The Highly Successful Presidency Of Barack Obama

Paul Krugman has been defending Barack Obama much more recently, such as in a recent article in Rolling Stone and on ABC’s This Week. Krugman’s views on Obama have evolved over the years. I think that early on he was critical of Obama based upon disagreements on policy matters. Two things have altered how he discusses Obama. First there are all the off the wall attacks on Obama from both the right and many mainstream commentators. Secondly, he is doing a better job of separating differences of opinion with a more centrist president from outright condemnation where he disagrees. This includes both recognition of Obama’s actual accomplishments and realization that wherever he disagrees with Obama, the Republicans would be far, far worse.

In Rolling Stone, Krugman looked at the various types of attacks on Obama:

All Obama-bashing can be divided into three types. One, a constant of his time in office, is the onslaught from the right, which has never stopped portraying him as an Islamic atheist Marxist Kenyan. Nothing has changed on that front, and nothing will.

There’s a different story on the left, where you now find a significant number of critics decrying Obama as, to quote Cornel West, someone who ”posed as a progressive and turned out to be counterfeit.” They’re outraged that Wall Street hasn’t been punished, that income inequality remains so high, that ”neoliberal” economic policies are still in place. All of this seems to rest on the belief that if only Obama had put his eloquence behind a radical economic agenda, he could somehow have gotten that agenda past all the political barriers that have con- strained even his much more modest efforts. It’s hard to take such claims seriously.

Finally, there’s the constant belittling of Obama from mainstream pundits and talking heads. Turn on cable news (although I wouldn’t advise it) and you’ll hear endless talk about a rudderless, stalled administration, maybe even about a failed presidency. Such talk is often buttressed by polls showing that Obama does, indeed, have an approval rating that is very low by historical standards.

But this bashing is misguided even in its own terms – and in any case, it’s focused on the wrong thing.

There’s a different story on the left, where you now find a significant number of critics decrying Obama as, to quote Cornel West, someone who ”posed as a progressive and turned out to be counterfeit.” They’re outraged that Wall Street hasn’t been punished, that income inequality remains so high, that ”neoliberal” economic policies are still in place. All of this seems to rest on the belief that if only Obama had put his eloquence behind a radical economic agenda, he could somehow have gotten that agenda past all the political barriers that have con- strained even his much more modest efforts. It’s hard to take such claims seriously.

Finally, there’s the constant belittling of Obama from mainstream pundits and talking heads. Turn on cable news (although I wouldn’t advise it) and you’ll hear endless talk about a rudderless, stalled administration, maybe even about a failed presidency. Such talk is often buttressed by polls showing that Obama does, indeed, have an approval rating that is very low by historical standards.

But this bashing is misguided even in its own terms – and in any case, it’s focused on the wrong thing.

Yes, Obama has a low approval rating compared with earlier presidents. But there are a number of reasons to believe that presidential approval doesn’t mean the same thing that it used to: There is much more party-sorting (in which Republicans never, ever have a good word for a Democratic president, and vice versa), the public is negative on politicians in general, and so on. Obviously the midterm election hasn’t happened yet, but in a year when Republicans have a huge structural advantage – Democrats are defending a disproportionate number of Senate seats in deep-red states – most analyses suggest that control of the Senate is in doubt, with Democrats doing considerably better than they were supposed to. This isn’t what you’d expect to see if a failing president were dragging his party down.

More important, however, polls – or even elections – are not the measure of a president. High office shouldn’t be about putting points on the electoral scoreboard, it should be about changing the country for the better. Has Obama done that? Do his achievements look likely to endure? The answer to both questions is yes.

From there, Krugman looked at Obama’s achievements on health care, financial reform, the economy, the environment, national security, and social change. As Obama has so many favorable accomplishments, I would suggest seeing the original article rather than trying to list them all here. He then concluded:

Am I damning with faint praise? Not at all. This is what a successful presidency looks like. No president gets to do everything his supporters expected him to. FDR left behind a reformed nation, but one in which the wealthy retained a lot of power and privilege. On the other side, for all his anti-government rhetoric, Reagan left the core institutions of the New Deal and the Great Society in place. I don’t care about the fact that Obama hasn’t lived up to the golden dreams of 2008, and I care even less about his approval rating. I do care that he has, when all is said and done, achieved a lot. That is, as Joe Biden didn’t quite say, a big deal.

Andrew Sullivan cited Krugman’s article and added:

Just a year ago, I had a conversation with a friend as the healthcare website was crashing. All that mattered, we agreed, was if, this time next year, the healthcare reform is working and the economy is doing better. Well, both those things have happened – Obamacare is actually a big success so far; the growth and unemployment rates are the envy of much of the Western world – and yet we are now told that he’s a failure. WTF? The architects of the Iraq War – like, yes, Clinton and McCain – somehow believe they have a better grasp of foreign affairs in the twenty-first century than he does. And the party that bankrupted this country in eight short years now has the gall to ignore the fastest reduction in the deficit ever, and a slow-down in healthcare costs that may well be the most important fiscal achievement of a generation.

Add to this two massive social shifts that Obama has coaxed, helped or gotten out the way: marriage equality and the legalization of cannabis. These are not minor cultural shifts. They are sane reforms, change we can absolutely believe in and have accomplished on his watch. Jihadist terrorism? It has murdered an infinitesimal number of Americans in the past six years, compared with almost any other threat. Yes, Americans are still capable of PTSD-driven panic and hysteria over it, and Obama has failed to counter that more aggressively, but to be where we are in 2014 is something few expected after 9/11.

The idea that he has “lost Iraq” is preposterous. We “lost” Iraq the minute we unseated the Sunnis, disbanded the Baathist army and unleashed the dogs of sectarian warfare.

The only sane response to continuing unrest there is to cut our losses, act as an off-shore balancing power, and protect ourselves. And one reason we have this capability is that Obama managed to pivot nimbly last fall to ensure the destruction of Assad’s WMDs. The Panettas and McCains and usual suspects still seem to believe that it would have been better to have bombed Assad, let him keep his WMDs, and … what exactly? Can you imagine ISIS with its hands on those weapons in a failed state with a deposed leader? Think Libya today with poison gas. Who prevented this? Obama. And he is still pilloried for it.

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Leon Panetta and Jimmy Carter’s Irrational Attacks On Obama

There has been a lot of criticism of Obama’s Middle East policy from those of both parties who fail to recognize that we were placed in a situation with no good outcome the moment George Bush invaded Iraq. Leon Panetta has been all over the talk shows promoting his book, which echoes the criticism of Obama from Hillary Clinton.

Seeing the poor logic in these attacks makes me glad that Obama as opposed to either Clinton or a Republican have been calling the shots. It is easy to say that acting sooner would have helped, but no real evidence of this. The situation which allowed ISIS to develop and succeed in Iraq were created by the American intervention and subsequent actions of the Malacki government.

