Posts Tagged ‘Obama’

The Non-Obama (Part 2)

January 1, 2010

Campaigns are all about creating a marketing message. It’s rare that the application of the marketing message is effective for governance. While Obama has been exceptionally consistent with his tangible campaign promises, the marketing message of hope and change has yet to be fulfilled in the minds of many. If any mistake was made on Obama’s part, it was a lack of tempering those unrealistic expectations. The recent editorial that I picked up from a friend on Facebook is a rather nutty example [1] of comparing the fictional Jesus Christ to the fictional Obama.

Many on the left apparently hoped for a far-left-of-center President that would take the same political approach of the previous administration in driving ideological goals into law. Bill Maher has expressed this point-of-view with a vengeance [2]. Lasting change is accomplished through moderation and patience. Bill seems to be lacking in this regard, but the president is not.

As a case in point, Dan Savage, a blogger [3] and gay rights activist, is a harsh critic of what he views as betrayal by the Administration for not being more activist on gay rights issues. Obama has not overturned the flawed Clinton Administration policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, but we are in the midst of two wars. Being an effective citizen-commander includes not alienating those who are necessary to accomplish our wartime goals. The time isn’t right. Instead Obama signaled in an October 2009 speech that the policy would end. He took a shot over the bow of those bigots who want to discriminate against gays, but fell short – apparently – of the desires of those in the midst of this social discrimination. Patience and pragmatism are always at odds with ideology.

Those on the far left would like to see healthcare to be the domain of the government. The medical system afforded to those in the military is truly socialized healthcare. Those administering care are employees of the government. Those left-of-center would like to see – not socialized medicine or even socialized insurance – but government competition in a capitalist marketplace in the field of healthcare. That notion has been dubbed the “public option.” Obama advocated for that, and I concur that competition in the form of the public option is a worthy government policy. Those on the left see the current state of healthcare reform legislation as a failure of the Obama Administration. Like so many things in politics, it was not what I hoped for, but the left needs to understand that progress short of a goal is not failure.

Obama has taken a hit in the polls, much of it from those considerably to the left of my political views. Passion for a general ideology or a single issue is at odds with effective governance. Lasting change comes slowly and incrementally (which I think was the original definition of political conservatism). Those ideologues on the left need to temper their passion with an appreciation for the patience and pragmatism that is the key to effective governance.

[1] http://politiken.dk/newsinenglish/article868683.ece

[2] http://therealbillmaher.blogspot.com/2009/11/is-this-as-good-as-it-gets-from-obama.html

[3] http://www.thestranger.com/seattle/SavageLove

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The Non-Existent Obama

December 31, 2009

We Americans have the great misfortune of living in a time a great political polarization. Pundits and bloggers from both ends of the political spectrum have tried to create a marketing version of President Obama that suits their taste.

From the right, we see this strange homunculus intended to be a strawman for their ideological fodder. One is the “socialist president.” Those on the right claiming such should first consult a dictionary. Merriam-Webster defines socialism as “any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods.

If Obama was an advocate of socialism, the first thing he would have done upon taking office would have been to nationalize the banks. At that time, we were in a serious banking crisis and it’s likely that a partial or complete takeover of the banking system could have been accomplished. Instead, he extended the policy started by the Bush Administration. He listened to the advice of Ben Bernanke and Tim Geithner and keep the flawed TARP program in place. Bernanke and Geither are capitalists with a capital “C”. That move angered those on the left and right and in spite of its numerous flaws seems to have been the right thing to do. I am not an economist, but I have studied what happened in the fall of 2008, what led up to it, and the experiences learned from the Great Depression. I am confident that it was the right move. The banks are starting to pay back TARP (probably prematurely) at a profit for our treasury, so they can be left unencumbered by the accompanying regulations. That sounds a lot like capitalism to me.

The Obama Administration infused a lot of capital into General Motors. Some of that was likely motivated by political activism by trade unions, but it was also motivated by the realization that GM had a systemic influence on the economy. In addition to the direct unemployment ripple, there are a lot of small businesses that supply GM that would have been affected. GM is also a player in the weakened financial sector. Socialism implies that the government would have taken over GM. Instead, the bulk of the direction is left to capitalist businessmen. Given the GM stock now owned by the government, I would have liked to have seen a little more influence interjected. Specifically, I would have liked to have seen a couple of government employees on the Board of Directors as any investment capitalist would have done. Instead, government control is relatively minor within GM [1]. Socialist, my ass.

