, that’s reason enough.
There's an aspect of my own thinking about voting that these answers don't really capture, though it may be implicit in some of them.  I am probably in the one third of respondents who would mention helping my chosen candidate(s), though of course I'm aware that the odds are infinitesimal that my vote will be decisive . Since 2004, I have also phoned voters in every congressional and presidential election from the comfort of my home computer. I think of this as supervoting: in a season of calling I may have  a dozen meaningful conversations with undecided voters (leaving aside GOTV and voter reigstration calls), and perhaps make a difference to a handful of them.

I know that these votes won't be decisive either. But. With the 2010 election just passed, when the headwinds were so strong and I so badly wanted to avoid making calls, an element of what pushed me on is fresh in my mind.  There's an element of magical thinking in it. I thought of my behavior as a kind of proxy: the more (or less) I forced myself to do, the more (or less) other engaged Democrats would also do, because we'd all be subject to the same psychological pressures. I was trying to will away the enthusiasm gap.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

The Conscience of a Cassandra

It's hard not to give considerable weight to Paul Krugman's endlessly repeated warnings -- and complaints once the warnings went unheeded -- that the Feb. 2009 stimulus was too small. In this narrative, the cautious trimming that led Obama to put forward a proposal too weighted to tax cuts and appropriating less than 2/3 the total originally recommended by Christina Romer failed to jump-start true recovery and thus destroyed Obama's political  capital.

Can being right too often be hazardous to your intellectual health? Krugman warned us from Feb 2000 forward about the voodoo math behind the Bush tax cuts; he warned in 2005 about the housing bubble; he warned from February 2009 forward that the proposed stimulus was too small. [Update: He was also right about the the Iraq war and the Euro.] Being right and unheeded creates a Cassandra syndrome: you prophesy, and you feel in your bones that the leadership won't listen. Hence Krugman slips in Glenn Greenwald mode --  concocting a simplified counterfactual in which, under his policies, everything would have been okay, whereas current policy is leading straight to disaster.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Priceless DeMint

Courtesy of Jonathan Chait, Jim DeMint's solution for balancing the budget is to...destroy the program that cuts entitlement spending (Chait's emphasis):
DEMINT: Well, no, we’re not talking about cuts in Social Security. If we can just cut the administrative waste, we can cut hundreds of billions of dollars a year at the federal level. So-- before we start cutting-- I mean, we need to keep our promises to seniors, David. And cutting benefits to seniors is not on the table.
Excuse me –let me grab a sip of water.

GREGORY: But then-- but where do you make the cuts? I mean, if you’re protecting everything for the-- the most potent political groups, like seniors, who go out and vote, where are you really gonna balance the budget?

DEMINT: Well, look at-- Paul Ryan’s roadmap to the future. We see a clear path to moving back to a balanced budget over time. Again, the plans are on the table. We don’t have to cut benefits for seniors. And we don’t need to cut Medicare. Like-- like the Democrats did in this big Obamacare bill. We can restore sanity in Washington without cutting any benefits to seniors or veterans.
DeMint has DeStilled the long-term Republican theory of government. It's simple: old Democratic programs good.  New Democratic programs bad. Current Democratic initiatives socialism. Prior Democratic initiatives sacred.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Liberal Reagan -- not

Garry Wills was right. Obama's default mode is "endless placation." When it doesn't work, he keeps doing it.  He did it nonstop on 60 Minutes tonight.

A few days ago, I linked to a Times story relating some statements by Ronald Reagan in January 1983, when his approval rating hit its nadir of 35%.  The words sounded superficially like Obama's, since the situation was so similar -- an unemployment rate stuck in the 10% range, a large loss in the recent Congressional elections.  But the differences were more telling than the similarities.

Reagan was unequivocal: his policies were working and would continue to work.  To the extent that they hadn't worked fast enough, it was because of compromises forced by the Democrats.

In the 60 Minutes interview tonight as in his Nov. 3 press conference, Obama validated Republican lies about his policies and the legislation passed by the 111th Congress. The healthcare reform process somehow tainted the result.  The bank and auto bailouts and stimulus gave the appearance that he was a proponent of big government.  He took too harsh a tone or somehow damaged the interest of the business community.  He failed to change the tone in Washington.

He never called out Republican mendacity or asserted that the reason he wasn't able to work with Republicans was because they made a bad-faith decision early on to stonewall his entire agenda and malign policies that in any sane era would have been bipartisan -- stimulus, bank and auto bailout, a health insurance program that leaves the private insurance industry intact and flourishing.

Worse, he never defended his own record with any vigor.  It's easy to ventriloquize a "liberal Reagan" defending the accomplishments of the Obama administration and the Democratic Congress. We created or saved 3 million jobs and added 3 points to GDP.  We saved the U.S auto industry from destruction. We saved the U.S. banking industry from destruction. We've got the states literally racing to enact meaningful, measurable education reform.  We've made unprecedented investments in alternative energy.  We ensured that banks could not entice and defraud consumers as was their practice last decade. We ensured that there will be no more megabank bailouts.  We've ensured that every citizen will be able to afford health insurance within five years and at the same time instituted healthcare cost controls that the CBC conservatively estimated will save $1.34 trillion over twenty years.  We closed the donut hole while eliminating Republican giveaways to insurance companies that balloon Medicare costs. We ended the corporate welfare system of student loans and ensured cheaper, fairer loans for all college students. We enacted the most stringent emissions controls on cars and trucks ever. We wrung $20 billion in restitution from BP. We did and we did and we did -- we accomplished more on behalf of working Americans in 2 years than our predecessors have done in the last 50.

