Tag Archives: Obama

President Obama Tells the Progressive Story of America

What made President Obama’s Second Inaugural the best speech of his presidency was its great theme: He told the story of America as progressives understand it, and connected it with the progressive mission today.

In recent years, liberals have let conservatives own the big-picture story of America. If you hear somebody talking about the Founders and the Constitution, probably it’s Michele Bachmann or Ron Paul or some other hero of the self-styled “patriots” of the Tea Party.

Liberals have been more comfortable talking about peace and justice in the here and now: How are we going to get our troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan? What can we do about levels of inequality last seen in the Gilded Age? How are we going to stop gun violence? How can we make sure that the sick, the old, and the disabled get the care they need? Can we stop profit-privatizing/risk-socializing bankers from crashing the economy again? And so on.

Facts vs. visions. I believe liberals actively shy away from this big-picture mythologizing because of our disgust at how conservatives abuse it: They must talk about their grand vision, because when you get down to the nitty-gritty of facts, they are just plain wrong. Rape causes pregnancy. The globe is warming. The rich are getting all the money. The economy has a demand problem. Taxes are low, spending is not out of control, and the federal government can’t go bankrupt.

Let Glenn Beck spin stories about the last 5,000 years, we’d rather point to things that are actually happening and say, “Look! Look!”

And yet … “Where there is no vision the people perish.” Without some larger context, day-to-day political efforts can seem meaningless. Why waste your energy? Make a nice dinner for your family. See a movie. Get ready for that thing at work. The immediate benefits of those efforts are clear. Politics? Not so much.

If conservatives offer their followers a role in the drama of History and we don’t, we will never match their intensity. Worse, by not offering a larger vision, we can seem to consent to the conservative narrative, in which “socialists” from FDR to LBJ to Obama have usurped the “libertarian” Republic of the Founders.

But progressives have their own story of America, and can offer a different role in the drama of History.

Progressive vs. fundamentalist mythology. In general, there are two main ways — fundamentalist and progressive — to turn history into a motivating myth. The generic Fundamentalist Myth begins with a Golden Age of divinely inspired prophets and larger-than-life heroes. From there, we devolved and corrupted their legacy. But deep inside our fallen shells glows the same spark that burned so brightly in them. So if we stoke fire of greatness and scour away the rust of corruption, we can recreate the world they meant for us to have.

a cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night

The Progressive Myth reveres its past in a different way. Our legacy consists not of perfect past to which we should strive to return, but of a vision that has shone through the ages, always just out of reach, and of a journey towards that vision.

The Biblical motif is not the Garden of Eden, the Davidic Kingdom, or the Apostolic Church, but the Israelites wandering through the desert: We were slaves in Egypt when Moses gave us — not Freedom — but a vision of Freedom and the hope of a Promised Land. God is with us not as a once-and-future King, but as a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, wordlessly marking the direction of our march. We move forward because the only permanent encampment behind us is Pharaoh’s.

It is not hard to see the Fundamentalist Myth in the Tea Party’s version of American history. The Founders are prophets, and the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are scripture.

But the Progressive Myth can also apply to American history. And like so much liberal/conservative disagreement, the progressive version stays closer to the facts.

The Second Inaugural Address. President Obama began his speech with the holiest words in the American canon:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

But that was not the establishment of a Golden Age to which we must return. It was the start of a journey with no turning back.

Today we continue a never-ending journey, to bridge the meaning of those words with the realities of our time. For history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they have never been self-executing; that while freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by His people here on Earth.

That journey has had two pieces: Change that became necessary as circumstances changed, and change that became necessary as we reached a clearer vision of the meaning of our founding principles. And so our journey included the abolition of slavery

Through blood drawn by lash and blood drawn by sword, we learned that no union founded on the principles of liberty and equality could survive half-slave and half-free. We made ourselves anew, and vowed to move forward together.

the construction of modern infrastructure from the Erie Canal to the interstate highways

Together, we determined that a modern economy requires railroads and highways to speed travel and commerce, schools and colleges to train our workers.

the trust-busting of Teddy Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt’s creation of the SEC and other modern regulatory bodies

Together, we discovered that a free market only thrives when there are rules to ensure competition and fair play.

and Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid

Together, we resolved that a great nation must care for the vulnerable, and protect its people from life’s worst hazards and misfortune.

These are not corruptions or usurpations of the Founders’ dream, but its continuing realization.

We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths –- that all of us are created equal –- is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone.

And we are not done yet.

It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began. For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts. Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law — for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well. Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote. Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity — until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country. Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia, to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for and cherished and always safe from harm.

That is our generation’s task — to make these words, these rights, these values of life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness real for every American.

Looked at with clear eyes, American history is meaningful only as a place to be from, not a place to go back to. Where would you go? To the slave plantations? To Jim Crow? To the Trail of Tears? To the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory? To Love Canal? To marriages where wives own no property and have rights only through their husbands? To a time when old age and poverty were practically synonymous? Where?

As a nation, we can rightfully take pride in the challenges we have overcome, but not in where we have been. To go back, to give up all that progress, would betray our revolutionary heritage. Our forebears kept moving forward, and so will we.

Avoid the cliff, hit the ceiling

I admit it: I expected House Republicans to reject the last-minute Biden/McConnell deal (that passed the Senate 89-8) and send us over the fiscal cliff.

Instead, they did one of those having-it-both-ways things that makes people despise politicians: Within their own caucus, Republicans voted to let the bill come to the floor, where (led by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor) most of them voted against it. So they knew it was necessary and wanted it to pass, but they also wanted to be able to deny supporting it.

The WP’s Wonkblog summarizes what’s in the deal and charts how it affects the national debt. (Short version: The tax hikes and spending cuts that constituted the fiscal cliff would have cut the annual deficit more, but this is a middling path between that and the status quo.)

The chart on the right has way too much jargon, but it’s showing debt-as-a-percentage-of-GDP over time under various scenarios. The top line is roughly cancel-the-fiscal-cliff-and-let-things-go-on-as-they-were and the bottom is go-over-the-cliff. The red, green, blue, and purple lines are where we’re headed now under various scenarios.

So who won? Nobody yet. This deal solved the question of the Bush tax cuts, but it delayed the spending-cut decisions until March, when they will run up against another debt-ceiling showdown.

Republicans are claiming that the debt ceiling is a better battleground for them, and believe they’ll get the kind of concessions out of Obama that they got in 2011. Obama thinks the public was disgusted with the 2011 shenanigans and won’t stand for the Republicans taking the world economy hostage again. (Until 2011, raising the debt limit was an opportunity to score rhetorical points, but no one ever seriously proposed not doing it or extracted any concessions in exchange for doing it.)

