Archive for ‘Politics’

Battle of Britain

By , 6 November, 2008, 1 Comment

Now that (hopefully) your election-induced hangover has subsided, let me break some news: for all the symbolic resonance of Obama’s victory, there is more ideologically at stake across the pond in the British general elections, due to materialize by the end of 2010.

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Oh, What a Night

By , 4 November, 2008, 4 Comments

I voted for my first presidential winner today and though it wasn’t in a swing state, or even a swing district, I have to admit it felt pretty good. Unfortunately, being worry-prone, I’m already angsting about life after January 20th.

Barack Obama put his hyberbolic optimism on hold for 10 seconds tonight to remind supporters that just electing him isn’t “change,” [even if that’s more or less what his campaign has told us till now]. It’s just the opportunity to achieve change. In typical fashion, he left out the nasty realities of how such changes get made.

It being his victory night, and a rock concert of a rally, I’ll forgive him, and do some explaining myself: Actually passing new taxes or healthcare reform or an alternative energy agenda will depend on Obama’s ability to master all the backroom politicking he claims he doesn’t need.

Given Obama’s open distaste for such gritty negotiation (which he sees as cynical) and Joe Biden’s sloppy gaffe-prone history on the Hill, I’m beginning to think the success of the Obama administration will depend on the dealmaking powers of Congressional leaders: will Democrats and Republicans work with each other?

Paul Krugman had a great piece this week about the consequences for the country if an Obama victory leaves the Republicans clinging on to nothing but their most hardline members: no President would be able to operate effectively with a Congress 40%-composed of such intransigent radicals.

John McCain tonight urged his party, in name of national duty, to reject radical entrenchment, to work with Obama and the Dems to get things done. McCain has it in him to do this–he earned the admiration of many liberals and moderates, myself included, because he was able to bring Republican hardliners along on compromise legislation like the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance bill. If THIS John McCain goes to Washington in January (and not the angry, uncooperative McCain who crashed the bailout party in September), he will have a unique opportunity to bridge gridlock and broker compromises between his own party’s hardliners and the President who defeated him.

Indeed, John McCain–the old political hand and pragmatic public servant–may be more crucial to Obama’s “new politics” agenda than any of the rhetorical flourishes and youthful idealism that brought him to victory.

Thank God for David Letterman

By , 24 October, 2008, 3 Comments

I am a cliche. I’m a New York liberal who spent years regarding John McCain as a Republican I could swallow. He was a compromise-maker and a man of principle (this was before the word “maverick” came into vogue). He accepted the reality¬†of climate-change, believed in granting paths to citizenship for illegal immigrants and opposed some of the worst Bush administration policies, like the first of the top-bracket tax cuts. Like most New York liberals, then, I have been appalled and disappointed to see that McCain squashed by the robotic knee-jerk conservative the GOP has engineered in the the last three months of this campaign.

Though I support Obama, I have not been able to forget the old McCain, because I still think he was the real thing. The new McCain reminds me of a character in a sci-fi novel who is being controlled by machines but occasionally, when the power goes out, is able to force his true self through. One such moment was his long-overdue interview with David Letterman last week.

This McCain is personable, relaxed, and rational, hardly the angry old man we’ve been seeing in debates. Thank God for David Letterman for bringing him out, because if (as predicted) he loses this election, the country will need McCain-the-Senator back in Washington to produce the kind of compromises I used to love him for.

One Last Debate Post

By , 15 October, 2008, No Comment

Is it bad that I’m bored of this election? I know who I’m voting for, I have my hunches about the outcome and I don’t hear the candidates telling me (or those mythical undecideds) anything new. Gail Collins, who gets PAID to cover this stuff, says she’s a bit bored too.

That said, despite the big argument about Ayers, Lewis and attack politics in the middle of the debate, I thought tonight was overall more interesting to watch than previous ones have been. Bob Scheiffer did a really commendable job of getting candidates to actually talk to one another, plus, I think, the swivel chairs helped.

I think Gail and I just have news overload. My friend Steve who is super well-read but doesn’t spend his time tied to the news tickers with an IV drip like I do was much better able to evaluate this evening in eloquent terms. So instead of offering my own take, I’m offering his:
Obama made some mistakes: “The last remark he made about sex is sacred was kinda bizzare, and could be misinterpreted to promote abstinence rather than comprehensive education, and I thought he stumbled a bit on the ‘100% of McCain’s ads are negative’ line, because he’s done pretty well avoiding that kind of half-truth thus far and meticulously taking apart all of the ones that McCain has used.”

But McCain made more: “When he tossed out ‘class warfare’ in his first answer, it screamed desperation.”

