Tag Archives: Obama

GOP vs. Democratic Messaging

E.J. Dionne recently wrote a piece about the open Supreme Court seat covering some of the same issues of Republican vs. Democratic messaging that I covered here and here. And a few weeks ago he wrote another article even more explicitly criticizing Democrats for continually losing the war of messages. Why are Democrats so terrible at this game? How is it possible for Frank Luntz to single-handedly kick Democratic ass time and again? I’d be willing to bet that the majority of folks at ad agencies are Democrats….so get them on the team.

You might think, and certainly we would all like to think, that policies and results are more important than messaging. Oh, how sweetly naive! If you lose the messaging battle, you never get to implement the policy and see the results. Messaging is how you get the support of the public, and since most people have very little time and/or attention for politics, your message has to be short and sweet.

Since Democrats can’t seem to get it together to develop appropriate messaging, I thought that I would take a crack at some of the key issues of the day. I don’t claim genius for any of these efforts – I’m a blogger, not a fighter – but maybe they will spark a little conversation and get some more talented folks to chip in.

Judges respecting individual rights

  • Judicial activism
  • Non-elected officials creating laws


  • Understanding the meaning of the Constitution
  • Following in the Founding Fathers’ footsteps
  • Looking at the spirit of the law if the language is unclear

Estate taxes

  • Death taxes


  • Monarchy prevention policy
  • Asset transfer payment


  • Government control
  • Business killer
  • Job destroyer


  • Public safety measure
  • Children’s health initiative

Aid to Poor

  • Socialism
  • Promoting dependency


  • Safety net
  • Short-term help for the most vulnerable citizens

Economic Equality

  • Threat to liberty


  • Promoting American capitalism

Questioning Security Policies

  • Unpatriotic


  • Keeping America safe
  • Developing the best security system in the world

Healthcare Reform

  • Government takeover


  • Preventing the deaths of innocent citizens

Finance Reform

  • Enabling taxpayer bailouts


  • Stopping taxpayer bailouts

Raising Tax Rates

  • Destroying individual initiative


  • Fiscal responsibility

Reaching Out to Non-allied States

  • Appeasement


  • Realpolitik

Cap & Trade

  • Energy tax


  • Grandchild Safety Act

Immigration Reform

  • Amnesty


  • Continuing the American melting pot tradition

Nuclear Arms Treaties

  • Weakening America’s defense


  • Making America safer by reducing nuclear proliferation

Supreme Court Nominee is Political, not Legal

Dahlia Lithwick has an article in Slate lamenting that the icons of liberal constitutional law are not even in the running to replace Justice Stevens, and are invariably depicted as radicals, while the equivalent judges on the right are likely to be nominated as soon as there is another Republican president.

Lithwick seems to think that this disparity is somehow part of the legal community, but in fact it has nothing to do with lawyers or the law. This disparity exists because Republicans are simply better at playing the game than Democrats are. Republicans are cohesive, all staying on message and using the same talking points, while Democrats tend to be all over the map. In addition, Republicans are far more savage, willing use words like “radical” or “threatening” to describe candidates (mild-mannered law professors, for the most part) whereas Democrats are more likely to use words like “gosh, I’m just not sure I agree with that man.”

Lithwick asks “Why should conservative law students be moved and inspired by their legal rock stars while liberals are sent the message that theirs are outrageous?” as if law schools can somehow fix this problem. I hate to criticize Lithwick, since normally her writing is so good that I practically have a crush on her, but in this case she is missing the point. Law schools can’t solve this problem; voters can.

Benefits to U.S. of International Organizations

Historian David Kennedy wrote an interesting article in The Atlantic about how President Wilson tried to bridge the realist and idealist camps of American foreign policy by setting up the League of Nations. Kennedy describes how the League failed, but how the UN, the IMF and other international organizations have generally managed to recognize the primacy of sovereign states and acknowledge the power of the United States while making the world “safe for democracy,” in Wilson’s words. The article is a good primer on why even the world’s most powerful nation can benefit from strong international organizations.

Richard Clarke on Terrorism Policy

Richard Clarke, who was a lead anti-terrorism official in both the Clinton AND Bush administrations, recently wrote a piece in the NY Daily News discussing the current status of our policies and some of Obama’s recent decisions. As you might expect from someone who worked in both Democratic and Republican administrations, Clarke takes a pretty rational approach and tries to cut through all the political noise. The article is worth a read. Check it out here.

A Quick Thought on the Afghan Decision

One of the criticisms of Obama’s Afghan plan is that he announced a target withdrawal date. To his critics, that commitment to withdrawal (although it seems like a loose commitment) gives the Taliban strength by telling them they only need to wait it out for a couple of years. John McCain said “The way you win wars is to break the will of the enemy, not announce when you are leaving.” I don’t want to completely reject this view, because the tribes in Afghanistan have historically taken the long view, and 2 years is not long. But on the other hand, it’s not as if staying longer will necessarily help.

McCain views this as a traditional war, which it’s not. Al Qaeda and the extreme Taliban are religious nutjobs; we will never break their will, no matter what we do. But we can turn the moderate Taliban, and we can give the Taliban limited room to operate, by getting the average Afghan (Gul the Plumber?) on our side. And the best way to get them on our side? Give them security and then get the hell out of their country. Get their government to step up and provide services. A surge with a limit is a good way to do those things. It provides some security, it tells the Afghan government that it needs to get its act together, and it tells a people who hate occupiers that we don’t plan to occupy them. The marginalization of the Taliban that should come from all this will, I think, outweigh any psychic benefit that the hard core Taliban will get from an announced withdrawal.

