Obama & Administration

In Her Epic Speech, The First Lady Spoke For Men Too

Yesterday in her historic speech, Michelle Obama spent a lot of her time talking directly to women about Donald Trump and his candidacy. But she also spoke about what it means to men.

And how is this affecting men and boys in this country? Because I can tell you that the men in my life do not talk about women like this. And I know that my family is not unusual. And to dismiss this as everyday locker-room talk is an insult to decent men everywhere.

The men that you and I know don’t treat women this way. They are loving fathers who are sickened by the thought of their daughters being exposed to this kind of vicious language about women. They are husbands and brothers and sons who don’t tolerate women being treated and demeaned and disrespected. And like us, these men are worried about the impact this election is having on our boys who are looking for role models of what it means to be a man…

Because let’s be very clear: Strong men — men who are truly role models — don’t need to put down women to make themselves feel powerful. People who are truly strong lift others up. People who are truly powerful bring others together.

That is precisely why Michelle’s remarks yesterday were such an antidote to the ugliness we are seeing in the Trump campaign. She not only touched women’s hearts and said it was OK to feel the hurt. She demonstrated what it means to stand up to it all and say, “No…this is NOT normal.” And she reminded us all how authentically strong men behave.

Last Laugh

He always kills at these things:

“This one is from two weeks ago,” Obama joked, showing a photo to show how much he’s aged.

On being a lame duck: 

(referencing the Supreme Court vacancy) “I think we got Republican senators Tim Scott and Cory Gardner. They are in the house, which reminds me: Security, bar the doors. Judge Merrick Garland, come on out! We are going to do this right here and right now. It’s like the Red Wedding.”

“Prince George showed up to our meeting in his bathrobe. That was a slap in the face. A clear breach of protocol.”

“In my final year, my approval ratings keep going up. The last time I was this high, I was trying to decide on my major.”

On his future: 

“It is an honor to be here at my last, and perhaps the last White House correspondents’ dinner.”

“If this material works well, I’m gonna use it at Goldman Sachs next year. Earn me some serious Tubmans.”

“Eight years ago, I was a young man full of idealism and vigor. And look at me now, I am gray and grizzled, and counting down the days to my death panel.”

On Hillary Clinton: 

“Next year at this time, someone else will be standing in this very spot, and it’s anyone guess who she will be.”

“Hillary trying to appeal to young voters is a little bit like your relative who just signed up for Facebook. ‘Dear America, did you get my poke? Is it appearing on your wall? I’m not sure I’m using this right. Love, Aunt Hillary.’”

On a very bad joke that Bill de Blasio recently made with Hillary Clinton: 

“I know, I was a little late tonight. I was running on CPT, which stands for ‘jokes that white people should not make.’”

On the 2016 race: 

“Eight years ago I said it was time to change the tone of our politics. In hindsight, I clearly should have been more specific.”

[on former NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg] “It’s not an entirely fair comparison between you and The Donald. After all Mike was a big city mayor. He knows policy in-depth. And he’s actually worth the amount of money he says he is.”

[on Bernie Sanders] “I am hurt, though, Bernie, that you have been distancing yourself a little from me. I mean, that’s just not something you do to your comrade.”

“Meanwhile, some candidates aren’t polling high enough to qualify for their own joke tonight.” [the screen shows an image of John Kasich]

“He went to Indiana — Hoosier country — stood on a basketball court, and called the hoop a ‘basketball ring.’ What else is in his lexicon? Baseball sticks? Football hats? But sure, I’m the foreign one. . . ”

On the media: 

“Savannah Guthrie, she’s left the White House press corps to host the ‘Today’ show. Norah O’Donnell left the briefing room to host CBS’ ‘This Morning.’ Jake Tapper left journalism to join CNN.”

“I also would like to acknowledge the some of the award-winning reporters who we have with us tonight. Rachel McAdams, Mike Ruffalo, Liev Schreiber, thank you all for everything that you’ve done. I’m just joking. As you know, ‘Spotlight’ is a film, a movie about investigative journalists with the resources, the autonomy to chase down the truth and hold the powerful accountable. Best fantasy film since ‘Star Wars.’”

“Every year at this dinner, somebody at this dinner makes a joke about Buzzfeed, for example, changing the media landscape. And every year The Washington Post laughs a little bit less hard.”

On Joe Biden: 

“I want to thank him for his friendship, for his counsel, for always giving it to me straight, for not shooting anybody in the face. Thank you, Joe.”

On Donald Trump: 

“I am a little hurt that he’s not here tonight. We had so much fun the last time. And it is surprising. You got a room full of reporters, celebrities, cameras, and he says no. Is this dinner too tacky for The Donald? What could he possibly be doing instead? Is he at home, eating a Trump Steak, tweeting out insults to Angela Merkel?”

Garland

Is it hard to do cartwheels over President Obama’s choice of Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland today.  Professor Epstein seems to think he’s a good liberal…

Epstein

… but you always have to question the methodology of these things.

Merrick Garland is 63 years old and currently serves as chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. A former Justice Department official in the Clinton administration, Garland was nominated to the D.C. Circuit by President Bill Clinton in 1997 and confirmed by the U.S. Senate by a vote of 76-23. Sen. Orrin Hatch remarked at the time that Garland was “not only a fine nominee, but as good as Republicans can expect from [the Clinton] administration.”  He’s actually pretty conservative on police issues and war on terror.  But he’s no threat to Roe v Wade.

Sure, Garland is smart.  And qualified.  But if the tables were turned, and it was a Republican president and a Democrat-controlled Senate, I don’t think the judicial candidate would have been so…. moderate.

I mean, I get it.  Everyone gets it.  Obama is picking a guy who has already been approved by the Senate for his current judicial gig, who is not an ideologue, etc.  This forces Senate Republicans to consider AND approve the nominee, or look like the reason why Washington sucks so bad.  Also, with a Clinton presidency looming, Republicans might just want to get Garland and not get someone far more liberal.  (In fact, a President Trump could pick a liberal judge for all anybody knows).

In other words. holding out for another Scalia just might get Republicans a lefty version of Scalia.

Over at 538, they did some quick calculations and determined what the future might look like:

chances

Facing those possibilities, confirming Garland, might just be the best thing the GOP could do.  You gotta play the cards you’re dealt.

And the other hand, I get annoyed at this (if it is true):

Why would Obama capitulate to the Republicans when he has them over a barrel?

In the end, it seems that Obama has made a pragmatic choice.  And let’s face it.  It saves the Court.  And if it doesn’t, it makes the GOP look horrible.

Early indications are that the right wing is bent on looking obstructionist, even in the face of a reasonable moderate candidate.  Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice issued a statement repeating his call for “no confirmation proceedings until after the election.” Liberty Counsel’s Mat Staver similarly repeated that there should be “no Senate hearing on any Obama nominee.” Alliance Defending Freedom’s Casey Mattox offered no criticism of Garland himself but claimed that the Obama administration is untrustworthy and so Garland’s nomination should be blocked: “The Obama administration has demonstrated it cannot be trusted to respect the rule of law, the Constitution, and the limits of its own authority. So it should be no surprise that the American people would be highly skeptical that any nominee this president puts forth would be acceptable. Heritage Action, which was calling for an end to most judicial and executive branch confirmations even before Scalia’s death, declared that “nothing has changed”  with the nomination of Garland and that we areone liberal Justice away from seeing gun rights restricted and partial birth abortion being considered a constitutional right.”  Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council similarly tried to paint Garland as a liberal, saying he is “far from being a consensus nominee,” although he offered no specifics on the
“serious questions” he said their were about Garland’s “ability to serve as a constitutionalist.”  And anti-abortion groups also doubled down on their opposition to any confirmation proceedings, although they struggled to find specific reasons to oppose Garland.

Aaaaand as I write this, it looks like the Senate Republicans are taking the bait and biting down hard:

Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, has called President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Merrick B. Garland, and explained that no action would be taken in the Senate on the nomination, Mr. McConnell’s spokesman said.

Mr. McConnell also informed Judge Garland that they would not be meeting in person at the Capitol.

“Rather than put Judge Garland through more unnecessary political routines orchestrated by the White House, the leader decided it would be more considerate of the nominee’s time to speak with him today by phone,” Mr. McConnell’s spokesman, Don Stewart, said in a statement.

“The leader reiterated his position that the American people will have a voice in this vacancy and that the Senate will appropriately revisit the matter when it considers the qualifications of the person the next president nominates. And since the Senate will not be acting on this nomination, he would not be holding a perfunctory meeting, but he wished Judge Garland well.”

