Democratic Strategy For 2014: Get Out The Vote But Don’t Ignore The Message

This should be a bad year for Democrats if we go by historical trends. The party holding the presidency typically loses Congressional seats in their sixth year. It makes matters worse when their are economic problems, even if many people do realize that they are primarily due to a combination of problems created by the Bush administration and problems perpetuated by Republican actions to hinder economic recovery in Congress.

Making matters worse, the Democrats have to defend Senate seats in red states, including states where incumbent Democrats are not running for reelection. Democrats do worse in off year elections, when young voters and minorities are less likely to vote compared to presidential elections. Republicans also have a huge advantage in a system where small Republican states receive as many Senators as far larger Democratic states. Their advantage extends to the house. Between gerrymandering and the higher concentration of Democrats in cities. Republican will still control Congress unless Democrats receive about seven percent more votes.

On top of this, Republicans see voter suppression as a valid electoral strategy.

Democrats did much better in 2008 and 2012 than in 2010. They also expect to do much better in 2016, including picking up several Senate seats due to the playing field being reversed with Republicans being forced to defend Senate seats in blue states. The Democrats see the solution as making 2014 more like 2012. Their strategy:

The Democrats’ plan to hold on to their narrow Senate majority goes by the name “Bannock Street project.” It runs through 10 states, includes a $60 million investment and requires more than 4,000 paid staff members. And the effort will need all of that — and perhaps more — to achieve its goal, which is nothing short of changing the character of the electorate in a midterm cycle.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is preparing its largest and most data-driven ground game yet, relying on an aggressive combination of voter registration, get-out-the-vote and persuasion efforts.

They hope to make the 2014 midterm election more closely resemble a presidential election year, when more traditional Democratic constituencies — single women, minorities and young voters — turn out to vote in higher numbers, said Guy Cecil, the committee’s executive director.

A campaign based upon getting out the vote isn’t terribly exciting, but it is a realization that this is how elections are won in this polarized era. There aren’t very many swing voters, but there can be huge differences between which party does better in getting their supporters out to vote.

Besides, a high tech get out the vote campaign and an old fashioned campaign to try to sway voters are not mutually exclusive. I do hope that the Democrats also think about better ways to get out their message as the Republicans often win by doing a better job here. Sure the Republican message is pure lies, claiming to be the party of small government while supporting increased government intrusion in the lives of individuals, and primarily using big government to redistribute wealth to the top one tenth of one percent.

Democrats need a coherent message, but they often fail because they are afraid of alienating some voters by saying what they believe in. I suspect that this cowardice turns off even more voters, along with reducing the motivation of their supporters to turn out. Once again, a campaign based upon promoting ideas and one based upon voter turnout are not mutually exclusive. They can be complimentary.

Rather than shying away from social issues, Democrats need to campaign as the party which supports keeping government out of our personal lives and out of the bedroom.

Rather than running away from the Affordable Car e Act, Democrats need to stress its benefits. Beyond all the millions who are assisted by the ability to obtain affordable health coverage, there are the two million people who are freed from the “insurance trap” which forces them to work in jobs they do not otherwise want or need in order to obtain health insurance. As the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has shown, the Affordable Care Act will help reduce unemployment, decease the deficit, and strengthen the economy. Besides, we saw what happened to the Democrats when they tried running away from Obamacare in 2010.

In recent years Democrats have taken national security away from Republicans as an issue. If the Republicans want to run on their debunked conspiracy theories about Benghazi, it might be time for Democrats to remind voters of the very real failings of Republicans on 9/11, from ignoring warnings before the attack to invading the wrong country in retaliation. We saw how that turned out. It is also time for Democrats to take additional issues from the Republicans.

Challenge voters who support Republicans based upon misinformation. If they are concerned about the deficit, point out how much the deficit has dropped under Obama (as it previously dropped under Bill Clinton). Repeatedly we see polls in which voters support liberal positions but identify themselves as conservatives. They say the oppose Obamacare but also support most of the individual components of the Affordable Care Act. The only way to fight the misinformation spread by Fox is for Democrats to clearly say what they believe in and defend their positions.

Democrats are planning to run on income inequality. That is fine, but they better make sure that they make it clear that the reason is that the extreme concentration of wealth in the hands of the top one tenth of one percent is a major cause of crippling the economy and keeping down the middle class. Failure to make this connection just plays into Republican memes.

