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Painting Themselves Into A Corner

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April 27, 2009

During the April 21 – 24 timeframe, ABC News and The Washington Post conducted a poll to ascertain President Obama’s approval rating.  The poll revealed that 69 percent of Americans favor the job performance of our new President.  Fifty percent of those polled believe that the country is on the right track (compared with 19 percent just before Obama’s inauguration).  This seemed like a particularly strong showing since, just one week before this poll began, we saw the anti-taxation “tea parties” that had been promoted by Fox News.

A recent article by Ben Smith and Jonathan Martin for Politico revealed that in some states, the “tea parties” have helped energize the Republican base:

“There is a sense of rebellion brewing,” said Katon Dawson, the outgoing South Carolina Republican Party chairman, who cited unexpectedly high attendance at anti-tax “tea parties” last week.

As the article by Smith and Martin pointed out, this “rebellion” is taking place at exactly the time when many Republican Party leaders are tacking to the center and looking for someone like Utah Governor Jon Huntsman as a possible Presidential candidate for 2012.  Nevertheless, as the article noted, rank-and-file Republicans outside of Washington have no desire to adopt more moderate views:

Within the party, conservative groups have grown stronger absent the emergence of any organized moderate faction.

Many of those comprising the Republican base appear to be motivated by antipathy toward the increasing acceptance of gay marriage, rather than by a reaction to all of the bailouts that have been taking place.  In fact, I was surprised to observe, during the extensive “tea party” coverage, that none of the protesters were upset about the bank bailouts or Treasury Secretary “Turbo” Tim Geithner’s use of the Federal Reserve to manage the bank bailouts in furtherance of his attempts to avoid legislative oversight.  I guess Fox News had not primed the protesters for that sort of outrage.

The Politico article by Smith and Martin reveals that “cultural issues” remain as the primary concern of the Republican base.  Meanwhile, Newt Gingrich is trying to position himself as the next Republican standard bearer.  Those touting the “sanctity of marriage” (including the Catholic Church) don’t seem particularly concerned that Newt has been married three times.  Newt’s vision for the future is the same vision he was seeing almost twenty years ago:  lower taxes.  If others within the Republican Party have a broader vision and feel the need to expand their appeal to the voters, they can expect plenty of opposition from the party’s base — and therein lies the problem.  Newsweek‘s Howard Fineman has written extensively about how the political primary system works to the benefit of political candidates with the most extreme views.  This is because the only people who vote in political primaries are those with strongly held views and most of them come from the extremes.  This is why wing-nuts such as Minnesota Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann get nominated.  In the absence of any strong moderate or centrist uprising within the Republican ranks, the GOP could be destined to find itself marginalized.  It’s beginning to appear as though the only way for promising, new, centrist Republicans to get elected is to run as independents in the general elections.  Once elected, they can reclaim the “high ground” within the party.  In the mean time, Republican leaders are either unconcerned by or oblivious to the fact that they are painting themselves into a corner by continuing to pander to their base.

Disappointer-In-Chief

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April 9, 2009

President Obama must feel relieved by the cartoonish attacks against him by the likes of Rep. Michelle Bachmann and Fox News character, Sean Hannity.  Bachmann’s accusations that Obama is planning “re-education camps” for young people surely brought some comic relief to the new President.  Hannity must have caused some thunderous laughter in the White House with his claim that during a speech the President gave in Strasbourg, France, we saw examples of how “Obama attacks America”.  These denigration attempts were likely received as a welcome break from criticism being voiced by commentators who are usually supportive of the Obama administration.  Take Keith Olbermann for example.  He has not been holding back on expressing outrage over the Obama administration’s claim that the Patriot Act provides sovereign immunity to the federal government in civil lawsuits brought by victims of illegal wiretapping conducted by the Bush administration.  Another example of a disillusioned Obama supporter is MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, who has been fretting over the President’s plan to up the stakes for success in Afghanistan by increasing our troop commitment there and settling in to fight the good fight for as long as it takes.

Nothing has broken the spirits of Obama supporters more than his administration’s latest bank bailout scheme —  a/k/a  the Public-Private Investment Program (PPIP or “pee-pip”).  Although Treasury Secretary “Turbo” Tim Geithner has been the guy selling this plan to Congress and the public, the “man behind the curtain” who likely hatched this scam is Larry Summers.  Summers is the economist whom Obama named director of the National Economic Council.  At the time of that appointment, many commentators expressed dismay, since Summers, as Bill Clinton’s Treasury Secretary, supported repeal of the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act.  It is widely accepted that the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act helped bring about the subprime mortgage crisis and our current economic meltdown.  On the November 25, 2008 broadcast of the program, Democracy Now, author Naomi Klein made the following remark about Obama’s appointment of Summers:  “I think this is really troubling.”  She was right.  It was recently reported by Jeff Zeleny of The New York Times that Summers earned more than $5 million last year from the hedge fund, D. E. Shaw and collected $2.7 million in speaking fees from Wall Street companies that received government bailout money.  Many economists are now voicing opinions that the Geithner-Summers Public-Private Investment Program (PPIP) is “really troubling”, as well.  Nobel laureates Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz have been vocal critics of this plan.  As James Quinn reported for London’s Telegraph:  Professor Stiglitz said that the plan is “very flawed” and “amounts to robbery of the American people.”

Obama supporter George Soros, the billionaire financier and hedge fund manager, had this to say to Saijel Kishan and Kathleen Hays of Bloomberg News about Obama’s performance so far:

“He’s done very well in every area, except in dealing with the recapitalization of the banks and the restructuring of the mortgage market,” said Soros, who has published an updated paperback version of his book “The New Paradigm for Financial Markets:  The Credit Crisis of 2008 and What It Means” (Scribe Publications, 2009).  “Unfortunately, there’s just a little bit too much continuity with the previous administration.”

The usually Obama-friendly Huffington Post has run a number of critical pieces addressing the Geithner – Summers plan.  Sam Stein pointed out how the plan is “facing a new round of withering criticism from economists”:

These critiques have produced a Washington rarity:  the re-sparking of a debate that, in the wake of positive reviews from Wall Street, had largely subsided.  Just as Geithner seemed to be finding his political footing, the spotlight has been placed right back on his cornerstone proposal, with critics calling into question both his projections and past testimony on the matter.

Jeffrey Sachs, an Economics professor at Columbia University, wrote a follow-up article for The Huffington Post on April 8, affirming earlier criticisms leveled against the bailout proposal with the added realization that “the situation is even potentially more disastrous” than previously described:

Insiders can easily game the system created by Geithner and Summers to cost up to a trillion dollars or more to the taxpayers.

Zachary Goldfarb of The Washington Post took a closer look at Treasury Secretary Geithner’s testimony before Congress last month, to ascertain the viability of some of the proposals Geithner mentioned at that hearing:

The Obama administration’s plan for a sweeping expansion of financial regulations could have unintended consequences that increase the very hazards that these changes are meant to prevent.

Financial experts say the perception that the government will backstop certain losses will actually encourage some firms to take on even greater risks and grow perilously large.  While some financial instruments will come under tighter control, others will remain only loosely regulated, creating what some experts say are new loopholes.  Still others say the regulation could drive money into questionable investments, shadowy new markets and lightly regulated corners of the globe.

If President Obama does not change course and deviate from the Geithner-Summers plan before it’s too late, his legacy will be a ten-year recession rather than a two year recession without the PPIP.  Worse yet, the toughest criticism and the most pressure against his administration are coming from people he has considered his supporters.  At least he has the people at Fox News to provide some laughable “decoy” reports to keep his hard-core adversaries otherwise occupied.