Looking Back At Obama’s Debate And Forward At Biden’s

There have been many attempts to analyze Barack Obama after the first presidential debate. I believe Joe Klein has a fairly accurate description. First he debunked any arguments as to Obama’s ability to speak on the issues:

The President is no dummy; he’s as well versed in the nuances of policy as Bill Clinton, if decidedly less compelling. Watch him in any press conference. Go back and look at his question-and-answer session with House Republicans after the 2010 election. He knows his stuff. But there haven’t been many press conferences–or town meetings, for that matter. His kinder debate critics said he was rusty, which is true, but there’s more to it than that. Obama chooses to be rusty. This is also strange: he’s warm and informal in person. He enjoys a good policy discussion–and I mean discussion, in which he actually responds to things you say or ask rather than speechifying. In my experience, though, he hates small talk, especially flattery, and that gets us closer to the heart of his current troubles.

Klein gave more examples. Even read the transcript of the debate. Obama actually did have the answers to many of Romney’s erroneous statements. The problem is that the delivery was so bad that the message got totally lost. Klein got into why Obama wasn’t into this type of debate:

>When I asked several close Obama associates about the President’s reluctance to sell his policies, they admitted their frustration. They said he hates doing things that he considers transparently political. He hates the idea of inviting a bunch of pols over to the White House for a drink or a movie, because they’d see it as an obvious bribe. He’d have to fake small talk; they’d try to Holbrooke him. He hates press conferences because the gotcha questions are calibrated to generate heat rather than light. He hates the notion of launching precooked zingers in debates. He hates debates, period, with their false air of portent and stage-managed aggression. These are inconvenient prejudices if you want to be re-elected. Such ceremonies are the price of admission if you want to be a politician.

Tonight is Joe Biden’s turn. He might be better suited for this format than Obama is. Biden is far more likely to use simple slogans as opposed to wonkish, professorial explanations which don’t work in this format. “GM is alive and bin Laden is dead.”That is not Obama’s style, but that is what is needed in this type of debate.

Hopefully after the first debate, Biden could get in a few simple points. Debunk the distortion that Obama is cutting Medicare and point out how the Romney/Ryan plan harms Medicare. And yes, that includes many currently on Medicare. Point out how the math is simple when looking at Romney’s tax plan. Either the deficit gets much higher or the middle class pays more in taxes (and probably both). Point out how after Romney claimed his health care plan protects people with pre-existing conditions in the first debate his campaign admitted the following day that the plan did not guarantee such coverage.  Remind women of how Romney would allow the government to interfere in what should be the private decisions of the individual. Plus, for many women the loss of Planned Parenthood is an economic issue as well as a social issue. Remind viewers of how badly Romney messed up when talking with foreign leaders. Bring back the 47 percent and questions as to why Romney won’t release his tax returns.

Should Ryan try to play Romney’s game and deny the positions they have been running on, in addition to pointing this out Biden should also point out how government works. If Romney is president will he really veto extremist policies passed by the Republicans–who have already voted to end Medicare as we know it and increase government intrusion in the lives of individuals? Will Romney appoint Supreme Court justices who support reproductive rights? I doubt it.

Most important of all, a good showing by Biden would get the media to stop repeating the simplistic storyline that Obama lost the debate. The fact remains that, despite a poor presentation, Obama was right on the issues, and the candidate on stage who was most qualified to be president.

Mike Huckabee Swears To Continue The American Taliban Movement

Mike Huckabee wants to keep the culture wars alive and doesn’t like the suggestion from Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels that the next president should drop the social issues and concentrate on fiscal problems. Huckabee responded:

Apparently, a 2012 Republican presidential prospect in an interview with a reporter has made the suggestion that the next President should call for a “truce” on social issues like abortion and traditional marriage to focus on fiscal problems.
In other words, stop fighting to end abortion and don’t make protecting traditional marriage a priority.
Let me be clear though, the issue of life and traditional marriage are not bargaining chips nor are they political issues. They are moral issues. I didn’t get involved in politics just to lower taxes and cut spending though I believe in both and have done it as a Governor. But I want to stay true to the basic premises of our civilization.
Are you ready to stop fighting for traditional marriage?  I cannot.  I will not.
Can you let the tragedy of abortion go unchecked while we get our financial house in order?  I cannot.  I will not.

