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“Obama Has Plenty Of Reasons To Smile”: A Useful Reminder That There Is No Such Thing As The “Twilight” Of A Presidency

Attention has been focused on who becomes our next president, but meanwhile the incumbent is on quite a roll.

Throughout his tour of Alaska, President Obama looked full of his old swagger. He took a photo of Denali — the former Mount McKinley — through a window of Air Force One and shared it via Instagram. He used melting glaciers as a backdrop to talk about climate change, posed with small children and large fish, and became the first sitting president to venture north of the Arctic Circle.

He seemed to smile throughout the trip, and why not? The nuclear agreement that Secretary of State John F. Kerry negotiated with Iran is now safe from congressional meddling. U.S. economic growth for the second quarter was a healthy 3.7 percent. Unemployment has fallen to 5.1 percent, according to figures released Friday. Saudi King Salman — portrayed by Obama’s critics as peeved with the president — dropped by the White House on Friday for a chat, reportedly renting an entire luxury hotel for his entourage. And this month, Chinese President Xi Jinping is scheduled to arrive for what promises to be the most important state visit of the year.

Obama gives the impression of having rediscovered the joy of being president. Maybe he really needed that Martha’s Vineyard vacation. Or maybe he is beginning to see some of his long-term policies finally bearing fruit — and his legacy being cemented.

Watching him now is a useful reminder that there is no such thing as the “twilight” of a presidency. Until the day his successor takes office, Obama will be the leading actor on the biggest and most important stage in the world.

It is useful to recall that George W. Bush practically had one foot out the door when the financial system threatened to collapse in 2008. It was Bush and his advisers who put together a massive $700 billion bank bailout and managed to sell it to Congress. Bush signed the rescue bill into law on Oct. 3 — barely a month before his successor would be chosen.

The banks were saved, but nothing could stop the economy from falling into its worst slump since the Great Depression. I believe historians will conclude that one of Obama’s greatest accomplishments was bringing the economy back to real growth and something close to full employment — more slowly than Americans may have wished, perhaps, but steadily.

The Iran deal, in my view, is another remarkable achievement. Beyond the fact that it definitively keeps Tehran from building a nuclear weapon for at least 15 years, the agreement offers Iran’s leaders a path toward renewed membership in the community of nations. The mullahs may decide to remain defiant and isolated, but at least they now have a choice.

Obama’s White House has often been clumsy at inside-the-Beltway politics, but the handling of the Iran deal has been adroit. The drip-drip-drip of announcements from Democratic senators who favor the agreement has created a sense of momentum and inevitability. Now Obama knows that if Congress passes a measure rejecting the deal, he can veto it without fear of being overridden. The question, in fact, is whether a resolution of disapproval can even make it through the Senate. If Obama convinces 41 senators to filibuster the measure, it dies.

All is not sweetness and light, of course. The Syrian civil war is a humanitarian disaster of enormous and tragic proportions, as evidenced by the heartbreaking refugee crisis in Europe. I don’t believe there is anything the United States could have done to prevent the war, but all nations bear a responsibility to help ease the suffering. The fact that some nations refuse to do their share does not absolve us from doing ours.

Domestically, the good economic numbers ignore the fact that middle-class incomes remain stagnant. Even without healthy wage growth, an economic recovery feels better than a slump — but only in relative terms. One doesn’t hear people breaking into “Happy Days Are Here Again.”

All in all, though, it looks like a good time to be President Obama. The Affordable Care Act, as he had hoped, is by now so well-established that no Republican successor could easily eliminate it. Industries are already making plans to accommodate new restrictions on carbon emissions. Oh, and despite what you hear from all the Republican candidates, the border with Mexico is more secure than ever before.

Obama’s legacy will have a few blemishes. But he has good reason to smile.

 

By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, September 7, 2015

September 9, 2015 Posted by | Climate Change, Economy, Iran Nuclear Agreement | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Jeb Accuses Trump Of Being A New Yorker”: That’s The Home Of Rich, Snotty Liberals, Ergo, Trump Must Be A Liberal

Jeb Bush complains that the political media have not treated Donald Trump as a serious candidate. They have not dissected Trump’s eclectic stances, which, a new Bush ad contends, show the populist as a fake conservative.

