In his 60 Minutes interview yesterday, President Obama remarked on the state of political dialogue:
President Barack Obama said in an interview to be aired Sunday night on “60 Minutes” that he sees “a coarsening of our political dialogue.”
“The truth of the matter is that there has been, I think, a coarsening of our political dialogue,” Obama told Steve Kroft in an interview taped at the White House on Friday evening.
“I will also say that in the era of 24-hour cable news cycles, that the loudest, shrillest voices get the most attention. And so one of the things that I’m trying to figure out is: How can we make sure that civility is interesting?”
So what’s his point? Well there are two. One is he doesn’t believe he and his ideas/agenda aren’t getting the news coverage they deserve because the “loudest and shrillest voices get the most attention”.
Of course, that was something the left counted on when they were in opposition to the Bush administration. But now that they are the establishment, they suffer the same problem the right did for 8 years. They’re not news. You’d think the “reality based” community would understand that dynamic.
That brings us to the “coarsening political dialogue”. The premise, of course, is it wasn’t coarse before, or at least, not as coarse.
Two points: one – it was just as coarse if not coarser prior to January 20th of this year. Anyone remember Harry Reid calling the president a liar and a loser? Nancy Pelosi claiming Bush was “incompetent?” Those are two of a myriad of examples that any reasonable person would agree are examples of “coarse political dialogue”. So I’m not buying the “coarsening of political speech” that Obama believes is happening. The difference between now and then is the “coarse speech” is aimed at him and what he’s doing.
Two – the coarsened speech occurred after January 20th of this year and well before Joe Wilson – the target of this particular riff by Obama – uttered a word. Citizens were denounced as “un-American” by Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer. They were called “evil mongers” by Senate Majority leader Harry Reid. Various Democratic Congress persons called them “brownshirts”, political terrorists and a mob.
Certainly political dialogue is coarse right now, but it is nothing new, certainly not worse than before and when you consider the examples I’ve given, definitely not the exclusive provenance of the right.
Obama’s remark about all of this seems to have a slight hint of whining about it.
As I think about last night’s speech by President Obama, two words kept coming to mind: partisan and combative. The speech was highly partisan, even though he gave lip-service to bi-partisanship. And I thought he was needlessly combative – calling people liars and describing those who disagree in less than flattering terms.
It was not his finest hour. Nor was it a particularly good speech. It seemed to go on forever and that is usually a sign that it isn’t holding the attention of the audience.
As I figured, since I was at a loss as to what else he could do, he attempted to repackage the same old proposals that the country has been rejecting and called it “new and improved”. He promised details, but there were scant few. And that was particularly true in his attempt to describe how he’d pay for the mess.
Let’s look at some quotes:
There are now more than thirty million American citizens who cannot get coverage.
I’m wondering what happened to the 17 million “Americans” that Democrats and Obama have consistently claimed were uninsured. Where did the 47 million uninsured go? Is this an acknowledgment that they’ve been purposely pumping the numbers up for quite some time?
Well the time for bickering is over. The time for games has passed. Now is the season for action.
This is what I mean about needlessly combative. Those who attended townhalls and other gatherings to voice their opinions and protest what the Democrats were trying to pass do not consider what they did to be “bickering” nor do they feel they were engaged in “games”. Those gaming this were the Democrats who tried their hardest to pass this monstrosity without the benefit of debate, without anyone being able to read and digest it and without Republican participation.
That is gaming the system. There’s no rush to do this and pretending there is also falls under “gaming”.
My health care proposal has also been attacked by some who oppose reform as a “government takeover” of the entire health care system. As proof, critics point to a provision in our plan that allows the uninsured and small businesses to choose a publicly-sponsored insurance option, administered by the government just like Medicaid or Medicare.
So let me set the record straight. My guiding principle is, and always has been, that consumers do better when there is choice and competition.
But it has never been Obama’s guiding principle – not when he insists that “choice” and “competition” can only be achieved by introducing a government run entity into the mix while declining to consider other options.
Remove the regulation that prohibits health care insurance providers from selling across state lines, remove the mandates that require the insured to buy coverage they don’t want or need and facilitate the removal of health care insurance from under employers into the open market. All of those moves – which would require little in the way of tax dollars and government intrusion – would actually deliver choice and competition while driving insurance costs down.
Now, I have no interest in putting insurance companies out of business. They provide a legitimate service, and employ a lot of our friends and neighbors. I just want to hold them accountable. The insurance reforms that I’ve already mentioned would do just that. But an additional step we can take to keep insurance companies honest is by making a not-for-profit public option available in the insurance exchange. Let me be clear – it would only be an option for those who don’t have insurance. No one would be forced to choose it, and it would not impact those of you who already have insurance. In fact, based on Congressional Budget Office estimates, we believe that less than 5% of Americans would sign up.
And most experts say that 5% would not be enough to keep such a system fiscally sound and it would eventually have to turn to the government for subsidy. Want a real insurance exchange? See my comments above.
