Saturday, October 31, 2009

Obama as the Democratic Reagan - An Update

There was talk during last year's campaign about certain similarities between then Senator Obama and Ronald Reagan. The comparison gained even more traction when Obama himself characterized the former Republican president as "transformative." That was seen as a way of appealing to moderate voters who had crossed over to Reagan as well as a swipe at Bill Clinton who, though certainly competent, did not qualify as transformative.

There hasn't been much Obama as Reagan chatter since Barack took office but there are some interesting parallels which could be very encouraging to supporters of the current president.

Look, for example, at Reagan's trajectory:

He wins big in 1981 against incumbent Jimmy Carter, but a weak economy and controversial policies drive down his poll numbers. His popularity, however, recovers along with the economy and by 1984 he sweeps Democrat Walter Mondale in every state except Minnesota (and D.C.).

Also, putting policies aside for the moment, the current and former presidents both show similar leadership attributes:

  • Unflappable and Flexible - Stick to your guns and know when to compromise
  • Disciplined and Personable - Stay on script (teleprompter) but be yourself (likable and authentic)
  • Opportunistic and Optimistic - Use crisis to your advantage and stay true to your principles
Some Reagan-haters attribute the former president's "larger-than-life" status to a clever and manipulative campaign engineered by right wing "thought leaders." This so-called "Reagan Legacy Project" has been persuasively critiqued by Reagan opponents.

But let's not argue that here. Instead, let's hope that historical forces line up for Barack Obama - as they did for Reagan - and that this president can create a lasting record of accomplishment and true transformation.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Don't Hate the Haters

When tea party types are asked to explain their placards comparing President Obama to Adolph Hitler, their answers are often - well - unsophisticated. That makes it pretty easy for us to then see those protesters as morons, or worse.

Moreover, if we were to probe their belief systems, we would likely find some hidden - or not so hidden - racist, anti-semitic and homophobic tendencies. Then we could comfortably conclude that it’s actually the attitudes and behaviors of the Obama- accusers that are, in fact, “Hitlerian”.

But I don’t think we should do this.

We know that demonization sometimes takes place on the left. In particularly bitter union organizing, contract and political battles, for example, worker hostility toward employers, business leaders and political foes can be acute. Stirring up militant emotions is important in building union power. But the level of rage among certain workers in these campaigns can often seem over the top.

I’m not offering a direct equivalence between worker anger in a labor dispute and fanatic right wing hysteria. But organizers across ideologies know that creating an “us versus them” dynamic is usually essential in motivating people for action.

The common denominator is, I think, a sense of helplessness among many struggling Americans. With the reach of the American Labor Movement drastically reduced over the years, wage-earners are isolated and susceptible to extremist views.

Am I suggesting that under different circumstances, some or many of the Obama-haters would be on our side, fighting for good wages and a more equitable economy? I suppose I am.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

More Unjustified Optimism from Observe Obama

Many of us became poll-obsessed during the ’08 General Election, daily tracking the overall and state-by-state numbers. Our confidence grew during the final weeks as the numbers held. Remember the exhilaration when the Obama family walked onto the stage in Chicago’s Grant Park?

That was so last year.

Now we have the presidential approval numbers. Not so much fun, right?

Just stay above 50 percent for now and we’ll be O.K. We have a year until the Congressional midterm elections and three whole years before the next presidential.

A lot can and will happen during that time. There will be dramatic and unexpected turns in health care, Afghanistan, the economy and the unknown.

Not everything will go our way. But there are different ways we can greet the history of the Obama era as it unfolds before us. We can be glum, outraged and desperately disappointed.

Our entire sense of well-being can depend on whether we get a public option!

Or we can welcome the changes that come our way: what it means to have the EPA run by environmentalists rather than industry hacks, how liberating it is not to be fighting to keep Scalia-clones off the bench; having a real conversation about a national high-speed rail system.

I know. You think I’m grasping for straws because Obama couldn’t deliver the transformational change we craved.

Fair enough.

But this Obama thing is just getting started.

What made you think that the Republican’s would give up fear-mongering, name-calling and even a contemporary version of red-baiting? This stuff has worked for 80 years.