What would the Republicans be without the culture wars–their attempt to fight the modern world and impose their religious views upon everyone else? As Joe Klein pointed out earlier this week, the whole Republican fiscal conservative line is a farce which they have neither the interest or ability to carry out. However using the power of government to impose their perverse moral code upon others is something which today’s Republican Party can stand behind.

Really cut the budget–will never happen under the borrow and spend Republicans. Have government control the bodies of women–Republicans are all for it.

Actually pay for their wars–never. Tell others who they may or may not legally marry–a “right” Republicans will fight to defend.

Conservatives like Mike Huckabee will makes sure that the American Taliban does not go away.

Republicans Are The Last Ones To Seriously Cut The Deficit

Earlier in the week Freddy “The Beetle” Barnes suggested in his column that Barack Obama would secretly be happy to see the Republicans take control of the House as this would make it easier to balance the budget. I’m not sure which is more ridiculous–Obama wanting to deal with a Republican-controlled Congress or to think that a party as fiscally irresponsible as the GOP would help balance the budget.  Joe Klein set Barnes straight:

1. There is no way the President is rooting for a Republican takeover of the Congress, given the extremist, recalcitrant path the party has taken in recent years. The rumor that Barnes cites is nonsense.

2. The Republicans have shown no–I mean, zero–interest in cutting the budget in the past. They didn’t do it under Reagan; they didn’t do it under Bush Junior. Quite the opposite, they exploded the budget deficit with wars and tax cuts. The exception was the Clinton era, when Ross Perot’s success changed the political landscape for a few years, making budget-cutting cool. But the Republicans’ usual modus operandi is to take really courageous stands against federal funding for the arts–a huge program!–or federally-funded abortion…overseas, or earmarks (while sneaking their own pet projects into Christmas tree bills), but when a real budget-cutting proposal comes along like Rep. Paul Ryan’s honest but ridiculous Medicare evisceration, they run for the hills.

3. There ain’t all that much to cut. Really. The discretionary domestic spending that Barnes talks about is chump change. The real money, as everyone knows, is in defense and entitlements. Some leaders of the Tea Party movement, to their credit, have raised the possibility of cutting the defense budget (which, in truth, is what the Secretary of Defense Robert Gates would like to do but can’t because of Congress, especially the sun belt Republicans with defense plants). Social Security can be fixed fairly easily, and Barnes is right in this case–it’s Democrats who oppose some of the more plausible fixes, like raising the retirement age (although Republicans have demagogued the essential Clinton-initiated component of taxing the benefits of wealthy Social Security recipients). And there is Medicare, where the real solution–moving recipients out of fee-for-service and into managed care–is about as popular as the oil spill.

So Barnes is peddling from an empty sack here–and, assuming an even rudimentary knowledge of the federal budget on his part, he knows it. The fact that the Journal would print such twaddle as opinion and not the utterly cynical propaganda that it is shows the marked disintegration of respect for coherent thought at that Temple of Right-Thinking. It would be nice to have an actual conversation about this stuff, but it just seems impossible.

Economists Disagree With Public On Benefits of Stimulus

Polls based upon general perceptions by the public often say very little about the actual policies and are often more a reflection of the misconceptions being spread by the right wing noise machine. I recently noted that many of those who say they oppose the health care reform plan agree with it when the specifics are actually explained to them. Another poll shows widespread public belief that the stimulus money was wasteful. Joe Klein thinks these people are Too Dumb to Thrive.

While Klein does present a brief argument as to why they are wrong, Steven Benen provides further information:

Among economists, however, we seem awfully close to complete unanimity that the Democrats’ recovery effort rescued the economy from collapse, created jobs, and generated economic growth that wouldn’t have existed otherwise. Among the experts, this isn’t even worth debating anymore — it’s simply an obvious truth that the stimulus was effective.