On Ayers, Lewis and the personal attacks: “The Lewis thing overstepped a line, sure, because McCain is not a racist. And is not telling these people to think that Obama is a terrorist, and I know that he was quick to grab the mic back and correct that retarded woman who said she can’t trust Obama because he’s an ‘a-rab,’ but he is tacitly permitting them to think like that by saying ‘Obama associates with terrorists,’ and the air of fanaticism with people shouting ‘terrorist!’ at McCain’s rallies is troubling in the way that Lewis indicated.”

On why McCain’s long history as a maverick/moderate/negotiator doesn’t count anymore: “At this point, that guy is not running for this office. The Republican Party is running for President in the figure of John McCain.”

The One Eyed Man is King Among the Blind

By , 13 October, 2008, 1 Comment

Gordon Brown may have saved the world economy. Whether he can save his own career is still an unknown:

Last week, Brown unveiled his plan to combat the credit crisis: a transfusion of capital into UK banks in exchange for stakeholding rights, new requirements on lending practices, and government guarantees on inter-bank loans. Watch him explain the plan here. After a month of US and European governments waffling over the correct measures to take, after an American bailout package that passed but remains unpopular and unimplemented, Brown’s plan just made sense. As of today, those same European and US leaders are signing on to follow Brown’s lead.

Given how disastrous Brown’s run as PM has been thus far, it’s hard to understand where this stroke of genius came from. Until you take the longer view. As new Nobel winner Paul Krugman reminds us today, Brown is the economic brains behind the British revival that Tony Blair so often took credit for. While Blair travelled the world winning new political allies for Britain with his charm, the man behind the New Labour economy was the old curmudgeon from the University of Edinburgh, a former Blair rival who was blind in one eye. Blair was the better politician, but his Chancellor of the Exchequer, Brown, was the policy wonk.

So when the uncharismatic Brown took over for Blair last summer, and had to face political–as well as financial–responsibilities, he self-destructed. Despite valiant attempts to rebrand himself, his poll numbers have gotten worse every month since he took office…until now. That he might turn those numbers around with a policy that effectively nationalizes the banking sector suggests the final undoing of the free-market Thatcherite proposals that Brown and Blair were elected to reverse in 1997.

The question now is whether these nationalization policies can have their real economic effect (can “trickle down,” to borrow a phrase,) in time for the next elections.

Pot and Kettle

By , 9 October, 2008, 1 Comment

My good friend Megan and I spend a lot of time emailing one another with thoughts on Maureen Dowd’s NYTimes columns. We both generally dislike Dowd’s work, yet somehow we can’t get her off our minds. My major problem with Dowd isn’t the arguments she wants to make–I’ll agree with her, for example, when she depicts George W. Bush as simpleminded and Dick Cheney as manipulative. It’s the fact that her style of snarky satire only confirms the dangerous stereotype people have about women in power–that they are catty and clawing–the same stereotype Dowd often complains about. In general, Dowd has a tendency to mimic or come down to the level of the people she is trying to dismantle.

This weekend’s column was a perfect example. Dowd’s right that Sarah Palin is less than brilliant and that the Joe Six Packs like her for it. There is surely room for a sustained examination of why folksiness beats intellect in our politics, so much so that intelligent leaders (Bill Clinton, Rhodes Scholar comes to mind) have to play down their brains to succeed. But Maureen Dowd is hardly in a position to complain about someone speaking to the lowest common denominator. If she’s so in favor of high-minded elite discourse, why doesn’t she write some?

Prof. Buffett?

By , 8 October, 2008, 1 Comment


Last week, I had a great time blogging the veep debate briefly considered doing the same for the presidential debate on Tuesday night. I’m glad I thought better of it, because the whole thing was a big bore. In fact, the ennui of it all was the only thing pundits agreed upon this morning. Otherwise, they were busy hashing out the same old attacks on each other, which is precisely what the candidates did themselves.

There WAS one surprising source of amusement, however, when both Obama and McCain said Warren Buffett would be on their short list for Treasury Secretary. I have misgivings about asking private sector experts to run public sector enterprises. Sometimes, as in the case of Mike Bloomberg, it works out great. Other times, a la Mitt Romney, it flops. The key is whether the expert can check their private enterprise mentality at the .gov door, since business and government just don’t work the same way.

A former teacher of mine put it well today when he compared working in public schools to independent ones. At a private school, you can accept only students you want to teach; at a public school you have to teach the ones you have. Similarly, Warren Buffett can “throw on his living room floor the balance sheet of any company he doesn’t want to invest in. You can’t throw millions of people on the floor.” A Treasury Secretary is like a public school teacher in the hardest inner-city school–you will never have enough books or enough time, but you still have the teach the kids you get. Could a man worth 50 billion and used to making his own choices face that?

