I don’t think Trump can even figure out how to get to the White House without whining about something or other. Meanwhile, one of the nation’s best political orators is leaving office after eight years, and the majority of the nation is mourning already.
Obama’s farewell address from Chicago last week was one of the very best speeches of his Presidency. He had one overriding message: that American democracy is threatened—by economic inequality, by racial division, and, above all, by the erosion of democratic habits and institutions. Its urgency gave the speech an unusual rhetorical punch: “If you’re tired of arguing with strangers on the Internet, try talking with one of them in real life”; “If every economic issue is framed as a struggle between a hardworking white middle class and an undeserving minority, then workers of all shades are going to be left fighting for scraps while the wealthy withdraw further into their private enclaves”; “We sit back and blame the leaders we elect without examining our own role in electing them.” Lines like these might not prove deathless, but because of their bluntness, and because the times are desperate, they hit hard.
Politicians are always letting the public off the hook—it might be the most unforgivably dishonest thing they do. Obama was more candid than most, reminding Americans that the quality of our democracy depends on us—on our capacity to reason and to empathize, our attachment to facts, our willingness to get our hands dirty even when the political game seems sordid or futile. The key word of the speech was “citizen,” which Obama called “the most important office in a democracy,” one that he’ll embrace in his post-Presidency. His exhortations and implications of blame were nonpartisan: conservatives might have heard their denial of science called out, while liberals might have been stung by the allusion to fair-weather activism. Whites and non-whites alike were urged to imagine inhabiting a different person’s skin.
Most Presidential farewell addresses are quickly forgotten. Hardly anyone knows that Bill Clinton and George W. Bush both gave one, as did Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. Those which endure are memorable for their warnings. When the new republic was still taking shape, in 1796, George Washington cautioned against domestic factionalism and foreign entanglements. At the height of the Cold War, in 1961, Dwight Eisenhower described a new “military-industrial complex” and a “scientific-technological élite” that were taking over public policy. Obama’s warning in Chicago—owing to its context, ten days before the Inauguration of President Donald Trump—felt even more dire. He quoted from Washington’s address, but not its most obviously relevant passage, on the danger of partisan demagoguery: “It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which finds a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions.”
((During one of this humble blog’s fallow periods, the David Simon incident mentioned below occurred at the White House. An incident custom made for my particular interests, and yet I’m pretty sure I only tweeted about it. Oh well.))
The War on Drugs has been dialed back a bit from the Reagan-Bush-Clinton-Bush years, but it does continue. Too many laws have been passed encouraging civil forfeiture, encouraging stripping drug offenders of their voting rights and other civil liberties for the war to ended. President Obama and A.G. Eric Holder have slightly de-escalated the conflict, and various states in the US are de-escalating aspects of the conflict on their own citizens’ initiatives, but too many people are in jail for the crime of altering their own consciousnesses.
Jelani Cobb of The New Yorker writes:
In May, 2011, Attorney General Eric Holder invited several cast members from the HBO series “The Wire” to Washington, D.C., to help promote a Justice Department initiative called the Drug Endangered Children’s Task Force. “The Wire,” which aired for five seasons and was acclaimed for its nuanced portrayal of the war on drugs, was a favorite of both Holder and President Obama. Holder jokingly ordered the show’s creators, David Simon and Ed Burns, to produce a sixth season. “I have a lot of power,” he said. “The Attorney General’s kind remarks are noted and appreciated,” Simon told a reporter. “We are prepared to go to work on Season 6 of ‘The Wire’ if the Department of Justice is equally ready to reconsider and address its continuing prosecution of our misguided, destructive, and dehumanizing drug prohibition.” Fans groaned in despair: the improbable sixth season now seemed to hinge on something even less likely, an end to the war on drugs. But the exchange was significant for reasons beyond its implications for HBO’s programming. Although the catastrophic consequences of that war are widely acknowledged, there is less clarity about what ending it would entail.
The United States has declared war on cancer, on pornography, and on terror, and the lesson to be gleaned from those campaigns is that, unlike most other wars, those declared against common nouns seldom come to a precisely defined conclusion. The wars on cancer and pornography were really instances in which martial language was used to bolster particular policy initiatives by the Administrations that enacted them. The war on drugs has been a multitiered campaign that has enlisted legislation, private-sector initiatives, executive-branch support, and public will. But it actually looks like a war, with military-style armaments, random violence, and significant numbers of people taken prisoner. It has been prosecuted throughout eight Administrations and has had the type of social and cultural impact that few things short of real warfare do. During the Civil War, more than a quarter of a million Southern men died, creating the phenomenon of a vast number of female-headed households throughout the region. Mass incarceration during the war on drugs has produced a similar phenomenon among African-American households.
I’m probably not the only one amused at the framing of the defeat of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Trade Deal. You see, even though Republicans have majorities in both House and Senate, the TPP failed solely because of those intransigent Democrats! How dare they vote out of lockstep with the President?