So who won in this deal depends on who is right about their advantages in the next deal. Greg Sargent writes:

the major fight at the heart of this whole mess — over the proper scope and role of the safety net of the 21st century, and who will pay for it — remains unresolved. Only the outcome of that battle can settle the question of whether today’s compromise was a good one for liberals.

And Kos of Daily Kos agrees:

Whatever argument we’re going to have, it shouldn’t be whether this deal is good or bad. It’s over whether Obama will eventually cave or not.

Do it like this, Mr. President

I’d like to see Obama include an Eastwood-like make-my-day paragraph in the State of the Union: “You want to blow up the global economy if you don’t get your way? Go ahead. Show the world what kind of people you really are.”

I think this is a necessary and (eventually) inevitable confrontation. For that reason, I’ve soured on tricks like the trillion-dollar coin to finesse around the debt ceiling. Kevin Drum explains how that trick distorts the intention of the law, and so puts Obama in the position of trying to pull something rather than calling the Republicans on pulling something. I don’t want him to sacrifice his integrity to avoid paying blackmail; that’s just another kind of blackmail payment.

Meanwhile, Republicans are trying to minimize the consequences of not raising the debt limit. Senator Cornyn writes:

The coming deadlines will be the next flashpoints in our ongoing fight to bring fiscal sanity to Washington. It may be necessary to partially shut down the government in order to secure the long-term fiscal well being of our country, rather than plod along the path of Greece, Italy and Spain. President Obama needs to take note of this reality and put forward a plan to avoid it immediately.

(President Obama, of course, has put forward a plan: Congress should raise the debt ceiling the way it always did until 2011.) And Senator Toomey said:

A temporary disruption because we have to furlough the workers at the Department of Education, or close down some national parks, or not cut the grass on the Mall, that’s not optimal, it’s disruptive, but it’s a hell of a lot better than the path that we’re on.

The problem is temporary and minor only if you assume that Obama quickly folds once he discovers that Republicans are serious. But what if Obama is serious too? The 14th Amendment (section 4) requires that the government keep paying interest on its debt and principle on bonds as they come due. But how long before we have to shut down the National Weather Service or the Center for Disease Control or the TSA?

I’m glad to see I’m not the only one who’s reminded of one particular movie scene. Greg Sargent quotes an email he got from former Solicitor General Walter Dellinger:

The whole thing reminds me of the great moment in “Blazing Saddles” when Sheriff Bart takes himself hostage by pointing a gun at his own head. The simple townsfolk of Rock Ridge were dumb enough to fall for it. Are we?

The Tea Partiers have talked themselves into the idea that this would be the Lesser Apocalypse compared to the spending binge that is about to turn us into Greece. Kevin Drum debunks:

The facts are pretty clear. Spending isn’t our big problem. The recession spike of 2008 aside, it’s about the same as it was 30 years ago. But instead of paying for that spending, we’ve repeatedly cut taxes, which are now at their lowest level in half a century.

You’ll see an early sign of who’s going to win in how the mainstream media identifies the hostage in this crisis. If the hostage is “government” — a separate entity unrelated to the rest of us — then the Tea Party will win. If the hostage is “the country” or “the economy”, then Obama will win.

Obama or Romney: Who Wins Tomorrow?

Four years ago, the polls were clear, and the only question was whether a last gasp of racism would change voters’ minds in the booth. This year it’s all a lot less clear, but we can still see the general shape of how the election will play out.

Let’s start with the basics: The presidential election happens state-by-state. Each state has a certain number of electoral votes (equal to the number of its congressmen plus two for its senators). So in general, more populous states count for more, but the less populous states’ votes are still disproportionate to their population. Every state, no matter how small, gets at least 3 votes. The District of Columbia also gets 3 votes.

The total number of electoral votes is 538, which means a candidate needs 270 to get a majority (or two candidates could tie at 269-269). Almost every state awards its electoral votes on a winner-take-all basis, to the candidate who gets the most votes in that state. (Maine and Nebraska are exceptions, but probably that won’t come up this year and both states will end up giving all their votes to one candidate.)

The analysis I’m giving below is largely based on the work of NYT blogger Nate Silver, a polling geek who has a method for combining all the polls into a probability-of-victory percentage for each state. You don’t need to understand how the model works to recognize that Nate is good at this. In 2008, his predictions were uncanny. (The percentages below come from the early Monday morning run of Nate’s model.)

The fuhgeddabowdit states. In most states, the election won’t be close, and we might as well chalk them up now. Nate’s model gives at least a 99.5% chance that the following states will go to a particular candidate. Probably most of them will be called as soon as the polls close.

Obama: California (55), Connecticut (7), Delaware (3), D.C. (3), Hawaii (4), Illinois (20), Maine (3 out of 4), Maryland (10), Massachusetts (11), Minnesota (10), New Jersey (14), New York (29), Rhode Island (4), Vermont (3), Washington (12) — total 188

Romney: Alabama (9), Alaska (3), Arkansas (6), Georgia (16), Idaho (4), Indiana (11), Kansas (6), Kentucky (8), Louisiana (8), Mississippi (6), Missouri (10), Nebraska (4 of 5), North Dakota (3), Oklahoma (7), South Carolina (9), South Dakota (3), Tennessee (11), Texas (38), Utah (6), West Virginia (5), Wyoming (3) — total 176

Stranger-things-have-happened-but states. These are the 95% states. Occasionally somebody from the underdog’s camp will claim they’re going to pull an upset, and if you have too much money to spend you might even advertise (like Romney in Pennsylvania). But don’t hold your breath. The only way the underdog wins these states is with such a national landslide that the state won’t matter.

Obama: Michigan (16), New Mexico (5), Oregon (7), Pennsylvania (20) — subtotal 48; running total 236.

Romney: Arizona (11), Montana (3) — subtotal 14; running total 190.

Battleground Row. Now it starts to get interesting: Obama at 236 is approaching the magic 270. Romney at 190 has very little room for failure.

This is where Nate makes an astute observation: Each state may have its own independent election, but the state elections are not independent in a statistical sense. If, say, Obama takes North Carolina (where Nate gives him only a 22.8% chance), that probably means a national wave is building that will easily give him Wisconsin (94.5% chance). It would be a very strange world indeed if Obama took North Carolina and lost Wisconsin.

So it makes sense to line up all the states by their Obama-win-probability and see how far down the list he needs to go to get to 270.

Obama win probability state electoral votes Obama running total Romney running total
94.5% Wisconsin 10 246 292
90.7% Maine 1 of 4 247 291
90.0% Nevada 6 253 285
86.8% Ohio 18 271 269
81.2% Iowa 6 277 261
80.2% New Hampshire 4 281 257
72.6% Virginia 13 294 244
69.7% Colorado 9 303 235
44.5% Florida 29 332 206
22.8% North Carolina 15 347 191
12.3% Nebraska 1 of 5 348 190

So if you start at the top with Wisconsin (Obama’s most likely battleground state victory) and move towards the bottom, Obama crosses 270 at Ohio. Conversely, if we award Romney states from the bottom of the list up, he crosses 270 (reaching 285) if he wins Ohio. That makes Ohio the tipping point state, and explains why everybody is campaigning so hard there. So the minimal Obama-win map looks like this:

The minimal Obama-win map. (Not a prediction.)

