Thursday, September 29, 2011

Run, Sarah, Run!

If Dick Cheney can try to lure Hillary Clinton into the presidential race, why can't we progressives have a go at Sarah?  Jonathan Bernstein:
Could Palin launch an independent bid for the presidency? Why not? What bridges would she be burning with Republicans that she hasn’t burned already? And if she did go that route, she certainly wouldn’t have problems raising a fair amount of money, and she would be able to mobilize enough volunteers to get her name on the ballot in quite a few states.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Roger Ailes sees "shoot," and swoons

A few posts back, while trying to articulate a warning that Rick Perry had implicitly endorsed an Israeli strike against Iran's nuclear installations, I wondered if this veiled threat might be written off as campaign bluster.  A story about Andrew Jackson, which I had read in Robert Remini's biography, popped into my head at that point.

When Jackson was sitting as a Superior Court judge in Tennessee, "a great, hulking fellow named Russell Bean, who had been indicted for cutting off the ears of his infant child in a 'drunken frolic,' paraded before the court, cursed judge, jury and all assembled, and then marched out the door."  Jackson ordered his arrest, but no one dared do it, as Bean threatened to shoot "'the first skunk who came within ten feet of him'." Jackson called a ten-minute recess and took matters into his own hands:

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Fare and ballast

In what sense is Fox "fair and balanced"?  Roger Ailes gives the game away:
Ailes has a blunt rejoinder to those who say he runs a biased outfit: “Every other network has given all their shows to liberals. We are the balance.”

Monday, September 26, 2011

Voters: compromise good, capitulation bad

When the first polls came in after the lopsided debt ceiling deal and subsequent stock market tumble, Jonathan Chait billed the budget deal Obama's Katrina

That rang ominously true to me. Shortly afterward, my sister-in-law, a compassionate Democrat and social worker who stumped with my wife and me* for Obama in ''08, told me tenderly that people were wondering whether Obama was strong enough to be president.  Oh oh... Hence, when apparently anomalous polls found that Americans disapproved of Obama's handling of the economy while approving of most of the proposals in his jobs plan, it seemed plain to me that Obama was being punished not for advocating the wrong policies but for failing to put his policies across.

Now here is Michael Tomasky quoting Democratic pollster Guy Molyneux affirming the notion that Obama is suffering from perceived weaknes. Citing  Kaiser Family Foundation polling (though the article provides no actual data on this point),  Molyneux tells Tomasky

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Please, Obama: stop talking like a hostage

A worrying signal in The President's Plan for Economic Growth and Deficit reduction, regarding the triggers in the deficit reduction deal, aka the Budget Control Act (BCA):
With approximately $1trillion in deficit reduction achieved over the next decade through the use of discretionary spending caps, it took a substantial step toward bringing down our deficit.Yet, with discretionary spending projected to reach historically low levels, we need to look at other parts of the budget for savings so that we pursue deficit reduction in a balanced way.This is not only critical to future economic growth, but if the Committee fails to achieve at least $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction, then a sequester would be triggered that could have devastating consequences for both defense and non-defense programs (pg. 2, pdf pg. 12).
Here we are with Obama once again warning about "devastating consequences" if a deal is not struck, this time by the Supercommittee. That worked out great the last time, didn't it? When faced with economic disaster if they don't back off a maximalist position, Republicans always back off, right?

Saturday, September 24, 2011

"Michele doesn't comment on any of it"

In the last GOP debate, some participants say that the audience boos for a gay soldier asking a question about Don't Ask Don't Tell couldn't be heard clearly on the stage. Others admit otherwise. After the fact, ABC asked all the candidates for comment. Michele Bachmann's response leaps out:
Rep. Michele Bachmann’s spokeswoman Alice Stewart said in an email to ABC News, “There was booing and cheering throughout the debate – Michele didn’t comment on any of it.”
Let's imagine equivalent responses in other situations that test a public figure's moral mettle.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Learning from experience