The Chicago Tribune’s headline spells it out:
The House vote Friday included two related measures, both of which had to pass in order to send the legislation — which was approved last month by the Senate — to the president’s desk.
A bill to give the president fast-track authority to negotiate future trade deals was approved by a 219-211 vote. But another measure regarding assistance funds to retrain workers — a program typically supported by Democrats — failed 126-302 largely because Democrats voted against it.
Because the Senate had previously approved both measures as a single bill, the House’s failure to pass the retraining measure prevented the overall package from advancing. Supporters plan to hold another vote on the retraining bill early next week, giving the White House and congressional Republicans another chance to drum up votes.
Obama’s push for the legislation was his biggest lobbying effort since the 2010 passage of the Affordable Care Act. He personally pressed fellow Democrats to support the measure in a meeting Friday morning on Capitol Hill and during an unscheduled appearance Thursday night at the annual congressional ballgame at the Nationals ballpark.
He made it personal. He appealed to their loyalty. He asked them to give him what every modern president has had. He argued the facts, disputed the politics, quarreled over the history and at times lashed out at those who still refused to stand with him.
Yet in the end, after years of frustration with Republicans blocking his ideas in Congress, President Obama on Friday found the most sweeping legislative initiative left on his agenda thwarted not by the opposition but by his own party. If not for his fellow Democrats, Mr. Obama would have a landmark trade bill heading to his desk for signature.
The Wall Street Journal’s perspective is clear: Obama should just resign now since there are only 2 years left in his term…
House Democrats dealt President Barack Obama a major setback in his bid for expanded trade-negotiating powers, roundly rejecting on Friday a workers-aid program that was a key component of the bill and leaving the White House’s trade agenda in limbo.
While stinging, the vote was not the last word in the trade fight, as House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) said there would be a re-vote by Tuesday on extending the aid program, which is designed to help workers hurt by international trade.
But Friday’s defeat showed the degree to which Mr. Obama’s trade agenda is on shaky ground in Congress. The House voted against the workers-aid program by 126-302. To improve those numbers, House Republican leaders, the White House and pro-trade businesses will need to find ways to win over a combination of Democrats who are skeptical of the overall trade push and Republicans leery of supporting the aid package.
It also underscored the waning influence of a second-term president, particularly on an issue many Democrats see as toxic to their re-election prospects, given concerns in their districts that U.S. jobs are being sent overseas.
What about the bill being defeated because it is a boondoggle?
The political battle over the enormous, twelve-nation trade agreement known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership keeps getting stranger. President Obama has made the completion of the deal the number-one legislative priority of his second term. Indeed, Republican opponents of the T.P.P., in an effort to rally the red-state troops, have begun calling it Obamatrade. And yet most of the plan’s opponents are not Republicans; they’re Democrats.
Obama’s chief allies in his vote-by-vote fight in the House of Representatives to win “fast-track authority” to negotiate this and other trade deals are Speaker John Boehner and Representative Paul Ryan—not his usual foxhole companions. The vote may come as soon as Friday. The House Republican leaders tell their dubious members that they are supporting Obama only in order to “constrain” him. Meanwhile, Obama is lobbying members of the Black Congressional Caucus, whose support he can normally count on, tirelessly and, for the most part, fruitlessly. “The president’s done everything except let me fly Air Force One,” Representative Cedric Richmond, Democrat of Louisiana, told the Christian Science Monitor this week. Nonetheless, Richmond said, “I’m leaning no.”
The long, bad aftertaste of NAFTA—the North American Free Trade Agreement, enacted in 1994—explains much of the Democratic opposition to the T.P.P. Ronald Reagan originally proposed NAFTA, but Bill Clinton championed it, got it through Congress mainly on Republican votes, and signed it. In many Democratic districts, NAFTA is still widely blamed for the loss of hundreds of thousands of American manufacturing jobs, and for long-term downward pressure on wages. When President Obama argues that the T.P.P. is not NAFTA, he is correct. It convenes Pacific Rim nations and economies of many stripes, from wealthy, democratic Japan to authoritarian, impoverished Vietnam, and it includes six countries with which the United States already has free-trade agreements. If enacted, it will encompass forty per cent of global economic activity. It is less a traditional trade deal than a comprehensive economic treaty and, at least for the United States, a strategic hedge against the vast and growing weight of Chinese regional influence. What exactly the T.P.P. will do, however, is difficult to know, because its terms are being negotiated in secret. Only “cleared advisors,” most of them representing various private industries, are permitted to work on the text. Leaked drafts of chapters have occasionally surfaced—enough to alarm, among others, environmentalists, labor groups, and advocates for affordable medicine.
