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“How’s About You And Him Fight?”: Get Ready For A Whole Lot Of Hillary Vs Barack Stories Based On Nothing

Hillary Clinton has about a year and a half before she needs to make the final decision on whether she’ll run for president in 2016. Between now and then, and after she becomes an actual candidate (if she does), we’re going to be seeing an awful lot of stories that read as though an editor said to a reporter, “Give me a story about Hillary turning her back on Barack, and the two camps sniping at each other,” and the reporter replied, “Well, I haven’t seen much evidence of that, but I’ll see what I can come up with.” That gets you stuff like a piece in today’s Washington Post, under the headline, “In the Clintons’ talk of brokering compromise, an implicit rebuke of Obama years.” Let’s get to the stinging barbs Hillary and Bill are aiming at the President:

In recent stump speeches and policy remarks, Bill and Hillary Clinton have offered sharp criticisms of the partisan gridlock paralyzing Washington, signaling a potential 2016 campaign theme if Hillary Clinton chooses to run for president.

The Clintons’ critiques in recent days have been explicitly aimed at congressional Republicans, who helped spur a 16-day government shutdown and potential debt default in October. But their remarks also seem to contain an implicit rebuke of President Obama’s failure to change Washington as he pledged when first running for the White House.

The arguments suggest a way that Hillary Clinton could attempt to run in 2016 as an agent of change — potentially putting her at odds with the two-term Democrat she would be seeking to replace.

So her “implicit rebuke of President Obama’s failure to change Washington” is … criticism of Republicans? And if Hillary Clinton says she wants to see everyone work across the aisle to solve problems, that’s some kind of slap in Obama’s face? Well that’s odd, since Obama ran for president saying he wanted to bring Democrats and Republicans together, just like George W. Bush did before him (remember “I’m a uniter, not a divider”?), and Bill Clinton did before him. It’s what every presidential candidate says, even the most partisan ones.

I don’t imagine that Clinton thinks Obama has been a perfect president, and I’m sure there are things she thinks she could have done better than him. But there is going to be an endless stream of stories like this one, trying to gin up some kind of dramatic struggle between the two, full of anger and recrimination and Machiavellian machinations, all based on nothing but the barest wisps of evidence. It’s driven by the journalist’s endless need to frame stories around conflict, their preference for writing about personality, and the fact that if you’re going to write a story about the 2016 campaign three years before the actual election, you don’t have a lot of material to work with. But give me a break.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, November 1, 2013

November 3, 2013 Posted by | Election 2016, GOP, Journalists | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Thank You And Goodnight”: My Fellow Americans, Barack Obama Is The President, Not An Action-Movie Hero

Sometimes it appears that everybody in Washington yearns for an action-hero president to make them feel important. That’s never more apparent than during a crisis like the Syrian civil war President Obama stands accused of “dithering” about.

Of course, his chief journalistic accusers are columnists Maureen Dowd and Charles Krauthammer, of the New York Times and Washington Post respectively. Dowd turns everything into a movie scenario. She wrote a column about George W. Bush’s 2003 “Mission Accomplished” aircraft carrier stunt that’s almost too embarrassing to quote.

“Out bounded the cocky, rule-breaking, daredevil flyboy, a man navigating the Highway to the Danger Zone,” Dowd wrote. “He flashed that famous all-American grin as he swaggered around the deck of the aircraft carrier in his olive flight suit, ejection harness between his legs, helmet tucked under his arm, awestruck crew crowding around.”

Sure, there was mockery in Dowd’s Top Gun take on Bush’s “joystick politics,” but hero worship too. Here’s how her imaginary flyboy summed up America’s adventure in Iraq: “Aggression breeds patriotism, and patriotism curbs dissent. Aggression has made Democrats cower, the press purr and the world quake. Aggression—you mark my words—will not only save humanity, but it will soon color all the states Republican red.”

So how did that work out?

