Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People

The GOP’s Tactical Mistake

I’m of the opinion that politicians are usually not quite as smart as they think they are.

Yesterday the GOP helped prove my point.

They invited the President to their caucus retreat.  It’s a pro-forma invitation.  To their surprise, he accepted.  And then he took control of the event by suggesting the media be allowed in.  In a tactical mistake, the Republicans agreed.  Why?  Because, as usual, they were more concerned about what others would say about them (specifically and pundits and the media) than they were about how the situation would be seen by the public.

In the end, they end up looking foolish in front of both.

They were outflanked by the President. The desire to be seen in a certain light was overshadowed by the result they unwittingly enabled.

What am I talking about? What was the tactical mistake?

Quite simply the format of the meeting to which they agreed. They handed the President a perfect, uninterrupted platform from which to do exactly what he did – lecture them – with a minimum of risk to himself and maximum of exposure to his benefit.  Decorum demanded they sit and take it. No Joe Wilson “you lie” on this one. Sit and take.  And take they did – Obama was able to spin the myth of their intransigence and obstructionism as the crux of this year’s problems.

Rule One: You never give your political opponent a format that favors him and his message.  The President understood the advantage he was being handed and decided that while it was a bit of a political risk, it was one heavily weighted in his favor and well worth taking.  Anyone who watched it understands why.

The question and answer wasn’t much better – although Republicans did get him to admit their proposals did exist and were substantive. But other than that, the exchange was not at all what the GOP had hoped for.

Surely some among the GOP leadership must have foreseen that this format presented a gold-plated opportunity for Obama to do just what he did.

As for the President, he got the opportunity for a one-sided vent. Again, as usual, it was “just words”. But in this media driven political culture, “just words” are a means for scoring mostly meaningless political points, but points none the less.

It was a President in denial. And for those of us who’ve followed what’s happened this year (and what he has and hasn’t done) that was clear in his words. This was a man trying to justify himself and shift the blame for this year’s failure – as usual. Unfortunately, because he had the podium, that’s the only voice that was really heard that was able to remain on message. So he wins that rhetorical round. But it doesn’t mean what he said was true. It only means he got to say it without any real rebuttal.

My favorite line was “I’m not an ideologue”.

Of course he is. If he were the pragmatic politician he claims to be, he’d have pursued jobs and the economy as his first priority beginning last year. He didn’t. He instead pursued (and continues to pursue, in the face of majority public opposition) his party’s ideological agenda. Those are the actions of an ideologue, self-denial notwithstanding.

Hopefully the GOP will, should this ever happen again, change the format to that more like that which the UK has when the PM interacts with the opposition party in the House of Commons. No speeches or lectures, a true back and forth in which both sides have the opportunity to give as good as they get. I’ve admired and enjoyed that tradition of theirs for years. That removes the advantage of yesterday’s format and allows a truly “frank exchange” to take place.

~McQ

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Weird Story Of The Day

If this is true, this is a guy that we most likely should encourage to stay in NoKo:

Saturday’s report by the conservative Dong-A Ilbo daily could not be confirmed independently.

Dong-A Ilbo, quoting an unidentified source, said the American was a 28-year-old man.

He crossed the border near the city of Tumen in northeast China into North Korea’s Onsong County on Monday, the daily said.

“I came here because I did not want to serve as a cannon fodder in the capitalist military. I want to serve in the North Korean army,” the American was quoted as telling North Koreans, according to the daily.

However his identity including his name and occupation remained unknown, the paper said.

Don’t want to be cannon fodder? In an all volunteer force? Don’t join.

Want to join an military that redefines the term “cannon fodder”. Join the NoKo People’s Army.

My guess is this person escaped from the funny farm and found their way to the land of the Funny Farm.

~McQ

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New Technology gives a 360 degree view of devastation in Haiti

I have to admit upfront that I have a conflict of interest on this, but the Immersive Media cameras from my sisters company are amazing. Throw in that it gives some of the best views of the devastation in Haiti and I am kind of speechless. Go ahead and take a trip with them through Port au Prince and drag the view to look around in a full 360 degree view from a moving vehicle.