It’s hard to think of a fight that has showed President Obama to worse effect than his effort to pass Trade Promotion Authority and the Trans-Pacific Partnership over widespread Democratic opposition. His respect for his opponents has been at low ebb, and since many of his opponents in this fight are Democrats, that means we’ve seen him taking uncharacteristically nasty shots at people like Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
Now, in the aftermath of a vote in which the must-pass-to-pass-the-TPA Trade Adjustment Assistance was defeated, Obama used his weekly address to mislead about what’s going on. House Democrats overwhelmingly voted against the traditionally Democrat-supported assistance program for displaced workers because, according to the rule the House had adopted, TAA was linked to the fast-track TPA bill. No TAA, no TPA. Since TPA passed in the wake of TAA’s defeat, Republican leadership is bringing TAA back for another vote in hopes of getting it, and fast track along with it, through next week. That’s the weird, confusing procedural background—background Obama pretended does not exist as he touted the benefits of Trade Adjustment Assistance in his weekly address.
Paul Krugman calls it a defeat of the Davos Democrats, I like that phrase:
OK, I didn’t see that coming: even though I have come out as a lukewarm opponent of TPP, I assumed that it would happen anyway — the way trade deals (or in this case, dispute settlement and intellectual property deals that pretend to be about trade) always do. But no, or not so far.
A brief aside: I don’t think it’s right to call this a case of Washington “dysfunction”. Dysfunction is when we get outcomes nobody wants, or fail to do things everyone wants done, because there doesn’t seem to be any way to package the politics. In this case, however, people who oppose TPP voted down key enabling measures — that is, they got what they wanted. Calling this “dysfunction” presumes that this deal is a good idea — and that kind of presumption is precisely what got successfully challenged yesterday.
Or to put it another way, one way to see this is as the last stand of the Davos Democrats.
Davos Democrats are known as the people who told us to trust unregulated finance and fear invisible bond vigilantes. They just don’t have the credibility to pull off arguments from authority any more. And it doesn’t say much for their perspicacity that they apparently had no idea that the world has changed. TPP’s Democratic supporters thought they could dictate to their party like it’s 1999. They can’t.
Will Obama have to resort to veto pen finally, now that Harry Reid is no longer blocking ridiculous GOP bills from getting passed? I guess we’ll soon see. And the real test will be on the non-sexy things, like regulatory reform.
Obama Has Only Vetoed 2 Bills. That’s About to Change—Thanks to Democrats | Mother Jones: “Regulatory reform: By far the least sexy of the topics that might be forced on Obama, changes to how the government writes its rules could pose the biggest trouble for the president. Unlike finance, environmental rules, or health care reform, it’s an obscure topic unlikely to garner an outpouring of public outcry. These are changes portrayed as making government more sensible and business-friendly, always a favorite image to project by moderate Democrats who still cling to Bill Clinton’s mantra of deconstructing Big Government, yet they could stymie efforts to write rules for those specific policy areas.
Changes to how the government writes rules ‘seem both kind of technical and innocent, because they talk about things like cost-benefit analysis, or increasing judicial review, or more economic requirements to help small business’ says Lisa Gilbert, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch. ‘Things that don’t sound threatening and maybe even ease tensions with constituents who don’t really like the idea of red tape and have this idea that if we change it at the federal level lots would be easier at home.’ But in essence, these rules just offer cover for big business to delay the laws that they don’t want to comply with—continuing to set their own rules and skating by for years after the public thinks they’ve already been kept in check.
Last week, the House passed the Regulatory Accountability Act, a bill that would force all agencies to conduct a cost-benefit analysis for each rule. This process tends to favor business interests over consumers. The bill would also make it easier for judges to toss aside rules and force agencies to hold lengthy public hearings for each rule they consider. Past iterations of this bill have received support from Senate moderates like Florida’s Bill Nelson, Maine’s King, and West Virginia’s Manchin.
That group of 10 to 15 Democrats willing to break from the rest of the party aren’t hiding their plans. ‘If Republicans want a minimum of six or more Democrats to work with them,’ Manchin said earlier this month, ‘and they’re sincere about policy and good policy moving forward, they’re definitely going to reach out, and I’ve reached out to them.'”
Really? Really? I was never a supporter of Mr. DLCTriangulation, a/k/a Bill Clinton, even going so far as voting for the Green Party candidate1 in 1996, but the whole impeachment travesty over testifying about receiving oral sex from Monica Lewinsky was not equal to Richard Nixon’s criminal conduct. Was there some other criminal conduct besides that perjury? Or just a man trying to keep his blowjobs out of the news media?
As to the more immediate question, will Congress actually impeach Obama? Can they? and should they? Is Obama guilty of treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors? What exactly does misdemeanor mean in this context? I guess we’ll see soon enough, as the Republican Party is gearing up to lead the US down the banana republic road…
House Republicans filed a long-threatened lawsuit Friday against the Obama administration over unilateral actions on the health care law that they say are abuses of the president’s executive authority.
The lawsuit — filed against the secretaries of Health and Human Services and the Treasury — focuses on two crucial aspects of the way the administration has put the Affordable Care Act into effect.