Ten years later, Krauthammer thinks things would have worked out better if the U.S. still had troops occupying Iraq—the better to menace Iran and Syria too, formerly Saddam Hussein’s job. Obama, he opines, “simply does not understand that if America withdraws from the scene, it creates a vacuum that invites hostile outside intervention. A superpower’s role in a regional conflict is deterrence.”

Also known as perpetual war in the Middle East.

Even Bill Clinton famously piled on, which is what set Dowd off. At a public forum in New York, he explained that Obama risked looking “like a total wuss” if he blamed opinion polls showing that 80 percent of Americans oppose U.S. intervention in Syria for his own indecisiveness. Clinton said that presidents sometimes have to act, “and hope to God you can sell it.”

It’s not clear that Clinton spelled out exactly what a take-charge guy like himself would be doing in Syria—which may be a good thing, given his wife’s key role in the Obama administration’s wait-and-see policy.

Indeed the former Secretary of State’s pronouncement at a 2012 conference in Istanbul that dictator Bashar al Assad needed to leave Syria contributed mightily to the White House’s predicament. Taking sides in a sectarian civil war while refusing to get involved wasn’t terribly clever. That Clinton reportedly urged Obama to arm anti-Assad Sunni rebels makes the diplomatic blunder no less egregious.

Now that the Syrian dictator, with Russian and Iranian assistance, seems on the verge of defeating his enemies, President Obama has agreed to provide small arms to rebel groups—something unlikely to prove decisive.

Asked how he imagined Syria after Assad, a rebel commander told the New York TimesBill Keller “maybe Somalia plus Afghanistan.” In short, chaos and slaughter, a horrifying prospect to the crusading editor, who nevertheless thinks Obama needs to get the U.S. more deeply involved in deciding which mob of Syrian religious fanatics gets to massacre its enemies.

Perhaps sensitive to criticism, President Obama gave an extraordinarily frank interview to CBS’s Charlie Rose. “This argument that somehow had we gone in earlier or heavier in some fashion,” he said, “that the tragedy and chaos taking place in Syria wouldn’t be taking place, I think is wrong.”

In essence, the president argues that there are no good options in Syria and never were. Would establishing a no-fly zone, for example, mean bombing Damascus? What about civilian casualties? And what happens if chemical weapons stored there get hit?

“Unless you’ve been involved in those conversations,” he said, “then it’s kind of hard for you to understand the complexity of the situation and how we have to not rush into one more war in the Middle East.”

In other words, no Barack Obama doll to match the official “TOP GUN George W. Bush 12-Inch Action Figure in Flight Suit” available from Amazon.com. Also, however, no 10-year occupation of Syria, no thousands of American dead and hundreds of billions of dollars lost in the desert.

Instead, Daniel W. Drezner argues in Foreign Policy, Obama’s stalling constitutes a kind of cynical realpolitik American presidents can’t openly admit: “[t]his is simply the United States engaging in its own form of asymmetric warfare.  For the low, low price of aiding and arming the rebels, the U.S. preoccupies all of its adversaries in the Middle East.

Here’s what Obama ought to say, a friend wrote recently: “My fellow Americans. I don’t give a rat’s [posterior] who wins the civil war in Syria. And neither should you. Thank you and good night.”

In effect, he has.

 

By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, June 26, 2013

June 27, 2013 Posted by | Foreign Policy | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Brag Wall”: The President Is Not There To Massage The Fragile Ego’s Of Capital Hill

If you walked into the home of an acquaintance and found yourself facing a wall of dozens of pictures of him shaking hands with powerful people, you’d probably think, “What a pompous ass. And how insecure do you have to be to put these things up on your wall? I get it, you’re important. Sheesh.” In Washington, however, these “brag walls” can be found all over town, particularly on Capitol Hill, where nearly every member of Congress has one.

