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“Hope And Change 2012”: Building On An Existing Narrative With A Forward Vision

The man who ran on hope and change didn’t walk away from them. He redefined them for the long haul.

And a president who has been accused of being a collectivist and a socialist didn’t abandon a vision of shared burdens and purposes. He replied forcefully with a call for a renewal of citizenship, “the idea that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another, and to future generations.”

“We, the people, recognize that we have responsibilities as well as rights,” he declared, “that our destinies are bound together; that a freedom that only asks what’s in it for me, a freedom without commitment to others, a freedom without love or charity or duty or patriotism, is unworthy of our founding ideals, and those who died in their defense.

Rarely has an American election been defined by such a sharp clash of philosophies. When Obama told a fired-up Convention crowd that the contest will involve “the clearest choice of any time in a generation” and “a choice between two fundamentally different visions for the future,” he was not exaggerating. On Wednesday, he took the Republicans’ new radical individualism head on.

Obama’s was a speech aimed less at shaking up the campaign than in building on an existing narrative. The president did not defend his economic record. He left that to Bill Clinton. He did not even promise rapid recovery. On the contrary, he told voters: “I won’t pretend the path I’m offering is quick and easy.”

Indeed, he seemed to reach back to John F. Kennedy’s call on the nation to ask not what the country could do for them, but what they could do for the country. “As citizens,” Obama said, “we understand that America is not about what can be done for us. It’s about what can be done by us, together, through the hard and frustrating work of self-government.”

And thus his redefinition of hope and change. Faced with assertions that he can no longer inspire the elation he called forth four years ago, Obama challenged those who had supported him to stay in the fight for the longer-term and do the work required for saving their original vision.

“If you turn away now — if you buy into the cynicism that the change we fought for isn’t possible…well, change will not happen,” the president said. “If you give up on the idea that your voice can make a difference, then other voices will fill the void: lobbyists and special interests; the people with the $10 million checks who are trying to buy this election and those who are making it harder for you to vote. . . .”

Of course, this is an election, not a philosophical exercise, so Obama was concrete about his differences with Mitt Romney and the Republicans’ vision of a spare government that would ask even less of the already successful. He criticized his foes on Medicare and Social Security, on their refusal to accept any deficit plans that included higher taxes on the wealthy, on education spending and tuition aid.

“Over and over, we have been told by our opponents that bigger tax cuts and fewer regulations are the only way; that since government can’t do everything, it should do almost nothing,” he said. “If you can’t afford health insurance, hope that you don’t get sick. If a company releases toxic pollution into the air your children breathe, well, that’s just the price of progress.”

And he mocked the GOP’s diagnosis of more tax cuts in all economic circumstances: “Feel a cold coming on? Take two tax cuts, roll back some regulations, and call us in the morning!”

In defining his vision for “moving forward,” Obama spoke more of goals than of policies, highlighting an expansion of manufacturing, energy independence, education and job training, and climate change, an issue that has largely been absent from the public discussion since 2010.

Politicians usually run campaigns based on what they will do, or have done, for voters. Obama will certainly do his share of this, and did some of it Thursday.

Yet his heart seems not to lie in transactional politics. He prefers challenges to promises, obligations to privileges, reason to emotion. “The path we offer may be harder,” he said, “but it leads to a better place.” This is not a typical campaign pledge. It implies neither ease nor comfort but burdens worth bearing and responsibilities worth shouldering. It is still a form of hope, but one that requires far more than going to rallies and cheering.


By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, September 7, 2012


September 7, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Right Policies, The Right Politics”: Seven Things President Obama Did Very Well In His Acceptance Speech

Game on, now. President Obama fired ’em up tonight and now all sides are ready to go officially on to the fall campaign which will be the visible manifestation of the “avalanche of money and advertising” which President Obama warned about. That onslaught will be punctuated three times in October by the presidential debates (oh I know, Joe Biden and Paul Ryan will spar once as well, but I’m talking about the main event). The president’s speech marked the last national moment before those debates and his best single chance to make his case to the country.

That case is getting mixed initial reviews from the punditverse, especially for lacking in programmatic specifics. Here are seven things he did right:

Working the values. For 20 years, winning Democrats have focused on the values of hard work and playing by the rules. They appeal to swing voters and they help inoculate the party of activist government from charges that they want to give hand outs to the undeserving poor at the cost of the suffering middle class. Obama repeatedly emphasized the formulation of hard work and equal opportunity, defining the American dream as “the promise that hard work will pay off; that responsibility will be rewarded; that everyone gets a fair shot, and everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same rules.” And later: “We insist on personal responsibility and we celebrate individual initiative. We’re not entitled to success. We have to earn it.”

