The Obama Administration

Ending the Mindset that Got Us into Iraq

AP Photo/Bill Wolf
Rex Features via AP Images The nomination announcement for Chuck Hagel as the next Secretary of Defense and Deputy National Security Advisor for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism John Brennan as the next director of the Central Intelligence Agency, in the East Room of the White House. P resident Obama’s announcement yesterday of his nomination of former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense is important in a couple of ways. The first is that by following through with a candidate who faced one of the most intense negative pre-nomination campaigns in recent memory, the president signaled that is shaking off some of the caution that characterized his first term, and is prepared to undertake a bolder political course. Indeed, the opposition to Hagel already seems to be weakening in the face of an overwhelming outpouring of support for the nomination now that it has been announced. According to a former Democratic Senate staffer I spoke to, this was to be expected. “It...

Once Again, Obama Does Something No GOP President Bothers to Do

Ten points if you know who this is.
I'm sure there are many reasons why President Obama nominated Chuck Hagel to be secretary of Defense, but the fact that Hagel is a Republican surely played at least some part. After all, if he nominated a Democrat to head the Pentagon, congressional Republicans would surely oppose the nomination and charge that the nominee was too dovish. Which of course is exactly what has happened with Hagel (along with some truly despicable phony accusations of anti-Semitism*). I'm not the first liberal to be disappointed with the fact that Democratic presidents seem to feel the need to placate their opponents by picking Republicans for this particular position. As Michael Beschloss observed , Republican presidents have never picked a Democrat for this job, but about half the secretaries of Defense in Democratic administrations have been Republicans. What's most important to note about this is that there is no equivalent on the other side. Republican presidents don't feel the need to appoint...

Barney Frank Walks Back on Hagel

World Economic Forum / Flickr
World Economic Forum / Flickr Republicans straining to present opposition to Chuck Hagel as bipartisan had a small assist from retired Massachusetts lawmaker Barney Frank last week, who because of Hagel’s 1998 criticism of Ambassador James Hormel—he called him “openly, aggressively gay”—said he “ strongly opposed ” his nomination to head the Defense Department. As of today, however, conservatives will no longer be able to cry crocodile tears on gay rights and turn to Frank as an example of anti-Hagel criticism from “both sides.” Here’s the Huffington Post : Former Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) is softening his opposition to Chuck Hagel’s likely nomination as Defense Secretary, saying he is willing to overlook the former Republican senator’s past anti-gay remarks and positions. “As much as I regret what Hagel said, and resent what he said, the question now is going to be Afghanistan and scaling back the military,” Frank told the Boston Globe in an interview. ”In terms of the policy stuff...

Calling McConnell’s Bluff

Flickr/Gage Skidmore
The budget deal that just averted the supposed fiscal cliff was only a warm up. The next fiscal cliff is the $110 billion in automatic budget cuts (sequesters) that last week’s budget deal deferred only until March. But, as long as we are using topographic metaphors, this is less a cliff than a bluff. On the Sunday talk shows, Republican leaders were full of bravado and swagger. Representative Matt Salmon of Arizona, on CBS “Face the Nation” said it was about time “for another government shutdown.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, speaking with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, ruled out any further tax increases, declaring that “the tax issue is finished, over, completed.” He insisted, “Now it’s time to pivot and turn to the real issue, which is our spending addiction.” But is spending really the problem? For most the postwar era, federal tax revenues hovered around 19 percent of GDP, and spending a bit more than that. But for the four years since the financial collapse, federal...

Conservative Projection Takes a New Angle

Flickr/kylebogucki
Peggy Noonan is, without doubt, America's most hilariously ridiculous opinion columnist, someone forever pleading that we ignore piffle like "facts" and focus instead on the collective emotions that are bubbling just out of our awareness until she identifies them. But in her column today , she does something that we ought to take note of, because I suspect it will become a common Republican talking point. Noonan asks why Obama is so darn mean to Republicans, and answers the question thusly: Here's my conjecture: In part it's because he seems to like the tension. He likes cliffs, which is why it's always a cliff with him and never a deal. He likes the high-stakes, tottering air of crisis. Maybe it makes him feel his mastery and reminds him how cool he is, unrattled while he rattles others. He can take it. Can they? He is a uniquely polarizing figure. A moderate U.S. senator said the other day: "One thing not said enough is he is the most divisive president in modern history. He doesn't...