And the minimal Romney-win map looks the same with Ohio red.

If Obama were to lose Ohio, he’d have to go three states further down his list (Iowa, New Hampshire, Virginia) to get to 270. If Romney loses Ohio, he’ll need either Nevada or Wisconsin to win. (In almost every reasonable scenario, Maine and Nebraska’s final votes don’t really matter.)

This is why you’ll hear Wisconsin, Nevada, Ohio, and sometimes Iowa described as “Obama’s firewall”. If he takes those states, he’s going to win even if he loses battleground states like Florida, Virginia, and Colorado.

What to Watch For. So Romney’s path to victory is narrow and depends heavily on the east-coast states Florida and Virginia. Those are the ones to watch early. If Romney loses either one, he’s done. If either one is too close to call hours after the polls close, probably that means the national trend is not enough in Romney’s favor to crack Obama’s firewall. An easy Obama win in New Hampshire, on the other hand, is only 4 votes, but it might be an early indication of an Obama victory nationally.

But if Florida and Virginia fall easily to Romney and New Hampshire is too close to call, we’re going to be studying specific Ohio counties far into the wee hours of the morning.

I’ll analyze Election Night hour-by-hour in a later post.

Convincing Friends to Vote for Obama

I don’t think anybody knows precisely how many voters make up their minds in the last week of a campaign, or how influenced they are by friends or relatives who steer them right. My guess is that the number is considerable. You might only influence one or two of them, but if a million people like you each influence one or two, that turns a close election into a landslide.

It’s worth trying, in other words.

These persuadable voters might be co-workers or classmates who are bored by politics, but feel vaguely guilty about not participating in democracy. Maybe they’re grandparents who have mostly lost interest in the larger world, or who only know what Bill O’Reilly chooses to tell them. Or they’re your grown children, who haven’t yet caught on to the idea that voting is part of their duty as an adult. Maybe they are friends who generally share your ideals, but aren’t in the habit of voting.

My two most important pieces of advice are:

  • Don’t waste your time arguing with committed Romney voters unless you enjoy it or you’re really performing for silent onlookers. Life is too short. If they pick an argument, you can put them off with a flip remark like “I’m not rich enough to vote for Romney.”
  • Don’t be a jerk. People who admire jerks are already voting for Romney, because Rush Limbaugh told them to. Liberalism is attractive because it is both serious and compassionate. Try to embody that; Obama does.

Some people don’t vote for really simple reasons that are easily dealt with.

  • I don’t know where to vote. The League of Women Voters knows. Go to their Vote411 web site and enter your address. It will locate your polling place and also tell you whether it’s still possible to register to vote in time for the election. (That’s worth checking. Some states allow at-the-polling-place registration.) The Obama campaign site gottavote.com is a good resource for early-voting info and for listing what you need to bring with you.
  • I can’t get to the polls. The best answer is “I’ll take you”, but that may not be practical if you’re talking to someone who retired to Florida. One of the things people can do at barackobama.com is identify themselves as Obama voters. If you do that, I guarantee someone will call you on election day to see if you need help getting to the polls. (I’ve been hanging out at the house of my recently deceased father, who was a 90-year-old registered Democrat. I’ve already gotten a call from the Obama campaign asking if he needed a ride.)

Closing arguments against Romney. The thing that makes you more effective than a TV commercial is that you know who you’re talking to and they know you. So some people will want to see why Romney’s budget numbers don’t add up and others will frost over immediately if you start making them do math. Some will be impressed by the depth of Romney’s duplicity, and others will shrug and say that all politicians lie. Still, seeing is believing.

One of the problems the Obama campaign uncovered early in its focus groups was that moderate voters simply refused to believe that Romney had taken the radical positions he ran on in the primaries, or that he lied as boldly as he did. But it’s true: He said he would cut taxes on “the top 1%” and later denied it. He said he would ban all abortions, without exceptions for rape or incest, and later denied it, at one point championing an exception for the “health of the mother” before denying that too. He said his health plan would cover pre-existing conditions, and later denied it. He says he loves teachers, but also wants to muzzle their unions and slash their retirement programs, and he opposes Obama’s plan to hire more of them in math and science.

Other than simple lying, Romney has taken advantage of vagueness. So he promises to balance the budget, but the only plans he has specified cut taxes and raise spending. (In Virginia, his ads cast him as the candidate who will create jobs by increasing spending, precisely what he denounces everywhere else in the country.) He says he can balance that out (plus the deficit we have now) with by cutting other spending and closing tax loopholes, but since he won’t specify those parts of his program, he can deny anything specific. So, is he planning to slash spending on education? On roads and bridges? On healthcare for the poor or food stamps for the hungry? Is he going to eliminate the mortgage interest deduction or deductions for contributions to charity? He has no plan to do that, he says. But he has to cut or tax somewhere to make his numbers work, and he won’t tell us where.

If the people you’re trying to convince say they’re leaning towards Romney or think he looked good at the debate or find him attractive in some other way, the right question to ask is: “Which Romney do you like?” Romney has literally had every position on every issue. But if he’s elected, which Mitt do you expect to take office in January? In order to support Romney, you need to believe that he was honest in what he promised you, but lying to all those other people.

If someone likes the “severely conservative” Romney of the primaries, there’s not much you can say. Whatever he does is likely to be more conservative than what Obama would do. But if they liked the “moderate Mitt” of the debates, probably they should be voting for Obama, who is the real moderate in the race. Jonathan Alter says it best:

Romney as president would be a man with a strange crick in the neck, constantly looking over his right shoulder to see which pickup truck full of movement conservatives was about to run him over.

Beyond the policy issues, there are character issues. Young Mitt was a bully, and his sons’ attempts to tell heart-warming stories about him only emphasize that he is still a bully. Women who came to him in his role as a Mormon bishop telling horrifying stories of his insensitivity. And of course there’s always the dog-on-the-roof story.

If you read between the lines in the stories of Romney’s friends, you see the larger pattern: He’s a great guy as long as he’s in control and you’re doing what he wants. James Lipton has him nailed:

He is that boss who tells lame jokes and waits for everyone else to laugh (or else), and keeps us forever off balance, uncertain and anxious.

Closing arguments for Obama. Two false charge against Obama are that he isn’t running on his record (or can’t because his record is terrible) or that his campaign is entirely negative. I’ve already devoted an article to Obama’s positive case, but it’s time to boil that down to a few paragraphs.