Jonathan Cohn is cheered that Obama is not only following through so far on his promise to take his jobs plan to the country, but that he's also sticking with calling out Republicans by name for their obstruction, instead of inveighing against "Washington" or "Congress":
Remember those days when he wouldn’t even utter the word “Republican”? Those days are gone. He's even naming names.
As someone who was waiting on a hair trigger (with millions of other Democrats) for Obama to make this shift, which he made on Labor Day in a preview of the jobs proposal he unveiled on Sept. 8, I'm as thrilled as Cohn. On one level it's surprising, insofar as Obama was so all-in for so long on finding common ground, compromising, rising above partisan politics -- in fact, that approach a lifelong m.o. and was central to candidate Obama's brand.  But in another way it's not surprising. Obama is probably still gunning for compromise and will probably praise Republicans effusively if they put through some subset of the proposals in his jobs bill -- though he will probably also remain in confrontational mode through the election. It's a change of tactics, and one in line with another core element of his brand and probably his self-concept: pragmatism.  Here's what he told Ron Suskind about his approach to governing:

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Perry flubs a shot at Romney

In tonight's GOP presidential debate, Romney did a great job nailing Perry to the cross of his ridiculous pronouncements against Social Security -- it's unconstitutional, it's a ponzi scheme etc.-- and his recent attempts to unsay them. Unfortunately, when Perry had a chance to turn the tables, and highlight the disconnect between Romney's defense of Romneycare and denunciations of Obamacare, he flubbed it.

I forget the question, but Romney managed to say  in one extended breath that Romneycare was great because "nothing's changed" for the 92% of Massachusetts people who already had coverage, while the uninsured were given a choice among "market-based private insurance" plans. Of course, the same is true of Obamacare. He then cast Obamacare as an abomination because it "puts someone between you and your doctor." In a clearing stands a boxer...lie lie lie, as Romney did every time he said anything about Obama.  While the ACA empowers an independent board to cut Medicare costs on a national level, it puts absolutely no one between doctor and patient in any plan.  In any case, Perry's opportunity was to point out that everything Romney said in praise of the Massachusetts plan was true of the ACA -- and then rip both.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

You can't fact-check a dog whistle is unduly literal-minded when it protests that Perry, contra his critics, never "advocated"  for Texas seceding from the United States:
Some may question the prudence of Perry entertaining the suggestion of secession, or talking too loosely about such a radical idea, but any fair-minded reading of Perry's fuller quote, and its context, makes clear that Perry was not advocating for Texas to secede. And Perry has repeatedly said since then that he did not, and does not, advocate secession.

Of course Perry didn't 'advocate' secession. He just took advantage of the emotional valence the idea held for his audience.  He left it floating as a pleasant fantasy or reserve contingency if current trends persist:

Perry letting slip the dogs of war?

Rick Perry's default modes of discourse are the smear, the lie and the threat.  All three make repeat appearances in his speech outlining his Middle East policy. To sample briefly: the smear: Obama has pursued a policy of "appeasement" of the Palestinian authority and has given "equal standing" to Palestinian "orchestrators of terrorism." Lie: that unspecified U.S. actions during the Green uprising could have unseated Iran's current rulers.  But let's spotlight in particular a noteworthy threat, cushioned though it is by some conventional policy recommendations and diplomatspeak.  It's here:

Israel’s security is critical to America’s security. We must not forget it was Israel that took out the nuclear capabilities of Iraq in 1981 and Syria in 2007. In both instances, their actions made the free world safer.

Today, the greatest threat to the security of Israel and, by extension, a threat to America, is the Iranian government developing a nuclear arsenal. One thing is clear: we must stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Economic sanctions must be tightened and increased and all options must remain on the table to stop a brutally repressive regime from acquiring a nuclear capability.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Quote of the day

"Obama, to my mind, has successfully demonstrated he has been willing to compromise, and the GOP has successfully demonstrated they cannot." - Andrew Sullivan

That really boils it down, doesn't it?

Monday, September 19, 2011

The arguments haven't changed, but the opponent is named

Greg Sargent cheers Obama's newfound fighting spirit:
This has to be the clearest sign yet that Obama has taken a very sharp populist turn as he seeks to frame the contrast between the parties heading into 2012. During his remarks this morning, Obama directly responded to Republicans accusing him of “class warfare,” but rather than simply deny the charge, he made the critical point that the act of protecting tax cuts for the rich is itself class warfare, in effect positioning himself as the defender of the middle class against GOP class warriors on behalf of the wealthy.
Sargent has put his finger on the key difference between Obama today and Obama this summer: direct confrontation.  It's worth noting that Obama's arguments have not changed -- nor really have his proposed policies. All through the summer, he argued repeatedly tht deficit reduction had to be "balanced," that it was unfair to ask people to accept reduction in Medicare and Social Security without asking "millionaires and billionaires" to "pay their fair share" via higher taxes. He won that argument in the court of public opinion but lost the negotiation that produced the debt ceiling deal.   Moreover, in his deficit reduction plan in April, Obama called for Medicare cost savings broadly similar to those proposed today. According to Ezra Klein, he called for roughly the same amount of increased tax revenue over today's rates -- $1.5 trillion over twelve years -- as he did today -- though the language in the plan outline was studiously vague and I never could see how it amounted to more than $1 trillion over twelve years, i.e., the amount gained by letting the Bush cuts for the top 2% expire. 