“Political routines orchestrated by the White House”?  That’s a funny way to say “obligations placed upon the President by the U.S. Constitution”.

One Last Time (Teach Them How To Say Goodbye)

Last night saw President Obama’s last State of the Union address, the first of many lasts to come this year.

In many ways, it was a typical SOTU address with a laundry list of things he wants to accomplish, but never will, because Republicans.

On the other hand, he spoke about the broken politics of Washington, and how it is natural for both sides to disagree, but they need to come together as they have done in the past.  My favorite moment was when he evoked the space race saying:

“Sixty years ago when the Russians beat us into space, we did not deny Sputnik was up there. We did not argue about the science or shrink our research and development budget. We built a space program almost overnight, and 12 years later we were walking on the moon.”

Republicans afterwards griped about what they saw as hypocrisy in the speech, essentially saying “Obama was telling us not to stop attacking each other…. and then he goes and attacks Republicans”.  What a bunch of whiners some of those Republicans are.

First of all, Obama didn’t say to stop attacking each other.  He said disagreement is to be expected. He just said those disagreements shouldn’t stand in the way of solutions.

Secondly, he didn’t call out Republicans by name.  But if the shoe fits…..

But last night was notable for something else.  The response speech from Governor Nikki Haley.

As with any SOTU response speech, she hastily dispenses with opposing views to Obama’s ideas (although to be honest, she was also hitting some of the same points, i.e., income equality).  But then she pivoted:

“Today, we live in a time of threats like few others in recent memory. During anxious times, it can be tempting to follow the siren call of the angriest voices. We must resist that temptation. No one who is willing to work hard, abide by our laws, and love our traditions should ever feel unwelcome in this country.”

It was clear to all that Governor Haley, herself a child of Indian immigrants, was making a pointed reference to Donald Trump and is bigoted xenophobic rhetoric.  President Obama did the same thing, talking about how we should not blame an entire religion (a religion held by many of our strategically important allies) for the acts of extremists.

Now, Haley’s response speech was not something she had a complete hand in.  You know that party insiders all contributed to it, or at least blessed it.  Which is why her veiled attack on Trump (or Trumpism, if you like) was remarkable.

She predictably got his by a backlash from the extreme edges of the party, starting with the disgusting Ann Coulter:

And they a virtually apoplectic over at Breitbart.  Rush Limbaugh thought that Haley’s rebuttal speech was “pandering to illegal minorities”.

Such is the strangeness of this election year.  Somehow, Trump has worked his way into everything.

P.S.  I almost forgot to mention the ambitious “moonshot to cure cancer” – a remarkable effort which Joe Biden is in charge of.  It’s a footnote in the headlines this morning, but I think it will have greater significance historically.

Mass Shooting Obama Response Montage

AFTERTHOUGHT:  What I liked about Obama’s response speech this time was this:

And I would particularly ask America’s gun owners — who are using those guns properly, safely, to hunt, for sport, for protecting their families — to think about whether your views are properly being represented by the organization that suggests it’s speaking for you.

What Obama seems to want to do is drive a wedge between America’s gun owners and the NRA. Is that possible? I think so.  I think there are a lot of responsible gun owners who don’t like being lumped up with that group, but don’t feel welcome with the gun control crowd (who are often painted as “trying to ban all guns”).

It’s worth a shot.

Reactions To The Obama Sermon

Over at The Atlantic, James Fallows asked his readers for their reaction to Obama’s “Grace” speech, in eulogy for Rev. Clementa Pinckney and eight others last week.

One critic chastised Obama for his speech, noting that he never mentioned the word “Jesus”:

I read your article and largely agree with it, but as an evangelical Christian with a keen sense of political performance vs. spiritual authenticity, I think it’s telling that in a 30+ minute eulogy given in a church setting for a slain pastor, the words “Jesus”, “Christ”, or “Jesus Christ” are not used. Even once.

There is much eloquence from scripture and the Christian hymnal which can be adopted for all sorts of purposes. But the glaring omission of what Christians believes is the highest and greatest name in the universe—the name in which Mr. Pinckney believed and preached—keeps me from gushing with the same enthusiasm as you.

To this person, the absence of the word “Jesus” lessened the speech.

In a follow-up article, Fallows picks up the point, with reactions to that person’s criticism.  My favorite is this:

As a Christian, I think it’s really hard to claim that Obama’s speech is not deeply Christian. I know a lot of Christians through my mom’s (liberal) church, and some of them talk primarily about Jesus, some of them talk primarily about God. For Obama, especially in a context where his speech is intended to speak directly to this audience but also to everyone, regardless of religion, it makes sense to talk in terms of God—making the speech much more universal than, and just as valid as, talking about Jesus.

A lot of people will immediately tune out if Jesus is mentioned, because suddenly the speech will seem Christian in an exclusive way. Here, Obama delivered a deeply Christian speech that included rather than excluded non-Christians.

The emphasis is mine.

I think that is brilliant, and absolutely true.  The “Grace” speech will go down in history as not only a great political speech, but a great sermon.  And the absence of “Jesus” is a feature, not a bug.

US-Cuba Diplomatic Ties Re-established

It won’t even make the biggest headline today, but historically this is big.

President Barack Obama said Wednesday that it was past time for the U.S. to reestablish diplomatic relations with Cuba as he announced that the two countries were reopening their embassies after more than 50 years.

“When the United States shuttered our embassy in 1961, I don’t think anyone thought it would be more than half a century before it reopened,” he said in remarks from the White House Rose Garden.

Earlier Wednesday in Havana, a U.S. diplomat delivered a note from Obama to Cuban President Raul Castro restoring diplomatic ties.

Cuba and the United States haven’t had formal diplomatic relationships since before I was born.

The Republicans will be upset about this, and might even do things to block money to re-open our embassy there, or deny Obama’s selection for a Cuban ambassador.  They will point to jailed Cuban dissidents and other Cuban human rights violations and other argle-bargle.

But here’s the thing: 50+ years of isolating Cuba from the United States has done nothing — I mean, nothing — to make things better for the dissidents or others subject to human rights violations.  Actually, it has entrenched Castro’s regime.  Clearly, that policy failed to improve anything for anybody. This isn’t a reward for Cuba.  This is a way to change things within Cuba in the absence of a 50-year-old inert policy.  What’s so difficult about understanding that?

UPDATE:  Ted Cruz weighs in….

Well, tha’s stupid and off-point.  Like most countries, we have an embassy in Tel Aviv.  Yes, Congress passed a law in 1995 to move the embassy to Jerusalem, but evey president (including Bush) has wisely overridden that do to security reasons.

You Won’t See This In A President Again

President Obama, standing at a podium at the front of a large audience, and in front of black church members and Rev. Pinckney’s family, begins to sing “Amazing Grace” a capella, and the people in the room join him, then musicians begin to accompany him. After one verse, the President shouts the names of the victims, saying each of them “found that grace!” He then says: “Through the example of their lives, they’ve now passed it on to us. May we find ourselves worthy of that precious and extraordinary gift as long as our lives endure. May grace now lead them home. May god continue to shed his grace on the United States of America.”

Watch this…..

Obama Tweets!

So this happened…

Former White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer thinks this is big news….

I think Mr. Pfeiffer is right. However, I expect that future Presidents, even Obama, will not be doing the actual twittering. That will be press staff stuff. Anyway, then this happened….

President Obama broke the Guinness world record for the “fastest time to reach 1 million followers on Twitter.”  The account reached 1 million followers within five hours of its launch, according to Guinness World Records. The record was previously held by actor Robert Downey Jr., who reached 1 million followers in a little less than 24 hours after joining Twitter in April 2014.

This awesome time-lapse graphic from Twitter shows just how quickly the president amassed followers from around the world.

Or you can look at this…

rate-chart-02-01-1940x1091

As of this writing (2015/05/20-10:30amEST), Obama has 2.18 million followers.

Obama Killed At The White House Correspondent’s Dinner (Again)

If you missed it:

I think that behind all the humor, Obama showed some hidden anger.  Sure, he was self-deprecating at times and he poked fun at Democrats (like Biden).  But his “humor” directed at the GOP had a sharp edge rather than a soft one.  And that was highlighted by the appearance of Keegan-Michael Key as the “anger translator”.

