Sometime this month, the Senate is expected to grill President Obama’s pick for Treasury secretary, Jack Lew, who if confirmed will replace outgoing secretary Timothy Geithner. As the president’s chief of staff, Lew has been influential in the budget battles President Obama fought with House Republicans in the past year and has a deep knowledge of how government spending works. Conventional wisdom is that the president chose Lew to have a strong ally as the White House battles with congressional Republicans over spending and taxes. But with only a short stint at Citigroup amid a life of public service, there isn’t a deep record on what he thinks about financial reform.
President Obama sets his radial plan in motion (White House/Lawrence Jackson)
Is Barack Obama moving to the left in his second term, and what is he risking by doing so? That's what Ron Brownstein asks in a long National Journal article, and though Brownstein is as comprehensive and careful as ever, there are some fundamental flaws in his premises. But here's what he says:
On issues from gay rights to gun control, immigration reform, and climate change—all of which he highlighted in his ringing Inaugural Address last week—Obama is now unreservedly articulating the preferences of the Democratic "coalition of the ascendant" centered on minorities, the millennial generation, and socially liberal upscale whites, especially women. Across all of these issues, and many others such as the pace of withdrawal from Afghanistan and ending the ban on women in combat, Obama is displaying much less concern than most national Democratic leaders since the 1960s about antagonizing culturally conservative blue-collar, older, and rural whites, many of whom oppose them.
At a March 15, 2011, sit-down at the Children’s Defense Fund, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan sent an unequivocal message to black community and faith leaders. “What we’re desperately missing in this country is parents who will demand better for their children,” he said. “I wish to God I had parents knocking on my door every single day saying, go faster, you’re not moving fast enough.”
“That one,” John McCain famously snarled in a presidential debate four years ago, referring to his opponent who was a quarter of a century younger and who had been in the Senate three years to McCain’s 20. It’s difficult to imagine a better revelation of the McCain psyche than that moment, but if there is one, then it came yesterday at the meeting of the Senate Armed Services Committee, convened to consider the nomination of Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense. The McCain fury is something to behold, almost irresistible for how unvarnished it is in all its forms. In the instance of the 2008 debate, McCain’s dumbfounded antipathy had to do with facing an opponent he so clearly considered unworthy of him. In the instance of the hearing yesterday, McCain’s bitter blast was at somebody who once was among his closest friends, a former Vietnam warrior and fellow Republican of a similarly independent ilk, who supported McCain’s first run for the presidency in 2000 against George W. Bush but then appeared to abandon the Arizona senator eight years later.
Did a hack conservative judge just lay the groundwork for the end of the filibuster? It’s very possible. At least, if the Supreme Court goes along—and if Democrats, as they should, fight back.
The road begins not with last week’s D.C. Circuit Court decision, which if upheld would knock out virtually all recess appointments, but with the Senate Republican plan that Brookings scholar Tom Mann has called “a modern form of nullification.” That was a scheme to prevent some government agencies—the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the new Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB), and others—from functioning by blockading any presidential appointments, using the filibuster to require 60 votes and then keeping the Republican Senate conference united against any nominee. In the case of the NLRB, blocking appointments would mean there was no quorum to do (any) business; leaving the CFPB leaderless would stop the agency from carrying out many of its responsibilities. In both cases, the effect was not only to undermine a Democratic president and Senate, but to bring Republicans something they might not have been able to achieve even if they controlled the White House and Congress: de facto repeal of legislation establishing government regulatory agencies.
Last November, Democrats seemed to be justified in believing that their party had won a victory of genuine significance. The ideological differences between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney were clear-cut, and Obama was re-elected. Despite the advantage that Republicans initially enjoyed in Senate races, Democrats increased their majority to 55, and that new majority is more liberal than the old one. In races for the House, more voters cast ballots for Democratic than for Republican candidates, though Republicans kept their majority thanks in large part to gerrymandered districts.
In early May, shortly after the peak of the GOP's war-on-women problem, the Obama campaign released a simple online infographic that inspired outrage from conservative commentators. Titled "The Life of Julia," the slideshow followed a hypothetical woman named Julia throughout various stages of her life in order to compare Obama's policies to the ones proposed by Mitt Romney. At age three, toddler Julia plays with a bead maze and enjoys the benefits of Head Start under Obama's America, while the infographic warns that Romney would cut Head Start by 20 percent. By age 27 the adult Julia is a web designer—a knowing wink to the young urban hipsterati loathed by conservatives—whose birth control is covered by her health insurance thanks to Obamacare's reforms, but would have lost those if Romney had his way.
At a meeting of the Military Leadership Diversity Commission in March 2010, someone asked then-Marine Corps Commandant James T. Conway whether it was possible for a woman to ever be promoted to his position. He had to think about it for a little bit. Not from the usual career path of "combat arms," he said, because those were closed to women; maybe a female pilot could be eligible. Then he added that he didn't think anything would change "because I don’t think our women want it to change."
Should the Supreme Court uphold it, last Friday’s decision by three Reagan-appointees to the D.C. Circuit Appellate Court appears at first glance to rejigger the balance of power between Congress and the president. The appellate justices struck down three recess appointments that President Obama had made to the five-member National Labor Relations Board during the break between the 2011 and 2012 sessions of Congress partly on the grounds that Congress wasn’t formally in recess, since one and sometimes two Republicans showed up to nominally keep it in session for the sole reason of denying Obama the right to recess appointments. Two of the three justices went further, ruling that the president can’t really make recess appointments at all.
On Friday, a three-judge panel on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that President Obama's recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board—the U.S. agency charged with remedying unfair labor practices—were unconstitutional. The opinion—written by highly partisan Reagan appointee David Sentelle—would effectively remove the president's power to make any recess appointments at a time when counterbalances to an obstructionist Senate are more necessary than ever.
Apparently every Democrat automatically despises the troops, even when those Democrats once volunteered to serve in the armed forces. It's a trope Republicans have pulled out ever since the Nixon years. The Obama era--replete with drone strikes, Libyan intervention, and the death of Osama bin Laden—has robbed Republicans of a bit of their bluster. But on Saturday Ted Cruz, the newly elected U.S. Senator from Texas, breathed new life into the old smear when he tarred two highly decorated former veterans.
The consensus around debt reduction is beginning to crumble. Some straws in the wind are more careful attention to the actual numbers, as well as public conversions by such key players as Larry Summers and Peter Orszag, two former top aides to President Obama, who only yesterday were key members of the deflate-your-way-to-recovery club.
Summers wrote a piece in Wednesday’s Financial Timestitled “End the Damaging Obsession with the Budget Deficit,” pointing out that the more serious deficits were in jobs, wages, and infrastructure.
As I watched Barack Obama's speech yesterday, I couldn't help thinking of Ronald Reagan and what he has meant to conservatives since the day 32 years ago when he delivered his first inaugural address and said, "In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem. Government is the problem." Some have lamented the fact that no single line from Obama's speech stands to be repeated as often as that one. But could this speech, and the four years to follow, make Barack Obama into the Democrats' Reagan?
I don't necessarily mean that Obama will be treated with the kind of creepy fetishism Republicans treat Reagan. But the question is whether, like Reagan, Obama can define an era that continues even after he leaves office (in many ways, the Age of Reagan didn't end until January 2009), and give succor and guidance to his followers for years and even decades.