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“Learning From Obama”: Voters Have Lately Been Given A Taste Of What Really Bad Leaders Look Like

Like many political junkies, I’ve been spending far too much time looking at polls and trying to understand their implications. Can Donald Trump really win his party’s nomination? (Yes.) Can Bernie Sanders? (No.) But the primaries aren’t the only things being polled; we’re still getting updates on President Obama’s overall approval. And something striking has happened on that front.

At the end of 2015 Mr. Obama was still underwater, with significantly more Americans disapproving than approving. Since then, however, his approval has risen sharply while disapproval has plunged. He’s still only in modestly positive territory, but the net movement in polling averages has been about 11 percentage points, which is a lot.

What’s going on?

Well, one answer is that voters have lately been given a taste of what really bad leaders look like. But I’d like to think that the public is also starting to realize just how successful the Obama administration has been in addressing America’s problems. And there are lessons from that success for those willing to learn.

I know that it’s hard for many people on both sides to wrap their minds around the notion of Obama-as-success. On the left, those caught up in the enthusiasms of 2008 feel let down by the prosaic reality of governing in a deeply polarized political system. Meanwhile, conservative ideology predicts disaster from any attempt to tax the rich, help the less fortunate and rein in the excesses of the market; and what are you going to believe, the ideology or your own lying eyes?

But the successes are there for all to see.

Start with the economy. You might argue that presidents don’t have as much effect on economic performance as voters seem to imagine — especially presidents facing scorched-earth opposition from Congress for most of their time in office. But that misses the point: Republicans have spent the past seven years claiming incessantly that Mr. Obama’s policies are a “job killing” disaster, destroying business incentives, so it’s important news if the economy has performed well.

And it has: We’ve gained 10 million private-sector jobs since Mr. Obama took office, and unemployment is below 5 percent. True, there are still some areas of disappointment — low labor force participation, weak wage growth. But just imagine the boasting we’d be hearing if Mitt Romney occupied the White House.

Then there’s health reform, which has (don’t tell anyone) been meeting its goals.

Back in 2012, just after the Supreme Court made it possible for states to reject the Medicaid expansion, the Congressional Budget Office predicted that by now 89 percent of the nonelderly population would be covered; the actual number is 90 percent.

The details have been something of a surprise: fewer people than expected signing up on the exchanges, but fewer employers than expected dropping coverage, and more people signing up for Medicaid — which means, incidentally, that Obamacare is looking much more like a single-payer system than anyone seems to realize. But the point is that reform has indeed delivered the big improvements in coverage it promised, and has done so at lower cost than expected.

Then there’s financial reform, which the left considers toothless and the right considers destructive. In fact, while the big banks haven’t been broken up, excessive leverage — the real threat to financial stability — has been greatly reduced. And as for the economic effects, have I mentioned how well we’ve done on job creation?

Last but one hopes not least, the Obama administration has used executive authority to take steps on the environment that, if not canceled by a Republican president and upheld by future Supreme Courts, will amount to very significant action on climate change.

All in all, it’s quite a record. Assuming Democrats hold the presidency, Mr. Obama will emerge as a hugely consequential president — more than Reagan. And I’m sure Republicans will learn a lot from his achievements.

April fools!

Seriously, there is essentially no chance that conservatives, whose ideas haven’t changed in decades, will reconsider their dogma. But maybe progressives will be more open-minded.

The 2008 election didn’t bring the political transformation Obama enthusiasts expected, nor did it destroy the power of the vested interests: Wall Street, the medical-industrial complex and the fossil fuel lobby are all still out there, using their money to buy influence. But they have been pushed back in ways that have made American lives better and more secure.

