The State of the Union was upbeat and positive, and that’s saying a lot from me, a pessimist. Now I know those on the right will tell you everything that was wrong with the president’s speech; heck, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Gov. Mitt Romney told America what they thought of the president’s speech before he even uttered a word!
Personally, I felt the president hit it out of the park—his best State of the Union speech and hopefully his fourth, not his last.
Starting out with thanking the U.S. military, he pointed out that for the first time in nine years we’re no longer in Iraq, and more importantly, that we’re safer and we’re more respected throughout the world. And of course, there was the huge applause when he mentioned that for the first time in over two decades, we’re no longer fearful of the wrath of Osama bin Laden.
I personally loved when the president referred to how our military operates, and how we as a nation and how the government should operate: focus on the mission at hand and do it working together. With the lowest approval rating of Congress ever and polls showing that Americans clearly want both sides of the aisle to work together to get things done, the president, I believe, was speaking to all Americans and to all of our frustrations with our government.
I also liked how the president painted a picture of what could be. He pointed out America’s values; except for one remark about the administration that preceded him, he didn’t blame former President Bush, which I found refreshing and necessary.
He was bold when he specifically stated that the banks were wrong and irresponsible in lending money to people who couldn’t afford to pay it back.
He gave facts about job loss: 4 million jobs lost before he entered office, millions more before his policies were implemented.
I found that the president was being humble when he spoke of the jobs that businesses created–not he, his administration, or Congress.
When the president spoke of American values, it didn’t have to do with church or religion; it had to do with our work ethic—from American manufacturing to GM regaining its title as the number one automaker in the world. Even the Republicans had to clap on that one.
And for a president who is constantly accused of wanting to tax America to death, he was talking about a lot of tax credits going around: tax credits for making products here in America, tax breaks for small business owners—rewarding those who keep and develop jobs here, and stopping the rewards going to companies that send their jobs overseas. (Sidenote: Eric Cantor looked angry about that–hmm…)
Then the president went on to other things America values, other things that make our nation great, and what could make us greater: education. He linked education with the ability to increase a person’s income in the future. And he made it personal when he spoke of every person in the chamber who has a teacher they liked, remembered, etc. I found myself nodding at that remark.
He reached out to Hispanics with the DREAM act, although never mentioning it by name. He touched the unions in speaking about manufacturing, teachers, and the auto industry. And he even gave a shout out to us ladies with the desire for us to earn equal pay for the jobs we do that men do. (Woo hoo!)
The bottom line is, although this speech is about governing, it is a campaign year. I felt the president reminded Americans of where we are, how far we’ve come, and where we could be headed with him at the helm. He spoke of the facts rather than the fiction Americans so often hear in the media. And if America were a ship, he showed us with his words that he is more than up to the task of being the ship’s captain for the next four years.
By: Leslie Marshall, U. S. News and World Report, January 25, 2012
Over the weekend, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) described President Obama’s State of the Union address, which he had not heard, as “pathetic.” Today, Boehner pushed the rhetorical envelope a little further.
House Speaker John Boehner Tuesday forcefully denounced the Democrats’ campaign theme that they are for the middle class and Republicans are for the wealthy — saying the policies the president is running on are “almost un-American.”
“This is a president who said I’m not going to be a divider, I’m going to be a uniter, and running on the policies of division and envy is — to me it’s almost un-American,” said Boehner.
Even for Boehner, this kind of rhetoric is cheap and inappropriate.
At a certain level, it’s tempting to think the Speaker doesn’t even believe his own nonsense. What is it, exactly, that Boehner finds so offensive about President Obama’s message? The notion of a Democratic president championing the interests of the middle class isn’t exactly unusual, neither is the prospect of asking the very wealthy to pay a little more to help guarantee opportunities for all.
Indeed, there’s nothing in the White House’s agenda that wouldn’t have generated significant support from Democrats and moderate Republicans for the better part of the 20th century. Obama’s economic vision is, at a fundamental level, about as mainstream as you can get.
It makes sense for Boehner to attack this, to the extent that he sees it as his job to reflexively oppose everything the president is for. But officials, especially those in key positions of authority, really ought to avoid words like “un-American.” Just because the House elected an oft-confused Speaker, who lacks a cursory understanding of public policy and history, is no excuse for American leaders questioning other American leaders’ patriotism.
I’m reminded of a recent piece from Tim Dickinson:
The nation is still recovering from a crushing recession that sent unemployment hovering above nine percent for two straight years. The president, mindful of soaring deficits, is pushing bold action to shore up the nation’s balance sheet. Cloaking himself in the language of class warfare, he calls on a hostile Congress to end wasteful tax breaks for the rich. “We’re going to close the unproductive tax loopholes that allow some of the truly wealthy to avoid paying their fair share,” he thunders to a crowd in Georgia. Such tax loopholes, he adds, “sometimes made it possible for millionaires to pay nothing, while a bus driver was paying 10 percent of his salary — and that’s crazy.”
Preacherlike, the president draws the crowd into a call-and-response. “Do you think the millionaire ought to pay more in taxes than the bus driver,” he demands, “or less?”