In addition to taking you into this disaster the potential applications seem rather large to me. Check it out. You can grab the screen while it is still or when playing and drag the view wherever you want.

index.php?clip=Video2

The initial commercial applications are kind of obvious, but I am curious about the applications to entertainment. Specifically movies. Like most new ways of filming I expect the initial efforts to be gimmicky, and low in actual value other than the novelty. However, imagine watching movies with an interactive ability for the viewer to shift the camera view from a first person point of view. The directors focus becomes less of an issue, and all of what is happening in view of whoever a character is becomes part of the story. Talk about taking the idea behind something like Vantage Point to a new level. Other interactive technologies could be combined with more impact.

You can view more footage of Haiti and look into the technology at http://www.immersivemedia.com/haiti/

Update: The autoplay was annoying, and the embed for the other footage seems to be having a problem at the moment, so I included a link to a video instead until the flash embed starts working again.

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Krugman, Peacocks, The Deficit, Health Care And Spending

If you’ve been following Nobel economist and NY Times columnist Paul Krugman over the last few months, you’ve seen him slowly fall out of love with the Obama administration.  The primary reason is the administration has seemingly ignored his advice about the size of the deficit spending  – stimulus – that should be happening.  Krugman feels that the first stimulus was “too small”. I disagree, I feel it was a poorly targeted pork bill that didn’t address stimulus at all (with spending delayed on most of it for future years, it’s hard to fathom how it acts to stimulate the economy now).  But the amount should have been more than adequate to do that which Keynesian’s like Krugman prefer.  In fact, my guess is Krugman knows that, but can’t bring himself to admit it.  Thus he continues to pretend the size of the “stimulus” is the problem.

That said, today he goes after the president’s claim in the SOTU that he’s addressing the deficit.  Krugman essentially comes to the same conclusion most of us have – it’s not at all a serious attempt to do so:

Last week, the Center for American Progress, a think tank with close ties to the Obama administration, published an acerbic essay about the difference between true deficit hawks and showy “deficit peacocks.” You can identify deficit peacocks, readers were told, by the way they pretend that our budget problems can be solved with gimmicks like a temporary freeze in nondefense discretionary spending.

Guess who he identifies as a “deficit peacock?” Anyone who listened to the State of the Union address knows that answer. Krugman goes on to tell us why it is in our best interest to be spending more right now and not worrying about the deficit:

The nature of America’s troubles is easy to state. We’re in the aftermath of a severe financial crisis, which has led to mass job destruction. The only thing that’s keeping us from sliding into a second Great Depression is deficit spending. And right now we need more of that deficit spending because millions of American lives are being blighted by high unemployment, and the government should be doing everything it can to bring unemployment down.

But that brings us back to the $787 billion dollar “stimulus” bill (which, btw, the CBO now says will cost us $862 billion). That bill was supposed to be focused on bringing unemployment down, wasn’t it? In fact, the explicit claim was if it was passed, unemployment wouldn’t rise above 8%.

Of course one has to wonder if the money had been spent to stimulate job growth instead of monitoring the radioactive feces of rabbits whether or not such spending could have kept that unemployment number down. Only $256 billion of the $787 has been spent with no appreciable effect on unemployment at all. Could it have had an effect if it had been spent on what it should have been? We’ll never know. What we do know, as does Krugman, is that politically a second stimulus is a very unpopular.

That’s not to say we won’t see one. What we will see, however, is any second stimulus introduced to the public as a massive “jobs bill”. The word stimulus won’t be attached to it in any way, shape or form. But that’s why the characterization of Obama as a “deficit peacock” is dead on.

Krugman then gets to the pretzel logic that leaves everyone shaking their head:

In the long run, however, even the U.S. government has to pay its way. And the long-run budget outlook was dire even before the recent surge in the deficit, mainly because of inexorably rising health care costs. Looking ahead, we’re going to have to find a way to run smaller, not larger, deficits.

How can this apparent conflict between short-run needs and long-run responsibilities be resolved? Intellectually, it’s not hard at all. We should combine actions that create jobs now with other actions that will reduce deficits later. And economic officials in the Obama administration understand that logic: for the past year they have been very clear that their vision involves combining fiscal stimulus to help the economy now with health care reform to help the budget later.