Host Cecily Strong did well, too:

Obama’s Best Jokes At Saturday’s Gridiron Club Soiree

The full transcript is available here:

  • Now, let’s face it, being president does age you. I mean, look at me. … You start getting crankier as you get older. Next week, I’m signing an executive order to get off my lawn.
  • It is amazing, though, how time flies. Just a few years ago, I could never imagine ever being in my 50s. And when it comes to my approval ratings, I still can’t.
  • Think about how things have changed since 2008. Back then, I was the young, tech-savvy candidate of the future. Now I’m yesterday’s news and Hillary has got a server in her house. I didn’t even know you could have one of those in your house. I am so far behind. Did you know that? I would have gotten one.
  • Despite a great performance tonight, Scott has had a few recent stumbles. The other week he said he didn’t know whether or not I was a Christian. And I was taken aback, but fortunately my faith teaches us forgiveness. So, Governor Walker, as-salamu alaykum.
  • We also have Dr. Ben Carson. He wants to make it clear that being here was a choice. The fact is, doctor, embracing homosexuality is not something you do because you go to prison. It’s something you do because your vice president can’t keep a secret on Meet the Press.
  • This new Congress is just getting started, which is why I want to acknowledge the leader of the House Republicans—as soon as I figure out who that is.
  • I got flak for appearing on a video for BuzzFeed, trying to reach younger voters. What nonsense. You know, you don’t diminish your office by taking a selfie. You do it by sending a poorly written letter to Iran. Really, that wasn’t a joke.

Obama’s Tax Proposal

 

So here it is in one graphic:

SOTU-tax-provisions-3.0

 

Basically, the bottom 20 percent would see their after-tax incomes grow by around 1.2 percent, while people in the top 20 percent would receive -0.7 percent less.

But by dollar amounts, the differences between the bottom and the top are much bigger. The bottom 20 percent would receive $175 more per year on average, while the top 20 percent would lose out on $1,800 per year. Things get steeper among higher-income Americans — the top 1 percent would get $29,000 less in after-tax income than they do now, and the top 0.1 percent would get $168,000 less. In the very middle 20 percent, meanwhile, there would be virtually no change — an increase of $7 on average.

Now, get prepared from some complaining about “unfairness”.

And then ask yourself one question: Who would you rather be — a person who makes $15,000 a year suddenly making $15,175 per year, or a person make $10,000,000 a year making only $9,832,000?  Me?  I would rather be the second guy.

But that’s not the REAL question, is it.  The real question is — given that capitalism necessarily has winners and losers (after all, if we’re ALL millionaires, who is going to do the crap jobs), then who within our capitalist system has benefited most from it and should therefore pick up the tab for the government services that protect and provide for us all?

Yup, the second guy.

The one who is probably going to whine about socialism.

P.S.:  Maybe this goes without saying, but this proposal will never pass. The tax proposal is mostly important for two reasons at this point. One is as a piece of the White House budget, which will be released next week (and the center will revise its figures once the budget is out). This tax reform proposal, together with all of the administration’s other spending proposals, will give a sense of the administration’s proposed priorities for the federal government.

But the tax reform proposal, like the president’s budget (which itself will never pass Congress, either), is also a political statement. The tax reform proposal is a way for Obama to emphasize what he believes is wrong in the US economy — that is, that work just isn’t paying the way that it used to. Wages are stagnant, but workers are seeing so many incomes at the top pull away from the bottom 99 percent, thanks in part to income from capital gains (that is, income that doesn’t come from a paycheck).

SOTU Review

I don’t mean to get all Aaron Sorkin on y’all, but this interactive analysis — compiled by Twitter and showing what people were tweeting about during the speech — tells me absolutely nothing about anything related to the speech or the United States or anything.  It just seems to be social media technology for the sake of social media technology.

2015 SOTU Preview

They’re called “Democrat pipe dreams” by some.  I’m referring to Obama’s plans which he will raise in his 2015 State of the Union speech tonight.

Top among those plans is his $60 billion pitch for free two-year community college tuition and $175 billion in new tax benefits for the middle class.  How to pay for that?  In a very West Wing-ish way: he would raise $320 billion over the next 10 years through a capital gains tax hike and new bank fees.

Of course, legislation of this sort is DOA when it comes to the Republican-controlled Congress.  Republicans will want to cut taxes (for the rich) because the economy is good.  Just like the wanted to cut taxes (for the rich) when the economy was bad.

Since Obama surely knows his plans will go nowhere, many say this is just a ploy for 2016 — to get Republicans on the record as being against tax hikes for the rich and education for the middle class.  In other words, they don’t care about income inequality.

incomeinquality

 

Distribution_of_Annual_Household_Income_in_the_United_States_2012.0

A cynical ploy by Obama?  Maybe, although when Republicans in Congress vote over 50 times to repeal Obamacare (which also has no chance of becoming a law in the Obama administration), nobody seems to mind.  And they do this even though Obamacare is clearly working.

obamacareworks

Still, Obama should take a victory lap with this State of the Union.  The crisis that overwhelmed the economy in 2008 has largely passed. Unemployment is down to 5.6 percent. This has been the longest period of sustained private-sector job growth on record. The economy is growing at a rate we haven’t seen since 2003.  Obama’s approval ratings are up, people are more satisfied with the economy than they have been for the past decade, and just seven percent say jobs are the most important problem facing the country, the lowest number since October 2008.

Even a Republican pollster declared that America was busting out of its Recession Era slump.

We are, at this moment, far and away the strongest major economy in the world.  By far.

In much of the country, you can buy gas for less than $2 per gallon, which is, honestly, ridiculous.

oilprices

Unfortunately, while the state of the union is strong, the political climate sucks.  We’re just too polarized to get things done.

polarizednation

daily-cartoon-141027-goptalkingpts-small-690-694

Oh, well.

P.S.  Not really relevant to the SOTU, I suppose, but we’re moving westward and slightly southward.

westwardnation

What You Get At Palin’s $10-Per-Month Subscription Website

Seriously, this is what you get.  I guess she's a comedian now.  I guess.

 

“We believe”? Wait, I thought fast food joints, hurh. Don’t you guys think that they’re like of the Devil or somethin’ I was… Liberals, you want to send those evil employees who would dare work at a fast food joint then ya just don’t believe in, thought you wanted to, I dunno, send them to Purgatory or somethin’ so they all go VEGAN and, uh, wages and picket lines I dunno they’re not often discussed in Purgatory, are they? I dunno why are you even worried about fast food wages because …

Is she drunk?

State of the Union 2014

I thought Obama's speech was wonderful.  It wasn't very ambitious, but the tone was amazing.  It was nationalistic and populistic, and very non-partisan.  The non-partisan nature of it was clearly disappointing to the Fox News people, who clearly were hoping to engage in post-speech whining and victimhood.  Obama simply said, "Here are the problems; here's what I can do as President; I hope Congress will join me."  

The thing was, Obama didn't need to bash Republicans to make them look bad.  All he had to do was say "Women deserve to be paid the same as men for the same work" and then have all the Republicans sit on their hands while everyone else stood and applauded.  They made themselves look bad, again and again.

The best commentary I've read so far comes from the New York Times contributing writer, Timothy Egan:

The least productive Congress in nearly half a century has rarely looked more out-of-sorts than during the speech that put its members on notice for their irrelevance. That, essentially, was the triumph of the rhetorical trick President Obama employed in his fifth State of the Union address.

The president’s wish list — a rise in the minimum wage, healthcare that doesn’t dump sick people, resolve to do something over the basic fact of climate change and the scourge of income inequality — is backed in poll after poll by a majority of Americans. What stands in the way of doing something about these issues are the people who sat on their hands Tuesday night in that chamber.

For some time now, the Republican House has made it clear that they have no intention of governing. They shut down the government for 16 days, in case you didn’t get the point. And on Tuesday, they seemed more interested in having their pictures taken with the “Duck Dynasty” guy than finding middle ground with the American majority. For freak value on the fringe, Representative Randy Weber, Republican of Texas, tweeted just before the speech: “Waiting for the Kommandant-in-Chef [sic]” and the “Socialist dictator who been feeding US a line.”

Need more proof? Two-thirds of Americans rated this Congress the worst in their lifetime, in a recent CNN poll. And 81 percent disapproved of them in the latest NBC News-Wall Street Journal survey.

What Obama did in his speech, in outlining a unilateral map for the sixth year of his presidency, was to finally join the majority of citizens in dismissing the lawmakers who will not do their bidding. On raising the minimum wage, Obama framed it as a simple measure to keep out of poverty the people “who cook our troops’ meals or wash their dishes.”