The suit accuses the Obama administration of unlawfully postponing a requirement that larger employers offer health coverage to their full-time employees or pay penalties. (Larger companies are defined as those with 50 or more employees.)
House Republicans struggled to find a law firm willing to take their case. Two withdrew, but on Tuesday, Mr. Boehner hired Jonathan Turley, a professor at George Washington University.
Senator Al Franken won re-election with a novel strategy; he campaigned as he votes: as a Liberal! And won! Sadly, too many of his party tried to win by playing up their conservative side for some reason, and then lost. Seriously, what is the point of presenting oneself as Republican-Lite? Won’t voters just vote for the actual Republican?
Luckily for the Wellstone wing of the Democratic Party, there are a few smart guys, like Senator Franken:
Across the country, other Democratic Senate candidates distanced themselves from President Obama and the Democratic Party platform. Mark Warner, who squeaked by in Virginia, preferred to talk about how he’d tweak the Affordable Care Act than his vote for the bill, while arguing that he hasn’t actually voted with President Obama all that often. Mark Udall in Colorado decided he didn’t want to be seen with Obama. Challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes in Kentucky wouldn’t even say if she voted for Obama in 2012—after serving as one of his delegates to the national convention.
Franken took the opposite approach.
Instead of running away from the progressive accomplishments of the Obama era, he embraced them, railing against bankers, advocating for student loan reform—even defending the Affordable Care Act. Franken ran as an Elizabeth Warren-style Democrat, running a populist campaign that didn’t shirk discussion of the specific policies Democrats could pursue to help the middle class. And voters rewarded him. “This wasn’t a safe seat,” Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, said in an e-mail. “He earned his victory by being a proud populist Democrat for six years and inspiring voters.”
Franken’s Republican opponent, investment banker Mike McFadden, centered his campaign on painting Franken as an Obama shill. But Franken didn’t deny his ties to the president and the Democratic party—and he would have had a hard time of it if he tried. Franken was a favorite of the liberal base before entering politics thanks to his combative, unabashed left-winger radio persona on Air America and his anti-Fox News books. He joined Congress in 2009 as the Democrats’ 60th, filibuster-breaking vote, allowing the party to pass the Affordable Care Act. Since then he’s racked up a clear lefty record, regularly ranking among the most liberal members in the Senate.
This sounds like a good thing for Chicago; in our society, Defense budget items are sacrosanct, as we1 would rather cut the ability of poor people to eat2, or the medical cost reimbursements of a veteran before we3 slice a dime from the military machine’s budget…
Chicago will be the site of a digital manufacturing institute backed by $70 million in government money and another $250 million of private finding…Chicago competed against several other locations in a bidding process run by the Defense Department. The city envisions the institute would focus on such projects as the faster and cheaper production of a next-generation aircraft engine; drastically reducing the amount of scrap material associated with small manufacturing runs; and speeding the design process among geographically dispersed suppliers.
“This is clearly, without a doubt, one of the most significant things to secure Chicago’s long-term economic future,” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a Saturday interview. “It is the best insurance policy you can buy, which is major research capacity.”
The $70 million grant will come from the Department of Defense. But far more was at stake, as city officials and business leaders quietly raised private commitments in excess of $5 million each from General Electric, Rolls-Royce, Procter & Gamble, Siemens, Lockheed Martin and The Dow Chemical Co.
The new institute, which is proposed for a leased building on the northern end of Goose Island, would fall under the oversight of UI Labs, a nascent University of Illinois-affiliated effort focused on turning academic research into moneymaking, job-creating products. UI Labs stands for “Universities and Industries.”
AMMAN, Jordan — ACCORDING to Bill Clinton, Barack Obama risks looking like a “fool” if he decides not to intervene militarily in Syria’s continuing civil war. Likening the situation to his decision to intervene in Kosovo in 1999, Mr. Clinton said Tuesday that if he hadn’t used force to stop Serbia’s campaign of ethnic cleansing, critics might have said: “You could have stopped this by dropping a few bombs. Why didn’t you do it?” Mr. Clinton believes that Mr. Obama could end up looking like a “total wuss” if he doesn’t intervene. And it seems he’s going to act.
Why is America so hell-bent upon getting involved in another nation’s civil war? What interest does it serve? I have yet to hear a compelling reason the US should be involved.
For nearly two years, the Obama administration has described the Syrian regime as having “lost all legitimacy” and “clinging to power.” And yet, it has surprisingly endured. That’s because neither assertion is really accurate. Mr. Assad still has strong support from many Syrians, including members of the Sunni urban class. While the assistance Syria receives from its external allies, like Iran and Russia, is important, it would be inconsequential if the Assad regime were not backed by a significant portion of the population.
Interventionists tend to detach their actions from longer-term consequences. This myopia is often coupled with a prevalent misunderstanding of the political and cultural context of where they want to intervene. Both problems are present in the current American approach to Syria.
The Syrian revolution isn’t democratic or secular; the more than 90,000 fatalities are the result of a civil war, not a genocide — and human rights violations have been committed on both sides.
