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“Obama’s Best State Of The Union Speech”: Pretty Sure The Last Three Years Of His Presidency Won’t Be Boring

With a strong, optimistic beginning and an unforgettable ending, that may have been President Obama’s best State of the Union speech. Apparently none of the commentators who have been saying his presidency is on its last legs bothered to let him know.

He opened with a portrait of the country – not an America gripped by crisis or mired in despondency, but a sunny place where unemployment is falling, school test scores are rising, housing prices are recovering, deficits are shrinking and manufacturing jobs are coming home. “I believe this can be a breakthrough year for America,” Obama said. The big problem, he said, was the performance of the people sitting before him in the House chamber: “We are not doing right by the American people.” He went on to excoriate Congress for its insistence on trench warfare, challenged his opponents to “focus on creating new jobs, not creating new crises” and pledged that if Republicans won’t work with him, he will take executive action where possible.

But the president’s tone throughout the speech was buoyant, not sour. His defense of the Affordable Care Act was an observation that House Republicans’ first 40 useless votes to repeal the law really should suffice. Even when he bludgeoned the GOP over long-term unemployment benefits or the minimum wage, he did it with a smile. His argument for equal pay and family leave? “It’s time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a ‘Mad Men’ episode.” His call for raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10? “Join the rest of the country. Say yes. Give America a raise.”

There was much that Obama did not say. I heard only one vague, substance-free sentence about domestic surveillance. There was no real discussion of foreign policy until the speech neared the one-hour mark, and the really tough problems where U.S. ideals and interests are out of alignment – Egypt, for example – were not grappled with. The specific executive actions he has vowed to take are significant but not earth-shaking – with one exception: Obama promised to use his authority to regulate carbon emissions. If he is as serious about tackling climate change as he said tonight, this may turn out to be one of the most important speeches of his presidency.

The end of the speech, a tribute to wounded Sgt. 1st Class Cory Remsburg, was an indelible moment. To end with such a powerful story of bravery and resilience gave emotional depth to the overall theme of the speech: America is back. I don’t know how much of his agenda Obama will achieve. But I’m pretty sure the last three years of his presidency won’t be boring.


By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, January 29, 2014

January 30, 2014 Posted by | Congress, State of the Union | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Mission Accomplished”: Rand Paul Says ‘War On Women’ Is Over, Everybody Get Married

Yesterday, Rand Paul (R-Ky) declared an armistice in the “war on women” when he told Candy Crowley that the war is over and besides, “women are winning it.”

“The whole thing with the War on Women, I sort of laughingly say, ‘yeah there might have been,’ but the women are winning it,” he said Sunday on CNN’s ‘State of the Union.’ “I’ve seen the women in my family and how well they’re doing. My niece is in Cornell vet school and about 85% of the people in vet school are women.”

Mazel Tov to your niece, Rand Paul. It’s so great to hear that there are more women in vet school than in Congress.

“I think women are doing very well, and I’m proud of … how far we’ve come,” Paul said. “I think some of the victimology and all this other stuff is trumped up and we don’t get to any good policy by playing some charade that one party doesn’t care about women or one party isn’t in favor of women advancing or other people advancing.”

On the one hand, Paul’s not totally wrong. Here are all the ways women are winning:

  • Women outnumber men on college campuses 57% to 43%, and the gap is expected to reach 59% to 41% by 2020.
  • The pay gap is shrinking for millennials, with younger women making 93% of what men make
  • Women are 48% of medical school graduates, up from around 10% in 1965
  • Three words: Hillary Rodham Clinton

But on the other hand, women still have the cards stacked against them, especially poor women:

  • 1 in 3 American women live in poverty or on the brink of it
  • 2/3 of minimum wage workers are women, and they usually don’t get sick days
  • The average woman makes 77 cents on a man’s dollar, and that’s lower for minorities; black women make only 64 cents on the dollar, and Hispanic women make only 55 cents
  • Even for the rich and well-educated, there’s still a disparity: men with MBAs make an average of $400,000 per year a decade after grad school, women with MBAs make around $250,000

But what Paul said next about marriage is the real nugget here.

