Sunday, March 21, 2010

Bail Out Our Schools!

I recently created the following Facebook group:

As a result of the Great Recession, and because most state governments are required to balance their budgets, school funding is being slashed across the nation. This will result in enlarged class sizes, the loss of talented teachers, a deterioration of facilities and resources, the raising of tuition at public universities (including community colleges), and an overall decline in the quality of education our children receive.

In a recent article, economist Robert Reich made an excellent proposal as to how this problem could be solved:

"A tiny one half of one percent tax on all financial transactions would generate about $200 billion a year, according to the Economic Policy Institute. That might put a crimp on Wall Street bonuses but it’s enough to fund early childhood education, smaller K-12 classes, and lower tuitons and fees for public higher education."

If our nation intends to remain competitive in the global economy, its people need to remain among the world's best educated. More importantly, if we wish to live up to America's founding principle - that all human beings have an inalienable right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" - then we must guarantee that our country's most vulnerable citizens, its children, are never denied the tools they'll need to control their own destinies.

If you believe that President Obama and Congress should bail out our schools like they bailed out Wall Street, join this group!

If you wish to join, you can do so here:!/group.php?v=info&gid=103463446353845

A Parting Quote from Abraham Lincoln...

I'm taking a month-long break from this blog, so in the interim, I'll leave you with a thought that I had emblazoned on a T-shirt during a health care reform rally last year. It comes from Abraham Lincoln's first State of the Union message (December 3, 1861).

Will Bloomberg Run?

From The Wall Street Journal:

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's top political strategist, Kevin Sheekey, will exit City Hall and return to the company the mayor founded, fueling speculation that Mr. Bloomberg is laying the groundwork for a potential White House bid.

Just to clarify - successful presidential campaigns need to establish exploratory committees in order to determine if (and if so, how) their champion can best put together a winning strategy. Kevin Sheekey's ability to do this would be compromised if he was simultaneously serving as one of the top aides for an incumbent New York City mayor; hence it would be an inestimable advantage to a potential Bloomberg candidacy if one of the candidate's chief minds was employed in the private sector (especially at one of Bloomberg's own companies).

Mr. Bloomberg tapped Howard Wolfson, a nationally known Democratic strategist who served as a senior aide on Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign, to take over Mr. Sheekey's duties this spring as deputy mayor for government affairs. Mr. Wolfson accepted the promotion Monday, his first day on the job as a senior aide.

The change reignited speculation in political circles that Mr. Bloomberg, who won a third term last November, is contemplating the possibility of an independent run for the Oval Office in 2012. Mr. Bloomberg, 68, considered a 2008 White House bid but ultimately decided against it because the odds of winning an independent bid were formidable.

"The idea of continuing onward is not far from his mind," said a person close to Mr. Bloomberg.

Hence the question: Will Bloomberg run? Only Hizzoner himself knows the answer to that one, although these early signs suggest that his response could be affirmative.

But could Bloomberg have any chance of making a dent in the actual campaign, much less winning? I think that depends on several variables:

1) How is the economy faring at the time?
If people are satisfied with President Obama's performance on economic issues, the chances are that a Bloomberg candidacy would fail (although given the mayor's well-known pragmatism, the odds are equally high that he wouldn't bother running in the first place if that was the case). On the other hand, if the economy isn't doing well, there is a second question...

2) Who will the Republicans nominate to oppose President Obama?
Should the GOP select someone from the party's moderate wing AND someone who is well-respected in the business world - the two qualities most likely to create a winning ticket in the 2012 contest - Bloomberg, both out of pragmatism and a desire to help the party with which he mostly closely identifies, will probably abstain from running, since the odds are that he wouldn't perform very well in such a contest. Then again, the only Republican who I could see fitting that description (a success in business, comparatively moderate) is Mitt Romney. All of the others - Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich - are so far to the right that I could easily see Bloomberg deciding to oppose them, for moral as well as practical reasons.

3) How will a Bloomberg candidacy affect the dynamics of the race?
Third-party campaigns are notoriously unpredictable. Considering the institutional strength of the Democratic and Republican party machinery, no third-party candidate today can hope for success without billions of dollars in the bank, significant pre-existing name recognition, and/or a numerically strong ideological following based around a single cause. Bloomberg has the first quality and then some; he could easily invest twice the amount spent by the Obama and McCain campaigns in 2008 without noticing any difference in his wallet's thickness. Although he doesn't have meaningful name recognition outside of the East Coast, the presence of the first variable (billions of dollars in the bank) could easily change that once it became necessary. The third factor, on the other hand, is more problematic for Bloomberg - although he was elected to New York's mayoralty three times as a Republican, his ideological leanings are relatively consistent with those of the Democratic party's left-of-center wing. His prior affiliation with the GOP could thus alienate him from liberals while his moderately progressive views could anger conservatives; of course, these variables could also cause him to appeal to independents, since it will prevent him from being too strongly associated with either extreme in our current political dichotomy.

In short, Michael Bloomberg is most likely to run if the economy is still poor in 2012 and the Republicans nominate an ideological extremist as Obama's opponent. Should that happen, millions of Americans will feel dissatisfied with the performance of the incumbent while being extremely leery of supporting the only meaningful alternative; as such, the presence of a candidate like Bloomberg - a man who has excelled in business (thus making him marketable as a man who knows how to turn the economy around), who has avoided excessive partisanship, whose views are centrist (albeit with a leftward tilt), and who will have by that time spent a full decade as a remarkably capable mayor of this country's largest and most complex city - could be extremely appealing.