Moreover, the rebels don’t have the support or trust of a clear majority of the population, and the political opposition is neither credible nor representative. Ethnic cleansing against minorities is more likely to occur under a rebel-led government than under Mr. Assad; likewise, the possibility of chemical weapons’ falling into the hands of terrorist groups only grows as the regime weakens.
And finally, a rebel victory is more likely to destabilize Iraq and Lebanon, and the inevitable disorder of a post-Assad Syria constitutes a greater threat to Israel than the status quo.
Not since the 2003 invasion of Iraq has American foreign policy experienced a strategic void so pervasive.
The responsible role of a lone superpower is not to pick sides in a civil war; it’s to help enable conflict resolution while maintaining a policy of neutrality. Instead, the United States came down on one side of a regional sectarian conflict, inadvertently fomenting Sunni hubris and Shiite fear — the same effects (but in reverse) caused by America’s involvement in the Iraq war.
I sincerely hope President Obama comes to his senses, and ignores the warmongers.
WASHINGTON — For two years, President Obama has resisted being drawn deeper into the civil war in Syria. It was a miserable problem, he told aides, and not one he thought he could solve. At most, it could be managed. And besides, he wanted to be remembered for getting out of Middle East wars, not embarking on new ones.
Sounds reasonable enough to me. But war is the answer for everything, lest we forget.
MoDo – Get a Clue
I ignore the mean girl burbling of Maureen Dowd as much as possible; the only topic she writes with any clarity is sexual abuse and the Catholic Church. Otherwise, she’s predictable, and not interesting.
The oddity of Obama’s being taken to the leadership woodshed by the Democrat who preceded him and the Republican who failed to pre-empt him was not lost on anyone. When Obama appointed Clinton “the Secretary of ’Splaining Stuff,” he didn’t think Bill would be ’splaining how lame Barry was.
Yes, apparently, we are all foolish in our opposition to military intervention in Syria. President Obama is lame because he hasn’t already dropped nuclear bombs on Damascus. Only John McCain and Bill Clinton, and their ilk have all the facts, according to Dowd. Ironically, when President Clinton was in office, MoDo penned OpEd after OpEd ridiculing him. But Obama is even less of MoDo’s favorite, so now we get:
The less Obama leads, the more likely it is that history will see him as a pallid interregnum between two chaotic Clinton eras.
Yes, Hillary is going to lead the charge into Syria, and hence right into the White House. Uh huh.
Fading One By One
If the reason the US is “forced” to invade Syria is because 90,000 Syrians have died, Syria will have to get in line. More automobile accidents take place in a weekend than the number of civilians allegedly killed by chemical weapons in Syria.
“Our intelligence community has high confidence in that assessment given multiple, independent streams of information. The intelligence community estimates that 100 to 150 people have died from detected chemical weapons attacks in Syria to date; however, casualty data is likely incomplete. “
MOSCOW — The Russian government on Saturday stepped up its attack on the accusation by the United States that Syria had used chemical weapons against the rebels in its civil war, saying that evidence cited by the Americans was unreliable because the samples were not properly monitored until they reached a laboratory.
The angry criticism by Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov at a news conference in Moscow was a setback to the United States’ efforts to forge a common position with the Kremlin on how to end the conflict, which has killed more than 90,000 Syrians.
The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, has said that any attempt to enforce a no-fly zone over Syria using US fighter jets and Patriot missiles from Jordan would violate international law.
He said the evidence must meet the standards of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which specifies that samples taken from blood, urine and clothing can be considered reliable evidence only if supervised by organisation experts from the time they are gathered to when they are delivered to a laboratory.
Lavrov, after meeting with his Italian counterpart Emma Bonino, scoffed at suggestions that Assad’s regime would use chemical weapons now in light of its apparent growing advantage against the rebels.
“The regime doesn’t have its back to the wall. What would be the sense of the regime using chemical weapons, moreover at such a small quantity?” he said.
President Barack Obama is photographed during a presidential portrait sitting for an official photo in the Oval Office, Dec. 6, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
This had led to a lot of Republicans fanning out to explain what the president should be offering if he was serious about making a deal. Then, when it turns out that the president did offer those items, there’s more furious hand-waving about how no, actually, this is what the president needs to offer to make a deal. Then, when it turns out he’s offered most of that, too, the hand-waving stops and the truth comes out: Republicans won’t make a deal that includes further taxes, they just want to get the White House to implement their agenda in return for nothing. Luckily for them, most of the time, the conversation doesn’t get that far, and the initial comments that the president needs to “get serious” on entitlements is met with sage nods.
The truth of the matter is that Bob Woodward has been a Republican partisan for many, many years, and only fools or the misinformed thought otherwise. Someone long ago called him a Stenographer To Power, and that epithet has stuck in my mind whenever I hear Woodward talk, or get tricked into reading some blather he’s written. Remember when Woodward said: “They trashed the place, and it wasn’t their place.”