“The number one cause of poverty is having kids before you’re married,” he said. “I tell people over and over again, I can’t make you get married, I can’t do anything about that.”

But, Rand…what if there was some magical way to make sure women didn’t have babies before they were married? What if there were some kind of pill, or even a procedure that would allow women to not have babies when they couldn’t afford them? How bout it, Rand? Maybe science has the answer! Let’s check!

Oh wait, this the same Rand Paul that co-sponsored the Life at Conception act to completely outlaw abortion and opposes the Obamacare birth control insurance coverage mandate. Right, I forgot.

He did seem very, very concerned about the plight of women on CNN. “It would be very difficult to have a government policy… how would you institute a government policy that didn’t create incentives to have more children?”

It’s a real head-scratcher.

The fact that Rand Paul thinks the war on women is over means he had no idea what it was about in the first place. Nobody accused the Republican party of standing in the way of women going to veterinary school– women’s financial and educational advancements are propelled by social changes that aren’t being specifically debated on the Senate floor. The “War on Women” is about abortion rights and access to affordable contraception more than anything, and Paul is fighting against both of them.

It’s giving me deja vu to when Bush stood in front of a “Mission Accomplished” banner in 2003; a false victory, a pat on the back, and nothing really accomplished.


By: Charlotte Alter, Time, January 27, 2014


January 28, 2014 Posted by | Rand Paul, War On Women | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Good Time To Take Stock”: Don’t Count Out Angry White Guys Quite Yet

Earlier this week, John Boehner opened his fiscal cliff counteroffer to President Obama by claiming that it had been a “status quo election in which both you and the Republican majority in the House were re-elected.” Democrats and progressives, who have spent the last month crowing about Republican’s self-marginalization as the party of aging white men, obviously beg to differ — both about who holds the leverage in the ongoing tax rate and debt ceiling standoffs and how the election plays into it. Are they being overconfident, or will the Obama coalition we saw turn out a month ago hold?

As the last of the post-election data sifts and behind-the-scenes campaign reveals trickle out and the political class tries to figure out the new normal, it’s a good time to take stock.

Liberals are thrilled to see a toughened Obama use his strengthened hand against Republican intransigence, which they see as bolstered by an election day mandate. Greg Sargent at the Washington Post put it this way: “The argument is straightforward: This isn’t 2011 anymore. Last time, Republicans had won an election; this time, Obama and Democrats won. Polls show the public increasingly sees Republicans as the intransigent party and the primary obstacle to compromise in Washington.” And Frank Rich was equally dismissive of the Republicans’ bargaining power: “Everyone knows the Republicans are going to fold — the Republicans know they are going to fold — and the only question to be resolved is when and on what terms. They have zero leverage. It’s not only that they lost the election; they continue to decline in national polls, with the latest Pew survey showing that 53 percent of Americans will blame the GOP (and only 27 percent will blame President Obama) if there’s no deal by January.” Even plenty of Republicans are pessimistic: “Now more than ever, Republicans should know better than to pretend polls aren’t telling them something,” wrote John Podhoretz glumly.

But House members aren’t elected by national polls, and thanks to gerrymandering into safe districts that helped Republicans hold the House last month, they still may have more to fear from their right flank in the event of a compromise. And the prior particulars of this current skirmish favor the Democrats: Taxes going up on everyone on January 1 over their desire to keep tax cuts for the rich looks bad just after you lost by running an out-of-touch rich guy for president. As Republican Rep. James Lankford admitted to the Times, “It’s a terrible position because by default, Democrats get what they want.” This is a crisis of Republicans’ making that they’ve boxed themselves into; future battles might not be so deliciously karmic.

