The Obama Administration

The Dangers of Our Budget-Deficit Minuet

(Flickr/Austen Hufford)
The day after Barack Obama was re-elected, the Dow Jones lost 312.96 points. It wasn’t just that investors were hoping for the lower taxes and further deregulation that would have come with a Romney win. The news from Europe was bad, and pundits were obsessively focused on the “fiscal cliff” of mandatory budget cuts that will drive the economy into a new recession unless Congress jumps off its own budgetary cliff first. For once, the markets are right. But the news from Europe entirely contradicts conventional assumptions about the fiscal cliff. Greece, which has dutifully cut its budget as demanded by the leaders of the European Union and the European Central Bank, is deeper in depression than ever. The latest reports show that its economy has shrunk by more than 20 percent over four years and that the more that it cuts its deficit, the more its national debt grows. How can that be? Budget cutting in a depression just deepens the depression. The deeper the depression, the less...

Party Down at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

(Patrick Caldwell)
Patrick Caldwell Celebrations erupt in front of the White House after Obama won the 2012 election A college-aged man in an American flag T-shirt shook up a bottle of champagne and sprayed it on the crowd below his perch atop tree branches. Despite the chill, no one really seemed to mind, and the large contingent of cops and Secret Service agents paid him and his fellow tree-climbers no mind. Friends jumped on each other's backs, lovers embraced, and everyone whooped and walloped. Tears were shed. Bottles of booze were passed about, and a whiff of weed hung in the background. Off-duty taxis rolled up 18 th Street, the drivers laying on their horns and thrusting their hands out the window for high-fives from the flock of pedestrians joining the revelry. It was a little after 11:30 P.M. NBC and then CNN had just called the presidential election for Barack Obama and his city was ready to celebrate in front of the house he'll call home for the next four years. Things had been relatively...

Relief We Can Believe In

White House/Pete Souza
Many years ago, legendary psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky used experiments to demonstrate the power of "loss aversion," the fact that losing something you have is more emotionally powerful than gaining something you don't. In other words, the misery of losing $100 is far larger than the pleasure of gaining $100. Which means that Democrats ought to feel even better today than they did in 2008. They probably don't, though. The election of 2008 was certainly the most extraordinary of my lifetime, and probably of yours as well. There were a few prescient voices at the time saying, "Don't get too excited, or you'll just be disappointed" (Paul Krugman was the most notable), but it was almost impossible not to get swept up in the moment, particularly because it came after eight years of the George W. Bush presidency. The emotion most Democrats are experiencing right now is not so much hope, or inspiration, but relief. It doesn't seem quite as likely to produce tears of joy...

Northern Virginia: BMWs and Cell Phones

(Patrick Caldwell)
Patrick Caldwell Decorations at an Obama field office in Alexandria, Virginia ALEXANDRIA, VIRGINIA —The daycare of a church named Shiloh Baptist isn't where you'd expect to locate the epicenter of President Obama's hopes for being re-elected. Inside, boxes of Toy Story fruit snacks, miniature scissors, and the occasional errant, bewildered toddler indicate the building's primary purpose, but the string of Obama-Biden yard signs marks this as the spot. While half of the building maintains its original use, the other has been taken over as an Obama field office. About 60 volunteers cram every nook and cranny of the second floor. They line the hallway walls, sitting on folding chairs or cross-legged on the floor, speaking softly into their cell phones, gently reminding voters to head to the polls. A chorus of voices echo the message: "This is so-and-so from the Obama campaign, calling you from Alexandria to see if you have voted today." By the time I arrive in the afternoon they've...

The GOP Apostate Campaigns for Obama in Virginia

(Patrick Caldwell)
Patrick Caldwell Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee at an Obama field office in Henrico, VA. Mitt Romney and Lincoln Chafee have surprisingly similar family backgrounds, both the product of prominent Republican households. Their fathers governed states as Rockefeller Republicans—George Romney in Michigan, John Chafee in Rhode Island—then served together in Richard Nixon's cabinet. The sons followed their fathers' molds as moderate Northeastern Republicans to great success a decade ago. Romney became the governor of Massachusetts in 2002 and Chafee replaced his father in the Senate, each serving one term in their respective roles. From there they split. Romney, of course, disavowed his moderate image to run for president in 2008, sticking to his severely conservative mantra up until the final month of this year's presidential campaign. Chafee, on the other hand, disavowed his party after he lost his Senate seat to a Democrat in 2006. He endorsed his former Senate colleague Barack Obama...

