I was listening to Patton Oswalt’s My Weakness Is Strong on the train home last night. Hilarious guy, but this routine has gotten a little sad in retrospect. Actually, a lot sad.

Wonder what he would have to say now about the Folder in Chief?

Yeah, I know we dodged a bullet when Obama kept Cranky McCain and Caribou Barbie out of the White House. All props for that. Trouble is, there’ve been a few bullets since then, and instead of helping us dodge them, Obama has been letting the country take the hits in the name of — what do they call it? — bipartisanship. “Just stand still and let the Republicans shoot you in the leg,” Obama says. “They’ve promised not to shoot you in the head.” And the Republicans say: “Not today, that is.”

My Weakness Is Strong. Sounds like a swell all-purpose campaign slogan for the Democrats. Thanks a lot, guys.

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Dear President Obama

September 29, 2010

Yes, Mr. President, I know what’s at stake in the midterm elections. It would be nice if some more Democrats in positions of power and influence acted as though they understood as well.

Regards

Opinion Mill Proprietor

P.S. Could you please stop pissing on liberals and progressives, and tell Joe Biden to knock it off as well? I know the Beltway pundits love to see hippies get bashed, but it’s really not a smart way to mobilize your base. Unless your internal polling shows the cause is already lost and you’re laying the groundwork for blaming it all on those unrealistic lefties who are never satisfied with anything. I surely would hate to think that’s what’s going on here.

Daschle Days Are Here Again

September 3, 2010

So here we are, Labor Day just around the corner, midterm elections on the horizon. After a sweltering summer of bone-deep crazy, the Republicans have made it clear that if they regain power in Congress we can expect them to paralyze the government, conduct endless phony investigations into equally phony scandals, and pad the pockets of their cronies while the country continues its downward spiral.

So what are the Democrats in general, and President Obama in particular, proposing to do about this? Why do I feel that I’m witnessing a re-run of the Tom Daschle years, when the Senate leader let Republicans walk over him so many times that he should have had WELCOME tattooed on his forehead? Paul Krugman has some ideas about what they can to, you know, stave off the looming GOP disaster:

The actual lessons of 2009-2010, then, are that scare stories about stimulus are wrong, and that stimulus works when it is applied. But it wasn’t applied on a sufficient scale. And we need another round.

I know that getting that round is unlikely: Republicans and conservative Democrats won’t stand for it. And if, as expected, the G.O.P. wins big in November, this will be widely regarded as a vindication of the anti-stimulus position. Mr. Obama, we’ll be told, moved too far to the left, and his Keynesian economic doctrine was proved wrong.

But politics determines who has the power, not who has the truth. The economic theory behind the Obama stimulus has passed the test of recent events with flying colors; unfortunately, Mr. Obama, for whatever reason — yes, I’m aware that there were political constraints — initially offered a plan that was much too cautious given the scale of the economy’s problems.

So, as I said, here’s hoping that Mr. Obama goes big next week. If he does, he’ll have the facts on his side.

All true. However, Obama has had the facts on his side pretty much all the time. The facts supported single-payer healthcare. The facts supported the public option. The facts supported getting the hell out of Iraq and Afghanistan. The facts supported lots of sane, politically astute measures that would have pulled us back from the abyss we now stare into. Hell, the facts supported grabbing the Republicans and rubbing their long noses in the immense mess they created.

Obama had the facts. The Republicans had scare stories about socialism, death panels, and birth certificates. And now the Democrats are once again poised to pluck defeat from the jaws of victory.

Sure, I’ll vote for the Democrats in November. With Congress ready to become an even worse bedlam, it would be criminal to stay home. While teabaggers chase phantoms around the foot of the Washington Monument and Obama’s press secretary sneers at “the professional left,” I will do my bit to speak up for rationality and good policy.

But I sure do wish the guys with the power had been doing likewise these past months. When I pulled the lever for Obama I knew I was voting for a politician, not a messiah or a saint. But never in my wildest nightmares did I think I was voting for a younger version of Tom Daschle.

