Archive for the ‘Obama’ category

I Pity The Fools (GOP ODS edition)

March 23, 2016

Well, not really.  But over and over again, President Obama does something that rises above — way higher than — ordinary political discourse. Just as Bill Clinton in the 90s was without doubt the best retail politician I’ve seen in my lifetime, Obama does an epic job of being president. He’s the Ted Williams of the job:  he’s got that quality of gracefulness, a stillness within himself, joined to an analogue to Williams’ sweet swing — the capacity to unwind, suddenly, and perform so precisely, so effectively, that the audience doesn’t have time to register what an astoundingly difficult act just happened.  He’s a virtuoso.

Edgar_Germain_Hilaire_Degas_018

What I’m trying to say is that there are people — easy to identify in sports, I think — whom even opposing fans can simply admire, suspending for a moment their tribal obligation to deride and deny anyone wearing the wrong laundry.  Opposing fans could boo Williams.  But they watched, knowing that they might witness something special.  Nowadays, for a sport closer to Obama’s heart, think Steph Curry; even when he destroys your team, you can’t take your eyes off him.

But pity the poor GOP.  President Obama owns his role by this point.  With increasing confidence and skill over his time in office, he defines objectives and outplays opponents* to get what he wants.   As the occupant of the bully pulpit, henails the lay-ups and he blows away the impossible shots.  It’s been really special to watch — someone sustaining a formidably complicated role with ever increasing virtuosity.

All of which to say is that were you to find politics and public life fascinating as well as vital, you should be enjoying this presidency as a performance even if you deplored it’s content.  But the GOP, it seems, can’t allow themselves even that pleasure.

All of that is prologue to say that I don’t think Obama’s speech in Cuba yesterday has gotten enough attention — at least part, understandably enough, because of the Brussels attacks.  But it’s still worth a listen, for what it means within the process of US-Cuba reconciliation, certainly, but at least as much for its formal excellence.  The speech is simply a masterpiece, in my view, a remarkable demonstration of saying difficult things to multiple audiences while moving the rock, at least a little, on that long journey up the hill.  Here’s the transcript, and here’s the speech itself:

It really is an amazing piece of work.  I love the small touches — he clearly worked on his Spanish accent, to pretty good effect, and it was such a hoot to hear him throw a little shade on Raul Castro and his … let’s say, garrulousness.  But the speech as a whole was much more than the sum of its parts and gestures.  It’s completely worth your time, so I’m only going to quote one passage:

…before I discuss those issues, we also need to recognize how much we share. Because in many ways, the United States and Cuba are like two brothers that have been estranged for many years, even as we share the same blood. We both live in a new world, colonized by Europeans.

Cuba, like the United States, was built in part by slaves brought here from Africa. Like the United States, the Cuban people can trace their heritage to both slaves and slave owners. We’ve welcomed both immigrants who came a great distance to start new lives in the Americas.

Over the years, our cultures have blended together. Dr. Carlos Finlay worked in Cuba, paved the way for generations of doctors, including Walter Reed, who drew on Dr. Finlay’s work to help combat yellow fever. Just as Marti wrote some of his famous words in New York, Earnest Hemingway made a home in Cuba and found inspiration in the waters of these shores.

We share a national past time, la pelotero, and later today our players will compete on the same Havana field that Jackie Robinson played on before he made his major league debut.

And it is said that our greatest boxer, Muhammad Ali, once paid tribute to a Cuban that he could never fight, saying that he would only be able to reach a draw with the great Cuban, Teofilo Stevenson.

As I read that, it’s addressed to the Cuban people of course, just like the title of the speech says.  But it’s impossible not to notice who else Obama engages here: an America whose self-portrait is changing faster than its [dwindling white majority] perception of it has shifted.  As the president noted,

You had two Cuban Americans in the Republican party running against the legacy of a Black man who was president while arguing that they’re the best person to beat the Democratic nominee, who will either be a woman or a democracy socialist.

Again — spoken to Cubans; addressed to those back home.

Relish what you’re seeing in this president.  Perfect he ain’t, of course; that’s no one’s inheritance short of the grave.  But he’s so damn good at this now.  We won’t see his like again soon.

*I’m not saying Garland’s appointment will go through — though the odds are better than I thought they’d be.  My point is that Obama’s handling of this on both its substance and politics has been elegant.

Image:  Edgar Degas, Ballet – l’étoile (Rosita Mauri), c. 1878.

Res Ipsa Loquitur: Obama Derangement/Immigration Edition

January 28, 2016

I really do think the Democrats would have a lock on election success if only Obama would say publicly that drinking Drano(hemlock?) is a bad idea.

