Friday, January 29, 2010

Method To His Madness?

For weeks -- maybe months -- now, I've called for President Obama to abandon his numerous calls for bipartisanship. Admirable as it was, the president's efforts to look like a mature adult and get the minority party to help fix America's problems, each request fell on deaf ears. After a year, one would think President Obama would've gotten the message.

Yet the call for cooperation between the two parties came again during Wednesday's State of the Union address. I honestly think I gagged a little.

But what if the president knew what he was doing all along? What if each rallying cry for cooperation and bipartisanship, every effort to get the party that wanted to see him fail to come along for the ride, was just a shrewd game of chess on the part of the White House to expose the opposition for what it was?

After Friday, maybe there's something to that.

The president spoke for almost an hour and a half on Friday in Baltimore, where 140 House Republicans were meeting for a retreat. President Obama didn't just give some remarks and leave; he stayed to answer questions for Republican members of Congress -- an exercise that made for intriguing television and offered a few tense moments that served to illustrate just how irrelevant the Reupblican Party has become.

President Obama kept his composure the entire time, calmly correcting his Republican legislators every time they were factually inaccurate and calling them out for their lack of cooperation -- even as Republicans complained, to the president's face, that he was ignoring their efforts to fix America's problems. How he kept his cool, I'll never know; I would've flown off the handle the minute Mike Pence (R-Ind.) opened his mouth to deliver the first question.

But what do I know? I'm a bleeding partisan.

Though President Obama never angrily took Republicans to task -- the whole affair had a professorial feel to it -- he made sure to put the GOP in its place. When the president told Congressman Pence, "I'm assuming you're not faulting my policies for [650,000 job losses the month before Obama was sowrn in]," the comment -- and the expression on Obama's face -- was pointed.

He didn't raise his voice, but he didn't need to; it surfaced again when the president reminded freshman Congressman Jason Chaffetz of Utah. When Chaffetz accused Obama of not upholding a campaign promise and having health care debates televised of C-SPAN, the president said many of those debates had been televised -- and that Chaffetz and many of the other Republicans in the room had been in those televised meetings.

Not only is there a deficit of trust in Washington, there's a deficit of facts among the GOP.

And for Marsha Blackburn, the Congresswoman from Tennessee: when you took the mic, ma'am, you said this:

"We would -- we've got plans to lower cost, to change purchasing models, address medical liability, insurance accountability, chronic and preexisting conditions, and access to affordable care for those with those conditions, insurance portability, expanded access -- but not doing it with creating more government, more bureaucracy, and more cost for the American taxpayer.

And we look forward to sharing those ideas with you. We want to work with you on health reform and making certain that we do it in an affordable, cost-effective way that is going to reduce bureaucracy, reduce government interference, and reduce costs to individuals and to taxpayers. And if those good ideas aren't making it to you, maybe it's the House Democrat leadership that is an impediment instead of a conduit."

I have a serious problem with this assertion, because if Congresswoman Blackburn had all these great ideas, why didn't she and the rest of the Republicans in Congress offer them up when they were the majority party? Because she was being disingenuous; no Republican would ever touch health care reform, regardless of the form it would take. I wish the president had pointed that out to the Congresswoman, but at least MSNBC's Chris Matthews did.

But perhaps the most important point from Friday's Q&A session came during a discussion of health care reform -- only it wasn't directly related to health care. The president chastised the GOP for its rhetoric and how over-the-top it was becoming for the party -- not to mention the box Republicans had placed themselves in.

From the president's remarks:

"So all I'm saying is, we've got to close the gap a little bit between the rhetoric and the reality. I'm not suggesting that we're going to agree on everything, whether it's on health care or energy or what have you, but if the way these issues are being presented by the Republicans is that this is some wild-eyed plot to impose huge government in every aspect of our lives, what happens is you guys then don't have a lot of room to negotiate with me.

I mean, the fact of the matter is, is that many of you, if you voted with the administration on something, are politically vulnerable in your own base, in your own party. You've given yourselves very little room to work in a bipartisan fashion because what you've been telling your constituents is, this guy is doing all kinds of crazy stuff that's going to destroy America.