Here’s the best way to frame Obama’s economic record: Thanks to Obama (and his unfairly maligned stimulus), the next president won’t have to deal with anything like the multiple crises that Obama faced on Inauguration Day. The month Obama took office, the economy lost more than 800,000 jobs. Now it’s gaining at least 100,000 jobs a month. That’s not robust growth, but we are muddling ever upward. Those bad jobs numbers the Romney people throw around always include the massive job losses in the first few months of 2009, before Obama’s policies had taken effect.

When Obama became president, our banks were insolvent and the auto industry was about to collapse. We were fighting two expensive wars. Serious people were speculating about a Second Great Depression. It’s easy to brush that off now, but the fact that it didn’t happen is a major accomplishment.

Crises that deep take time to overcome. (In the First Great Depression, unemployment was still over 10% at the end of FDR’s second term.) Romney likes to compare the current recovery to the Reagan recovery of the early 80s, but that followed an ordinary interest-rate recession, not the popping of a bubble. Bubble recoveries are slower, because the previous peak wasn’t real.

There are a number of reasons to believe that the economy is about to accelerate. Consumer confidence is up. The jobless rate is finally below 8%. And people are starting to build houses again.

On foreign policy, Obama has been the steady hand we needed. He ended the Iraq War, wound down the Afghan War, attacked the people who really attacked us on 9-11 (including Bin Laden), and — best of all — didn’t get our troops involved in any new wars, despite numerous opportunities.

Myths. Many people — especially low-information voters — think they are against Obama because they’ve bought some crazy story about him: He’s Muslim, he’s Kenyan, he quadrupled the deficit, whatever. It’s impossible to list them all, but snopes.com is your best place to start debunking.

Greens are a special case. Some of the undecided are actually very well-informed liberal voters, but they can’t decide whether to vote idealistically for Green candidate Jill Stein or pragmatically for President Obama. If they live in a foregone-conclusion state like Texas or Vermont their Green vote isn’t going to affect the outcome anyway, so don’t bother trying to convince them. But in swing states people need to remember Bush/Gore in 2000. If the Nader voters in Florida or New Hampshire had voted for Gore, we wouldn’t have had an Iraq War.

I’ve made a longer pitch to Greens here, and Leftcandid has done it here.

In short. Across the board, Obama has done a good job in a bad situation. And on issue after issue, Romney has either offered no alternative or has offered every alternative, (when he wasn’t agreeing with what Obama has done). No matter what you think the country’s most important problem is — the economy, the deficit, women’s rights, war, terrorism, inequality, the environment, whatever — Obama is the best bet for progress.

Obama’s Positive Case

Like every two-person race, Romney vs. Obama has four major narratives: pro-Romney, anti-Romney, pro-Obama, and anti-Obama. So far both sides have focused mainly on the anti narratives: You shouldn’t vote for Romney because he’s out of touch with the middle class; his policies harm women, gays, immigrants, and the poor; he brazenly makes up his own facts; he has no defense or foreign-policy experience; his proposals have no details and their numbers don’t add up; his only firm conviction is that he should be president. And so on.

Conversely, you shouldn’t vote for Obama because he hasn’t gotten the economy on track; he isn’t sufficiently pro-Israel or anti-Iran; he “apologizes for America” and projects a weak image to both our allies and enemies; he has increased the national debt by trillions of dollars; he favors Big Government and wants to enlarge the class of government dependents; and there’s just something generally suspicious about him that you can’t quite put your finger on (but it can’t possibly have anything to do with him being black, because you’re not a racist).

All I can say is that it will be a sad day for America if we elect a president entirely on a negative narrative, because he wasn’t the other guy.

I suspect we will never hear a serious pro-Romney case; his campaign doesn’t seem to be laying the groundwork for one. (I may be wrong, but I suspect “Obama Isn’t Working” is the first example of a presidential campaign’s main slogan containing the opponent’s name rather than the candidate’s. Remember “All the Way with LBJ” and “Nixon’s the One”?) If Romney is elected, I’ll hang on every word of his inaugural address, because it will be the first real indication of what his administration intends to do.

However, I’ve been predicting for a while that (after spending the summer defining the otherwise vacuous Romney) the Obama campaign will end on a positive note. Republicans have been saying that Obama has gone negative because he can’t defend his record or provide a convincing plan for the future. But I think they’re wrong. We began to hear some of the pro-Obama narrative during the Democratic Convention, and I think we’ll hear more of it as Election Day approaches.

This is my version of Obama’s positive case:

The stimulus, auto bailout, and other emergency measures of 2009 ended the crash.

It’s amazing how quickly the panic that gripped the nation in January, 2009 has been forgotten. Bankruptcies were dominoing: Across the country, apparently healthy companies were discovering that their accounts receivable were worthless because their customers couldn’t pay. And so they were now bankrupt too and couldn’t pay the next company down the line.

Giant enterprises like General Motors and giant states like California couldn’t pay their bills. If those debts went bad, how many other employers would go down? Then how many local shops and restaurants would fail when their customers lost their jobs?

In the pre-Obama era, a stimulus was an uncontroversial response to a recession. President Bush passed a stimulus in 2002 and again in 2008, both times without significant protest from congressional Republicans. Liberal and conservative economists alike were calling for a stimulus in 2009. Republicans had their own 2009 stimulus proposal – a mere $713 billion and weighted more towards tax cuts, but nonetheless a stimulus.

Obama’s proposal was designed to be centrist: A third of the $800 billion total was tax cuts. Another big chunk was aid to the states (to prevent massive layoffs of teachers and construction workers). Another chunk extended unemployment benefits (which made sense given that there were no jobs for the unemployed to find). The remainder was also pretty well spent on a variety of infrastructure and social-investment projects. The definitive analysis is in The New New Deal by Michael Grunwald.

And it worked. Again, both liberal and conservative economists estimate that the stimulus saved a considerable number of jobs, as shown in the following chart (more up-to-date version here).

Obama’s critics have made a big deal of his administration’s projection (they incorrectly call it a “promise”) that the stimulus would keep unemployment below 8%. The mistake here had nothing to do with the effect of the stimulus: In early 2009, everyone was still underestimating the number of jobs that had already been lost in the 4th quarter of 2008.

Obama focused on Al Qaeda (hasta la vista, Osama), ended the Iraq War, is winding down the Afghanistan War, and – best of all! – didn’t start any new wars.

In the 1950s, critics of President Eisenhower said he was a do-nothing president. In retrospect, some of Eisenhower’s not-doings look wise, like not sending troops to Vietnam after the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu. We can only wish Presidents Kennedy and Johnson had maintained Ike’s standards of military idleness.