Of course, the long-term demographic trends that, combined with a killer turnout game helped re-elect the president — despite Republicans’ innumerate overconfidence — still exist. Just how that created (or confirmed) an “Obama coalition” is elucidated in a just-released report by Ruy Teixeira and John Halpin, who can justly claim to have called those trends long before Republicans had to remember that Latino voters exist.

While many pollsters erroneously believed that the share of the white vote, for example, would remain stable, their 2011 report, “The Path to 270” projected that in 2012, the following math would favor Obama: an increase of 2 percent in the share of voters of color, fewer white working-class voters, and a small uptick in white college graduate voters. “According to the 2012 exit polls, that is exactly what happened,” they write in the new report. “With the re-election of President Barack Obama in 2012, this progressive coalition has clearly emerged, albeit in an early and tenuous stage.”

That last qualifier also matters in figuring out just what that progressive coalition can do and how it can be harnessed, especially with coming state-level and local races and in future legislative battles that may divide those disparate constituencies — or leave them disengaged. For example, much was rightly made of the gender gap, but specificity matters: As Teixeira and Halpin note, President Obama actually lost white college-graduate women after winning them in 2008: “Among women in this demographic, his margin declined from 52 percent to 47 percent in 2008, to 46 percent to 52 percent in 2012.” (Romney also won the white working class, where he gained men compared to McCain, but not enough working class white women were in his ranks to make a difference from 2008.) As John Cassidy pointed out just after the election, white women overall have broken with the overall “gender gap” dynamic: Bush won 55 percent of white women in 2004.

The most reliable Obama voters turned not to be all women, but young women and women of color, in part because young people and people of color in general turned out and voted for the president. (Younger people and people of color are also generally less likely to be married, which partly explains how Obama won single women by 36 points; unmarried women also made up a larger share of voters in the election, 23 percent versus 21 percent in 2008.)

Unfortunately, those are the same demographics who largely stayed home in 2010, when we got many of the looniest members of the Republican caucus. They’re the same ones that brought the debt ceiling debate to the brink, after they held the government hostage over defunding Planned Parenthood. By the way, those positions on women’s health also proved politically toxic last month, at least according to the organization’s own action fund, which just released polling showing that it had managed to make 64 percent of all voters aware that Romney planned to defund it, which 62 percent of them disagreed with. Their research also found that Latinos and African Americans were more likely to side with Obama after hearing his views on “affordable birth control,” abortion, and Planned Parenthood funding. Republicans may have lost their appetites on that kind of fight, except that they still have right-to-life absolutists to appease in their coalition and in their districts.

Soon after the election, Michael Tomasky proposed that some rich liberal donor throw cash at this perennial problem: In off-year elections, “The 20 percent who leave the system are almost entirely Democrats. This has been true all my life. It’s basically because old people always vote, and I guess old white people vote more than other old people, and old white people tend to be Republican. So even when white America isn’t enraged as it was in 2010, midterms often benefit Republicans.” Meanwhile, according to Politico, it’s looking like the vaunted Obama database is going to be kept in the president’s hands mainly to channel support for legislation, despite the desperate entreaties of Democratic candidates up for election in 2013 and 2014, though it might also be used for an entirely new organization that could support candidates. (It’s also up for debate whether that database is already obsolete, anyway.)

None of this means that Democrats should be folding to a compromise which well could include draconian cuts to programs like Medicaid and Social Security that are crucial to that coalition. In fact, it probably means the opposite: Those voters need to be reminded why it matters for them to come back to the polls and to stand up for the policies that motivated them on November 6, from social insurance to ensuring access to reproductive health to comprehensive immigration reform, even without Obama’s name on the ballot.


By: Irin Carmon, Salon, December 6, 2012

December 7, 2012 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Word To The Not So Wise”: You Come At The King, You Best Not Miss

If you want a sense of how remarkable Barack Obama’s re-election victory is, think back to last summer. At the time, the president was struggling to reach a deal with House Republicans, who were threatening not to raise the debt ceiling and plunge the economy into a second recession. Unemployment was high—9.2 percent—Obama’s approval had dipped to the low 40s, and to anyone paying attention, the first African American president looked like a one-term failure.

