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Wading In Quicksand

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July 12, 2010

The recent Gallup Poll, revealing that President Obama’s approval rating has dropped to 38% among independent voters, has resulted in an outpouring of (unsolicited) advice offered to the President by numerous commentators.  As I pointed out in my last posting, Matt Miller’s July 8 Washington Post article set out a really great plan, which he described as “a radically centrist ‘Jobs Now, Deficits Soon’ package”.   Nevertheless, Mr. Miller’s piece was not written as advice to the President, as some of the more recent articles have been.  I recently read one of those “advice to Obama” pieces that the President would do well to ignore.  It was written by a former Bill Clinton pollster named Douglas Schoen for the New York Daily News Schoen’s plan focused on this premise:

The independent swing voters who hold the fate of the Democratic Party in their hands are looking for candidates and parties that champion fiscal discipline, limited government, deficit reduction and a free market, pro-growth agenda.

Not true.  The independent swing voters are disappointed with Obama because the candidate’s promise of “hope and change” turned out to be a “bait and switch” scam to sell the public more cronyism.  At this point, it appears as though the entire Democratic Party will suffer the consequences in the 2010 elections.

The shortcomings of the Obama administration were more accurately summed up by Robert Kuttner for The Huffington Post:

But even a dire economic crisis and a Republican blockade of needed remedies have not fundamentally altered the temperament, trajectory, or tactical instincts of this surprisingly aloof  president.  He has not been willing or able to use his office to move public opinion in a direction that favors more activism.  Nor has Obama, for the most part, seized partisan and ideological opportunities that hapless Republicans and clueless corporate executives keep lobbing him like so many high, hanging curve balls.

*   *   *

But despite our hopes, Barack Obama is unlikely to offer bolder policies or give tougher speeches any time soon, even as threats of a double-dip recession and an electoral blowout in November loom.  This is just not who he is.  If the worst economic crisis in eight decades were going to change his assumptions about how to govern and how to lead, it would have done so by now.

*   *   *

I have also watched Obama’s loyal opposition –people like Joseph Stiglitz, Paul Krugman, Elizabeth Warren, Sheila Bair — be proven right by events, again and again.  So there are alternative paths, as there always are.  But the White House has disdained them.

And I’ve noticed that it is the populists among Democratic elected officials who are best defended against defeat in November.  That tells you something, too.  Why should the project of rallying the common people against elites in Washington, on Wall Street, and in the media, be ceded to the far right?  But that is what this White House is doing.

E. J. Dionne of The Washington Post demonstrated a good understanding of why independent voters have become fed up with Obama and how this has ballooned into a larger issue of anti-Democrat sentiment:

On the one hand, independent voters are turning on them.  Democratic House candidates enjoyed a 51 percent to 43 percent advantage over Republicans in 2008.  This time, the polls show independents tilting Republican by substantial margins.

But Democrats are also suffering from a lack of enthusiasm among their own supporters.  Poll after poll has shown that while Republicans are eager to cast ballots, many Democrats seem inclined to sit out this election.

The apathy of the rank-and-file Democrats and the alienation of the independents is best explained by the Administration’s faux-reform agenda.  The so-called healthcare “reform” bill turned out to be a giveaway to big pharma and the health insurance industry.  Worse yet, the financial “reform” bill not only turned out to be a hoax – it did nothing to address systemic risk.  In other words, if one of those five “untouchable” Wall Street banks fails, it will take the entire financial system down with it — in the absence of another huge, trillion-dollar bailout from the taxpayers.

Mike Konczal of the Roosevelt Institute documented the extent to which Obama’s Treasury Department undermined the financial reform bill at every step:

Examples?  Off the top of my head, ones with a paper trail:  They fought the Collins amendment for quality of bank capital, fought leverage requirements like a 15-to-1 cap, fought prefunding the resolution mechanism, fought Section 716removed foreign exchange swaps and introduced end user exemption from derivative language between the Obama white paper and the House Bill, believed they could have gotten the SAFE Banking Amendment to break up the banks but didn’t try, pushed against the full Audit the Fed and encouraged the Scott Brown deal. spinning out swap desks,

You can agree or disagree with any number of those items, think they are brilliant or dumb, reasonable or a pipe dream.  But what is worth noting is that they always end up leaving their fingerprints on the side of less structural reform and in favor of the status quo on Wall Street.