That’s why under my plan, individuals will be required to carry basic health insurance – just as most states require you to carry auto insurance. Likewise, businesses will be required to either offer their workers health care, or chip in to help cover the cost of their workers. There will be a hardship waiver for those individuals who still cannot afford coverage, and 95% of all small businesses, because of their size and narrow profit margin, would be exempt from these requirements. But we cannot have large businesses and individuals who can afford coverage game the system by avoiding responsibility to themselves or their employees. Improving our health care system only works if everybody does their part.
Mandatory health insurance – something he said he didn’t believe in during his campaign. So a young person who would prefer to pay for his health care as needed now no longer has a choice.
Key word – choice. Remember Obama’s “guiding principle”. Well he violates it right there. You no longer have a choice. And remember, in the bill now on the House floor, this will involve the IRS fining you if you fail to comply.
Companies are left with no choice as well.
Some of people’s concerns have grown out of bogus claims spread by those whose only agenda is to kill reform at any cost. The best example is the claim, made not just by radio and cable talk show hosts, but prominent politicians, that we plan to set up panels of bureaucrats with the power to kill off senior citizens. Such a charge would be laughable if it weren’t so cynical and irresponsible. It is a lie, plain and simple.
Certainly there are aren’t any literal panels called “death panels” in the pending legislation, but within the structure of the bill (HR 3200) there are certainly plenty of panels which will be determining what constitutes “best care”. The obvious logical argument then says, if they are there to determine what constitutes “best care” and are using the reimbursement mechanism to encourage their recommendations be followed and the refusal to reimburse if they aren’t, then it isn’t at all incorrect to logically conclude that “best care” when it comes to the elderly may conflict with the desired care the family and doctor want to render the patient.
That argument gets to Obama’s claim that he would prevent any bureaucrat, government or insurance, from getting in between you and your doctor.
So is what those are saying about “death-panels” “a lie, plain and simple”? Or is the lie to be found in the entrails of HR 3200 and in the glib assurances of Obama?
As an aside – is a president calling for “civility” really being civil when he calls those who disagree with him liars in a speech before a joint session of Congress?
There are also those who claim that our reform effort will insure illegal immigrants. This, too, is false – the reforms I’m proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally.
See my post on Joe Wilson. He yelled “you lie” for a reason.
To my progressive friends, I would remind you that for decades, the driving idea behind reform has been to end insurance company abuses and make coverage affordable for those without it. The public option is only a means to that end – and we should remain open to other ideas that accomplish our ultimate goal. And to my Republican friends, I say that rather than making wild claims about a government takeover of health care, we should work together to address any legitimate concerns you may have.
Once again the combative and dismissive of the right. This was not a speech that really welcomed Republicans into the process. And, I found it amusing when he tried to imply the Republicans weren’t a part of the process because they’d refused to participate, Republican members of Congress waved the three bills they’ve submitted in the House for all to see.
First, I will not sign a plan that adds one dime to our deficits – either now or in the future. Period. And to prove that I’m serious, there will be a provision in this plan that requires us to come forward with more spending cuts if the savings we promised don’t materialize. Part of the reason I faced a trillion dollar deficit when I walked in the door of the White House is because too many initiatives over the last decade were not paid for – from the Iraq War to tax breaks for the wealthy. I will not make that same mistake with health care.
Second, we’ve estimated that most of this plan can be paid for by finding savings within the existing health care system – a system that is currently full of waste and abuse. Right now, too much of the hard-earned savings and tax dollars we spend on health care doesn’t make us healthier. That’s not my judgment – it’s the judgment of medical professionals across this country. And this is also true when it comes to Medicare and Medicaid.
The stated cost is $900 billion. That’s before the CBO looks at it. But of course the CBO can’t look at it until it is written legislation. But the CBO has already dismissed claims that saving of the amount Obama is claiming can be achieved by “finding savings” in “waste and abuse”.
And isn’t it telling that Obama admits that the system he now runs – Medicare – is “currently full of waste and abuse”. If eliminating fraud and abuse is so easy, one would assume a) there’d be none now or b) he could direct waste and abuse be ended now and those savings accrued immediately.
This is a hand-wave at fiscal responsibility. It is a glib nothing which he can stretch into a claim the cost of his proposal is “covered”.
Also remember that the front end of all these plans are loaded with collections, but no health care reform. Reform doesn’t kick in until 2013 – after Obama hopes to be safely reelected. But in the intervening years, we’ll begin to pay for it. Consequently we’ll have 10 years of money and only 7 or 8 years of reformed health care to pay for in that time frame. That means costs will explode after the 10th year and add to the deficit. Point? His proposal will add heavily to the deficit but not until he’s well out of office.
Knowing seniors were very wary of his plans, and he was losing their support, he attempted to win them back:
In fact, I want to speak directly to America’s seniors for a moment, because Medicare is another issue that’s been subjected to demagoguery and distortion during the course of this debate.