A few articles I’ve read about Bob Woodward this week:
“Woodward at war,” was the headline Politico’s Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei attached to their February 27 article playing up Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward’s claim that a senior White House official had threatened him over email regarding Woodward’s reporting on the origins of the budget sequestration. The Politico report on Woodward’s “major-league brushback” caught fire in the press and prompted allegations of White House intimidation. However, the email chain — which Politico published the following morning — shows that the claims of threats and intimidation by the White House are, at best, wildly overblown, and that Politico helped hype a bogus allegation by Woodward absent the full context.
The original February 27 Politico piece featured a short clip of Allen and VandeHei’s “hourlong interview” with Woodward “around the Georgetown dining room table where so many generations of Washington’s powerful have spilled their secrets.” In that clip, Woodward reads from an email he received from a top White House official, later revealed to be economic advisor Gene Sperling. As Woodward puts it, Sperling did “something that I think it is important for people to understand. He says, you know, ‘I think you will regret staking out that claim,'” referring to Woodward’s assertion that the president was “moving the goal posts” in negotiations to avert sequestration.
During the Clinton years, “liberal” Woodward often took direct aim at the Democratic president, as well as Vice President Al Gore, labeling him ‘Solicitor-in-Chief,’ a move which conservatives cheered. Years later, when news broke that newly elected president Barack Obama had selected Hillary Clinton to be his Secretary of State, Woodward lamented that “She never goes away, she and her husband.”
At the same time Woodward was being granted extraordinary access to the Bush White House and to Bush himself in order to write his war-themed books, Woodward helped delay the Plame whodunit. He did it by failing, for two years, to reveal that a senior Bush administration official had told him that former ambassador Joe Wilson’s wife, Plame, worked at the CIA.
Worse, prior to his shocking revelation, Woodward had made the media rounds minimizing the scandal as “laughable,” “an accident,” “nothing to it” and denigrating Fitzgerald as “disgraceful” and “junkyard dog,” never once noting mentioning he’d been on the receiving end of a leak about Plame.
This doesn’t even scratch the surface. But read the rest if you have the inclination.
Thank You For Voting
and a wee bit of sequester history from Ezra Klein
I don’t agree with my colleague Bob Woodward, who says the Obama administration is “moving the goalposts” when they insist on a sequester replacement that includes revenues. I remember talking to both members of the Obama administration and the Republican leadership in 2011, and everyone was perfectly clear that Democrats were going to pursue tax increases in any sequester replacement, and Republicans were going to oppose tax increases in any sequester replacement. What no one knew was who would win.
The sequester was a punt. The point was to give both sides a face-saving way to raise the debt ceiling even though the tax issue was stopping them from agreeing to a deficit deal. The hope was that sometime between the day the sequester was signed into law (Aug. 2, 2011) and the day it was set to go into effect (Jan. 1, 2013), something would…change. There were two candidates to drive that change.
The first and least likely was the supercommittee. If they came to a deal that both sides accepted, they could replace the sequester. They failed.
The second was the 2012 election. If Republicans won, then that would pretty much settle it: No tax increases. If President Obama won, then that, too, would pretty much settle it: The American people would’ve voted for the guy who wants to cut the deficit by increasing taxes. The American people voted for the guy who wants to cut the deficit by increasing taxes. In fact, they went even further than that. They also voted for a Senate that would cut the deficit by increasing taxes. And then they voted for a House that would cut the deficit by increasing taxes, though due to the quirks of congressional districts, they didn’t get one.
Alex Parene gets to the meat of the Woodward-Gate: Woodward seems to think that if the President does something, it isn’t illegal. Quite a change from 1972, no?
Speaking of kinds of madness, Woodward’s actual position here is insane. As Dave Weigel points out, “some budget document” is a law, passed by Congress and signed by the president. Woodward is saying, why won’t the president just ignore the law, because he is the commander in chief, and laws should not apply to him. That is a really interesting perspective, from a man who is famous for his reporting on the extralegal activities of a guy who is considered a very bad president!
Also, that George W. Bush analogy is amazing. It would have been a good thing for him to invade and occupy Iraq without congressional approval? Say what you will about George W. Bush, at least he was really, really devoted to invading Iraq. (And yes the Reagan line, lol.)
There is nothing less important about “the sequester” than the question of whose idea it originally was. So, naturally, that is the question that much of the political press is obsessed with, to the exclusion of almost everything else. Republicans have been making the slightly incoherent argument that a) the sequester, which is a bad thing, is entirely Obama’s fault, b) Obama is exaggerating how bad the sequester will be, and c) the sequester, which is Obama’s fault, is preferable to not having the sequester. Woodward has lately been fixated on Obama’s responsibility for the idea of the sequester, but at this point, the important question is who will be responsible if it actually happens. On that question, Woodward, and others, have taken the position that it will be Obama’s fault because he has failed to “show leadership.” But laws come from Congress. The president signs or vetoes them. Republicans in the House are unwilling and unable to repeal the law Congress passed creating the sequester. All Obama can do is ask them to pass such a law, and to make the case to the public that they should pass such a law. And Obama has been doing those things, a lot.