USA Today published an item today after surveying a panel of economists.

“President Obama’s stimulus package saved jobs — but the government still needs to do more to breathe life into the economy, according to USA TODAY’s quarterly survey of 50 economists.”

Unemployment would have hit 10.8% — higher than December’s 10% rate — without Obama’s $787 billion stimulus program, according to the economists’ median estimate. The difference would translate into another 1.2 million lost jobs.

Not surprisingly, the economists believe there should be more stimulus, not less, including increased spending on infrastructure.

Right Wing Caught Attributing Views in Fake Thesis to Obama

The conservative movement has become so intellectually and morally bankrupt that they they only way they can get followers is to invent facts and lie about the views of others. Fortunately for conservative pundits, fact checking is a very rare thing among conservatives, allowing them to  generally get away with making up whatever they wish. When they were caught yesterday they still tried to deny reality.

Steve Benen describes how, “Right-wing pundit Michael Ledeen published an item this week on Barack Obama’s “college thesis,” which Obama allegedly wrote as a student at Columbia 25 years ago.” Apparently the right wingers forgot that they already expressed outrage towards Obama’s thesis on nuclear disarmament, ignoring the fact that he was expressing views similar to those of Ronald Reagan.

The imaginary new thesis fit into their absurd claims that Obama is a socialist with fabricated lines such as:

“…the Constitution allows for many things, but what it does not allow is the most revealing. The so-called Founders did not allow for economic freedom. While political freedom is supposedly a cornerstone of the document, the distribution of wealth is not even mentioned. While many believed that the new Constitution gave them liberty, it instead fitted them with the shackles of hypocrisy.”

Rush Limbaugh jumped aboard this hoax. Alex Koppelman reports:

Limbaugh was, naturally, up in arms about this, calling the college-aged Obama a “little boy,” and saying, “he still shares those same feelings.”

Actually reading Obama’s views on the economy would make it clear that the views they attribute to Obama are radically different from Obama’s actual views, but the right wing never worries about the facts.

There were many ways to determine with even minimal fact checking that this claim was a fake. This includes following the link to the web site which Ledeen used as a source. The source information is tagged “satire.”

Joe Klein was also cited as a source. Klein wrote that “It is completely false.” After receiving an apology he commented:

Michael Ledeen now has apologized to me on his blog, claiming that he, Limbaugh and others were punked by a satire. I appreciate the apology…but I wonder about what the willingness to take this cheesy crap as gospel says about Ledeen’s–and Boss Rush’s–sensibility. Actually, on second thought, I don’t wonder all that much.

The right wing will continue to attack Obama and all other liberals based not upon their actual beliefs but based upon a set of beliefs they have invented and falsely attributed to Obama and other liberals. They know that nobody in their right mind, and certainly nobody without a very depraved set of values, would chose their views over the actual views of liberals.

Republicans Not The Party of Fiscal Responsibility

Republicans hope to capitalize on any dissatisfaction with Obama, and place the blame on him for problems created by the Republicans, in order to return to power. Andrew Sullivan explains the absurdity of this:

Charlie Cook and others are predicting a sea-change in public mood, with support for the GOP rising because of deficits. This strikes me as an amazing thing. It makes Charlie Brown, the football and Lucy look like the model of intelligent interaction. If you believe in fiscal conservatism, the last place on earth you should look for salvation is the GOP. They have single-handedly destroyed America’s finances since the 1980s, with the sole exception of George H W Bush, who was rejected by his own party precisely because of his fiscal sobriety. The current debt is overwhelmingly inherited by Obama, and it would have been nuts to enter office in the downdraft of the sharp recession and set about cutting spending. Bush had eight years to restrain it and he didn’t. He let it rip. Think of the GOP’s phony concerns about the cost of the current healthcare bill and compare it with the GOP’s prescription drug entitlement that Rove rammed through the Congress when the GOP held total power. The costs then were about eight times as great as the proposed costs now. But that was a Republican measure and so it doesn’t somehow count as evidence of fiscal irresponsibility. But Nancy Pelosi only has to raise an eye-brow and the alarms go off.

