Barack Obama on the Tea Party, Fox, Criticism From The Left, His Accomplishments, and Climate Change

Rolling Stone features an interview with Barack Obama in the October 15 issue. Here are some of the key points, beginning with Obama’s view of the Tea Party as he diplomatically mentioned but played down the xenophobia and racism seen in many supporters:

What do you think of the Tea Party and the people behind it?
I think the Tea Party is an amalgam, a mixed bag of a lot of different strains in American politics that have been there for a long time. There are some strong and sincere libertarians who are in the Tea Party who generally don’t believe in government intervention in the market or socially. There are some social conservatives in the Tea Party who are rejecting me the same way they rejected Bill Clinton, the same way they would reject any Democratic president as being too liberal or too progressive. There are strains in the Tea Party that are troubled by what they saw as a series of instances in which the middle-class and working-class people have been abused or hurt by special interests and Washington, but their anger is misdirected.

And then there are probably some aspects of the Tea Party that are a little darker, that have to do with anti-immigrant sentiment or are troubled by what I represent as the president. So I think it’s hard to characterize the Tea Party as a whole, and I think it’s still defining itself.

Obama also was asked about Fox (which is a bit redundant after he was asked about the Republican Party and the Tea Party in previous questions):

What do you think of Fox News? Do you think it’s a good institution for America and for democracy?
[Laughs] Look, as president, I swore to uphold the Constitution, and part of that Constitution is a free press. We’ve got a tradition in this country of a press that oftentimes is opinionated. The golden age of an objective press was a pretty narrow span of time in our history. Before that, you had folks like Hearst who used their newspapers very intentionally to promote their viewpoints. I think Fox is part of that tradition — it is part of the tradition that has a very clear, undeniable point of view. It’s a point of view that I disagree with. It’s a point of view that I think is ultimately destructive for the long-term growth of a country that has a vibrant middle class and is competitive in the world. But as an economic enterprise, it’s been wildly successful. And I suspect that if you ask Mr. Murdoch what his number-one concern is, it’s that Fox is very successful.


The Blogosphere vs. Barack Obama

I feel like the we have returned to the days of the 2008 Democratic Primary as a number of liberal bloggers (primarily but not entirely Clinton supporters) have spent the day bashing Obama. The latest round of this got underway with a blog post from Peter Daou (who worked for Hillary Clinton) and was picked up by the usual suspects. Others, such as Ezra Klein and Steve Benen, put the dispute into perspective, with Steve referring back to a recent post which outlined many of the liberal accomplishments under Obama which some on the left often ignore.

From a political perspective, Daou is overstating the problem when claiming that liberal bloggers such as “Glenn Greenwald, John Aravosis, Digby, Marcy Wheeler and Jane Hamsher” are “bringing down the Obama presidency.” Most people haven’t even heard of these bloggers, and polls have shown a very high level of support for Obama among liberals and traditional Democratic voters. Many liberals can handle acknowledging Obama’s accomplishments and showing some understanding of the political situation he is working in while also disagreeing on some issues.

On the other hand, we have seen a number of signs that this criticism is getting under Obama’s skin (along with that of close associates like David Axelrod). It is a safe bet that they are surprised by the amount of criticism they are receiving from those they expected support from. However to claim they are bringing down Obama is absurd. I think that Obama, as well as the Congressional Democrats, face far more problems due to the apathy towards voting from the average voter who is disillusioned by the slow progress on the economy than they are harmed by those who are upset by compromising of progressive principles.

This is not to say that all of those engaging in the Obama bashing today are sore losers among the Clintonistas or that there is no validity to their complaints. Those such as Glenn Greenwald who concentrate on civil liberties issues do have more to legitimately complain about. Even here a bit of perspective is needed from those who claim that Obama is worse than Bush. Obama is well aware that should there be another terrorist attack on his watch the right will blame it on any areas where they could argue Obama let up on the “war on terror.” This could easily result in a right wing backlash with greater restrictions on civil liberties.

It is of value for bloggers such as Greenwald to point out the problems with Obama’s policies but more of a sense of perspective is needed. Some of Obama’s decisions have been wrong, but we are hardly living in a dictatorial police state, or even in a state as bad as we would have under the Republicans as some on the far left claim. (It is also notable that the tea party supporters who attack Obama for a number of imaginary offenses have largely been silent on these issues).

I also could not help but think, seeing how many primary opponents of Obama are leading the attacks, that most likely either Hillary Clinton or John Edwards would be far to the right of Barack Obama on these issues based upon their past records.

While advocates of a single payer system have many valid arguments, it was disappointing during the health care debate to see some such as Jane Hamsher distort the Democratic plan as dishonestly as was done by Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh. Besides, there was zero chance that a single payer plan would pass.

Obama’s mistake here it was more on selling reform as opposed to the type of reform which was passed. The Democrats were delusional to think opposition to health care reform would vanish after passing it, especially when most of the benefits won’t be seen for a couple more years. I don’t buy the argument being made by some that initially pushing for an agenda which is further left would lead to more liberal results, but on health care I do believe that it could have affected public perception of the plan.

Obama antagonized many liberals for quickly shooting down any chance of a single payer plan and also played into the hands of Republicans who falsely claim that his plan represents a government takeover of health care. Imagine if Obama had started out saying there are basically four ideas which might be considered:

  1. “Socialized medicine” where there will be a government run health care system and government bureaucrats run the system.
  2. A single payer plan, like Medicare, in which government pays instead of private insurance companies, with health care facilities remaining in private hands.
  3. A mixed plan similar to the Republican counter-proposal to the Clinton health care plan with controls over what insurance companies could do, exchanges to promote sales of private plans, etc.
  4. Continuing the status quo where bureaucrats from the insurance companies often make the decisions and where many people are denied insurance coverage entirely.

Obama then could reject both socialized medicine and the status quo. When he ultimately went with #3 it would be more accurately framed as a moderate option to the status quo and not a radical plan. Maybe such framing would have even made it easier to push for the public option, which would still be a long way from the rejected choice of socialized medicine.