The actual advice given makes no sense. Arming Syrian moderates last year would have just led to increased bloodshed and more weapons in the hands of ISIS. Propping up Malicki longer was a dead-end policy, even if the United States could have stayed despite the desire of the Iraqui government for us to leave. While Panetta has criticized him over not bombing in Syria, Obama showed wisdom, not weakness, when he backed away from the military option when there was a diplomatic option to stop the use of chemical weapons.

The Neocon policies have been disastrous, causing this mess and Obama was right in opposing them, and attempting to disengage from the region. The Clinton/Panetta line is a repeat of the Bush/Cheney line and the current Clinton/Panetta attacks are no more credible than the attacks we are hearing from Dick Cheney

Other attacks are more petty. In a dispute between the White House and Pentagon over not giving the Pentagon everything it wants, I’ll generally side with the White House. It comes down to money on two levels. Now Panetta is cashing in to make money on his book, along with doing Hillary’s dirty work.

Kevin Drum put Panetta’s world-view in context:

…his basic worldview is simple: as long as Obama is launching lots of drone attacks and surging lots of troops and bombing plenty of Middle Eastern countries—then he’s a “strong leader on security issues.” But when Obama starts to think that maybe reflexive military action hasn’t acquitted itself too well over the past few years—in that case he’s “kind of lost his way.”

That’s the default view of practically everyone in Washington: Using military force shows strong leadership. Declining to use military force shows weakness. But most folks inside the Beltway don’t even seem to realize they feel this way. It’s just part of the air they breathe: never really noticed, always taken for granted, and invariably the difficult but sadly necessary answer for whichever new and supposedly unique problem we’re addressing right now. This is what Obama is up against.

Steve Benen had a great response to all the hypocrisy and poor arguments from the right being made by Panetta. He concluded:

The former Defense Secretary last week wrote a piece blaming Obama’s withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq for the chaos gripping much of the country. And yet, it was none other than Leon Panetta who defended Obama’s withdrawal policy, repeatedly, before he was trying to boost book sales.

Panetta now says he believes Obama should have pressed Iraqi officials to keep thousands of U.S. troops in Iraq indefinitely. What would those troops have accomplished that they didn’t already try over the last decade? Panetta hasn’t really said. What was Obama supposed to do about the fact that Iraq wanted American servicemen and women out? Panetta hasn’t really explained that, either. Why did Panetta see a residual force as impossible in 2011, only to believe the opposite now? He hasn’t offered an explanation of this, either.

And yet, Panetta just keeps complaining, not just about Iraq, but about U.S. policy in Syria, too, where the former Pentagon chief apparently believes it’s irrelevant that Obama rid Syria of its chemical-weapons stockpiles – weapons that now can’t fall into the hands of Islamic State militants.

Making matters slightly worse, as part of Panetta’s all-out media blitz, he complained to the New York Times about Obama going to Congress last year before intervention in Syria, and then complained about Obama not going to Congress this year before intervention in Syria.

Who knows, maybe this is a terrific public-relations strategy for a guy on a book tour. If Panetta hoped to generate chatter about his book, the past couple of weeks have been a triumph. If he hoped to get White House critics interested in his memoir, Panetta has done what he set out to do.

But those looking for real insights into a sensible national security policy probably haven’t learned much from Panetta’s p.r. campaign.

I would question if Panetta’s motivation is purely to make money from his book. He is also serving the Clintons well, considering that Hillary has motivation to separate herself from Obama but cannot speak out against him to this degree without looking calculating and disloyal. Of course both possible motives are served by the same actions.

The Daily Beast has further criticism of Panetta:

At both Langley and the Pentagon he became a forceful advocate for—or, some might say, bureaucratic captive of—the agencies he ran. As CIA Director he pushed back on efforts to expose the agency’s illegal activities during the Bush Administration —in particular, the use of torture (which he had once decried).

At DoD he ran around with his hair practically on fire denouncing cuts to the defense budget in out-sized, apocalyptic terms. The “catastrophic,” “draconian” cuts would initiate a “doomsday mechanism” and “invite aggression,” he claimed and always without specific examples. Ironically, when Panetta was chairman of the House Budget Committee in the early 1990s, he took the exact opposite position and pushed for huge cuts to the defense budget.

For Panetta, principles appear to be determined by wherever he happens to be sitting at any given moment.

However, his irresponsible threat-mongering and his constant stream of gaffes and misstatements (like the claim that the US was in Iraq because of 9/11 and that the war was worth it) masked a stunningly narrow and parochial foreign policy vision. It wasn’t just that Panetta was saying crazy things. As his new memoir shows, he apparently believed them.

The post went on to further criticize Panetta’s current ideas on what Obama should have done, along with his support for using force without adequate recognition of the consequences of using force, or of the positive benefits of Obama achieving an agreement to end the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

Jimmy Carter  has also raised similar attacks but the same issues remain that intervention earlier would have probably worsened the situation in Iraq and Syria. It is also easy to criticize in retrospect, but his current attacks are not consistent with previous criticism of Obama whichwere for being too aggressive.

While I have qualms about some of Obama’s actions, from drones to the current bombing, he is looking far better than most of those who are now attacking him.

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Bill Maher Reconsidering Idea Of Voting For Rand Paul Due To His Denial Of Climate Change

Bill Maher has previously said he might consider voting for Rand Paul if he were to run against Hillary Clinton for president in 2016. It is certainly understandable why someone might give this a thought in light of Clinton’s hawkish foreign policy views but this idea breaks down with a closer look at Rand Paul. Maher found that Paul is not as anti-war as he would prefer, but another issue is a real deal-breaker:

Maher said he was most attracted to Paul because of the senator’s general views on foreign policy, though he’s not a fan of his recent support for bombing ISIS.

“He’s great on ending the empire, not getting into any more foreign entanglements — I’m even to the left of him on the bombing (of ISIS); he wants to keep bombing ISIS, I want us to stop bombing altogether,” he said.

While Maher donated $1 million to a super PAC backing President Barack Obama in 2012, he has been less than enthusiastic about a potential Clinton presidency, especially when it comes to her foreign policy.

But Maher told Salon there’s stark daylight between him and Paul on a different issue.

“I had drinks with him about two weeks ago. He’s a nice guy, he’s a smart guy. My big problem is I asked him about the environment, which is my big issue,” Maher said. “He had made a comment that was very similar to what Dick Cheney said about a month or two ago, which was basically, ‘Why are we talking the environment when ISIS is out there?’ I said, ‘Senator, y’know, you sounded just like Dick Cheney.’ “

Last month, Paul blasted Clinton for saying climate change marked the “most consequential, urgent, sweeping collection of challenges we face.”

