Tag Archives: barack obama

Graphical Look at Federal Deficit

Courtesy NY Times


Democrats Need to Lead, or Lose

S&P downgraded US debt from AAA yesterday, knocking Treasuries from their perch as the safest debt on earth. We will see what happens to yields on Monday, but so far it’s not clear that the markets agree with S&P. After all, this is an agency that had AAA ratings on subprime mortgage-backed securities not that long ago.

But in the meantime, the GOP is using the downgrade to attack Obama, saying “look what happened on his watch.” The president doesn’t deserve all the blame, but I understand why the GOP has seized the downgrade as a bludgeon. And in the same way, democratic operatives are putting the blame on the tea party and its refusal to compromise on deficit cutting.

But you know who isn’t saying anything? Democratic leaders. The White House, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi — they are all keeping silent on this. They are trying to be the “adults” and not play the blame game. I appreciate that high-mindedness, but here’s the thing: the game is being played, with or without them. If they stay silent then they just let the GOP control the narrative. You know the Sunday talk shows will be full of Boehner and Cantor and Romney and the gang piling on Obama for the downgrade.

The Democrats have to realize that they are in the middle of a street fight and if they don’t fight back they will lose. And they’ll deserve to lose. If you are going to suck ass at politics, then you shouldn’t be a politician. Regular readers know that I mostly support Democratic policies (with some huge exceptions that I ought to detail one of these days), but I sure don’t support Democratic fecklessness. The Democrats got rolled on the debt ceiling negotiation, and now they are getting rolled on the downgrade. It’s pathetic. Or, to quote a senior democratic official: “if this White House showed a gram of leadership on the debt crisis we could have avoided this historic embarrassment.”

Less Greed, More Patience: The Wisdom of Roald Dahl

This is the last post in my series inspired by President Obama’s inaugural call to “set aside childish things” and start pulling together for the good of the nation. And in this post, I hope to speak less of specific acts of greed and more of a general attitude that has pervaded our society over the past couple of decades. This attitude – one of “I want it all, NOW” – was perhaps not among the childish things of which the president was thinking, but its consumptive nature and its impatience certainly strikes me as childish. In fact, it reminds me of nothing so much as Veruca Salt from Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (the first movie, of course, not the remake), whose constant claim of “Daddy, I want it now!” led to her falling down the garbage chute after being judged a “bad egg.”

I wrote last week about how this attitude played out in spending, with people buying houses and cars and TVs that they couldn’t afford. But it also had a dramatic impact on economic and policy decisions, or often decisions put off. Examples include:

  • Asking for lower taxes while demanding more government services
  • Expecting cutting edge medical treatments while complaining about ever-higher health care costs
  • Unwillingness to invest in infrastructure
  • Refusal to address the impending catastrophes of Social Security and Medicare
  • Managing companies for quarterly earnings instead of for the long term

I could go on and on. But don’t listen to me; the NY Times magazine put it much better a few weeks ago:

“The norms of the last two decades or so – consume before invest; worry about the short term, not the long term – have been more than just a reflection of the economy. They have also affected the economy. Chief executives have fought for paychecks that their predecessors would have considered obscenely large. Technocrats inside Washington’s regulatory agencies, after listening to their bosses talk endlessly about the dangers of overregulation, made quite sure that they weren’t regulating too much. Financial engineering became a more appealing career track than actual engineering or science.”

Frank Rich added his own take, typically overwrought, but still relevant, here. But whether the phenomenon is described by the Times or by me, the process is still the same. When we, the public, all think like Veruca Salt, then our business leaders will think the same way, and we will elect politicians who will implement Veruca Salt policies. So unless we want the whole country to go down the garbage chute, let’s be less Veruca Salt and more Charlie. Instead of wanting it all now, we can aim for getting most of it soon. Remember, Veruca was sent down to the furnace, but Charlie ended up owning the whole factory.

Politics and Culture, Part 2

Tuesday’s post was about Lee Siegel’s theory that Republicans win by focusing on heartland culture while Democrats waste their time talking about policy. Today’s post addresses what Democrats can do about this problem.