OK. Labor Day is over. Let’s get serious.

Start with that new Bush ad, titled “The Real Donald Trump.”

The ad opens with Trump on TV saying: “I lived in New York City, in Manhattan, all my life, OK? So, you know, my views are a little bit different than if I lived in Iowa.”

Trump is from New York. Who knew? That’s the home of rich, snotty liberals. Ergo, Trump must be a liberal, or so the serious Bush implies.

When it comes time to raise substantial piles of campaign cash, Jeb seems to like New Yorkers just fine. Indeed, he is a frequent flier to the Manhattan till. Last winter, private equity magnate Henry Kravis threw a fundraiser for Jeb at his Park Avenue spread. The price of admission — $100,000 a ticket — raised eyebrows even on Wall Street.

Oh, yes, we’re supposed to talk about Trump’s policy positions.

The Bush ad has Trump saying years ago that the 25 percent tax rate for high-income people should be “raised substantially.” Do note that Ronald Reagan’s tax reforms left the top marginal rate at 28 percent — and after closing numerous loopholes. Also, capital gains were then taxed as ordinary income, meaning the rate for the wealthiest taxpayers was 28 percent. (The top rate is now 23.8 percent.)

Speaking of the tax code, Trump vows to close the loophole on carried interest. It lets hedge fund managers pay taxes on obviously earned income at a lower rate than their chauffeurs pay. “They’re paying nothing, and it’s ridiculous,” Trump says.

A writer at the conservative Weekly Standard recently asked Bush whether he’d end the deal on carried interest. “Ask me on Sept. 9″ was Bush’s noncommittal answer. That’s when he plans to unfurl his tax reform plan.

The ad has a younger Trump coming out for single-payer health care. That sounds a lot like Medicare.

Trump is shown saying he’s pro-choice on abortion. A recent CBS poll had 61 percent of Republicans opposing a ban on abortion, although many want stricter limits.

About Trump’s being a lifelong New Yorker, well, that’s not entirely true. He spends a good deal of quality time in Palm Beach, Florida.

“Donald is a perfect fit for Palm Beach,” Shannon Donnelly, the society editor for the Palm Beach Daily News (aka “The Shiny Sheet”), told me. “He has an office in New York but is rarely there.”

“We’re overdue for Winter White House,” Donnelly added. “We haven’t had one since that guy from Massachusetts [John F. Kennedy] moved in with all his rambunctious siblings.”

Your author cannot sign off without opining that Trump’s crude remarks about Mexicans should disqualify him from becoming president. The Trump ad tying Bush’s rather liberal thoughts on immigration to faces of Mexican criminals who murdered people in this country is rather disgraceful.

But it is not unlike the Willie Horton ad that Bush’s father, George H.W., ran in his 1988 campaign. Horton had raped a woman after being released from a Massachusetts prison on a weekend furlough. The Democratic candidate, Michael Dukakis, was Massachusetts’ governor at the time. The elder Bush’s ads continually flashed Horton’s picture in what many considered a stereotype of a scary black man.

“By the time we’re finished,” Bush campaign manager Lee Atwater said, “they’re going to wonder whether Willie Horton is Dukakis’ running mate.”

Let’s get serious about Trump’s record? Yes, and the same goes for everyone else’s.

 

By: Froma Harrop, The National Memo, September 8, 2015

September 9, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, New York City | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Waiting For Their Nixon”: Reformicons Horrified To Look In The Political Mirror And See The Scary Clown Face Of Trump Leering Back

A small but influential group of conservative intellectuals hoped that this presidential cycle could produce a ice-breaking debate in the GOP ranks over the party’s iron commitment to certain economic and fiscal orthodoxies that had proved impolitic to middle class voters, including the white working class voters (remember “Sam’s Club Republicans”?) who had recently become a key segment of the party base.

Well, the “reformicons” got more than they bargained for. As Josh Barro’s New York Times op-ed over the weekend archly pointed out, the current GOP presidential front-runner shares their disdain for the old-time religion of tax cuts for the wealthy financed by “entitlement reform,” and the hostility many of them have for comprehensive immigration reform as well. But your typical urbane reformicon is horrified to look into the political mirror and see the scary clown face of Donald Trump leering back at him or her.