That doesn't mean that a Bloomberg campaign would lack setbacks. There is the fact that he's Jewish, and since America has never had a viable Jewish presidential candidate, it is impossible to know how Bloomberg's background would affect his chances. What's more, the same business acumen that could draw supporters to the Bloomberg tent may also work against him, as his close relationship with Wall Street - an institution that is already at the nadir of its popularity - will be doubly toxic in an election that hinges on economic performance and anti-establishmentarianism. Even his renowned ability to "get things done" could be spun into a quasi-authoritarian streak, particularly in light of the questionable methods he used to become legally eligible for a third term as mayor (an election which he subsequently won by the skin of his teeth, and against a political nobody at that). Finally, there is a scandal that lurks in Bloomberg's background - back when he was the CEO of Bloomberg LLP, cases bubbled to the surface of Bloomberg condoning sexual discrimination in the workplace, even going so far as to chastise female employees who became pregnant and argue that a woman who claimed she was raped couldn't be believed because there hadn't been another person present to witness the event. Bloomberg may have the clout to suppress such revelations from coming forth, and should he do so they will obviously be unimportant; on the other hand, if they were revealed, they would likely cause his political stock to plummet.

So could Michael Bloomberg become America's president? While it's impossible to say, there was an election in American history that was remarkably similar to the one that would have to take place in 2012 for Bloomberg to become candidate:

The year was 1992. The incumbent president was running for re-election, but he was extremely unpopular due to the faltering economy. His chief opponent was also widely disliked, due mainly to allegations of corruption and sexual impropriety from his past. Thus when a billionaire threw his hat into the ring and presented himself as a business-savvy fixer-upper, he became so popular that - only five months before the election - he was ahead of the two other candidates in the polls (39% for himself, compared to 31% for the incumbent president and 25% for the other candidate).

Of course, the incumbent president in question was George H. W. Bush, his chief opponent was Bill Clinton, and the third-party billionaire was H. Ross Perot. Unfortunately for history, we will never know how Perot would have fared had events followed a normal progression. Approximately one month after the June polls showed him to have a significant lead over the other two candidates, Perot inexplicably withdrew from the race. Two months after that, he re-entered, arguing that he had only withdrawn because he had been informed that George Bush would publish compromising photographs of his daughter that would ruin her wedding if Perot continued his White House bid (it was later discovered that one of Perot's own aides, Scott Barnes, constructed this myth in the hope that it would cause a backlash against Bush to benefit Perot). As a result of the consequent perception of kookiness and erratic behavior, Perot fell to third in the polls, never regaining his earlier strength.

Yet despite this, Perot STILL managed to poll 19% of the popular vote, which was not only the third-highest total for ANY third-party candidate in American history, but also the highest EVER for a third-party candidate who wasn't a former president (Theodore Roosevelt, who had been president from 1901-1909, polled 27% when he ran under the Progressive Party ticket in 1912; Millard Fillmore, who had been president from 1850-1853, polled 22% when he ran as a Know-Nothing candidate in 1856).

It is hard to come up with a decent lesson for this story. Clearly the American people WANT a president who is far-removed from the partisan bickering that existed in 1992 and still prevails today. It is equally clear that individuals like Ross Perot, who are wealthy enough to self-finance their campaigns and become national political figures, can earn a lot of votes due to their business acumen and reputations for "getting things done". As such, it is not inconceivable that - under the right circumstances - Michael Bloomberg could become the first president elected from a third-party since Abraham Lincoln in 1860 (the Republicans were, at that time, a brand new organization, opposing the well-established Democratic party and a host of fragments from the recently-dead Whig Party).

Then again, the impacts of third-party candidacies are notoriously impossible to predict. No one knew whether the third-party candidacies of Henry Wallace and Strom Thurmond would cause President Harry Truman to lose in 1948 (they didn't); whether the candidacy of Ross Perot would help Bill Clinton or George Bush in 1992 (the evidence is inconclusive); or whether Ralph Nader would cost Al Gore the presidency in 2000 (he did). The only way to know if Bloomberg could win would be for him to run. Given the circumstances that would have to exist in America for that to happen, I hope we never find out.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Opponents of Health Care Reform


A group of Republican congressmen, including Reps. Steve King of Iowa and Jack Kingston of Georgia, emerged Saturday night to address the protesters who chanted "Kill the bill!" throughout the speeches.

"Our fight is not over," King told the crowd over a bullhorn. "You represent what is good and right about America. We will fight this bill until we completely defeat the government takeover of your personal liberty."

What amazes me is that, of the countless right-wingers who have asserted that the health care reform package constitutes a "takeover of personal liberty", not one has been able to identify the provisions in the bill that actually do this. Some have solved this problem by simply lying about the contents of the legislation - hence the claims that President Obama is pushing for "socialism", that the legislation would create "death panels", that the bill would cover illegal immigrants, etc. Most, however, simply bellow vague platitudes and empty talking points ad infinatum and ad nauseam, in what appears to be a belief that repetition is the same thing as rebuttal. Every time they do this, of course, they fail to construct a coherent argument as to how their freedoms would be harmed by a bill that: (A) prohibits insurance companies from denying coverage to people because they have pre-existing medical conditions, (b) extends insurance to thirty-two million Americans, (c) significantly expands Medicare prescription drug coverage, (d) provides subsidies to assist those Americans who can't afford insurance (and will now be required to carry it) in purchasing what they need, and (e) trims the budget deficit by $138 billion over ten years.

This makes me wonder how future historians will view today's anti-reformers. The chances are that they will classify them into four categories:

The first will consist of ideological conservatives and libertarians who, right or wrong, opposed the legislation for logically coherent intellectual and/or philosophical reasons. These individuals were especially noteworthy for NOT being among the unusually venomous and hysterical of the bill's opponents, and as a result of their calm and reasoned tones, were rendered virtually silent by the shrill declarations of the other three groups.

The second group, of course, will be the partisan Republicans who, after having had one of their own in the White House for twenty of the last twenty-eight years, were unwilling to recognize the legitimacy of - and thus determined to humiliate and strip power away from - any Democratic president. Their motives will be perceived as remarkably similar to those of the third class - the insurance corporations, pharmaceutical companies, and other big businesses that profited from the status quo in American health care and cared more about keeping an extra few hundred million dollars on their ledgers than practicing common human decency. Believe it or not, I suspect that the second and third groups will come out looking compatively better than the fourth one (who I will discuss in a moment), for at least their agendas, morally abhorrent though they may have been, will be easy for future scholars to understand; Republicans were determined to regain power and the plutocracy of Big Medicine wanted to continue earning as much money as humanly possible. Both of these motives make perfect sense in light of the known political and socioeconomic interests of each group.