A balancing act. Democrats (not unreasonably) paint the GOP as a party that has been lost to rigid ideologues unwilling to compromise. In his speech tonight Obama worked to present a nuanced view of governance, not only explicitly saying that “no party has a monopoly on wisdom,” but on a couple of other instances acknowledging the limitations of his party’s animating philosophy of active government. He cautioned the party of FDR, for example, that “not every problem can be remedied with another government program or dictate from Washington.”

Choose or lose. Since the start of the campaign, Team Obama has been determined to not let this election simply devolve into a referendum on the president’s record. In their view, the president’s clearest path to victory was to turn it into a choice between two competing visions—and while the Romney campaign initially seemed intent on a referendum campaign, their selection of Rep. Paul Ryan as vice presidential nominee solidified the choice narrative. Obama drove that frame, mentioning the notion of a choice or voters choosing at least 10 times in the first half of the speech, which was the more policy-oriented part of it.

Commanding-in-chief. Obama saluted the military, not simply those currently serving but those who have come home and are still owed a debt of thanks from the nation they served. This section had the dual value of being the right policy but also the right politics, exploiting Romney’s silence regarding the troops last week. It’s true that voters won’t cast their ballots based on foreign policy issues, but this respect for the military becomes one factor shaping Americans’ overall view of Obama as president and commander in chief. And in the longer term, Obama has an opportunity to close the gap Democrats have had on national security issues for more than 30 years.

Map to the future. According to Democratic pollster Celinda Lake, focus group participants’ number one question for Obama had been where he wants to take the country in a second term. And while he may not have laid out a State of the Union-style policy blueprint, he set out signposts for what he wants to accomplish.

Sober poetry. The president has a well deserved reputation as an accomplished orator, but the nation’s mood and his own incumbency present a challenge to his instinct for a singing speech. He tempered it by emphasizing—in a manner reminiscent of John F. Kennedy and his campaign for a “New Frontier” of challenges—that he doesn’t promise an easy road. “The path we offer may be harder,” he told voters, “but it leads to a better place.”

No change on hope. Even in times that require a somber note, however, voters want aspiration and optimism. It’s a truism in politics that the most optimistic candidate wins the election and so Obama was wise to end on a note that acknowledged the tough times but expressed unalloyed optimism (though it might have been hard to hear over the roar of the crowd): “We draw strength from our victories, and we learn from our mistakes, but we keep our eyes fixed on that distant horizon, knowing that Providence is with us, and that we are surely blessed to be citizens of the greatest nation on Earth.” Amen.


By: Robert Schlesinger, U. S. News and World Report, September 7, 2012

September 7, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Sensible Plan, An Obstructionist GOP”: The American Jobs Act One Year Later

On September 8, 2011 — exactly one year ago tomorrow — President Obama delivered an important speech to a joint session of Congress. In it, the president unveiled a proposal he called the American Jobs Act.

You may recall the economic circumstances at the time, and how similar they are to 2012 — though job growth looked strong in the early months of the year, the summer proved disappointing. Obama sought to shift the national conversation away from austerity and towards job creation, and presented a sensible plan, filled with ideas that have traditionally enjoyed bipartisan support.

Independent analysis projected the American Jobs Act, which was fully paid for, could create as many as 2 million jobs in 2012.

I mention this now because what happened a year ago is incredibly relevant to what’s happening now. This morning’s jobs report was disappointing, and we know exactly how the political world will digest the news — if the job market is underperforming, it’s Obama who’ll get the blame.

There’s not much I can do to change the course of that conversation, but if we’re going to play the blame game, we should at least try to keep some semblance of reality in mind.

The American electorate was clamoring for action on jobs; the Obama White House crafted a credible plan that would be helping enormously right now; and congressional Republicans reflexively killed the Americans Jobs Act for partisan and ideological reasons.

With this recent history in mind, how are we to assign responsibility for high unemployment? Should we condemn the person who threw the job market a life preserver, or those who pushed it away? Or put another way, are we better off now as a result of Republican obstructionism and intransigence, or would we have been better off if the popular and effective job-creation measures had been approved?

By any reasonable measure, the GOP argument, which will be trumpeted loudly today, is completely incoherent — they were wrong a year ago and now we’re paying the price.

As we talked about in June, for Republicans, when there’s discouraging economic news, Obama deserves all the blame. When there’s good economic news, Obama deserves none of the credit. Job losses in 2010 were Obama’s fault; job gains in early 2011 and 2012 have nothing do to with Obama; and tepid growth in the spring of 2012 are back to being Obama’s fault again.

Remember learning the “heads I win, tails you lose” game as a kid? It’s the GOP’s argument in a nutshell — whether the president deserves credit or blame for a monthly jobs report is due entirely to whether the report is encouraging or not.