It’s an awkward thing: The reform conservative movement, to the extent it exists, is pointy-headed, technocratic and soft-spoken. Mr. Trump is none of those things. But his campaign has helped bolster a key argument from the reformocons: that many Republican voters are not devotees of supply-side economics and are more interested in the right kind of government than in a simply smaller one.

“There were a lot of people who wanted to think the Tea Party is a straightforward libertarian movement,” said Reihan Salam, the executive editor of National Review. But he said Mr. Trump’s ability to lead the polls while attacking Republicans for wanting to cut entitlement programs showed that conservative voters are open to “government programs that help the right people.”

Indeed, so long as “the right people” means their own selves and “the wrong people” are those people. It’s always been a bit ironic that the reformicons claim a sort of kinship to the Tea Party, but prefer pols like Marco Rubio even as the Tea Folk themselves gravitate to the Sarah Palins and the Donald Trumps. And so they are torn between the impulse to declare Trump-o-mania a vindication of their prophecies and the healthy desire to distance themselves from racist demagoguery. One very prominent reformicon Barro talked with, David Frum, has the obvious if unappealing analogy in mind:

In an analogy that won’t make anyone very comfortable, [Frum] said Mr. Trump could be useful in the same way George Wallace was in 1968: “Wallace talked about a lot of issues, many of them pretty dismaying, but he also seized on the crime issue. Crime was rising fast, and it was not an issue that respectable politicians wanted to talk about. The result was that Richard Nixon stole his issue and deracialized it.”

Well, not exactly. Pressed on whether Nixon’s anticrime language could really be considered deracialized, Mr. Frum argued Nixon “diminished its racialism and incorporated it into something like a workable policy agenda.”

If Mr. Trump is Wallace in this analogy, then the reform conservatives are still waiting for their Nixon. Whether that’s a hopeful prospect or an alarming one is up to you.

So reformicons are joining the ever-swelling ranks–right there next to an awful lot of Democrats–of those who view Trump the way some fifth century Christians viewed Attila the Hun–as a Scourge of God sent to rebuke arrogant and decadent imperial elites. But I’d advise they avoid mirrors.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, September 8, 2015

September 9, 2015 Posted by | Conservatives, Donald Trump, Reformicons | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Kentucky’s Kim Davis Is Out Of Jail, But For How Long?”: Her Defiant Stand Seems Likely To Land Davis Right Back In Jail

At a distance, it’s understandable why U.S. District Judge David Bunning agreed today to release Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis from jail. Bunning locked Davis up last week after she brazenly defied a court order, but in the days since, the clerk’s office has begun honoring the law and issuing marriage licenses to all couples, not just those Davis finds morally acceptable.

With this in mind, the Kentucky clerk, who believes she has “God’s authority” to ignore laws she doesn’t like, walked out of a detention center this afternoon, to the hearty applause of an assembled group of conservative activists. MSNBC’s Emma Margolin reported, however, the next question is how long it might take before Davis is jailed once more.

[Davis’] attorney said that Davis would continue to abide by her conscience, which cannot condone same-sex nuptials, and that all licenses issued since her incarceration were not valid.

The defiant stand seems likely to land Davis right back in jail….

In this morning’s court order, Judge Bunning, a George W. Bush appointee and the son of a former far-right senator, said he is “satisfied that the Rowan County Clerk’s Office is fulfilling its obligation to issue marriage licenses to all legally eligible couples,” consistent with the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage equality. As a result, Bunning lifted the contempt sanction against Davis and she was free to go.

So, problem solved, right? Wrong.

Bunning’s order specifically said that Davis, her religious beliefs notwithstanding, “shall not interfere in any way, directly or indirectly, with the efforts of her deputy clerks to issue marriage licenses to all legally eligible couples.”

But as the MSNBC report added, Davis’s lawyer, Liberty Counsel’s Mat Staver, suggested she’s likely to defy this order, too.

“She cannot allow a license authorizing same-sex marriage to go under her authority or name,” Staver said in an interview with NBC News’ Gabe Gutierrez, ahead of Davis’ release. “That’s been her position from the beginning and that will be her position, I assume, on any subsequent occasion. She’s asking for a simple fix, a simple accommodation.”

 “We’re back to square one,” he added. “She’s been released. But there has been no resolution.”