The lesson of the Obama years, in other words, is that success doesn’t have to be complete to be very real. You say you want a revolution? Well, you can’t always get what you want — but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, April 1, 2016

April 3, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP Primaries, President Obama | , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Bernie Sanders Is Not The Left’s Ron Paul”: Representing A Wing Of The Democratic Party Whose Influence Is Increasing

Ever since Bernie Sanders, the independent senator from Vermont, announced that he would seek the Democratic nomination for president, he has drawn comparisons to a similarly disheveled, longtime politician with a cult-like following and a strong independent streak: former Congressman Ron Paul, who ran for the Republican nomination in 2008 and 2012. It’s true that Sanders and Paul have a lot in common: They both have rabid fan bases, don’t hold their tongues, and embrace ideologies that are rejected by the establishment of their respective parties. And like Paul, Sanders could challenge his party’s frontrunner early on, but doesn’t stand much of a chance of winning the nomination. As Slate’s Jamelle Bouie wrote this week:

Sanders won’t be the Democratic nominee. But that doesn’t mean he won’t be important. Here, it’s useful to think of Ron Paul … He helped bridge the divide between libertarians and the Republican right, and he inspired a new group of conservative and libertarian activists who have made a mark in the GOP through Paul’s son, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul. If Sanders can sustain and capture the left-wing enthusiasm for his campaign, he could do the same for progressives.

I disagree; Sanders’s campaign isn’t simply one that will put “democratic socialist” ideas on stage against a more mainstream Democratic view, as Paul sought to do with his libertarian ideas. Rather, his candidacy represents a wing of the Democratic Party whose influence on the establishment is increasing with each election, as moderate Democrats (and their Republican counterparts) become extinct.

For a more apt Republican analog to Sanders’ campaign, one must go back to 2000. John McCain, like Sanders, was thought to have little chance to defeat George W. Bush, who, as the son of a former president and governor of a major electoral state, had more money and more party support. But McCain harnessed the anti-establishment sentiment of the time to build a strong online following, at a time when the internet’s infancy as a political tool. He fought a hard campaign against Bush, even winning the New Hampshire primary, before being knocked out of the race in early March.

Apart from the major issue of campaign finance reform, however, he had very little major policy or ideological differences with Bush and the Republican establishment. What set him apart was his press-appointed “maverick” status: He was willing to say things in public that no other candidate would—what David Foster Wallace, in his classic profile of the McCain campaign, called “obvious truths that everyone knows but no recent politician anywhere’s had the stones to say.” (His campaign bus was even called the “Straight Talk Express.”)

Likewise, Sanders refuses to hold his tongue. In June, he opened an interview with HBO’s Bill Maher by saying, “This campaign is about a radical idea: we’re going to tell the truth.” And that message seems to be working with liberals and even disaffected voters. As one New Hampshire resident, a self-described undecided independent voter, told The New Republic recently, “Do I think he can win? No. But I do like the somewhat fresh take of being a straight shooter.”

And much like Bush and McCain fifteen years ago, Clinton and Sanders are closer on the issues than a lot of progressives would like to admit. Sanders is championing reforms—a legislative or constitutional fix to Citizens United, universal healthcare, increased regulation of the financial system, income inequality—that most Democrats have supported for years, including Clinton; she was the face of the universal healthcare fight during Bill Clinton’s first term and has focused on income inequality and Citizens United in her 2016 campaign. Similarly, McCain’s biggest issues in that 2000 campaign—national defense and the Middle East—would define the Bush administration and the neoconservative movement as a whole for the next decade.

On the major issues that Sanders and Clinton disagree on—the extent to which the banking system should be reformed, surveillance, and free trade—Sanders’s position is just as popular within the party as Clinton’s, if not more so. These are the battles for the future of the Democratic Party, and where both Sanders and Clinton will seek to stake out a position independent of the other. And in those few instances where McCain and Bush disagreed, like the McCain-led campaign reform act, a McCain bill that expanded rights for terrorism detainees, and how much of a role social conservatism should play in the Republican Party, the disagreements were public.