More than four decades ago, this nation stood up for the principle that after a lifetime of hard work, our seniors should not be left to struggle with a pile of medical bills in their later years. That is how Medicare was born. And it remains a sacred trust that must be passed down from one generation to the next. That is why not a dollar of the Medicare trust fund will be used to pay for this plan.
And in his next breath he says:
The only thing this plan would eliminate is the hundreds of billions of dollars in waste and fraud, as well as unwarranted subsidies in Medicare that go to insurance companies – subsidies that do everything to pad their profits and nothing to improve your care. And we will also create an independent commission of doctors and medical experts charged with identifying more waste in the years ahead.
These steps will ensure that you – America’s seniors – get the benefits you’ve been promised. They will ensure that Medicare is there for future generations. And we can use some of the savings to fill the gap in coverage that forces too many seniors to pay thousands of dollars a year out of their own pocket for prescription drugs. That’s what this plan will do for you.
Well, first, Medicare part D is the Medicare prescription drug plan, so I have no idea who all these seniors are paying “thousands of dollars a year” for drugs.
As I recall, what Obama is primarily targeting, though he is very careful not to actually mention it, is doing away with Medicare Advantage.
If you’re wondering what Medicare Advantage plans are, you can read about them here. One of the things Advantage plans pay for is prescription drugs.
And, as the website points out, “In addition, you might have to pay a monthly premium to your Medicare Advantage Plan for the extra benefits that they offer.”
I guess the Advantage plans must be considered one of those “gold-plated” plans.
Also note the promise of yet another bureaucratic panel – so, could continuing care on grandma at some point in time be considered “waste” and a different form of “care” be encouraged? Is it possible that could conflict with what you and your doctor prefer?
Again, nebulous language that can be interpreted and logically extended to mean precisely what Obama denies is in his proposal.
Reducing the waste and inefficiency in Medicare and Medicaid will pay for most of this plan.
This is the oldest claim in politics and the most bald-faced of its lies.
Obama mentioned demonstration projects for tort reform (and I am glad to see tort reform at least on the edge of the table). I’ve got an idea for a real demonstration project – if it is so easy to reduce the “waste and inefficiency” in Medicare and Medicaid, you have 3 years in which to do it. And once you’ve been successful and that success is unequivocally documented, then come back to us and we’ll talk about further reform.
Overall, as mentioned, not his finest speech. In fact, probably one of his poorer speechs. There was a measure of arrogance that was unattractive. There was a feeling that he wasn’t trying to convince but instead dictate. Nothing I heard last night was new. Nothing I heard last night was particularly compelling in terms of making a convincing argument for doing what he contends we must do.
Instead I heard frustration voiced in surly combativeness. That’s not the way to convince your opposition to see things your way. Leadership was again missing in a speech and moment that practically begged for it.
For years the right has said that government has no business subsidizing art and for that same amount of time the left has claimed that government support is necessary to keep the arts alive. Of course some are of us are of the opinion that if “art” is sufficiently good, the private sector will gladly support it.
But what I assume both sides would agree on is that government support of the arts shouldn’t be abused and turned into government propaganda. Yet:
“…I was invited by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) to take part in a conference call that invited a group of rising artist and art community luminaries “to help lay a new foundation for growth, focusing on core areas of the recovery agenda – health care, energy and environment, safety and security, education, community renewal.”
The quote comes from Patrick Courrielche at Big Hollywood and his post there documents his experience on the call.
Backed by the full weight of President Barack Obama’s call to service and the institutional weight of the NEA, the conference call was billed as an opportunity for those in the art community to inspire service in four key categories, and at the top of the list were “health care” and “energy and environment.” The service was to be attached to the President’s United We Serve campaign, a nationwide federal initiative to make service a way of life for all Americans.
Given the tone of the invitation, and the apparent concerns it raised, Courrielche called in. His concerns were validated:
The people running the conference call and rallying the group to get active on these issues were Yosi Sergant, the Director of Communications for the National Endowment for the Arts; Buffy Wicks, Deputy Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement; Nell Abernathy, Director of Outreach for United We Serve; Thomas Bates, Vice President of Civic Engagement for Rock the Vote; and Michael Skolnik, Political Director for Russell Simmons.
We were encouraged to bring the same sense of enthusiasm to these “focus areas” as we had brought to Obama’s presidential campaign, and we were encouraged to create art and art initiatives that brought awareness to these issues. Throughout the conversation, we were reminded of our ability as artists and art professionals to “shape the lives” of those around us. The now famous Obama “Hope” poster, created by artist Shepard Fairey and promoted by many of those on the phone call, and will.i.am’s “Yes We Can” song and music video were presented as shining examples of our group’s clear role in the election.
Obama has a strong arts agenda, we were told, and has been very supportive of both using and supporting the arts in creative ways to talk about the issues facing the country. We were “selected for a reason,” they told us. We had played a key role in the election and now Obama was putting out the call of service to help create change. We knew “how to make a stink,” and were encouraged to do so.
