Sunday, September 11, 2011

Judging Obama's Strength

I've been trying for some time to understand why it is it bothers me so much when I hear Democrats characterize Obama as "weak", "indecisive", "caving" and so forth. I've come to two conclusions:

1. A black man who rises in America from a position of state senator to President in six short years while defeating two of the most powerful political institutions in the country (the Clinton machine and the GOP) and does so in the face of some of the most virulent opposition seen since the days of Abraham Lincoln does not, in my mind, qualify as "weak".

2. This whole model of "weakness" and "strength" that is being used to judge Obama is nothing more than the REPUBLICAN model for what a good leader should be. We as Democrats have apparently come to the conclusion that the Republican's uncompromising attitude towards their opponents and a kill-or-be-killed approach to negotiations (politics as nothing BUT war) is the RIGHT way to govern. How could I conclude otherwise since we seem to spend so much time talking about how Republicans would do it differently (i.e., better)?

Obama promised a different model of governance. Not a left-wing version of the same right-wing intransigence that we have become used to, but a model that says that the best of our country is exemplified when finding ways to work together in order to solve our problems is more important than making the other side look "weak" and your side look "strong". He campaigned on it, he has lived it and I admire him for it.

Now I can understand the frustration of many in light of what we have seen for the last three years and I don't question anyone's right to be upset that this country has had to put up with so much crap. But I refuse to let my frustration lead me to adopt a model for judging strength that is specifically designed to make the greatest of human values (kindness, intelligence, compassion, etc.) look like "weakness".

I would hope that others would join me.

(Inspired by this)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Live By The Pundit. Die By The Pundit.

So what I suspect is that Ryan and his colleagues expected to float through on a cloud of pundit love, which would allow them to bypass the public’s fundamental dislike of everything they were proposing.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Idiotic Brinksmanship

Circa 2011: Maybe we can survive a default on our debt obligations if it is strategic and limited to a couple of days.

Circa 1980: Maybe we can survive a nuclear war if it is strategic and limited to a couple of cities.

The Questions That Must Be Asked

Amazingly, the "unthinkable" is now becoming thinkable. Some Republicans are starting to say openly that defaulting on the debt, even for just a couple of days, is no big deal. And this shocking development is, understandably, disturbing a lot of people who never thought they would see the day.

One of the typical lines we are hearing from this "no-big-dealers" is that even if the debt limit is increased, the payments to our creditors will not cease. The Treasury will simply prioritize spending so that our debts are paid first. The 40% difference between revenue and spending for the budget as a whole will simply be handled by slashing 40% of the spending on non-debt payments.

Which brings up the obvious questions that every journalist should be asking those who are suggesting that it's no big deal to not raise the debt limit: Where should that 40% come from? Which federal programs should be slashed? And who should decide where the slashing should happen?

Do these idiots realize that Congress has already authorized the spending on these programs. All refusing to raise the debt limit will do is cripple the ability of the Treasury to pay for the programs Congress has already committed to. And Treasury can't wait for the Congress to advise them on how to spend the money. The Treasury has to make the decision on a timetable that Congress has no say in. That means that the Treasury, under the orders of Obama, has the authority to decide which programs to pay for if Congress doesn't authorize it to borrow more money.

In other words, by refusing to raise the debt limit, the Republicans would give Obama the defacto authority to decide the spending priorities of the United States.

Is that what they want?

These are the questions that must be asked.

Why is no one asking them?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

I Love George Takei

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

When Being Wrong Just Isn't Enough

Ta-Nehisi Coates:
Was there something more Obama should have done to get a public option? Should he not have traded the Bush tax cuts for extending unemployment benefits? Did Obama settle too quickly on a small stimulus package? Was he wrong to allow the GOP to shut down planned parenthood in DC? Is the strategy of increased drone attacks in Pakistan inhumane? Was the financial reform bill he signed ultimately too weak?

I think all of this is fair game. I think Charles Ferguson's critique in Inside Job was really solid.  I think calling someone a "black mascot" or a "black puppet" because they don't agree with you is much less so. 
There is something I've never quite understood about the critics of Obama from the left: why is it necessary to portray him as a puppet of evil (if not evil itself)? You disagree with him on policy. Some of that disagreement is well founded. But that isn't enough. You can't just say "Obama is wrong". You have to say "Obama is evil."


Monday, May 16, 2011

Just what could Obama do?

David Frum:

Some Republicans suggest that there’s no special need to worry about hitting the debt ceiling: after all the Treasury will still collect much more in revenue than it spends on interest payments. The Treasury can continue to pay bondholders while ceasing to pay other bills.

Do these Republicans understand that even assuming this idea were legally and technically feasible (which it is not), it would amount to handing President Obama recission authority over the entire federal budget?
Under this scheme, if feasible, could the president decide: OK then, I’ll just stop paying Medicaid bills in states led by Republican governors?
It is not in Obama's character to be so petty in his policies, but I would love to see the Republicans squawking if he did it.

This does bring up an interesting question: what authority does Obama have to address the debt limit issue if the GOP continues to play chicken? I recall reading something a few months back that Obama might already have emergency authority that would allow him to effectively exceed the debt limit if he thought it was necessary to prevent a national crisis (which is what a default would be).


Paul Krugman is right. There is absolutely nothing misleading about the new DCCC slogan. In fact, to say otherwise should be the very definition of misleading.

I've been saying for weeks that Democrats need to stop hedging on this matter. I cringe every time I see one of them soften the point by saying that the Republicans voted to "change Medicare as we know it". No, they did not. They voted to end Medicare.

What they replaced it with is *not* Medicare. Medicare is a guaranteed healthcare benefit program backed by the full faith and credit of the US government. Anything less is *not* Medicare.

Don't back down on this point Dems. You are entirely, 100% correct.

I Am Never Critical Of Smart Criticism

But much of the criticism of Obama is rarely smart.

By smart I mean that it is stated in a way that is meant to affect change in Obama's policies and politics. Not smart is when you just criticize and expect the mere act of criticism to bring about change (and then get mightily offended when it doesn't).

A lot of critics like to point to the "make me do it" story as their model. But what they fail to understand is that "make me do it" takes more than saying "you're doing it wrong." It means creating the electoral framework in which it becomes possible for Obama to forge ahead in those areas where you want him to attack.

If someone is doing something that you think is idiotic, calling them an idiot is the best strategy to make them double down on the idiocy.

Oh, and just in case you are wondering, I think many of the critics of the critics of Obama are making the exact same mistake.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Beware Internet Bubbles

The volume of information available on the internet is so large that no one can realistically consume it without some kind of gatekeeper. We need filters that allow us to consume a good cross-section of material without being overwhelmed by the volume. In this TED Talk, Eli Pariser implicitly acknowledges this in the process of warning of the danger that comes when human gatekeepers (editors and publishers) are replaced with electronic gatekeepers (filtering algorithms from facebook, google, etc.)

It's a good conversation to have.

Eli has also set up a web site with more ideas on what you can do to keep yourself from getting trapped in a filter bubble.