About that veto promise...

It seems that the Times preview of Obama's deficit reduction plan was inaccurate in an important particular:

In laying out his proposal, aides said, Mr. Obama will expressly promise to veto any legislation that seeks to cut the deficit through spending cuts alone and does not include revenue increases in the form of tax increases on the wealthy.

The battle lines are drawn

From the New York Times' preview of Obama's deficit reduction plan:
In laying out his proposal, aides said, Mr. Obama will expressly promise to veto any legislation that seeks to cut the deficit through spending cuts alone and does not include revenue increases in the form of tax increases on the wealthy. 
 Glory hallelujah. That has been the missing piece all along.

But does that mean Obama is willing to pull the trigger (or see it pulled) if the supercommittee deadlocks?  He'd better be.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Borrow and spend...

Is how metaphors become memes. Take one that's glided with swanlike grace into the stream of our economic discourse this summer:

With both parties competing for the mantle of austerity, they’re acting a bit like two crazed medeival (sic) doctors leeching a patient who’s already suffering from catastrophic blood loss.
That's Adam Serwer on July 28 of this year, regarding the pending debt ceiling deal. Three days later, when the deal was announced, behold Paul Krugman:

So those demanding spending cuts now are like medieval doctors who treated the sick by bleeding them, and thereby made them even sicker.

A fair look at Obama, cont.

Yesterday, I wrote a post speculating about why polls show that Americans broadly approve of Obama's economic policies yet give him poor marks for his handling of the economy. Short answer: he's being punished for not executing, or not fighting hard enough. Today, the New York Times devotes its lead editorial to the same apparent anomaly, and comes to a similar conclusion:

He has wasted far too much time trying to puzzle out how he can shave policies down far enough to get the Republicans to cooperate. The answer has long been clear: He can’t. Since he was elected, the Republicans have openly said they would not work with him, and a year ago, Senator Mitch McConnell, the minority leader, said explicitly that the Republicans’ goal was simply to deny Mr. Obama a second term. The new Times poll showed that Americans do not believe bipartisanship is achievable. Six in 10 Democrats want the president to challenge Republicans more. He should not worry about voters thinking he is being mean. What he should worry about is that he is not showing them that he is fighting all out for their interests.

Qualifying the Wisdom of Crowds

For Sunday fun, a jump into the wisdom/unwisdom of crowds discussion. Re the oft-cited fact that when a roomful of people are each asked to guess the number of jellybeans in a jar, the average answer is usually spot-on, Ed Yong notes:

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Approve of his policies/disapprove of his performance: not a paradox

Greg Sargent wrestles with an apparent paradox in poll data: voters strongly approve of Obama's economic policies but disapprove of his handling of the economy to date. Methinks his explanation misses something rather basic:
What we’re seeing here, again, is more evidence that Republicans benefit from blocking policies Americans support. As long as the economy remains abysmal, the public is likely to strongly disapprove of Obama’s overall performance, even if Republicans are the ones blocking job-creation ideas the public itself thinks will reduce unemployment.
Sargent assumes that voters are judging Obama solely on the basis of whether they agree with his current preferred policies, and that many of them are being duped: they like the policies individually, but buy a Republican branding of the whole package.  That's probably true in some cases. But I suspect that a lot of people are judging Obama not for advocating the wrong policies but for failing to put his policies across.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Boehner supports Merkeley's call to score Supercommittee proposals for jobs impact

...only implicitly, of course.

Senator Jeff Merkley, as Greg Sargent has repeatedly broadcast with such enthusiasm, has a modest proposal for the Supercommittee charged with striking a deficit reduction deal:
He is calling on both parties to agree to submit every proposal offered by the supercommittee to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, to be evaluated for the impact it will have — on jobs.