Hard to argue, given this report, that the NEA isn’t now involved in a political role. Courrielche wasn’t the only one who was concerned by what he heard. Lee Rosenbaum was “creeped out” by the call she participated in as well. She validates Courrielche’s report and conclusions. Courrielche writes a followup post here.
The point, of course, is it isn’t beyond any politician, administration or government to use and abuse any program for its benefit. When you have a community organizer in the Oval Office, it appears they get abused is record time – nd it is clear, at least to me, that in this case the plan is to use the NEA for propaganda and political gain. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a perfect reason to give the NEA the political death penalty and, finally and forever, defund it.
UPDATE – This isn’t the first time we’ve touched on this subject either. MichaelW covered it back on August 27th when the first conference call was held. Since then there’s been a second (that’s the call Lee Rosenbaum talks about) in which the NEA and White House try a few tricks to give them “plausible deniability” against charges of collusion in a program to get NEA artists to create propaganda for the administration.
A little reminder for those on the left who sniff at those uncomfortable about a politician addressing school children. It’s also handy for those who like to like to recall George H.W. Bush’s address to school kids and pretend like the left wasn’t bothered by that:
But when President George H.W. Bush delivered a similar speech on October 1, 1991, from Alice Deal Junior High School in Washington DC, the controversy was just beginning. Democrats, then the majority party in Congress, not only denounced Bush’s speech — they also ordered the General Accounting Office to investigate its production and later summoned top Bush administration officials to Capitol Hill for an extensive hearing on the issue.
Of course that won’t happen in this case. Nor will this:
The National Education Association denounced the speech, saying it “cannot endorse a president who spends $26,000 of taxpayers’ money on a staged media event at Alice Deal Junior High School in Washington, D.C. — while cutting school lunch funds for our neediest youngsters.”
And you certainly won’t hear Democratic politicans saying anything like this either:
“The Department of Education should not be producing paid political advertising for the president, it should be helping us to produce smarter students,” said Richard Gephardt, then the House Majority Leader. “And the president should be doing more about education than saying, ‘Lights, camera, action.'”
But you know, this is all a new bit of right-wing paranoia, isn’t it?
One of the more entertaining things to do is watch partisan political columnists adjust their outlook and opinion based on who is in power at the moment. The convolutions, contortions and outright memory lapses are something to behold. Bob Herbert is no exception to the rule as he demonstrates today. Apparently he’s upset with the right-wing crazies out there and is sure their dyspeptic mood and demonstrations signal the demise of our once great nation:
Maybe the economic stress has been too much. Looking back at the past few months, it’s fair to wonder if the country isn’t going through a nervous breakdown.
The political debate has been poisoned by birthers, deathers and wackos who smile proudly while carrying signs comparing the president to the Nazis.
Of course that wasn’t the case in good old says of 2007 when the anti-war protests were in full bloom and Herbert was sure that they signaled a new and wonderful resurgence of public activism that he felt, at least at the time, was so refreshing and so badly needed:
You can say what you want about the people opposed to this wretched war in Iraq, try to stereotype them any way you can. But you couldn’t walk among them for more than a few minutes on Saturday without realizing that they love their country as much as anyone ever has. They love it enough to try to save it.
You can be sure that’s not the case with the present crew who Herbert gladly stereotypes. They obviously can’t at all love this country – especially if they’re carrying signs calling the president a Nazi. Of course for Herbert to have missed the abundance of signs calling the then president a Nazi on the “beautiful, sunlit day” in January of 2007, then his blinders were surely well in place.
The goal of the crowd was to get the attention of Congress and persuade it to move vigorously to reverse the Bush war policies. But the thought that kept returning as I watched the earnestly smiling faces, so many of them no longer young, was the way these protesters had somehow managed to keep the faith. They still believed, after all the years and all the lies, that they could make a difference. They still believed their government would listen to them and respond.
Yet apparently the goal of the “birthers, deathers and wackos” Herbert denigrates in his latest couldn’t at all be that they too believe they have a right to petition Congress or that “their government would listen to them and respond”. Nope, they’re completely different than the smiling, expletive shouting anti-war crowd which made signs calling the president a Nazi a cottage industry. Obviously, unlike the anti-war/anti-Bush crowds of 2007, the “birthers, deathers and wackos” hate their country- right Mr. Herbert?
There’s a good bit of wailing and gnashing of teeth going on with the left since Van Jones resigned under pressure. They’re turning to some very interesting introspective analysis which isn’t at all complementary to the Obama administration.
But there’s one absolutely expected line of counter-attack that you could literally bet your house on emerging as expected. I give you the tried but not so true anymore “race card”:
“It struck me, why go after this guy? He is a minor player, he has no power, no budget, why take him? It’s because he looks like Obama and he has all those same attributes of being well-educated and he’s an electrifying speaker with an elite education,” said John Anner, a good friend of Jones and former chair of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, an organization Jones founded in Oakland. “It seems to me that he is symbolic of what the Obama administration is and could be and that’s inspiring for me, but for some people on the right, it’s terrifying and threatening.”