"The electorate is smarter than all of us?" Lincoln said it better...

At her 77th birthday dinner last night, my mother asked me if I still believe the dictum that's always been on my profile to the right on this page, that "the electorate is smarter than all us." I had to say no.  That is, it's an oversimplification. I will take it down or modify it when I put up my next post.

The idea first formed itself when I read Stephen Ambrose's biography of Eisenhower in the mid-90s and it occurred to me that while I would never have voted for Eisenhower, the country was wise to.  With some hesitation, I extended the thought to Reagan, and to Bush Sr. (reasoning here).

More broadly: throughout American history, notwithstanding long periods of drift and poor governance, the electorate has periodically empowered great leaders to embark on  major course corrections.  I never believed that the electorate never makes mistakes -- simply that, in the broad sweep of history, it enables corrections when they become necessary. 

I hold to all that, except maybe the Reagan part (I credit his flexible and creative response to Gorbachev, but I also think that his denigration, defunding and denaturing of federal government agencies by appointing frauds and shills like Clarence Thomas and James Watt had disastrous consequences).  And I still think that democracy remains the worst form of government except for all the alternatives because in the long run the people will hold leaders accountable for decisive failures of policy or execution -- as they did to Hoover, Carter, and ultimately Bush Jr.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Quote of the day

Nancy Pelosi:

"They had to put a stop to me because we were effective in passing health care reform which the health insurance industry wanted to stop, Wall Street reform which Wall Street wanted to stop, (reforms of) students loans for taking the money out of the banks and giving it back to the taxpayer and to families."

We should never forget that the long struggle in American history to rein in the robber barons -- or rather, create and defend rules of the road that prevent corporate interests from becoming robber barons -- is always three steps forward, two steps back.  Now it's time to play defense.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Obama, whip out that veto pen

I am probably snapping at just the wrong hour. Intellectually, I know that the president's showdown with the Republican leadership will play out long and slow.  Clinton didn't face down Gingrich and Dole over the government shutdown until a year and more after the 1994 election.

But for the moment, I too am tired of defending Obama.

I can accept the electoral landslide.  I think the Democrats were mainly caught holding the bag in a quasi-Depression triggered mainly by Republican misrule. I think that history will honor the president and the 111th Congress, and that the country will reap long-term benefits, from the Patient Protection Act (e.g., its long-term impact on healthcare spending and therefore on the structural deficit), and for substantial if far-from-perfect financial reform, and for a stimulus that was effective as far as it went.  I partially accept the argument of Martin Wolf and Paul Krugman that a too-small stimulus was a grievous error for which we all paid economically and the Democrats, to a never-to-be-known degree, paid politically. I see large achievements and large courage -- as well, paradoxically, as the lack of courage with which Krugman charges the president today (of course the same leadership can exhibit both on different fronts).

What I can't brook at the moment is Obama going all humble and conciliatory on us while Mitch McConnell is literally baying for his political blood, doubling down on his stated goal of making Obama a one-term president.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

When the Party of Lincoln started stinkin'

One has to take history according to Gore Vidal, marvelous storyteller that he is, with enough salt to store it for the winter. Add a double dose for his jaded fictional narrators.  But this, from Vidal's 1876 diarist Charles Schuyler, a bastard son of Aaron Burr who's pinned his fortunes all but entirely selfish hope on the Democrats, does capture the by-now-all-but-eternal GOP:

...the noble new party that freed the slaves and preserved the Union is the very same party that is now in cahoots with the crooked railroad tycoons and with the Wall Street cornerers of this-and-that, thus making it hard for a noble creature like Bigelow -- like Stedman? -- to confess to the bankruptcy of what only ten years ago was the last or latest, best or better, hope or dream of an honourable system of government (p. 64, Vintage ed).

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Two can stonewall, Mr. President

What if...in the course of negotiations in the lame duck Congress tending toward putting a fig leaf on essentially extending all of the Bush income tax cuts, Obama simply said to Republicans and wavering centrist Democrats (and even his compromise-floating veep), "Nope, sorry -- the country can't afford extending the cuts for the wealthiest two percent. Send me a bill extending those cuts, even temporarily, and I'll veto it" -- in which case all the Bush cuts would, of course, sunset.  And what if Obama then focused on deploying all the communicative power that he himself has admitted went into remission in the last year to make the case to the public that extending the cuts for the top 2% would dig a deeper deficit hole and crowd out other tax cuts that would be more efficient at creating jobs (mustn't say stimulus now, word's been poisoned...), and that further tax reform would have to be on his terms? The veto and the short time frame makes this quite doable, even if it upsets a good subset of Democrats and sends Republicans into apoplexy. This is a focused, short-term message war that it seems to me the President could win -- a chosen battle to signal that he's back.

UPDATE: I heard most of Obama's press conference today, and it confirm that this is a pipe dream. Principled intransigence is not Obama's way.  He had me pounding my steering wheel with frustration as he mouthed the same old same olds about finding common ground with his Republican friends and seemed to acknowledge truth in their claims that the stimulus was "big government" and the health care bill seriously flawed. Could he not find a polite way to say that they had reaped a rich reward for relentlessly lying about his policies?

Well, it's not showdown time yet, but it will be soon enough. Obama, read The Clinton Tapes again.

Monday, November 01, 2010

The President under siege

According to the New York Times, the president,
contending that his Administration never got from Congress the full economic plan needed to cure the recession, hailed his first two years in office today and insisted that he now had ''America on the mend.''

''For all our troubles, midterm finds this Administration and this country entering a season of hope,'' the President said at a White House news conference...

''We inherited a mess, we didn't run away from it and now we're turning it around''...