Jacques-Louis_David_-_The_Death_of_Socrates_-_Google_Art_Project (1)

For the latest on that score, check this out:

Most Americans say they back a plan that would allow certain illegal immigrants to stay in the country, but support for the idea slips when President Barack Obama’s name is attached to the question, according to a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll.

That is:

Sixty-one percent of Americans supported Obama’s plan — which shields some undocumented immigrants from deportation — when they were not told Obama had taken the action, according to the poll released Wednesday. While half of Republicans rejected the plan when described this way, 42 percent of Republicans supported it.

Told that the idea was Obama’s, though…and this happened:

Support fell to 54 percent overall, with only 31 percent of Republicans supporting it and 62 percent opposing the measures.

I guess that the fact that almost a third of Republicans still managed to hang on to their view exceeds my expectations.  But a 20 percent swing attributable only to the horror at lining up with the Kenyan Moooslim Socialist Usurper is a measure of the triumph of the worst elements in our polity.  They’ve managed to make agreement with even the most mild of sensible ideas an existential horror for too many.  (See criminal justice reform for another reminder.)

As long as that prevails (and it looks like it will for quite a while) we’ve got problems. And the urgent need to elect a Democrat to the Presidency this November.

I Blame Obama

January 1, 2016

Here’s a piece of unequivocal good news with which to start the last full year of the Obama presidency:

The executive director of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, which coordinates the federal response on the issue, said in a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio this week that [New York] city had “effectively” ended chronic homelessness among veterans.

Lives change:

In 2015 alone, the city placed more than 1,000 veterans in permanent housing, according to city officials. Several weeks ago, at Clinton Avenue Residence, a new 43-unit development in the Bronx specifically for veterans, several men dragged garbage bags with their belongings through the gleaming lobby and into their studio apartments.

“I woke up and there wasn’t a person sleeping three feet away,” Eric Peters, 54, an Air Force veteran who has been in and out of homelessness for decades, said the next morning.

Mednyánszky,_László_-_Reclining_Soldier_(ca_1916)

New York City is doing better than many places, though not uniquely so.  Homelessness among vets is down 36% nationwide, and, as The New York Times reports,

 Houston, Las Vegas and New Orleans, among several cities, [have] effectively ending overall veteran homelessness, meaning they have identified all homeless veterans, not just the chronic cases, and placed them in homes.

Why has this happened? Because:

The city’s efforts are part of a broader federal initiative, started under President Obama and aimed at ending veteran homelessness in the United States. The federal housing agency, working in partnership with the Department of Veterans Affairs, has now distributed 79,000 rental assistance vouchers to veterans across the country dating to 2008.

Three cheers for both the hard work being done at both the national and local levels.  I hope the program serves as a model to tackle homelessness writ large — but I have no problem with selecting veterans as the first to demonstrate that the world’s last superpower does not in fact have to house its people in cardboard boxes.

But I do want to point out what’s obvious in this crowd, and should be so in the wide world:  this is what respect — and more, support — for those who serve our military looks like.  The next time your wingnut acquaintance spouts about the Muslim Kenyan Usurpers disregard for the armed services, point this out to her or him — and ask him which GOPster has made this a priority.

Happy new year all.  Going to be an interesting ride in this year of our [insert pasta shape here] 2016

Image:  Ladislav Medňanský, Reclining Soldier, c. 1916.

Friends Don’t Let Friends Vote Republican: Economic Stewardship edition

September 9, 2014

From Forbes (sic!) this analysis of President Obama’s economic record as compared with Saint Ronaldus of Reagan:

Economically, President Obama’s administration has outperformed President Reagan’s in all commonly watched categories.

Preston_Dickinson_-_Factory_(c._1920)

Simultaneously the current administration has reduced the deficit, which skyrocketed under Reagan.  Additionally, Obama has reduced federal employment, which grew under Reagan (especially when including military personnel,) and truly delivered a “smaller government.”  Additionally, the current administration has kept inflation low, even during extreme international upheaval, failure of foreign economies (Greece) and a dramatic slowdown in the European economy.

That’s from Forbes contributor Adam Hartung, a business development and consultant kind of guy — i.e., no raging, card-carrying taker.  The whole piece is worth a look.

When you’ve lost Forbes…*

*which they haven’t, really — one drive by piece doth not an editorial campaign make.

Preston Dickinson, Factoryc. 1920

Hey Pufferfish! Sic Transit Gloria Mundi, 11-D Chess Edition

November 6, 2013

Yūhi_Cormorants_catching_Fish

Someone somewhere on the web said last night that they thought it would be perfect  11-D chess — 2016 style — if the Kenyan Muslim Usurper (D-Acorn) called Governor Chris Christie to congratulate him on his victory.