It couldn’t be because he’s unaccountable and, to many, unacceptable based on his prior words and deeds, could it? Must it be because he “looks like Obama?” The fact he is “well educated and an electrifying speaker with an elite education” doesn’t mean he isn’t a radical who people don’t want associated with their government.
In fact he’s a self-described communist. Few Americans are going to be comfortable with a communist sympathizer having access to the White House policy making apparatus that may one day have a direct effect on their country. Especially one unaccountable to the people. Is that discrimination – you bet. But not because he “looks like Obama”. Because his ideas and ideology are diametrically opposed to those America was founded upon.
My guess is, if anymore are found with similar backgrounds in the Obama administration, the same sort of pressure will be brought to bear to dump them as well – and race won’t at all be a factor.
Of course Anner isn’t the only one pursuing that ridiculous argument. Carl Pope, the Executive Director of the Sierra Club, also tossed it out:
So was the decision by the White House to treat the initial attacks not as part of an assault on the president but, instead, to allow them to be viewed as being about Van Jones. What we underestimated was the power of the fact that both Jones and the Barack Obama are black. Yes, the hysteria was about politics — I don’t think Fox News really cares about Jones’s ethnicity — but it was enabled by race. Calling Bush a “crack-head” is seen by a large part of America as worse than calling him “addict-in-chief” because crack is not just a drug — it is a drug used largely by black people. It reminds those Americans who are still uncomfortable with Barack Obama that we have a black president.
Don’t you just love it when those who claim not to know what makes the right tick, then zero in on precisely what they’re sure made the right react is it did in this particular case?
In fact, this is simply an attempt at rationalization. Apparently, in Pope’s world, using derogatory descriptions of a president he disagrees with is fine. But when there are consequences for doing so, it’s obviously because those objecting are racist. The remarks are ignored for the race of the speaker. In fact, the side he seems so determined to make racist is objecting because the term used was derogatory regardless of the race of the speaker or the race of the target.
Pope needs to learn the meaning of the term “racialist” and how making everything about race causes it to lose the power it once had. When every set back and failing is because of race, soon the accusation looses all meaning. As each group accused of racism does a self-assessment and finds the accusation to be frivolous, the power the accusation might have the next time it is used is forever diminished.
Reasonable people understand it is entirely possible to disagree completely with a president and his agenda without once caring what race the president might be. But you have to be a grownup to admit that. Screaming racism is so much easier. And you don’t have to examine your own failings when you play the race card.
Ironically, the opposition should welcome its use, because each and every time the race card is played in situations in which it is obviously not a factor, it loses more and more of its effectiveness and what little power it has left.
Charlie Cook, one of the more respected political analysts, has a piece in the National Journal that patiently explains what the left and Democrats still don’t seem to understand – they won, but they didn’t win what they think they won.
In fact, they won much less than that. “Change”, as defined by many independents who put Barack Obama and the Democrats in office, had little to do with expanding government. And within a span of a few months, the entire political dynamic changed, but apparently the left missed it:
Independent voters — fired up by the war in Iraq and Republican scandals — gave Democrats control of both chambers of Congress in 2006. Two years later, independents upset with President Bush and eager to give his party another kick expanded the Democratic majorities on the Hill. Late in the campaign, the economic downturn, together with an influx of young people and minorities enthusiastic about Obama, created a wave that left the GOP in ruins.
That was then; this is now. For the seven weeks from mid-April through the first week of June, Obama’s weekly Gallup Poll approval rating among independents ran in the 60-to-70 percent range. But in four of the past five weeks, it has been only in the mid-to-high 40s. Meanwhile, Democrats and liberals seem lethargic even though Republicans and conservatives are spitting nails and can’t wait to vote.
Why? Cook explains the basics of what has happened:
While political analysts were fixated on last fall’s campaign and on Obama’s victory, inauguration, and first 100 days in office, two other dynamics were developing. First, the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression scared many voters, making them worry about their future and that of their children and grandchildren. And the federal government’s failure to prevent that calamity fundamentally undermined the public’s already low confidence in government’s ability to solve problems. Washington’s unprecedented levels of intervention — at the end of Bush’s presidency and the start of Obama’s — into the private sector further unnerved the skittish public. People didn’t mind that the head of General Motors got fired. What frightened folks was that it was the federal government doing the firing.
Many conservatives predictably fear — and some downright oppose — any expansion of government. But late last year many moderates and independents who were already frightened about the economy began to fret that Washington was taking irreversible actions that would drive mountainous deficits higher. They worried that government was taking on far more than it could competently handle and far more than the country could afford. Against this backdrop, Obama’s agenda fanned fears that government was expanding too far, too fast. Before long, his strategy of letting Congress take the lead in formulating legislative proposals and thus prodding lawmakers to take ownership in their outcome caused his poll numbers on “strength” and “leadership” to plummet.