The Obama administration is apparently operating from the mistaken perspective that the voters are too stupid to see through their antics.  Sending Joe Biden to appear on Jay Leno’s Tonight Show to dissuade the public from considering the motives of politicians will not solve the administration’s problem of sinking approval ratings.




A Base Hit

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September 4, 2008

Throughout John McCain’s Presidential campaign, he had been unable to enlist the support of the coveted Republican “base”.  His choice of Sarah Palin as his running mate, appears to have been a big hit with those people.  At the Republican Convention, she received an adoring response from the audience.  Perhaps Jay Leno had it best when he said:  “As an Alaskan, she must have felt right at home there.  She could look out from the podium, over an endless sea of white.”

Sarah Palin has indeed won the hearts of the “hard right” Republican voters and politicians.  At this point, the only obstacle to the acceptance of her as the candidate, seems to be: getting everyone familiar with her name (literally).  Geriatric Jo Ann Davidson, Co-Chair of the Republican National Committee, referred to the Vice-Presidential candidate as “Sarah Pawlenty” before the Convention audience.  This provided Jon Stewart with yet another “Moment of Zen”.

As reported by Juliet Eilperin and Robert Barnes in the September 3 Washington Post, Palin’s acceptance speech was written by Matt Scully:

An initial version of the address, which speechwriter Matthew Scully started crafting a week ago for an unnamed male vice presidential pick, included plenty of attacks aimed at Democratic nominee Barack Obama along with ample praise for McCain, aides said.

It is ironic to observe that Matt Scully (a former speechwriter for George W. Bush) is an outspoken defender of the rights of those animals considered prey by human hunters.  The “Annie Oakley” image of Sarah Palin as a moose hunter, seems to make her the kind of person Scully wouldn’t @font-face { font-family: “Calisto MT”; }p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal { margin: 0in 0in 0.0001pt; font-size: 12pt; font-family: “Times New Roman”; }div.Section1 { page: Section1; }necessarily like.  She’s lucky Scully wrote that speech before he knew she would be the one delivering it.  Worse yet, Palin’s pleasant persona will likely result in the targeting of Scully for the factual misrepresentations contained in the speech (i.e. that Obama will raise taxes for all Americans).  Rather than “shoot” the charismatic messenger, critics may choose to level their attacks at Scully himself, as the author of the speech.  It would serve him right for not going along on the moose hunt!

It remains to be seen whether McCain’s secondary strategy in choosing Palin (to win the support of the disgruntled supporters of Hillary Clinton) will work.  Susan Page and Martha Moore of USA Today have been following this subject and how it is playing out in the polls.  Page and Moore reported:

In USA TODAY polls, McCain’s standing among women didn’t budge with the pick of Palin. He was backed by 42% of women in a poll taken before the convention, another on the day of her announcement and a third taken Saturday and Sunday.

Whether these numbers hold as the campaign progresses, will be another matter.  In the mean time, the Democrats cannot afford to be pulling their punches as Palin establishes her own style of pugilism on the stump.  Time will tell whether she can live up to the expectations and the enthusiasm of the Convention crowd, the Republican base and the McCain team itself.  Her most likely problems (aside from the “abuse of power” scandal) will result from the video clips of her saying things inconsistent with the message du jour.   There will be plenty of opportunities ahead for negative campaign ads, especially as Republican luminaries continue to get caught, on the record, disclosing their low regard for McCain’s selection of Palin.  Over an open microphone during a commercial break on MSNBC, Peggy Noonan expressed dismay that the McCain camp “…  went for this – excuse me – political bullshit about narratives.”  Noonan later defined the term “narrative” as:  “The story the campaign wishes to tell about itself and communicate to others.”  Is that really it?  Or, is the “narrative” in this case, Palin’s life story, which is supposed to endear her to us.  Noonan is promoting that bullshit herself, so it’s hard to imagine her objecting to it.  Peggy Noonan also complained about how Republican leaders believe that “whatever the base of the Republican Party thinks is what America thinks”.  At this point, Sarah Palin is doing fine with the Republican base.  Meanwhile, the rest of America will be reading about Palin’s track record on “earmarks”, the unfolding “abuse of power” saga, as well as whatever important information the McCain camp never read in the local Alaska newspapers.  Whether we admit it or not, we will all be anxious to see if the National Enquirer can outdo its John Edwards exclusive with its juicy tale involving this new darling of “the base”.