He doesn’t want the CBO to evaluate the proposals just for their budgetary impact. Rather, he wants the CBO to reach a conclusion on the impact the proposals will have on unemployment, whether positive, negative, or neutral.

“We need to have every proposal that the super-committee brings out to have it scored by its jobs impact,” Merkley told me in an interview this morning. He plans to urge Democratic and GOP leaders to agree to this standard, and hopes to build a campaign to make it happen...

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Our next Great Communicator

Having made something of a study of our current President's rhetoric, I owe some attention to that of the man perhaps likeliest to be our next President, Rick Perry. Time's Richard Stengel and Mark Halperin just posted an interview with Perry. Below, some thoughts on responses revel much about Perry's approach to policy, politics, and the rules and purposes of political discourse.
Now that you’ve been in the race for while, do you feel pressure to temper some of your rhetoric, like calling the Obama administration socialist?

No, I still believe they are socialist. Their policies prove that almost daily. Look, when all the answers emanate from Washington D.C., one size fits all, whether it’s education policy or whether it’s healthcare policy, that is, on its face, socialism.
Let's grant Perry his definition of socialism -- he does have one -- and look at his signature method of characterizing opponents' policies. The Obama administration's education policy is embodied in Race to the Top, which invites states to compete for extra federal funding by submitting their own plans to raise performance according to standards that they propose.  As for healthcare policy: the Affordable Care Act does create a template for states to achieve near-universal coverage by two means: expanded Medicaid, 80-90% financed by the Federal government, and healthcare exchanges composed of private plans that meet minimum coverage standards, made available to citizens via premium subsidies provided by the federal government. But it also grants waivers to the states to design their own plans, as long as they meet basic coverage standards, and Obama has proposed moving up the date for granting such waivers.  In neither case do "all the answers emanate from Washington."  A candidate minimally concerned with veracity would not "temper" the socialism charge with socialism thus defined -- he would eschew it. But that of course implies a by-now-Utopian reality standard for any GOP candidate. Let's move on to Perry's more specific m.o.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The party of treason (charges)

In the GOP debate tonight, Perry doubled down on his slimy insinuation that Ben Bernanke's attempts to stimulate the economy with monetary policy are treasonous. This time he used the classic demagogic method of asserting that we have no way of knowing that an outrageous smear isn't true. Of Bernanke's motive for intimating that further monetary easing may be coming, he said "we don't know if it was political or not" -- i.e., whether Bernanke is motivated by trying to help Obama get re-elected.  Never mind that the being accused of treason for following a given policy course by the leading presidential candidate of one party would constitute a perfectly good motive for trying to maintain the other in office. Or that Bernanke is a Republican, and a Bush appointee, and a student of the Great Depression whose entire corpus of published writings support a more radical course of easing than he's pursued.  From smearing motive to charging treason -- that's the GOP way.

What goes round comes round. Invited to respond, Romney agreed that Bernanke's policy is wrongheaded and didn't call out Perry for smearing Bernanke's motives and patriotism. And then, shockingly, the T-word was turned on Perry by the guy who's supposed to be the sane man in the asylum.  On immigration, Perry in response to Santorum said it was not feasible to build a fence along the entire U.S.-Mexico border. He then delivered his own nostrums for "securing" the border - 4500 boots on the ground, air surveillance, etc. Then, Huntsman turned around and declared sententiously that for Perry to say that we can't secure the border was "near treasonous." (Never mind that Perry didn't say you can't secure the whole border; he said you can't fence  the whole thing. And he lacked the verbal quickness to make that point himself.)

Treasonous!  GOP culture makes Stalinists of them all.  Disagreement with their favored policies -- tactics even -- is treason. 

Risk-free Republican rebranding

Hey, Republicans, I've got a winning strategy for you. Why not give Obama rope to hang himself?

This evening, the President will send up his jobs bill, with $440 billion in tax cuts and infrastructure spending. Next Monday, he'll send the White House proposal for the debt supercommittee, which will presumably add at least $440 billion to the $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction the committee is charged with putting together. In his speech on Sept. 8, that's how Obama proposed to pay for his jobs plan.

Republicans, why not carve out your favorite $440 billion in spending cuts from Obama's deficit reduction proposal, tack them to his jobs bill and pass the whole shebang -- leaving the remainder of the supercommittee's charge unchanged?