The President as Metaphor

(Flickr/Adam Jones)
(Flickr/Adam Jones) C haracter is destiny, said the Greek philosopher Heraclites—a romantic, maybe, since the implication is that sooner or later the good guy wins. It’s probably a character flaw on my part, indicative of smugness, to assume this maxim will be tested tomorrow on Election Day in terms of both the two presidential candidates running and the country itself. Such an assumption implies that the good guy’s identity is evident. This may not be the first time in our lives when a national election is about nothing less than the meaning of America. More than 1968 or 1932, however, the views and values of both sides are so distinctly different that what’s unsettling isn’t each side believing the other represents the forces of darkness and that the future of the country is at stake; everybody believes these things during a heated campaign. What’s unsettling is that, for once, these things may be true. This is what makes tomorrow such a dreadful crossroads and what makes after...

Heckuva Job, Barry

(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Although some may find it crass to speculate on the political impact of The Storm, I'm going to go ahead and do it, for two reasons. First, I've earned the right , and second, because complaints that things are "politicized" are almost always misconceived. Politics is important. It concerns choices that affect all our lives. And campaigns ought to be connected to the actual business of governing, so when an event occurs that implicates our government, it should be talked about. Problems sometimes arise not from the fact that something is politicized, but the way it's politicized. For instance, when in the 2002 election, Republicans charged that Democrats were on the side of al Qaeda because those Democrats favored a different bill establishing the Department of Homeland Security than the bill Republicans favored, it was despicable not because September 11 had been "politicized," but because of the manner in which it was politicized. Anyhow, back to the storm. This morning, an editor...

Anti-Obamacare Ballot Measures: Purely Symbolic, Sometimes Ironic

(Flickr/Fibonacci Blue)
This is the seventh in the Prospect's series on the 174 measures on state ballots this year. Ever since the Affordable Care Act (ACA) passed, Republicans have been desperate for ways to gut it. They hoped the Supreme Court might do the dirty work, but the Court ruled this summer that the law was constitutional. They hoped to pass new legislation, but as long as Democrats have the White House and the Senate, that's a non-starter. So instead, for the time being, they are turning to purely symbolic acts of defiance. Four states have ballot measures on November 6 that, if passed, would directly conflict with the ACA. In Alabama, Florida, Montana, and Wyoming, voters can ostensibly decide to ban any and all mandates that residents get health insurance. But these "bans" would exist in name only. That's because the measures would violate Obamacare, which requires that the state's residents get health insurance or pay a fine (which the Supreme Court calls a tax). These measures will have no...

The Most Mysterious Man in the Election

(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
It's often said that the way a candidate runs his campaign gives insight into the way he'll run the government, but unfortunately it usually isn't true. A campaign has a few similarities to a government, but not many; likewise, while there are similarities between running for president and being president (lots of speeches, for instance), most of the really important things couldn't be more different. As the presidential election nears its end—a vote of tremendous consequence preceded by a campaign of unusual triviality—is there anything left to learn about Barack Obama and Mitt Romney? Despite the fervid hopes of those on the extreme right that there is some secret revelation waiting to be unearthed about Obama, we know most of what we need to know about his potential second term just by taking stock of his first. We know that domestically, where he needs Congress's cooperation he'll pursue the policies his party supports, just as Mitt Romney will. In foreign policy and national...

Central Florida's Corridor of Power

(Flickr/Kissimmee Convention & Visitors Bureau/Express Monorail)
An aerial photograph of Disney World in Kissimmee, Florida I f you want to know what’s different about Florida, both in general and in this election cycle, just ask José López. The organizer and leader of a laundry workers’ union that’s part of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), López has been walking precincts as part of SEIU’s campaign to re-elect President Obama since mid-summer. One day, as he was chatting with an elderly man on his doorstep, his canvassing partner interrupted and asked López, “How much do you know about snakes?” A rather large snake, it seems, had slithered between López’s legs. The elderly gentleman, who, like hundreds of thousands of new Florida voters, had migrated from Puerto Rico to the Orlando metropolitan area, excused himself, returned carrying a machete and proceeded to hack the snake not entirely to death. “The machete was too dull,” says López, shaking his head. “He ended up just beating that poor snake to death with that thing.” “Old...