“I don’t think we really want a commander in chief who’s battling climate change instead of terrorism,” Paul said on Fox News.

Maher said that Paul’s answer on the environment was “wholly unsatisfactory” and that the senator would lose his vote based entirely on that issue unless Paul comes up with a better answer.

“This is the deal-breaker issue with me. You’ve got to be good on this or, I’m sorry, not going to happen,” Maher said.

In an ideal world, we would be able to exclude someone such as Hillary Clinton who backed the Iraq war with claims of a connection between Sadaam and al Qaeda. However in such an ideal world, we would also not have a major political party which denies science, including the scientific consensus on climate change. In addition to drumming up fear about terrorism, it makes no sense to say we cannot deal with climate change due to the presence of another problem. It is as if Paul and Cheney are unable to walk and chew gum at the same time.

Salon has more on Rand Paul’s anti-scientific views, related to both climate change and Ebola:

In a breathless “exclusive,” Breitbart News revealed that Paul thinks the Obama administration is misleading the public about the nature of the threat and how the disease is spread. “They’re downplaying and underplaying the risk of this,” Paul claimed. “They keep emphasizing that it’s so hard to transmit. Well if it’s so hard to transmit why are doctors getting it with masks, gloves, boots and hats—the whole works?”

You might think an ophthalmologist (though he’s not board certified) would be more responsible about spreading health panic. But you’d be wrong. “Could we have a worldwide pandemic? The Spanish flu in 1918 killed 21 million people, the plague in the 14th century killed 25 million people; I’m not saying that’s going to happen, I don’t know what’s going to happen. But I think we should have travel restrictions at this point in time coming from Africa,” Paul added.

Health experts shot Paul down almost immediately. “I don’t think that there’s data to tell us that that’s a correct statement, with all due respect,” NIH veteran Dr. Anthony Fauci told CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “We have had experience since 1976 with how Ebola is transmitted. And it is clear that it’s transmitted by direct contact with body fluids, blood, diarrhea, vomit, or what have you.

“And there’s no indication that there is another insidious way that it’s transmitted that we’re missing because of the experience that we’ve had. So, we’ve really gotta go with the evidence base. There’s always hypothesis and surmising about that, but there’s no scientific evidence,” Fauci added.

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Bill Maher Says He Is No Fan Of Hillary, Might Vote For Rand Paul

Bill Maher provides an example of why I think it would be a mistake for Democrats to nominate Hillary Clinton. The Hill reports:

“Rand Paul is an interesting candidate to me. Rand Paul could possibly get my vote,” the 58-year-old comedy veteran said of the Kentucky senator.

Maher commented on the son of former Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas): “As I always used to say about his father, I love half of him. I love the half of him that has the guts to say we should end the American empire, pull the troops home, stop getting involved in every foreign entanglement… He’s way less of a hawk than Hillary, and that appeals to me a lot because I’m not crazy about how warlike she is.”When ITK asked if Maher, who donated $1 million to an Obama super PAC in 2012, would be doing the same for a Hillary Clinton PAC, he quickly answered, “No, I don’t think so. First of all, I’m not as big a fan of Hillary as I am of Obama. So we’ll see who’s running. I’m not even committing to being for Hillary.”

When pressed on whether he was leaning towards the Republican lawmaker in a potential Clinton/Paul matchup (neither has announced any 2016 plans), Maher said, “I wouldn’t say leaning, but I would say for the first time in a long time I’d be considering the Republican product. I might choose their toothpaste when I’m in the aisle.”

Supporting the Pauls on libertarian grounds is a mistake. I’ve looked at Ron Paul’s positions which would lead to less freedom in greater length in the past. However the question is not whether voting for Rand Paul makes sense but whether people will. It is not that I really think that Rand Paul could win a general election, and even his chances at the Republican nomination are questionable. It is also easy to dismiss Bill Maher here because he is often more libertarian than traditional progressive Democrat. This would be a mistake.

What must be considered is the future of Democratic voters. The old New Deal coalition is dead. Today’s Democratic voters include many who primarily support the Democratic Party because of objections to Republican big government–from the Iraq War to intrusions on the private lives of individuals. Millennial voters quite commonly fall into this group. They certainly are not as easy targets for a Rand Paul as some believe, opposing his views on the destruction of the safety net. When Democrats nominate a candidate such as Barack Obama, both Bill Maher and millennials are on board.

Hillary Clinton changes the calculus. Regardless of whether she runs against Paul, a conservative Democratic nominee like Clinton, who is weak on both foreign policy and civil liberties issues, gives little reason for either Bill Maher or millennials to get excited. She will probably still win (although that is far from guaranteed) but many voters will see far less reason to stick with the Democrats long term if they see it as the party of Hillary Clinton. The next presidential election could give Democrats the voters to solidify the support of young voters for years to come, but not under Clinton’s leadership.

The Hill also reports that Clinton supporters are trying to differentiate Clinton from Obama by stressing her decisiveness. It looks like an attempt to turn one of Clinton’s greatest weaknesses into a strength, but it won’t convince those who are already concerned about Clinton’s record. As I’ve discussed before, Hillary Clinton has frequently been wrong on the big questions. She was decisive, but wrong. She would ultimately realize the errors she was making, but not until years later. This included the manner in which she botched health care reform, making it impossible for another generation, and her backing military intervention in Iraq based upon her mistaken belief of a connection between Saddam and al Qaeda. Promoting Hillary Clinton as the decisive candidate certainly does not give me reason to be happy about her likely candidacy.

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Hillary Clinton And The Left

Hillary Clinton and the Left

The Hill has an article on Hillary Clinton which, as is the case with many of their articles, recites the conventional wisdom with little real insight or new information. Most of their five points are trivial, such as that anything Hillary says, or doesn’t say (as in the case of Ferguson) makes the news. The only point in the article which I think is worthy of any discussion is the second, their claim that “The left doesn’t really hate her after all.”

In recent weeks, critics and even some Democratic allies have worried that Clinton has failed to satisfy some on the left.

On Vox.com earlier this month, Ezra Klein wrote that “liberals walk away unnerved” after almost every interview Clinton had done around her recent book tour.

“She bumbled through a discussion of gay marriage with [NPR’s] Terry Gross. She dodged questions about the Keystone XL pipeline. She’s had a lot of trouble discussing income inequality,” Klein asserted.

Other progressives have expressed a desire to see a candidate rooted within the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), challenge Clinton.

But poll numbers provide succor to Clinton supporters.

A CNN poll conducted in late July showed that there was essentially no difference in the backing Clinton received from self-identified liberal Democrats over Democrats as a whole. Sixty-six percent of liberal Democrats supported her, as did 67 percent of all party supporters.