The crowd, sounding every bit like the protesters from Occupy Wall Street, roars back: “MORE!”
The year was 1985. The president was Ronald Wilson Reagan.
Today’s Republican Party may revere Reagan as the patron saint of low taxation. But the party of Reagan — which understood that higher taxes on the rich are sometimes required to cure ruinous deficits — is dead and gone. Instead, the modern GOP has undergone a radical transformation, reorganizing itself around a grotesque proposition: that the wealthy should grow wealthier still, whatever the consequences for the rest of us.
I suppose the follow-up question for Boehner is, was Reagan “almost un-American,” too? Were the lawmakers from both parties who approved tax reform in the mid-80s a bunch of socialist sell-outs?
By: Steve Benen, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, January 24, 2012
We may not be attributing Newt Gingrich’s rise to the tea party. But maybe we should.
Even as the movement’s influence in the GOP appears to have waned over the past year, there remains one major remnant of what happened in 2010: anti-establishment fervor.
The tea party spurred momentum and turnout for the GOP two years ago, but it also caused it some headaches in the primaries, turning aside candidates who were clearly favored by the party establishment in favor of conservative wild cards that went on to mixed results in November.
That very same anti-establishment mentality has spurred any number of anti-Mitt Romney candidates to frontrunner status in the 2012 GOP presidential race. And when it finally looked like Romney was the presumptive nominee before South Carolina, the base recoiled in much the same way it did in a series of 2010 Senate races, delivering a huge win for Gingrich.
And in doing so, the tea party movement served notice that it’s still very much alive, albeit not as cohesive or well-branded.
In recent days, some smart political analysts have begun to question the theory that the major party elites have overwhelming influence when it comes to picking their nominees.
Cohen’s theory states that, while candidates and voter preferences matter, nominees are almost always chosen in a sort of long-running negotiation among party elites, who effectively pave the way for voters to make the most logical choice and/or pick the most electable candidate. In other words, voters have a choice, but it’s heavily influenced by party bigwigs.
That theory, according to some, simply doesn’t apply to the 2012 GOP presidential race.
“The competing paradigm might be called ‘This Time Is Different,’” Silver writes. “Under this interpretation, elite support and the ground game do not matter as much as usual. Instead, success is more idiosyncratic: personalities matter a lot, and nominations are determined based primarily on momentum and news media coverage.”
This makes a lot of sense — particularly when it comes to Gingrich — but there seems to be more to it.
Namely, the tea party.
After all, exit polls from Saturday’s South Carolina primary showed 64 percent of voters identified as tea party supporters, and Gingrich won nearly half of their votes — almost twice as many as Romney. Indeed, the fact that nearly two-thirds of voters in any primary say they support a certain political movement shows what kind of influence it has.
But even if you look beyond the exit poll, it’s pretty clear that the tea party mentality is very much a part of what Gingrich has been able to accomplish. The same tea party mentality that was responsible for Sharron Angle, Christine O’Donnell, Ken Buck, Marco Rubio and Rand Paul is now helping Gingrich.
In most of those cases, there was another GOP candidate who was favored by the GOP establishment but didn’t light any fires among the conservative base. So the base chose somebody else.
That’s not to say that Gingrich hasn’t been a capable candidate who was able to swing a state by 25 points in a week’s time. In fact, it’s just saying that his stealth maneuvering has more impact today, because voters are acting more independently of party leaders.
For some reason, political observers have stopped attributing this to the tea party. But it’s very much a lingering effect of what the tea party did in 2010 or, at the very least, is a result of the same set of circumstances that gave rise to the tea party.
The question now is whether it’s enough, as it was in 2010 Senate races, to push a supposedly less-electable wild card candidate to a major party’s presidential nomination.
As we have written before, that is a much steeper hill to climb, and we remain skeptical that the tea party will actually pick the GOP nominee.
But the influence of the tea party lives on in today’s Republican Party.
By: Aaron Blake, The Washington Post, January 24, 2012
The most important figure in Tuesday night’s State of the Union address wasn’t on the House floor. In fact, he hasn’t taken a seat in front of the chamber in 13 years.
But as he campaigned for the Republican presidential nomination in Florida, former House speaker Newt Gingrich was doing more to boost President Obama’s reelection prospects than anything Obama himself could do.
Obama’s address, which marked the unofficial start of his campaign, aimed to take the economic misery that threatens to doom his reelection and turn it into class resentment: the privileged wealthy against ordinary Americans. “We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well, while a growing number of Americans barely get by,” he said, in remarks prepared for delivery. “Or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules.”
Gingrich assisted in making this case by helpfully arranging for Republicans to serve as fat-cat foils. The former speaker, whose allies had already branded Mitt Romney a job-destroying “predatory capitalist,” successfully goaded the former Massachusetts governor into releasing tax returns that reveal him to be making millions of dollars per year from investments and paying paltry tax rates — while tucking money in the Cayman Islands, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac stock and a Swiss bank account. Gingrich exulted Tuesday that the already rich Romney is “getting richer off Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.”