First, not everyone agrees that you must “spend” to help the recovery. In fact, credit where credit is due, Obama layed out some tax cuts for small businesses and cap gains tax cuts that may indeed provide the impetus for hiring. The fact that he could have done that a year ago shouldn’t be lost on anyone. But while that means some reduced tax revenue for government, it isn’t a massive spending program. And, in fact, to offset that loss of revenue, government ought to cut spending commensurate with the loss. That’s the way toward fiscal sanity and a balanced budget – or at least one which is closer to being balanced than it is now.

So Krugman’s attempt to claim there’s only one “intellectual” solution to the contradiction he’s posed is poppycock. Note also that he brings up health care reform. The “budget” he’s talking about is that of the US government. The reform he’s talking about in this particular case has to do with the government programs which are out of control. Not the private side which as zip to do with the US budget. Only the Medicare/Medicaid side. Which again begs the question of why taking over much of the private side helps solve the crisis on the government side?

He finally admits it later on in the article:

So if health reform fails, you can forget about any serious effort to rein in rising Medicare costs.

He’s most likely right. And here’s what’s interesting about that sentence. Many of us on the right have been saying for quite some time, “if Medicare and Medicaid are the problem, why not fix those problems first and then, if successful, we can talk about further reform”. Instead we’ve gotten this monstrosity which really doesn’t address those problem areas (despite Krugman’s belief it will) and grabs for even more.

I’d love to see Krugman defend the logic of that.

So we’re paralyzed in the face of mass unemployment and out-of-control health care costs. Don’t blame Mr. Obama. There’s only so much one man can do, even if he sits in the White House. Blame our political culture instead, a culture that rewards hypocrisy and irresponsibility rather than serious efforts to solve America’s problems. And blame the filibuster, under which 41 senators can make the country ungovernable, if they choose — and they have so chosen.

I mostly agree in general with the sentiments expressed here, just not some of the specifics. Our political culture leaves much to be desired. You have to understand that when the best you can hope for is gridlock, something is very wrong with the mechanism that governs the country. It incentivizes behavior that looks short-term and rewards those who bring money to their home districts and states. Until that sort of system is changed, gridlock is about the best we can hope for. Unfortunately those who would have to change the system are presently rewarded by it.

That said, Obama is as much a part of the problem as anyone. He stole into the White House by promising “change” and people like Krugman bought into it. And while some of the scales have slipped from Krugman’s eyes, he still hasn’t accepted the fact that Obama is a double-talker who says all the right things and then acts exactly like a Chicago machine pol in his daily dealings. Obama is as much a part of the problem as anyone else in the system.

Lastly – it seems all the cool kids in DC and NY have discovered a new word for “they won’t go along with what we want to do” – “ungovernable”. Have you noticed that? We weren’t ungovernable when the Democrats wielded the minority filibuster in the Senate. We weren’t ungovernable when the anti-war crowd filled the streets. We weren’t ungovernable when Democrats used every procedural trick in the book to block Social Security reform. Nope, that only happens when Republicans have 41 seats in the Senate, Tea Parties protest and the right fights health care reform.

Krugman, like much of the left, has a very short and selective memory.

~McQ

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The Fannie And Freddy “Secret”

The Obama administration and Democrats have consistently blamed the financial problems that the country has faced on Wall Street, banks and their greed. But it has just as consistently ignored the role and cost of two quasi-governmental agencies which were also in the center of the financial storm – Freddie Mac and Fanny Mae. The Wall Street Journal points out that the cost to the government (and therefore the taxpayer) of these two institutions has been kept “off books” by the fiction that they’re “private institutions”. But, in fact, they’re really not:

As the CBO notes in a recent background paper, the standards for when to include government-sponsored entities in the budget go back to the 1960s, when a Presidential commission laid out a set of questions.

To wit: “Who owns the agency?” (In the case of Fan and Fred, taxpayers.) “Who supplies its capital?” (Taxpayers.) “Who selects its managers?” (The federal government.) And finally, “Do the Congress and the President have control over the agency’s program and budget, or are the agency’s policies the responsibility of the Congress or the President only in some broad ultimate sense?” (The feds have control in every sense.)

The point, of course, is the claim they’re “quasi-governmental” or “private” entities is fiction. They are, in every way, controlled by the federal government and were as involved in the financial melt down as any other institution. In fact, there’s an argument that they were the instututions which made the housing bubble possible and, through their policies, encouraged it.