McCain’s challenge to Bush was ultimately unsuccessful, but both were neoconservatives working toward the same goal. McCain campaigned for Bush, voted with the administration’s position 95 percent of the time, and was an ardent supporter of the war in Iraq. Although we can’t possibly know how often Sanders would vote with a hypothetical Clinton administration, we do know they voted together during their two years spent as Senate colleagues 93 percent of the time. And given Sanders’s endorsement of Obama in 2008 and 2012, it’s likely that, should he lose, he would throw his weight behind Clinton. John McCain may not have liked Bush much, but he supported him in both 2000 and 2004. In 2008, Ron Paul snubbed both McCain and the Libertarian Party candidate, instead endorsing the Constitution Party candidate, and refused to “fully support” Mitt Romney in 2012.

Similar to 2000, a dark-horse candidate running a candid campaign has emerged as the principal challenger to the frontrunner, one he’s a long shot to defeat. And like that first McCain bid for the presidency, Sanders’s loss would be because Clinton is a strong nominee who is more well-known and deemed an acceptable general election candidate to a majority of Democrats—not because his ideas are too fringe, as Paul’s were in his campaigns, for his party’s base.

 

By: Paul Blest, The New Republic, July 9, 2015

July 11, 2015 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, Ron Paul | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“It Takes A Party”: Personality-Based Political Analysis Is Always A Dubious Venture

So Hillary Clinton is officially running, to nobody’s surprise. And you know what’s coming: endless attempts to psychoanalyze the candidate, endless attempts to read significance into what she says or doesn’t say about President Obama, endless thumb-sucking about her “positioning” on this or that issue.

Please pay no attention. Personality-based political analysis is always a dubious venture — in my experience, pundits are terrible judges of character. Those old enough to remember the 2000 election may also remember how we were assured that George W. Bush was a nice, affable fellow who would pursue moderate, bipartisan policies.

In any case, there has never been a time in American history when the alleged personal traits of candidates mattered less. As we head into 2016, each party is quite unified on major policy issues — and these unified positions are very far from each other. The huge, substantive gulf between the parties will be reflected in the policy positions of whomever they nominate, and will almost surely be reflected in the actual policies adopted by whoever wins.

For example, any Democrat would, if elected, seek to maintain the basic U.S. social insurance programs — Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid — in essentially their current form, while also preserving and extending the Affordable Care Act. Any Republican would seek to destroy Obamacare, make deep cuts in Medicaid, and probably try to convert Medicare into a voucher system.

Any Democrat would retain the tax hikes on high-income Americans that went into effect in 2013, and possibly seek more. Any Republican would try to cut taxes on the wealthy — House Republicans plan to vote next week to repeal the estate tax — while slashing programs that aid low-income families.

Any Democrat would try to preserve the 2010 financial reform, which has recently been looking much more effective than critics suggested. Any Republican would seek to roll it back, eliminating both consumer protection and the extra regulation applied to large, “systemically important” financial institutions.

And any Democrat would try to move forward on climate policy, through executive action if necessary, while any Republican — whether or not he is an outright climate-science denialist — would block efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

How did the parties get this far apart? Political scientists suggest that it has a lot to do with income inequality. As the wealthy grow richer compared with everyone else, their policy preferences have moved to the right — and they have pulled the Republican Party ever further in their direction. Meanwhile, the influence of big money on Democrats has at least eroded a bit, now that Wall Street, furious over regulations and modest tax hikes, has deserted the party en masse. The result is a level of political polarization not seen since the Civil War.

Now, some people won’t want to acknowledge that the choices in the 2016 election are as stark as I’ve asserted. Political commentators who specialize in covering personalities rather than issues will balk at the assertion that their alleged area of expertise matters not at all. Self-proclaimed centrists will look for a middle ground that doesn’t actually exist. And as a result, we’ll hear many assertions that the candidates don’t really mean what they say. There will, however, be an asymmetry in the way this supposed gap between rhetoric and real views is presented.

On one side, suppose that Ms. Clinton is indeed the Democratic nominee. If so, you can be sure that she’ll be accused, early and often, of insincerity, of not being the populist progressive she claims to be.