In one of the speech highlights, he urged Republicans to “join the rest of the country. Say yes. Give Americans a raise.” That was the Democratic campaign slogan going into the midterms, birthed in the den of the opposition.

Having marginalized a branch of government that is already on the wrong side of popular sentiment, Obama now takes his bully pulpit on the road, to Nashville and Milwaukee and other stops. But if he really hopes to have a lasting impact — “I really want to make a difference,” he told The New Yorker — he has to do more than staged road stopovers. If he’s truly going to take his case to the people, he has to spend more time with the people. For starters, he could treat the West Coast, a big part of his base, as something more than a fundraising fount.

It’s certainly heartening to hear Obama, in full-throated defiance that is rare for him, proclaim, “America will not stand still — and neither will I.” But executive orders can only go so far. He needs the majority of the people back with him in order to govern around the say-no, do-nothing Congress. This speech was a muscular start — one of the better efforts by a man whose orator skills were missing for most of the last year.

Noticeably missing from the speech was any reference to NSA reform, or the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement — both of which are of tremendous concern to the left base.

Then And Now

53 years ago today, an outgoing President Eisenhower said:

“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”

He went on:

“We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”

That was the famous military-industrial complex speech, and how it posed a potential threat to democracy.

Below the fold is Obama's speech today, about how national security measures pose a threat to democracy, and some of the changes needed to ensure privacy.

Why Michelle Obama Is A Bad-Ass

Apparently, the First Lady was speaking in front of 200 people at a private DNC fundraiser someplace on Tuesday evening, when a LGBT heckler shouted something:

"One of the things I don't do well is this," Obama said, per the pool report. She left the podium and moved toward the protestor, saying they could "listen to me or you can take the mic, but I'm leaving. You all decide. You have one choice."

Ironically, the heckler later complained about Mrs. Obama's lack of civility.

Odd.

Anyway, don't mess with Michelle.

UpdateBuzzFeed has posted audio of the confrontation:

 

Obama Kills

 

Here are ten favorites:

1. On President Obama’s college drug use: President Obama got in a double jab at the changing media landscape and himself when he mused that “I remember when BuzzFeed was just something I did in college around 2AM.” 

2. On CNN: CNN’s offered up some serious softballs this week, and both President Obama and O’Brien teed up on them. “I admire their commitment to cover all sides of a story, just in case one of them happens to be accurate,” Obama said of the network. And O’Brien, who noted that he’s from Boston towards the end of his speech, recalled watching MSNBC and seeing “Chuck Todd stopped a pundit from speculating on unverified information. There’s no joke here. I’m just letting CNN know you can do that.”

3. Steven Spielberg’s Obama: It helps to pull this kind of spoof off when you can call in almost anyone you want from Hollywood to work with you, but the joke was still executed strongly. “Who is Obama? I mean, we never got his transcripts nd they say he’s kind of aloof,” Spielberg joked for the video. Obama played Daniel Day Lewis playing him, explaining “The cosmetics are challenging. You wouldn’t believe how long it took to put these ears on.” And maybe best of all was an appearance by Tracy Morgan that provided the best joke about the Vice President of the evening, and the best reference-to-30 Rock joke, when Morgan credited Day-Lewis with his success when Morgan said “Without him I never could have played Joe Biden. Literally.” 

4. On Wayne LaPierre: One of O’Brien’s strongest jokes, particularly for the way it riffed on conservative fantasies of gun use. “Everything you ate tonight was personally shot by Wayne LaPierre,” he told the crowd. “Don’t worry, it was during a home invasion, though. The fish came in through the window. That wasn’t peppercorn. That was buckshot.”

5. Conservative anxieties about hip-hop: Walking in to “All I Do Is Win,” President Obama joked “Rush Limbaugh warned you about this. Second term, baby. We’re changing things around here a little bit.” And later, talking about Jay-Z and Beyonce’s trip to Cuba and rumors that the Obama administration facilitated it in some way, he mock-complained: “I’ve got 99 problems, and now Jay-Z’s one. That’s another rap reference, Bill.” 

6. On Sheldon Adelson and independent expenditures: In another twofer, Obama got at both the futility of independent expenditures in the 2012 election—and at his wife’s skepticism of life in the White House. “You could buy an island and calling it Nobama for that kind of money,” he said. “Sheldon would have been better off offering me $100 million to drop out of the race. I probably wouldn’t have taken it. But I would have thought about it. Michelle would have taken it. You think I’m joking.” Of course he’s not, though. And who can blame her?

7. On Bob Woodward: This was extreme inside baseball even for a dinner that’s the very definition of Washington insiderism. But it was still funny to hear O’Brien crack on Bob Woodward, who threw a temper tantrum earlier this year in claiming that the Obama administration threatened him, when really his correspondent was offering him some gently-worded advice. “Earlier, a waiter asked Woodward if he wanted regular or decaf and he said ‘Stop threatening me!’” O’Brien joked. 

8. On Kamala Harris: While President Obama spent a lot of his routine playing with paranoid assumptions about him, one area where he actually made an error that he needed to acknowledge was in his compliments of California Attorney General Kamala Harris based on her looks. Obama tried to make light of it, saying “As you might imagine, I got trouble when I got back home. Who knew Eric Holder was so sensitive?” But O’Brien did him one better in showing how ridiculous Obama’s remarks would be if they were applied to man, sighing over “That stone fox, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. I like the cut of his jib.”

9. Skeet shooting: President Obama’s team has an eye for things that will go viral, and they must have had a lot of fun compiling this image of their boss shooting skeet from on top of the GoDaddy racecar, accompanied by an eagle and backgrounded by a rainbow.

10. On Taylor Swift: Sure, it’s cheap at this point. But Obama was right about the politics of the sequester, at least, when he said “Republicans fell in love with this thing and now they can’t stop talking about how much they hate it. It’s like we’re trapped in a Taylor Swift album.” 

Obama’s Chained CPI Idea Is Bad

Obama, in attempting to show that he can "give" a little when it comes to cutting the deficits, is about to propose a thing called "chained CPI" when it comes to Social Security benefits.  Basically, it sets Social Security benefits to the inflation rate.

Bad. Bad. Bad.

For one thing, Social Security isn't in trouble.  It's well-funded for the next to decades.  It's not the problem when it comes to the debt.

Secondly, inflation for seniors is not the same as inflation for the country as a whole, and it is likely to be higher.  Why?  Because health care cost inflation is much larger than other areas of spending.  In other words, seniors have a different consumption basket than normal consumers.

But most importantly, it's not going to make the Republicans come to the table on tax increases.  These guys do no compromise, even when you make a compromising gesture to them.  In fact, I'll bet some Republicans are out there right now, preparing ads about how Obama wants to cut Social Security benefits to seniors.

Bad idea.

Weekend Yucks

Remarks by the President at the Gridiron Dinner

Washington Renaissance Hotel
Washington, DC

10:03 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Before I begin, I know some of you have noticed that I'm dressed a little differently from the other gentlemen.  Because of sequester, they cut my tails.  (Laughter.)  My joke writers have been placed on furlough.  (Laughter.)  I know a lot of you reported that no one will feel any immediate impact because of the sequester.  Well, you're about to find out how wrong you are.  (Laughter.) 

Of course, there's one thing in Washington that didn't get cut — the length of this dinner.  (Laughter.)  Yet more proof that the sequester makes no sense.  (Laughter.)  

As you know, I last attended the Gridiron dinner two years ago.  Back then, I addressed a number of topics — a dysfunctional Congress, a looming budget crisis, complaints that I don't spend enough time with the press.  It's funny, it seems like it was just yesterday.  (Laughter.)  

We noticed that some folks couldn't make it this evening.  It's been noted that Bob Woodward sends his regrets, which Gene Sperling predicted.  (Laughter.)  I have to admit this whole brouhaha had me a little surprised.  Who knew Gene could be so intimidating?  (Laughter.)  Or let me phrase it differently — who knew anybody named Gene could be this intimidating?  (Laughter.) 

Now I know that some folks think we responded to Woodward too aggressively.  But hey, when has — can anybody tell me when an administration has ever regretted picking a fight with Bob Woodward?  (Laughter.)  What's the worst that could happen?  (Laughter and applause.)