And if you want to talk about losses and costs to taxpayers, take a gander at these numbers:

Since Hank Paulson placed them in conservatorship in September 2008, Fan and Fred have stopped even pretending to be run for profit. Losses have mounted accordingly: Some $291 billion for taxpayers through 2009, $48 billion for the cost of new business in 2009 alone, and $21 billion more this year. Last August, CBO estimated the 10-year cost to taxpayers of keeping Fannie and Freddie afloat at $389 billion.

And it is now estimated that the two will average losses of 8 billion a year for the next 10 years, assuming the housing market stabalizes soon. Yes, that’s 80 billion over 10 years in addition to the losses above. Why isn’t the president hollering “we want our money back” at them?

The full cost of subsidizing mortgages via Fannie and Freddie, the FHA and Ginnie Mae remains hidden and off the official balance sheet, so there is little political pressure to stop the losses.

As the CBO notes, Fannie and Freddie “purchase mortgages at above-market prices,” driving down interest rates and passing some of the savings to home buyers. That subsidy is felt right away, but the risks in providing it are stored up over time, and their real costs may not be felt for years or even decades—as was the case in the years leading up to their spectacular collapse in 2008.

With the spectacular debt the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats are running up, they’re looking for every creative accounting means available to hide the truth. This is one of those ways. By pretending that Freddie and Fanny are “private” institutions, when it is clear they belong to the government in every conceivable way, they can keep their losses off the second set of government books presented to the public and say “see, it’s really not as bad as you think”.

Of course if a bank or Wall Street institution kept those kind of books, they’d go to jail.

WSJ concludes:

We suspect the real reason the White House wants Fan and Fred off budget is to disguise their real costs to taxpayers. They have become off-the-books subsidy engines for the housing lobby, and it is easier to push off the recognition of their losses to some future Administration and Congress rather than pay for them today. The new age of transparency has once again died aborning.

~McQ

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SOTU Fact Check

Surprisingly, AP does it (credit where credit is due).  They cover the “spending freeze” (it would amount to less than 1% of the deficit) which we’ve covered in some detail.  They also point out that the nonsense about the health care plan preserving the “right” of Americans to keep their doctor and their plan isn’t exactly true (we’ve covered that before as well).   And they take on the claim about lobbyists which Michael has handled quite well below.

AP also talks about the deficit commission that Obama covered last night:

Obama: “I’ve called for a bipartisan fiscal commission, modeled on a proposal by Republican Judd Gregg and Democrat Kent Conrad. This can’t be one of those Washington gimmicks that lets us pretend we solved a problem. The commission will have to provide a specific set of solutions by a certain deadline. Yesterday, the Senate blocked a bill that would have created this commission. So I will issue an executive order that will allow us to go forward, because I refuse to pass this problem on to another generation of Americans.”

THE FACTS: Any commission that Obama creates would be a weak substitute for what he really wanted — a commission created by Congress that could force lawmakers to consider unpopular remedies to reduce the debt, including curbing politically sensitive entitlements like Social Security and Medicare. That idea crashed in the Senate this week, defeated by equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans. Any commission set up by Obama alone would lack authority to force its recommendations before Congress, and would stand almost no chance of success.

The key line is in bold. Any commission formed by executive order will have no authority over Congress. Thus it will be a “gimmick” designed to “pretend we solved a problem”. How can it be anything else?

As Obama mentioned the Senate blocked a bill that would have created the commission. The same Senate that today used its 60 vote supermajority to pass a 1.9 trillion dollar hike to the debt ceiling. So you can draw your own conclusions as to how serious the party that can muster 60 votes for raising the debt ceiling but can’t manage to get those same 60 votes to pass a deficit commission is about the debt and cutting spending.

Another one covered by AP has to do with the claim of 2 million jobs saved or created by the “stimulus”. By their calculation and those of CBO, it may – let me stress that word – may have been in the range of 600,000 to possibly 1.6 million. Yeah – with tight numbers like that, you can bet they know what they’re talking about.

