The Obama Administration

Dreams from My President

E very president plays a symbolic, almost mythological role that’s hard to talk about, much less quantify—it’s like trying to grab a ball of mercury. I’m not referring to using the bully pulpit to shape the national agenda but to the way that the president, as America’s most inescapably powerful figure, colors the emotional climate of the country. John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan did this affirmatively, expressing ideals that shaped the whole culture. Setting a buoyant tone, they didn’t just change movies, music, and television; they changed attitudes. Other presidents did the same, only unpleasantly. Richard Nixon created a mood of angry paranoia, Jimmy Carter one of dreary defeatism, and George W. Bush, especially in that seemingly endless second term, managed to do both at once. While Barack Obama’s election left a joyous imprint on American culture—most of us were thrilled to discover that we could sometimes be what we want to think we are—his presidency almost immediately began...

No One Trust's Obama's Evolution

(Flickr/VJnet)
Few people truly believe Barack Obama when he claims his position on same-sex marriage is "evolving." He first publicly endorsed marriage equality in 1996 while running for the Illinois state senate. At the time, just 27 percent of the population shared his views, according to a Gallup poll. Now, Gallup's tracking numbers from last year have 53 percent of the country favoring SSM. It might have been politically expedient for Obama to position himself against same-sex unions in 2008, but it's impossible to imagine anyone at the vanguard of LGBT civil rights like that young Illinois legislator truly changing his mind. That's why his continuing "evolution" makes no sense. It ticks off liberals and moderates who are convinced that Obama does not have the courage to stand up for his convictions. And it certainly wins him no plaudits from conservatives, who also believe it is a smokescreen to hide his true agenda. To wit, here's RNC Chairman Reince Priebus on MSNBC earlier today: “So we’ve...

Disillusioned on Wall Street

Flickr/Matthew Knott
I can't say I know much about the psychology of the typical stock analyst or bond trader, so I've been as bewildered as anyone when I see stories quoting denizens of Wall Street complaining about the Obama administration. Not about, say, the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau—that's not surprising, since it's an agency created to rein in their abuses, and so it directly impinges on their financial interests—but about how their feelings have been hurt. After Wall Street gave more money to Obama than to John McCain, these days those masters of the universe feel put upon. As former Prospect writer Nicholas Confessore wrote in the New York Times Magazine about a discussion an Obama representative had with some of them not long ago, "They felt unfairly demonized for being wealthy. They felt scapegoated for the recession. It was a few weeks into the Occupy Wall Street movement, with mass protests against the 1 percent springing up all around the country, and they blamed...

Obama's Untenable Position on Same-Sex Marriage

(Flickr/Barack Obama)
Oh, good old Joe. The vice president just can’t help himself sometimes, getting juiced up and spouting off whatever comes to his mind rather than staying on message like the Obama campaign would prefer. On yesterday’s Meet the Press , Biden was questioned about his stance on same-sex marriage and seemingly went a step further than the official White House line, perhaps not endorsing marriage equality directly but coming pretty close : David Gregory: You’re comfortable with same-sex marriage now? Biden: Look, I am Vice President of the United States of America. The president sets the policy. I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women and heterosexual men marrying women are entitled to the same exact rights. All the civil rights, all the civil liberties. And quite frankly I don’t see much of a distinction beyond that. Of course that’s not the official policy of the Obama campaign, so officials acted quick to walk back Biden’s statement. But the...

Get Ready For A Nasty General Election

(Flickr/borman818)
Let the general-election fun begin. Less than 24 hours after Mitt Romney rebooted for the umpteenth time , the Obama campaign announced the official start of rally season. The campaign announced an impromptu press conference call Wednesday evening to announce campaign swings through Ohio and Virginia by the president and first lady on May 5. "We understand we've pulled one or two of you out of the bar and we apologize for that," said campaign Press Secretary Ben LaBolt. "I want to go on record: I was opposed to pulling you guys out of the saloons, I didn't think that was the right thing to do," echoed senior advisor David Axelrod, who was joined by campaign manager Jim Messina. Once they finished pandering to reporters' alcoholic tendencies, the two ripped into Mitt Romney, laying the groundwork for the next six months of talking points. "Welcome to the general election," Messina opened. "As you've all been reporting today the Republicans have settled on their candidate, or should I...