Clinton allies object to the notion that the former secretary of State is in trouble with the left.

“She is progressive and has support from the vast majority of progressives, which I would argue spans from the left to the middle, including some conservative Democrats along the way, too,” said one longtime aide.

Another ally who has worked for Clinton took it a step further, insisting that the he idea of widespread unease about her on the left was a “fictional plot that people want to believe is true.”

For all practical purposes this might as well be true, but it is an over-simplification. I certainly would not consider Clinton to be a liberal, but the right has moved to so such extremes that she could not be classified as a conservative today either. She may be a former Goldwater girl, but the Republicans have moved far to the right of Barry Goldwater. One significant factor is that while the Republican Party is pulled to the right by a strong conservative movement, the Democratic Party is a centrist party which often ignores liberal influence. Many liberals I discuss politics with  are very concerned about Clinton’s relatively conservative views, but we also make up a tiny percentage of the centrist-dominated voters for the Democrats.

Clinton also benefits from the widespread realization that there is not much choice other than to support her. The faction of the left which would vote for the Green Party or a Ralph Nader like challenge from the left is even smaller than those of us who feel Clinton is too conservative. Most of us anti-Clinton Democrats realize that whatever faults Clinton has, the Republicans will be as bad on foreign policy and far worse on domestic policy.

Clinton also probably benefits from factors such as a favorable view among Democrats of electing the first female president. Plus there is nostalgia for the period of peace and prosperity when Bill Clinton was president. However the times have changed and electing a Clinton will not mean returning to the Clinton economy.

I suspect that these factors also blind many Democratic voters to how conservative Clinton is on many issues, even if given warnings in recent interviews. She is likely to be seen as more socially liberal than she actually is do her position on “women’s issues” but being even Republican women are more liberal than the Republican establishment in this area. While Clinton has received criticism for appearing dishonest and calculating for naming the Bible as the book with the greatest influence on her thinking, that might not really be out of character considering her past participation with the religiously conservative Fellowship while in Congress.

I also suspect that many liberals fail to realize how conservative she is on foreign policy issues. Being Obama’s Secretary of State blurs the distinctions between Clinton and the rest of the Obama administration, but during her tenure as Secretary of State the common pattern was for Clinton to push for a more hawkish position which was countered by others in the administration.

Clinton’s hawkish views on Iraq are also obscured by the fact that many Democrats voted for the Iraq war resolution. However, while all who voted yes were terribly mistaken, there were still significant differences in views within that group. On the left was John Kerry, who voted yes but clearly laid out the conditions under which war would be justified, and then spent the next several months pushing Bush not to go to war. On the extreme right of the Democratic Party there was Joe Lieberman and Hillary Clinton, being unique among Democrats in pushing to go to war based upon the fictitious arguments connecting Saddam to al Qaeda:

Indeed, in Clinton’s October 10, 2002, speech about her vote she said of Saddam: LINK

“He has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including Al Qaeda members, though there is apparently no evidence of his involvement in the terrible events of September 11, 2001.”

As Don van Natta and Jeff Gerth have written in their book about Clinton and the New York Times, Clinton’s linkage of Saddam and al Qaeda was unique among Democrats and “was unsupported by the conclusions of the N.I.E. and other secret intelligence reports that were available to senators before the vote.” LINK

Former Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Sen. Bob Graham, D-Florida, said it was a spurious claim: “I don’t think any agency pretended to make a case that there was a strong linkage between Saddam Hussein and 9/11. It wasn’t in the N.I.E.”

“Nevertheless,” van Natta and Gerth write, “on the sensitive issue of collaboration between Al Qaeda and Iraq, Senator Clinton found herself adopting the same argument that was being aggressively pushed by the administration. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and other administration officials had repeated their claim frequently, and by early October 2002, two out of three Americans believed that Saddam Hussein was connected to the Sept. 11 attacks. By contrast, most of the other Senate Democrats, even those who voted for the war authorization, did not make the Qaeda connection in their remarks on the Senate floor.”

Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., “actively assailed the reports of Al Qaeda in Iraq, calling them ‘much exaggerated.’ Senator Dianne Feinstein of California described any link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda as ‘tenuous.’ The Democratic senator who came closest to echoing Clinton’s remarks about Hussein’s supposed assistance to Al Qaeda was Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut. Yet even Lieberman noted that ‘the relationship between Al Qaeda and Saddam’s regime is a subject of intense debate within the intelligence community.’”

How could Clinton get this key point so wrong?

“My vote was a sincere vote based on the facts and assurances that I had at the time,” she said in February.

But what facts and assurances?

If someone were to mount a serious primary challenge to Clinton I suspect that opposition to Clinton would increase on the left, based upon foreign policy, economics, and social issues, along with questions about her competence and judgment. The 2008 race showed that deep down many Democrats do have reservations about Clinton and would support a viable challenge. Unfortunately, at least so far, I do not see such a challenge emerging. Many liberals who are concerned about Clinton’s Wall Street connections would love to see Elizabeth Warren run, but this is highly unlikely to happen. Bernie Sanders is talking about possibly running, but a self-described socialist has zero chance of winning in this country. Joe Biden is traveling to New Hampshire, leading to speculation about him running. While he is far from the ideal candidate, and I never really thought of backing him, as I read about how Biden was a strong voice against Clinton’s hawkish views in the Obama administration, Biden increasingly looks like a far more favorable alternative if he can mount a viable campaign and no better options arise.

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Republicans Prefer Out of Context Quotes Over Serious Middle East Discussion

Republicans, lacking any actual coherent policy arguments, love to dwell on taking comments from Democrats out of context, often distorting what was said. They made such an distorted quote the centerpiece of their last national convention. We are bound to hear another out of context quote over and over from Republicans. In response to a question from Chuck Todd, Obama explained why it is premature to take a plan to Congress before specific military targets are determined and arranging a regional coalition to fight ISIS. Republicans are ignoring the substance of what Obama said and taking a few unfortunate words out of context: “We don’t have a strategy yet.”

Follow up discussion by Chuck Todd on  The Daily Rundown this morning (his last as host before taking over at Meet the Press), placed this in context. Todd and Andrea Mitchell were supportive about Obama’s transparency on the issue and consideration of the ramifications of military intervention (video above). It was good to see a news report provide the full context. The failure of other news outlets to do the same has placed the Obama administration in damage-control mode.

Steve Benen has a a good take on this “gaffe”

To see deliberate thought and planning as the object of criticism is a mistake – delaying military intervention in the Middle East until a firm strategy is in place is a positive, not a negative.

It’s a feature of the president’s foreign policy, not a bug.

Much of the media seems stunned by the process: “You mean, Obama intends to think this through and then decide whether to pursue military options in Syria?” Why, yes, actually he does. The question isn’t why Obama has adopted such an approach; the question is why so many are outraged by it.