That brings us to Obama’s quote about transparency in which he calls on the White House and Congress to “do our work openly and give our people the government they deserve”. Most of the people have awakened to the fact that after not vetting the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, we have the government we deserve. However, AP points out that Obama just skipped past all the broken transparency pledges he made and hasn’t even attempted to keep. Why in the world would anyone take his latest plea for transparency seriously?

You may or may not remember one of the few mentions of foreign policy last night – other than the usual tough talk toward Iran, most likely signifying nothing in reality – in which he claimed, “The United States and Russia are completing negotiations on the farthest-reaching arms control treaty in nearly two decades.”

Yeah, well, not quite. According to AP:

Despite insisting early last year that they would complete the negotiations in time to avoid expiration of the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty in early December, the U.S. and Russia failed to do so. And while officials say they think a deal on a new treaty is within reach, there has been no breakthrough. A new round of talks is set to start Monday. One important sticking point: disagreement over including missile defense issues in a new accord. If completed, the new deal may arguably be the farthest-reaching arms control treaty since the original 1991 agreement. An interim deal reached in 2002 did not include its own rules on verifying nuclear reductions.

And one of my favorite claims of the night – I’ve killed more terrorists than Bush did in 2008:

“And in the last year, hundreds of al-Qaida’s fighters and affiliates, including many senior leaders, have been captured or killed — far more than in 2008.”

Not so fast, says AP:

It is an impossible claim to verify. Neither the Bush nor the Obama administration has published enemy body counts, particularly those targeted by armed drones in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border region. The pace of drone attacks has increased dramatically in the last 18 months, according to congressional officials briefed on the secret program.

If it is an “impossible claim to verify” then Obama knew when he said it, that he was safe from scrutiny. Nice. I have four words for those who choose to believe his claim: “saved and created jobs”.

Last but not least we turn to PoltiFact for the SCOTUS shot by Obama:

“Last week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests – including foreign corporations – to spend without limit in our elections.”

Politifact says that if it’s true, it is “barely true”. They have a very fine write up which I encourage you to read about why Justice Alito may have been absolutely justified in his silently mouthed “not true” as Obama took that shot. And I have to say, trying to humiliate the SCOTUS in a public speech with them sitting right there open to such ridicule is a politically stupid stunt. They are, after all, still human beings, and I wouldn’t want to be arguing a case for the Obama administration that could go either way after POTUS called SCOTUS out. They’re not underlings like the JCS who have to sit there and take it. They are members of an equal and separate branch. I don’t think we’ve heard the last of that little bit of political stupidity.

~McQ

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Obama’s Transparency

President Obama went after Washington lobbyists in a big way last night, blaming them for what ails America in a major portion of his State of the Union speech.

In his State of the Union on Wednesday, Obama once again targeted K Street: “We face a deficit of trust — deep and corrosive doubts about how Washington works that have been growing for years. To close that credibility gap, we have to take action on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue — to end the outsized influence of lobbyists; to do our work openly; to give our people the government they deserve.”

But that was yesterday. Today his administration reached out to those same lobbyists to help pass Obama’s agenda:

A day after bashing lobbyists, President Barack Obama’s administration has invited K Street insiders to join private briefings on a range of topics addressed in Wednesday’s State of the Union.

The Treasury Department on Thursday morning invited selected individuals to “a series of conference calls with senior Obama administration officials to discuss key aspects of the State of the Union address.” …

The invitation stated, “The White House is encouraging you to participate in these calls and will have a question and answer session at the end of each call. As a reminder, these calls are not intended for press purposes.”

Like a secret mistress, K-Streeters are not exactly thrilled with Obama demonizing them in public and then requesting their expertise behind closed doors:

Some lobbyists say they are extremely frustrated with the White House for criticizing them and then seeking their feedback. Others note that Democrats on Capitol Hill constantly urge them to make political donations.

One lobbyist said, “Bash lobbyists, then reach out to us. Bash lobbyists [while] I have received four Democratic invitations for fundraisers.”

[…]

Lobbyists say the Obama White House has held many off-the-record teleconferences over the past year.

For example, lobbyists and others were invited to a teleconference with “senior Obama administration officials” on Monday to discuss the administration’s plan to improve the lives of middle-class families.