By Bush standards, Obama has been a do-nothing president in the Muslim world. He hasn’t bombed Iran, he didn’t prop up the Egyptian dictator Mubarak, and he has kept our troops out of Libya and Syria. Let’s keep them out.

The Affordable Care Act is a major step towards health security for all Americans.
Universal health care has been a goal of every Democratic president since Truman, and Republicans like Nixon have also had ambitions in that direction. The Affordable Care Act did not get all the way there, but it gets us closer than we’ve ever been.

Currently, 48.6 million Americans are uninsured – most of them in red states like Texas. The ACA was projected to drop that number below 20 million, though now that a partisan Supreme Court has nixed the Medicaid expansion (and Republican governors like Texas’ Perry are threatening not to take the federal money to expand Medicaid), no one can estimate the exact number.

The ACA does not completely take effect until 2014, but you may already be benefitting if you are old (it closed the “donut hole” in Medicare drug coverage), young (parents’ insurance can cover their children up to age 26), or sick (you can’t be denied coverage for a pre-existing condition). It might even have gotten you a refund from your health insurance company.

Like the stimulus, the ACA is a centrist program that has been smeared as radical: It mimicks RomneyCare in Massachusetts, which was designed by the conservative Heritage Foundation. The ideas behind it only became “socialist” and “unconstitutional” when Obama adopted them.

Obama’s Supreme Court appointments kept the corporatist and theocratic agendas at bay.

Obama got to replace two liberal justices with two slightly-less-liberal justices, so that Justice Kennedy remains the swing vote. (Though Roberts was the swing vote on the ACA decision.) If President McCain had instead appointed two justices resembling Alito or Thomas, the Court would have only two liberals, so even convincing Kennedy and Roberts wouldn’t be enough. The swing vote would be Scalia, believe it or not.

The main theme of the Roberts Court was summed up in 2010 by Al Franken:

What conservative legal activists are really interested in is this question: What individual rights are so basic and so important that they should be protected above a corporation’s right to profit?

And their preferred answer is: None of them. Zero.

That may sound like an exaggeration, but the rest of Franken’s speech backs it up.

Without Obama’s appointments, decisions would be even more pro-corporate, and you could add Christian supremacy to that agenda.

And of course Roe v. Wade would be toast.

He defended women’s right to equal pay, which the Roberts Court had gutted.

The first bill Obama signed was the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. And what other women’s rights will be gutted if the Roberts Court gets conservative reinforcements?

He stopped deporting good kids who know no country other than this one.

Naively, Obama assumed that Republicans (like John McCain) who had publicly supported immigration reform in the past would continue to support it. Instead, Republicans have unified against their own previous proposals and blocked any progress on immigration, including the DREAM Act (which Orrin Hatch co-sponsored and then voted against) and even Mario Rubio’s watered-down version of the DREAM Act.

President Obama has gone about as far as he can without Congress’ cooperation: He has suspended deportations of undocumented teen-agers who were brought here as small children and are on their way to becoming Americans we can be proud of.

Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is history, and the country has turned the corner on gay rights.

President Obama hasn’t been a crusader for gay rights, but he did manage to tip-toe through the minefield of gays in the military.

It’s worth noting that the DADT repeal has caused virtually no problems. Remember how unit cohesion was going to collapse, recruitment would plummet, and chaplains would resign in droves once the Pentagon de-institutionalized bigotry against gays and lesbians? None of it happened. (But I’ll bet none of the false prophets in the pundit class lost their jobs for being wrong. They never do.)

Obama’s personal support for same-sex marriage has no direct impact, but it did seem to be a tipping point in public opinion. His refusal to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court may help get rid of that unjust law (though not if President Romney gets to appoint some Supreme Court judges first).

This fall we may start seeing anti-gay referendums lose. Increasingly, gay rights has become a why-not issue rather than a why issue. Expect Obama to continue to ride the public-opinion wave rather than lead it or block it.

In short: Regardless of who the Other Guy is, Barack Obama has been a good president in tough times. He deserves re-election.

Who Can Obama Kill?

Anwar al-Awlaki

The most talked-about story of the week was the NYT’s report of President Obama’s “kill list” of presumed Al Qaeda members who can become the targets of drone strikes.

In some sense we already knew the basics: The United States launches drone attacks that kill people in countries where we are not officially at war. There must be some process that chooses those people, and since it doesn’t include any judicial or legislative process, everyone involved must ultimately report to one person, the President.

Being an American citizen is no protection from this kind of death. We’ve known that since Kamal Derwish was killed in Yemen in 2002 because he was in a car with Qaed Salim Sinana al-Harethi, the suspected planner of the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole. President Obama ratified that part of the Bush worldview when he ordered the death of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born Islamic cleric who supported Al Qaeda ideologically, and was alleged to have become active in planning operations against America.

What was new in the article was, on the surface, the amount of detail we got about the process and how personally involved in it President Obama is. No one goes on the list without his personal approval, and he does not simply sign off on the recommendations of his subordinates.

But the subtext of the story was, in some ways, even more disturbing: The only way such a story could be written was with the cooperation of the White House. Numerous current and former administration sources are quoted; they didn’t all go rogue simultaneously. So the White House wanted us to know this stuff.

It’s an election year, so you have to assume the purpose is political. Presumably, the Obama campaign believes that ordering people’s deaths looks presidential. Presumably, getting a more detailed picture of Obama ordering deaths will assuage independent voters who might worry that Obama isn’t tough enough to defend the country.

Possibly, people like me are supposed to be comforted by the seriousness of the process. Actually, I’m not. I had always assumed the process was serious, at least in this administration. I’m sure they go to great lengths to make sure we’re not firing missiles at just anybody.

The problem, which is unchanged from the Bush years, is the lack of checks and balances. Maybe we’ll be lucky, and all future presidents will use this power conscientiously. But as long as the process is secret and unchecked, we are depending on the virtue of the president. All it will take to abuse this power is for one man to become corrupt or sloppy. Any secret executive-branch process that can be established by a president can be disestablished just as easily, without public notice.

President Obama owes us something better than this.

I recognize that the situation is not simple. If all these people were on a battlefield wearing the uniform of an enemy, ordering someone or something to shoot at them would be a normal part of war. The fact that Al Qaeda scatters its members across many countries and mixes with the civilian population does not make them less of an enemy or less deadly.

Yes, the battlefield could be anywhere and the enemy could be anyone. But the Bush formula, in which a battlefield commander’s prerogatives extend to all places and coalesce around the president, is a recipe for an eventual dictatorship and a reign of terror. In the long run, I am more afraid of such an omni-empowered president than I am of the terrorists.

And while I respect President Obama’s desire to take personal responsibility for these deadly decisions, if such decisions are made in the White House, eventually, in somebody’s White House, they will be made for political reasons. Dip in the polls? Let’s kill somebody.