Maybe some offices do it just because that’s what everyone else does, but you’d think that if you’re a senator or member of Congress, the fact that you’re an important person would be self-evident, and it wouldn’t be necessary to make sure everyone who comes into your office knows that you’ve been in the same room as presidents and other high-ranking officials. There are some commercial establishments, like your local deli, that might put up pictures on their walls with the celebrities who have stopped in, but that’s an understandable marketing effort. But when it comes to individuals, the only other place I can think of that I’ve seen that sort of thing outside of Washington is on MTV Cribs, in the homes of athletes, actors, and musicians, who often have displays of them with other celebrities. And they, I imagine, are also desperately insecure about their importance, forever fearful that it could evaporate at any moment and they’ll wind up the next Corey Feldman. So they put up the pictures of them hanging out with Tom Brady or Usher to assure themselves that they really are as big a deal as the people around them are contractually obligated to tell them.

I raise this because of an absolutely pathetic article in Politico today, detailing how Democrats on Capitol Hill aren’t feeling enough love from President Obama:

The topic of Obama’s relationship with his own party in Congress invariably draws raised eyebrows and did-you-hear-this-one stories.

One of the most well-connected Democrats in the capital said he came away from a recent meeting with Hill Democrats “astonished at the contempt they have for our president.” The members made clear that, after largely backing Obama in his first term, they would oppose him if he tried to make cuts to entitlements in the name of deficit reduction.

Obama and his top aides generally get along well with the Senate’s Democratic leadership — though there were real tensions over the fiscal cliff compromise – but while the likes of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and New York Sen. Chuck Schumer are in frequent contact with the White House, rank-and-file Democratic senators rarely hear from the president.

To bring up the topic of Obama and his old colleagues with members of Congress themselves, not a class of people lacking in pride, is often to get stared back with daggers. Hemming and hawing often take place, good-sport recollections of always hearing back from staff are brought up and occasionally come requests to go off the record. But, among some Democratic senators, there’s a willingness to put their names with their statements.

“I think they might have done more,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) when asked about the president’s outreach to the Hill in the first term. “I think they might have learned more by doing more.”

Now, I understand that building personal relationships with members of Congress is important, but it’s not important as an end in itself, it’s important because it helps the president accomplish his policy goals. To paraphrase the line spoken by a thousand reality show contestatnts, the president isn’t in Washington to make friends. Are there policy implications to Obama’s alleged indifference to congressional Democrats? Was there a critical bill that failed because some senators felt they weren’t being massaged enough? Provisions in big bills that Obama didn’t get because he couldn’t fend off a fit of pique from a member of his party over the lack of invitation to a late-night poker game up in the residence? You won’t find the answer in the story, because this is Politico, and they find policy questions like that to be dullsville.

In fact, a better question for a piece like this might be, if Obama does so little to massage the fragile egos on Capitol Hill, how was it that he got so much legislation passed? He did more legislatively in his first term, even with an unusually intransigent opposition, than any president since Johnson. Could it be that the non-personal factors end up being much more important than how many members of Congress get to utter the phrase, “As I told the president when I was at the White House the other day…” on a regular basis?

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, February 4, 2013

February 5, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“More Resolute, More Seasoned”: President Obama’s Inaugural Address Was A Modern Speech Steeped In History

President Obama gave a truly American speech yesterday. It resonated from the opening reference to “all men are created equal with certain unalienable rights,” to his constant refrain of “we, the people.”

It was in many ways a stronger speech than four years ago, more resolute, more seasoned, more ready to ensure that America lives up to the words expressed in the Declaration of Independence. It was a speech for a modern era, acknowledging the rapid change of the 21st century.

The strong thread of his speech was the strong history of America, from the war for independence to the emancipation proclamation 150 years ago to the March on Washington 50 years ago. “From Seneca Falls to Selma to Stonewall,” the President highlighted the guiding value that all are created equal. The age-old creed was made modern and relevant to all Americans — of any color, any natural origin, any gender, any sexual orientation.

The notion that an inaugural address would mention gay marriage and highlight the start of the gay revolution at Stonewall would have been unthinkable a decade or two ago. What an amazing transformation.

The melding of traditional aspirational values and the struggle to solve modern American problems was inspiring. He was forward looking and pragmatic when it came to tackling the issues of immigration reform, climate change, equal economic opportunity, helping the most vulnerable. And he was equally pragmatic when he recognized that “outworn programs are inadequate to our times” and that government is not the answer to all our problems.