Live Thoughts on Biden v. Palin

By , 2 October, 2008, 3 Comments

There is a lot being written about this election as a watershed moment for the rise of new media political coverage. One reason is just timing: the election comes just as new media is really hitting its stride. Another reason is the many young people joining the political ranks after consuming gallons of Obama Kool-Aid. A third reason, however, is the level of micro-competition taking place here. By micro-competition, I’m thinking of the LONG campaign season due to the heavily fragmented primaries (some 15 candidates in all). That process created a culture where, even more than usual, little details mattered as voters tried to differentiate between candidates whose policy positions were often alike. That culture has fed into the general election, even though there are real policy topics to discuss now. With all that detail, in this nitty-gritty (or nit-picky, depending how you see it) campaign culture, new media has come to play a crucial role. Blogs are ideally suited to link together small items to help us see the whole. More importantly, they’re ideally suited to comment on small items in rapid succession: which is why if there’s one blogging practice that really exploded in this election, it’s the practice of live-blogging political events. With that, here are my live thoughts on tonight’s debate.

9:00 pm: Both candidates come out strong. Biden is forceful and makes himself the wonk–calls out Sarah Palin early for being fluffy by asking if HE can “get back to the question.” She’s articulate and poised, more confident than she has seemed in interviews with the press, and carefully steering the first question about the economy to her (professed) area of expertise, corruption.

9:20 pm: Ouch, Palin is using her stump speech again. “Government is too often the problem.” She is making a point of showcasing everything she learned in debate boot camp this week. “McCain’s plan is detailed, and I want to give you some details.” And she does actually know the numbers, impressive. If she could have said ‘detail’ again she would have. Not sure how credible it is to say the government is bad when you are running to join it, but hey, that’s just me. Biden is acing the delicate balance of being aggressive against Palin’s policy statements without attacking her and taking the feminist backlash by speaking to Gwen Ifill and not Palin directly. Biden’s best comment so far: McCain’s health care plan is “the ultimate bridge to nowhere.”

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You cannot paint a house green…

By , 30 September, 2008, 1 Comment

and then complain about the color.

But that’s exactly what conservative Republicans are doing on talking head shows this week. Over and over again, when asked to explain how the bailout bill self-imploded yesterday, they cite “partisan bickering.” Frankly, I’m with Gail Collins on partisanship: it’s just part of the process. But even if you think, as did George Washington, that parties are a great evil, the phrase just doesn’t apply here.

Let’s review:
Bailout proposed by REPUBLICANS Paulson and Bernanke.
Bailout revised via negotiations with top Senate DEMOCRATS.
Revised bill supported by REPUBLICAN President Bush.
Passed by Senate DEMOCRATS and REPUBLICANS.
Dies in the House, 40 DEMOCRATS, 130 REPUBLICANS vote “no.”

The tension here, between supporters and opponents of the bill, has less to do with party allegiance than it does with who’s up for reelection: CNN reported today than 2/3 of “no” votes came from members in contested races this November. Despite the frozen credit markets and concerns about jobs and home loans, the plan just hadn’t won over most voters.

And if there IS an ideological line to be drawn between those who were for and against this bill, it’s not between Democrats and Republicans, but between conservative Republicans in the House (who made up the lion’s share of naysayers) and moderates in the Senate/the Executive agencies (who proposed and drafted the bill). Having brought DOWN a bipartisan bill by breaking with their own party, Congressional Republicans are now blaming partisan differences for the collapse of the plan.

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Here’s what infuriates me most about this tactic. “Partisan bickering” is code for a belief that the governmental process is general is more of a problem than a solution to Main Street woes, and thus (as these conservatives belief) that we should reduce the size of government. To sabotage that process when it IS working, just so that you can claim on the talk show circuit that the process DOESN’T work is a cheap, base political ploy. In fact, it’s partisan politics.

“This is not a debate”

By , 27 September, 2008, 1 Comment

So said my mother, 9:56 pm ET last night, or 2/3 of the way through the first Presidential back-and-forth. Despite Jim Lehrer’s best efforts to force the candidates to talk to one another and really duke it out on the issues, they stuck to their canned stump speeches. McCain recycled his favorite gems (like that “Miss Congeniality” line) twice in the same evening.

To the candidates’ credit, the exchange last night was wonkish, policy-centered, which is how I like my politics. But McCain failed to make connections between details (pork spending) and his broader vision (anyone?) while Obama failed to bring any of the passion that marks his broad vision speeches to policy positions. Even the NYTimes called him a technocrat. It’s almost as though he CARES more about telling us what America should look like than grappling with how to get there. A president who CAN’T get excited about detail is just as bad as one who can’t see the forest for the trees. The best policy wonk leaders of the C20th–FDR, LBJ, Reagan and Clinton–could do both: they had vision, they had policies and they could explain in accessible detail how the two connected.

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