But don't worry.  We're all friends again in the spirit of that wonderful song.  As you may have heard, Bob invited Gene over to his place.  And Bob says he actually thinks that I should make it too.  And I might take him up on the offer.  I mean, nothing says "not a threat" like showing up at somebody's house with guys with machine guns.  (Laughter.)  

Now, since I don't often speak to a room full of journalists — (laughter) — I thought I should address a few concerns tonight.  Some of you have said that I'm ignoring the Washington press corps — that we're too controlling.  You know what, you were right.  I was wrong and I want to apologize in a video you can watch exclusively at whitehouse.gov.  (Laughter.) 

While we're on this subject, I want to acknowledge Ed Henry, who is here — who is the fearless leader of the Washington press corps now.  (Applause.)  And at Ed's request, tonight I will take one question from the press.  Jay, do we have a question?  (Laughter.)  Surprisingly, it's a question from Ed Henry.  (Laughter.)  “Mr. President, will you be taking any questions tonight?”  (Laughter.)  I'm happy to answer that.  No, Ed, I will not.  (Laughter.) 

I also want to recognize David Corn.  He's here from Mother Jones magazine.  He brought his iPhone.  So Bobby Jindal, if you thought your remarks were off the record, ask Mitt Romney about that.  (Applause.) 

I have to say, I thought Bobby was incredibly funny this evening.  (Applause.)  I thought he was terrific.  Amy Klobuchar was sparkling and fantastic and fabulous.  (Applause.)  I am worried about Al Franken though.  (Laughter.)  How do you start off being one of the original writers for Saturday Night Live and end up being the second-funniest Senator in Minnesota?  (Laughter and applause.)  How the mighty have fallen.  (Laughter.)

Now I'm sure that you've noticed that there's somebody very special in my life who is missing tonight, somebody who has always got my back, stands with me no matter what and gives me hope no matter how dark things seem.  So tonight, I want to publicly thank my rock, my foundation — thank you, Nate Silver.  (Laughter.)  

Of course as I begin my second term, our country is still facing enormous challenges.  We have a lot of work to do — that, Marco Rubio, is how you take a sip of water.  (Laughter and applause.)

As I was saying, we face major challenges.  March in particular is going to be full of tough decisions.  But I want to assure you, I have my top advisors working around the clock. After all, my March Madness bracket isn't going to fill itself out.  (Laughter.)  And don't worry — there is an entire team in the situation room as we speak, planning my next golf outing, right now at this moment.  (Laughter.) 

But those aren't the only issues on my mind.  As you are aware — as has been noted this evening — we've had to make some very tough, huge budget cuts apparently with no regard to long-term consequences, which means I know how you feel in journalism.  (Laughter.)  I've been trying to explain this situation to the American people, but clearly I am not perfect. After a very public mix-up last week, my communications team has provided me with an easy way to distinguish between Star Trek and Star Wars.  (Laughter.)  Spock is what Maureen Dowd calls me.  Darth Vader is what John Boehner calls me.  (Laughter.)  

Of course, maintaining credibility in this cynical atmosphere is harder than ever — incredibly challenging.  My administration recently put out a photo of me skeet shooting and even that wasn't enough for some people.  Next week, we're releasing a photo of me clinging to religion.  (Laughter and applause.)  

I'm also doing what I can to smooth things over with Republicans in Congress.  In fact, these days John McCain and I are spending so much time together that he told me we were becoming friends.  I said, “John, stop.  Chuck Hagel warned me how this ends up.”  (Laughter.)  

It took a while, but I'm glad that the Senate finally confirmed my Secretary of Defense.  And I have to say, I don't know what happened to Chuck in those hearings.  I know he worked hard, he studied his brief.  And I even lent him my presidential debate team to work with him.  (Laughter.)  It's confusing what happened.  (Laughter.) 

But all these changes to my team are tough to handle, I've got to admit.  After nine years, I finally said goodbye to my chief speechwriter, Jon Favreau.  I watched him grow up.  He's almost like a son to me, he's been with me so long.  And I said to him when he first informed me of his decision, I said, “Favs, you can't leave.”  And he answered with three simple words — "yes, I can."  (Laughter.)  Fortunately, he did not take the prompter on his way out.  (Laughter.)  That would have been a problem.  (Laughter.) 

With all these new faces, it's hard to keep track of who is in, who is out.  And I know it's difficult for you guys as reporters.  But I can offer you an easy way of remembering the new team.  If Ted Cruz calls somebody a communist, then you know they're in my cabinet.  (Laughter.)  

Jack Lew is getting started on his new role as Treasury Secretary.  Jack is so low key, he makes Tim Geithner look like Tom Cruise.  (Laughter.)  Don't worry, everybody, Jack signed off on that joke or a five year old drew a slinky.  (Laughter.)  I don't know which.  (Applause.) 

Another big change has been at the State Department.  Everybody has noticed that obviously.  And let's face it — Hillary is a tough act to follow.  But John Kerry is doing great so far.  He is doing everything he can to ensure continuity.  Frankly, though, I think it's time for him to stop showing up at work in pantsuits.  (Laughter.)  It's a disturbing image.  (Laughter.)  It really is.  (Laughter.)  I don't know where he buys them.  He is a tall guy.  (Laughter.) 

And even though I'm just beginning my second term, I know that some folks are looking ahead to bigger things.  Look, it's no secret that my Vice President is still ambitious.  But let's face it, his age is an issue.  Just the other day, I had to take Joe aside and say, “Joe, you are way too young to be the pope."  (Laughter.)  "You can't do it.  You got to mature a little bit."  (Laughter.) 

Now, I do want to end on a serious note.  I know that there are people who get frustrated with the way journalism is practiced these days.  And sometimes those people are me.  (Laughter.)  But the truth is our country needs you and our democracy needs you.

In an age when all it takes to attract attention is a Twitter handle and some followers, it's easier than ever to get it wrong.  But it's more important than ever to get it right.  And I am grateful for all the journalists who do one of the toughest jobs there is with integrity and insight and dedication — and a sense of purpose — that goes beyond a business model or a news cycle.

This year alone, reporters have exposed corruption here at home and around the world.  They've risked everything to bring us stories from places like Syria and Kenya, stories that need to be told.  And they've helped people understand the ways in which we're all connected — how something that happens or doesn't happen halfway around the world or here in Washington can have consequences for American families.

These are extraordinary times.  The stakes are high and the tensions can sometimes be high as well.  But while we'll always have disagreements, I believe that we share the belief that a free press — a press that questions us, that holds us accountable, that sometimes gets under our skin — is absolutely an essential part of our democracy.

So I want to thank everybody for not just a wonderful evening — and, Chuck, I want to thank you for your outstanding presidency — but I also just want to thank you for the work that you do each and every day.  And in the words of one of my favorite Star Trek characters — Captain James T. Kirk of the USS Enterprise — “May the force be with you."  (Laughter and applause.)

Bain Capital Experience

It took him a while, but Obama is on message.  His point?  It's that the role of a President bears no resemblance to the role of a business leader, particularly a private equity or leveraged buyout specialist. One should have a concern on how to create jobs and the other has what amounts to a fiduciary duty to create profit. And those simply aren’t always compatible.

I don't know where it comes from, but over the last 20 years, we keep hearing the axiom that government "should be run like a business".  You would think that would have died, given that the only president with an MBA is George Bush Jr., and look how well that ended up.

But Obama needs keep hammering this point — working for Bain doesn't translate into presidential skills.  Reagan budget director David Stockman made this point better and more succinctly when he went off the reservation on Fox Business Channel:

 

Stockman: I don’t think Mitt Romney can legitimately say that he learned anything about how to create jobs in the LBO (leveraged buyout) business. The LBO business is about how to strip cash out of old, long-in-the-tooth companies and how to make short-term profits for…

(CROSSTALK)

Q: But he had so many new jobs created for all the jobs that were lost, it was a net gain, no?

Stockman: I don’t think so. All the jobs that he talks about came from Staples. That was a very early venture stage deal, that they got out of long before it got to its current size.

Fortunately, the polls now show, correctly, that most people believe Mitt Romney was concerned about profits at Bain Capital, not jobs.

The Obama Campaign Film

You've heard about it, here it is.  Narrated by Tom Hanks.

It serves as a nice contrast to the media buys coming out of the GOP race. While Republicans strive to outdo themselves in portraying the current and future apocalypse, this piece projects a calm, quiet assurance that things are getting better. It was almost a relief to watch after all the amped-up noise we’ve been seeing in the Republican primary. If the theme of the current election is sanity versus insanity, the Obama campaign is clearly staking its claim as the defenders of reason.