“We don’t have a strategy yet,” without context, lends itself to breathless Beltway chatter. To accommodate the political world’s predispositions, maybe the president should have added the rest of the thought: “We don’t have a strategy yet for possible U.S. military intervention in Syria, which may require congressional approval.”

But that’s effectively all that he said. There is no great “gaffe” here.

If only George Bush had taken the time to develop a comprehensive strategy before going into Iraq.

Peter Beinhart pointed out that Obama does actually have a strategy in the middle east:

President Obama’s critics often claim he doesn’t have a strategy in the greater Middle East. That’s wrong. Like it or loathe it, he does, and he’s beginning to implement it against ISIS. To understand what it is, it’s worth going back seven summers.

In July 2007, at a debate sponsored by CNN and YouTube, Obama said that if elected president, he’d talk directly to the leaders of Iran, Syria, Cuba, and Venezuela. Hillary Clinton derided his answer as “irresponsible and frankly naïve.” The altercation fit the larger narrative the media had developed about the two Democratic frontrunners: Obama—who had opposed the Iraq War—was the dove. Hillary—who had supported it—was the hawk.

But less than a week later, a different foreign-policy tussle broke out. Obama said he’d send the U.S. military into Pakistan, against its government’s wishes, to kill members of al-Qaeda. “If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf will not act,” he vowed, “we will.” Suddenly, Obama was the hawk and Clinton was the dove. “He basically threatened to bomb Pakistan,” she declared in early 2008, “which I don’t think was a particularly wise position to take.”

So was Obama more dovish than Clinton or more hawkish? The answer is both. On the one hand, Obama has shown a deep reluctance to use military force to try to solve Middle Eastern problems that don’t directly threaten American lives. He’s proved more open to a diplomatic compromise over Iran’s nuclear program than many on Capitol Hill because he’s more reticent about going to war with Tehran. He’s been reluctant to arm Syria’s rebels or bomb Basher al-Assad because he doesn’t want to get sucked into that country’s civil war. After initially giving David Petraeus and company the yellow light to pursue an expanded counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan, he’s wound down America’s ground war against the Taliban. Even on Libya, he proved more reluctant to intervene than the leaders of Britain and France.

On the other hand, he’s proven ferocious about using military force to kill suspected terrorists. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, he’s basically adopted the policy Joe Biden proposed at the start of his administration: Don’t focus on fighting the Taliban on the ground, since they don’t really threaten the United States. Just bomb the hell out al-Qaeda from the air. Compared with George W. Bush, he’s dramatically expanded drone strikes, even though they’re unilateral, legally dubious, and morally disturbing. And, as promised, he sent special forces to kill Osama bin Laden without Pakistan’s permission, even though his vice president and secretary of defense feared the risks were too high.

When it comes to the Middle East, in other words, Obama is neither a dove nor a hawk. He’s a fierce minimalist. George W. Bush defined the War on Terror so broadly that in anti-terrorism’s name he spent vast quantities of blood and treasure fighting people who had no capacity or desire to attack the United States. Hillary Clinton and John McCain may not use the “War on Terror” framework anymore, but they’re still more willing to sell arms, dispatch troops, and drop bombs to achieve goals that aren’t directly connected to preventing another 9/11. By contrast, Obama’s strategy—whether you like it or not—is more clearly defined. Hundreds of thousands can die in Syria; the Taliban can menace and destabilize Afghanistan; Iran can move closer to getting a bomb. No matter. With rare exceptions, Obama only unsheathes his sword against people he thinks might kill American civilians.

Understanding Obama’s fierce minimalism helps explain the evolution of his policy toward Syria and Iraq. For years, hawks pushed him to bomb Assad and arm Syria’s rebels. They also urged him to keep more U.S. troops in Iraq to stabilize the country and maintain American leverage there. Obama refused because these efforts—which would have cost money and incurred risks—weren’t directly aimed at fighting terrorism. But now that ISIS has developed a safe haven in Iraq and Syria, amassed lots of weapons and money, killed an American journalist, recruited Westerners, and threatened terrorism against the United States, Obama’s gone from dove to hawk. He’s launched air strikes in Iraq and may expand them to Syria. As the Center for American Progress’s Brian Katulis has noted, the Obama administration is also trying to strengthen regional actors who may be able to weaken ISIS. But the administration is doing all this to prevent ISIS from killing Americans, not to put Syria back together again. Yes, there’s a humanitarian overlay to Obama’s anti-ISIS campaign: He’s authorized air strikes to save Yazidis at risk of slaughter. But the core of his military effort in Iraq and Syria, and throughout the greater Middle East, is narrow but aggressive anti-terrorism…

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Clinton’s Hawkish Statements On Syria Remind Left That Clinton Does Not Share Our Views On Foreign Policy

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As is far too often the case, I think the mainstream media is getting the story wrong following Hillary Clinton’s interview with Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic  in which she took a different position from Obama. We expect to see Clinton separate herself to some degree from Obama.The real significance is that this has been a wake up call for many on the left who really haven’t thought about Clinton’s hawkish world view. Many liberals who ostracized Joe Lieberman still embrace Hillary Clinton despite holding very similar foreign policy views. I doubt that this will change the outcome of Clinton winning the nomination, assuming she runs, but if by chance she is stopped by a successful challenger, in retrospect we might see this week as the time when things changed for her. David Brooks, while largely agreeing with Clinton from the right, speculates that “I’d bet she is going to get a more serious challenge than people now expect.” These questions are bigger than Politico discussing whether Hillary Clinton is comfortable in her own skin.

Clinton has received criticism for her views on intervening in Syria and for her general disagreement with Obama’s approach:

Great nations need organizing principles, and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle.”

“Don’t do stupid stuff” sounds like a good idea. It reminds me a lot of the Hippocratic Oath to do no harm. Both good ideas, as opposed to Clinton’s history of making big mistakes and not realizing it until later, after the damage is done.

The Weekly Standard did have an amusing take on this, running a story composed of quotes from the interview under the headline, “Special Guest Editorial: Obama’s Foreign Policy Failures By HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON”

Response to Clinton’s statements on getting involved in the quagmire in Syria were largely negative from the liberal blogosphere. Digby’s response to the interview:

This is a very scary interview. Much more hardcore than I expected…

It’s possible she’s doing this to speed things up so an agreement can be struck before Obama leaves office — kind of a Reaganesque  madman move — but considering her hard line on everything else, I’d guess not.

Yikes.

Booman looked at the substance of Clinton’s argument and concluded, ” Had we made that mistake, too, we’d be in an even deeper hole.”