These fears haven’t been allayed one bit. In fact, they’ve been ignored completely as Democrats continue their approach to the issue of health care. Americans are telling them, in every poll and every townhall meeting, to back off the direction they seem to be insisting on taking. One of the implications in Cook’s assessment of why Republicans were kicked out in 2006 and again in 2008 was a growing frustration with the deafness of the Repubicans. They weren’t listening. They moved ahead with their agenda and never seemed to consider what their constituents were saying.
The Democrats are in exactly the same sort of loop. They’ve finally got the power, they’ve either misinterpreted their mandate or are simply ignoring the people for the chance to pass what they’ve long wanted to pass and are very close to paying a huge political price for doing so. Cook addresses that point:
With 14 months to go before the 2010 midterm election, something could happen to improve the outlook for Democrats. However, wave elections, more often than not, start just like this: The president’s ratings plummet; his party loses its advantage on the generic congressional ballot test; the intensity of opposition-party voters skyrockets; his own party’s voters become complacent or even depressed; and independent voters move lopsidedly away. These were the early-warning signs of past wave elections. Seeing them now should terrify Democrats.
If you take an objective look at the situation under which the Republicans lost their power, Cook’s formula was precisely how it played out. If you take an equally objective look at how this situation is forming up, you can indeed see what Cook is talking about repeating itself for Democrats.
And that brings us to the Obama health care speech on Wednesday – many are calling it a “make or break” speech. I’m of the opinion that it is more likely to be too little too late. Popular support for any bill is trending down. Popular support for the Democrat’s version(s) has been trending down. Obama’s approval ratings concerning health care have been falling.
Unless Obama has some startling new ideas, never before discussed which will be introduced and promise to be pleasing to both sides, he’s stuck with attempting to repackage and spin the same old tired arguments which have, to this point, been pretty well rejected.
Wednesday’s speech could indeed still be a “make or break” speech, but not for health care. Instead it may make or break Democratic support (depending on the President’s stance on the public option) and sound the death knell for Democratic Congressional control and, possibly, the presidency. It is indeed an important speech – but not for the reasons Democrats think.
Despite being called “brownshirts”, “un-American” and a “mob” of “astroturfers”, a Rasmussen poll indicates the public believes the townhall protesters to be a genuine reflection of the concerns of their neighbors:
Forty-nine percent (49%) have a favorable opinion of those opposing the health care reforms at town hall meetings. That’s up eight points from 41% a month ago. Thirty-five percent (35%) have an unfavorable view of the town hall protesters, unchanged from last month.
Fifty-nine percent (59%) now say the town hall protesters are citizens reflecting the concerns of their neighbors. That’s up ten points over the past month.
Thirty percent (30%) believe the protests are phony efforts drummed up by special interest groups and lobbyists.
Those are phenomenal numbers – within a month, the favorables for the protesters move up 8% despite an organized effort to demonize them while those who see the protesters unfavorably remains both flat and in the minority.
Another encouraging sign is the fact that most of those polled think that Congress members ought to shut up and listen:
Fifty-six percent (56%) of voters nationwide say that it’s more important for Congressmen to hear the view of their constituents rather than explain the proposed health care legislation. The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey found that 37% hold the opposite view while 7% are not sure.
The desire for Congress to listen may stem from the fact that voters believe they understand the legislation better than Congress.
Apparently Americans are in the mood to remind Congress members it is they who are the hired help and it is time they remembered it.
People ask, “what is the utility of a poll like that”? It is a temperature check, a mood indicator, a warning, if you will, that whatever is being contemplated by legislators and the president had best be checked against this trend. It isn’t a favorable trend for what they want to do and the utility comes in realizing that an tailoring something which won’t see them ushered unceremoniously out of office in a year or so.
Like, for instance, ramming something through that their constituents don’t like, but the party base does. The point to be taken here is if the protesters are the tip of the iceberg and most feel they truly represent the feelings of their neighbors, what do you suppose might happen in November of 2010 if legislators disregard the very strong signals being sent?
The president’s speech next Wednesday should be very interesting given these polling indicators. Will he continue to plow ahead trying to force a square peg in a round hole (and pay the political consequences) or will he bow to political reality and radically modify and shrink his goals for health
care insurance reform?
Is anyone else even slightly creeped out by this upcoming presidential address to our kids and grandkids?
Maybe its just me but there’s something just not quite right about it all. Oh, I suspect he’ll be very careful about what he has to say and probably keep it pretty general in tone and nature. But there’s just something about a politician addressing young children without an alternate or dissenting voice that smacks of, oh I don’t know, some novel I read years and years ago.
In fact, I’m pretty sure they made a movie of that book.
You know, it’s one thing for a teacher to use a politician’s words or deeds in class as an example of some point they’re trying to make in a lesson. But it is quite another to have a captive audience with no choice as to whether they listen or watch sitting in front of TVs because a politician decided that would be a good idea.