And I would just say that we have to think about tone. It's not just on your side, by the way -- it's on our side, as well. This is part of what's happened in our politics, where we demonize the other side so much that when it comes to actually getting things done, it becomes tough to do."

So there you have it ... the GOP has painted itself in such a corner with its hateful, socialist rhetoric (which I don't think for a minute the party doesn't believe), that it can't work with the president's administration, even if it wanted to; the party's constituents would never let its members hear the end of it.

President Obama knows that ... maybe he's known that all along, and that's why he keeps beating the drum of bipartisanship. Maybe the president knows if he keeps looking like the only adult in the room, he can make the GOP as politically vulnerable as possible, and that will bear out to a degree in elections.

Once again, the president is proving he's far smarter than the rest of us. Now, if we could just get him to talk like this to his own party ...

Thursday, January 28, 2010

State of the Union Bullet Points

Some odds and ends from Wednesday night's State of the Union address, the first for President Barack Obama:

***By far, the best moment of the speech came when President Obama, with justices from the Supreme Court sitting directly in front of him, taking the court to task for last week's decision eliminating limits to corporate contributions to political campaigns. It was one of the few moments that both sides of the aisle stood in applause, and many of the justices sort of hunched over and had a look of sheepish regret on their faces. Justice Sam Alito was the lone dissenter, which has prompted some day-after drama, but I appreciate the president's willingness to call the Supreme Court on its mistake to its face. That's not nothing.

***President Obama listed several tax breaks that have resulted from the stimulus package passed a year ago. The purpose for this was two-fold: inform the American people of what has been accomplished (which is typical for a State of the Union address), but to also test the Republicans. The GOP is constantly screaming about cutting taxes, so it wouldn't surprise me if the president listed his tax cuts to see how Republicans would act. Predictably, there was no ovation or applause; the GOP members of Congress just sat there. If nothing else shows that Republicans' obstruction of President Obama has nothing to do with ideological differences, this should.

***Democrats, by and large, have proven over the past year that massive Congressional majorities don't guarantee they can effectively govern. Watered-down stimulus bills, a health care debate that has been needlessly compromised and complicated and a general lack of spine has left much of President Obama's agenda up in the air -- especially since Democrats no longer have a 60-seat majority in the Senate to theoretically kill filibusters. The president took Democrats to task in his address, telling them not to "run for the hills" and pass health care. He had to remind Democrats that they still had a massive majority in the Senate, which is kind of sad. I know math was never my strength in school, but even I know 59 is a lot more than 41.

***On at least five occasions during his address, President Obama told America that the House had passed a bill relating to one of his agendas and he was merely waiting on the Senate to follow suit. Do not mistake this for mere updating of the masses; the president was making a salient point. The Senate is by far the more convoluted and fractured of the two Congressional chambers, and the president was prodding the Senators in the room to stop acting like morons and actually get to legislating. Will it work? Probably not, but at least the message was sent.

***The bulk of President Obama's address (read full text here) dealt with job creation -- as it should've, with unemployment still in the 10 percent range and likely to be one of the last parts of the economy to recover. Americans are frustrated -- whether it be because they've lost their job, they're afraid they will lose their job or they're having a hard time finding a job. The president and Congress need to find a way to create more jobs that are readily available to Americans who need them. Health care reform, green initiatives and Wall Street reform are all well and good, but without Americans at work, their effect will be muted.

***While I appreciate the president's grown-up approach to his job, and the fact that he's far more intellectual than I'll ever be, I remain disheartened whenever he talks of working together. I literally cringe every time the word "bipartisan" comes out of President Obama's mouth. I realize he has to project an image of cooperation, that he can't come out and bust heads whenever he sees fit, but when is he going to realize that bipartisanship is about as real as unicorns? The Republicans have shown repeatedly they want nothing to do with his policies; they want President Obama to fail. When will he realize this? He can't even keep Democrats in line; why does the president keep insisting on extending his hand to a party that just wants to bite it off?

***President Obama said on Wednesday that he wants to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" this year. It's not the first time he's promised to end the law that keeps homosexuals from openly serving in the military, and it won't be the last. The only question now is whether or not Congress will follow suit; a bill currently sits in the House, but no action has been taken in the Senate (where have we heard this before?). It's a nice thought, but the pledge did feel like a throwaway statement near the end of his address.