In this case, the “simple accommodation” will not include Davis honoring the law, or following court orders, or fulfilling her oath of office, or even finding a job where her responsibilities aren’t in conflict with her religious principles. When Staver says “simple accommodation,” he effectively means “the legal authority to block marriages Davis doesn’t like.”*

If you read MaddowBlog over the weekend, you know that Staver leads a right-wing legal group created by the late Jerry Falwell. Staver has argued, more than once, that Kim Davis is comparable to a Jewish person living under Nazi rule. He wasn’t kidding.

As for the politics of all of this, while we wait for Davis to end up in jail again, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) – two second-tier Republican presidential candidates – went to almost comedic lengths to exploit the Kentucky controversy to advance their own personal ambitions.

* Update: One other possible accommodation that’s come up is removing Davis’ name from licenses issued by this clerk’s office. That said, if Davis interferes with her colleagues fulfilling their official duties, this may prove insufficient.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Madow Blog, September 8, 2015

September 9, 2015 Posted by | Kim Davis, Marriage Equality, Rule of Law | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Defiance Of The Right-Wing Opposition”: Iran Debate; Clinton Steps Up To Oppose The Demagogues

When Sarah Palin joins Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and a motley crew of crazies in Washington this week to rally against the Iran nuclear deal, the speeches are likely to reflect the incoherence of the opposition. None of these right-wing celebrities appears to comprehend its terms, how it was negotiated or – most important – why its failure would probably lead to yet another horrific war.

On that same day, as Cruz, Trump, and Palin blather on about their love of Israel, their hatred for Barack Obama, and their determination to “make America great again,” someone else will step up to support the agreement – someone whose diplomatic efforts laid the groundwork for successful negotiations with Tehran.

That would be Hillary Rodham Clinton, the former Secretary of State and leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. Scheduling a major speech on the Iran deal for the same day as the Washington event, Clinton is plainly determined to display her mastery of its details as well as her defiance of the right-wing opposition.

But this speech — which could become one of the best moments in public life — will also prove just how far she has come since the last time she ran for president.

That’s because Iran was the subject of one of the most troubling moments in her 2008 campaign, when she promised to “totally obliterate” that country (and presumably its 70 million-plus population) if the mullahs ever attacked Israel with a nuclear weapon. Having uttered that genocidal threat in response to a provocative question, she reiterated the same bluster a few days later on ABC News’ This Week.

“I want the Iranians to know that if I’m the president, we will attack Iran [if they attack Israel with nuclear weapons]. And I want them to understand that. … I think we have to be very clear about what we would do,” she told host George Stephanopoulos.

At the time, in early May 2008, it wasn’t clear why the Iranians needed to “understand” any such ultimatum, since our own intelligence showed that they neither had nuclear weapons nor were likely to possess such weapons any time soon – and that the Israeli military was (and is) fully capable of nuclear retaliation. Clinton’s harsh rhetoric seemed to be aimed more directly at Obama, her primary opponent, whose aim of negotiating with traditional enemies like Tehran she had denounced as “naïve.”

Those who expected better from her pointed to her Mideast advisors, who advocated an opening to Iran, and to her own previous remarks about the imperative of talking with “bad people” as a sign of strength, not weakness. But at that moment, she seemed to echo John McCain and the “bomb Iran” chorus among the Republicans.

Much has changed since 2008, of course – including the leadership of the Iranian government. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the aggressive Holocaust denier who held the Iranian presidency back then, gave way in 2013 to Hassan Rouhani, a reformer who wants to end his country’s international isolation. Thanks in part to Clinton’s work as Secretary of State, a powerful and unprecedented international alliance enforced real sanctions that finally pushed Iran into serious negotiations. And since those negotiations began, Rouhani’s government has heeded the required limitations on its nuclear activities.

Perhaps Clinton hasn’t changed. After all, she has always believed that diplomacy, aid, and other aspects of American power are just as fundamental to our security as military force. But she has found a balance and a voice that are more vital than ever in a contest against irresponsible politicians, whose demagogy points us again toward war.

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, Editors Blog, Featured Post, The National Memo, September 8, 2015

September 9, 2015 Posted by | Hillary Clinton, Iran Nuclear Agreement, Republicans | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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