Sullivan also notes this comment to a column by Bruce Bartlett:

The last Republican who left the office of the presidency with the federal public debt as a percentage of GDP less than when he entered was Richard Nixon (FY 1975). The last Republican who left the office of the presidency with a federal deficit less than 2.7% of GDP was Dwight Eisenhower (FY 1961). Since WW II no Democratic president has ever left office with the federal public debt as a percentage of GDP more than when he entered. And since WW II no Democratic president has ever left office with a federal deficit more than 2.6% of GDP.

We already have at least one party of fiscal responsibility. It’s called the Democratic Party.

John Cole comments:

I find it amazing when I read the right-wing blogs and they talk about fiscal conservatism and fiscal responsibility. It is just too damned funny. But what is kind of creepy is that they sincerely believe their own bullshit- it is like the last several decades never happened. In their minds, the Republicans really are responsible stewards of the nation’s finances. It is mind-boggling.

Joe Klein adds:

…there are only two presidents in the past 50 years who took the national debt seriously after it exploded when Lyndon Johnson refused to fund the Vietnam war–George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. The Clinton experience is particularly important: he raised taxes to address the deficit. The Republicans said it would throw the economy into recession. It didn’t.  Clinton’s 1993 economic plan threw the economy into…a massive expansion and budget surpluses that reduced the national debt significantly.  (I remember reading pieces at the turn of the 21st century about the consequences of eliminating the national debt.)

George W. Bush wiped out all that. His tax cuts, overwhelmingly for wealthy Americans were bad enough. Then he passed a major entitlement–prescription drugs for the elderly–without paying for it. That’s what created the hole we were in when President Obama, acting to ameliorate a major economic meltdown, widened the deficit with his stimulus package…which, by the way, deserves some credit for preventing us from going off an economic cliff last winter.

Furthermore, Obama has promised that the health care reform plan will be revenue neutral. It may cost $1 trillion over 10 years, but he will raise $1 trillion to pay for it. Of course, Republicans are blocking most of the pathways to raising the revenue…and Democrats are blocking one important revenue sour (eliminating the employer-provided health care deduction), which, ironically, is the surest

But make no mistake: If you believe the national debt is a big problem, don’t blame the Democrats. Without question, they have been far more responsible–and, dare I say, conservative–party when it comes to balanced budgets for the past 30 years.

There is one necessary correction to Klein’s post. Bush’s Medicare D plan did provide some benefits for the elderly, and certainly was fiscally irresponsible, but it was primarily a program of corporate welfare for the insurance and pharmaceutical industries to reward them for their support.

Joe Klein on the State of the Republican Party

Joe Klein calls the Republicans a Party of Nihilists, making the same points I have made in multiple previous posts. This includes their dishonesty in claiming that provisions for end of life counseling which do not differ from bills they have endorsed would create “death panels,” and the claims that health care reform represents government take over of health care when it has been the Republicans, not Democrats, who have been using government to intervene in the doctor-patient relationship. Klein wrote:

To be sure, there are honorable conservatives, trying to do the right thing. There is a legitimate, if wildly improbable, fear that Obama’s plan will start a process that will end with a health-care system entirely controlled by the government. There are conservatives — Senator Lamar Alexander, Representative Mike Pence, among many others — who make their arguments based on facts. But they have been overwhelmed by nihilists and hypocrites more interested in destroying the opposition and gaining power than in the public weal. The philosophically supple party that existed as recently as George H.W. Bush’s presidency has been obliterated. The party’s putative intellectuals — people like the Weekly Standard‘s William Kristol — are prosaic tacticians who make precious few substantive arguments but oppose health-care reform mostly because passage would help Barack Obama’s political prospects. In 1993, when the Clintons tried health-care reform, the Republican John Chafee offered a creative (in fact, superior) alternative — which Kristol quashed with his famous “Don’t Help Clinton” fax to the troops. There is no Republican health-care alternative in 2009. The same people who rail against a government takeover of health care tried to enforce a government takeover of Terri Schiavo’s end-of-life decisions. And when Palin floated the “death panel” canard, the number of prominent Republicans who rose up to call her out could be counted on one hand.