***In a stark departure from his rhetoric to this point, President Obama threatened vetoes and took Congress to task for an initiative he wanted not coming through. The president wanted a bipartisan fiscal commission, an idea which Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) had proposed, only to see it blocked in the Senate, and President Obama said he would sign an executive order to circumvent the Senate. Between that, and the veto requests, something tells me the president's patience is finally starting to wear thin.

All in all, President Obama delivered a strong State of the Union address. However, unless his policies and initiatives actually come into being, his words will mean nothing, and he will further earn the ire of the American people.

On both sides of the aisle.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

How's This For Transparency?

Washington's apparently not even going to pretend it's for the people anymore -- at least, not if we can read anything into a Supreme Court decision on Thursday that effectively repealed the McCain-Feingold Act and allows corporations to spend however much they see fit on political campaigns ... even going so far as to create ads for politicians they support.

Corporate money in Washington was already a hot-button topic -- without fail, it seems one can look at members of Congress who opposed health care reform or financial reform and see that massive campaign contributions were made by either the insurance companies or Wall Street. What Thursday's 5-4 decision does is make that connection -- the concept of a politician bought and paid for by an industry -- more obvious.

President Obama released a statement on Thursday decrying the decision, and Democrats in Congress are already rallying to craft legislation in contradiction with the court's ruling. Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) had introduced a series of bills leading up to the decision, and on Thursday, both Democrats and Republicans came out against the decision.

Whaddya know? Bipartisanship does exist in Washington.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) perhaps said it best on Thursday, when he said that "the Supreme Court has just predetermined the winners of next November's elections. It won't be Republicans. It won't be Democrats. It will be corporate America."

Not that corporate America wasn't already winning; they're just not going to try and hide it anymore. If anything, it will make those in Congress doing the bidding of their contributors instead of their constituents easier to spot, but the precedent is dangerous at best.

Lincoln once proclaimed that America was a country "of the people, by the people and for the people." If Thursday's decision -- handed down by a conservative high court presided over by a George W. Bush appointee -- stands unchallenged, America will instead become a country of the corporations, by the corporations and for the corporations.

Words cannot express how bad that is.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Health Care Options

One of the prevailing stories coming from Tuesday's special election in Massachusetts -- in which Republican Scott Brown took the Senate seat that once belonged to the late Ted Kennedy -- was that Brown gives Republicans the 41 votes necessary in the Senate to potentially kill health care reform. Democrats would need 60 votes (the so-called "super majority") to avoid a filibuster, and unless someone within the Republican party breaks rank, the GOP now has enough votes to filibuster.

But all's not completely lost when it comes to health care reform; Democrats have a few options to make sure Brown's stunning election to the Senate doesn't derail President Obama's first major domestic initiative.


***Democrats could bypass merging the House and Senate bills, forcing the House to vote on the Senate bill as-is before sending it to the president. This isn't the most attractive option, since the Senate bill practically amounts to an insurance industry bailout -- no public option, no Medicare buy-in, no revocation of the industry's antitrust exemption, an individual mandate -- but the option is there ... assuming progressives in the House decide to cooperate. Which is no given, considering their collective ire.

***Reconciliation, which Democratic leadership in the Senate has been reluctant to consider, could return to the forefront. Only items relating to the budget -- such as the public option -- can be passed via reconciliation -- leaving pre-existing condition bans and other such facets of reform to be passed in their own bill the old-fashioned way. What's more, anything passed via reconciliation would have to be voted upon again in five years. Still, reconciliation could be exactly what progressives are looking for, as it could bring the public option back on the table; there may not be 60 votes in the Senate for the public option, but there are certainly 51.

***If the Senate goes the reconciliation route, they could have an easier time passing a separate bill that would ban pre-existing conditions, ban policy recission, ban lifetime coverage limits and revoke the industry's antitrust exemption status. In theory, these factes of reform are less toxic in terms of the public discourse; Republicans and Democrats alike agree these are good ideas that would likelt benefit the American people. Pass these ideas in the usual manner, and ram through the public option (or, hell, single-payer) through reconciliation.

