The Obama Administration

The Case for a Clinton-Biden Switch

Putting the current secretary of state on the presidential ticket could be Obama's best shot at re-election.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton waves at the crowd at the 2008 Democratic National Convention (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall) Current Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton waves at the crowd at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. S hortly before the Democratic National Convention opens in Charlotte, North Carolina, next September 3, Barack Obama should announce that he has asked Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to join him on the ticket as the vice-presidential candidate, and Vice President Joe Biden to become secretary of state in his second term—and that both of them have agreed. A Clinton-Biden switch can improve the odds of a Democratic victory at a time when economic conditions would make re-election difficult for any president. As secretary of state, Clinton has been associated with the part of the Obama administration that enjoys the highest approval. Just as important, she has not been associated with economic policy and could now provide the ticket with a fresh voice and sense of renewal on economic issues. According to polls, Clinton has been the most...

You Say Tomato, I Say Potato

Yesterday, The New Republic ’s Alec MacGillis arrived at the conclusion that Mitt Romney's famous flip-flopping and President Obama's pragmatism were one in the same: A politician who considers himself driven more by case-by-case pragmatism than any overarching philosophy, who likes to get all the smartest people in the room to hash out an issue, probing each side with questions and counters to arrive at some kind of workable middle ground. Does that sound familiar? I understand the temptation to make this argument, but it's off base. Obama’s pragmatism defines him. Every decision he’s made during his first term, from passing the stimulus to the intervention in Libya, evinces his belief that realism, data, and debate—not ideology—make for effective long-term policy. This pragmatism was present during the 2008 election, but Obama’s hopey-changey persona made his pragmatism easy to overlook and easier to decry later when he didn’t give his supporters all the legislative victories they...

Limit Leverage!

The astounding thing about the collapse of Jon Corzine’s gambling venture, MF Global, is the revelation that his bets were leveraged at about 40 to 1. This is like playing poker and borrowing 97 percent of your stake. If you guess wrong on a big bet (as Corzine did), you are wiped out (as he was). The same thing happened to Lehman Brothers. This also shows how utterly feeble Dodd-Frank is and how little the system has changed since the collapse of 2008. The so-called shadow banking system—outfits like Corzine’s—can still bet the house if they have a taste for risk. The only good news was that at $8 billion, Corzine’s MF wasn’t big enough to take down the system or require a government bailout. But it could have been. As a regulatory matter, it would not be difficult to limit all kinds of leverage for any financial institution to, say, 10 to 1. And the more risky the kind of institution and its strategy, the more leverage should be limited. You could require all financial institutions...

Obama's Wheel and Deal

The administration's recent trade agreement with Korea, Colombia, and Panama is expected to destroy more than 200,000 American jobs.

President Barack Obama stands after signing the Korean Free Trade Agreement in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Friday, Oct. 21, 2011. He is joined by, from left, Korean Ambassador Han Duk-soo, Commerce Secretary John Bryson, DOW Chemical Company CEO Andrew Liveris, Boeing CEO Jim McNerney, US Trade Representative Ron Kirk, Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., Xerox CEO Ursula Burns, Korean Alliance for Free Trade William Hwang and Correct Craft, Inc., CEO William Yeargin. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
(AP Photo/Susan Walsh) President Barack Obama stands after signing the Korean Free Trade Agreement in the Oval Office of the White House. A s he gears up for a difficult re-election campaign, President Obama risks losing key swing states that he won in 2008 because of a recent flip-flop on trade commitments. Back on the campaign trail, Obama had committed to a new approach to trade deals that would protect the environment, boost manufacturing, and protect food safety. That was then; this is now. On October 12, he shoved through three NAFTA-style trade deals with Colombia, Korea, and Panama that are officially projected to increase the U.S. trade deficit and cost tens of thousands of American jobs. These deals were negotiated and signed by George W. Bush in 2007, but had not been formally approved by Congress. While Wall Street and the Chamber of Commerce applauded the deals, Obama’s base and most congressional Democrats opposed them; the GOP provided almost all of the votes for...

On Borrowed Time

President Obama's new student loan plan isn't enough to help students saddled with debt.

AP Photo/Ed Andrieski
On Tuesday, the Obama administration announced its new plan for student loans: new graduates can cap their student loan repayments to 10 percent of their monthly income. After 20 years, their debt will be forgiven. Graduates already repaying their loans can consolidate and get half a percent interest rate cut. These changes will go into effect next year, two years before they were already scheduled to do so, and the administration said the move was in response to an online petition drive on its “We the People” site. The high student-debt burden—it will reach $1 trillion this year—is also a centerpiece of the Occupy protests around the country. The loan plan is clearly a move to ignite college student and recent graduate support, and it’s also a change President Obama doesn’t have to go through Congress to enact. All of which makes this move understandable from a political standpoint. The problem is that it actually doesn’t do much to help students. The administration and others will...

Campus Cash

Teacher evaluations are becoming big business for private companies

AP Photo/Andy King
New education reforms often translate into big money for private groups. Following the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act, states paid millions of dollars annually for companies to develop and administer the standardized tests required under the law. Companies also cashed in on a provision mandating tutoring for students at struggling schools. Now, a movement to overhaul the teaching profession is creating another source of revenue for those in the business of education. More than half of states are changing their laws to factor student test scores into teacher evaluations and adding requirements for the classroom observations used to rate teachers. The main intent of the new laws is to identify which teachers are doing a good, bad, or mediocre job and to help them improve. One early outcome of such recent legislation, however, is a booming market that sells services and products to help states and school districts scrambling to meet the new standards. “It’s an incredibly heavy lift for...