A striking example of the prevailing cravenness was Senator Johnny Isakson of Georgia, who has authored end-of-life counseling provisions and told the Washington Post that comparing such counseling to euthanasia was nuts — but then quickly retreated when he realized that he had sided with the reality-based community against his Rush Limbaugh-led party. Mitt Romney, the Republican front-runner for President according to most polls, actually created a universal-health-care plan in Massachusetts that looks very much like the proposed Obamacare, but he spends much of his time trying to fudge the similarities and was AWOL on the “death panels.” Why are these men so reluctant to be rational in public?

An argument can be made that this is nothing new. Dwight Eisenhower tiptoed around Joe McCarthy. Obama reminded an audience in Colorado that opponents of Social Security in the 1930s “said that everybody was going to have to wear dog tags and that this was a plot for the government to keep track of everybody … These struggles have always boiled down to a contest between hope and fear.” True enough. There was McCarthyism in the 1950s, the John Birch Society in the 1960s. But there was a difference in those times: the crazies were a faction — often a powerful faction — of the Republican Party, but they didn’t run it. The neofascist Father Coughlin had a huge radio audience in the 1930s, but he didn’t have the power to control and silence the elected leaders of the party that Limbaugh — who, if not the party’s leader, is certainly the most powerful Republican extant — does now. Until recently, the Republican Party contained a strong moderate wing. It was a Republican, the lawyer Joseph Welch, who delivered the coup de grâce to Senator McCarthy when he said, “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?” Where is the Republican who would dare say that to Rush Limbaugh, who has compared the President of the United States to Adolf Hitler?

Debunking Cheney

Earlier in the week Dick Cheney gave a speech after Barack Obama on national security and the media went along with the hype that this was some sort of debate between the two. Dick Cheney is a war criminal who is wrong on most national security issues, and whose ideas were rejected in the past election. Even the Republican candidate rejected some of Cheney’s more extreme positions, such as support for torture (which is a war crime). Hearing Dick Cheney try to excuse his war crimes and attack Obama should not be taken as a debate between the two as if they are still on equal footing.

Joe Klein interpreted Cheney’s speech in the context of his overall philosophy:

I refer readers to Barton Gellman’s excellent Cheney biography, Angler, in which it is made plain that Cheney’s view of the presidency (provided by his thuggish counsel, David Addington) was eccentric at best; and, at worst, a temporary coup d’etat, abetted by the President’s lack of interest or mortal dimness. It’s true, as Brooks writes, that some of Cheney’s overreach was a result of understandable panic after the 9/11 attacks. But the real problem, as evidenced by the Vice President’s actions in other areas (like environmental policy), was Cheney’s twisted belief that the Constitution confers on the President near-dictatorial powers, especially in a time of war. Cheney’s profound authoritarian streak, and his moral ignorance, were demonstrated once again in his speech yesterday:

“In the fight against terrorism, there is no middle ground and half-measures leave you half-exposed.”

Which is utter nonsense, of course: the middle ground exists between doing nothing and doing far too much, too brutally–in a way that only creates more terrorists–a path that Cheney pursued to our great national detriment.

He also discussed the differences in Obama’s views:

In fact, the thrust of Obama’s national security policy is dramatically different from Bush’s. His emphasis on a comprehensive regional approach in Afghanistan and Pakistan is the opposite of Bush’s feckless abandonment of this far more crucial fight in the war against Al Qaeda. His decision to engage Iran, his decision to push forward in the Middle East (including the demand that Israel stop building illegal settlements), his decision to participate in global climate change talks, his decision not to indulge in the disdain–manifested by Cheney yet again in his speech–for our European allies. These are all dramatic turns for the better.

The difference between Obama and Cheney-Bush on national security and foreign policy issues is simply put: it’s the difference between a moderate and an extremist, the difference between a leader and a bully.

Even Tom Ridge disagreed with Cheney’s claims that the country is less safe under Obama.