The invitation, which is addressed to “Friends,” emphasizes in bold and italics that “this call is for background information only and not intended for press purposes.” It advises callers to tell the operator “you’re joining the ‘White House Briefing Call.’ ”

Another lobbyist said these types of teleconferences occur “all the time.”

And that is why many on K Street are exasperated with Obama’s use of lobbyists as a punching bag. Some have said they understood why he used strong rhetoric on the campaign trail but are irritated the White House solicits their opinions while Obama’s friends in Congress badger them for political donations.

That politicians court special interests is nothing new, nor is their blatant prevarication and hypocrisy when it comes to claiming to “work for the people.” Yet publicly targeting specific groups for opprobrium in order to drum up public support, and then immediately running to that very same group for their help, is a whole special class of slimy. Who is it, exactly, that Obama thinks he’s backstabbing? The electorate? The lobbyists? Indeed, why should anyone trust him at all? And all of this in the name of transparency.

Judging by his actions, Obama thinks “transparency” means “clearly lying”.

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Democrats Increase Debt Ceiling By $1.9 Trillion

Not a day after the President’s speech telling us how important deficit reduction is, Democrats in the Senate have successfully passed a bill which will raise the debt limit by 1.9 trillion. And it was passed because Senator-elect Scott Brown hasn’t yet been seated and Teddy Kennedy surrogate Paul Kirk, cast the deciding 60th vote.

Senate Democrats needed all the 60 votes at their disposal Thursday to muscle through legislation allowing the government to go $1.9 trillion deeper in debt.

Democratic leaders were able to prevail on the politically volatile 60-39 vote only because Republican Sen.-elect Scott Brown of Massachusetts has yet to be seated. Republicans had insisted on a 60-vote, super-majority threshhold to pass the measure. An earlier test vote succeeded on a 60-40 vote.

The measure would would put the government on track for a national debt of $14.3 trillion — about $45,000 for every American — and it served as a vivid reminder of the United States’ dire fiscal straits.

And that after all the happy talk about the serious need for deficit reduction and how committed the president and, one assumes, his party was to that goal. How serious is he? Remember this?

Now, I know that some in my own party will argue that we can’t address the deficit or freeze government spending when so many are still hurting. And I agree — which is why this freeze won’t take effect until next year when the economy is stronger. That’s how budgeting works. But understand –- understand if we don’t take meaningful steps to rein in our debt, it could damage our markets, increase the cost of borrowing, and jeopardize our recovery -– all of which would have an even worse effect on our job growth and family incomes.

The usual presidential double talk – deficit reduction is important, but I’ve decided it is more important to spend more money this year despite my claim we have to reduce the deficit. I’m sorry but that quote is word salad. We must address the deficit and freeze spending but we can’t address the deficit or freeze spending even though not doing so may “have an even worse effect on our job growth and family incomes?”

Wha?

Oh, that effect won’t be until after next year’s freeze?  Oh, ok – spend away.

Do you see how asinine this explanation is?

And, as expected, that 15 to 25 billion “freeze” is all he mentioned as his attempt to address the deficit – again, not at all the actions of someone serious about deficit or debt reduction. More smoke and mirrors with the final act being a claim he’ll veto any bill that tries to melt that freeze. Meantime he and the Dems are raising the debt ceiling by 1.9 trillion and we’re supposed to ignore that and buy into his piddling deficit reduction scheme which doesn’t even start until next year.

Don’t know about you, but this debt increase sounds like the perfect time to wield that veto pen to me. I mean if he’s actually serious about deficit and debt reduction as he claims.

~McQ

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A Speech Does Not Constitute Leadership

But apparently, Barack Obama still thinks it does.  Unfortunately, for him, many Democrats in Congress don’t agree.  Mary Landrieu for one:

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) said health care reform “is on life support, unfortunately,” and the president should have been more specific with how Democrats should move forward.

“He should have been more clear, and I am hoping that in the next week or two he will because that is what it is going to take if it is at all possible to get it done,” Landrieu told reporters. “Mailing in general suggestions, sending them over the transom, is not necessarily going to work.”