Romney, suddenly faltering in his bid for the nomination, found himself declaring in Florida on Tuesday that “banks aren’t bad people” — a version of his earlier claim that “corporations are people.” He continued to characterize Gingrich as an “influence peddler,” a tool of K Street and an exorbitantly compensated Freddie Mac lobbyist. Gingrich’s campaign, in turn, answered with the implausible claim that it “can’t find” all of the lucrative contracts the candidate had with Freddie. (Did they look under the sofa cushions?)
Obama strategist David Axelrod couldn’t have arranged it better: On the very day the president tried to turn the campaign into a contest between the 1 percent and the 99 percent, the Republicans launched an all-out war between the Gingrich haves and the Romney have-mores.
A new Washington Post/ABC News poll shows the damage done. Two weeks ago, Romney was viewed favorably by 39 percent of Americans and unfavorably by 34 percent. Incredibly, he is now viewed favorably by only 31 percent and unfavorably by 49 percent. Among independents, who will decide the outcome in November, Romney is viewed unfavorably by a margin of 2-to-1.
By no coincidence Obama has grown in public esteem over that time. His favorable rating is up to 53 percent from 48 percent in December, and his unfavorable rating has dropped to 43 percent from 49 percent.
Gingrich himself remains so unpopular that his own chances of beating Obama seem dim: His 29 percent favorability rating is about where it was before he was dumped as speaker by his House colleagues in 1998. But by making Romney as unpopular as he is, he has made Obama look good by comparison.
Gingrich has long regarded himself as a “transformational figure” in world history, and now he’s about to prove it: For the second time in his career, he is about to reelect a Democratic president.
After he led Republicans to victory in 1994 and became House speaker, his ill-advised standoff with President Bill Clinton led to a government shutdown and allowed Clinton to rebound to an easy reelection in 1996. Now, just two years after Republicans swept to power in the House, Gingrich is again providing a Democratic president with an unexpected path to victory.
To press his Gingrich-given advantage Obama made plans to highlight the “Buffett Rule” and invited to the speech Warren Buffett’s secretary, who supposedly pays a higher tax rate than Buffett does. “Let’s never forget,” Obama said in his prepared text, “millions of Americans who work hard and play by the rules every day deserve a government and a financial system that do the same. It’s time to apply the same rules from top to bottom: No bailouts, no handouts, and no cop-outs.”
But it was hardly necessary for Obama to make the case. Gingrich had already turned the Republican candidates into a club of coddled millionaires.
By: Dana Milbank, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, January 24, 2012
After weeks of refusals and equivocation, Mitt Romney finally released his tax returns last night to a handful of media outlets, showing that he made $21.7 million in 2010 and $20.9 million last year. He only actually released one year of returns, 2010, and his estimated return for 2011, even though many have called on him to follow the precedent set by his father and release many more years of returns.
Nonetheless, there is much to learn from the astonishing 550 pages of returns Romney released:
1. Romney paid a lower tax rate than many middle-class Americans: Romney’s returns reveal that he paid an effective tax rate of 13.9 percent, lower even than the low rate of 15 percent he estimated he paid last week. While this is far less than what many middle-class Americans pay, it’s also well below what wealthy people pay. The average effective tax rate for someone in Romney’s income bracket is 25 percent.
2. Romney makes more in a day than the average American makes in a year, and becomes a 1 percenter every week: As Bloomberg News notes, “In 2008, according to the IRS, the median adjusted gross income was $33,048, which Romney made in less than a day. Reaching the top 1 percent of taxpayers required $380,354 in adjusted gross income, about Romney’s earnings in a week.”
3. Romney paid almost nothing in payroll taxes: Romney contributed just .1 percent of his income to Social Security and Medicare in 2010 via the payroll tax because the tax is only assessed on earned wages, but all of Romney’s income came from investments. Most working Americans pay 7.65 percent.
4. Romney has accounts in countries notorious for tax dodging: By now, it’s well known by now that Romney invests in funds based in the Cayman Islands, but Romney’s returns were “crammed with information about foreign holdings” and reveal that he held accounts in Switzerland and Luxembourg, countries famous for hiding money thanks their low taxes and strict banking secrecy laws. Aides said he closed his Swiss account in 2010 because it might have been “politically embarrassing.”
5. Romney and Gingrich’s tax plans would slash Romney’s taxes: Romney already pays less than many middle class Americans, but under his proposed tax plan, his rates would be slashed in half. Meanwhile, under challenger Newt Gingrich’s plan, Romney would pay almost nothing, since Gingrich has proposed cutting the capital gains tax rate to zero and Romney earns almost all of his money from investments.
6. Romney needs four lawyers, including the former IRS commissioner to defend his tax plan: Romney’s campaign held a conference call with reporters this morning to defend and explain his tax returns, and apparently felt the need to have former IRS Commissioner Fred Goldberg, along with three other top lawyers and his campaign communications director to explain the returns. At one point, the call had to be interrupted so officials could confer with mega accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers.
Another small revelation from Romney’s returns is that while Romney said his speaking fees amounted to “not very much” in terms of income, he actually made $111,000 in speaking fees in 2011 and $529,000 in 2010, as Politico’s Ken Vogel points out.
By: Alex Seitz-Wald, Think Progress, January 24, 2012