On the other side, suppose that the Republican nominee is a supposed moderate like Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio. In either case we’d be sure to hear many assertions from political pundits that the candidate doesn’t believe a lot of what he says. But in their cases this alleged insincerity would be presented as a virtue, not a vice — sure, Mr. Bush is saying crazy things about health care and climate change, but he doesn’t really mean it, and he’d be reasonable once in office. Just like his brother.

As you can probably tell, I’m dreading the next 18 months, which will be full of sound bites and fury, signifying nothing. O.K., I guess we might learn a few things — Where will Ms. Clinton come out on trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership? How much influence will Republican Fed-bashers exert? — but the differences between the parties are so clear and dramatic that it’s hard to see how anyone who has been paying attention could be undecided even now, or be induced to change his or her mind between now and the election.

One thing is for sure: American voters will be getting a real choice. May the best party win.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, April 15, 2015

April 19, 2015 Posted by | Democrats, Election 2016, Republicans | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“GOP Lawmakers Hit The Ground Running To The Far-Right”: House Republican Leaders Still Haven’t Mastered The Art Of Vote-Counting

In the weeks immediately following the 2014 midterm elections, there was an enormous amount of talk about the need to avoid “poisoning the well.” The point seemed to be, policymakers should be cautious about picking political fights in order to avoid partisan rancor in the new Congress.

Clearly, those concerns have been thrown out a Capitol Hill window.

House Democrats on Wednesday knocked down a GOP bill that would have delayed a key Wall Street reform known as the Volcker Rule, stunning Republican leaders who had expected it to pass with ease. […]

The bill would have allowed banks to hang onto billions of dollars in risky collateralized loan obligations for two additional years by amending the Volcker Rule, which is part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform law. The rule bans banks from speculating in securities markets with taxpayer funds, requiring them to dump their CLO holdings. A Volcker Rule delay would be a major boon to the nation’s largest banks.

Note, a majority of the House voted for the measure, but because Republican leaders brought the bill up under the suspension calendar, it needed a two-thirds majority to pass. It fell far short.There are a few ways to look at yesterday’s failure. The first, of course, is that House Republican leaders still haven’t mastered the art of vote-counting. The second is that GOP lawmakers clearly remain committed to using their power to do Wall Street’s bidding.

But even putting that aside, let’s not miss the forest for the trees: on only the second day of the new Congress, House Republicans immediately turned their attention to a controversial proposal, backed by financial-industry lobbyists. These guys really aren’t wasting any time.

Indeed, it’s amazing to see just how aggressive the new Republican majority has been since taking its oath of office on Tuesday.

Barring crisis conditions, the start of a new Congress can generally be compared to the start of new school year: folks like to get settled in before tackling a lot of work. On Capitol Hill, some members, especially the freshmen, are still unpacking and learning their way around.

And it’s against this backdrop that House Republicans this week are voting to undermine the Volcker Rule, undermine Social Security, undermine the Affordable Care Act, approve the Keystone pipeline, and impose irresponsible “dynamic scoring” rules – all in the first three days.

It’s one thing when lawmakers furiously try to get stuff done before the end of a Congress – they tend to move quickly when facing an inflexible deadline – but the House GOP majority seems desperate to get this new Congress off to a fast, far-right start, just for the sake of doing so.

What’s more, we’re not even going to touch the newly introduced legislation – including major new abortion restrictions proposed yesterday – which will be considered in the weeks and months to come. I’m just talking about measures on the House floor this opening week.

E.J. Dionne Jr. reminded us this morning, “This will be no ordinary Congress.” Republicans are eager to prove this prediction true.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Madow Blog, January 9, 2014

January 11, 2015 Posted by | Congress, GOP, House Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Heads We Win, Tails The Taxpayers Lose”: Wall Street’s Revenge; Dodd-Frank Damaged In The Budget Bill

On Wall Street, 2010 was the year of “Obama rage,” in which financial tycoons went ballistic over the president’s suggestion that some bankers helped cause the financial crisis. They were also, of course, angry about the Dodd-Frank financial reform, which placed some limits on their wheeling and dealing.