I urge my friends and colleagues to hang in there. Don’t get depressed. This is America. It’s a complicated place with very conservative impulses.

If progressive ideas are going to work here, progressive people must look like we’re having a good time, not sitting around staring at our feet.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

What Should We Do, John Kerry?

When we sent John Kerry up against George Bush in 2004 we thought we picked the right guy. Thoughtful, experienced and self-possessed, the “other” Senator from Massachusetts seemed more serious than Howard Dean, more authentic than John Edwards and certainly more presidential than the incumbent.

But when the Republicans do what they do best - disparage, distort and degrade - Kerry wobbled. The candidate - and the campaign - lacked that sharp edge that we need against conservative tactics.

What was missing in the Kerry candidacy became quite apparent four years later when we saw Obama - and his organization - in action.

Despite his mediocre performance, Kerry was spared the distain many Democrats felt toward our 1988 nominee, Michael Dukakis who squandered a large lead in the polls to George Bush Sr. and was clueless when Republicans began to create their usual brand of mischief, picking Dukakis apart on crime, “un-Americanism” and looking silly riding atop an army tank.

After finishing his term as Massachusetts Governor in 1991, Dukakis went into a sort of academic exile at Northeastern and UCLA. Kerry, on the other hand, has stayed right in the thick of it. It was interesting to see him this week alongside Afghan President Hamid Karzai, having helped broker the deal to rerun that nation’s election.

Although Kerry didn’t quite deliver for us five years ago, he certainly didn’t disgrace himself and retains quite a bit of respect among mainstream and progressive Democrats.

The chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is now positioned, I think, to be a big voice on the war issue and could give cover and credibility - on the left - to a possible call for an Afghanistan “surge” by President Obama.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Where are the Blue Dogs?

There are 52 Blue Dog (conservative to moderate) Democrats in the United States House of Representatives out of a total of 256 Democrats.

In Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Utah, Blue Dogs comprise half or more of the Democratic House delegation in that state. California has the most Blue Dogs with seven, followed by Pennsylvania with five.

The following list shows the number of representatives from each state, the number of Democrats and the number of Blue Dogs:

Alabama-------------7--------------- 3---------------- 2
Alaska--------------- 1---------------0---------------- 0
Arizona-------------- 8---------------5---------------- 2
Arkansas------------ 4--------------- 2---------------- 2
Colorado------------- 7--------------- 5---------------- 1
Delaware-------------1-------------- 0----------------- 0
Florida-------------- 25--------------10-----------------1
Georgia--------------13-------------- 6----------------- 4
Hawaii--------------- 2-------------- 2----------------- 0
Idaho-----------------2-------------- 1----------------- 1
Illinois--------------- 19------------- 12---------------- 0
Indiana---------------9-------------- 5------------------3
Kansas---------------4-------------- 1-------------------1
Kentucky------------ 6-------------- 1 ------------------1
Louisiana------------ 7-------------- 1------------------ 1
Maine----------------2-------------- 2------------------ 1
Maryland-------------8--------------7------------------ 1
Massachusetts--------10-------------10---------------- 0
Michigan------------- 15------------- 8----------------- 0
Minnesota------------ 8--------------4------------------1
Mississippi----------- 4-------------- 3----------------- 2
Montana------------- 1--------------- 0---------------- 0
Nebraska------------ 3--------------- 0-----------------0
Nevada-------------- 3----------------2-----------------0
New Hampshire----- 2---------------- 2----------------0
New Jersey--------- 13--------------- 8-----------------0
New Mexico--------- 3----------------3------------------0
New York----------- 29-------------- 27-----------------1
North Carolina------ 13--------------- 8-----------------2
North Dakota------- -1----------------1------------------ 1
Ohio---------------- 18---------------10----------------- 2
Oklahoma----------- 5--------------- 1------------------- 1
Oregon-------------- 5---------------4------------------- 0
Pennsylvania--------19-------------- 12------------------ 5
Rhode Island---------2----------------2------------------ 0
South Carolina------- 6--------------- 2------------------ 0
South Dakota---------1---------------1------------------- 1
Tennessee------------9-------------- 5------------------- 4
Texas--------------- 32------------- 12------------------- 1
Utah----------------- 3--------------1-------------------- 1
Virginia------------- 11---------------6------------------- 1
Washington----------9--------------- 6------------------- 0
West Virginia--------3---------------2-------------------- 0
Wyoming------------1---------------0-------------------- 0

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The American Parliamentary Election...Congressional Majorites Above All

I’ve had a lot of arguments with my friends about Joe Lieberman.