The turning point

August 7, 2010

Why couldn’t Bill Clinton have offered to pay for dry-cleaning? Why couldn’t Al Gore have chosen a less weaselly vice-presidential candidate? Why couldn’t George W. Bush have been eating a bigger pretzel?

And why couldn’t President Obama have used his early popularity and strength to push through a bigger stimulus package? Something that would have not simply reduced job losses, but spurred job growth? I have my complaints about Obama, but I know a McCain administration — blinkered, clueless, wedded to corrupt conservative economic dogma — would have presided over a near-total economic collapse and another Great Depression.

Joshua Marshall sees the inadequate stimulus as the key error of the Obama administration, one likely to give the Republicans a chance to increase their power in Congress. Frank Rich has his own take on this in an excellent NYRB piece:

Yet it’s hard not to wonder if much more would have been accomplished, both substantively and politically, had Obama’s economic principals, Timothy Geithner and Lawrence Summers, been more open to ideas not of their own authorship and more capable of playing with others, including a public that still hardly knows either of them. Obama “apparently never considered appointing a banker or Fed governor from outside the East Coast who knew finance but was less connected to the policies that caused the crisis,” Alter writes. The homogenous team he chose “all knew one another and all looked at the world through nearly identical eyes.” Once in place in Washington, they would all underestimate the threat of rising unemployment, be blindsided by the populist anger rising outside the capital, and even fail to predict the no-brainer popularity of the “cash for clunkers” program. Their paramount group-think lapse—their inability “to think more boldly about creating jobs fast”—still haunts the administration. A White House job summit didn’t materialize until December 2009, nearly a year too late.

The Promise depicts a carelessness and dysfunctionality in the economic team that at times matches that revealed by Rolling Stone in the military and civilian leadership of the team managing the Afghanistan war. Geithner’s inexplicable serial income tax delinquencies, as elucidated by Alter, should have disqualified him for Treasury secretary just as Stanley McChrystal’s role in the Pentagon’s political coverup of Pat Tillman’s friendly fire death should have barred him from the top military job in Afghanistan. Summers’s Machiavellian efforts to minimize or outright exclude the input of ostensible administration economic players like Paul Volcker, Austan Goolsbee, and Christina Romer seem to have engaged his energies as much as the policy issues at hand.

In April 2009, at Obama’s insistence, a group of economists that Summers had blocked from the Oval Office, including Volcker, Paul Krugman, Joseph Stiglitz, and Alan Blinder, was invited to a White House dinner. That colloquy has been cited ever since by White House aides in response to complaints that the administration’s economic circle is too insular. The dinner was a one-off, however, and the liberal economists’ ideas about tougher financial reform and a more ambitious stimulus package have languished.

Obama may have entered the White House with the intention of assembling a Lincolnesque “team of rivals,” but Summers subverted that notion by making himself chief packager and gatekeeper for any dissenting arguments about economic policy—all, he claimed, to spare the President from meeting with “long-winded people.” Lincoln’s “team of rivals” reported directly to Lincoln, but, as one source told Alter, Summers so skewed the process in this White House that it was like “a team of rivals reporting to Edwin Stanton, Lincoln’s prideful secretary of war.” Even Warren Buffett, a supporter who had spoken to Obama weekly during the fall of 2008, “found himself mysteriously out of touch with the new president” once he took office.

Obama was now imprisoned within the cozy Summers-Geithner group “and it would be increasingly difficult for him to see beyond its borders.” This “disconnection from the world,” Alter concludes, was not due to ideology or the clout of special interests but was instead “the malign consequence of the American love of expertise, which, with the help of citadels of the meritocracy, had moved from a mere culture to something approaching a cult.” For all Obama’s skepticism of cant, he was “in thrall to the idea that with enough analysis, there was a ‘right answer’ to everything. But a right answer for whom?”