Well…

White House Spokesman Jay Carney told reporters that Obama was happy to call Christie after the two worked together on Hurricane Sandy relief. [via TPM]

And just to show that the President (and his team) have not lost a step since November 6, 2013, there’s this:

“Obviously he and the governor have spent a lot of time together,” Carney said. “The president was glad to congratulate him on his victory.”

What’s that I hear? The Cruz, Paul, Rubio, Walker, Cain, and Stassen oppo teams all downloading this picture?

As for me — I’m left with the Yogi accolade.  Our president is smarter than your average bear elephant.

Image: Yūhi, Cormorants catching fish, 1755.

Sermons in Stones

January 22, 2013

Plenty of folks have responded to what seems to me to have been an extraordinary Second Inaugural address by President Obama.  See two Jim Fallows posts for starters.  It was, as Fallows says, a striking speech on at least two levels:  that of content, with the president’s clear and unequivocal declaration of liberal intent; and that of rhetoric with its phrases infused with historical intent, American civic scripture, and compact, elegant, present-day exegesis.

But the symbolism within the speech did one aspect of the speech that hasn’t got much (any?) notice — perhaps because Chuck Schumer told the story, not Obama.

That is:  the setting of the president’s speech, the porch of the US Capitol, provided a visual and material rhetorical grace note to the claims on history and present urgency that President Obama expressed in words.

Here’s the background: design work had begun on a new dome  for the building in 1854, following an expansion of its two wings of the Capitol, completed in 1855.  That work was nowhere near complete on 4 March, 1861, the day of Lincoln’s first inauguration:

LincolnInauguration1861a

Work on the dome — or rather payment for the work — ceased for most of 1861.  The lead contractor on the project had $1.3 million worth of building materials on site — I’m not 100% sure, but I believe that you can see some  of the construction materials for the dome in the foreground of the image above — and decided it was better to keep going and hope that the federal government would pay up in time, which they did.  As the Historian of the Capitol, William Allen, notes the story that the new president himself  [PDF] ordered the continuation of the work is a myth — but the symbolic significance of the project didn’t escape Lincoln either.

The exact form of the Lincoln quote in reply to a question as to why spend money on architecture in the midst of war seems a bit apocryphal to me, but there seems to be a pretty broad recollection that he said something like  “if people see the Capitol going on, it is a sign we intend the Union shall go on.”  Certainly, when I interviewed him for this film, Allen emphasized how potent the ongoing construction was for the troops from all over the Union who mustered on the Mall before marching off to the forward positions of the Army of the Potomac.

The dome wasn’t quite complete in March, 1864, but it looked mostly as it does now — that towering white, grandly neo-classical confection, its domed shape a recognized symbol of the cosmos as a whole — of the order of heaven — in a bit of architectural iconography established at least as far back as the Emperor Hadrian, who so pointedly staked his claim of divine sanction in one of the foundational statements of western architecture.

And of course, to play a little of the political numerology so beloved of pundits, that means that the first Second Inaugural to play out against the backdrop of the dome was Abraham Lincoln’s.  The most recent, complete with language deliberately echoing Lincoln’s, came yesterday.

Schumer’s anecdote played on that connection — that Lincoln asserted the claims of union against the forces of disunion and authoritarian oppression, while Obama yesterday advanced the notion that we are a society, not an atomized cloud of individual secessionists.

We’ve lived a to-me unprecedented four years in which the opposing party has challenged not just the policies or politics of the administration, but its legitimacy, the right to exercise power conferred by democratic choice.  The echoes of race, of secessionism, of the authoritarian claim that the consent of the governed is tolerated only so long as hoi polloi make the right choices are all distant (and not always so muted) echoes of 1860 and 1861.  And yet the black man with the funny name just took the president’s oath for a second time, directly beneath what we might, not quite accurately, nonetheless call Mr. Lincoln’s dome.

This is how rhetoric engages historical change. The meaning of the dome is not the same as it was in March, 1865.  Still, it connects.  And even if President Obama’s opponents cannot bring themselves to accept the blunt reality of a Democrat, an African American, and  a mainstream-progressive (if that characterization makes sense, and I think it does) not just winning, but holding power, the dome is there to remind them of a lesson very similar to what the traitors of 1865 learned to such cost: that the union is not merely the property of entrenched power.

That’s the chief significance of the visual language of Obama’s greying head beneath that wedding cake of dome.  It’s sufficient.