And how will the fourth class - which has conveniently affixed to itself a label, "The Tea Party Movement" - be perceived by these historians? An incident from yesterday's Tea Party rally in Washington provides a perfect epitome:

Civil rights icon and veteran Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia, said anti-health care bill protesters Saturday repeatedly yelled the "N" word at him as he left a heath care meeting and walked to the Capitol...

The incident was confirmed by Rep. Andre Carson, D-Indiana, who was walking with Lewis at the time. Protesters were yelling, "'kill the bill, kill the bill' and the 'N' word several times," Carson said.

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Missouri, released a statement late Saturday saying he too was called the "N" word as he walked to the Capitol for a vote and that he was spat on by one protestor who was arrested by U.S. Capitol Police. Cleaver declined to press charges against the man, the statement said. (

Republican political operative John Avlon, who worked as Rudy Giuliani's speechwriter during the latter's failed presidential campaign, explained it very succinctly:

Race has always been a fault line in American politics but what I believe is at work here is something more subtle than simple racism, and it is what I call the birth of white minority politics... I think there is an anxiety underneath this that President Obama represents the rise of a multicultural elite and the rise of a non-white majority in America. If you talk to many of these protestors in the field, one of the dates that keeps coming up is 2050, which is the date the US census estimates that there will be a non-white majority in the United States.

It is for these individuals that historians will quite likely be filled with contempt. Genuine philosophical conservatives will benefit from the sincerity of their convictions, incorrect though they may have been; Republicans and Big Business, acting as they did out of pure self-interest, will ot be disparaged any more so than the other groups throughout history which put power and profit over the greater good; but the Tea Partiers and grassroots anti-Obama movement, who hated this president before he even took office and will continue hating him regardless of his actions while there, will be recognized for the base racists that they always were. Considering that the anger and hatred they felt toward Barack Obama due solely to his race caused them to oppose measures that were, ironically enough, in their own best interest, the chances are that it will be difficult for historians to NOT view them with richly deserved disdain.

Racism is man's gravest threat to man - the maximum of hatred for a minimum of reason.
- Abraham J. Heschel, Jewish theologian and philosopher

Friday, March 19, 2010

Obama's Legacy: The First Year

I still disagree with Barack Obama's decision to spend the first year of his presidency focused on passing health care reform. Although I do not dispute that this is an issue of critical importance, I still believe that he should have followed in the example of Franklin Roosevelt, who spent his first year in office fighting unemployment (see the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Civil Works Administration, the Public Works Administration, and the Tennessee Valley Authority), providing relief to those most afflicted by the Depression (see the Federal Emergency Relief Act and the Home Owners Loan Corporation), protecting labor rights (see the National Recovery Administration), and reforming our banking system and Wall Street (see the Emergency Banking Relief Act, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and the Securities and Exchange Commission).

Obama's defenders will frequently respond to this criticism by arguing that the America of 2009-2010 is very different from that of 1933-1934. While this is no doubt true, the nation that Obama took over was in many essential respects very similar to that inherited by Franklin Roosevelt:
- Both became president during a time of unprecedented economic calamity;
- Both were liberals who inherited power after a long period of time in which conservative ideas dominated American political life (for Roosevelt, since the election of Warren Harding in 1920; for Obama, since the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980);
- Both had dominant majorities in both houses of Congress to assist them in implementing their will who, despite their often disparate ideological convictions, were nonetheless capable of being molded into a cohesive force given the right circumstances and pressures;
- Both had been elected by decisive majorities after the opposing party's administration was widely perceived to have been a dismal failure (Herbert Hoover in Franklin Roosevelt's case, and George W. Bush - through a proxy, John McCain - in Barack Obama's case).

By dedicating the first year of his presidency to alleviating the hardships of the Great Depression and implementing great reforms to both prevent its reoccurrence and improve the quality of life for the American working class, Franklin Roosevelt acquired the most precious resource that can be possessed by any president - popularity. This isn't to say that there weren't many who fiercely opposed Roosevelt's measures; then, as now, there were many vociferous right-wing organizations that cropped out of nowhere (often with the covert backing of big businesses and other wealthy Americans) to denounce Roosevelt as a socialist, a dictator, a subverter of the Constitution, etc. Fortunately for America, Roosevelt had the insight to realize that their goal was to intimidate him away from being as bold and sweeping in his agenda as our America needed, and to dismiss their bluster and hyperbole accordingly. He understood that, despite the conventional wisdom propounded by so many of the pundits of his time, solving America's problems was the best way to become popular; that AFTER you were popular, you could then pass other significant social reforms unrelated to the immediate economic crisis at hand; that with your popularity you could use your brand to make your party the dominant vehicle in American political life, with your ideology serving as the fuel to keep that vehicle running; and that by doing these two things you would not only make American life better in the immediate sense, but create a long-term structure for the continuation of social reform, as well as for the perpetuation of your personal legacy and your party's reign in power.

These are lessons from history that, sadly, it appears Obama never learned. Although he entered the White House with a vision comparable in ideal and scope to that of Franklin Roosevelt, he allowed it to be tempered by the acrimony with which it was initially greeted by the big business community, grassroots right-wing protests, and congressional moderates; while Roosevelt, having these same forces arrayed against him, responded with increasing boldness, Obama became timid and conciliatory. As a result, the economic legislation that he has managed to enact has consisted mostly of half-measures, which has prevented our situation from worsening without making it significantly better, and which has failed to fundamentally reform any significant aspect of our socio-economic infrastructure.

