The Obama Administration

The Last Four Years, and the Next Four

Tonight, PBS's Frontline will be broadcasting a documentary called "Inside Obama's Presidency," about the President's first term. The story told in this preview is about a now-somewhat-famous dinner that a bunch of Republican muckety-mucks held on the night of Obama's inauguration, during which they made the decision that the best way to proceed was implacable, unified opposition to anything and everything the new president wanted to do. As we all know, this plan was then carried out almost to the letter. Watch:

Don't Count on a Sane GOP

AP Photo

A week before his inaugural, President Obama says he won’t negotiate with Republicans over raising the debt limit. 

At an unexpected news conference on Monday he said he won’t trade cuts in government spending in exchange for raising the borrowing limit. 

“If the goal is to make sure that we are being responsible about our debt and our deficit - if that’s the conversation we’re having, I’m happy to have that conversation,” Obama said. “What I will not do is to have that negotiation with a gun at the head of the American people.”

Embracing the Legacy of Torture

John Brennan's nomination for head of the CIA shows the appalling extent to which the worst abuses of the post-9/11 security state have become institutionalized.

Rex Features/Patsy Lynch

Less than a month after Barack Obama was elected in 2008, John Brennan withdrew himself from consideration for head of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) because of opposition from liberals, which centered on his role as chief of staff to CIA director George Tenet when the Bush administration's arbitrary detention and torture programs were being developed. It is particularly depressing, then, that Obama has done as a safely re-elected incumbent what he felt he could not do in his first term: Nominate Brennan as head of the CIA. The fact that Brennan has been nominated despite his support for some of the worst abuses of the post-9/11 security state demonstrates the appalling extent to which many of these practices have become institutionalized, as well as the political weakness of defenders of civil liberties.

Obama's Genius Defense Pick

AP Photo/Nati Harnik

The Republican Party is given these days to hysteria, and what appears at the moment to be a white-guy cabinet in the second Obama term is more likely the result of botched orchestration than anything. That doesn’t mean there isn’t something to South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham’s contention that the president is deliberately getting in the opposition’s face with his recent nominations. As those of us who have been supportive of the president wrestle with the moral question of whether he deserves as much grief as we would have given a newly elected Mitt Romney for filling the three biggest jobs in his administration with old white males, or whether Obama’s first term—including a female secretary of State and two female Supreme Court appointments—earns him some slack, the Machiavellian genius of the choices is lost. The Republicans are in disarray not because they drew some particularly wacky names from a hat when it came to fielding congressional candidates but because their constituency is wacky, something so obvious that the only option for pols and pundits alike is to ignore it: A third of the country is fucking out of its mind. Of course some portion of the country always has been out of its mind, which is what Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln and Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained are about, and the country’s task always has been transcending this. But now that Republican psychosis has become so pronounced even the party itself is beset by flashes of self-awareness, a cleave has developed into which Field Marshal Barack drives his pincer division of Kerry, Hagel, and Lew.

The Mortgage Mess and Jack Lew

Rex Features via AP Images

The more information we learn about the mortgage settlement that was announced Monday—official documents are yet to be made public—the more of a smarmy backroom deal it turns out to be.

The deal lets ten major banks and other “loan servicers” off the hook for a corrupted and illegal process of millions of foreclosures, with a paltry one-time settlement of $8.5 billion. The economic damage inflicted on homeowners, and by extension on the economy, was many times that.

Is Jack Lew the Best We Can Do?

AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

To no one’s great surprise, President Obama has appointed his chief of staff, Jack Lew, to succeed Tim Geithner as Treasury Secretary. Mainly, the choice signals that there will be no change either in the Obama-Geithner approach to reforming Wall Street (not very much), or on fiscal politics, where deficit reduction is a paramount goal despite a faltering recovery.

Obama's Options on 2013's Big Issues

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

Anyone who thinks congressional Republicans will roll over on the debt ceiling or gun control or other pending hot-button issues hasn’t been paying attention.

But the President can use certain tools that come with his office—responsibilities enshrined in the Constitution and in his capacity as the nation’s chief law-enforcer—to achieve some of his objectives.

On the debt ceiling, for example, he might pay the nation’s creditors regardless of any vote on the debt ceiling—based on the the Fourteenth Amendment’s explicit directive (in Section 4) that “the validity of the public debt of the United States … shall not be questioned.”

Fighting Education Shock Therapy

With tools from 1964, community activists are pushing the White House to turn federal education policy around.

AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast

The watchword of austerity, “there is no alternative,” connotes painful cuts and layoffs adopted by fiscally shot local governments. In practice, though, this is a contradiction in terms: the politics of austerity are also a politics of imaginative restructuring, in which fiscal crisis is a cover for what Clintonites called “reinventing government” or, as partisans of Naomi Klein might prefer, “shock therapy.”

The lie is starkest in the realm of education policy, where the Obama administration prescribes a slate of options for impoverished communities receiving federal School Improvement Grants. These range from “turnarounds,” which replace the principal and at least half of school staff, to charterization or outright closure.

Solis Steps Down

AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File

There has never been a more pro-worker Secretary of Labor than Hilda Solis, who announced yesterday that she’s stepping down from her cabinet post. But for much of her tenure, she was swimming upstream—confronting not just most anti-labor congressional Republicans in modern American history, but also an Obama White House inner circle that she, like many of her fellow cabinet members, never really permeated.

The Clear Legality of the Platinum-Coin Solution

It's likely that early this year we will once again see another debt ceiling crisis, with Republicans in Congress threatening the credit of the United States in order to win unpopular policy concessions. One increasingly popular idea for getting out of this cycle of hostage-taking is for the president to mint a trillion-dollar platinum coin that would allow the federal government to meet its outlays even if Congress refuses to lift the debt ceiling to allow the executive branch to cover the expenditures is has already required.

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.

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 Democrats to lead agencies whose missions are traditionally associated with Democrats. In fact, they have no problem appointing people whose goal is to fight against the missions of the agencies they lead.

Barney Frank Walks Back on Hagel

World Economic Forum / Flickr

Republicans straining to present opposition to Chuck Hagel as bipartisan had a small assist from retired Massachusetts lawmaker Barney Frank, 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.

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.” 

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:

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