Maybe it’s my cynical nature that’s coming to the fore. Who knows, this may be nothing but a “hey youngsters, good luck in school and try to do your best” speech. But then I wonder why, if that’s so, he assumes the right to make such a speech best left to moms and dads. Of course he did tell us this week to make sure we wash our hands, sneeze in our sleeve and stay home if we’re sick. So addressing real children after treating us all like children isn’t a real stretch.
The real reason there’s a growing creep factor to all of this is that not only does he presume to have the right to address our kids, his speech has a lesson plan. It’s one thing to have a politician give a speech and everyone go, “ok, that’s nice” and get back to work. But it is entirely creepy when that politician has a lesson plan sent out to accompany the speech. For the pre-K to 6th grade group the plan suggests pre-speech questions like: “Why is it important that we listen to the President and other elected officials, like the mayor, senators, members of congress, or the governor? Why is what they say important?”
Now that doesn’t tend to border on indoctrination or anything does it? “Obey you young skulls full of mush. Elected officials are good. Listen to them. Question authority? Not till you get to the 7th grade.”
7th – 12th graders get a little more sophisticated lesson plan than do the little guys. And guess who it is all about?
Short readings. Notable quotes excerpted (and posted in large print on board) from President Obama’s speeches about education. Teacher might ask students to think alone, compare ideas with a partner, and share their collaborations with the class (Think/Pair/Share) about the following: What are our interpretations of these excerpts? Based on these excerpts, what can we infer the President believes is important to be successful educationally?
Yeah, you see, this seems to be more than “hey youngsters, good luck in school and try to do your best”, doesn’t it?
After the speech, the 7-12 crew will have a “guided discussion” in which questions like, “What is President Obama inspiring you to do? What is he challenging you to do?”, will be pondered.
And the poor little tykes in preK to 6 (preK?)? Well they get the full cult of personality treatment:
Students could discuss their responses to the following questions:
What do you think the President wants us to do?
Does the speech make you want to do anything?
Are we able to do what President Obama is asking of us?
What would you like to tell the President?
Boy, you know what I’d like to tell the President if I was in one of those classes?
Leave our freakin’ kids alone. And don’t ever assume you have either the right or privilege of addressing them about anything ever again without our permission.
But, you know, that’d probably be some sort of overreaction or something. After all, I’m sure his intentions are sweet and pure and good and he only want’s to be our national daddy. And anyway, I don’t even have a lesson plan.
For all the rhetoric about Afghanistan being “the ‘good’ war” and where we should be concentrating the fight that we heard during the campaign, it really comes as no surprise to me that politicians, the chattering class, and the liberal left is now pitching abandonment of the effort there just when we are seriously considering that which is necessary to turn the fight around.
As usual it has to do with political will.
The new commander, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, has done his assessment of the situation and has rendered his report.
“The situation in Afghanistan is serious, but success is achievable and demands a revised implementation strategy, commitment and resolve, and increased unity of effort.”
Read that carefully – two words in particular are aimed primarily at one particular sphere of influence – the political. What McChrystal is saying to the political community is, “I think we can be successful if we follow the revised strategy I’ve set forward, but without the “commitment and resolve” from the political community to see this through, it will all be for naught.”
Anthony Cordesman, who was involved in McChrystal’s assessment, delivers what I would characterize as a pretty succinct and honest appraisal of why we’re in the situation we’re in now:
The most critical reason has been resources. Between 2002 and 2008 the United States never provided the forces, money or leadership necessary to win, effectively wasting more than half a decade.
Our country left a power vacuum in most of Afghanistan that the Taliban and other jihadist insurgents could exploit and occupy, and Washington did not respond when the U.S. Embassy team in Kabul requested more resources.
The Bush administration gave priority to sending forces to Iraq, it blustered about the successes of civilian aid efforts in Afghanistan that were grossly undermanned and underresourced, and it did not react to the growing corruption of Hamid Karzai’s government or the major problems created by national caveats and restrictions on the use of allied forces and aid.
It treated Pakistan as an ally when it was clear to U.S. experts on the scene that the Pakistani military and intelligence service did (and do) tolerate al-Qaeda and Afghan sanctuaries and still try to manipulate Afghan Pashtuns to Pakistan’s advantage.
Further, it never developed an integrated civil-military plan or operational effort even within the U.S. team in Afghanistan; left far too much of the aid effort focused on failed development programs; and denied the reality of insurgent successes in ways that gave insurgents the initiative well into 2009.
Like it or not, Afghanistan has been the second priority when it came to resources. Turning it around is going to take both time and more resources – something, if you read the pundits and politicians today, many are not willing to do.
Cordesman says that “most experts” agree that US troop levels in Afghanistan need to be increased by “three to eight more brigade combat teams”. But he also stresses that those BCTs would primarily be engaged in training Afghan troops and making them “full partners rather than tools”. The need for that training is past critical and was highlighted as a problem when 4,000 plus Marines pushed into Helmand province and only 600 Afghan troops (around a battalion) were able to participate.
However Cordesman’s last point about civil-military plans is just as critical and just as on-point. These programs are critical and lacking. A big plus up in that area is required to turn the situation around.