Then Obama switched gears and began to focus on health care reform. Here, too, he made concessions to his opponents, although unlike with his economic program, the evidence here suggests that most of these were necessary. The fight toward passage has been brutal since, unlike Roosevelt, Obama did not have the reservoir of popularity needed to get his legislation through Congress smoothly and quickly. Obama's approval rating has fallen considerably, as has that of the overall Democratic party; his weakness in countering the claims of his enemies on the contents of this bill has caused a majority of Americans to have a distorted view of its contents; and even though Republicans continue to remain unpopular as an organization, they have benefited from a string of victories in various gubernatorial and congressional contests, thanks in no small part to the dissatisfaction felt by the American people toward Obama's performance in office.

Yet it looks like the bill IS going to be passed, and more importantly, it will be a bill that forever changes the lives of every American man, woman, and child. As succinctly summarized by

The historic legislation, affecting virtually every American and more than a year in the making, would extend coverage to an estimated 32 million Americans who lack it, forbid insurers to deny coverage on the basis of pre-existing medical conditions and cut federal deficits by an estimated $138 billion over a decade...

For the first time, most Americans would be required to purchase insurance, and they would face penalties if they refused. Billions of dollars would be set aside for subsidies to help families at incomes of up to $88,000 a year afford the cost. And the legislation also provides for an expansion of Medicaid that would give government-paid health care to millions of the poor.

Does this solve all of our health care problems? No - but few, if any, single pieces of legislation have ever completely redressed the wrongs that prompted their existence. Yet as a result of it, President Barack Obama will be directly responsible for having a great and beneficial impact on the lives of the entire nation due to his health care reform policies. No legislative achievement in the field of health care, with the sole exception of Lyndon Johnson's Medicaid and Medicare programs, will have ever come close to this. That is why I can safely say the following:

When the two impending health care bills are signed into law, Barack Obama will automatically earn his place in history as one of America's great progressive presidents.

He still has a lot of work ahead of him.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A Horror Franchise Comments on Health Care Reform

Ignore, for a moment, that the transcript below comes from a scene in a horror movie. Indeed, forget that one of the two participants in the dialogue is the eponymous serial killer "Jigsaw" (here referred to by his alias, John Kramer), while the other is one of his future victims. Instead just focus on the surprising literary quality of the words being exchanged, as well as the remarkable intelligence of the insight it offers into our health care system today.

When I wrote my review of "Saw VI" all those months ago, I had hoped that its main theme would be rendered obsolete within a few weeks. Instead the acrimonious debate over health care reform lingers on - and so too, thus, does the relevance of this scene. In it, John Kramer - a brilliant engineer who has known for months that he is dying of cancer - seeks help from an old business acquaintance, Bill Easton, a high-ranking executive at an insurance company.

Kramer: I've found a treatment for my cancer that I think holds a lot of promise, but my requests for coverage have all been turned down...

Easton: Yeah.

Kramer: ... so I was hoping that if I came and explained it to you, that you might be able to get that overturned for me.

Easton: Well, the buck stops here, John. Fire away.

Kramer: Okay. (Kramer pulls out a piece of paper with relevant information on it and hands it to Easton.) This is a doctor in Norway. He's got a thirty-to-forty percent success rate with gene therapy. He injects what he calls suicide genes into cancerous tumor cells. Then an inactive form of a toxic drug is administered...

Easton: Yes. I'm familiar with the therapy you're talking about.

Kramer: Right. And a new trial's starting. He's looking for new patients, and he seems to think that I'm the perfect candidate.

Easton: John, if your primary physician, Dr. Gordon, thought you were a suitable candidate, he would have pursued it.

Kramer: (laughs) No. Dr. Gordon is a specialist. You know, he's making money on his specialty. He's not a thinker. I mean, the man has his hand on the doorknob half the time that I'm there.

Easton: I'm gonna be straight with you. At your age, and with the development of your cancer, it's simply not feasible for Umbrella Health...

Kramer: Wait, wait, wait, wait. What's not feasible? By whose mathematical equation is this not feasible?

Easton: It's policy, John. It's policy. And if you go outside the system and seek out this treatment, which has been deemed ineffective, you will be in breach of policy and you will be dropped from coverage completely. (pause) I'm sorry.

(Kramer reels from this revelation. He walks toward the window of Easton's skyscraper office and gazes out thoughtfully.)

Kramer: Did you know that in the Far East, people pay their doctors when they're healthy? When they're sick, they don't have to pay them. So, basically, they end up paying for what they want, not what they don't want. We got it all ass-backwards here.

(Kramer pauses, then points to a television screen showing a C-SPAN debate)

Kramer: These politicians, they say the same thing over and over and over again. Healthcare decisions should be made by doctors and their patients, "not by the government". Well, now I know that they're not made by doctors and their patients or by the government. They're made by the fucking insurance companies.

(Kramer notices something in a fish tank from Easton's office, and shows an appreciation of the irony in what he sees.)

Kramer: Piranha.

Easton: John, please. If you do this, you'll be on your own, and the subsequent cost to you will be staggering.

Kramer: Don't talk to me about money. I have money. This is about principle. You see, Will, this is my life we're talking about. You remember?

Easton: What about Jill's life? How's she gonna be taken care of when you're gone?

Kramer: Let me worry about Jill.

Easton: (sighs in exasperation) The type of cancer you have is malignant and inoperable.

Kramer: That rolled off your tongue real smooth.

Easton: Even if the treatment works, the cancer will return eventually. It's an unwinnable battle.

Kramer: That was even smoother. As a matter of fact, that was downright slick.

(Kramer shakes his head in disgust.)

Kramer: You think it's the living who will have ultimate judgment over you, because the dead will have no claim over your soul...

(Kramer picks up the paper he had placed on Easton's desk earlier, crumpes it up, and throws it into a wastebasket.)

Kramer: ... but you may be mistaken.