But his was a defense of government as “we, the people” to achieve what our framers designed. He did not deride government or Washington but set out a positive, progressive, future for us to pursue together. This was a change from what we have heard over the past thirty years.

It was, in many ways, a very modern speech clothed in the best of our history to act as a call to Americans. This is a president now comfortable with the bully pulpit and a leader committed to using it in the years ahead. You will see a Barack Obama ready to inspire and organize people for the cause. My guess is that this speech was just the beginning.

 

By: Peter Fenn, U. S. News and World Report, January 22, 2013

January 24, 2013 Posted by | Inauguration 2013 | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Promises Of Our Founding”: President Obama’s Unapologetic Inaugural Address

President Obama used his inaugural address to make a case – a case for a progressive view of government, and a case for the particular things that government should do in our time.

He gave a speech in the tradition of Franklin Roosevelt’s second inaugural and Ronald Reagan’s first: Like both, Obama’s was unapologetic in offering an argument for his philosophical commitments and an explanation of the policies that naturally followed. Progressives will be looking back to this speech for many years, much as today’s progressives look back to FDR’s, and conservatives to Reagan’s.

Obama will be seen as combative in his direct refutation of certain conservative ideas, and it was especially good to see him argue — in a passage that rather pointedly alluded to Paul Ryan’s worldview — that social insurance programs encourage rather than discourage risk-taking and make us a more, not less, dynamic society. “The commitments we make to each other — through Medicare, and Medicaid, and Social Security — these things do not sap our initiative; they strengthen us,” he said. “They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.” This is one of the most important arguments liberals have made since FDR’s time, and in the face of an aggressive attack now on the very idea of a social insurance state, it was important that Obama make it again.

Yet the president pitched his case by basing it on a long, shared American tradition. He rooted his egalitarian commitments in the promises of our founding. The Declaration of Independence was the driving text– as it was for Martin Luther King, whom we also celebrated today, and as it was for Abraham Lincoln.

Obama’s refrain “We, the people” reminded us that “we” is the very first word of our Constitution and that a commitment to community and the common good is as American Washington, Adams and Jefferson. The passages invoking that phrase spoke of shared responsibility – “we, the people, understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it,” “We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity.” Obama said a powerful “no” to radical individualism (a point my colleague Greg Sargent made well earlier today in the course of a kind and generous reference to my book “Our Divided Political Heart”).

Some will no doubt think (and write) that Obama should have sought more lofty and non-partisan ground. The problem with this critique is that it asks Obama to speak as if the last four years had not happened. It asks him to abandon the arguments he has been making for nearly two years. It asks us to pretend that we do not have a great deal at stake in the large debate over government’s role that we have been having over an even longer period.

Neither Roosevelt nor Reagan gave in to such counsel of philosophical timidity, and both of their speeches are worth rereading in light of Obama’s.

“We of the Republic pledged ourselves to drive from the temple of our ancient faith those who had profaned it,” Roosevelt declared. “[W]e recognized a deeper need—the need to find through government the instrument of our united purpose to solve for the individual the ever-rising problems of a complex civilization. . . . We refused to leave the problems of our common welfare to be solved by the winds of chance and the hurricanes of disaster.”

“In the present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem,” Reagan said. “It is time to check and reverse the growth of government which shows signs of having grown beyond the consent of the governed. It is my intention to curb the size and influence of the Federal establishment and to demand recognition of the distinction between the powers granted to the Federal Government and those reserved to the States or to the people.”

Like these two presidents, Obama offered his fellow citizens the “why” behind what he thought and what he proposed to do — a point made to me after the speech by former Rep. Dave Obey. In my most recent column, I argued that Obama’s re-election (and the way he won it) had liberated him to be “more at ease declaring exactly what he is for and what he is seeking to achieve.” And that is exactly what he did in this speech.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, January 21, 2013

January 22, 2013 Posted by | Inauguration 2013 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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