The Obama Administration

Debate Prep with Joe

(Flickr/People for Cherry)
(AP Photo/Jim Cole) Joe Biden at a debate at Dartmouth College in September 2007. Even presidents need a little practice from time to time, something immediately clear to anyone who tuned into last week's debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. Obama, busy with his day job of running a country, had supposedly been skimping on debate preparation sessions. Meanwhile, the Republican candidate had bunkered down over the past several months, practicing his zingers and perfecting his 90-second pitches. The result: The incumbent was left fumbling for words when they finally met onstage. Historically debates haven't shifted the final election results, but a slight Romney bump seems to be emerging in the latest tracking polls . Clearly Barack Obama should have spent a few more hours in mock debates against John Kerry, the stand-in actor the campaign selected to play Mitt Romney. A dependable politician from the party is selected to play the opponent’s role. Ohio Senator Rob Portman, for...

Full Employment Is the Best Social Program

The optimistic debate about what could happen in the United States after the unemployment rate goes down

AP Photo
The unemployment rate’s drop to 7.8 percent, reported last week, marked the first time since 2009 that the rate was below 8 percent. It’s fitting that this occurred shortly after someone who predicted the rate couldn’t get below 8 percent changed his mind. Until a year ago, president of the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Narayana Kocherlakota had argued that there may be a new normal unemployment rate of 8.7 percent, and that adjusting the rate at which banks borrow money would do little to help. Now he argues that the Fed should commit to keeping rates low until unemployment is declines—a position in line with those hawkish about our unemployment crisis. Kocherlakota’s arguments were popular among the right, with conservatives like David Brooks name-checking him in his national column. But they also found support from a surprising ally: former President Bill Clinton. Clinton went on David Letterman's show and NPR in 2010, quoting Kocherlakota to argue that we were “coming out of a...

Obama's Other War

What’s weighing President Obama down? In a brilliant essay, Garance Franke-Ruta of The Atlantic (and a Prospect alumna) argues that the emotional toll of his job—particularly, of presiding over two wars and having to reckon with their casualties—has emotionally “shut down” the president. “Running a drone war that kills innocent civilians, ordering the death of militants, overseeing a policy that’s led to an increase in American casualties in Afghanistan, and delivering funereal remarks at a ceremony honoring the returning remains of a slain American diplomat,” she writes, have taken a toll on the “easy swagger and rambunctiously playful enthusiasm” that he displayed in his 2008 campaign. I think my friend Garance is on to something serious here, but I want to broaden the diagnosis. Every night, we know, Obama reads ten of the multitude of letters that Americans send him to let him know what their lives are like, to ask him for some kind of help. At a time when the American middle...

We're All Values Voters

(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
As recently as last month’s convention, Democrats were getting their narrative back. They were uniformly praised for their message discipline and for laying out an inspiring vision for the country, reflected in a string of rousing speeches that told a story and signaled (instead of concealed) their values. After last night’s debate, Dems risk falling back into the lost decades when the party could offer only a grab bag of policy goodies to its fragile coalition instead of a coherent governing philosophy. If Barack Obama’s debate performance is any indication, they seem poised to forget a key lesson from the last three elections: We’re all “values voters.” Yes, we in the commentariat always clamor for more specifics. But policies mean little if they’re not communicated as part of a larger narrative that speaks to voters’ values. I don’t mean gay marriage and abortion, per se, but the belated understanding by Dems (decades after the GOP) that voters make choices based on whether a...

Are Women Better Off than We Were Four Years Ago?

(Flickr/Lekere)
Last week I confessed that I don’t like presidential election season. I don’t like the trivialized reportage, the horse-race-ification of serious subjects, and the narrowed vision that settles in on policy folks during these months. I especially don’t like the question “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” This suggests two things to which I object: first, that the president is in charge of how well-off I am, when all of us know that American politics and global economics are far more complex. Second, that “better off” or “worse off” can be reduced to my current income and immediate financial prospects, even if those were dependent on the president. So I’m going to hijack that question for my own purposes and ask: Are women better off than we were four years ago—not just financially, and not just in ways affected by President Barack Obama’s administration, but overall? Episode one: Show me the money. Despite the fact that I dislike the reduction of life to finances,...