Woodward’s second point — “moving the goalposts” — has been torn to shreds like a hunk of meat tossed into the lion cage. Brian Beutler points out that the law didn’t call for spending cuts to be put into place, it called for “deficit reduction.” David Corn adds that Boehner himself conceded the possibility, however remote, that sequestration could be replaced with some mix of higher revenue and lower spending. Dave Weigel points out that Woodward’s own book says the same thing. There’s nothing left at all to the point Woodward is trying to argue here.
To understand where Woodward is coming from, you need to recall his book on the 2011 debt ceiling negotiations. That book was notable because it concluded that Obama was responsible for blowing up the big deal to reduce the deficit by spooking John Boehner and mishandling the negotiations. Woodward’s interpretive line here runs in contrast to every other account of the episode, which shows Obama was always ready to offer highly generous terms to Boehner, but Boehner simply concluded his party’s base, represented by Eric Cantor, would not accept higher revenue in any form.
What Woodward is saying here is that the failure to strike a deal is Obama’s fault by definition. There is no set of imaginable facts that would cause Woodward to conclude that Congress bears responsibility for an agreement. It’s a truly bizarre way of thinking, but also a common one, combining elements of BipartisanThink and the Cult of the Presidency. Fellow venerable reporter Ron Fournier has been insisting that Obama ought to somehow mind-control Republicans into accepting higher revenue. “His aides and allies will ask, ‘Exactly what can he do to get the GOP to deal?,’” writes Fournier, “That is a question best put to the president, a skilled and well-meaning leader elected to answer the toughest questions.”
Hypnosis! Jedi mind tricks! Whatever! Fournier’s job is to demand that Obama do something that flies in the face of everything we know about the ideological makeup of the Republican Party and the nature of free will, not to explain how it could happen. David Gregory, among others, heartily endorses Fournier’s argument.
Woodward’s strange way of understanding this issue survives because it is something that he and certain people need to believe, for professional and ideological reasons.
To reconcile Woodward’s journalistic reputation with the weird pettiness of his current role, one has to grasp the distinction between his abilities as a reporter and his abilities as an analyst. Woodward was, and remains, an elite gatherer of facts. But anybody who has seen him commit acts of political commentary on television has witnessed a painful spectacle. As an analyst, Woodward is a particular kind of awful — a Georgetown Wise Man reliably and almost invariably mouthing the conventional wisdom of the Washington Establishment.
His more recent books often compile interesting facts, but how Woodward chooses to package those facts has come to represent a barometric measure of a figure’s standing within the establishment. His 1994 account of Bill Clinton’s major budget bill, which in retrospect was a major success, told a story of chaos and indecision. He wrote a fulsome love letter to Alan Greenspan, “Maestro,” at the peak of the Fed chairman’s almost comic prestige. In 2003, when George W. Bush was still a decisive and indispensable war leader, Woodward wrote a heroic treatment of the Iraq War. After Bush’s reputation had collapsed, Woodward packaged essentially the same facts into a devastating indictment.
Woodward’s book on the 2011 debt negotiations was notable for arguing that Obama scotched a potential deficit deal. The central argument has since been debunked by no less a figure than Eric Cantor, who admitted to Ryan Lizza that he killed the deal.
The real rap on Woodward isn’t that he makes things up. It’s that he takes what powerful people tell him at face value; that his accounts are shaped by who coöperates with him and who doesn’t; and that they lack context, critical awareness, and, ultimately, historic meaning. In a 1996 essay for the New York Review of Books, Joan Didion wrote that “measurable cerebral activity is virtually absent” from Woodward’s post-Watergate books, which are notable mainly for “a scrupulous passivity, an agreement to cover the story not as it is occurring but as it is presented, which is to say as it is manufactured.”
Woodward’s 2000 book on Alan Greenspan, “Maestro,” which was clearly based on extensive access to the Fed chairman, is a good example of what Didion was talking about. As an inside account of what Greenspan said and did and thought, it was a useful primer, and, as with all of Woodward’s books, it included some arresting, if largely irrelevant, narrative details, such as one in which the great man, disturbed by his wife, Andrea Mitchell’s, desire for a canine companion, asks one of his colleagues, the chairman of the Philadelphia Fed, “Well, how do you tell your wife you don’t want a dog?” But as a guide to the impact of Greenspan’s policies, or the real significance of his rise to a godlike status, “Maestro” wasn’t much help at all. Less than a year after it was published, the stock-market bubble that Greenspan had helped to inflate burst, and the country was plunged into a recession.