Militarily, what we must do is “take, hold and keep the Afghan population secure”. Classic COIN.
Just as important but glaringly lacking at the moment is the other and equally important side of the process:
[S]ecure local governance and economic activity to give Afghans reason to trust their government and allied forces. They must build the provincial, district and local government capabilities that the Kabul government cannot and will not build for them. No outcome of the recent presidential election can make up for the critical flaws in a grossly overcentralized government that is corrupt, is often a tool of power brokers and narco-traffickers, and lacks basic capacity in virtually every ministry.
Hamid Karzai is nothing more than the mayor of Kabul in reality. One of the critical tasks we faced and overcame in Iraq was teaching Iraqis at every level how to build those necessary government capabilities and then link them all together in a single functioning entity. While certainly not perfect, it provided a decent basis for governance that they’ve been able to assess and refine as they’ve gained experience.
That task has yet to be done in Afghanistan.
And it may never be done either.
Because the “good war” that the left claimed was legitimate and necessary to fight is suddenly neither.
We’re now treated to daily editorials and op/eds wondering if Afghanistan is Obama’s Vietnam or whether we find ourselves in yet another “quagmire”.
And it is reported that even conservative commenter George Will is preparing to come out against our continued presence there, rationalizing such a pull-out with a foolish solution (his column is now available):
“[F]orces should be substantially reduced to serve a comprehensively revised policy: America should do only what can be done from offshore, using intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, airstrikes and small, potent special forces units, concentrating on the porous 1,500-mile border with Pakistan, a nation that actually matters.”
Of course such a strategy will secure neither Afghanistan or Pakistan and certainly do nothing at all toward eliminating the al Qaeda threat. Instead it would give the organization a much freer hand in both countries.
Politicians have also begun to weigh in with rationalizations for pulling out of Afghanistan that can only be characterized as ignorant. Take Sen. Russ Feingold who claims he was for the war before he decided now to be against it. And, per Feingold, if we only listen to him, we can have our cake and eat it too:
We need to start discussing a flexible timetable to bring our brave troops out of Afghanistan. Proposing a timetable doesn’t mean giving up our ability to go after al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Far from it: We should continue a more focused military mission that includes targeted strikes on Taliban and al Qaeda leaders, and we should step up our long-term civilian efforts to deal with the corruption in the Afghan government that has helped the Taliban to thrive. But we must recognize that our troop presence contributes to resentment in some quarters and hinders our ability to achieve our broader national security goals.
Of course Feingold’s solution expects the Taliban and al Qaeda to remain quiescent and cooperate with his plan by leaving the population, the government and our “long-term civilian efforts” alone after we pull our troops out and Afghanistan unable to defend itself.
There are other political moves afoot as well as Cordesman points out. Speaking of the realities of the Afghanistan situation and the required support necessary to change it successfully, he says:
Unfortunately, strong elements in the White House, State Department and other agencies seem determined to ignore these realities. They are pressuring the president to direct Eikenberry and McChrystal to come to Washington to present a broad set of strategic concepts rather than specific requests for troops, more civilians, money and an integrated civil-military plan for action. They are pushing to prevent a fully integrated civil-military effort, and to avoid giving Eikenberry and McChrystal all the authority they need to try to force more unity of effort from allied forces and the U.N.-led aid effort.
And his conclusion, based on that is as true as it is unacceptable:
If these elements succeed, President Obama will be as much a failed wartime president as George W. Bush. He may succeed in lowering the political, military and financial profile of the war for up to a year, but in the process he will squander our last hope of winning. This would only trade one set of political problems for a far worse set in the future and leave us with an enduring regional mess and sanctuary for extremism. We have a reasonable chance of victory if we properly outfit and empower our new team in Afghanistan; we face certain defeat if we do not.
It will be interesting to see how the Obama team reacts to the McChrystal report. If, as Cordesman suggests, he attempts to put off a decision by caving into the pressure to have Generals Eikenberry and McChrystal provide a series of dog-and-pony shows outlining “a broad set of strategic concepts”, then I’d conclude that the political will to carry the mission to a successful conclusion is likely not there.
What we’ll instead see is a series of these sorts of delays used to push a decision on commitment further and further out until it is politically safe for the administration to pull the plug. That, of course, would be 2012 with a second term safely secured. If my cynical prediction is correct, you’ll see the effort in Afghanistan given enough support to keep it from collapsing but really not furthering the effort toward success.
If that is indeed how it plays out, then politicians will be trading the lives of our soldiers for time to successfully secure their political future. That is both immoral and totally unacceptable.
Afghanistan is a salvageable. But it will take a long time, a full commitment to the mission, patience and above all, political will.
If the political will is not there, the administration owes it to our troops to do its “cutting and running” now, and let the political chips fall where they may.
If, instead, they string this thing out until it is politically acceptable to do that, they deserve to be banished to the lowest level of hell, there to toil in agonized perpetuity for putting politics above the lives of our soldiers.