Shooting Blanks

(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
In many ways, this presidential election features a reversal of a pattern we've gotten used to in recent campaigns. More often than not, it's the Republican who is self-assured and ideologically forthright, while the Democrat apologizes for what he believes, panders awkwardly, and generally acts terrified that the voting public might not like what he has to say. This time around, Barack Obama is the confident candidate, and Mitt Romney is the worried one (which says far more about these two men than it does about this particular historical moment). But there is one major exception to this pattern, on an issue that has re-emerged after being dormant for a decade and a half: guns. It isn't that Romney isn't pandering unpersuasively on the issue. What's different is that Barack Obama's campaign seems frightened of its own shadow and is trying hard to convince Americans that Obama is actually some kind of pro-gun president. Which, for all intents and purposes, he is. A week and a half ago...

The Man the Banks Fear Most

Wall Street's gone largely unpunished for its role in 
wrecking the economy—until New York Attorney General 
Eric Schneiderman came along.

Steven Moors
Steve Moors I n February 2011, one month after he’d been sworn in as New York state’s attorney general, Eric Schneiderman sat down with the staff attorney who’d been delegated to track the negotiations that the 50 state attorneys general and the Obama administration were conducting with five of the country’s biggest banks. A few months earlier, the story had broken that the banks had been “robo-signing” thousands of notices foreclosing on homes. Instead of assessing how far behind in their payments the homeowners had fallen or seeking to modify the terms of their mortgages, the banks had employed junior staffers, some hired right off the street, to sign hundreds of foreclosure documents daily, though the banks’ title to many of the properties was uncertain. Even when the banks’ claims to ownership were clear, robo-signing violated numerous state laws requiring due diligence before a bank can foreclose on a home. The scandal had prompted a number of banks—Bank of America most...

November Dreaming

(AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
I’ve been noticing that, since January, the Obama administration has kicked up its attentions to the LGBT communities, announcing one small regulatory change or conference after another. But they’re not delivering the bigger changes that LGBT groups have been agitating for. I’ve been assuming that the goal is to boost turnout in November. Will it work? What kind of small change am I talking about? Well, there’s the White House LGBT conference series. HHS, DOJ, HUD, even the CIA—they’re all putting on some show or other. March saw a Detroit conference on LGBT housing and homelessness , where HUD Secretary Donovan announced new nondiscrimination rules for public housing and mortgage financing, on both sexual orientation or gender identity. No kicking you out of the projects or your Section 8 apartment because you turn out to be queer; no refusing to give you a mortgage because your birth sex is still visible while you’re transitioning. All good news. And soon, the White House will hold...

Mapping the ACA

(Flickr/GenBug)
Via Sarah Kliff, here's a great graphic from Kaiser Family Foundation laying out how funds from the Affordable Care Act are being distributed across the country: In total, over $12 billion has been handed out to state governments and private entities to implement the provisions of the ACA. Breaking it down by state, California—the first state to setup their own health exchange—has received the lion's share of funding, taking in over $1.1 billion. Other population heavy states such as New York, Texas, Michigan, and Ohio have taken in large sums as well. These funds aren't just being channeled to state governments; rather the lion's share has been directed to assist private entities. In Michigan, for example, $184 million in federal funds have gone to the state government but $630 million has been directed to private entities, mostly business to help with the costs of providing care. You can look at the full breakdown of funds on Kaiser's interactive map here .

Obama in the Balance

(Flickr/sheila_blige)
To anyone so foolish as to have persuaded himself otherwise, the past three weeks have been a reminder that Barack Obama is at best a slight favorite for re-election by a narrow margin. Rick Santorum’s exit on Wednesday from a Republican primary race that already was settled means that the de facto nominee of the party, former governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, has time for damage control that would have been too late three months from now. The odds are even or better that by June, the United States Supreme Court will overturn the president’s signal domestic accomplishment, the reform of the country’s health-care system. The second-degree murder case in Florida involving a self-designated vigilante who stalked an unarmed 17-year-old African American despite explicit instructions otherwise from police will be the most racially charged since the O.J. Simpson trial a decade and a half ago, except in this instance—if polling is to be believed—white rather than black Americans appear...