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The 2014 State Of The Union Address

Boehner SOTU

The State of the Union address (transcript here) was rather modest, considering the limitations Obama faces in dealing with Congressional Republicans who have had the policy of opposing Obama’s agenda on political grounds since the day he took office. The few policy proposals had already been released, such as an executive order regarding the minimum wage at companies receiving government contacts. There were a few moments during the speech worth noting. He began with what was basically a defense of his record on the economy:

The lowest unemployment rate in over five years. A rebounding housing market. A manufacturing sector that’s adding jobs for the first time since the 1990s. More oil produced at home than we buy from the rest of the world – the first time that’s happened in nearly twenty years. Our deficits – cut by more than half. And for the first time in over a decade, business leaders around the world have declared that China is no longer the world’s number one place to invest; America is.

That’s why I believe this can be a breakthrough year for America.

Of course, in what is essentially a disproof of trickle-down economics, he recognized that problems remain:

Today, after four years of economic growth, corporate profits and stock prices have rarely been higher, and those at the top have never done better. But average wages have barely budged. Inequality has deepened. Upward mobility has stalled. The cold, hard fact is that even in the midst of recovery, too many Americans are working more than ever just to get by; let alone to get ahead. And too many still aren’t working at all.

This sure makes the right wing claims that Obama is a socialist sound ridiculous. Plus there is his support for small business:

Let’s do more to help the entrepreneurs and small business owners who create most new jobs in America. Over the past five years, my administration has made more loans to small business owners than any other.

While it may or may not be wise, I always wish that Democrats would do more to directly take on the absurd positions held by many Republicans. Unfortunately I’m not sure that showing Republican denial of science would be politically successful in a country with such vast scientific illiteracy. At least we did get this:

But the debate is settled. Climate change is a fact.

He is right about climate change, but the debate is only settled in terms of the scientific knowledge. Climate change is a fact. So is evolution. And the earth is round. Try to convince the Republicans.

Obama also defended his record on health care:

Already, because of the Affordable Care Act, more than three million Americans under age 26 have gained coverage under their parents’ plans.

More than nine million Americans have signed up for private health insurance or Medicaid coverage.

And here’s another number: zero. Because of this law, no American can ever again be dropped or denied coverage for a preexisting condition like asthma, back pain, or cancer. No woman can ever be charged more just because she’s a woman. And we did all this while adding years to Medicare’s finances, keeping Medicare premiums flat, and lowering prescription costs for millions of seniors.

Obama said little about the problems caused by Republican obstructionism, but did mention the “forty-something votes to repeal a law that’s already helping millions of Americans.” I believe the exact number is forty-seven votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Among the lines which got the most attention of the night, when discussing equal pay for equal work:

It is time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a “Mad Men” episode.

The official Republican response was rather empty, and there were also two Tea Party responses. The bulk of the opposition I saw to Obama on line (and in an op-ed by Ted Cruz)  has been to the use of executive orders, ignoring how much fewer he has used than his predecessors. Where were all the conservatives now complaining about Executive power during the Bush years, when Bush went far further than Obama is contemplating?  I doubt their complaints will receive much sympathy from swing voters (the few who exist). As I pointed out recently, voters are realizing that the Republicans are responsible for gridlock, even if the media often overlooks this in their efforts at appearing objective by treating both parties equally when they are not mirror images of each other.

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All in all, the address was liberal but hardly ground-breaking. The Monkey Cage has compared every SOTU address since 1986 based upon ideology. This year’s speech was placed around the middle of previous addresses from Obama and Bill Clinton. What I really found interesting about this chart was how far the Republicans moved to the right under Bush. State of the Union addresses are hardly an exact measurement of the ideology of a president, but it is interesting that Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush are far closer to the two Democratic presidents compared to George W. Bush. George W. Bush Started out comparable to the previous Republican presidents in his first speech, then moved significantly to the right. Maybe this was the result of 9/11.

If nothing else, I was happy that it wasn’t Mitt Romney giving the speech. I’m imagining Mitt Romney spending the evening going up and down in his car elevator. I couldn’t resist staring with the above picture which captures John Boehner, even if he isn’t orange enough. I did feel that his green tie did clash with his orange face.