But there is actually one more thing.  Somewhere — it may have been a Balloon Juice comment thread, actually — I read someone quip that with all of Obama’s talk of internal improvements, infrastructure and investments in the future, the man sounded like a Whig…just like that railroad lawyer, the young Abe Lincoln.  In that context, the Capitol dome is a perfect symbol of the innovation and swelling ambition of the nation, then and now.

For the dome is a glorious lie.  It may look like shining marble, a masonry structure just like the grand baroque domes of Europe, St. Peter’s and the like.  It’s not.  The entire thing, inside and out is a jigsaw puzzle of cast iron, painted to fool the eye.  I’ve had the exceptional good fortune to climb inside the dome, between the inner shape you see from the rotunda and the familiar gleaming confection that stands over the mall.  When you do you climb up the stairs there you duck through the ribs that hold up the outer skin and from which rods connect to the (self-supporting) inner one, each made of plates bolted together.

kknine

(Don’t be fooled — all those coffers on the inner dome that appear to be pale carved stone in the drawing above are cast iron too, painted a dull grey on the side the punters don’t see.)

The iron segments that accrete into the dome were cast — in NY, I believe, though I’m on the road, away from my notes, and my memory may be playing tricks.  The material was shipped to Capitol Hill and assembled there, like a giant erector set.

The meaning — or at least a meaning?

You see in the fabric of the building at least two connected thoughts:  an object lesson in the sources of the defeat of the Confederacy:  already, by the 1860s, the American metal working industries — largely concentrated in the loyal North —  were advancing to and past the capabilities of the world leader, Britain.  And in our Civil War, Yankee industrial power and skill beat an economy based on the theft of human labor.  Paying attention to science, to technology, to the skills needed to play in the big leagues actually made a difference in that war, logistically, the difference.

Such attention is still all-in-all. . Hence the significance of that portion of President Obama’s campaign and inaugural address that spoke and speak to the need to invest in the brains and the technologies that matter right now.  And all the while he spoke, the dome stood behind him, granting historical assent.

Material objects have always been able to serve as both things and symbols. That China has just opened the longest high-speed rail line in the world is of obvious practical consequence for that nation.  No one doubts it has rhetorical significance as well.  The Mars rover Curiousity is so much more than a go-cart.  And so on.

Symbols as they age change:  they gain resonance; that accumulate layers of meaning, perhaps even some that complicate each other.  The Capitol Dome was completed as an element in the argument over what kind of country the United States could hope to be.

The second inauguration of President Barack Hussein Obama, performed under that great structure, advances the cause of union and of this Union at this precise moment in time.  It is altogether fitting and proper that it should do this.

*Actually, the first dome was a visual disaster all on its own, one of Charles Bulfinch’s least impressive efforts — though it must be admitted that he didn’t have an entirely free hand in his design.

Post Debate Punditing Without A License

October 4, 2012

I’m going to do something I very rarely wish to inflict on y’all.  Usually, I like to invoke at least a schmear of empirical evidence to drive an argument, but just this once I’m going to go all pundity…

….which means, I guess, that I gotta with a Penetrating Glimpse of the Obvious:

Last night’s debate was a poor showing for President Obama and those of us who see the prospect of a President Romney as a clear and present danger to the Republic and our kids’ future.

Which leads to the equally obvious (but true) pivot:

No campaign is a single event. Counting today there are 32 full days to go before the polls open on Tuesday, November 6.  Last night’s farrago will become part of the river of stories that flow towards that day — but it is the sum of those tales, not any single shiny moment, that will determine the outcome.

Already, some folks — partisans for now, to be sure — are trying to draw attention to what Romney actually said, and in doing so, identifying the significant vulnerabilities this debate exposed for the Republican cause.  For example, I agree with Mistermix that Romney’s signal mistake was to open himself up for a renewed assault on his Medicare position — and that link to Krugman shows it ain’t just us DFH’s paying attention.   I also think Romney’s tripling down on his tax plan will allow a lot of people, and not just wonks, to remind folks of the gap between arithmetic and all the BS Romney and Ryan have thrown out on this one.

As Josh Marshall says in that second link, this is the kind of thing that takes several news cycles to build.  But recall:  we were all enraged at the brazen embrace of easily refutable lies in the Ryan RNC Convention speech.  We didn’t have faith in either the MSM or the Obama campaign (Democrats after all!) to take on the deceit with anything like the attention needed to defuse such weaponized ruminant excrement.  But they did, and (with some help from the marathon man himself) Ryan has become at least a bit of punchline ever since.*

So:  President Obama missed many opportunities last night, perhaps most significantly in not drawing a sharp enough line between the “you’re on your own” Romney vision and the “we’re all in this together” music Obama has played to such great effect in the past (and I’m sure will again, soon).