 

Sarah Palin Wants To Debate Obama

In response to the Obama ad featuring Sarah Palin, Sarah responded via her Facebook page:

Exhibit A in these diversionary tactics is an absurd new attack ad President Obama has released taking my comments out of context. I’m not running for any office, but I’m more than happy to accept the dubious honor of being Barack Obama’s “enemy of the week” if that includes the opportunity to debate him on the issues Americans are actually concerned about. (Remember when I said you don’t need a title to make a difference?)

Palin debate Obama?

That would be soooooo awesome.

The Terrible Obama Video That Haunts Him

Just before he died last week, media provocateur Andrew Breitbart teased his readers and followers by saying that he had "never-before-shown" video of Barack Obama during his college days.

The right wing, teased into a tizzy by Breitbart, went full into speculation mode.  Was it Barry Osama bin Obama doing drugs with Bill Ayers?  Could he have been making sweet love with Saul Alinsky?  What was it?

No.  It turns out that it is a video showing Barack Obama, speaking at a small rally in support of Professor Derrick Bell, a black constitutional law professor, who was seeking to get Harvard to tenure more minority and women law professors.  It was 1990, and Obama was in law school at the time (the first black president of the Harvard Review), not college.

Ooooooh.  Radical stuff.

The video was relased yesterday by Buzzfeed, scooping Breitbart.  Breitbart's people then claimed that the released video was "selectively edited".

Finally, a REAL news organization, the one that actually SHOT the video in 1990, stepped in.  A little thing called PBS Frontline:

The web is abuzz today about video of a speech Barack Obama gave in 1990 (some reports have incorrectly identified the speech as occurring in 1991) at Harvard Law School defending the actions of Professor Derrick Bell. Bell, the law school’s first tenured black professor, had protested Harvard’s failure to offer tenure to women of color as law school professors. Online publisher Andrew Breitbart, who died last week, had said he possessed the speech and hinted that he would release it, arguing that it provided evidence that Obama has long held radical political beliefs.

Today, the website BuzzFeed published a clip of the speech along with an article explaining some past and current context for Obama’s remarks. The website claimed the clip was “not previously available online.” The editors at Breitbart.com responded that the video on Buzzfeed had been “selectively edited” and said that they would release the full footage tonight on Fox News.

But there’s nothing new about the clip or Obama’s role in the controversy at Harvard Law School. In 2008, as a part of our quadrennial election special The Choice 2008,  FRONTLINE ran the same footage of the speech as a part of an exploration of Obama’s time at Harvard Law School, where he graduated in 1991. It’s been online at our site and on YouTube since then.

So apparently Breitbart's "exclusive" video of Obama back in 1990, has been around — even online! — since 2008.  Great scoop, morons at Breitbart.

And by the way, what the video shows of Obama is positive.  He's articulate and engaging (yes, without teleprompters!).  Here is the video:

 

Scandalous.  Obama calling for diversity at Harvard Law.

The larger "unedited" video (at the PBS link above) shows the full news piece, but Obama isn't in any of it (except briefly in one crowd shot).

Somehow not shamed by their utter failure, the right is now trying to paint Professor Derrick Bell, now deceased, as some kind of radical.  He wasn't.  I knew him.  He taught at NYU law school when I was there, one year after this video was shot.  He was smart.  He was affible.  He cared about equality and justice.  Now, to many on the right, a black man who cares about equality and justice IS a "radical".  But to most normal people, Obama's loose affiliation with Bell is not a scar at all.  

But watch and laugh as Sean Haniity and Michelle "Twitchy" Malkin try to hype this up:

 

Epic fail.

This Is Obama In Campaign Mode

Today, speaking before the UAW:

“You want to talk about values?… Hard work — that’s a value. Looking out for one another — that’s a value. The idea that we’re all in it together — that I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sister’s keeper — that is a value.  But they’re still talking about you as if you’re some greedy special interest that needs to be beaten. Since when are hardworking men and women special interests? Since when is the idea that we look out for each other a bad thing?”

More like this please.

The SOTU

Missed the SOTU speech, but heard it was a barn-burner.  Some liberal commentators were concerned because he left nothing for the convention speech.

From what I understand, he tapped into the income inequality issue bigtime.  He didn't position himself as an anti-capitalist — he just wants to make it such that everyone pays their fair share and the burdens aren't placed on the lower and middle classes.  Six months ago, such a speech would have been used by the Republicans to paint Obama as a socialist, but now since the GOP candidates are talking about the same thing, that criticism is muted.

Also heard that he was no longer kowtow to the obsructionists in Congress, and maybe even made a veiled threat about going after insider trading by Congressman?  Cool.

Looks like Obama polled well.  I mean, really well:

According to the poll, which was conducted online by Knowledge Networks immediately after the president’s address, 91 percent of those who watched the speech approved of the proposals Mr. Obama put forth during his remarks. Only nine percent disapproved.

Did well with swing voters, too. Here's a Greenberg Quinlan Rosner focus group in Denver for Democracy Corps, which found voters who “overwhelmingly liked what they heard” last night.

Dial testing and follow-up focus groups with 50 swing voters in Denver, Colorado show that President Obama’s populist defense of the middle class and their priorities in his State of the Union scored with voters. The President generated strong responses on energy, education and foreign policy, but most important, he made impressive gains on a range of economic measures. These swing voters, even the Republicans, responded enthusiastically to his call for a “Buffet Rule” that would require the wealthiest Americans to pay their fair share. As one participant put it, “I agree with his tax reform – the 1 percent should shoulder more of the burden than the other 99 percent. He [Obama] talked about being all for one, one for all – that really resonated for me.” These dial focus groups make it very clear that defending further tax cuts for those at the top of the economic spectrum puts Republicans in Congress and on the Presidential campaign trail well outside of the American mainstream.

Obama Caves Again

Seriously, what is the point?

"Hope and change" has brought nothing but "Let's do whatever congressional Republicans want".  The latest:

Citing the financial burden in a struggling economy and after Republican protests, President Barack Obama on Friday ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to shelve a proposal to tighten smog standards.

"I have continued to underscore the importance of reducing regulatory burdens and regulatory uncertainty, particularly as our economy continues to recover," Obama said in a statement announcing the order.

Environmental activists immediately pounced on the move as a retreat by a weakened Obama administration trying to cut deals with Republicans in Congress. And the American Lung Association vowed to fight the move in court.

The withdrawal of the proposed rule comes two days after the White House, at the request of Republicans, identified seven such regulations that it promised to review after finding each would cost industry at least $1 billion.

Obama is now QUOTING from the GOP playbook — i.e., regulations destroy jobs.  I recognize on some level, there's a truth behind that, but there's the other side of the coin, too: the EPA earlier estimated the rule would save as much as $100 billion in health costs, and help prevent as many as 12,000 premature deaths from heart and lung complications.

Republicans are doing a jig, but, unhappy enough with success, Boehner merely calls this "a good first step".  

Here's a hint — if Boehner is happy, this country is headed in the wrong direction.

Mr. President, your poll numbers are tanking.  This is why.

The Gutsy Call

Conservatives are trying to downplay Obama's role in the killing of bin Laden, but the New York Times gives a dramatic account of what happened inside the White House, and indeed, it does show that Obama made a tough, and ultimately correct decision:

As more than a dozen White House, intelligence and Pentagon officials described the operation on Monday, the past few weeks were a nerve-racking amalgamation of what-ifs and negative scenarios. "There wasn't a meeting when someone didn't mention 'Black Hawk Down,' " a senior administration official said, referring to the disastrous 1993 battle in Somalia in which two American helicopters were shot down and some of their crew killed in action. The failed mission to rescue hostages in Iran in 1980 also loomed large.

Administration officials split over whether to launch the operation, whether to wait and continue monitoring until they were more sure that Bin Laden was really there, or whether to go for a less risky bombing assault. In the end, President Obama opted against a bombing that could do so much damage it might be uncertain whether Bin Laden was really hit and chose to send in commandos. A "fight your way out" option was built into the plan, with two helicopters following the two main assault copters as backup in case of trouble.

About a week ago, the president asked his national security team for options, and Defense Secretary Bob Gates was skeptical about a helicopter assault, preferring an aerial bombardment using smart bombs. The result, however, would have been a crater — with no physical remains.

On Thursday, Obama led another meeting with his top national security officials.