For whom? Come November, we may get our answer: For the Republicans. And that will mean the end of any chance of averting a longer, deeper recession. With its squalid cynicism and nihilistic program of doing everything it can to stall the recovery and whip up populist anger in order to regain power, the GOP has become an active menace to this democratic society. The sheer level of craziness and sleaze may be enough to alienate the voters. But that’s a mighty slender reed to hang our hopes on.

That it should come to this, after plenty of warnings, simply astonishes me.

The Bush Rules

December 27, 2008

One of the most amazing aspects of the Bush Bust-Out is that the con-men running the show have made no bones about their contempt for the people they’re fleecing — i.e., us. Of course Cheney and Bush sneer at poll numbers showing the majority of Americans living outside of insane asylums can’t wait to see them gone. They’ve never been about anything but padding their pockets, expanding their power and opening up the public coffers to looting by their cronies. As far as Bush is concerned, his only “accountability moment” came in 2004, when he managed to scam his way back into the job his daddy’s buddies appointed him to. Every time he spoke in public after that, there should have been subtitles reading, You had your chance and you blew it, now don’t come bitching to me.

I’ve already suggested that Barack Obama should simply give his spending intiatives names like the Blowing Up Dark-skinned People in the Desert Act, or the Kick Muslim Ass Act, or the Feed Hungry Millionaires Act because everybody knows wars and tax cuts never have to be paid for. And if Republicans try to block him in Congress, or if his currently stellar poll numbers should drop, Obama should simply get up there and say, “In the words of my predecessor, I had my accountability moment in November 2008. You got a problem with that, go cry to Sean Hannity.”

The Bush admninistration has set the bar so low that a new basement has to be dug to give it clearance. Even if Obama does nothing but keep the Pentagon from getting hit by another airliner, or keep another natural disaster from wiping out an American city, he will have been a roaring success — by Bush rules.

Base Thoughts

December 18, 2008

Not that I expect anyone to be interested, but just for the sake of having it on record, let me say I am not at all happy about a bigoted Jesus-whooping wackaloon like Rick Warren being invited to deliver the invocation at Obama’s inauguration. I can only hope Warren’s willingness to appear causes as much distress to his wingnut evangelical base as it does to Obama’s progressive and liberal supporters. Maybe Obama thinks he can peel a few whoopers away from the GOP’s base.

I wanna be a base, too. I want to be part of a group so powerful and committed to political change that candidates have to be ready to throw us a bone or two just to ensure that we troop to the polls on the relevant day.

The best way to accomplish that is to avoid the impulse to sulk, say the whole system is rigged against the left and stomp off to mutter into one’s coffee. I voted for Obama with my eyes open and my mind clear. The comedic ravings from the Republicans about Obama’s plans for a Marxist revolution may have led some people to imagine he was a dream candidate for the Left, but anyone with a functioning cerebral cortex knew that was not the case.  Obama wasn’t a dream, but after eight years of nightmare a return to basic sanity was overdue.

If I were going to be in Washington for the ceremony, I would make a point of standing with my back to Warren as he spoke — there’s nothing that pouch-faced clown has to say that’s of any interest to a rational person. But as soon as he finished babbling, I’d turn back to the stage and start paying attention. We should all keep paying attention, too.

Just remember, Jesse Jackson and Pat Robertson both ran in the presidential primaries of their respective parties a couple of decades ago, and they both got shellacked. But Robertson kept his organization together, and within a few years Republicans were lining up to kiss his ring. Jackson let his organization fall apart, and within a few years he was a national footnote, hanging around the Capitol and asking to be made a “shadow senator” like a guy with a cup in his hand.

So pay attention to what Obama does, and when he does bad, get organized and make him pay for it. The conservatives have wrecked the country, and people are ready to hear what the Left has to say. Our job is to speak, and make sure Obama listens.

ADDENDUM: I like what this Balloon Juice commenter has to say:

If you followed the internal politics of evangelical and fundamentalist leaders, you’d see this for what it is—not an elevation of Warren, but a slap in the face of the old guard leaders like Dobson and LaHaye. They’ve been fighting to see who gets to be the spokesman for the movement, and lately it’s been a tie. Obama just broke it.