The Founders did not envision this kind of war, and the Constitution was not written for it. But the overall principle of checks-and-balances should still apply. If you want to kill people who aren’t in a Congressionally-approved war zone, especially if they are American citizens, you ought to have to convince someone who doesn’t work for you. And ultimately, you should be held accountable for your decisions by somebody else who doesn’t work for you.

It should never be legal for one person, checked only by his subordinates, to order your death. That seems like an absolute minimum.

The Narratives of November

All across the Commentariat, I’m hearing the same message: “The pregame warm-up is over.” The Obama vs. Romney show-down has finally arrived, so it’s time to get serious about the November election.

It’s fascinating, though, to see what “getting serious” means to different people. For some, it means getting down to the nuts and bolts of the electoral college. We actually hold 51 presidential elections – don’t forget D.C. – or even 56, once you realize that Maine and Nebraska award one electoral vote for each congressional district plus two for the winner of the statewide election.

People who get electoral-college-serious are already drawing their swing-state maps, like CNN’s above, where they give Obama 196 EVs, Romney 159, and leave 183 up for grabs in 15 swing states. If you want to try your own scenarios, go to 270towin.com. (Here’s mine: Arizona, Indiana, Missouri, and North Carolina only go to Obama in another landslide. Ditto for Romney taking Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. So I start with Obama 242, Romney 206 and eight swing states worth 90. I think it will ultimately come down to Ohio and Virginia.)

Other people get demographic-serious. These folks focus on the Latino vote, the gender gap, and the turnout of Obama’s “new voters” (mainly blacks and young people) who showed up in 2008 but not in 2010.

You can also get characteristic-serious. People’s voting choices might still be in flux, but Obama is more “likeable” than Romney (56%–27% in a recent poll), and is also seen as “more honest and trustworthy” (44%–33%).

Here’s the way I’m looking at the race: April head-to-head polls are fun, but a lot can happen before November. Unless you’re a professional campaign strategist, it’s also too early to get electoral-college-serious. That’s a game to play in October, when it merges with demographic-seriousness and you start talking about the Hispanic vote in Colorado or how the urban/rural split is playing out in Virginia.

Characteristic-seriousness is only part of the story. Nobody liked or trusted Richard Nixon, but in 1972 Tricky Dick had one of the biggest landslides ever. Nate Silver says favorability predicts the outcome in October, but not so well in April. (Maybe we talk ourselves into liking a candidate after we decide to vote for him.)

So instead, I’m getting narrative-serious. To me, this phase of the campaign is about fleshing out four stories: Why you should vote

  • for Obama
  • against Obama
  • for Romney
  • against Romney.

Come November, one of those stories is going to sound a lot more believable than the other three. Whoever benefits from that story is going to win.

The candidates’ characteristics matter, but only as the building-blocks of their stories. So Mitt Romney’s message can’t be: “You should vote for me because I’m a regular guy like you.” That loses, because we’ve all already decided we don’t believe it.

Losing campaigns are characterized by images that crystalize the unbelievability of some part of the candidate’s story: Mike Dukakis in a tank. John Kerry hunting geese. Mitt Romney trying to look like a regular guy is a similar image waiting to happen.

This didn't help.

But Romney doesn’t have to be a regular guy to win. FDR wasn’t and neither was JFK. Neither, for that matter, is Obama. So Romney could have a winning message like this: “This country is going the wrong way and Romney is a smart executive who knows how to turn things around.” People who don’t like Mitt at all might believe that story and vote for him.

Who says aristocrats can't win?

Vote for Romney. The Romney smart-executive message depends on a couple of things. The more the economy appears to need saving, the better it works. Plus, Romney has to look and sound like that guy. He needs to win the debates, and he needs some economic proposals that seem new.

Obama’s allies can throw sand in Romney’s gears in two ways: (1) By pointing out that Romney wasn’t a turn-around executive, he was a vulture capitalist who profited from deals that destroyed jobs. (2) By identifying Romney’s don’t-tax-the-rich, don’t-regulate-BP policies with the Bush administration. If Romney’s so smart about the economy, why does he sound just like George W. Bush?

Vote for Obama. Obama needs to portray himself as a reasonable guy who did well under difficult conditions, and who has kept his eye on the country’s long-term goals. He needs to contrast how the economy is now (middling) with how it was on Inauguration Day (in free fall).

No matter what the Supreme Court does with it, he needs to defend Obamacare as the only progress recent presidents have made on reforming our broken healthcare system. Make Romney (or the Court) own all the problems of the pre-Obamacare system.

Obama can also point to foreign policy successes that have no parallel on Romney’s resume: We’re not fighting in Iraq any more. We’re winding down Afghanistan. And Osama bin Laden is dead.

Romney’s allies can counter this by exploiting any bad news and blaming it on Obama. They need voters to judge the economy on an absolute scale rather than a relative one. Who cares how things were under Bush? They’re bad now.

Vote Against Romney. You should vote against Romney because he’s not on your side. His policies favor the rich because he’s rich, he’s always been rich, and the rich are the only people he understands or cares about.

A simple “he’s rich” argument won’t work, because nobody cares. Every big name in politics, Obama included, is rich by most people’s standards. But if Romney’s wealth and general stiffness can be tied to his pro-1% policies, he loses.

In the primaries, Romney interpreted every such attack as envy of his success, not resentment of his being on the wrong side. That was sufficient for a Republican audience, for whom the rich are heroes. (But even there you have to wonder what would have happened in Michigan and Ohio if Santorum had hammered economic issues rather than wandering off into Jesusland.) But he’ll have to come up with a better answer in the general election.

The Obama campaign will make sure that specific groups are reminded of the extreme positions Romney took against them when he needed right-wing support. Women will hear a lot about what Romney-supported “personhood” laws would do to contraception, and Latinos won’t be allowed to forget his self-deportation policy. These attacks will be hard to counter without feeding the Romney-will-say-anything meme.

Vote Against Obama. There are two anti-Obama messages. The one for general consumption is that he hasn’t performed well enough to deserve a second term. The economy is still bad, the deficit is high, the wars have fizzled rather than ending in victory, and Iran is still on track to get the bomb.

That all works better if there is bad news to tie it to: a new downturn, a big bankruptcy, a terrorist attack, and so on. (Karl Rove thinks Obama can be beaten on foreign policy, but it’s hard to see how that happens without some striking event.)

The second anti-Obama message needs to be carefully targeted to the white Christian population:  In Obama’s vision of America’s future, you’re not on top any more. Working-class whites in particular feel insecure and long for an imagined past. Romney needs to (subtly) cast Obama as the reason that past can’t come back.

What Works? It’s possible one campaign will just be better than the other at telling its stories. The anti-Obama story will have a ton of corporate money behind it, and that might make a difference.