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Obama Damage Control On Affordable Care Act

Obama Affordable Care Act

As Barack Obama said, “We fumbled the rollout on this health-care law.” While the problems have been greatly exaggerated and conservatives took advantage of this to further distort the facts, Obama did make some political mistakes and it was important that he respond. The headline is now that the White House to allow insurer to continue canceled health plans. That is the line he needs to help reduce problems caused by previous misleading headlines on Obamacare causing cancellation of plans.

This actually affects very few people. Most people obtain their health insurance outside of the individual market. For those who did purchase insurance on the individual market, plans in effect prior to when the Affordable Care Act passed could still be grandfathered in, but in many cases the insurance companies decided against continuing such plans. For such plans, today’s statement does not really change anything, except that it might put pressure on insurance plans to continue plans they previously decided against continuing. When consumers go beyond the hype (and get past the poorly-working computer system) a tremendous number will find that they can receive more comprehensive coverage at a lower price, especially after the subsidies are considered, and will hopefully decide against taking advantage of this option.

In some cases canceled policies have nothing whatsoever to do with the Affordable Care Act, despite the sensationalist and untrue stories seen on Fox. Insurance companies have left markets every year. Sometimes they would technically remain, but jack up the premiums so high that they would force everyone out (as once happened to me). Some insurance companies would also drop people who became too expensive to cover. A tremendous number of people who have declared bankruptcy due to medical expenses were insured when they first developed a serious medical problem. These are the types of problems that the Affordable Care Act was designed to solve, such as preventing an insurance company from dropping people who developed a serious medical problem. In addition, in past years if an insurance company left a market those with pre-existing medical conditions might not be able to obtain coverage. Under the Affordable Care Act they will be able to purchase insurance regardless of pre-existing conditions.

Insurance plans which were sold prior to the passage of the Affordable Care Act could be grandfathered in, independent of any changes made based upon today’s announcement. Plans sold after the Affordable Care Act passed could not be grandfathered in if they did not meet current requirements. In many cases plans sold on the individual market have been terrible plans which were not worth keeping. Many would cover very little, often after high deductibles were met, such as not covering hospitalizations.

It was still a mistake on Obama’s part to ever say that “if you like your health insurance plan, you can keep it.” This was said in an atmosphere in which conservatives were scaring people into thinking that everyone would be forced to drop their current plan and switch to some sort of government run health plan. In this context, he was correct to point out that people would be remaining in private health plans, but wrong to make such an absolute statement. There were always going to be exceptions. It was inevitable that insurance companies would stop offering old plans, even if they could be grandfathered in, and concentrate on the plans they could continue to sell. There was no way that the government could compel insurance companies to continue to offer every plan currently on the market. In many cases people are better off by the passage of the Affordable Care Act by taking advantage of the opportunity to switch to better plans,  but that is not what Obama said.

While very few people are both  actually having insurance canceled which the insurance companies don’t already have the legal ability to continue and are actually going to have to pay more, this issue has become far more about political posturing. People are hearing the exaggerations and distortions which suggested the issue was far more significant than it was. Headlines have been negative, with stories failing to put the issue in perspective.  Bill Clinton weighed in earlier this week on the need for Obama to fix this, but it is important to note that Clinton also said  “The big lesson is that we’re better off with this law than without it.”

Ezra Klein has summarized the various responses coming from Congress and the President. For Republicans, this is largely about exaggerating the problem and weakening the Affordable Care Act. In reality, Republican schemes to weaken the Affordable Care Act will actually wind up causing more people to be at risk of losing their coverage or having to pay more. Democrats who are running for reelection also see the need to distance themselves from this problem now that it has been totally blown out of proportion. Obama’s credibility has been harmed, even though Republicans claims on health care have been far more dishonest. Making a statement such as what Obama said today might help calm down some of the rhetoric on this issue. It will help even more when the exchanges are working properly and people can more easily compare the coverage which was available before to the coverage now available.

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Some Honesty From A Republican

David Frum has often questioned Republican behavior since leaving the Bush White House. I imagine that is due to a combination of factors including the Republicans moving much further towards the extreme right, and as those not working for someone in office have more freedom to tell the truth. His list of Seven Habits of Highly Ineffective Political Parties provides some useful insight into how the saner Republicans think. In some cases he is wrong, such as in not believing we can afford to do what the rest of the world with modern economies can in providing affordable health care for all. At least he concedes that Obamacare is not the calamity they claim:

If the United States has remained a constitutional republic despite a government guarantee of health care for people over 65, it will remain a constitutional republic with a government guarantee of health care for people under 65. Obamacare will cost money the country doesn’t have, and that poses a serious fiscal problem. But it’s not as serious a fiscal problem as is posed by the existing programs, Medicare and Medicaid, which cover the people it costs most to cover. It’s not a problem so serious as to justify panic.