"Say, in lofty madness, that you own the sun, the stars, the moon; but do not say that you own a man, endowed with soul to live immortal, when sun and moon and stars have passed away."
- Charles Sumner

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Give 'em hell, Barry!


As today marks the one year anniversary of this blog, I decided to look back over some of my more recent articles to see if I could pick up on any trends. Much to my surprise, the tone of my latest pieces was extraordinarily downbeat - it has, apparently, become increasingly difficult for me to see anything hopeful in the prospects of either our current president, Barack Obama, or the nation which he hopes to lead to an era of peace and prosperity, the United States of America.

Clearly I need to remind myself (and my readers) that present ill-tidings does not always translate into an equally depressing future. To do this, I have decided to look back at a time in our nation's history when the fortunes of liberalism and a progressive president seemed even more inauspicious than they do now.


It was the presidential election of 1948. The incumbent Commander-in-Chief, Harry Truman, was campaigning for another four years in the White House, but all signs pointed to a humiliating defeat at the polls in November:

- In the midterm elections of 1946, Democrats had lost control of both houses of Congress - the House of Representatives and the Senate - for the first time in more than a decade-and-a-half. As a result, Republicans had effectively scuttled most of President Truman's more ambitious legislative goals and obstructed his good-faith efforts to address the economic recession in which America was mired, hoping to thereby brand Truman with an image of ineptitude and increase their party's chances of reclaiming the White House in 1948.

- Political experts agreed, with virtual unanimity, that Truman's re-election bid was doomed. Polls regularly showed him trailing his Republican opponent, New York Governor and famed "Gangbuster" Thomas Dewey, by double-digits in the popular vote and more than two hundred electoral votes. Oddsmakers in Las Vegas and other gambling centers placed their stakes as fifteen-to-one against the president. A panel of fifty highly-regarded pundits, when asked about the probable outcome of the upcoming contest, came back - independently of one another - with a 50-0 verdict against Truman. Indeed, Dewey's victory over Truman seemed so inevitable that one of America's biggest polling agencies, Gallup, suspended all operations several months before the election, deciding that it would be a waste of money to continue asking people who they intended to support when the answer was exceedingly obvious.

- More sinister were efforts by the House of Un-American Activities Committee to brand various high-ranking officials in the Truman Administration - and, by innuendo, Truman himself - as being "Communistic", thus calling into general question not merely the competence of Truman and his administration, but the very patriotism and fealty to American ideals of liberals in general. Truman rightly labelled such efforts as a "red herring" intended to discredit progressivism and deflect public attention away from the real issues facing this country. Nevertheless, HUAAC remained very influential in shaping the views of many on the far right.

- What made this last fact additionally ironic was the fact that the pro-Communist elements of the American left had purged themselves from the Democratic Party, abandoning Truman for his hard-line stance against the Soviet Union and endorsing third-party candidate Henry Wallace in the 1948 election. Then again, when their defection was combined with the open revolt of pro-segregation Democrats against the Truman Administration (due to its open embrace of a pro-civil rights plank in the Democratic National Convention's platform), the presence of not one but TWO different third-party candidacies that drew votes away from the Democratic Party seemed only to further guarantee that Truman was going to be defeated.

Despite these signs, there was one man who refused to be overtaken by the pessimism that surrounded him - President Harry Truman himself. Instead of succumbing to melancholia and quietly acquiescing to conventional wisdom about his impending political demise, Truman waged a pugnacious and defiant counterattack. Boarding a train that took him all over America in a "Whistle Stop" campaign, he denounced the 80th Congress for its "do nothing" tactics, drawing attention to their transparent bias toward the interests of America's wealthy class and calling them out on their strategy of harming not only Truman's agenda, but the best interest of America, in order to help GOP fortunes in that year's election. At one point, a particularly enthusiastic Democratic partisan was so riled up by Truman's rhetoric that he shouted out "Give 'em hell, Harry!" To this, Truman uttered a famous reply: "I don't give them Hell. I just tell the truth about them and they think it's Hell."

His actions were not met with approval by America's class of self-designated opinion-makers. As a rule, Truman's national train tour was dismissed - often with a fair degree of ridicule - as the lame efforts of a political dead duck to salvage his hopeless cause. Emblematic of the general feeling was the editorial written by The New York Times endorsing Dewey over Truman (only the second time in thirty-six years that that paper had endorsed a Republican over a Democrat), in which the venerable newspaper criticized Truman for his "appeal to class interest as a method of giving fresh meaning to his candidacy". By the time Election Day approached, Time Magazine had published a feature story on the new Dewey Administration that could be expected to take office in 1949, while the staff of the Chicago Tribune finished their work early by completing their headline story - DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN - right away and getting it to the presses as quickly as possible.

Of course, on the day after the election, President Truman would see the DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN headline and react accordingly:

It is easy to figure out why the president has such an impish grin on his face - despite the overwhelming odds against him, he had won. When all the results had been tabulated, Truman finished with 24,179,347 popular votes (49.6%) to Dewey's 24,179,347 (45.1%), with the remainder being split more or less evenly among the two third-party contenders. In the electoral college, Truman's victory was even more sweeping - he had picked up 303 electoral votes to Dewey's 189, with Dixiecrat Strom Thurmond winning 39 and the pro-Communist Henry Wallace netting 0. Just as significant, the two-year Republican reign over Congress had come to an unexpected and decisive close - Democrats swept both houses, thus guarantee that when Truman was inaugurated on January 20, 1949, he would be working with a legislative branch that was dominated by friends rather than enemies.

What This Means:

It means that, despite the cynical forecasts that have been continually issued, by myself and others, regarding President Barack Obama's prospects - about his success as president and about his chances of being re-elected in 2012 - the reality is that history has a funny way of surprising even the most knowledgeable and confident. Perhaps I and Obama's other left-wing critics are correct in feeling that he has been too timid in his agenda, too weak in shaking results out of Congress, and too misguided in his specific legislative priorities. Perhaps the conservatives crowing about an impending Republican takeover of Congress in 2010 are absolutely right in their predictions, and perhaps the occupant of the Oval Office in 2013 will indeed be Mitt Romney or Fred Thompson or some other bearer of the Republican label. Perhaps all of these things will indeed be true - or maybe, just maybe, all of us are wrong, and Obama still has a couple of tricks up his sleeve. Either way, as I look forward to another year on this blog, I have one main piece of advice for my president:

Give 'em hell, Barry.