But if both campaigns are competent, it’s going to come to events. If the news between now and November is neutral or positive, Obama’s stories work. But if there’s major bad news, voters may decide that Romney deserves a first chance more than Obama deserves a second.

Seven Issues the Election Should Be About

You may not have noticed, but the general election campaign started this week. I say that for two reasons:

  • Mitt Romney’s victory in Wisconsin pretty well seals his nomination. Republicans understand now: No white knight is coming to save them. It’s Romney or four more years of Obama.
  • President Obama’s speech Tuesday was essentially a keynote address for the fall campaign.

We can already see what that campaign will be like. Romney won the GOP nomination by raising massive amounts of money and carpet-bombing any prospective rival with negative ads. President Obama is projected to raise just under a billion dollars. In either case, you really can’t spend that kind of money on warm, fuzzy stuff. Constant advertising annoys people, so the best you can hope for is to transfer their annoyance to your opponent.

Given how politics has been going, we can anticipate that major issues will be dodged, misrepresented, and even lied about. The media, which ought to be ferreting out the information voters need to make a wise choice, will instead focus on whatever gaffes or stinging comebacks they can find or manufacture, no matter how irrelevant or trivial.

That’s a shame, because there really is an important debate to be had. I don’t claim to know what Mitt Romney believes in his heart – recently his campaign has suggested that we don’t know his “real views” yet – but I know what his party and the conservative movement stands for. Similarly, I’m never sure exactly how much liberalism President Obama is going to defend, but I have a good idea what liberalism means.

It’s a significant contrast. A honest debate between those two worldviews, resulting in a clear choice by a well-informed electorate, would be a tremendous plus for this country.

OK, it won’t happen. But we shouldn’t just shrug and let the candidates off the hook. Even as we see the waters start to circle around the sewer drain, let’s review what this campaign should be about.

1. Inequality. We’ve been in a vicious cycle for 30 years now: The rich get richer; they use that money to buy more political power; and then they use that political power to lower their taxes, weaken the the regulations they have to follow, and otherwise game the system in their favor – plus make it easier to buy political power.

The Republican Party has been the main (but not the only) vehicle for the rich, so it will be interesting to see whether President Obama succeeds in raising this issue, or if conservatives manage to label it all as envy and class warfare. I thought Obama laid it out pretty well Tuesday:

In this country, broad-based prosperity has never trickled down from the success of a wealthy few. It has always come from the success of a strong and growing middle class. … And yet, for much of the last century, we have been having the same argument with folks who keep peddling some version of trickle-down economics. They keep telling us that if we’d convert more of our investments in education and research and health care into tax cuts — especially for the wealthy — our economy will grow stronger. … Now, the problem for advocates of this theory is that we’ve tried their approach — on a massive scale. The results of their experiment are there for all to see.

2. The National Security State. At a time when government is supposed to be tightening its belt, we continue to spend more on defense than all our potential enemies put together. Is that really necessary? How much money could we save with a less aggressive foreign policy that didn’t inject us into every conflict?

Would the world really be a worse place? We’ll never know how the Arab Spring would have handled Saddam if we hadn’t spent all that blood and treasure in Iraq.

And then there’s the internal effect on our liberty and democracy. Government surveillance gets ever more intrusive, and more and more of the government’s actions are secret. How necessary is that?

The opposing case is that the world is a dangerous place, and would be even more dangerous if the US didn’t police it. Maybe Norway can keep its freedom defended with (and from) a relatively small security force, but the US doesn’t have that option.

It’s President Obama’s fault that we won’t have this discussion. (Ron Paul was the only Republican candidate who wanted to talk about it.) He has largely continued the Bush national security policies rather than challenge them.

3. Climate change. There are lots of legitimate liberal/conservative issues to hash out concerning how to deal with climate change: Should we lower CO2 by market mechanisms (cap and trade), by a carbon tax, or by direct government regulation? Should we bargain hard to get other countries to do their part, or should we take the lead? What CO2 level should we be shooting for and how fast should we try to get there? How do we balance the expense of current CO2 reduction versus investments in future research? Can geo-engineering play a role?

We aren’t having those debates because the fossil fuel corporations have spent enormous amounts of money to make the existence of climate change the issue, when in fact the science is well established. The Republican Party has been acting as a wholely-owned subsidiary of the fossil fuel companies, and some Democrats have also been either bought or intimidated by energy-industry cash.

4. The Deficit. Elsewhere I’ve presented the idea that the deficit is not the doomsday device many would have you believe. But it is a symptom of a broken political process. Congress’ main job is to figure out what we as a people want to buy and how we’re going to pay for it. If it can’t do that, what can it do?

A big chunk of the problem is the misinformed electorate. Survey after survey shows that we grossly overestimate how much money is spent on welfare, foreign aid, and whatever National-Endowment-for-the-Arts-type program we find most offensive. We also grossly underestimate how many government services we use personally, and we’re misinformed about how our taxes compare to Americans of recent decades. (Hint: Our taxes are far lower, especially for corporations and the wealthy.)

About half the country thinks we can eliminate the deficit with spending cuts that don’t touch “programs that benefit people like you”. That wishful thinking allows candidates to get away with proposing big-but-vague spending cuts that exempt defense, Social Security, and Medicare — just about everything we spend big on.

5. Immigration. Both liberals and conservatives are conflicted about immigration. There is no ideologically pure answer to our immigration problem, which is why the conversation never goes anywhere.

The centuries-old dream of American employers is to have a workforce that can’t vote. So their ideal is to have temporary foreign-worker programs: We bring people in for ten years or so, get them to work hard for very little money, and then send them home.

But working-class whites see immigrants-taking-American-jobs as one of the social changes they want the Republican Party to protect them from. Hence the rhetoric about rounding up the millions of undocumented Hispanic workers and sending them home.

The last thing the Republican Party wants is millions of poor, non-white new citizens — who would probably vote for Democrats. Democrats would like that, but the unions that support Democrats probably wouldn’t, for the same reason as conservative working-class whites.

Everybody agrees that we shouldn’t have millions of undocumented people wandering around. It’s a security risk, makes our worker-protection rules unenforcible, and generally undermines the rule of law. But since neither side has a solution it wants to take to the voters, both will posture about the issue rather than try to make progress.

6. Health care. Our health care system is a mess. We spend way more per person than any other country, and we get worse results. This is a great country for someone as rich as Dick Cheney to get a heart transplant, but it’s a terrible country for a poor pregnant woman to get pre-natal care. When you average it out, our life expectancy sucks and we lead the industrialized world in unnecessary deaths.

ObamaCare (like the RomneyCare it’s based on) is an imperfect first step at reform. I think it gives away far too much to health insurance companies and drug companies, but that’s politics. If Congress repeals it or the Supreme Court throws it out, we’re essentially nowhere, because the “replace” part of the Republican “repeal and replace” slogan is just a word; there is no actual plan that addresses any of the substantive issues.