Read My Lips: Fairer Taxes

Six ways to restore balance to our broken system

(Flickr/TruthOut)
This piece is the fourth in a six-part series on taxation, and a joint project by The American Prospect and its publishing partner, Demos. The “Buffett Rule” proposed by President Obama and now being considered by the Senate would be an important symbolic step toward a fairer tax system. By instituting a minimum tax on very high earners, it would advance the principle of progressive taxation and reform the tax code in an overdue way. By itself, though, the Buffett Rule does not go nearly far enough. It should be a small piece of a much larger agenda for restoring fairness to America’s tax system. Some of this agenda is reflected in President Barack Obama’s 2013 budget proposal, but other important ideas are not yet being seriously considered. Here are six such ideas that should be part of the national debate. Create New Top Tax Brackets The Obama budget plan would let the Bush tax cuts lapse at the end of this year for households making over $250,000, and the highest tax bracket—for...

What's in a Name?

(Flickr/LaDawna's pics)
Liberals often complain about the Democrats’ seeming inability to message their ideas with the same consistency and verve as conservatives. It just never seems like the party has the same discipline in its talking points. Congressional Dems' messaging during the health-care reform legislation in 2009 is a case in point. Rather than taking their cues from Republicans (despite the atrocious polices it entailed, naming a bill the PATRIOT Act immediately after 9/11 was a genius tactic), Democrats went for the unmemorably named "Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act." It’s not like Democrats are clueless to such tricks—the campaign finance disclosure bill they’ve proposed after Citizens United had the fitting acronym DISCLOSE—they just didn’t bother in this instance. The party soon paid the price, as Republicans called it "Obamacare" and said it was the living symbol of a tyrannical president imposing his socialist visions for the rest of the country. It was a term Democrats battled...

Chill. Jews Aren't Voting Republican.

Faith-based policy, nativism, and Ayn Randian economics will not create a Jewish electoral shift.

(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Forecasts of the Great Jewish Shift began as soon as the presidential campaign did: This year, we are told, Jews will finally vote Republican, or at least significantly more of them will than have done so in many a decade, perhaps forever. The predictions are a quadrennial ritual. They are made most often by Jewish Republicans, speaking in the bright voice of a compulsive gambler who knows that on this spin, the little ball will absolutely land on the right number. They are made by social scientists certain that reality will finally behave according to their models. They are made by Jewish Democrats as unable to control their anxiety as someone is to stop a tic. This year's minor variation is the explanation that Jews will switch because they are upset with Barack Obama's attitude toward Israel. As an Israeli political writer, I admit, I am particularly conscious of this ritual, because the Great Jewish Shift (GJS) is the second thing that people want to discuss with me as soon as I...

Taxing Wall Street Speculation

There's another, better way to go after the 1 percent than the Obama administration's proposed "Buffett rule."

(Flickr/401K)
This piece is the third in a six-part series on taxation, and a joint project by The American Prospect and its publishing partner, Demos. As the White House mounts a major campaign to sell the “Buffett Tax” this week, there is another, better tax on the 1 percent that Washington should be considering: A financial-transaction tax—better known as a financial speculation tax (FST). A financial-speculation tax has been discussed, from time to time intensely, ever since the financial crisis of 2008 riveted attention on the markets that drove the economy to the edge of a Great Depression-quality abyss. One motivation was to make the perpetrators pay, as the public focused on bonuses at levels befitting Croesus and callous disregard for the responsibility borne by the banks for the great recession. But the financial-transaction tax is also good policy. Under the concept, financial transactions—purchases and sales of equity shares and bonds and the execution of derivatives—are taxed based, at...

Obama Campaign Ready for General

(Flickr/Barack Obama)
The Obama campaign wasted no time trampling on Mitt Romney's apparent victory in the GOP primary Tuesday afternoon after Rick Santorum bowed out of the race . Campaign manager Jim Messina ripped into Romney for the barrage of negative ads he used throughout the primary campaign. “It’s no surprise that Mitt Romney finally was able to grind down his opponents under an avalanche of negative ads," Messina wrote in a press release. "But neither he nor his special interest allies will be able to buy the presidency with their negative attacks." As POLITICO noted this morning, squaring themselves to the reality that Republican super PAC funding is on pace to easily dwarf Democratic efforts, the Obama campaign has shifted its efforts to attacking the source of the conservative super PAC funds. The president's re-election team had already been treating the nomination contest as essentially over. Obama launched a blistering attack on Romney tying the presumed nominee to Paul Ryan's budget plan...

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