So in other words, Obama said in November 2011 exactly what he said for the next year, and exactly what he is saying today! Those goal posts are now looking more and more stationary, aren’t they? The notion that the supercommittee was the only place where revenues could be discussed is so wrong that it really makes me wonder how intelligent Bob Woodward is. It was understood in November 2011 that Congress still had 13 months to come up with something until the January 2013 deadline. And Obama has wanted revenues that entire time. Sheesh.
Investigative journalist Bob Woodward announced Thursday that he’s received credible information from an anonymous source confirming that Woodward hasn’t been a relevant force in American journalism in 40 years. “Though I cannot divulge his name, I can tell you that he’s an extremely reliable, high-level government source, and thus far everything he’s told me about how I’m no longer a salient or even particularly respected journalistic figure completely checks out,” Woodward told reporters, describing a late-night parking garage rendezvous in which the Washington Post editor was purportedly told to “follow the writing.” “My source assured me that once I read my careless reporting on the Iraq war, my exaggerated interviews, and my exploitative and inaccurate account of the recent sequestration situation, it would be abundantly clear that my influence in the field has substantially waned since Watergate. And he’s right. It’s all true.” Woodward then accidentally revealed that his source’s name was White House Communications Director Daniel Pfeiffer, which prompted the journalist to murmur, “Goddamnit, Bob, you’ve really lost it,” under his breath.
After being hit by all sorts of, shall we say, nonserious petitions like the Death Star one that reached the 25,000-signature benchmark, the White House has raised the bar. From now on, a petition will require 100,000 signatures in order to win White House attention. …”If you had told me a year and a half ago that the White House would be devoting time writing [an official statement] on how Lord Vader could fix our economic woes, I would have just laughed loudly at you,” one White House staffer who has worked on the WTP outreach program tells Mother Jones. Another White House staffer connected with the program is more blunt: “Sometimes, I find myself thinking, ‘My God, what have we done?'”
I thought this article was worth reading, especially this part…
During tonight’s presidential debate, KitchenAid posted a nasty and poorly spelled comment on its Twitter feed about President Obama’s grandmother, who died shortly before he took office. The full tweet from @KitchenAidUSA, while quickly deleted, was rapidly retweeted by many (such as Heather Spohr, shown below) who saw it appear during the debate. It read: “Obamas gma even knew it was going 2 b bad! ‘She died 3 days b4 he became president,’
I thought this article was worth reading, especially this part…
The math does not add up for this statement that Romney directed at Obama.
The president’s 2013 budget called for elimination of tax breaks for oil subsidies, which the White House estimated at $4 billion per year. Dividing $90 billion — the federal money that Romney claims went toward clean energy — by $4 billion in breaks for the oil industry amounts to 22.5 years, not 50 years.
It’s also worth noting that the $90 billion was not “breaks,” but a combination of loans, loan guarantees and grants through the stimulus program, and they were spread out over several years rather than one, as Romney claimed.
Furthermore, not all of the money went to the “green energy world.” About $23 billion went toward “clean coal,” energy-efficiency upgrades, updating the electricity grid and environmental clean-up, largely for old nuclear weapons sites.
I’d much rather we invest in repairing our own national infrastructure instead of blowing up Afghanistan’s and Iraq’s, then repairing it. Especially since the GOP strategy for 2014 is to destroy the US economy any way possible…
As Mr. Obama begins trying to untangle the country from its military and civilian promises in Afghanistan, his critics and allies alike are drawing a direct line between what is not being spent to bolster the sagging economy in America to what is being spent in Afghanistan — $120 billion this year alone.
On Monday, the United States Conference of Mayors made that connection explicitly, saying that American taxes should be paying for bridges in Baltimore and Kansas City, not in Baghdad and Kandahar.
The mayors’ group approved a resolution calling for an early end to the American military role in Afghanistan and Iraq, asking Congress to redirect the billions now being spent on war and reconstruction costs toward urgent domestic needs. The resolution, which noted that local governments cut 28,000 jobs in May alone, was the group’s first anti-war vote since it passed a resolution four decades ago calling for an end to the Vietnam War.
And in a speech on the Senate floor on Tuesday, Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, said: “We can no longer, in good conscience, cut services and programs at home, raise taxes or — and this is very important — lift the debt ceiling in order to fund nation-building in Afghanistan. The question the president faces — we all face — is quite simple: Will we choose to rebuild America or Afghanistan? In light of our nation’s fiscal peril, we cannot do both.”
Demonstrators describing themselves as “angry jobless citizens” said they would picket the Capitol on Wednesday to urge members of Congress to use any savings from Mr. Obama’s troop reductions to create more jobs. The group sponsoring the demonstration, the Prayer Without Ceasing Party, said in a statement on Tuesday that it was “urging the masses to call their congressmen and the president to ensure that jobs receive a top priority when the troops start returning to America.”
Spending on the war in Afghanistan has skyrocketed since Mr. Obama took office, to $118.6 billion in 2011. It was $14.7 billion in 2003, when President George W. Bush turned his attention and American resources to the war in Iraq.