In one fell swoop you can lock in another near-half trillion in spending cuts with no tax increases, wipe out your reputation for intransigence, and get a chance to prove that a) the party is always in favor of tax cuts, b) the party recognizes the country's acute infrastructure needs, and c) Keynesian stimulus doesn't work.  If you really believe the last, what harm can the package do?  At the same time, you'll give yourself added space to stonewall in the supercommittee negotiations -- yielding on a little bit of stimulus spending can offset your implacability on tax hikes.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A fitting coda for 9/11/11

Leon Wieseltier implicitly acknowledges the many things that have gone wrong in the U.S. since 9/11 but affirms that we maintain our core virtue and ability to self-correct.  Looking back at my brief lament, I appreciate his superior balance:
It has been a wounding decade. Our country is frayed, uncertain, inflamed. There is hardship and dread in the land. In significant ways we are a people in need of renovation. But what rouses the mourner from his sorrow is his sense of possibility, his confidence in the intactness of the spirit, his recognition that there is work to be done. What we loved and what we valued has survived the disaster, but it needs to be secured and bettered, and in that secure and better condition transmitted to our children. Our dream of greatness must be accompanied by an understanding of what is required for the maintenance of greatness. The obscenities of September 11, 2001 exposed the difference between builders and destroyers. We are builders. Let us agree, on this anniversary, that it is an honor to be an American and it is an honor to be free.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

A President confesses error and defends democracy

Let's say that you were a supporter of Barack Obama in 2008, now disillusioned. You credit the main thrust of the liberal brief against him and discount administration defenses. You believe that  the 2009 stimulus was too small and too tax-heavy (and that a decisive leader could have put through a much more effective package), that the healthcare reform process took way too long (and that decisive leadership could have radically foreshortened it), that the President was eighteen months late in refocusing on jobs and let Republicans set the agenda, and that he got disastrously rolled in the debt ceiling deal.  Should you then write him off as a failure, a disaster for Democrats and the country, a man unequal to the challenges of his historical moment?

No. All presidents err terribly. They err in emphasis, in tactics, and in overall direction.  Theodore Roosevelt said he would be happy if he made the right decision 55% of the time.  You have to weigh the successes against the failures (and the politically possible against the ideal) and determine which way the scales tip -- perhaps slightly.  And given Obama's tendency to favor long-term priorities over short, you might have to wait a year or decade or two before making an assessment.

In a recent post, I noted that FDR not only tipped the U.S. into a brutal recession by cutting spending in 1937, as Krugman and others have been reminding us for years, but reversed course only halfheartedly and rather ineffectually -- both because of his own ambivalence about deficit spending and because he had squandered political capital on his court-packing scheme and a war on conservative Democrats. Moving the story along: by early 1939, the economy was perking up because the war machine was starting to crank.  Roosevelt gave a memorable State of the Union address. I it, he implicitly confessed to two major errors over the previous several years -- though he cast those errors as collective ones, which they also were.

Friday, September 09, 2011

A backdoor way to shore up the Affordable Care Act?

This post got buried beneath new ones a bit too quickly; excuse the re-post:

Before Obama's "grand bargain" with Boehner imploded, many progressives were appalled to learn that Obama had put (gradually) raising the Medicare retirement age to 67 on the table. Swampland suggests that Democrats on the supercommittee charged with proposing a deficit reduction package are doing the same:

Democratic staffers on the Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday submitted a list of potential savings, including some $500 billion from Medicare through tweaks like raising the eligibility age to 67 from 65. The bipartisan task forces of months past have identified a menu of potential savings the supercommittee can mix and match from to reach its goal.

The actual Ways and Means memo, however, reads more like a brief against this option -- and a slap at Obama for proposing it.  It also perhaps hints at the germ of a messy bargain, or rather a kind of subtrigger to preserve these alleged savings, which may be presumed dear to GOP hearts (my emphasis below):
Raising the Medicare eligibility age [by two months per year through 2027, to 67]would be a radical departure from current policy and is only possible if the ACA is retained. If ACA were subsequently repealed or otherwise substantially changed, this policy would result in a significant increase in the number of near-elderly uninsured persons. Even

Can Obama raise the cost of GOP stonewalling?