But even this doesn’t go far enough in explaining the absurdity on display. If we’re going to assign blame to Washington policymakers for the state of the nation’s job market, how is it, exactly, that Congress bears no responsibility at all? This is, after all, a Republican-led Congress that has plenty of time to fight a culture war — I’ve lost count of the anti-abortion bills that have reached the House floor — but has shown passive disinterest to the jobs crisis.

Follow this pattern of events:

1. With the job market struggling, Obama unveils the American Jobs Act, a State of the Union agenda filled with economic measures, and an economic “to-do list.”

2. Republican lawmakers ignore the proposals, and the job market deteriorates.

3. The GOP then blames Obama for the failure his policies, which Congress didn’t pass.

The accepted truth this morning is that weak job numbers are absolute, concrete, incontrovertible proof that the president’s jobs agenda isn’t working. News flash: we aren’t trying Obama’s jobs agenda.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, September 7, 2012

September 7, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Choice Between Two Supreme Court’s: This November, A Chance To Vote On Citizens United

In today’s polarized political climate, there are a few things on which American voters overwhelmingly agree. For all our disputes, we can find common ground in this: we’re completely fed up. About 80 percent of us don’t think Congress is doing a good job. Only about one third of us view the federal government favorably. In a precipitous drop, less than half of Americans have a favorable view of the Supreme Court. Across all political lines, 75 percentof Americans say there is too much money in politics, and about the same percentage think this glut of money in politics gives the rich more power than the rest in our democracy.

Interestingly, another thing that most Americans have in common is that 80 percent of us have never heard of Citizens United v. FEC, the case in which the Supreme Court ruled that corporations have a First Amendment right to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections. Our feelings of frustration with Washington are deeply connected with the widespread, and entirely founded, suspicion that our elected officials aren’t representing voters, but are instead indebted to the wealthy interests that pay for their campaigns. This distrust has only deepened as politicians and the courts have handed over more and more power to those with the deepest pockets.

Citizens United is only the most famous of the recent spate of Supreme Court decisions aimed at eliminating hard-won campaign finance regulations. In fact, shortly before Citizens United, the George W. Bush-created right-wing bloc of the Supreme Court issued major rulings that had already begun to undermine decades of federal clean election laws.

And we are only partway down the slippery slope. It keeps getting worse as the Supreme Court gradually dismantles state-level clean elections laws, as it did in Arizona, and clarifies that its sweeping decision in Citizens United applies to states as well, as it did in Montana. Indeed, it won’t be long before this or some future right-wing Supreme Court cuts to the chase and lifts the century-old ban on direct corporate contributions to political candidates, one of the most basic checks we have against widespread corruption.

Believe it or not, this November, we’ll have the chance to vote on whether this slippery slope continues, or whether we stop it and roll it back. Each of these regressive campaign finance rulings has had a monumental impact on our democracy. It’s easy to forget that they have been made by one-vote 5-4 majorities of the Supreme Court. That means we’re just one Supreme Court vote away from stopping the trend in its tracks — and even reversing it. Although Mitt Romney has flip-flopped on many issues, he’s crystal clear about how he feels on this issue and exactly what kind of judge he would appoint to the Supreme Court and the lower federal courts. He has said he believes “corporations are people” and he means it. He’s promised to nominate more Supreme Court justices like the ones who handed down Citizens United. And his chief judicial adviser, former judge Robert Bork, is legendary in his opposition to individual voting rights while advocating expansive corporate power. On this issue in particular, President Obama has been very clear and comes down unambiguously on the opposite side. Look no further than his Supreme Court picks so far. Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor have consistently resisted the right-wing court’s radical transformation of our democracy. In fact, his nominees now represent half the votes in the High Court who are standing up for democracy against “government by and for” the highest bidder.

Some 2008 Obama voters may not be thrilled by the last four years. Some may even be considering giving Mitt Romney a chance, despite their misgivings. But no matter who your candidate is, what issues you care about or on what side you come down on them, most importantly your vote this November will likely determine the Supreme Court for a generation. If Romney has the opportunity to replace one of the more moderate Supreme Court justices, the Court’s far-right majority will not remain narrow. The votes will be there to dismantle any remaining limits of money in politics for the foreseeable future. Conversely, future Obama appointments give Americans the chance to halt this downward spiral and the opportunity to reclaim our democracy.

Whatever the issues you most care about, this November’s election will be a choice between two Supreme Courts. And the two alternatives could not be more different. Quite simply, this is the chance that the overwhelming majority of Americans — who recognize that there is too much money in politics and that it is corrupting our government at every level — finally have to vote on it.

Will we seize this opportunity?


By: Michael B. Keegan, The Huffington Post, September 6, 2012


September 7, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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