But beginning in the fall, Obama began to reassert himself. With the American Jobs Act, he outlined a viable plan for generating economic growth and kick-starting the recovery. With his widely praised speech in Kansas, he outlined a populist agenda of greater investment and higher taxes on the wealthiest Americans. Over the course of 2012, he built good will with important communities, from LGBT Americans with an endorsement of same-sex marriage to Latino immigrants and their families with a measure meant to emulate the DREAM Act. What’s more, the economy began to pick up: Job growth increased, unemployment dropped, and the overall economic picture began to brighten.

Together with one of the most hard-nosed campaigns of recent memory, Obama managed to bounce back from the nadir of 2011 to one of the broadest re-election victories since Reagan’s 1984 landslide. At this point, news networks have called New Hampshire, Iowa, Wisconsin, Colorado, Nevada, Virginia, and Ohio for President Obama. Only Florida has yet to be called, where the remaining votes are in traditionally Democratic areas of the state. Compared with 2008, Obama lost only two states: North Carolina and Indiana. When all is said and done, Barack Obama will have won re-election with 332 electoral votes—a much larger margin than the last president to win re-election, George W. Bush

Over the next week, I’ll write about the details of Obama’s victory, in particular his huge advantage with nonwhite voters—without historic margins (and turnout) among African Americans, Latinos, and Asian Americans, it’s likely Obama would have failed in his quest for a second term. Indeed, it should be said that Republicans have themselves to blame for a good deal of this. If not for their categorical opposition to health-care reform, the Affordable Care Act would have never been passed in its current form. If not for their harsh approach to immigration, they might have won greater Latino support over the last four years. If not for their embrace of misogyny, they might have closed the gender gap. If not for their willingness to indulge the worst conspiracies about Obama, they might have made inroads with young people and college-educated voters.

In the meantime, it’s worth noting what Obama’s victory means for the next four years of public policy.

Obamacare will be implemented in full, and the United States will begin its journey toward universal health-care coverage. Millions of Americans will be covered by the bill’s Medicaid expansion, and millions more will—for the first time—have access to affordable health insurance. Likewise, Dodd-Frank will survive, and the federal government will begin to craft regulations that will—with any luck—prevent a repeat of the 2008 financial collapse. Obama’s re-election shields core liberal commitments—on social insurance, anti-poverty policy, and environmental regulation—from conservative assault, and gives Democrats a chance to reshape the Supreme Court and the federal judiciary writ large.

Thanks to last night’s results, liberals have four years to cement a host of policies and achievements that could prove as transformative as the Great Society or even the New Deal. And this is on top of an economic recovery that will almost certainly boost Democrats’ standing with the public.

It’s still far too early to make a judgment about Barack Obama’s overall historical standing. But by virtue of winning re-election, he has become the most successful Democratic president since Lyndon Johnson, and one of the most successful of the 21st century.

Not bad for the skinny Hawaiian kid with a funny name.


By: Jamelle Bouie, The American Prospect, November 7, 2012

November 8, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Insincere And Playing Dumb”: Mitt Romney’s Shameless Appeal To Women

Two things happened yesterday that don’t seem unrelated. First, there was the release of a new poll in Ohio that showed Mitt Romney pulling closer to President Obama but still trailing by 4 points – thanks to a massive 36-point gender gap. Then came Romney’s statement to an editorial board that “there’s no legislation with regards to abortion that I’m familiar with that would become part of my agenda.”

This is an extension of the strategy Romney employed at last week’s debate, simply playing dumb when confronted with the aspects of conservative ideology that are difficult to market outside the Republican Party base. In this case, there is a clear urgency for Romney in creating distance between himself and the right’s recent fixation on reproductive issues: A recent Bloomberg poll of swing voters in Ohio and Virginia found Romney leading among married mothers by a few points in each state – with the potential to open much bigger leads if he can work around the concerns they have about his views on women’s issues.