Whatever alchemy goes into Moody's economist Mark Zandi's calculations, his simple declarative forecasts do have a way of framing political stakes. Here's the top line as served up in Mike Allen's Playbook:
MARK ZANDI for Moody's Analytics, "An Analysis of the Obama Jobs Plan": "President Obama's jobs proposal would help stabilize confidence and keep the U.S. from sliding back into recession. The plan would add 2 percentage points to GDP growth next year, add 1.9 million jobs, and cut the unemployment rate by a percentage point. The plan would cost about $450 billion, about $250 billion in tax cuts and $200 billion in spending increases. Many of the president's proposals are unlikely to pass Congress, but the most important have a chance of winning bipartisan support. ...

Thursday, September 08, 2011

So far so good, Obama...

Well, I think Obama accomplished step one of what he needs to do tonight. He took it to the Republicans.  Without accusing them of deliberately blocking action to help the economy, he made it clear that that's what they're doing, since they're blocking consensus measures that they've supported and proposed in the past -- most notably for payroll tax cuts:
I know some of you have sworn oaths to never raise any taxes on anyone for as long as you live.  Now is not the time to carve out an exception and raise middle-class taxes, which is why you should pass this bill right away.      
He made the Republicans stand and cheer for infrastructure investment and payroll tax cuts and tax breaks for hiring the unemployed.  Because he could credibly characterize all the measures as historically bipartisan ones, he was able to cast his injunction to "pass this bill" as a matter of responsibility and patriotism. The refrains were simple: "pass this bill and..."  and "you should pass this jobs plan right away."

He was straightforward, too, about applying political pressure, appealing to listeners to pressure their reps:

A backdoor way to shore up the Affordable Care Act?

Before Obama's "grand bargain" with Boehner imploded, many progressives were appalled to learn that Obama had put (gradually) raising the Medicare retirement age to 67 on the table. Swampland suggests that Democrats on the supercommittee charged with proposing a deficit reduction package are doing the same:

Democratic staffers on the Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday submitted a list of potential savings, including some $500 billion from Medicare through tweaks like raising the eligibility age to 67 from 65. The bipartisan task forces of months past have identified a menu of potential savings the supercommittee can mix and match from to reach its goal.

The actual Ways and Means memo, however, reads more like a brief against this option -- and a slap at Obama for proposing it.  It also perhaps hints at the germ of a messy bargain, or rather a kind of subtrigger to preserve these alleged savings, which may be presumed dear to GOP hearts (my emphasis below):
Raising the Medicare eligibility age [by two months per year through 2027, to 67]would be a radical departure from current policy and is only possible if the ACA is retained. If ACA were subsequently repealed or otherwise substantially changed, this policy would result in a significant increase in the number of near-elderly uninsured persons. Even

A fair look at Obama

With a good deal of pain, I have read, and ruminated over, and sometimes pushed back against, a large number of assessments of Obama in this season of failure following the debt ceiling debacle.  Today I think Joe Klein actually got the mix about right, providing some clarity:
In fact,the great conundrum of Obama’s presidency is that he has accomplished a hell of a lot–preventing a depression with his stimulus package, passing a plausible universal health care plan, fighting the good fight on financial regulatory reform, saving the auto companies–but it has worked to his political disadvantage. Dowd is correct about one of the reasons for this: the President simply isn’t a top-draw politician. If he were, we’d be talking about the Obama tax cuts–there have been two big ones–instead of the “failed” Obama stimulus package; the Obama Senior Citizen prescription drug benefit (he closed the donut hole), universal health coverage that you can never lose instead of death panels; the Detroit auto boom as a path to a revival of manufacturing. Most important, we’d be talking about jobs instead of deficits. We would never have played the Republican deficit follies these past nine months. He would be defining the political arena. Instead, the Republicans are. 

As Klein suggests elsewhere in the post, the policy vs. politics division is too neat.  Obama's timidity, his passivity in the face of Republican stonewalling and sabotage, his unwillingness to stage fights, goes to substance too. As Klein implicitly asks, why didn't he appoint Elizabeth Warren to head the Financial Consumer Protection Board, and embrace the fight when the GOP inevitably filibustered? For that matter, why isn't he orchestrating pressure now over their refusal to allow a vote on his more anodyne if able nominee, Richard Cordray? Why didn't he make noise when Richard Shelby blocked a confirmation vote for his FHFA nominee, Joseph A. Smith, who might have directed Fannie and Freddie to launch a mortgage writedown program? Or when Shelby successfully blocked Nobel laureate Peter Diamond from serving on the Federal Reserve?