CFPB Catches American Express Breaking the Law

American Express customers will receive $85 million in refunds for deceptive practices

(Flickr/Images_of_Money)
After a slow start, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is beginning to live up to consumer advocates' hopes and Wall Street's fears. On Monday, the new federal regulator announced a steep penalty and fine against American Express for ripping off their customers. Three subsidiaries of the credit-card company will have to refund $85 million to around 250,000 customers. As a result of the investigation—conducted by the CFPB, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), the Federal Reserve Board (FRB), the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), and the Utah Department of Financial Institutions—American Express was fined an additional $27.5 million that will be divvied up between the various regulators' coffers. Investigators found that American Express deceived customers at a number of steps, starting from the initial sale of a credit card. Customers were told they would receive extra points, totaling $300, by signing up for a "Blue Sky" credit card, but the...

Diane Ravitch Talks School Reform, the Chicago Strike, and the "Testing Vampire"

(Credit: DianeRavitch.com)
Click here for part 2 of the Prospect 's interview with the former assistant secretary of education. Diane Ravitch is famous* for two things: championing the education-reform movement, then leading the opposition to it. The movement, which broadly supports an agenda that emphasizes student assessment (a.k.a. testing) and school choice (a.k.a. charter schools), has come to dominate American education policy. For the most part, both Democrats and Republicans now push to make school systems resemble economic markets. They want fewer teacher protections, more testing, and more charter schools for parents to choose from. President Barack Obama's Department of Education, headed by education reformer Arne Duncan, shares many policy goals with those of George W. Bush's administration. Ravitch herself was once part of the movement, promoting student assessments and helping to create voluntary academic standards. After serving as assistant secretary of education under George H.W. Bush, she held...

No, We Can't All Get Along

Change - get it? (Flickr/Rakka)
Mitt Romney seems to have decided to run an entire presidential campaign on quibbling semantic arguments, which is certainly a novel approach, but not one I'd recommend for future candidates. It's not that every campaign doesn't spend way too much time complaining about the words their opponent says, but he really has taken it to a totally different level; every day seems to bring a new expression of feigned outrage at something Barack Obama said. Over at MSNBC's "Lean Forward" blog, I have a new piece about one of these inane back-and-forths that happened last week, when Obama said he learned you couldn't change Washington from the inside, and Romney got really peeved and promised he would change it from the inside. My point was essentially that if I hear one more pundit talk about the good old days when Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill would argue during the day, then share a beer and bellow some old Irish sea shanties in the evening, I think I'm going to lose it: Let's look at the...

Obama Insufficiently Audacious for Press Corps

Barack Obama, lazing about. (White House/Pete Souza)
There are few deeper ironies than to hear campaign reporters complaining that candidates are not being substantive and detailed enough, and it seems that they now may be turning their wagging finger toward both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. Don't get me wrong—I'm all for substance, and there are some kinds of vagueness that have to be confronted. For instance, the fact that Romney says he can cut taxes but keep things revenue neutral by also cutting loopholes, yet steadfastly refuses to say which loopholes he'll eliminate, is just absurd and should be called out. Yet if he came out tomorrow with a dozen new lengthy policy papers, would the campaign reporters on his bus stay up late studying them so they could produce one policy-dense analysis after another? No, they wouldn't. Just as candidates often want to seem substantive without actually being substantive, the reporters want to judge substance without having to actually examine substance. Which is why this Politico article is so...

The Republicans' Foreign Policy Problem

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Pop quiz: if you had to describe the Obama foreign policy in one sentence, what would you say? Not easy, is it? Back in 2008, it was pretty simple: "Not Bush." Now back then, there was something called the "Bush doctrine," which may have had a subtle meaning to those working in the administration, but as far as the public was concerned mostly meant "invading lots of countries and making everyone in the world hate us." So it was easy to imagine Obama as a breath of foreign policy fresh air. He'd use a less-bumbling combination of diplomacy, "soft power," and carefully restrained force. He'd get us out of Iraq. Things would change for the better. But now that Obama has been president for four years, "Not Bush" has lost its relevance. Obama's actual foreign policy is too complicated to sum up easily, and probably therefore too complicated for most voters to understand. We did get out of Iraq, but things don't seem to be going too well in Afghanistan; Obama has dramatically increased the...