Will There Be a Second-Term Obama Administration Scandal?

Just after the election, I wrote that the reason conservatives were so worked up about the tragic events in Benghazi was scandal envy; they were livid that a president they despise so much had gone an entire term without a major scandal, so they were desperately grasping for whatever was handy. The response I go from many conservatives was vigorous, including assertions that Benghazi was a far worse scandal than Watergate (that necessitated another post explaining, for those who had apparently forgotten, why Watergate was a big deal). But as President Obama's second term begins, we have to wonder: What's the big Obama administration scandal going to be? There might not be one, of course. It's possible that his second term will proceed with nothing but low-grade controversies on the order of Solyndra or Fast and Furious, Darrell Issa's best efforts notwithstanding. The lack of a scandal so far might be a testament to Obama's integrity, but it's just as attributable to good luck. After...

Give Barry a Break

AP Photo/Charles Dharapak
AP Photo/Charles Dharapak President Barack Obama winks as he arrives to make a statement regarding the passage of the fiscal-cliff bill in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House. W hen President Lincoln suspended habeas corpus in 1862 (a couple of times, actually), he conceded the possible unconstitutionality of what he had done but concluded that since the move was necessary in a time when half the country was at war with the other half, he would take his chances with Congress, the courts, and history. The country’s current chief executive finds Lincoln comparisons disconcerting, but this is a case where he might pay attention, because his legal grounds for unilaterally raising the ceiling on the national debt in a time of congressionally inflicted crisis are no weaker than Lincoln’s and probably stronger. The latest furor over who should be paying taxes in this country is, as of 36 hours ago, over. This follows a presidential campaign in which the candidate who ran on...

Retrench Warfare

AP Photo/Alex Brandon
AP Photo/Alex Brandon Senator Mike Johanns, a Republican from Nebraska, left, walks with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell from Kentucky to the Senate floor for a vote on the fiscal cliff early this morning. The Senate vote just before dawn in favor of a permanent tax hike on the top one percent defers virtually all of the other budget battles. Assuming the House follows suit today, it is up to President Obama and the Democrats to radically change the conversation. In the deal that the Senate agreed to, with only eight senators voting against, the Democrats won big in two respects. They forced the Republicans to raise taxes on the rich, and they took all spending cuts including in Social Security off the table—for now. If Tea Party Republicans vote against the deal and it passes the House with the voters of nearly all Democrats and a few dozen renegade Republicans, it could cost John Boehner his Speakership. But automatic cuts of $120 billion this year and $1.2 trillion over a...

Obama Appoints Scott Brown as Senator from Massachusetts

Flickr/U.S Embassy Kabul Afghanistan
Flickr/U.S Embassy Kabul Afghanistan Senator John Kerry and Afghanistan President Hamid Karzain in Kabul in 2009. The Washington Post reports that President Obama has nominated Massachusetts Senator John Kerry to be the next Secretary of State. This doesn’t come as a surprise; he was on the short list behind Hillary Clinton, and has been a stalwart defender of the administration’s foreign policy choices over the last four years. Clinton is a hard act to follow, but there’s little doubt Kerry will perform well in the position. If there’s a problem, it’s that Kerry’s departure from the Senate leaves an open seat in Massachusetts, and as it happens, there’s a former Republican senator—Scott Brown—itching to get back into the game. It helps that he’s still well liked by most Massachusetts voters; a recent poll from MassINC Polling Group shows Brown with high favorability—58 percent, compared to 28 percent who view him unfavorably. The New York Times ’ Nate Silver isn’t so sure that Brown...

Debating the Chained CPI

Flickr/The Survivor Woman/401(K)
Yesterday, I posted a piece that questioned the political and policy wisdom of President Obama’s latest offer for a budget deal. My qualms were vindicated when Speaker Boehner, rather than taking the widely leaked “progress” as a new common ground, went back to his starting point and offered his own “Plan B”. This left President Obama in just the position that he vowed that he’d be in again—“negotiating against himself.” In the piece, I also criticized the role of my friend Bob Greenstein in lending credence to backdoor cuts in Social Security. Bob is the much revered and tireless advocate for the poor who is the longtime president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. My piece questioned both his political logic in assuming that Social Security cuts have any place in this budget deal and his assumption that including them will somehow protect programs for the poor. My piece mistakenly described the annual cut as 3 percent rather than 0.3 percent, but it accurately pointed...