***This most recent reform effort could die entirely, much like it did under President Richard Nixon in the 1970s and under President Bill Clinton in 1994. If that happens, we might not see Congress try again for another 15 or 20 years; don't believe members of Congress who say wqe could scrap the whole thing and start over; considering the consternation regarding this issue (Washington has made this whole thing needlessly complicated), do you really see Democrats trying again in an election year?

Of the above options, I prefer the reconciliation idea. Letting reform die would be the most disastrous development possible with regards to this issue, and passing the Senate bill in its current form wouldn't be much better. I disagree with the White House's assertion that any health care reform bill is a good bill; the Senate bill has serious flaws in it -- as does the House bill, even though that bill is stronger and more liberal.

My guess is, Democrats didn't threaten to use reconciliation because they wanted to appear as bipartisan as possible -- and to a degree, wanting to be bipartisan is admirable. But in today's toxic political climate, bipartisanship equals political weakness; instead of working together with Republicans, Democrats were bowing down to a group of politicians who were never going to support the legislation anyway.

Don't even get me started on "centrist" Democrats.

When George W. Bush was in the White House, he and the rest of his party never hesitated to use reconciliation -- particularly when it came to those tax cuts early in his first term. If President Obama and Democrats in Congress had half the conviction Bush did, we would not only have true health care reform by now, but we'd be a lot farther along in terms of other initiatives -- such as climate change or jobs.

Besides, let's say -- for the sake of argument -- that Democrats do pass a strong public option through reconciliation. Like Medicare back in the 1960s, who's to say the public option wouldn't become so popular upon passage that it would be political suicide to try and do away with it?

Democrats have been governing scared for the past year, and that played a big role in Brown's upset win in Massachusetts. I don't see it necessarily as a Republican-Democrat issue, but more as a frustrated and angry public looking to take it out on all incumbents. The reason that's bad news for Democrats is that there are so many of them in Congress.

If they don't shape up, there won't be nearly as many in November.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Brown Won Because Dems Don't Care

That's right, I said it. The late Ted Kennedy's Senate seat went to a Republican Tuesday night in a Massachusetts special election because apathy is rampant within the Democratic Party.

I'm not talking voters -- there was apparently quite the turnout on Tuesday, in spite of poor weather conditions and the fact that voters never turn out for special elections. I'm talking within the party itself; if Democrats truly cared about securing this filibuster-proof super majority in the Senate, and working to make sure President Obama's agenda was realized, they would be putting up more effort than they have in the year since Obama took office.

My personal theory? Once President Obama was sworn in last Jan. 20, solidifying Democrats' hold on the House, Senate and White House. With 60 members in the Senate, conventional wisdom was that Democrats could do just about anything, and the Republicans could do nothing about it. And even if the Democrats lost a seat -- which was a possibility, given Kennedy's health and Robert Byrd's age -- they were probably sure they'd keep their 60.

Because let's face it ... who honestly thought Kennedy's seat would go to a Republican?

Complacency set in for Democrats, who thought they could milk voters' disappointment in the previous administration long enough to keep their majorities in D.C. Even as health care reform derailed, because some Democrats are less liberal than others, the party figured it would be able to pass Obama's signature initiative.

Even when Republicans won gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey, Democrats assumed they were okay. There was no way voters would give control back to the Republicans in 2010 ... right?

If Tuesday night is any indication, wrong.

I won't pretend to know what Scott Brown's win in Massachusetts means for the 2010 midterms -- I'll leave that to the talking heads on cable. But it should serve as a wake-up call to Democrats to a) start finding better candidates, b) either back incumbents or find strong primary challengers and c) actually bring about the change Americans want now, rather than trying to acquiesce to the Republicans.

Give us the change we want now, because your seats in Congress are not necessarily safe. If a Senate seat from a state are reliably blue as Massachusetts can turn red, then no seat is a safe bet -- particularly when a lot of Democrats voted to Congress in 2008 are centrist party members hailing from traditionally-conservative states (i.e., Montana, Arkansas, North Dakota, etc.).