Romney, the Bloomberg poll showed, enjoys a clear advantage among these women on the economy, but has been hindered by, among other things, his vow to defund Planned Parenthood, his opposition to Obama’s decision to mandate insurance coverage of birth control, and his antiabortion position. The new Ohio numbers, from a CNN poll released yesterday, speak to Romney’s challenge. Among men in the Buckeye State, he’s now clobbering Obama, 56 to 42 percent. But with women, Obama is winning by a 60-38 percent margin. That translates into a 51-47 percent overall lead for the president, but if Romney can erode Obama’s advantage with women even a little, he can make up that ground.

Romney has played this game before, in the only general election before now that he ever won. It was exactly 10 years ago that he was running for governor of Massachusetts and found himself trailing in the race’s final weeks. The Romney campaign’s main strategy was to scare suburban swing voters with the specter of rampant Democratic cronyism in the state capitol – warning voters that a “gang of three” Democrats would run the state if Romney’s Democratic opponent, Shannon O’Brien, were elected.

But part of appealing to these swing voters also involved assuaging any concerns they had about Romney being to their right on cultural issues, particularly abortion. On this front, O’Brien spotted a clear opening. The year before, when he’d been back in Utah overseeing the Olympics, Romney had been thinking that his political future would be in the Beehive State, and not Massachusetts, where a Republican, Jane Swift, was serving as acting governor and where both Democratic senators were entrenched. So Romney, who had run as a passionate abortion rights supporter in his 1994 campaign against Ted Kennedy, began repositioning himself to fit in with Utah’s far-right Republican electorate, penning a letter to the Salt Lake Tribune in July 2001 in which he instructed the paper not to identify him as pro-choice.

It wasn’t a complete policy shift. Romney left himself enough wiggle room in case a 2002 opportunity back in Massachusetts opened up – which it did a few months later, as Swift’s governorship collapsed and Republicans begged Romney to come home and save them. So it was that Romney in ’02 resumed presenting himself as an abortion rights advocate, although this time in more muted terms, promising that he would uphold the state’s laws and do nothing to restrict abortion access, but shying away from the pro-choice label. Presumably, this was meant to seem consistent with the ’01 letter he wrote in Utah; it was probably also done with the knowledge that, if he ever wanted to go national as a Republican candidate, Romney would have to eventually declare himself pro-life.

O’Brien recognized all of this and tried to corner Romney in their final debate, just over a week before the election. It can be maddening to watch their encounter now. O’Brien’s warnings about Romney’s obvious insincerity on the issue seem prescient today, but at the time, Romney did a rather masterful job deflecting them, pretending he had no idea why anyone would be confused about his position and aligning himself perfectly with the sentiments of swing voters. He even turned the tables on O’Brien, who in an effort to show a clear policy difference with Romney on the issue came out against a parental consent law. In other words, on the one abortion policy area where they officially disagreed, Romney managed to express the more broadly popular view.

The Romney who bested O’Brien in that debate was the same Romney who showed up in Denver last week. And it’s the same Romney who expressed bafflement to the Des Moines Register’s editorial board yesterday over why anyone would think he’d make restricting abortion a priority as president.

There is a difference this time, though. As Irin Carmon points out, restricting abortion absolutely is a priority for the national Republican Party, and if Romney is president he won’t have much leeway to defy this sentiment. You can see it already, in fact, with the Romney campaign’s quick clarifying statement last night that he “would of course support legislation aimed at providing greater protections for life.” Consider it a preview of a Romney presidency. If he strays on an issue important to the right, it won’t be long until the right brings him back into line.

The question for now is whether Romney can downplay reproductive issues enough to eat into the gender gap. At the national level, that gap seems to be evaporating quickly in the wake of last week’s debate. But the Ohio numbers suggest that things might be different in the swing states, where the candidates have concentrated their resources and where voters are presumably more familiar with their messages.


By: Steve Kornacki, Salon, October 10, 2012


October 11, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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