And liberals shouldn’t let Obama say “Done now.” ObamaCare has a lot of holes that need filling.

7. The future of democracy. This issue runs through a lot of the others. Ideally, individual voters would educate themselves about the issues that concern them and elect candidates to represent their views. If they really felt strongly, they’d donate $20 or $50 to a campaign.

We’re far, far away from that ideal, and moving farther all the time. The Supreme Court has ruled that money equals speech, and that more speech is better than less. So elections are dominated by massive spending that produces better propaganda — not better educated voters.

In addition, while voters may wake up in time for an election, the big-money interests never sleep. Defeat some special-interest measure like SOPA, and within a few months it will be back in a different form. The big banks can hire entire staffs of lobbyists to write loopholes into new regulations. Voters don’t have the time to ferret that stuff out, and if they did, they couldn’t organize themselves fast enough to do anything about it.

We aren’t having this discussion because no candidate who took it seriously could raise enough money. Worse, neither party even has an ideal vision of how to handle it. The closest thing to a practical reform vision I’ve seen so far is Lawrence Lessig’s.

Resist. Chances are, this election will be decided by something stupid: a blip in the unemployment numbers, a new Romney gaffe on the Etch-a-Sketch scale, or Obama’s inability to prove that he is not a shape-shifter from the Gamma Quadrant. Heck, we’ve had elections decided on the Pledge of Allegiance.

But we don’t have to give in to that. Collectively, social networking ought to give us Arab-Spring-level power, if we exercise it.  We can refuse to respond to nonsense. We can keep coming back to the real issues. It may not work in this cycle. But eventually, we might be able to drag the candidates back to what’s important.

Culture Wars Rise with the Economy and other short notes

A simple reason why Rick Santorum and the culture wars are on the upswing in Republican primaries: As the economy improves, the rationale of the Romney campaign falls apart. Social issues were supposed to stay on the sidelines so that Mitt the Financial Wizard could pound Obama the Economic Failure.

Salon’s Alex Parene asks: “Would it be conspiratorial to note that these divisive cultural issues began attracting a great deal of right-wing attention very soon after the release of a positive jobs report?”

Not at all, Alex.


Purple cow? No. Purple squirrel? Here.


The difference between liberal nonsense and conservative nonsense is that liberals let the audience in on the joke.


It looks like another surge of global-warming denial is building. A couple weeks ago the Wall Street Journal printed a letter from 16 scientists and engineers saying “There is no compelling scientific argument for drastic action to ‘decarbonize’ the world’s economy.” They compared global warming to Lysenkoism and presented a picture of scientific community heavy-handedly enforcing a rigid dogma.

If you look at the list of signers, most of them have no connection to climate science, so their opinion is no more significant than mine or any other educated person’s. Skeptical Science finds them “worth noting for their lack of noteworthiness”. Only two have “published climate research in the past three decades” while 7 have received funding from the fossil fuel industry. Skeptical Science also debunks the letter’s claims, and includes a wonderful graph explaining how an energy-industry flack can make a warming trend look like a cooling trend.

At the same time, the WSJ refused to print a letter from 255 members of the National Academy of Sciences defending the scientific process and claiming:

Many recent assaults on climate science and, more disturbingly, on climate scientists by climate change deniers are typically driven by special interests or dogma, not by an honest effort to provide an alternative theory that credibly satisfies the evidence.

Forbes called the WSJ’s actions “remarkable editorial bias“, which shouldn’t surprise anyone, now that it’s owned by Rupert Murdoch.

Some of the same misinformation appeared simultaneously in a British tabloid, from which it migrated to the Washington Times and other right-wing publications. Kevin Drum debunks.


New re-election plan: Surround Obama with kids and gadgets, and he’s irresistible.

James Fallows writes an insightful analysis of what we’ve learned about Obama during his first term.


When I wrote last week’s article on Komen and Planned Parenthood, it wasn’t clear yet whether Komen had really reversed itself or the right-wingers inside Komen had just stepped back until public outrage faded a little. “[Karen] Handel is still on the job, after all.”

Not any more. Tuesday morning Handel resigned. So maybe Komen is serious about de-politicizing itself and getting back to its mission.


The anti-public-employee jihad that is getting Wisconsin’s Scott Walker recalled has spread to Utah and Arizona.


Just for the cuteness of it: Video of a wolf pup playing with a bear cub.

Barack X, the Fictional President

One of the most surprising things The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza learned from the Obama administration’s unreleased memos was this: President Obama really believed he could get Republican support if he based his programs on Republican programs, like Romney’s healthcare plan or Bush Sr.’s cap-and-trade.

Obama did not anticipate how effectively his political opponents would cast him as a polarizing figure.

So how did they do it? Bill Mahr explains:

Republicans have created this completely fictional president. His name is Barack X, and he’s an Islamo-socialist revolutionary who’s coming for your guns, raising your taxes, slashing the military, apologizing to other countries, and taking his cues from Europe, or worse yet Saul Alinsky.

And this is how politics has changed. You used to have to run against an actual candidate. But now you just recreate him inside the bubble and run against your new fictional candidate.

In the end, Obama couldn’t even get Mitt Romney’s support for Mitt Romney’s healthcare plan, or John McCain’s support for the cap-and-trade system resembling the one in the McCain-Lieberman bill of 2003.

Jay Rosen explains why not:

the [Republican] party decided not to have the fight it needed to have between reality-based Republicans and the other kind. …

When I say “reality-based Republicans” I mean those who recognize the danger in trying to make descriptions of the world conform to their wishes. … [T]he tendency toward wish fulfillment, selective memory, ideological blindness, truth-busting demagoguery and denial of the inconvenient fact remains within normal trouble-making bounds for the Democratic coalition. But it has broken through the normal limits on the Republican side, an historical development that we don’t understand very well. …

Mitt Romney, the favorite to win the Republican nomination for president in 2012, is a reality-based Republican who cannot run as a reality-based Republican because he thinks he cannot win that way. Jon Huntsman’s campaign is the proof of that calculation. All the candidates, including Romney, have to make gestures toward the alternative knowledge system, with its own facts.

If those “facts” include that the Romney-inspired healthcare plan is an unconstitutional government takeover of the entire system and a step towards socialism, then Romney has to go along if he wants to win. He also has to pretend global warming is dubious, austerity will create jobs, and that we need to get our troops back into Iraq.

If I could raise one off-the-record issue with Mitt and count on getting honest answers, this is what it would be: What’s your Bizarro-world exit strategy? Do you picture bringing your campaign back to reality at some point, say, after the convention? Or if you run a fantasy-based fall campaign and win, do you plan to govern realistically? If so, how do you plan to get your base to put up with it?

Or if not, how do you plan to get Reality to put up with it?