Obama’s been mailing it in for a year. Leadership in this particular case is when someone takes the lead in giving direction to the legislative product and process so when it ends up in Congress, the kinks have been worked out on both sides before they vote and enough are happy with the product that it is able to pass both chambers. Presidents have been involved in that sort of leadership since there’s been a presidency. However, it seems it’s a foreign concept to Mr. Obama. It appears he believes that Congress should take his nebulous and sometimes contradictory musings and mumblings and put a coherent bill together which is satisfactory to all sides. The “from on high” pontificating that apparently some scribes at lower levels are supposed to faithfully record and from which they are to somehow fashion acceptable legislation that will quickly pass doesn’t seem to be working, does it?

That’s not how presidents in the past have lead and it certainly doesn’t appear the Obama brand of non-leadership is having much success. Landrieu is trying to be as tactful as possible with her “mail it in” comment, but it is apparent that they have seen nothing in terms of presidential leadership on this issue (or others). So they keep wandering in circles fighting among themselves (something else a leader would attempt to stop vs. standing at a podium and chastising them for his lack of leadership) and have produced a monstrosity of a bill which they can only pass via parliamentary tricks.

The “sidecar reconciliation” is one such trick which, unfortunately for them, seems to have a show stopping Catch-22:

“Neither the House nor the Senate have figured out how to pass a reconciliation sidecar first,” one senior Senate aide says. “We are being asked to pass a piece of legislation that amends another piece of legislation which does not exist yet. We are having problems with the CBO and parliamentarian on that front.”

Got that? The House (Democrats) doesn’t trust the Senate (Democrats) to fix the Senate bill they are currently being pressured to pass. Therefore the House wants the fix passed first so the Senate can’t renege on it. But, you can’t pass a fix on something that doesn’t yet exist. So here they sit, in a parliamentary stew of their own making and with presidential leadership simply not present – except for speechifying and berating everyone else but himself for the failure of his leadership.

It’s an amazing performance.

~McQ

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SOTU Reaction

I’m going to use Taegan Goddard’s reaction at CQ Politics as a basis for mine and to show how two people can watch the same thing and react like they hadn’t:

President Obama spent more than an hour making arguments he should have been making for months. He forcefully reminded Americans that he was not responsible for the big problems he inherited. He desperately needed to remind people the historical context and he did it successfully.

Did he really? He’s been saying this stuff for a year now and I’m pretty sure the world is aware of his opinion on the subject. Whether or not he again “successfully” placed it in a “historical context” is a matter of opinion, but what isn’t a matter of opinion is he’s had a year to work on jobs and the economy and he’s screwed around with health care instead.

Interestingly, it was like a campaign speech designed to appeal to independents. Obama refused to be pulled into the traditional left vs. right polarization that plagues Washington, D.C. It’s what got him elected in the first place.

He was right in the middle of the “traditional left vs. right polarization”. He was lecturing Republicans during most of the speech. And he even got into the populist side of things with his attacks on banks and corporations. Hell, he even went after the Supreme Court and threw a shot across the bow of the Joint Chiefs.

There were also several political moments you might see again in this fall’s midterm campaigns. The video of Republicans sitting on their hands while Obama called for banks to pay back bailout funds will almost certainly come back to haunt them.

This is the inside the beltway mentality speaking. That particular video will mean zip to those who see it. Jobs, economic turnaround, prosperity – attacking banks isn’t going to bring any of those.

While everyone knew the president would focus on jobs and the economy, it was nonetheless shocking it took him nearly 40 minutes to get to health care reform. Just weeks ago, it was the most important issue on his agenda. Obama made his case once again but it’s far from clear whether Democrats are scared enough or feel the urgency to ignore the confused politics of the issue and pass the bill.

For the 30th time in a year he talked about health care. What part of “we don’t want what you’re selling” do you suppose he doesn’t get? It isn’t that they aren’t conveying the message properly – it’s the message itself that’s being rejected along with a procedure that includes such absurdities as “sidecar reconciliation”, bribes and closed door meetings. Get a freaking clue.

It was a decent speech, but not a great one.

In fact it was an outstanding speech as far as speeches go, but what does it mean. This is a president who has given more outstanding speeches than any since Reagan. The difference is, things happened after Reagan spoke. Nothing happens after Obama speaks. So while the rhetoric was defiant, pointed, and lofty, it was all “just words”.

President’s get kudos for words. They are remembered for deeds. And thus far, Obama is very light in the deed department.

~McQ

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