Another attribution is the spendthrift president. Apparently those on the right have forgotten that we had a national debt before January 29, 2009. Statistics can be faceted to tell the desired story [2][3], but a few things are clear, looking at our history. First, not all debt is created equal. In our personal lives, mortgage debt is better than automobile debt, which is better than credit card debt. There are a few justifiable reasons for governments should deficit spend. One is for a necessary war. World War II was such a reason. Iraq was definitely not. The depth of our involvement in Afghanistan, in my opinion, is not. The second reason for short-term deficit spending is economic stimulus. The Reagan Administration deficit spent, initially for economic stimulus in 1981-1982, and later for tax breaks, largely for the wealthy. The G.W. Bush Administration deficit budgets were spent largely for tax breaks for the wealthy. It is true that the Obama Administration has set new highs in deficit spending rates. If this is short-term and limited to economic stimulus, then it is analogous to the spending during the Great Depression. Obama has stated that goal and if we ensure that he sticks to that, we can sustain this short-term. The directive from the administration that health care reform should be budget-neutral is a good sign.

Obama the narcissist is another charge I have seen from the right. Webster lists it as a synonym for egocentrism, which is “concerned with the individual rather than society.” Such a person in the office of the presidency would consider themselves to be… well… you know… like “the decider”. Obama gave direction, but largely delegated health care reform to the Congress, where it most belongs. Narcissists don’t delegate. They seek control.

Upon hearing the news of the Nobel Prize award, Obama stated he was “surprised and deeply humbled” and viewed it as a “call to action” more than a recognition of his own accomplishments [4]. Narcissist? Really?

Of course, the collection of extremists on the right aren’t the only ones creating a false representation of the President. Those on the left have done a good job of irrational expectations that have obviously not been met. After all, it’s a tall order to be a savior. More on that tomorrow.

[1] http://www.gm.com/corporate/about/board.jsp

[2] http://zfacts.com/p/318.html

[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_public_debt

[4] http://www.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/europe/10/09/nobel.peace.prize/index.html

What Great Leadership Job Looks Like

November 21, 2009

I think President Obama is doing a great job as president. In spite of all of the blather coming from the ultra right, Obama is a moderate and I like moderates. He is deliberative in his decisions. Those decisions take into consideration different points-of-view, including the most important point-of-view; that of history. He is conservative in changing long-held social norms, even those with which he disagrees.

You can tell Obama is a moderate because the ultra left has taken issue with his approach to “change we can believe in.” In a short opinion piece by Eugene Robinson [1], he indicates that he would like to see a tougher stance on Wall Street, an investigation of the Bush-era abuses and a more bold approach to universal health care, although Robinson goes on to acknowledge the substantive positive things that Obama has accomplished so far in the first year.

I saw an interview with Dan Savage. Dan is a progressive homosexual, who is a vocal advocate of gays rights. He is intelligent and witty, funny as hell, and I agree with most of his opinions. Dan Savage is mad as hell that Obama did not repeal the deeply flawed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” rule for gays in the military that was enacted during the Clinton Administration. President Obama indicated in an October 10, 2009 speech [3] that he would end the policy. As a moderate, deliberative thinking person, Obama has an appreciation that it’s not a good idea to create discord with the top military brass in the midst of the two wars that he inherited. By signaling that the policy with end, he gives those in the military who are homophobic time to adapt to the eventuality.

Bill Maher has been on a rant, too. I consistently agreed with Bill’s views when Bush was in office, but as our government took a leisurely walk to the left, Bill kept running. I find myself in agreement with his views much less than I used to. In a blog [4] entitled “Is this as Good as It Gets From Obama?” that was posted a few weeks ago, he expresses his profound disappointment with the administration’s policies. He waxes poetic about Roosevelt and the first 100 days of that administration. History suggests that lasting change in government happens with thoughtful, deliberative changes in policy that lead – but aren’t radically out-of-step with – general public opinion. The lunacy of the Bush Administration, like torture and unauthorized wiretapping became a thing of the past before Bush cleared his first pile of brush in Crawford.