Friday, March 5, 2010

A Shocking Revelation recently reported on a breaking news story being published by Politico:

Memo Reveals GOP Plan to Exploit Fear of Obama...

The 72-page document obtained by Politico's Ben Smith (click here to view) lays out a strategy to fan fears that President Barack Obama is moving the country toward socialism.

Here are some other stunning revelations:

- Professional athletes in many of America's most popular sports - such as football, basketball, boxing, and even the all-American pastime itself, baseball - will frequently use steroids and human growth hormones in order to artifically enhance their performance.

- Milli Vanilli never sang their own work - they simply lip synched over other people's voices.

- Historian Stephen Ambrose was a notorious plagiarist, while memoirist James Frey lied about many aspects of his biography.

- Wealthy latter-day debutantes will often deliberately release their "accidental sex tapes" in order to become instant celebrities.

- Bill Clinton lied when he claimed that he "didn't have sexual relations with that woman".

- Saruman betrayed Gandalf and the Fellowship in order to win Sauron's favor.

I will remove my tongue from my cheek just long enough to let you know what I actually think of this story: The only thing shocking about it is the fact that intelligent, fair-minded people actually exist who are surprised by what it reveals.

That said, it does deserve points for honesty.

The PowerPoint presentation uses the words "reactionary" and "ego-driven" on a page describing potential GOP donors.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Cancer Patient in a Burning Hospital

This article is composed of three excerpts from earlier pieces that I posted on my blog. Each one deals with a fundamental reason behind Obama's current failures as president.

(Article - 2/22/10) Is President Obama doing the right thing by focusing on health care reform right now?

.....This is a tricky question. There is an analogy that I often use to illustrate my position on Obama's emphasis on health care reform: Pretend that there is a cancer patient in a burning hospital. What do you do first - try to cure his cancer, or get him out of the building and away from the flames?

.....While the answer to this question is obvious enough when posed in such stark and viscerally powerful terms, it becomes a bit trickier when its principles are manifested in more abstract themes such as "unemployment", "budget deficits", and "health care reform". Few apart from the most strident conservatives would argue that each of those three issues rank among the most important in American life (the far right acknowledges the significance of our budget deficit but tends to be contemptuous of those who want to solve unemployment and our health care crisis). Yet because all three of those problems are so pressing, sometimes it can be difficult to properly prioritize them. Such was made clear in an article published earlier this month which described:

"One senior Democratic senator said (Chief of Staff Rahm) Emanuel was initially reluctant to push healthcare reform so early in Obama’s first term, counseling instead for the president to focus on jobs and the economy. But the president decided healthcare had to pass when he had a strong political mandate and the party controlled large majorities in both chambers."

.....I will not deny that, given the humanitarian urgency and moral imperative behind America's health care crisis, there is something extremely admirable in Barack Obama's determination to focus on resolving this problem. Unfortunately, the health care crisis - and for that matter the budget deficit, another issue on which Obama has placed great emphasis - is the cancer eating away at the flesh of America's socioeconomic fabric, while rising unemployment is the burning building in which we as a nation are trapped. That is why I wholeheartedly concur with the sentiments expressed by New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson when he recently said:

"Let's make a last effort to get universal health care... But if it doesn't work let's move into creating jobs and boosting the economy."

(Article - 2/23/10) Why doesn't Obama focus more on jobs?

.....Obama has, with a steadfast determination that utterly baffles me, refused to pursue the policies that will be necessary to lead us to a recovery. What he should be doing right now, for political as well as moral reasons, is casting himself as a bellicose populist, one who uses the prestige and raw power of the presidency to help the people in their time of need by pushing through policies which solve their problems and serving as a bulwark between them and the cupidity of their adversaries (a tactic that has worked beautifully for economically progressive presidents from Andrew Jackson to the two Roosevelts). Equipped with this image, he should then push for measures that - however unpopular with conservatives and so-called centrists, and however initially extreme they may appear to many independent-minded Americans - are nevertheless guaranteed to have an immediate, significant, and overwhelmingly positive effect on our country's economic life. Above all else, this should involve passing an additional $1 trillion stimulus package, including $700 billion in private investment and infrastructure spending, $200 billion in aid to state and local governments, and $100 billion in a second WPA, which will almost instantly start creating thousands of jobs, bringing us into a much healthier economic state by autumn 2012 (when Obama needs to be re-elected) and to full employment within a year or two after that.

.....Instead, Obama refuses to do any of this. He seems to have bought into the myth that has been adamantly propounded by the Democratic Leadership Council, the Blue Dog Coalition, and other so-called centrist groups within his own party for years - i.e., that America is a right-wing nation, and as such will turn against any politician who tries to press a liberal agenda upon them. The fact that all of the evidence, historical and contemporary, points to Americans being a distinctly non-ideological bunch - that we are, indeed, a nation that cares far more about meat-and-potatoes RESULTS than we do about the ideological mechanisms through which those results are reached - has eluded him. To avoid being branded a "socialist" or a "radical", Obama has chosen a strange approach that can best be called glorified inactivity, consisting of proposing measures that nibble at the edges of our biggest problems without doing anything meaningful to solve them. For a tactic that is meant to win over the support of all three American voting groups - his conservative opponents, liberal allies, and moderate friends - Obama's approach has pulled off the unique feat of guaranteeing the worst of all three worlds: his political allies are angry at his insistence to budge from his love affair with inefficient half measures, his enemies continue to distort the inadequate piffle that he does push through as being "socialist" and "radical" (despite the fact that they are mostly borne of his attempts to accommodate them), and because his policies don't work, moderates continue to be angry at the lack of tangible results. Yet with a stubbornness that is very unbecoming a president (as we saw when it was displayed by George W. Bush in the last decade), Obama refuses to recognize the error of his ways, and instead plods ahead with the same failed strategy.