Yet panic has gripped the Republican rank-and-file since 2009—and instead of allaying panic, Republican leaders have aggravated and exploited it, to the point where the leaders are compelled to behave in ways they know to be irrational. In his speech to the “Bull Moose” convention of 1912, Teddy Roosevelt declared, “We stand at Armageddon and we battle for the Lord!” It’s a great line, but it’s not a mindset that leads to successful legislative outcomes.

He gave arguments other than racism for Republican hatred of Obama:

Barack Obama was never likely to be popular with the Republican base. It’s not just that he’s black. He’s the first president in 76 years with a foreign parent—and unlike Hulda Hoover, Barack Obama Sr. never even naturalized. While Obama is not the first president to hold two degrees from elite universities—Bill Clinton and George W. Bush did as well—his Ivy predecessors at least disguised their education with a down-home style of speech. Join this cultural inheritance to liberal politics, and of course you have a formula for conflict. But effective parties make conflict work for them. Hate leads to rage, and rage makes you stupid. Republicans have convinced themselves both that President Obama is a revolutionary radical hell-bent upon destroying America as we know it and that he’s so feckless and weak-willed that he’ll always yield to pressure. It’s that contradictory, angry assessment that has brought the GOP to a place where it must either abjectly surrender or force a national default. Calmer analysis would have achieved better results.

True, the know-nothings of the far right would oppose any educated president who acts like they are educated. They just can’t stand things like facts as they show that right wing policies make no sense. The right wing base also hates America for our freedoms, desiring to replace our liberal heritage with religious their religious beliefs. There are reasons besides being black that Republicans dislike Obama. This does change the fact that racism is endemic in the conservative movement and being black did lead to immediate and unreasonable opposition to Obama. If conservatives were willing to look at Obama’s actual beliefs, they might never agree with him on some social issues, but they would see that he is relatively conservative on many economic issues and is willing to compromise on quite a bit. Of course Obama may hold the view of  an Eisenhower Republican on many issues, but to the far right Eisenhower was suspected of being a Communist.

The other most important confession from Frum is on the role of the right wing noise machine:

The actor Hugh Grant once bitterly characterized his PR team as “the people I pay to lie to me.” Politicians do not always need to tell the truth, but they always need to hear it. Yet hearing the truth has become harder and harder for Republicans. It takes a very unusual spin artist to remember that what he or she is saying isn’t actually true. Non-politicians say what they believe. Politicians sooner or later arrive at the point where they believe what they say. They have become prisoners of their own artificial reality, with no easy access to the larger truths outside. This entombment in their own artificial reality was revealed to the entire TV-watching world in Karl Rove’s Fox News election night outburst against the Ohio 2012 ballot results. It was the same entombment that blinded Republicans to the most likely outcome of their no-compromise stance on Obamacare—and now again today to the most likely outcome of the government shutdown/debt ceiling fight they started.

The false narrative created by the far right is a dangerous threat to democracy due to the need for an informed electorate. It becomes even more dangerous when conservative politicians believe their own lies.

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Bill Clinton Sells Obamacare As New Data Shows Decrease In Insurance Premiums

Bill Clinton explained Obamacare in the video above, urging people to sign up for insurance coverage under the state exchanges.

Selling people on enrolling in the exchanges might be made easier in light of a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that premiums in the new exchanges are lower than expected:

The nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation compiled premium data from the new marketplaces in the 17 states where it is fully available and released a variety of figures showing how much consumers will pay if they choose to purchase coverage individually.

The study is among the first to show in detail what a variety of exchange-based health plans will cost people of different ages and incomes under ObamaCare — a major source of debate between supporters and opponents of the law.

Kaiser researchers looked specifically at states’ largest cities, plus the District of Columbia, and how much young adults, families of four and older couples will have to pay for nonemployer-based health coverage in those areas.

In Baltimore, for example, a 25-year-old will pay $179 per month for the second lowest cost “silver” plan and $115 per month for the cheapest available option, the lowest cost “bronze” plan.

