The Obama Administration

Snatching Defeat out of the Jaws of Victory

(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
(AP Photo/Susan Walsh) Invited guests listen as President Barack Obama speaks in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building about extending middle-class tax cuts before they expire in January. The president said he believes that members of both parties can reach a framework on a debt-cutting deal before Christmas. P resident Barack Obama, to his great credit, has drawn a bright line. Taxes have to revert to the rates that were in effect before the Bush tax cuts for the richest 2 percent. This is crucial because the less the very rich pay, the more others have to pay either in the form of less tax relief for the bottom 98 percent or on program cuts like Social Security and Medicare. Or has he drawn that line? Yesterday, the White House put out the word that the president was willing to be “flexible” on the question of tax rates for the top bracket. Specifically, that means the president will accept the Republican idea of getting some of the needed revenue by closing loopholes rather than...

Will Tim Geithner Lead Us over or around the Fiscal Cliff?

I’m trying to remain optimistic that the president and congressional Democrats will hold their ground over the next month as we approach the so-called “fiscal cliff.” But leading those negotiations for the White House is outgoing Secretary of Treasury Tim Geithner, whom Monday’s Wall Street Journal described as a “pragmatic deal maker” because of “his long relationship with former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, for whom balancing the budget was a priority over other Democratic touchstones.” Geithner is indeed a protégé of Bob Rubin, for whom he worked when Rubin was Treasury Secretary in the Clinton administration. Rubin then helped arranged for Geithner to become president of the New York Fed, and then pushed for him to become Obama’s Treasury Secretary. Both Rubin and Geithner are hardworking and decent. But both see the world through the eyes of Wall Street rather than Main Street. I battled Rubin for years in the Clinton administration because of his hawkishness on the budget...

The Election Heard Round the Watercooler

(Flickr / striatic)
This year's election wasn't the most negative in history, or the most trivial. But it did see a few new developments, including one particularly troubling one: the spread of politics into some places it used to be unwelcome. And not just any politics, but a kind of ill-informed, antagonistic kind of politics, the kind that says that your party losing is literally a national catastrophe and that there is no such thing as an opponent, only an enemy. When we hear ridiculous stories like that of the gun store owner in Arizona who took out an ad in the local paper proclaiming, "If you voted for Barack Obama, your business is NOT WELCOME at Southwest Shooting Authority," we aren't surprised. After all, hundreds of thousands of people—maybe millions—got an extra dose of partisanship at their jobs this year for the first time. When the Supreme Court decided the Citizens United case in 2010, most of the focus was on the fact that the decision allowed corporations and wealthy individuals to...

What Do Republicans Want?

(AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)
(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File) In this November 16, 2012, file photo, President Barack Obama acknowledges House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio while speaking to reporters in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, as he hosted a meeting of the bipartisan, bicameral leadership of Congress to discuss the deficit and economy. A big coalition of business groups says there must be give-and-take in the negotiations to avoid the "fiscal cliff" of massive tax hikes and spending cuts. But the coalition also says raising tax rates is out of the question. The group doesn’t care that President Barack Obama campaigned to raise tax rates on the rich. A s we head into negotiations on the Austerity Trap (better known by the inaccurate moniker "fiscal cliff," which I refuse to use), there's a clear narrative emerging. This narrative has it that Democrats want to see taxes increase on rich people, which Republicans aren't happy about, while Republicans want to see entitlement "reform,"...

Deterrence Can't Replace Diplomacy

Israel's offensive shows the limits of military intervention.

(Rex Features via AP Images)
(Rex Features via AP Images) Smoke rises after an Israeli airstrike in Rafah in the southern Gaza strip. The combined death toll in six days of airstrikes and rocket attacks has climbed to nearly 100. A s I write, and pray for a ceasefire, rockets continue to swarm out of Gaza; Israeli planes continue flock to strike the Hamas-ruled enclave. This has been an unequal battle in at least two ways. The rockets are indeed a form of terrorism, tired as that word is: The men firing them want to kill random people for a political purpose. Only the technological wizardry of the Iron Dome anti-missile system has kept Israeli casualties low. Israeli pilots, in contrast, aim smart bombs at military targets. But if a bomb is misaimed or the target is inside a crowded neighborhood, the blast is stupid; it kills children as easily as Hamas fighters. Thus the toll rises among people whose only offense is living in Gaza. So for Israel, there has been a rising moral and a strategic cost, even if the...

The Judicial Bush Doctrine

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
P resident Obama needs to be more like George W. Bush. Bush understood that a president’s longest-lasting legacy is often the judges who receive a lifetime appointment to the federal bench. He understood that another Republican will occupy the White House someday, and they will need a slate of potential nominees to the Supreme Court. And he understood that the judiciary can quietly implement an unpopular conservative agenda that would never survive contact with the elected branches of government. We are still living the legacy of Bush’s appointments. The Supreme Court’s five conservatives trashed consumers’ ability to stand up to rapacious corporations. They greenlighted laws intended primarily to suppress minority, low-income, and student voters . They thumbed their nose at women’s right to equal pay for equal work . And, while the Court’s Citizens United decision did not enable Mitt Romney’s rich friends to buy him four years in the White House, it will create a generation of...

Fiscal Cliff: The End Game

(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak) President Barack Obama makes an opening statement during his news conference yesterday in the East Room of the White House. The president says the economy cannot afford a tax increase on all Americans and is calling on congressional Republicans to support an extension of existing tax rates for households earning $250,000 or less. P resident Barack Obama continued to display a new toughness about the debt negotiation at his first post-election press conference yesterday. He confirmed publicly what he has been telling progressive leaders privately. He will not give on the principle that taxes—rates as well as loophole closings—must be raised on people earning over $250,000 a year. “We should not hold the middle class hostage while we debate tax cuts for the wealthy,” he declared. Obama has also told progressive leaders that he is looking for $600 billion more in other tax increases on the well-to-do, in order to reduce the pressure for spending cuts. And he...

Note to Obama: Shoot First, Compromise Later

(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)
(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais) President Barack Obama with Republican House Speaker John Boehner I hope the president starts negotiations over a “grand bargain” for deficit reduction by aiming high. After all, he won the election. If the past four years have proved anything, it’s that the White House should not begin with a compromise. Assuming the goal is $4 trillion of deficit reduction over the next decade—that’s the consensus of the Simpson-Bowles Commission, the Congressional Budget Office, and most independent analysts—here’s what the president should propose: First, raise taxes on the rich—and by more than the highest marginal rate under Bill Clinton or even a 30 percent (so-called Buffett Rule) minimum rate on millionaires. Remember: America’s top earners are now wealthier than they’ve ever been, and they’re taking home a larger share of total income and wealth than top earners have received in more than 80 years. Why not go back 60 years when Americans earning more than...

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...

Pages