When the Connecticut Senator and former Al Gore running mate was defeated in the 2006 Democrat primary by Ned Lamot, many progressives were elated. Lieberman had infuriated Democrats by sticking with Bush’s Iraq war policy long after the support of most Americans had peeled away.

Unwilling to surrender his seat, Lieberman ran as an independent and won the general election by ten points over Lamot and 40 points over his Republican challenger.

Most importantly, however, after the election, Joe decided to caucus with the Democrats and provide the pivotal vote in returning the Senate to Democratic majority control, 51-49 (a 50-50 split would have maintained the Republican majority with Vice-President Cheney breaking the tie). Lieberman didn’t have to do that.

Two years later, Sen. Lieberman outraged and enraged Democrats by actively supporting John McCain for President and even received serious consideration as the Republican’s running mate.

Well, after the dust settled in ’08, Joe again petitioned to caucus as a Democrat and again was admitted back into the club (although as penance he was removed as chair of the Homeland Security Committee). But, most importantly, Lieberman is now one of 60 Senators (58 Democrats, plus Vermont Independent Bernie Sanders) who comprise the so-called “filibuster-proof" majority.

Why bring this up now?

There’s already a lot of yakking about conservative House Democrats, particularly their reluctance to support a public health insurance option. Recently, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel reportedly urged progressives to lay off the Blue Dogs. Apparently concerned that the House could be in play in 2010, Emanuel thinks it’s unwise (not his words) to do anything which could jeopardize losing the Democratic majority (and with it, of course, the speaker, committee chairs and, of course, the agenda).

I agree.

Losing the lower house of congress would be a disaster, far worse than not getting a public option into health reform legislation. An argument could be made that failure to pass a meaningful and robust health bill is what would really put swing state Democrats at risk in ’10. Maybe, but I doubt it.

The ’06, ‘08 and '10 races should be seen as our equivalent of parliamentary elections, with our principal purpose to maintain majorities. I will not support any primary challenge to any incumbent Congressional Democrat. Period.

Finally, back to Lieberman.

A lot of Democrats hate Lieberman. Although he lines up with conservatives on foreign policy, he’s moderate on most other issues. (His rating by Americans for Democratic Action - a generally accepted indicator of liberalism - is 85 percent).

In my view, our effort to punish him in 2006 nearly backfired and we were lucky to keep him on our side. Among other lessons is if you’re going to take on the king, you’d better be able to kill the king.

There’s very little upside at this point in threatening any Blue Dog Democrat with a primary challenge. The President and the nation need these congressional majorities and we shouldn’t jeopardize that prospect because the left-wing of the party wants to “teach somebody a lesson.”

Sunday, October 11, 2009

2010 United States Senate Elections

On November 2, 2010 voters in 36 states will be choosing a United States Senator. Currently holding these seats are 18 Democrats and 18 Republicans. Among the eight retiring Senators, five are Republican. All but two of these races will decide full six-year Senate terms.

The election in Delaware fills the last four years of Vice President Joe Biden’s unfinished term. Appointed incumbent Democrat Ted Kaufman is not seeking reelection to that seat. The election in New York fills the last two years of Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s unfinished term. Appointed incumbent Kirsten Gillibrand does intend to run.

In addition, an off-cycle election will take place on January 19, 2010 in Massachusetts to fill the final two-plus years of deceased Sen. Ted Kennedy's term. Appointed incumbent Democrat Paul Kirk is not seeking reelection to that seat.

Finally, incumbent Texas Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison is expected to resign before the end of 2009 with a special election to be held three to four months later.

Currently, Democrats have a so-called filibuster-proof 60 - 40 majority which includes two independents - Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut - who caucus with the Democrats.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Election Anniversary Stirs Democrat's Anxiety

Instead of celebrating next month’s anniversary of Obama’s victory, many Democrats will be nervously facing the prospect of the 2010 Congressional midterm election.