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

A brief post-9/11 lament

I have been shying away from most of the 9/11 retrospectives, because when I think of what that day wrought in this country, all I feel is grief. Grief, that is, over what we in the United States have done to ourselves in response to the real and perceived threat.

The usually acute FT columnist Philip Stephens argued last week that in the grand scheme of things, 9/11 mattered not much of all. The main story of the last decade is "the rising states of Asia and Latin America"; 9/11 just accelerated the relative "rise of the rest."  That may well be true.  But to add as a corollary that "Bin Laden did not really change very much at all" is reverse myopia of the worst kind.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Obama changes the subject

...that is, the grammatical subject of his sentences when he's calling out certain parties for obstructing his jobs agenda.

Jonathan Cohn has already made this point in brief. But I'm going to gild the lily, overemphasize it, put the obvious in boldface below, because this rhetorical turn goes to the heart of how Obama has driven his supporters mad in recent months via continued pursuit of compromise and bipartisan cooperation with those who keep drive-by shooting him.

On Labor Day, Obama moved away from his months-long practice of criticizing "Congress" for blocking formerly bipartisan, consensus measures to boost trade and growth and instead called out "congressional Republicans." Got that?  The subject (or object) of the sentence is not "Congress" (sidelined as an adjective) but "Republicans." Way to call a spade a spade, Mr. President. It's been a long time coming.

Compare the pablum in Obama's Sept. 3 weekly address:

Monday, September 05, 2011

FDR was Hoover, too

We've all heard by now that FDR cut spending in 1937, sending the economy into a sharp recession that reversed much of the rapid economic growth his New Deal policies had helped spur in his first term. 

What's less well known, I think (at least to me), is that when he reversed course after this disastrous bout of balanced budget fever, he did so only fitfully, with ambivalent half measures, and the economy sputtered on with weak growth and unemployment near 20% until 1941, when wartime spending kicked in. Moreover, his assault on big business, via populist denunciations and new corporate taxes -- driven mainly by a need in 1935-36 to cover his left flank and stave off a feared populist third-party challenge -- left a widespread perception that he'd driven away the confidence fairy. David M. Kennedy summarizes in Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945:
Yet so far as the economy was concerned in 19838, Roosevelt's actions looked for the moment to be something considerably less than revolutionary. The president may have planted the seeds of the "Keynesian Revolution" in American fiscal policy, but it would be some time before they would fully flower. In the meantime, Roosevelt seemed to have wrought the worst of all worlds: insufficient government spending to effect recovery, but sufficient government sword-rattling to keep private capital cowed. "The President won't spend any money," an exasperated Jerome Frank exclaimed. "Nobody on the outside will believe the trouble we have with him. Yet they call him a big spender. It makes me laugh." As for private businessmen, they still hesitated to make new investments. Why, the president mused on night at dinner, did they lack confidence in the economy? Eleanor replied tellingly, "They are afraid of you."  Deprived of adequate public or private means of revival, the economy sputtered on, not reaching the output levels of 1937 until the fateful year of 1941, when the threat of war, not enlightened New Deal policies, compelled government expenditures at levels previously unimaginable.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Promise and peril for the Affordable Care Act

In December 2009, Atul Gawande expressed hope that a "hodgepodge" of cost control measures stuffed into the Senate healthcare reform bill, most of which later made it into the Affordable Care Act, might have a transformative effective over time:
Where we crave sweeping transformation, however, all the current bill offers is those pilot programs, a battery of small-scale experiments. The strategy seems hopelessly inadequate to solve a problem of this magnitude. And yet—here’s the interesting thing—history suggests otherwise.
Gawande goes on to review the history of Federal government intervention in the agriculture sector in the early 20th century gradually but radically transofrmed farming methods andled to massive increases in productivity.  For healthcare too, he argues, there is no master switch. Trial and error, orchestrated by carrot and stick, is the model:

Friday, September 02, 2011

Rat race or fluid human dance?

Way back when, while teaching freshman composition, I used to sometimes assign an essay by Tom Wolfe in which he stood on the mezzanine balcony at Grand Central Station with a social scientist who compared the commuters below to rats. "Listen to them squeak," the guru said -- and sure enough, Wolfe reported, there was a regular squeak of pivoting soles.   This was, we were given to believe, the rat race made literal.