But the real test of the Obama campaign will be what it does over the next week with the actual missteps Romney made last night.  How will they use his internal contradictions in the ads?  What will Obama and his surrogates say to local news folks?  How quickly can their operation drive the mainstream media to go to town on stories like this one? (Shorter: it took almost no time at all for a Romney aide to contradict Romney’s core claim about pre-existing conditions and Medicare.)  No guarantees exist, but I have to say I’ve been damn impressed with the side of the Obama campaign that pursues such ends.  (Note also that Fallows reminds us that (in his view) debating is the best campaign technique for Romney.  Obama’s operation has been superior to his rival’s in every other phase so far.)

To repeat the cliché — holy hell, if I’m pretending to be a pundit I’ve got to hammer those too — but campaigns are marathons, not sprints.  Romney’s performance last night was like ripping off an 15 second 100 yard dash in mile 18th on the way to the Back Bay.**  Yup, he won that stretch of road.  Now comes the time to reel him in.

Which leads me to my last thought, the one I hope y’all take home: 32 days, peeps. It’s not just Obama and the grandees of the profession, the Axelrod’s and the Plouffe’s who can’t let themselves get too much sleep between now and then.  There’s the rest of us.  There’s me.

I have to confess — I’ve been less involved in a boots-on-the-ground kind of way in this election than the last, and by a good margin too.  My wife and I have been giving money on a regular basis, but I used to be a phone bank hero, and then got into door-to-door as my preferred mode of participation.  Haven’t done that this year; pretty much all I’ve done that requires me to upgrade from a bathrobe in front of a screen in my basement*** is to show up at a couple of Warren events.  That’s not enough — if there is one true lesson to be gained from the debate it is that nothing is in the bag, not the Presidency, not the Senate, surely not the House.

I’m not Tim F.  I can’t match his gift for catalyzing action.  But action is needed, so here’s my pledge.  I’m going to do something every week from now through Monday, 5 November.  I’ve got the day job and I’ve got the kid and there’s some real life stuff happening in my extended family, so I can’t do what I did when I was a mere pup, and just take off for New Hampshire for the last two weeks of the 1992 election.  But I’ll be heading that way to canvas this weekend and everyday I can liberate from my daily round between now and the 6th; I’ll be tossing more bucks in the pot today, and no doubt on days to come; I’ll keep looking for useful tasks that I can tackle.  I really don’t want to do this — I’m becoming more misanthropic and generally grumpy with each passing year, but that’s what’s required, so I’m just going to kick my ass out the door as much as I possibly can.

You?

Update: Just to show it ain’t just my rose-colored monitor screens coloring my view, here’s a dispatch from the inner sanctum of the Village, NBC’s First Read:

*** Who wins the post-debate? If Romney won the instant reactions from last night’s debate, it is more than possible that the Obama camp can win the next 24 hours. Why? Because Romney said several things that could make life difficult for him today or in the next debate. First, Romney declared, “I will not reduce the taxes paid by high-income Americans.” But in addition to supporting the extension of the Bush tax cuts, which are skewed heavily to the wealthy, the non-partisan Tax Policy Center says that Romney’s tax plan would give the Top 0.1% an average tax cut of more than $246,000. Next, he stated that “there will be no tax cut that adds to the deficit.” While he has said his plan will be paid for, he’s yet to lay out any SPECIFICS on how he’ll pay for it. Romney also said, “I’m not going to cut education funding. I don’t have any plan to cut education funding.” But the Ryan budget plan, which Romney has said he’d sign into law, leads to long-term spending reductions in education. And Romney also didn’t disagree with the description that his Medicare plan would consist of “vouchers” for future retirees. Winning a “debate” is always a two-part deal — the night itself, and then the aftermath. This is now an opportunity for Team Obama and a challenge for Team Romney.

Update 2: And on cue, here’s an opening shot from Team Obama (via):

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None of this is to say all is well.

It isn’t.

This election is a month away and it really, truly ain’t in the bag yet.  So what I said above:  If the idea of waking up on November 7 to the words President-Elect Romney gives you the cold sweats, listen to the man — and don’t just vote, put mind, money and muscle behind the campaign to get your fri

*Via DeLong, a new game:  Where’s Waldo Paulie?

**Boston stuff — never mind.

***Not intended to be a factual statement.

Image:  Franz Marc, The Yellow Cow, 1911.


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