Mr. Panetta told the group that the C.I.A. had "red-teamed" the case — shared their intelligence with other analysts who weren't involved to see if they agreed that Bin Laden was probably in Abbottabad. They did. It was time to decide.

Around the table, the group went over and over the negative scenarios. There were long periods of silence, one aide said. And then, finally, Mr. Obama spoke: "I'm not going to tell you what my decision is now — I'm going to go back and think about it some more." But he added, "I'm going to make a decision soon."

Sixteen hours later, he had made up his mind. Early the next morning, four top aides were summoned to the White House Diplomatic Room. Before they could brief the president, he cut them off. "It's a go," he said.

Obama, as the Wall Street Journal put it, "rolled the dice."

Is it reasonable to call this "one of the gutsiest calls of any president in recent memory"? It seems fair to me.  When you think about how the failed rescue of the Iranian hostages virtually ruined Jimmy Carter, when you think about all the variables and "what ifs", making the stand to go after bin Laden was…. well, a gutsy call.

Thought For The Day

JbU2F

Actually, does the killing of Osama bin Laden help Barack Obama's reelection chances? I doubt it. I still think Obama's re-election is going to depend mostly on economic conditions. What's more, the election is still 18 months away. 

UPDATE:  Here's a better photo:

PRPrT

UPDATE:  A guy who happened to be in Abbottabad twittered the whole thing, without realizing it was a strike on bin Laden.  Read his tweets here, cluminating with:

20  Sohaib Athar  ReallyVirtual  on Twitter

UPDATE:  Good celebrity tweets about Osama

They Blinked

What happened at the budget negotiations?

It seems Obama et al grew a pair:

At one crucial moment in the game of chicken over a looming shutdown of the United States government, President Obama and the House speaker, John A. Boehner, faced off in the Oval Office. Mr. Boehner, a Republican heavily outnumbered in the room by Democrats, was demanding a provision to restrict financing to Planned Parenthood and other groups that provide abortions. Mr. Obama would not budge.

"Nope. Zero," the president said to the speaker. Mr. Boehner tried again. "Nope. Zero," Mr. Obama repeated. "John, this is it." A long silence followed, said one participant in the meeting. "It was just like an awkward, 'O.K., well, what do you do now?' "  That meeting broke without an agreement.

The sane senior Democratic aide relayed the story to ABC News, and added, "There were a good 10 minutes of just sitting there of everybody looking at each other…. [Republicans] realized that kind of the gig was up. They weren't going to get [defunding for family planning] included. It wasn't going to happen. The president and Sen. Reid were prepared to say, 'This bill will go down if you make this about social policy.' That was the line in the sand."

Awesome.

Good, Because I Have A Few Things I Want To Say To Him

WXII:

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – In his first visit to the Triad since becoming president in 2008, Barack Obama will visit Winston-Salem on Monday. 

Sources confirmed to WXII that the president will be attending an event at the west campus of Forsyth Technical Community College on Bolton Street. 

Details about the visit weren't immediately available. 

The source said White House officials were in town already to prepare for the visit. 

Obama was last in Winston-Salem during his presidential campaign.

 

Kudos To Obama For Doing An “It Gets Better”

I'm a little disappointed in my president for, well, for a number of reasons, but I'm glad he's still not above using the bully pulpit for good causes:

 

What's more, the White House posted an item from Brian Bond, the deputy director of the Office of Public Engagement, who not only shared his own story about being taunted as a young person, and who also admits that he considered suicide. His piece on the White House blog also includes links and information on anti-bullying resources.

All of this comes the same week as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also recording a video message for the It Gets Better project.

 

The Phrase Of The Day Is “Hippie Punching”

Yeah, despite my enjoyment of the GOP/Tea Party rift, I should keep in mind that there's some infighting on the left, too:

Top Obama adviser David Axelrod got an earful of the liberal blogosphere's anger at the White House moments ago, when a blogger on a conference call directly called out Axelrod over White House criticism of the left, accusing the administration of "hippie punching."

"We're the girl you'll take under the bleachers but you won't be seen with in the light of day," the blogger, Susan Madrak of Crooks and Liars, pointedly told Axelrod on the call, which was organzied for liberal bloggers and progressive media.

The call seemed to perfectly capture the tense dynamic that exists between the White House and the online and organized left: Though White House advisers in the past have dumped on the left, anonymously and even on the record, Axelrod repeatedly pleaded with the bloggers on the call for help in pumping up the flagging enthusiasm of rank and file Dems.

"You play a great role in informing people about the stakes of elections," Axelrod told the bloggers. "One of the reasons I was eager to expend time was to enlist you."

But hovering over the call was the obvious disconnect between this plea for help and statements like those of Robert Gibbs, who recently pilloried the "professional left" for being overly critical of the White House.

That tension burst out into the open when Madrak directly asked Axelrod: "Have you ever heard of hippie punching?" That prompted a long silence from Axelrod.

"You want us to help you, the first thing I would suggest is enough of the hippie punching," Madrak added. "We're the girl you'll take under the bleachers but you won't be seen with in the light of day."

Axelrod didn't engage on "hippie punching," but he said he agreed with the blogger. "To the extent that we shouldn't get involved in intramural skirmishing, I couldn't agree more," Axelrod said. "We just can't afford that. There are big things at stake here."

Madrak replied that Axelrod was missing the point — that the criticism of the left made it tougher for bloggers like herself to motivate the base. "Don't make our jobs harder," she said.

"Right back at'cha. Right back at'cha," Axelrod replied, a bit testily, an apparent reference to blogospheric criticism of the administration.

Who is right?  Unfortunately, they both are.

On Obama’s Sagging Approval Ratings

"Democrats in Washington are divided and somewhat puzzled over President Obama's fading popularity", writes Matt Bai at The New York Times today.  He then goes on to explain why he thinks Obama's popularity is lackluster in the middle of his first term: because Obama has too much of a legislator — trying to pass health care, the stimulus, etc.

You know, I don't have a degree in political science, but it seems to me that the simplest explanations of Obama's low numbers are the best explanations.  So here it is, in a nutshell.

(1)  Obama's ratings are not all that low.  Clinton, Carter and Reagan were between 39 percent and 41 percent approval rating at this point in their presidencies.   Obama is at 44 percent.  In other words, barring some cataclysmic nationally unifying event, all presidents experience a huge drop in their popularity in the middle of their first term.  Only two presidents since 1900 didn't lose House seats during the midterm election of their first term — FDR during the height of the depression, and George Bush after 9/11.  Every other president? Their party lost seats.

So obviously what is driving down Obama's numbers are larger political issues that go beyond what Obama has or hasn't done as a president.  His numbers are down because that always happens in the middle of a president's first term.

(2)  It's the economy, stupid.  Does anyone think that there would be discussion about Obama's "low" approval rating if the unemployment rate was at 7% and falling?  Now, to be sure, some of Obama's "low" approval rating could be attributed to his failure to turn the economy around (so far), but it is a bad economy that he inherited in the first place.  At some point, the recovery will kick in, and his numbers will go up.

But it seems to me rather silly to try to pin Obama's lackluster approval ratings solely on his policies.

Krugman Is Abundantly Right Today

I've heavily edited what Krugman writes today (it's largely an article about Elizabeth Warren) to bring out its essence:

Why does the Obama administration keep looking for love in all the wrong places? Why does it go out of its way to alienate its friends, while wooing people who will never waver in their hatred?

***

Mr. Obama rode into office on a vast wave of progressive enthusiasm. This enthusiasm was bound to be followed by disappointment, and not just because the president was always more centrist and conventional than his fervent supporters imagined. Given the facts of politics, and above all the difficulty of getting anything done in the face of lock step Republican opposition, he wasn’t going to be the transformational figure some envisioned.

And Mr. Obama has delivered in important ways. Above all, he managed (with a lot of help from Nancy Pelosi) to enact a health reform that, imperfect as it is, will greatly improve Americans’ lives — unless a Republican Congress manages to sabotage its implementation.

But progressive disillusionment isn’t just a matter of sky-high expectations meeting prosaic reality. Threatened filibusters didn’t force Mr. Obama to waffle on torture; to escalate in Afghanistan; to choose, with exquisitely bad timing, to loosen the rules on offshore drilling early this year.