And let’s be clear, there is a difference between those groups. Warren may not be progressive on gay rights, but he’s been out front on a number of issues of global justice—traveling from Davos to Damascus, and working hard to get rank-and-file evangelicals invested in “creation care” environmentalism and the fight against global HIV/AIDS.

If he were put in charge of HHS or listened to on gay policies, I’d be pissed. But what Obama is doing here isn’t that. It’s a move that marginalizes the worst on the religious right, elevates a guy who’s more progressive than most religious leaders on a number of issues, and earns him some moderate cred at the outset.

If Obama sells out on the progressive promise in actual policy, I’ll be in the streets protesting with everyone else. But if his “selling out” is having a fairly moderate, popular evangelical give the invocation at the inaugural—when large sections of this country still worry Obama’s a scary evil Mooooslim—then who gives a flying fuck?

One crucial difference between Obama and the Clintons is that Chicago is a much tougher playground that Little Rock, and that experience gave Obama the kind of political street-smarts that helped him beat not just one but two candidates the mass market punditry had declared unbeatable. And he did it all while hardly breaking stride, or a sweat. He plays it close to the vest, that one. Everything I said above still applies, but let’s not start rending our garments and screaming betrayal just yet, okay?

Just Say No — To Joe

November 8, 2008

Since there are probably quite a few blue dogs and concern trolls (as well as at least one rather confused Democrat named Evan Bayh) out there ready to whine for magnanimity in dealing with Joe “Obama’s a Marxist” Lieberman, here’s Ezra Klein with a very practical argument for giving the sanctimonious clown his walking papers:

Lieberman wants to keep his committee as a hedge against retribution. So long as he controls Governmental Affairs, he’s not the sort of guy Democrats want on a warpath against them. Elsewhere, they can take him seriously, or screw him over, largely as they please, which most would probably find a preferable alternative. But I basically side with the “kick him out” folks. Unlike Arlen Specter, whose minor heterodoxies ended with a pathetic show of groveling and a solemn promise to never, ever, in a million years, ever say an unkind word about one of Bush’s judicial nominees, Lieberman’s major betrayal of the Democratic Party has been accompanied by a promise to bolt to the Republicans Party if he’s not sufficiently stroked. That’s not the sort of guy you want in a position of oversight.

As for those who might think Joe the Ho is no longer in a position to do any real harm, let Steve Benen lay out the facts on the ground:

This seems to be routinely overlooked, but take a moment to consider what the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs actually does: it’s the committee principally responsible for oversight of the executive branch. It’s an accountability committee, charged with investigating the conduct of the White House and the president’s administration.

As chairman of this committee for the last two years, Lieberman decided not to pursue any accusations of wrongdoing against the Bush administration. Lieberman’s House counterpart — Rep. Henry Waxman’s Oversight Committee — was a vigilant watchdog, holding hearings, issuing subpoenas, and launching multiple investigations. Lieberman preferred to let his committee do no real work at all. It was arguably the most pathetic display of this Congress.

And yet, now Lieberman acts as if keeping this chairmanship is the single most important part of his public life. Why would he be so desperate to keep the gavel of a committee he hasn’t used? I’ll let you in on a secret: he wants to start using the power of this committee against Obama.

Lieberman didn’t want to hold Bush accountable, but he seems exceedingly anxious to keep the committee that would go after Obama with a vengeance, effectively becoming a Waxman-like figure — holding hearings, issuing subpoenas, and launching investigations against the Democratic president.

Lieberman doesn’t care about “reconciliation,” he cares about going after a Democratic administration. Why else would he fight diligently to be chairman of one committee instead of another?

Lieberman was worse than useless as Al Gore’s running mate, spent the next eight years sucking up to the worst president in U.S. history and did his best to undermine Obama’s campaign. This election was about clearing the bums out. It’s the job of Connecticut voters to decide if they want to stick with the man who lied to their faces in order to keep his Senate seat, but meanwhile let’s follow Josh Orton’s advice on how to push Harry Reid into doing the right thing.