Obama's Decisive Bump

President Obama’s convention bounce shows no sign of subsiding. Yesterday’s Fox News poll shows him with a five-point lead over Romney among likely voters—48 to 43 percent—and he continues to lead in the Gallup tracking poll, which shows him with a six lead over the Republican nominee, 50 to 44 percent. It’s hard to overstate how dangerous this is for Mitt Romney’s bid for the presidency. Conventions are one of the few points when candidates can shift the race and make meaningful gains. This makes sense—they’re little more than long, effusive advertisements, broadcast by major media outlets and seen by tens of millions of Americans. But while conventions can do a huge amount to change the dynamics of a presidential race, things tend to stabilize afterward. In their new book The Timeline of Presidential Elections , political scientists Robert Erikson and Christopher Wlezien explain the extent to which conditions harden in the post-convention period: It is easy to imagine that many...

The 11th Anniversary of 9/11

I've been looking at the crisp blue sky and remembering when the world went silent. The unspeakable images—which we have not yet shown to our son—are seared into all of us who were adults, then. How strange is it that a generation of young people has come of age who were sitting on school buses or in schoolrooms that day, who didn't watch as hundreds of people burned cruelly to death, as New York City was coated with human ash? I don't know which is more horrible to me: the memory of that day as we sat in our living rooms or offices or kitchens watching the towers (and the people in them, and in the planes) burn and fall, the memory of the awful silence of the skies and the roads, filling up with the sickening knowledge that the United States would soon bankrupt itself going to war—or the next eleven years of war, torture, and the abrogation of our civil liberties. Eleven years of Guantanamo, and Bagram, and Abu Ghraib, and a Democratic president with an unauthorized "kill list," and...

Koch: It's Only Crony Capitalism When I Don't Benefit

The right-wing press is chock-a-block with articles decrying the Obama administration’s romance with industrial policy. So reflexive is this ideology that some of them are even written by major beneficiaries of industrial policy, whose sense of entitlement must be so ingrained that they fail to notice this anomaly. Exhibit A appeared in Monday’s Wall Street Journal op-ed page, in which Charles Koch of Koch Brothers fame took out after crony capitalism and industrial policy. “We are on dangerous terrain when government picks winners and losers in the economy by subsidizing favored products and industries,” Koch wrote. He further complained that government is currently “subsidizing and mandating politically favored products in the energy sector,” singling out “solar, wind and biofuels” for examples of sectors currently being helped out. But not a word about oil and gas can be found in Koch’s litany of complaints. Could this be because Koch Industries, of which Koch is chairman and CEO,...

GM's Hunger Games

The hunger strike is just the latest in a long history of labor tensions in Colombia.

(GDA via AP Images)
H asta la muerte ! “To the death,” chanted 12 hunger strikers outside the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá, Colombia. General Motors subsidiary Colmotores had fired the workers a year ago, claiming they were dismissed because of declining productivity. In truth, they were injured on the job and deemed no longer useful. On August 1, they sewed their mouths shut in protest. On August 6, Colmotores briefly sat down to negotiations with the workers, who formed the Association of Injured Workers and Ex-Workers of General Motors Colombia (ASOTRECOL), but ended up walking out later the same day. Protests in the United States and Colombia soon sprouted— Martin Sheen and Noam Chomsky have been among the more well-known public defenders of the GM workers. Under mounting public pressure, Colmotores agreed to negotiations facilitated by the U.S. Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service on August 23. The talks, however, did not result in GM rehiring the workers or compensating them for lost wages. After...

How Does the President Justify Having a Kill List?

Have you ever heard of Ben Swann, a Toledo reporter/analyst on local Fox news? I hadn't. But someone pointed me to one of Swann's recent four-minute segments , "Reality Check," in which he asks Obama how he justified having a kill list that includes American citizens who've never been charged with a crime—and then concisely analyzes both the constitutional issues and the reasons the national news media are giving Obama a pass. It is well worth your four minutes of watching time. It left me wondering: Why doesn't every reporter demand answers in this way? Why isn't local TV news always like this? My lord, this is far more worth discussing than most of what we saw from Charlotte last week.

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