***

What explains Mr. Obama’s consistent snubbing of those who made him what he is? Does he fear that his enemies would use any support for progressive people or ideas as an excuse to denounce him as a left-wing extremist? Well, as you may have noticed, they don’t need such excuses: He’s been portrayed as a socialist because he enacted Mitt Romney’s health-care plan, as a virulent foe of business because he’s been known to mention that corporations sometimes behave badly.

The point is that Mr. Obama’s attempts to avoid confrontation have been counterproductive. His opponents remain filled with a passionate intensity, while his supporters, having received no respect, lack all conviction. And in a midterm election, where turnout is crucial, the “enthusiasm gap” between Republicans and Democrats could spell catastrophe for the Obama agenda.

***

O.K., I don’t really know what’s going on. But I worry that Mr. Obama is still wrapped up in his dream of transcending partisanship, while his aides dislike the idea of having to deal with strong, independent voices. And the end result of this game-playing is an administration that seems determined to alienate its friends.

Just to be clear, progressives would be foolish to sit out this election: Mr. Obama may not be the politician of their dreams, but his enemies are definitely the stuff of their nightmares. But Mr. Obama has a responsibility, too. He can’t expect strong support from people his administration keeps ignoring and insulting.

Exactly.

The Obama Administration Hoped To Avoid A Media Circus By Firing The “Racist” Shirley Sherrod Quickly

Yeah.  Nice going.  How did that work out?

UPDATE:  Gibbs, Obama's press secretary at this afternoon's briefing:

"Without a doubt Miss Sherrod is owed an apology.. on behalf of this entire administration."

"Everybody made determinations without knowing all of the facts."

". . .a disservice was done, an apology was owed."

You think?!?  The press secretary also suggested that it was worth taking some time to consider how this mess happened in the first place — and that included reporters he was speaking to directly: "I think everybody has to go back and look at what has happened over the past 24 to 36 hours, and ask ourselves how we got into this. How did we not ask the right questions? How did you all not ask the right questions?"

Sadly, I don't think the Washing press corps is particularly interested anymore in getting stories right.  It just wants to print allegations and watch the fur fly.

Bush: The Worst President In Modern History

Every eight years, a couple hundred president scholars are asked to rank the presidents on various scales, including communication, honesty, intelligence, foreign policy achievements, economic achievements, etc.

The 2010 assessment is out — you can read the PDF here – but the "headline" results are:

  • In overall rankings, Obama comes in at 15th
  • In overall rankings, Bush 44 dropped from 23rd (in 2002) to 39th today
  • Bush 44 also ranked next to last in communication ability and intelligence (Andrew Johnson was ranked last in both categories)

Here's the top ten's over the life of the survey:

Top5

…and the 2010 top two and the bottom two for each category:

Top2bottom2
Clinton, for what it's worth, ranked 13th this year — one ahead of "Bloody Bloody" (Andrew Jackson) and two ahead of Obama. 

Obama’s Katrina?

A lot of "serious" right-wing contributors are comparing the Obama's response to the Oil Spill to Bush's response to Katrina.  

Read, for example, how unhinged the Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan

I don't see how the president's position and popularity can survive the oil spill. This is his third political disaster in his first 18 months in office.

She continues:

I wonder if the president knows what a disaster this is not only for him but for his political assumptions. His philosophy is that it is appropriate for the federal government to occupy a more burly, significant and powerful place in America—confronting its problems of need, injustice, inequality. But in a way, and inevitably, this is always boiled down to a promise: "Trust us here in Washington, we will prove worthy of your trust." Then the oil spill came and government could not do the job, could not meet need, in fact seemed faraway and incapable: "We pay so much for the government and it can't cap an undersea oil well!"

This is what happened with Katrina, and Katrina did at least two big things politically. The first was draw together everything people didn't like about the Bush administration, everything it didn't like about two wars and high spending and illegal immigration, and brought those strands into a heavy knot that just sat there, soggily, and came to symbolize Bushism. The second was illustrate that even though the federal government in our time has continually taken on new missions and responsibilities, the more it took on, the less it seemed capable of performing even its most essential jobs. 

Peggy conveniently overlooks the obvious.  Katrina is not the same as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in some very significant ways.

For one thing, the federal government never took it upon itself to oversee oil spills caused by private industries.  There is no federal expertise in capping oil blowouts. There is no federal agency tasked specifically with repairing broken well pipes. There is no expectation that the federal government should be able to respond instantly to a disaster like this. There never has been. For better or worse, it's simply not something that's ever been considered the responsibility of the federal government.

The same cannot be said of hurricanes.  In that case, we specifically have FEMA just for that purpose.  And FEMA worked like a charm during the Clinton administration.  But when George Bush became president and Joe Allbaugh became director of FEMA, everything changed. Allbaugh neither knew nor cared about disaster preparedness. For ideological reasons, FEMA was downsized and much of its work outsourced. When Allbaugh left after less than two years on the job, he was replaced by the hapless Michael Brown and the agency was downgraded and broken up yet again. By the time Katrina hit, the upper levels of FEMA were populated largely with political appointees with no disaster preparedness experience and the agency was simply not up to the job of dealing with a huge storm anymore.

So is the oil spill "Obama's Katrina"?  Hardly.  There was nothing for the Obama Administration to do.  BP had the experts to stop the thing.  BP was tasked to stop the thing (although the Obama Administration was clearly breathing down BP's back).

In fact, there's a very good argument that the BP oil explosion could have prevented if the federal agencies under Bush hadn't been watered down.  The BP blowout was made more likely because that Bush administration decided that government regulation of private industry wasn't very important and turned the relevant agency into a joke. If you believe that government is the problem, not the solution, and if you actually run the country that way for eight years, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. But we shouldn't pretend it's inevitable.

I Like This Obama Better Than Bipartisan-Wannabe Obama

OBAMA: After they drove the car into the ditch, made it as difficult as possible for us to pull it back, now they want to keys back. No! You can’t drive! We don’t want to have to go back into the ditch. We just got the car out.

Jon Chaitt adds:

I think we can see his main political theme for 2010 and 2012 taking shape here: Republicans screwed the country up, Obama got to work fixing it, Republicans took an ultra-partisan stance on every issue, and if you give them power they'll screw things up again. It's quite simple, and has the added virtue of being true.

Obama At The Correspondents’ Dinner

He was pretty funny (38 minutes long):

The Chicago Sun-Times has the full transcript.  A few zingers:

On speaking ahead of hired entertainer Jay Leno:  "I'm also glad that I'm speaking first, because we've all seen what happens when somebody takes the time slot after Leno's."

On his low approval ratings: "It doesn't bother me. Beside I happen to know that my approval ratings are still very high in the country of my birth."

On GOP chairman Michael Steele: "I saw Michael Steele backstage when we were taking pictures — AKA Notorious GOP."

On disgraced Rep. Eric Massa: " You know what really tickles me? Eric Massa.  Apparently Massa claimed that Rahm came up to him one day in the House locker room, stark naked, started screaming obscenities at him — to which I say, welcome to my world."

Does The Public Support Obama Or The GOP?

Nate Silver has an excellent post wherein he breaks down 25 major issues being pushed by Obama and the Democrats, and sizes them up against public opinion polling.

The bottom line?

Of these 25 issues, Obama's position appears to be on the right side of public opinion on 14: the bank tax, repealing the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, campaign finance, the credit card bill, D.C. voting rights, fair pay, financial regulation, gays in the military, hate crimes, the jobs bill, mortgage relief, PAYGO, SCHIP, and Sotomayor. It would appear to be on the wrong side of public opinion on five issues: the GM/Chrysler bailout, Guantanamo Bay, health care, the extension of the TARP program, and terrorist trials. On the other six issues, the polling is probably too ambiguous to render a clear verdict.

Republicans, on the other hand, have been overwhelmingly opposed to almost all of these measures with the exception of Ben Bernanke and Afghanistan troops, both of which poll ambiguously, and the credit card bill, which polled well.

Obviously, this analysis is superficial in certain ways. All issues are by no means created equal, and health care in particular, which is unpopular, has weighed heavily upon the public's perception of the Democrats. In addition, there is probably another layer of 'meta-argument' that goes beyond specific issues, and at which the GOP has tended to excel.

Nevertheless, it runs in contrast to the objective evidence when one asserts, as Hanson does, that "On every issue … the Obama position polls 5-15 points below 50 percent." Rather, the votes taken by the Republican Congress have far more often been out of step with those of the median voter.

Silver's caveats are well-advised, but the larger point here is that Obama and the Democrats are, for the most part, doing what the people want.  One wonders then why they have a hard time actually getting things done.