Those monthly premiums drop to $144 and $80, respectively, when researchers assumed that the 25-year-old was eligible for a tax credit based on an income of $25,000 per year.

For a family of four, including two 40-year-old adults, the monthly premium for the second lowest cost “silver” plan would be $683, or $409 with a tax credit based on an income of $60,000.

For the lowest cost “bronze” plan, the family would pay $437 monthly or $164 with the tax credit factored in.

In addition, plans purchased under Obamacare are likely to be more comprehensive in coverage than many insurance plans have been in the past and they cannot be revoked by the insurance company should the purchaser develop an expensive disease.

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Quote of the Day

“A great democracy does not make it harder to vote than to buy an assault weapon.” –Bill Clinton

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Health Care News: Majority Oppose Defunding, Clinton the Explainer, Battle in Michigan over Medicaid Expansion

This month’s Kaiser Health Tracking Poll shows what most polls on the Affordable Care Act have shown–most people responding do not understand the law and a majority have a negative opinion. Unfortunately this poll didn’t break down support based upon specific aspects of the law. Multiple polls show a majority (often including Republicans) support the individual components of the Affordable Care Act even if they say they oppose it. Overall 37 percent have a favorable view with 42 percent having an unfavorable view. Despite this, only 36 percent of responders support the Republican strategy of defunding while 57 percent oppose, showing a much stronger regard for the rule of law than is seen by Congressional Republicans.

Bill Clinton has been recruited to help with the problem of many people not understanding Obamacare. After his excellent speech at the Democratic National Convention last summer, Obama said Clinton should be his “secretary of explaining stuff.” Clinton will be giving a speech on September 4 explaining the Affordable Care Act.

Hostility to the Affordable Care Act remains strong on most conservative sites. I’m seeing an increasing number referring to it as the Unaffordable Care Act, showing how conservatives prefer cute sounding names over reality, considering that the Affordable Care Act helps to cut health care expenses. Conservatives might argue that it doesn’t cut costs enough if not for the fact that it has been Republicans who have opposed cost-cutting measures. Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman supported the Republican position, resulting in the elimination of cost-cutting ideas such as a Public Option.

We had quite a battle over expanding Medicaid in Michigan yesterday. Governor Rick Snyder and Lt. Gov. Brian Calley supported Medicaid expansion, which was passed by the House previously. On the first ballot, one Republican opposed to passage refrained from voting, resulting in a 19-18 vote, preventing the measure from achieving twenty votes while preventing a tie which Calley might have broken. They did have a second vote later yesterday in which expanding Medicaid did pass. Michigan is likely to lose potential federal funds due to Republicans postponing passage until after the August break, probably preventing them from  providing the benefits in time to receive the federal funds.

Tea Party supporters in Michigan have already been upset that Snyder and Calley have not supported them on all measures and are running a candidate, Wes Nakagiri, against Brian Calley for the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor in 2014. Hopefully the make up of the Republican ticket will not matter with the Democratic ticket winning.

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Speaking Favorably Of George W. Bush

Barack Obama and Bill Clinton had a tough job today. Both took office with the difficult tasks of cleaning up messes left by a Bush. Today they had to speak at the dedication for the George W. Bush  Presidential Center. As Peter Baker put it:

It has become an awkward ritual of the modern presidency that the current occupant of the Oval Office is called upon to deliver a generous historical judgment of the previous one. With the opening of each new presidential library, the members of the world’s most exclusive fraternity put aside partisan differences to honor the shared experience of running the nation in difficult times.

It is not an easy thing to say good things about one of the worst presidents in American history, a president who took the country into a war based upon lies, also waged a war on science,  failed to respond adequately to a disaster the magnitude of Katrina, and who crashed the economy. If I was in their position, about the best things I could thing to say about George Bush is that he has ten fingers, breaths oxygen, and has a beating heart.

The Week listed eleven nice things which Clinton and Obama said about Bush today. My favorite was how Clinton turned Bush’s lack of knowledge into a positive comment for the purpose of today’s event:

“I like President Bush. And I like it when we have disagreements. He’s disarmingly direct. We were heaving an argument over health care… and I went on about the German health care system, and he said, ‘I don’t know a thing about the German health care system.’ He probably won the argument.”

There actually are some favorable things to say about George Bush, such as his support for treating AIDS in Africa and not showing the degree of racism and xenophobia which permeates the Republican Party. These are hardly enough considering that we are still struggling to reverse all the harm done by Bush.