The Masters of the Universe, it turns out, are a bunch of whiners. But they’re whiners with war chests, and now they’ve bought themselves a Congress.

Before I get to specifics, a word about the changing politics of high finance.

Most interest groups have stable political loyalties. For example, the coal industry always gives the vast bulk of its political contributions to Republicans, while teachers’ unions do the same for Democrats. You might have expected Wall Street to favor the G.O.P., which is always eager to cut taxes on the rich. In fact, however, the securities and investment industry — perhaps affected by New York’s social liberalism, perhaps recognizing the tendency of stocks to do much better when Democrats hold the White House — has historically split its support more or less equally between the two parties.

But that all changed with the onset of Obama rage. Wall Street overwhelmingly backed Mitt Romney in 2012, and invested heavily in Republicans once again this year. And the first payoff to that investment has already been realized. Last week Congress passed a bill to maintain funding for the U.S. government into next year, and included in that bill was a rollback of one provision of the 2010 financial reform.

In itself, this rollback is significant but not a fatal blow to reform. But it’s utterly indefensible. The incoming congressional majority has revealed its agenda — and it’s all about rewarding bad actors.

So, about that provision. One of the goals of financial reform was to stop banks from taking big risks with depositors’ money. Why? Well, bank deposits are insured against loss, and this creates a well-known problem of “moral hazard”: If banks are free to gamble, they can play a game of heads we win, tails the taxpayers lose. That’s what happened after savings-and-loan institutions were deregulated in the 1980s, and promptly ran wild.

Dodd-Frank tried to limit this kind of moral hazard in various ways, including a rule barring insured institutions from dealing in exotic securities, the kind that played such a big role in the financial crisis. And that’s the rule that has just been rolled back.

Now, this isn’t the death of financial reform. In fact, I’d argue that regulating insured banks is something of a sideshow, since the 2008 crisis was brought on mainly by uninsured institutions like Lehman Brothers and A.I.G. The really important parts of reform involve consumer protection and the enhanced ability of regulators both to police the actions of “systemically important” financial institutions (which needn’t be conventional banks) and to take such institutions into receivership at times of crisis.

But what Congress did is still outrageous — and both sides of the ideological divide should agree. After all, even if you believe (in defiance of the lessons of history) that financial institutions can be trusted to police themselves, even if you believe the grotesquely false narrative that bleeding-heart liberals caused the financial crisis by pressuring banks to lend to poor people, especially minority borrowers, you should be against letting Wall Street play games with government-guaranteed funds. What just went down isn’t about free-market economics; it’s pure crony capitalism.

And sure enough, Citigroup literally wrote the deregulation language that was inserted into the funding bill.

Again, in itself last week’s action wasn’t decisive. But it was clearly the first skirmish in a war to roll back much if not all of the financial reform. And if you want to know who stands where in this coming war, follow the money: Wall Street is giving mainly to Republicans for a reason.

It’s true that most of the political headlines these past few days have been about Democratic division, with Senator Elizabeth Warren urging rejection of a funding bill the White House wanted passed. But this was mainly a divide about tactics, with few Democrats actually believing that undoing Dodd-Frank is a good idea.

Meanwhile, it’s hard to find Republicans expressing major reservations about undoing reform. You sometimes hear claims that the Tea Party is as opposed to bailing out bankers as it is to aiding the poor, but there’s no sign that this alleged hostility to Wall Street is having any influence at all on Republican priorities.

So the people who brought the economy to its knees are seeking the chance to do it all over again. And they have powerful allies, who are doing all they can to make Wall Street’s dream come true.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, December 15, 2014

December 17, 2014 Posted by | Dodd-Frank, Financial Crisis, Wall Street | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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