You can already hear the moaning and groaning about losing the House and our “filibuster-proof” Senate majority.

We’ve got to hand it to the Republicans. They’ve energized their base, driven down Obama’s polls and exposed weaknesses in the White House, the Administration and the President himself.

Democrats are split and confused on who to blame. One impulse is to blast Obama for a failure of courage, for not “taking on” his opponents. Another explanation is that Americans are pretty conservative and reform-resistant.

Of course, within that simple dichotomy is considerable nuance. Some progressives tend to believe that elite institutions - corporate, media, financial, military - control the levers of power, the debate and ultimately the public mind.

Fair enough.

Others who roam the American left - like me - can’t shake the idea that there’s a conservative temperament that runs deep in the American character.

We can’t settle that argument here.

But this is what we know and can agree on:

The Republicans are depending on a strategy of constantly chipping away at Obama’s stature, credibility, competence and integrity. Their goal is to fracture the President’s governing consensus. (See RNC chair Michael Steele’s remarks on the Nobel Peace Prize).

Nothing is more important than for Democrats - progressive, liberal, centrist, whatever - to prevent another Republican takeover.

If you need a fresh reminder, pay attention to former Sen. Max Cleland’s account of his reelection defeat in 2002. A Vietnam vet and triple amputee, Cleland was savaged as unpatriotic in the Karl Rove-engineered campaign.

When we won nearly a year ago, I was certain that my friends and colleagues on the left would become disappointed, disillusioned and frustrated with the inevitable concessions, compromises, stumbles and setbacks.

My approach to the Obama-era has been to advocate closing ranks and holding our ground. I admit that I operate out of fear.

I can’t forget how dangerously and frighteningly close our nation came to authoritarianism in the Bush years.

So however health care legislation comes out, I will support it. Whatever financial reform looks like, I’ll back it. And, a year from now, I will cheer on any and every Democratic Congressional candidate including - and especially - the Blue Dogs.

The Republicans hope to win back the House in 2010. We’d better not let them.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

President Obama's Political Appointments

Keep on eye on who gets top jobs in this Administration:
  • Cabinet Departments and Agencies - Commerce, Defence, Interior, EPA, Labor, Treasury, more
  • Executive Office of the President - Council on Environmental Quality, OMB, U.S. Trade Representative, more
  • Regulatory Agencies - Consumer Product Safety Commission, FTC, SEC, more
  • Independent Agencies - CIA, National Labor Relations Board, Peace Corp, Small Business Administration, more
  • White House Staff

From Assistant Secretaries, Commissioners, General Councils to Inspectors General, Deputy Secretaries and Directors, get the background of these key players.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Will Progressives Bolt if Obama Says Yes to Afghan "Surge"?

Here’s a tough one:

Could it be that the war in Afghanistan is worth the costs for America?

Progressive Democrats are inclined to oppose foreign military actions. Many of us cut our teeth politically opposing the war in Vietnam, Reagan’s crusade to destroy the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and Bush’s fiasco in Iraq.

But from the beginning - just weeks after September 11th – the war in Afghanistan has split the American Left.

It may be unwise for us to act reflexively against General Stanley McChrystal’s plan for increased troops.

Obviously, I don’t know whether this plan can work, how long it would take, how many troops and Afghanis will die or suffer horrible injuries, if it can save Afghan women from Taliban enslavement, what the political toll will be on Obama and how the Republicans will use this conflict to manipulate public opinion for their own devious purposes.

But I do know that we learned an interesting lesson when, nearly three years ago, there was virtually universal liberal / progressive opposition to the “surge” in Iraq by President Bush. While the results may be mixed, the General David Petraeus plan was not the complete disaster many on the left predicted; and that whatever stability may have been achieved in Iraq has made it easier for this administration to implement its withdrawal plan.

For Obama supporters, evaluating military options is tricky business. Does it make me a hawk, a militarist or – God forbid – an imperialist to entertain the prospect that an Afghanistan War surge might be a good idea?

I might as well admit right now that if President Obama supports something that looks like a surge, I will not automatically join the opposition.

And I will tell you, without hesitation, that if and when Osama Bin Laden is captured or killed under the Obama regime, you’ll find me right there in the cheering section.