From Balloon Juice:

…my major concern about HRC is her hawkishness. That’s why I supported Obama instead of HRC back in 2008 — he recognized the Iraq War as “stupid shit” from the beginning; she didn’t.

The remark highlighted above doesn’t tell us much about Clinton’s organizing principles. When Goldberg questioned her directly on it, her response was “peace, progress and prosperity,” which could have come from a Miss World pageant script.

A supporter of Clinton in 2008 at Cannonfire wrote, “It’s Obama vs. Hillary — again — and this time, I’m on HIS side”

Not surprisingly, Andrew Sullivan was quite hard on Clinton:

And the greatest throwback to 2003 in this respect is Hillary Clinton. So far as one can tell from her interview with Jeffrey Goldberg, there is no daylight between her and John McCain or even Benjamin Netanyahu – but a hell of a lot of space between her and Barack Obama. The interview confirms my view that she remains neoconservatism’s best bet to come back with bells on. It appears, for example, that her boomer-era pabulum about foreign policy on the Jon Stewart show – “We need to love America again! – was not an aberration. She actually means it. And once we believe in ourselves again – don’t look at that torture report! – it will be back to the barricades for another American century of American global hegemony. And why not start in Syria and Iraq? I mean: she’s already hepped up about the threat of Jihadism – and what could possibly go wrong this time? If only we believe in America!

You know, when you’re down on yourself, and when you are hunkering down and pulling back, you’re not going to make any better decisions than when you were aggressively, belligerently putting yourself forward. One issue is that we don’t even tell our own story very well these days.

Just forget that this country destroyed its military deterrence and its moral authority by the war that Clinton favored and has never fully expressed remorse for. Forget the trillions wasted and the tens of thousands of lives lost and the brutal torture we authorized and the hapless occupation that helped galvanize Jhadism, let’s just feel good about ourselves! And do it all again!

And so try and find a real difference between John McCain and Hillary Clinton on these topics. It’s certainly the same “fight them over there so we don’t fight them over here” fear-mongering:

One of the reasons why I worry about what’s happening in the Middle East right now is because of the breakout capacity of jihadist groups that can affect Europe, can affect the United States. Jihadist groups are governing territory. They will never stay there, though. They are driven to expand. Their raison d’etre is to be against the West, against the Crusaders, against the fill-in-the-blank—and we all fit into one of these categories. How do we try to contain that? I’m thinking a lot about containment, deterrence, and defeat.

Well, actually, their raison d’etre is not to be against the West. Right now and for the foreseeable future, it is about defeating the apostates of Shia Islam and wimpy Sunni Islam. It’s about forcing other Muslims to submit to their medieval authority – with weapons left behind from the last American interventionist project. The West for these Jihadis is a long, long way away. But not for Clinton or for McCain who see every struggle anywhere as involving the US because … America! And that’s when you realize how fresh Obama was and how vital he has been – and how in foreign policy, a Clinton presidency is such a contrast to his.

MoveOn issued this warning to Clinton:

Secretary Clinton, and any other person thinking about seeking the Democratic nomination in 2016, should think long and hard before embracing the same policies advocated by right-wing war hawks that got America into Iraq in the first place and helped set the stage for Iraq’s troubles today. These hawkish policy stances are also threatening to undermine the peaceful international resolution of Iran’s nuclear program.

Voters elected President Obama in 2008 to bring the war in Iraq to an end. MoveOn members will continue to stand with elected officials who oppose military escalation that could put us back on a path to endless war.

I rarely agree with The American Conservative to the degree I agree with much of this analysis:

Clinton has “brilliantly” identified herself as the hawk that she has always been, which puts her sharply at odds with most people in her own party and most Americans of all political affiliations. That’s not triangulation at all. The old Clintonian triangulation was driven by an obsessive focus on public opinion and on finding mostly minor issues that obtained support from a large majority. The purpose of it was to co-opt popular issues and deprive the opposition of effective lines of attack. The goal was not to poke the majority of Americans in the eye on major issues and tell them that they’re wrong. Clinton’s foreign policy posturing politically tone-deaf and focused entirely on what will please people in Washington and a few other capitals around the world. It is evidence that Clinton thinks she can get away with campaigning on a more activist foreign policy on the assumption that no one is going to vote against her for that reason. She may be right about that, or she may end up being surprised–again–to find that her horrible foreign policy record is still a serious political liability.

Now it’s true that the vast majority doesn’t vote on foreign policy, and most Americans normally pay little or no attention to it, but one thing that does seem to get their attention is when they are being presented with the prospect of new and costly conflicts. If Obama is faulted in Washington for being too cautious, Clinton is making clear that she will err on the side of being too activist and aggressive, and she gives us every reason to expect that she will err quite often on that side. That isn’t going to gain Clinton any votes, and it could easily lose her quite a few. Her twin hopes at this point have to be that she won’t face a significant challenge from the left on these and other issues and that the next Republican nominee will be even more irresponsibly hawkish than she is. That’s not brilliant. It’s called wishful thinking.

Clinton’s current hawkish views today are hardly new, as in 2002 when she backed the Iraq war based upon claims of a tie between Saddam and al Qaeda:

Indeed, in Clinton’s October 10, 2002, speech about her vote she said of Saddam: LINK

“He has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including Al Qaeda members, though there is apparently no evidence of his involvement in the terrible events of September 11, 2001.”

As Don van Natta and Jeff Gerth have written in their book about Clinton and the New York Times, Clinton’s linkage of Saddam and al Qaeda was unique among Democrats and “was unsupported by the conclusions of the N.I.E. and other secret intelligence reports that were available to senators before the vote.” LINK

Former Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Sen. Bob Graham, D-Florida, said it was a spurious claim: “I don’t think any agency pretended to make a case that there was a strong linkage between Saddam Hussein and 9/11. It wasn’t in the N.I.E.”

“Nevertheless,” van Natta and Gerth write, “on the sensitive issue of collaboration between Al Qaeda and Iraq, Senator Clinton found herself adopting the same argument that was being aggressively pushed by the administration. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and other administration officials had repeated their claim frequently, and by early October 2002, two out of three Americans believed that Saddam Hussein was connected to the Sept. 11 attacks. By contrast, most of the other Senate Democrats, even those who voted for the war authorization, did not make the Qaeda connection in their remarks on the Senate floor.”

Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., “actively assailed the reports of Al Qaeda in Iraq, calling them ‘much exaggerated.’ Senator Dianne Feinstein of California described any link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda as ‘tenuous.’ The Democratic senator who came closest to echoing Clinton’s remarks about Hussein’s supposed assistance to Al Qaeda was Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut. Yet even Lieberman noted that ‘the relationship between Al Qaeda and Saddam’s regime is a subject of intense debate within the intelligence community.’”

How could Clinton get this key point so wrong?