(Article - 3/1/10) What will all of this mean?

There are one of three outcomes that can take place in this situation:

1) Barack Obama learns from his mistakes, abandons his efforts to reach out to Republicans, creatively uses his power to pass an ambitious agenda that will end unemployment and our recession, and thus creates a new "Obama Era".

2) Barack Obama doesn't learn from his mistakes but, like Ronald Reagan, lucks out and has the recession take care of itself before he runs for re-election in 2012*.

3) Barack Obama doesn't learn from his mistakes, the Republicans nominate Mitt Romney in 2012 (I explain why it would be Romney here:, and Romney defeats Obama.

So will there be an Obama Era? The answer to that question has yet to be written, but Barack Obama is holding the pen.

* - Bill Clinton also lucked out; although his policies were inadequate to the needs of America during its early-1990s recession, the Internet revolution triggered an economic boom that prevented Clinton's dithering from doing any real damage.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Will There Be An Obama Era?

A Political Reality:

American political history, on the national level, contains various periods in which one party or another reigns supreme, both in holding control over the levers of governmental power and in determining the ideological premises from which the major issues of the day are discussed. These eras are usually (though not always) defined by the leadership of a single president, whose influence lasts long after he has left power.

Thus far we have had the Federalist Era (1789-1800, defined by George Washington), the Jeffersonian Era (1800-1828, defined by Thomas Jefferson), the Jacksonian Era (1828-1860, defined by Andrew Jackson), the Gilded Era (1860-1901, defined by the absence of strong executive leadership and the dominance of a conservative Congress), the Progressive Era (1901-1920, defined by Theodore Roosevelt), the Second Gilded Era (1920-1932, defined again by the absence of strong executive leadership and the dominance of a conservative Congress), the Roosevelt Era (1932-1980, defined by Franklin Roosevelt), and the Reagan Era (1980 to either 2008 or the present, depending on how Barack Obama performs; defined by Ronald Reagan).

The Question:

Could Barack Obama's presidency usher in a new political era? The answer can be better understand by looking at the last two periods in American political history.

The Roosevelt Era:

From 1932 to 1980, the Democratic Party was the dominant one in the United States, and the ideology advocated by its liberal wing prevailed over our nation's political discourse. This was the case for three reasons:

1) When the Great Depression began in 1929, a Republican named Herbert Hoover was serving as our president. Rightly or wrongly, his conservative economic policies were blamed for causing and/or exacerbating the hardships of that crisis, so much so that Democrats gained control of Congress in the midterm elections of 1930 and easily defeated Hoover during the presidential campaign of 1932 (58% to 41%).
2) The new Democratic president, Franklin Roosevelt, had an instinctive understanding of two political realities:
i. The American people care less about ideology than they do about results.
ii. To the extent that the American people ARE concerned with ideology, it is tone rather than substance that is likely to sway them. More specifically, because Americans define their national identity by its relationship to two libertarian documents (the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States) and to the story of our national conception (the war for independence against Great Britain), the tone that Americans find most compelling is that of populism (defined by Merriam-Webster dictionary as "a member of a political party claiming to represent the common people").
As a result of this knowledge, President Roosevelt (a) launched a series of policies, known as the New Deal, that significantly ameliorated the suffering being endured by Americans during the Great Depression and (b) framed his administration as being a bulwark of the people's rights against the cupidity and incompetence of elitist Republican adversaries. Because Roosevelt found that the most effective way of accomplishing these goals was through an ideologically liberal approach - a combination of the rhetoric of Andrew Jackson with the policy objectives of Theodore Roosevelt - this was the tack he ultimately took.
3) Because of the popularity of Franklin Roosevelt's policies and political image - both of them associated with populism - a majority of Democrats throughout the nation identified themselves with his political brand, with those who refrained from doing so either defecting to the Republican Party or being actively muscled out by Roosevelt and the national organization. By the time Roosevelt ran for re-election in 1936, he was able to win the electoral votes of all but two states (Maine and Vermont), as well as 60% of the popular vote.