Auto Bailout Revisted; Thoughtbasket Gloats

Back during the heat of the auto bailout, when President Obama was being criticized for usurping the contractual rights of the bondholders, I wrote that he was doing no such thing…that he was merely playing hardball and winning. My money quote: “The creditors blinked first; they knew that if they took over the company it would essentially disintegrate overnight, and they would be left with a bunch of factories nobody would buy.”

New York Magazine recently did a long piece on Steve Rattner, Obama’s car czar, and in the sections that discuss Rattner’s negotiations with the creditors, it becomes clear that Rattner played the factual business hand, not the federal government will crush you hand.  To wit:

“In this go-round, Rattner held all the cards, and Lee [JP Morgan Chase Vice-Chairman Jimmy Lee] knew it.  The government was the lender of last resort, and if it walked away, Chrysler and GM would be sold off for parts.”

And then:

“Rattner almost laughed. “Jimmy, look. If you want the company, it’s yours,” Rattner told him. “If we can’t make a deal, then it’s your company,” which Lee knew he couldn’t afford.”

Finally, after JP Morgan Chase agreed, and only a few hedge funds were holding out, led by Daniel Arbess, portfolio manager of Xerion, we get the following:

“He’d [referring to Arbess] shrewdly picked up some bonds for as low as $.15 on the dollar. If the government paid $2 billion, he’d still make money. Did he want to risk that for the chance of greater returns? Arbess signed on.”

We don’t like to gloat here at Thoughtbasket, but sometimes we have no choice. Now if only we could get WordPress’ block quote function to work, life would be awesome.

“Death Panels” Are Another GOP Lie

Check out this NY Times article which shows in detail how the ridiculous rumor about “death panels” in the current health care reform effort came from the same sources whose lies helped kill Clinton’s health care reform. Why do Republicans so hate health care reform? Do they really think it’s OK for poor people to get worse health care than wealthy ones?

Don’t Screw Up Healthcare to Make Political Points

The health care reform effort in Congress is hitting some snags, and reports are discussing how the republicans see this as a make or break moment for the Obama administration. The republicans want to stop reform to make Obama look bad and weaken his chances to implement other parts of his agenda. Jim DeMint (R-SC) called it a “Waterloo moment” for the president.

This is why people hate politicians. Because instead of focusing on policy and helping their country and their constituents, they play douche bag political games like this is some sort of high school mock senate instead of the real thing.

If politicians don’t like the health care reform bills being presented, that’s fine. They are challenging bills, and concerns about their cost or about growing government bureaucracy or any number of other issues are legitimate. Hell, if you think that the free market should rule and people should be on their own for health care, that’s a legitimate, although heartless, view.

Virtually everyone – including republicans – agrees that health care reform is needed. The disastrous state of the American health care system is well known. So to fight health care reform bill – not fight to improve it, but fight against it passing at all – just to score political points, well that sucks. As happens so often here at Thoughtbasket, I must ask our representatives to stop dicking around and do the right thing.

Supreme Court Agrees With Thoughtbasket

OK, the justices didn’t exactly mention me in their decision, but they did unanimously (according to Scotusblog) rule against the Indiana pension funds who were whining that they hadn’t gotten enough money for their secured debt. The highest court in the country has thus decided that the Obama administration did not violate the rule of law in pushing through the Chrysler bankruptcy. Read here my post saying just that. Of course, some argue that this issue is too political for the Court to be focused just on the law, but if that were the driving issue here, wouldn’t this conservative court be likely to rule against Obama, not for him?

Please Focus on Policy, Not on Fear

Opponents of President Obama’s plan to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay have recently seized on the tactic of asking “do you want these terrorists in your neighborhood?” and thus playing on people’s fears. This is purely a rhetorical feint, and it’s offensive. The president isn’t planning on installing the Gitmo inmates in your local condo complex, and his opponents know that. The inmates will go into military brigs or maximum security prisons: the same places that currently house murderers, rapists and drug dealers. Are Obama’s opponents saying that these prisons aren’t secure? If so, shouldn’t they focus on fixing the prisons, so that rapists aren’t wandering your neighborhoods?

The fact is that the opponents of closing Gitmo know perfectly well that moving the inmates to a US supermax facility is perfectly safe. They just disagree with closing the island prison on policy grounds. And that’s fine. There are reasons – cost, isolation from US courts, desire to maintain military control – for wanting to keep Gitmo open. But let’s discuss those actual reasons, instead of using fear mongering and mistruths to get people scared and worked up.

Speaking of mistruths, on the same day that Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said that he has long wanted to close Gitmo because it “has been a recruiting symbol for those extremists and jihadists who would fight us,” Republican Senator John Kyl, who is a major league douchebag, claimed that “it’s palpably false to suggest that the existence of Gitmo created terrorists.” Who is a more reputable source – the career soldier or the sleazy politician?

Glenn Greenwald has an excellent piece in Salon describing how this is an ongoing pattern: Republicans use specious arguments to make voters afraid, and Democrats feel a need to act tough instead of pointing out the ridiculousness of the Republican arguments. The NY Times recently ran a piece showing how the Republicans were planning even before Obama’s inauguration to use this strategy. To me, this demonstrates that the strategy is purely political, with no basis in fact or policy.