“My vote was a sincere vote based on the facts and assurances that I had at the time,” she said in February.

But what facts and assurances?

It is not just a single view. The problem is Hillary Clinton’s entire history on foreign policy. I trust Obama far more than Clinton in answering that hypothetical 3 am phone call.

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This Is Not The Libertarian Moment, But Also Not The Right Moment For Democrats To Follow Hillary Clinton’s Views

Robert Draper asks, Has the ‘Libertarian Moment’ Finally Arrived? in The New York Times Magazine.

Libertarians, who long have relished their role as acerbic sideline critics of American political theater, now find themselves and their movement thrust into the middle of it. For decades their ideas have had serious backing financially (most prominently by the Koch brothers, one of whom, David H., ran as vice president on the 1980 Libertarian Party ticket), intellectually (by way of policy shops like the Cato Institute and C.E.I.) and in the media (through platforms like Reason and, as of last year, “The Independents”). But today, for perhaps the first time, the libertarian movement appears to have genuine political momentum on its side. An estimated 54 percent of Americans now favor extending marriage rights to gay couples. Decriminalizing marijuana has become a mainstream position, while the drive to reduce sentences for minor drug offenders has led to the wondrous spectacle of Rick Perry — the governor of Texas, where more inmates are executed than in any other state — telling a Washington audience: “You want to talk about real conservative governance? Shut prisons down. Save that money.” The appetite for foreign intervention is at low ebb, with calls by Republicans to rein in federal profligacy now increasingly extending to the once-sacrosanct military budget. And deep concern over government surveillance looms as one of the few bipartisan sentiments in Washington, which is somewhat unanticipated given that the surveiller in chief, the former constitutional-law professor Barack Obama, had been described in a 2008 Times Op-Ed by the legal commentator Jeffrey Rosen as potentially “our first president who is a civil libertarian.”

Meanwhile, the age group most responsible for delivering Obama his two terms may well become a political wild card over time, in large part because of its libertarian leanings. Raised on the ad hoc communalism of the Internet, disenchanted by the Iraq War, reflexively tolerant of other lifestyles, appalled by government intrusion into their private affairs and increasingly convinced that the Obama economy is rigged against them, the millennials can no longer be regarded as faithful Democrats — and a recent poll confirmed that fully half of voters between ages 18 and 29 are unwedded to either party. Obama has profoundly disappointed many of these voters by shying away from marijuana decriminalization, by leading from behind on same-sex marriage, by trumping the Bush administration on illegal-immigrant deportations and by expanding Bush’s N.S.A. surveillance program. As one 30-year-old libertarian senior staff member on the Hill told me: “I think we expected this sort of thing from Bush. But Obama seemed to be hip and in touch with my generation, and then he goes and reads our emails.”

To say that the libertarian moment has arrived based upon the views of millennials is to look at only part of the picture. Polling has showed millennials to typically be liberal on social issues, non-interventionist on foreign, policy, but far from conservative or libertarian on issues such as preserving the safety-net and providing universal health care. They are hardly likely to be attracted by either the Republican or Libertarian Party. Unfortunately the Democrats also are risking turning off such voters with the choice of Hillary Clinton:

Early polls show young voters favoring Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2016, but their support could erode as they refamiliarize themselves with her, just as it did in 2008. Clinton has been even slower than Obama to embrace progressive social causes, while in foreign policy, she associates herself more with her former Senate colleague John McCain than with noninterventionists. Nor is Clinton likely to quell millennial fears about government surveillance. Welch says: “Hillary isn’t going to be any good on these issues. She has an authoritative mind-set and has no interest in Edward Snowden, who’s a hero to a lot of these people.”

Comparing Clinton to John McCain, who seems to have never seen a possibility for going to war which didn’t excite him, might be a little extreme, but she has firmly placed herself in the Joe Lieberman camp. She is a rare Democrat who rooted for going to war with Iraq based upon false claims tying Saddam to al Qaeda. She now repudiates her past support for the war however the story of Hillary Clinton’s career has been to get the big issues wrong at the time and possibly later realize that she was wrong. As I’ve also pointed out before, in the remote chance that the Republicans do nominate Rand Paul, or anyone else with similar non-interventionist views, this could really shake up the race, putting Democrats in the position of running from the right on foreign policy. Clinton’s weakness and cowardice on social issues wouldn’t help matters.

So, no, the Libertarian Moment has not arrived. The future looks more friendly towards politicians who are socially liberal, anti-interventionism, but far from libertarian across the board. Most likely the Republicans will run a candidate who is even further to the right of Hillary Clinton on foreign policy and social issues, and as Andrew Sullivan recently argued, Clinton will try to run on vacuous statements (along with inevitability), and avoid taking controversial positions on the issues.  She will continue to try to stick with what she sees as safe answers, such as saying that the Bible is the book which she found most influential. Maybe she will get away with it, but if the Republicans shake things up and question her on more libertarian grounds on social issues and foreign policy, there is the real danger of the Democrats losing the millennials.

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Why Many People In The Middle Now Identify With The Left

While the country has become more liberal in some ways, the Republican Party has moved to the extreme right, and the Democratic Party has filled in the vacuum in the middle by also moving to the right on many issues. As a consequence, many people who previously considered themselves in the middle are finding that the current views of the left are closer to their views. Thomas Ricks, who wrote Fiasco, and excellent look at the Iraq War, described why he moved to the left at Politico:

Disappointment in the American government over the last 10 years. Our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were the first big shocks. I thought that invading Afghanistan was the right response to the 9/11 attacks, but I never expected the U.S. military leadership would be so inept in fighting there and in Iraq, running the wars in ways that made more enemies than were stopped. I believe that the invasion of Iraq was wrong, not only launched on false premises but also strategically foolish in that ultimately it has increased Iran’s power in the Middle East.

Torture. I never expected my country to endorse torture. I know that torture has existed in all wars, but to my knowledge, its use, under the chilling term “enhanced interrogation,” was never official U.S. policy until this century. In fact, until our recent wars, the American military had a proud heritage of handling its prisoners better than most. During the Revolutionary War, Gen. George Washington reminded his men of the need to “Treat [captives] with humanity, and Let them have no reason to complain of our Copying the brutal example of the British army.”

How we fought. I never thought that an American government would employ mercenaries in a war. And yet we did this in Iraq by hiring thousands of armed “security contractors” who in practice were subject neither to local law nor to the American military justice system, and so could and often did treat Iraqis badly. In September 2007, I remember, American officers, who by then understood the need to treat Iraqi civilians well, were outraged when Blackwater employees shot 37 Iraqis in Baghdad’s Nisour Square—the rough equivalent of opening up on the lunch crowd in Dupont Circle. Yet to my knowledge, the U.S. government has not studied how the use of mercenaries poisoned the conduct of the war. Indeed, it gives every indication of planning to operate the same way in the future.