Doomed to Fail

Once again, the Obama administration has announced a plan to shore up housing prices and underwater homeowners—and once again the plan is very likely to fail. This latest effort will try to use Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, now wards of the government, to help homeowners refinance mortgages at lower interest rates. The premise is that with interest rates at record lows, homeowners can save hundreds of dollars a month in their mortgage payments by refinancing. For example, by refinancing a 5.5 percent mortgage to a 4.5 percent mortgage, a homeowner with a $300,000 loan could save about $250 a month. In theory, as many as 1.6 million people could qualify for this kind of refinancing, putting more money in their pockets. So this new program would be a source of economic stimulus as well as housing relief. But the devil is in the details. Fannie and Freddie lost a ton of money in the subprime disaster. That’s why the government had to take them over. So the last thing they want to do is...

Businesspeople Don't Always Make Good Politicians

The Huffington Post has early access to the Walter Isaacson biography of Steve Jobs, which – among many other things – reveals the Apple CEO’s distaste for President Obama and his policies: When he [Jobs] finally relented and they met at the Westin San Francisco Airport, Jobs was characteristically blunt. He seemed to have transformed from a liberal into a conservative. ‘You’re headed for a one-term presidency,’ he told Obama at the start of their meeting, insisting that the administration needed to be more business-friendly. […] Though Jobs was not that impressed by Obama, later telling Isaacson that his focus on the reasons that things can’t get done ‘infuriates’ him , they kept in touch and talked by phone a few more times. [Emphasis mine] You should count this as a data point in my contention that business makes a poor training ground for lawmaking. Governing is messy, difficult work, and requires people with a willingness to make deals and sacrifice the perfect to the good. The...

Blame and How to Give It

That Senate Republicans used the filibuster to kill a Democratic stimulus bill isn’t a surprise – at this point, Republicans have all but announced their plan to keep the economy from significantly improving, and as a result, slash the tires on President Obama’s bid for re-election. What comes as a surprise is the extent to which the press isn’t playing along. In the past, reporters would describe yesterday's event with “balanced” language that obscured Republican responsibility for the obstruction. For example, here’s how The New York Times described last week’s failed vote on the full American Jobs Act: In a major setback for President Obama, the Senate on Tuesday blocked consideration of his $447 billion jobs bill, forcing the White House and Congressional Democrats to scramble to salvage parts of the plan, the centerpiece of Mr. Obama’s push to revive a listless economy. The legislation, announced with fanfare by the president at a joint session of Congress last month, fell short...

Occupy the Rules Committee

For last two months, we’ve been engaged in something of a natural experiment to see if presidential speechifying—in this case, a consistent focus on jobs—is enough to move public opinion in a progressive direction and create avenues for legislative success. So far, that hasn’t been the case. Instead, Republicans have taken their usual position of staunch opposition, and moderate Democrats have given them cover by opposing the administration’s modest efforts to raise taxes and offset the costs of new stimulus. What has changed the direction of public opinion is Occupy Wall Street, so much so that majorities of Americans agree with the goals of the movement, and conservative figures like House Majority Leader Eric Cantor are driven to acknowledge America’s extreme inequality. Of course, even if Occupy Wall Street grows in size and influence, there’s still the question of institutional barriers. As long as a political incentive for the filibuster exists, for example, there’s a real limit...

The Medicare Bind

M edicare now faces a more uncertain future than at any time in its history. That’s not because it has lost popularity or failed to control costs as effectively as private insurance has. On the contrary, the program continues to enjoy overwhelming public support, and since the late 1990s, its costs per beneficiary have grown more slowly than those of private insurers. Nor does Medicare confront an imminent crisis; in fact, its costs have decelerated in the past year. But with the aging of the baby-boom generation and the general trend toward higher health expenditures, federal spending on Medicare is set to increase sharply over the next decade, making it a prime target for deficit reduction. Seizing on projected deficits as their rationale, Republicans have called for a drastic solution: eliminating the traditional, public Medicare program in favor of a voucher for private insurance, which would save the government money by paying a diminished share of health costs and shifting...

All the President's Frenemies

Barry Blitt
This piece from our October 2011 issue won an award from the National Association of Black Journalists on June 24 for best magazine commentary/essay. It's a packed house at St. Sabina's Church on the South Side of Chicago. The pews are full, and attendees who didn't come early on this August Sunday must huddle in the back, though they don't have to strain to hear the speakers, media maven Tavis Smiley and Princeton professor Cornel West. Chicago is Barack Obama's home court, yet this is the last church meeting where you'd find the president, lest he confirm the right-wing fantasy that he's a fellow traveler of leftist radicals. Fruit of Islam bodyguards stand in their pinstriped suits looking like the Secret Service outfitted by Al Capone's tailor, fingers pressed to their white earpieces as the man they're protecting, Minister Louis Farrakhan, sits in the front row. Next to him is Father Michael Pfleger, the pastor of St. Sabina's, whose caustic remarks about Hillary Clinton prompted...

Forget the Super Congress

A lot of punditry today is being directed at the super-committee of 12 that the debt-ceiling deal establishes, ostensibly to bring our fiscal house in order. But God knows why. The idea that the Republicans on the committee will accede to any tax increases -- after House Republicans read John Boehner the riot act for talking tax increases with President Obama, and after Republicans in both houses unanimously rejected Harry Reid's bill that included tax increases as part of the mix -- couldn't pass muster with Dr. Pangloss. And even if, through acts of divine intervention and outright bribery, Republicans were persuaded to accept some tax hikes, the price they'd exact in return -- raising the eligibility age on Medicare, reducing Social Security benefits -- would be too high for congressional Democrats to accept, even if Obama has already signed off on them. Far more likely, as Ezra opined today, that Democrats will simply accept the cuts put in place by the trigger, which exempt...

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