As a result of these three factors, the Democratic Party - now a coalition of diverse ethnic, regional, and ideological groups, all held together by a belief in Franklin Roosevelt's style of economic populism - dominated American political life for the next forty-eight years, controlling the White House for forty of them and Congress for forty-four.
The Reagan Era:
Since 1980, American politics has been dominated by the Republican Party and the ideology advocated by its conservative wing. This has been the case for four reasons:
1) Between 1977 and 1981, during the presidency of a Democrat named Jimmy Carter, a host of economic problems (inflation, a gas shortage) and foreign policy debacles (the Iranian hostage crisis) plagued America. Rightly or wrongly, President Carter was perceived as possessing a dithering, incompetent leadership style that both caused new problems and worsened existing ones. Very soon, Carter had become a pariah.
That said, Carter's growing unpopularity did not initially seem to threaten the Democratic Party's national dominance. While Democrats did lose some seats in the midterm elections of 1978, they still managed to retain strong control over both houses of Congress. What's more, the Republican presidential nominee in 1980 was Ronald Reagan, an ex-movie star and former governor of California whose extreme right-wing views were viewed with suspicion because they ran against the grain of the FDR-established liberal philosophy that Americans had supported for nearly half a century. As a result, even though Carter received the same percentage of popular votes in 1980 as Herbert Hoover had picked up in 1932 (41%), the overwhelming anti-Carter vote was split between Ronald Reagan (51%) and supporters of John Anderson (7%), a third-party candidate who positioned himself as a moderate alternative to the incompetent Carter and the radical Reagan. Likewise, although the Republicans gained control of the Senate by a small majority, they had still failed to take over the House of Representatives. In short, although Carter had been rejected in 1980 in the same way that Hoover had been in 1932, Reagan and the Republicans had not yet been embraced, much as Roosevelt and the Democrats had been. A new Republican era was not a given.
2) The reasons for this could be traced back to the presidential election of 1976, during which President Gerald Ford, a moderate Republican, found himself viciously opposed for his own party's nomination by the radical conservatives, led by former California governor Ronald Reagan. Although Ford ultimately beat Reagan, he only managed to do so by the closest of margins; as a result, when he lost in the general election to Jimmy Carter, the right-wing zealots who championed Reagan took control of the party and used their power to aggressively purge as many moderates as they could from the organization (including John Anderson, who at that time was a ten-term congressman from northern Illinois).
The upshot of this was that the radical right had transformed the Republican Party into an extraordinarily efficient machine for pursuing their ideological goals, most importantly Reagan's presidential nomination in 1980; the downside was that, because Americans had grown accustomed to the liberal ideas that had prevailed for more than four decades, the new Republican Party was widely viewed with suspicion by. Indeed, had Reagan been running against the Democrats is a normal election year, there was good reason to believe he would have been decisively defeated; the last time the radical right conquered the Republicans and nominated its candidate for president, the man they chose - Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona - was defeated by the Democratic candidate, President Lyndon Johnson, by the largest popular vote margin in American history (61% to 38%). In 1980, however, Ronald Reagan and the radicals were beneficiaries of good luck - because Jimmy Carter was an unusually unpopular president, his inevitable defeat became, by default, their gain.
3) Reagan's good luck did not end there. Technically speaking, the policies he pursued caused far more harm than good - his disempowering of labor unions, slashing of social welfare programs, and deregulation of big business caused an increase in unemployment, a disproportionate concentration of wealth in the hands of America's richest 1%, and a concurrent decline in the average standard of living for working class Americans; his massive tax cuts for the wealthy and unprecedented increase in military spending caused the budget deficit to explode; and his weakening of laws that monitored Wall Street and banks (perpetuated by his three successors) helped sow for the economic crash of 2008. Yet despite this, by 1983 the economy began to recover, thanks mainly to a technological boom (personal computers, increased electronic communications), the lowering of interest rates by the Federal Reserve (which helped reduce inflation), and the transient benefits of Reagan's deregulatory policies toward big business and high finance, which led to a temporary increase in their profit margins. As a result, Ronald Reagan's re-election campaign in 1984 was extremely successful, as he managed to win the electoral votes of all but two states (Minnesota and, though not technically a state, the District of Columbia), as well as 59% of the popular vote.
4) Now the Republicans were at least poised to seize the populist mantle that had once belonged to the Democrats. Ronald Reagan and his political associates did this by brilliantly forging a coalition between:

i. The social conservatives who had been unified in a reactionary backlash against the perceived assaults by counterculture movement of the 1960s against traditional religious, nationalistic, cultural, and family values.

ii. Wealthy individuals and businesses who, along with libertarian purists, supposed a laissez-faire relationship between government and the economy.

iii. Racists who, upset at the pro-civil rights policies adopted by the Democratic party (particularly during the presidencies of John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson), fled to the Republican Party as an alternative - first temporary (to Goldwater in 1964 and Nixon in 1972), and then permanently (after Reagan in 1980 and 1984).

In this way, the Republican Party of Ronald Reagan was able to cast themselves as the populist entity in American politics, as well as successfully paint the Democrats as being both elitist (on cultural issues) and power-hungry (by mischaracterizing their regulatory policies as being oppressive). As a result, they replaced the Democrats as the ascendant political organization in America's governmental and ideological life, albeit not on as dominant as that of the Rooseveltian Democrats from 1932 to 1980. From 1980 to 2008, the Reaganite Republicans controlled the House of Representatives for twelve years, the Senate for sixteen years, and the White House for twenty years.

Will There Be An Obama Era?

So how can Barack Obama create a new period in American political history, as was done by Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan? As the above history lesson shows, there is one thing he must do:

1) He has to create, for both himself and his party, a compelling populist image that will re-define how the American people views the bi-partisan system, much as Roosevelt did in the 1930s and Reagan did in the 1980s.

After that, he has one of two options:

2A) He could either use the full measure of his presidential power to implement policies that will aggressively and effectively solve the economic crisis which dominates our national life, or

2B) He can get lucky and have the crisis take care of itself.

So far, Obama has refused to do (1) and seems to be striking for a middle ground between (2A) and (2B). Desirous as he is of bringing Democrats and Republicans together in a common brotherhood that fights America's ailments, he refuses to use the bully pulpit of his presidency to paint his side as being populist and, by default, the Republican side as being elitist. Likewise, in order to win the support of as many conservatives as possible, he has refused to push for policies that could end our Great Recession - which he fears are so liberal that they will alienate Republicans - and has instead only opted for policies that will prevent it from worsening, which he hopes will keep Democrats happy while convincing Republicans to climb aboard. Ironically, this approach has actually earned him the worst of all three worlds: Democrats resent him for not following in the footsteps of Franklin Roosevelt and doing all he can to bring the recession to an end, Republicans still refuse to work with him no matter what he tries to do to appease them, and average Americans are becoming increasingly dissatisfied with his presidency's lack of tangible results.

There are one of three outcomes that can take place in this situation:

1) Barack Obama learns from his mistakes, abandons his efforts to reach out to Republicans, creatively uses his power to pass an ambitious agenda that will end unemployment and our recession, and thus creates a new "Obama Era".

2) Barack Obama doesn't learn from his mistakes but, like Ronald Reagan, lucks out and has the recession take care of itself before he runs for re-election in 2012.

3) Barack Obama doesn't learn from his mistakes, the Republicans nominate Mitt Romney in 2012 (I explain why it would be Romney here:, and Romney defeats Obama.

So will there be an Obama Era? The answer to that question has yet to be written, but Barack Obama is holding the pen.