Intelligence officials run amok. I think that American intelligence officials have shown a contempt for the way our democracy is supposed to work in turning a vast and unaccountable apparatus on the citizens it is supposed to be protecting. I remain wary of Edward Snowden’s motivations and connections, yet still am worried by the intrusive surveillance by the National Security Agency he has unveiled. At the very least, in a democracy, we should be able to be informed about the actions that have eroded our privacy but supposedly were taken in our name.

Growing income inequality. I also have been dismayed by the transfer of massive amounts of wealth to the richest people in the country, a policy supported over the last 35 years by successive administrations of both parties. Apparently income redistribution downward is dangerously radical, but redistribution upward is just business as usual. The middle class used at least to get lip service from the rich—“backbone of the country” and such. Now it is often treated like a bunch of saps not aware enough to evade their taxes.

This led to a lengthy discussion at The Moderate Voice, where I also blog. Many of the bloggers and regular commentators there are in a similar position, thinking of themselves as moderates but finding their views are now more in line with the left, especially on social issues. While Ricks didn’t mention social issues, the desire to keep government out of the private lives of individuals has led many people to abandon the Republicans and the conservative movement.

Opposition to the Iraq War and related issues has generally been the defining issue for the formation of the liberal “netroots” and this dominates Ricks’ reasons. Republicans typically use fear and distort Democratic views, such as with the misquotation of Obama as the theme of the last Republican convention, to falsely paint liberals as being for socialism. There are no such economic views listed by Ricks, and the same is typical of many liberals. There is a far greater variation in views on the left than on the right, but the center of gravity has moved rightwards on economic issues. Liberals tend to be  more pragmatists and closer to Eisenhower Republicans than anything close to socialist (by its classic meaning).

If the word conservative really meant anything, in many ways today’s liberals are the conservatives who want to preserve our market economy, while eliminating its abuses, while Republicans are the radicals who want to destroy the system and make our economy more like a banana republic. It is the Republicans who are irresponsible fiscally, financing their policies on credit (while Democrats are more likely to include financing for their policies), caring more about tax cuts for the rich as opposed to cutting the deficit, and rigging the system to redistribute wealth from the middle class to the rich. Besides the ethical problems with this, destroying the middle class is horrible for the economy, and in the long run doesn’t even benefit the rich either, unless you want to live in a banana republic. On top of this we have the Republicans engaging in irresponsible action such as shutting down the government and making an issue out of increasing the debt ceiling, resulting in a lowering of the country’s credit rating.

The Affordable Care Act is a good example of how both parties have moved to the right on health care. Obamacare is quite close to Richard Nixon’s health care plan, the GOP counter-proposal to HillaryCare in the 90′s, and Mitt Romney’s plan. Republicans used to push for mandates, exchanges, and recommended high deductible plans tied to medical savings accounts. Once Obama pushed for all of this, as opposed to previous more liberal health care proposals, the Republicans suddenly claimed that everything they supported in the past is socialism and amounts to a government takeover of health care. (Of course part of the Republican opposition is because Obamacare does differ from the old Republican proposals in including regulations to keep insurance companies from ripping off consumers while pushing to increase use of private insurance companies.)

Conservatives are likely to misinterpret the inclusion of concerns about income inequality by Ricks, as well as myself  in this post, as indicating support for socialism. Concern about the deleterious effects of  the concentration of wealth to our economy is not an exclusively liberal viewpoint–see the works of Kevin Phillips on this. Nor does this mean that socialism is being advocated as the solution.

Nicholas Kristof has an op-ed on income inequality which is worth reviewing:

First, economic inequality has worsened significantly in the United States and some other countries. The richest 1 percent in the United States now own more wealth than the bottom 90 percent. Oxfam estimates that the richest 85 people in the world own half of all wealth.

The situation might be tolerable if a rising tide were lifting all boats. But it’s lifting mostly the yachts. In 2010, 93 percent of the additional income created in America went to the top 1 percent.

Second, inequality in America is destabilizing. Some inequality is essential to create incentives, but we seem to have reached the point where inequality actually becomes an impediment to economic growth.

Certainly, the nation grew more quickly in periods when we were more equal, including in the golden decades after World War II when growth was strong and inequality actually diminished. Likewise, a major research paper from the International Monetary Fund in April found that more equitable societies tend to enjoy more rapid economic growth.

Indeed, even Lloyd Blankfein, the chief executive of Goldman Sachs, warns that “too much … has gone to too few” and that inequality in America is now “very destabilizing.”

Inequality causes problems by creating fissures in societies, leaving those at the bottom feeling marginalized or disenfranchised. That has been a classic problem in “banana republic” countries in Latin America, and the United States now has a Gini coefficient (a standard measure of inequality) approaching some traditionally poor and dysfunctional Latin countries.

Third, disparities reflect not just the invisible hand of the market but also manipulation of markets. Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel Prize-winning economist, wrote a terrific book two years ago, “The Price of Inequality,” which is a shorter and easier read than Piketty’s book. In it, he notes: “Much of America’s inequality is the result of market distortions, with incentives directed not at creating new wealth but at taking it from others.”

For example, financiers are wealthy partly because they’re highly educated and hardworking — and also because they’ve successfully lobbied for the carried interest tax loophole that lets their pay be taxed at much lower rates than other people’s.

Likewise, if you’re a pharmaceutical executive, one way to create profits is to generate new products. Another is to lobby Congress to bar the government’s Medicare program from bargaining for drug prices. That

Fourth, inequality doesn’t necessarily even benefit the rich as much as we think. At some point, extra incomes don’t go to sate desires but to attempt to buy status through “positional goods” — like the hottest car on the block.

The problem is that there can only be one hottest car on the block. So the lawyer who buys a Porsche is foiled by the C.E.O. who buys a Ferrari, who in turn is foiled by the hedge fund manager who buys a Lamborghini. This arms race leaves these desires unsated; there’s still only one at the top of the heap.

Fifth, progressives probably talk too much about “inequality” and not enough about “opportunity.” Some voters are turned off by tirades about inequality because they say it connotes envy of the rich; there is more consensus on bringing everyone to the same starting line.

Unfortunately, equal opportunity is now a mirage. Indeed, researchers find that there is less economic mobility in America than in class-conscious Europe.

We know some of the tools, including job incentives and better schools, that can reduce this opportunity gap. But the United States is one of the few advanced countries that spends less educating the average poor child than the average rich one. As an escalator of mobility, the American education system is broken.

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

Update: Norm Ornstein On The Republican Battle Between The Conservatives And Lunatic Radicals

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What The Republicans Got Wrong On Iraq

Iraq Republican Predictions

Why is anyone still listening to these people?

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