McClatchy listed many factual errors made by Cheney:


Obama and Polarization

Joe Klein responds to the ridiculous conservative meme that Obama is more polarizing than Bush, calling it the World’s Stupidist Argument:

Bush flunkies trying to argue that Obama is more polarizing than Bush was. Given the fact that Obama had to take dramatic action, at home and abroad, to start lifting the country from the mess Bush made almost everywhere–and also begin to turn the country away from the myopia and greed of the Reagan era–it’s amazing that he hasn’t raised more dust or teabags. And, I should add the fact that the alleged polarization mostly results from the fact that Obama gets extremely low ratings from self-identified Republicans, who constitute an extremist shard of a party at this point, is a badge of honor. (Commenter sgwhiteinfla points out that the polarization is also the result of overwhelming–88%–support from Democrats.)

In the long run, it’s a safe historical bet that Bush will prove more polarizing than Obama because he was such an abject failure in the job–I doubt we’ll ever see Obama submerge to approval ratings in the mid-20s, or launch wars peremptorily without cause or purpose. The constant sniping from Rove, Wehner and the others during Obama’s first 100 days is a deeply neurotic reaction to the enormity of their own cockups in office. It shows a profound lack of class or grace, but then, that’s no surprise with these guys, is it? They ran the country like thugs, and thugs they remain.

I don’t think it has sunk in for many conservatives that, while they might have had a narrow majority in what was essentially a 50:50 nation in 1980, their views now represent a shrinking minority. Sure, they might dislike Obama (primarily for imaginary reasons) even more than everyone else dislikes George Bush, but that is a poor measure of polarization.

Conservatives often had an exaggerated impression of their support, such as with their talk of the “silent majority” going back to the Nixon years.  They see the country as divided between Republicans/conservatives and Democrats/liberals and believe that at worse they have temporarily fallen a bit under 50% . Many think this is because they weren’t conservative enough. They don’t realize how repulsive the actions of George Bush were, not only to liberals but to moderates and conservatives with principles. Many of the current Democrats and liberals are people who voted Republican in the past while the Republicans are turning into an extremist regional party of the south and limited portions of the west.

Conservatives are not doing themselves any favors if they hope to regain the majority by spreading their paranoid conspiracy theories about Obama. Rather than reducing Obama’s support they are only showing how unworthy of support  from rational people the conservative movement has become.

Joe Klein: Why Legalizing Marijuana Makes Sense

Joe Klein gives the arguments for legalization of marijuana:

As Webb pointed out in a cover story in Parade magazine, the U.S. is, by far, the most “criminal” country in the world, with 5% of the world’s population and 25% of its prisoners. We spend $68 billion per year on corrections, and one-third of those being corrected are serving time for nonviolent drug crimes. We spend about $150 billion on policing and courts, and 47.5% of all arrests are marijuana-related. That is an awful lot of money, most of it nonfederal, that could be spent on better schools or infrastructure — or simply returned to the public. (See the top 10 ballot measures.)

At the same time, there is an enormous potential windfall in the taxation of marijuana. It is estimated that pot is the largest cash crop in California, with annual revenues approaching $14 billion. A 10% pot tax would yield $1.4 billion in California alone. And that’s probably a fraction of the revenues that would be available — and of the economic impact, with thousands of new jobs in agriculture, packaging, marketing and advertising. A veritable marijuana economic-stimulus package! (Read: “Is Pot Good For You?”)

So why not do it? There are serious moral arguments, both secular and religious. There are those who believe — with some good reason — that the accretion of legalized vices is debilitating, that we are a less virtuous society since gambling spilled out from Las Vegas to “riverboats” and state lotteries across the country. There is a medical argument, though not a very convincing one: alcohol is more dangerous in a variety of ways, including the tendency of some drunks to get violent. One could argue that the abuse of McDonald’s has a greater potential health-care cost than the abuse of marijuana. (Although it’s true that with legalization, those two might not be unrelated.) Obviously, marijuana can be abused. But the costs of criminalization have proved to be enormous, perhaps unsustainable. Would legalization be any worse?