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Barack Obama’s Second Inauguration

Today Barack Obama joined a small group of people who have taken the oath of office more than twice. The oath was repeated in 2008 to avoid giving right wingers another reason to deny Obama’s legitimacy after John Roberts made an error when first administering the oath. (I note Roberts did use a note card today). He was sworn in for his second inauguration in a private ceremony on January 20, with the public event postponed to Monday. Only FDR and Obama have taken the oath of office four times. Bill Clinton is the only other president to my knowledge to have been sworn in more than twice as one of his inaugurations also occurred on a Sunday.

With Obama being sworn in, dogs everywhere gave a sigh of relief. Maybe now that Obama has been sworn in two more times Karl Rove is willing to give up hope for a Romney victory and concede defeat. Tea Partiers and Mitch McConnell swear to oppose Obama’s agenda and make him a two-term president. (Surprisingly some commentators do not realize how the Republicans really did decide to oppose everything Obama did on the day of his first inauguration.) All the living former presidents were in attendance except for George H. W. Bush, for health reasons, and George W. Bush, because everyone in Washington hates his guts.

Getting serious, Obama gave a liberal speech to mark the start of his second term (full text here and video above). He sounded neither like the socialist Republicans claim he is or the conservative a handful on the far left claim he is. James Fallows found this to be a startling progressive speech. Think  Progress called this a landmark moment for LGBT equality. Obama made a strong push for taking action on climate change.

While Obama has learned he cannot compromise with the extremism and intransigence of Congressional Republicans, I do like see Obama continue to try to explain how the real world works to conservatives in the hopes that there are some who will listen. Radical conservatives and libertarians believe a mythology that the free market is something which exists in nature, and that any government action is an abomination. In reality, markets are a creation of men and require government regulation to exist. Rothbardian anarch0-capitalism provides a fun background for some science fiction stories, but cannot exist in the real world. Obama explained:

Together, we determined that a modern economy requires railroads and highways to speed travel and commerce; schools and colleges to train our workers.

Together, we discovered that a free market only thrives when there are rules to ensure competition and fair play.

He did learn it is politically dangerous to point out the truth that businessmen did not build the infrastructure they depend upon after the Republicans themed their convention around misquoting Obama, claiming Obama was saying businessmen did not build their businesses.

Obama’s record is not perfect. No president’s record is. Even if he did not do everything hoped for by the left, in a two party system, and with the constraints on presidential power, Obama did have a strong first term. Even his frequent critic Paul Krugman has been acknowledging this in recent columns, such as yesterday’s column, calling Obama’s record a Big Deal:

Health reform is, as Mr. Biden suggested, the centerpiece of the Big Deal. Progressives have been trying to get some form of universal health insurance since the days of Harry Truman; they’ve finally succeeded.

True, this wasn’t the health reform many were looking for. Rather than simply providing health insurance to everyone by extending Medicare to cover the whole population, we’ve constructed a Rube Goldberg device of regulations and subsidies that will cost more than single-payer and have many more cracks for people to fall through.

But this was what was possible given the political reality — the power of the insurance industry, the general reluctance of voters with good insurance to accept change. And experience with Romneycare in Massachusetts — hey, this is a great age for irony — shows that such a system is indeed workable, and it can provide Americans with a huge improvement in medical and financial security.

What about inequality? On that front, sad to say, the Big Deal falls very far short of the New Deal. Like F.D.R., Mr. Obama took office in a nation marked by huge disparities in income and wealth. But where the New Deal had a revolutionary impact, empowering workers and creating a middle-class society that lasted for 40 years, the Big Deal has been limited to equalizing policies at the margin.

That said, health reform will provide substantial aid to the bottom half of the income distribution, paid for largely through new taxes targeted on the top 1 percent, and the “fiscal cliff” deal further raises taxes on the affluent. Over all, 1-percenters will see their after-tax income fall around 6 percent; for the top tenth of a percent, the hit rises to around 9 percent. This will reverse only a fraction of the huge upward redistribution that has taken place since 1980, but it’s not trivial.

Finally, there’s financial reform. The Dodd-Frank reform bill is often disparaged as toothless, and it’s certainly not the kind of dramatic regime change one might have hoped for after runaway bankers brought the world economy to its knees.