Fixing Obama’s Second Term

AP Photo/Charles Dharapak
(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green) President Barack Obama waves to the crowd at his election night party celebrating his victory over challenger Mitt Romney. I n the president’s first term, a gauntlet of procedural hurdles stood in the way of progressive change. As Majority Leader Harry Reid promises to reform the filibuster—on the magical day when the new Senate convenes and can make new rules—most progressives are wondering whether it’s an end to many of President Barack Obama’s problems. After all, without the constant threat of a filibuster, Senate Democrats wouldn’t have had to scramble for votes from the centrists who watered down health-care legislation and stalled action on climate change in Obama’s first two years, when he had an outright majority in the Senate. But the filibuster was only the most obvious procedural challenge to a more progressive Obama first term. There are other things the president did in his first four years that caused important legislation to sputter and fail...

Chairman Summers? Let’s Hope Not

AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi
AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi Former U.S. Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers addresses a press conference after attending the Group of Seven finance ministers in Fukuoka, Japan in July 2000. He’s back. Larry Summers is running hard to succeed Ben Bernanke as chairman of the Federal Reserve when Bernanke’s term expires in early 2014. This is not a great idea, for three main reasons. The first is Summers’ famous temperament. The problem is not just that he’s less than sensitive to women. It’s that he’s a bully in general, cocksure of himself, using others as foils and prevailing by controlling the agenda. Through several turns in a career marked by falling upwards, Summers’ chief patron and sponsor, Robert Rubin, keeps assuring people that “Larry has changed.” And Larry keeps not changing. It was the bullying more than the disrespect towards women that finally got him fired as president of Harvard. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. famously said of Franklin Roosevelt, “a second-rate...

John Kerry, the Most Progressive Pick for the State Department?

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
Flickr/U.S Embassy Kabul Afghanistan Senator John Kerry and Afghanistan President Hamid Karzain in Kabul in 2009. T he optics of Susan Rice’s withdrawal from consideration for secretary of State are disheartening. Ruth Marcus of The Washington Post and Representative Marcia Fudge of Ohio attributed racism and sexism to the campaign against Rice, with Marcus writing that “the attack had something to do with Rice’s gender, and her sharp elbows and sometimes sharper tongue,” while Fudge said “[ Republican senators ] have never called a male 'unqualified,' 'not bright,' 'not trustworthy,' …there is a clear sexism and racism that goes with these comments.” Given that foreign policy circles are among the worst in terms of gender diversity, Rice’s withdrawal from consideration is a tough blow for the representation of women and minorities in top leadership positions. Even so, John Kerry may be a better secretary of State for progressives when it comes to philosophical approaches to military...

Social Security: Will Obama Cave?

AP Photo/Charles Dharapak
AP Photo/Charles Dharapak President Barack Obama looks toward reporters shouting questions at him regarding the fiscal cliff as he walks to the White House after attending a holiday party for the National Security Council. O nce again, President Obama seems to be on the verge of folding a winning hand. Widely leaked reports indicate that the president and House Speaker John Boehner are making a fiscal deal that includes hiking tax rates back to the pre-Bush levels with a threshold of $400,000 rather than the original $250,000, and cutting present Social Security benefits. Obama, the reports say, will now settle for as little as $1.2 trillion in tax increases on the rich rather than the $1.6 trillion that he had originally sought. The difference, in effect, will come out of the pockets of workers, retirees, the young, and the poor. Especially foolish is the cut in Social Security benefits, disguised as a change in the cost-of-living adjustment formula. Before getting to the arcane...

Gun Control, No Longer the Dems' Electoral Kryptonite

Lawrence Jackson / White House
The most notable thing to come out of President Obama’s speech last night—eulogizing the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut—was his unambiguous commitment to pursuing new gun regulations in the coming weeks. Granted, he didn’t use the word “gun,” but the implications were clear: If there’s even one step we can take to save another child or another parent or another town from the grief that’s visited Tucson and Aurora and Oak Creek and Newtown and communities from Columbine to Blacksburg before that, then surely we have an obligation to try. In the coming weeks, I’ll use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens, from law enforcement, to mental health professionals, to parents and educators, in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this, because what choice do we have? We can’t accept events like this as routine. Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard? Are we prepared to say that such...

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