Turning the Cliff into a Launch Pad

One part of the dreaded fiscal cliff actually presents an opportunity that could be good politics and good economics. The temporary two-point cut in the payroll tax expires January 1 (along with the Bush tax cuts). The $1.2 billion sequester also kicks in. Deficit hawks of both parties have been saying that it’s irresponsible to extend the payroll tax cut, while defenders of Social Security like the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) are opposed to an extension for fear of diverting revenue from the Social Security trust fundsand adding ammo to the crusade for cutting back the system’s benefits. But there is a nice opportunity here to turn a lemon into lemonade. The economy is hardly robust enough to inflict a two-point tax increase on working people. For two-income households, that’s a four-point increase. That means, say, a $2,400 tax hike on a $60,000 family income. Nobody is going to remember that this was temporary; they will simply experience it as a tax increase on...

News Flash: This Was Always a Close Election

(Flickr/dinodressed2)
(Flickrdinodressed2) A two-term Obama presidency wasn't a sure thing four years ago. And it definitely isn't one now. F rom the beginning, this presidential campaign has been about discontent with the incumbent versus distrust of the challenger, and about which would trump the other less than two weeks from now on Election Day. Clearly Governor Mitt Romney’s shambles of a summer—during which unease grew over a wealthy nihilist disinclined to reveal anything credible about his finances or beliefs who is contemptuous of half the country at the other end of the economic and social spectrum—was offset for some voters by 90 minutes in early October when the Republican Party nominee forcefully berated a debate opponent who dithered between bemusement and narcolepsy. To what extent in that first debate the President of the United States’ performance sucked all light and gravity out of the surrounding cosmos, as breathless punditry would have it, is now irrelevant. I remain struck by the fact...

Obama's Total Knockout

(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
(AP Photo/Pool-Win McNamee) Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama answer a question during the third presidential debate at Lynn University, Monday, October 22, 2012, in Boca Raton, Florida. S o far, the conventional wisdom for the presidential debates has been on target. Pundits correctly saw the first debate as an outstanding victory for Mitt Romney, and the second as basically a draw, with Barack Obama winning a small victory and stopping the bleeding of the previous engagement. For the final presidential debate—a bout over foreign policy, held in Boca Raton, Florida—the conventional wisdom is that Obama won, handily, but that Romney proved himself capable of taking over as commander-in-chief. I’m not so sure. It’s not that Romney performed poorly—he was mediocre from beginning to end—as much as it is that he already passed that plausibility test. It seems that in the excitement of the debate, pundits have forgotten that Romney’s image as a...

(Fiscal) Cliffs Notes

(Flickr/Matthew Wilkinson)
The most bizarre thing about the deficit and the campaign is the fact that the risk of a fiscal cliff—which everyone agrees will crash the economy—is being used to justify a slightly smaller fiscal cliff. There are several players here, so the arguments are worth sorting out. Herewith, some Cliffs Notes: What is the fiscal cliff? It comes in three parts. On January 1, the Bush tax cuts expire. This means that in the first pay period of the new year, more taxes are taken out of everyone’s withholding. Second, the temporary two-point cuts in payroll taxes expire too, so everyone’s Social Security and Medicare taxes go up as well. Third, the dreaded “sequester” of automatic budget cuts, the toxic fruit of the Republican blockade of a normal budget deal back in 2011, kick in. Oh, and extended unemployment benefits expire, too. What would all this fiscal tightening do to the recovery? It would create a new recession, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), Fed Chairman Ben...

Obama: Giving Away Social Security

(AP/Rex Features)
Here is Mitt Romney’s proposal to cut Social Security benefits, from the Romney campaign website : First, for future generations of seniors, Mitt believes that the retirement age should be slowly increased to account for increases in longevity. Second, for future generations of seniors, Mitt believes that benefits should continue to grow but that the growth rate should be lower for those with higher incomes. In other words, cuts in benefits. In the first debate, I was waiting for President Obama to go to town on this. Instead, Obama had this to say: LEHRER: "Mr. President. Do you see a major difference between the two of you on Social Security?" OBAMA: "You know, I suspect that, on Social Security, we’ve got a somewhat similar position. Social Security is structurally sound. It’s going to have to be tweaked the way it was by Ronald Reagan and Speaker — Democratic Speaker Tip O’Neill." He’s got a similar position to Mitt Romney’s? On Social Security? Does this man just want to hand the...

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