Democrats have been reluctant to use reconciliation to pass health care -- probably because they figure they could defeat a filibuster with their big majority in the Senate. But with Brown's win, reconciliation might be necessary -- which could play right into the hands of progressives, who feel such measures as the public option or a Medicare buy-in can pass through such a process.

But the Democrats have to do something; it's obvious now that they've been sitting on their hands for the past year, and there's a chance they'll pay the price for it come November. If President Obama thinks he's having a hard time getting his agenda passed now, he should see how it will be if more Republicans are in Congress.

Get with it, Democrats. Better now than in 10 months ...

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

To Help Those in Haiti

The Mobile Giving Foundation has already raised more than $375,000 today to go toward relief and rescue efforts in Haiti following the devastating earthquake that leaves thousands dead and devastated an already struggling country. There are countless ways to help -- whether you have the means to travel to Haiti to lend a hand, or you simply have $10 to spare in donation -- and the following text-message-based services are available:

***Text the word "Yele" to 501501 to donate $5 to the Yele Foundation, the leading contributor to rebuilding Haiti founded by Wyclef Jean.

***Text the word "Haiti" to 25383 to donate $5 to the International Rescue Committee.

***Text the word "Haiti" to 85944 to donate $5 to the Rescue Union Mission and MedCorp International.

***Text the word "Haiti" to 90999 to donate $10 to the American Red Cross.

***Text the word "Haiti" to 20222 to donate $10 to the Bill Clinton Foundation.

***Text the word "Haiti" to 45678 (In Canada Only) to assist the Salvation Army in Canada.

When you make a donation through text message, 100 percent of the proceeds go to the foundation in question, and the charge will later show up on your cell phone bill. Donating via text message is a quick and easy way to do your part to help those in such desperate need in Haiti.

Five or 10 dollars might not sound like much, but if 100 people donate $10, that comes out to $1,000 of aid. Every little bit helps; you don't have to pull back building parts and cry in front of TV cameras to save lives.

Sometimes, just texting can help.

Petition Frenzy

One of the ways in which we can make our voices heard in Washington is the online petition. An organization -- like, CREDO Action or -- drafts a petition about a certain subject, posts it to the Internet and gets people around the country to sign it before delivering said petition to the applicable politicians.

On top of the methods of letter-writing, phone calls and emails, online petitions are a nice way for the grassroots level to tell Washington what they want. In theory, such an en masse voice can combat the far richer voices of the corporate lobbyists -- and, ideally for ordinary Americans, signing a petition only takes seconds, so you can make your voice heard without making too much of a dent in the rest of your day.

I still make time for the other communication methods, but petitions are also a part of what I try to do to make sure change actually comes into being. There's no real tangible way to measure the effects of online petitions, but they can't hurt.

A few of the petitions making the rounds through the Internet today: -- Tell President Obama to Enact a Bank Tax:

EarthJustice -- Stop Clean Air Attacks in the U.S. Senate:

Consequence Campaign -- Stop the Dirty Air Act:

In addition to the above sites, you can find other petitions related to progressive causes at, FireDogLake and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. These petitions take seconds to complete, and you can alert others to them via Twitter and Facebook. You can also find petitions if you frequent such political sites as The Huffington Post, Daily Kos and Talking Points Memo.

In short, making your voice heard about the issues that matter to you doesn't have to be hard, time-consuming exercise. By all means, attend rallies, volunteer for candidates who speak to you and personally correspond with your elected officials -- but don't ignore the online petition. They might work better than you think.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Obama's First Year: Busier Than You Think

A popular refrain, from both sides of the political aisle, is that President Barack Obama hasn't done anything in his first year in office to make the country better. Conservatives will argue that the president is making things worse, while liberals are mad that Obama hasn't done nearly enough.

Never mind the whole he's-only-been-in-office-for-one-year thing and the fact that he's facing a ton of horribly complicated issues. These are things that won't be fixed instantly with the stroke of a pen. Even if reforms currently in the works are incremental at best, they're a start.

Rachel Maddow took on the subject on Tuesday night's show, and rather than highlight everything myself, I'll just let her do it:

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Once again proving that Maddow is willing to touch subjects and ideas that the mainstream media won't dare -- because let's face it, who in the mainstream media actually wants to do any work?