Still, if plutocratic rage is any indication, the reform isn’t as toothless as all that. And Wall Street put its money where its mouth is. For example, hedge funds strongly favored Mr. Obama in 2008 — but in 2012 they gave three-quarters of their money to Republicans (and lost).

All in all, then, the Big Deal has been, well, a pretty big deal

While Obama’s record was not perfect, there is no problem which would be handled better if the Republicans had taken the White House. Just think of the executive orders which were not issued today because Mitt Romney did not have the opportunity. Romney, like Republicans before him, would have probably immediately reinstated the Global Gag Rule, limiting access to abortions world wide. While it would probably take more than a quick executive order, he would probably have made an effort to block implementation of the Affordable Care Act. He may have immediately put an end to federal funding of stem cell research. Who know what else what he would have done to accommodate the far right on his first day alone.

Seeing Barack Obama sworn in to be president for the next four years is a Big Deal.

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Person of the Year: Barack Obama

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This was a rather obvious choice in an election year. As Time points out, Obama is “the first Democrat in more than 75 years to get a majority of the popular vote twice. Only five other Presidents have done that in all of U.S. history.” Time‘s explanation:

There are many reasons for this, but the biggest by far are the nation’s changing demographics and Obama’s unique ability to capitalize on them. When his name is on the ballot, the next America — a younger, more diverse America — turns out at the polls. In 2008, blacks voted at the same rate as whites for the first time in history, and Latinos broke turnout records. The early numbers suggest that both groups did it again in 2012, even in nonbattleground states, where the Obama forces were far less organized. When minorities vote, that means young people do too, because the next America is far more diverse than the last. And when all that happens, Obama wins. He got 71% of Latinos, 93% of blacks, 73% of Asians and 60% of those under 30.

They left out the more important fact that Obama ran against a Republican Party which has moved to the extreme right and very well might never again be able to win a national election until the party changes. (Some Republican apologists might counter by claims that John McCain and Mitt Romney are moderates but in reality both ran on platforms which were bat-shit crazy, even if the Republicans do have even worse lunatics among their ranks.)
Time’s interview with Obama gives indications we are living in a world which the authoritarian right just cannot handle. Obama took time to announce his support for gay marriage, but we may have reached a tipping point where any candidate who does not support marriage equality would be seen in the same light as someone who didn’t support interracial marriage. Obama is more conservative than many of his supporters on drugs, and it is a disappointment that he is not ending the drug war, but at least does not intend to use government resources for prosecution of marijuana users:

I have a couple of policy questions growing out of that shift. Do you expect your administration will join the gay marriage cases at the Supreme Court?

We are looking at the cases right now. I’ve already been very clear about DOMA, so there is no doubt that we would continue the position we’re on, that DOMA is unconstitutional and should be struck down. And I think the Prop-8 case, because the briefs are still being written, I should probably be careful about making any specific comments on it.

One of the other big things that happened in the election was in Washington State and Colorado, marijuana for recreational use was legalized. And, again, the same base — the younger people, more progressive people are in favor of that. Is a recreational marijuana user who is following state law someone who should be a federal law enforcement priority?

No. And I think what the Justice Department has consistently asserted is that it’s got finite resources. Our focus has to be on threats to safety, threats to property. When it comes to drug enforcement, big-time drug dealers, folks who are preying on our kids, those who are engaging in violence — that has to be our focus.

Now, obviously, you’ve got a challenge, which is federal laws that are still on the books making marijuana a Class I drug that is subject to significant penalties, and you’ve got state laws now that say it’s legal. We’re going to have to have a conversation about how to reconcile that, because it puts the Department of Justice and the U.S. attorneys in a pretty tough position; they don’t want to look like they’re nullifying laws that are on the books; their job is to carry out the laws of the federal government. On the other hand, I think not only have these states indicated that they’ve got a different view, but what’s also true isthat the public as a whole — even those who don’t necessarily agree with decriminalization of marijuana — don’t think that this should be a top priority for law enforcement.

So this will be something that we navigate over the next several months and next several years. I think that the broader lesson to draw here is that substance abuse is a big problem in oursociety, and we should be doing everything we can to prevent our kids from being trapped by substance abuse. I think a law enforcement model alone, or an emphasis on a law enforcement strategy and not enough emphasis on the public health approach and treatment has not yielded the kind of results that I think we would like. And we’re going to have to have a serious discussion about that.

There are many pictures worth viewing accompanying the articles:
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