Some of the easiest, fastest responses are tactical. For example, Democrats should divide and conquer: they can discuss policy with standard liberal audiences and talk culture to the heartland. In addition, they should be advancing their own cultural narratives, particularly those that tap into Siegel’s call for “vicariousness.” Show Obama and Biden being regular people: shopping, going to church, driving their kids to soccer practice. Distribute the message via the cultural milieu itself rather than through the media. Have the candidates talk about their personality and their dreams. And Obama, please, lighten up a little. The Democrats should take Spiegel’s trope of “ordeal and humiliation” and use it, playing up their own descent and rebirth narratives. Obama has the single mom/neglectful dad angle, and Biden has his car crash (yes, it’s utterly debased to use it, but his son already opened that door during the convention).

But these tactical moves don’t really turn Siegel’s thesis to our advantage. A larger solution is to emphasize the Democratic culture. Fortunately, that culture actually synchronizes with policy, unlike the Republican culture, which fundamentally conflicts with Republican policy. But what is this Democratic culture, and is it lived like the Republican one?

I posit that the Democratic culture is the culture of the founding fathers, which is so ingrained in the American psyche, so elemental to our identity, that we live it every minute of every day. The Democratic culture is one of equality and opportunity, where people who work hard deserve a better life for themselves, regardless of class, color, creed or gender. This is a culture that takes seriously the words “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” The Declaration of Independence is one of America’s totemic documents, and I think just as powerful as the Jungian archetype of descent.

For the Democrats, this culture is not a political strategy but the very essence of the party, the manifestation of their values, and thus is inseparable from policy. This is a culture, backed by policy, which favors hard work over family connections. It sides with student loans, not yacht owners; with sick children, not insurance companies; with producers, not paper pushers; with main street, not Wall Street. During a week when financial debacles are destroying value at unprecedented rates, it is worth remembering whose culture, and whose policies, support a market that is free but regulated. Democratic culture lives in churches that help the needy, in safety nets that help the disadvantaged, in methods of supporting families’ choices, and yes, in the ability of a mixed-race man with a single mother to become president.

If indeed people respond more powerfully, more viscerally, to culture than to policies, then let’s talk culture. In both red states and blue states people believe in the culture of forming “a more perfect union,” but only one party includes everyone in that union.  The Democratic culture is built on supporting the average American, on making real a “government of the people, by the people, for the people,” so don’t hide that culture – embrace it, spread it, and follow it to victory. Because what’s great here is that Democratic culture can speak to the heartland just as forcefully as the Republican culture can, and the Democrats can back their culture up with policies that reflect and actualize their culture of equality and opportunity.

Many thanks to Septa for her thoughts and edits.

Lipstick on a Pig

The Republicans are now calling Barack Obama sexist for using the phrase “lipstick on a pig,” claiming that he is subtly referencing Sarah Palin’s “pitbull with lipstick” laugh line during the Republican convention. This isn’t going to work. This CAN’T work. It’s dishonest and hypocritical and the American public is not that stupid.

Just because the McCain spin machine makes their claim repeatedly does not make it true. People will see through this ridiculous sham.

Presidential Campaign or 3rd Grade?

Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal had an article about the Republican war room set up during the Democratic convention. This war room was meant to spin the Democratic speeches, massage the news cycle, publicize Democratic mistakes, all that process stuff that consultants love to do.

This article describes the reaction in the war room when Barack Obama says on his video feed that he is in a living room in St. Louis when in fact he was in Kansas City:

…the Republican operatives who had been tasked with undercutting the Democratic message here in Denver were electrified. “Woo-hoo!” one shouted, pumping his fist in the air. “Boo-yah!” another yelled.

Within minutes, an email went out to more than 600 reporters with the title: “Obama Gaffe Machine Rolls into DNCC.”

Really? You are running for President of the United States, the most powerful job in the world, and that is how you operate? You jump on a slip of the tongue and then taunt the other guy? I’m not just calling out the Republicans here….the Dems will do the exact same thing during the GOP convention. But we have two substantive candidates running at a tremendously important time. Our country is at war and our economy is going down the toilet. Don’t you think the campaigns could stop acting like third graders on the schoolyard?