Most Americans are upset at the bailout of the Wall Street firms. Me, too. The progressives want to see a wave of regulation and punitive legislation against Wall Street CEOs now. The left has correctly pointed out that financial regulation is essentially the same as it was when this crisis was created during the Bush Administration. I suspect that the President understands that capitalism is the basis of wealth in this country. It would be counter-productive to poke a sharp stick in the side of Wall Street as they struggle to recover. It would, at the very least, slow the recovery. I suspect we will see regulation once the economy stabilizes. A moderate approach will work best here, too. I expect that we will see the regulatory environment close to that at the end of the first Clinton Administration by this end of this administration.

Political capital is the currency in Washington. You choose your battles wisely and do your best to never lose. You spend capital frugally. That’s how to gain more political capital.

Obama seems to understand how to do that. I can’t say that I agree with every decision Obama has made, but I agree with the approach he has taken to every decision he has made.

References:

[1] http://tinyurl.com/y8vogm6

[2] http://www.thestranger.com/seattle/SavageLove

[3] http://tinyurl.com/yjgdj4x [4] http://tinyurl.com/yzkuafm

 

And the Answer Is…

October 10, 2009

I got criticized by one of my friends – justifiably so – for cherry-picking quotes in my weblog entry regarding the Nobel Prize awarded to President Obama. It was a result of frustration that Republicans are just incapable of supporting anything that Obama does, even when it is a positive for America. So how did my snarky prediction turn out?

But first, a response from President Obama, which showed up in my inbox:

To be honest, I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who’ve been honored by this prize — men and women who’ve inspired me and inspired the entire world through their courageous pursuit of peace…I will accept this award as a call to action, a call for all nations and all peoples to confront the common challenges of the 21st century.

… and now a response from the Chairmain of the Republican National Committee, Michael Steele.

I’m sure you’ve heard the news — Barack Obama has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. It’s a stunning, if not truly surprising, indication of just how meaningless a once honorable and respected award has become.

What has President Obama actually accomplished? It is unfortunate that the president’s star power has outshined tireless advocates who have made real achievements working towards peace and human rights.

I don’t know about you, but my parents taught me to be gracious back when I was in elementary school. That means being polite when you disagree with someone. It means congratulating someone on their accomplishments, even if you think it was undeserved.

Kanye West was resoundingly and justifiably criticized when he jumped on stage at the VH-1 music awards and stole the limelight from Taylor Swift, suggesting that Beyonce deserved the award more. It was immature and self-centered.  Michael Steele just did the same thing in his e-mail to me. He deserves the same criticism.

Democracies are most effective when people with ideas on policy engage in constructive debate. I don’t want an America in the vision of Nancy Pelosi any more than I want an America molded in the vision of Grover Norquist, but both have ideas that should be debated on their merit by adults.

I am still waiting for the Republicans to show up at the adult table.

The Peace Prize

October 9, 2009

Well, we all know what the top political story of the day will be today.

Barack Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize.  In the citation, the Nobel Committee stated, “Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world’s attention and given its people hope for a better future. His diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world’s population.” The committee went on to say, “Obama has as president created a new climate in international politics. Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play.

As one would expect, leaders of our allied countries were quick to congratulate the President.  Italian President Silvio Berlusconi commented that his cabinet had “applauded vigorously” on the announcement. “An award well-deserved” was the comment from Gloria Arroyo, president of the Philippines. [2] Past Nobel Prize winner, Desmond Tutu of South Africa, stated that the prize is a “wonderful recognition of Obama’s effort to reach out to the Arab world after years of hostility.

Of course, not all of the responses were praise. Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri stated “Obama only made promises and did not contribute any substance to world peace. And he has not done anything to ensure justice for the sake of Arab and Muslim causes.” [1]. The militant leader of Islamic Jihad, Khaled Al-Batsh condemned the award asserting that it “shows these prizes are political, not governed by the principles of credibility, values and morals.

I wonder who conservatives will sound more like today, our allies or Islamic Jihad?

Refrences:

[1] http://www.reuters.com/article/topNews/idUSTRE5981JK20091009

[2] http://news.smh.com.au/breaking-news-world/world-leaders-hail-obamas-nobel-prize-20091009-gqyn.html