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“Always Ready For Closeups”: Dick Cheney Is Still A Petty Hypocrite

Former vice president Dick Cheney resurfaced again this week, to sharply criticize President Barack Obama for being on vacation when ISIS murdered American journalist James Foley.

During a Wednesday night appearance on Fox News’ Hannity, Cheney reiterated his belief that President Obama doesn’t understand foreign policy, and slammed him for playing golf after making a statement condemning Foley’s killing and denouncing ISIS as a “cancer.”

“Every day we find new evidence that he’d rather be on the golf course than he would be dealing with a crisis that’s developing rapidly in the Middle East,” Cheney insisted.

Cheney is not the only person to criticize President Obama for taking a working vacation, nor is his criticism the most ridiculous (for example, The Hill recently criticized the president for taking a walk while “the White House grapples with crises at home and abroad”). But the complaints are especially galling coming from the 46th vice president.

For starters, Cheney’s former boss blew Obama out of the water in terms of time spent away from Washington. To date, President Obama has spent about 150 days on vacation. During his two terms, according to accepted presidential vacation expert Mark Knoller of CBS, George W. Bush spent 1,020 days: 487 at Camp David, 490 at his Crawford, Texas ranch, and 43 at the Bush family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine.

But guess who Cheney thinks was better at dealing with crises in the Middle East (never mind the question of who’s responsible for them)?

Cheney himself has some experience with executive branch vacations. Back in 2005, Cheney hesitated to cut his own vacation short after Hurricane Katrina struck, and then pointedly turned down President Bush’s request that he lead a task force designed to speed the recovery effort (White House advisor Dan Bartlett reportedly backed the decision, noting that the vice president “doesn’t do touchy-feely“).

For its part, the White House insists that, like his predecessors, President Obama is perfectly capable of doing his job from outside of Washington. But that won’t stop the media from obsessing over his vacation. After all, punditry is hard during the dog days of summer — and overeager critics like Cheney are always ready for their closeups.


By: Henry Decker, The National Memo, August 22, 2014

August 24, 2014 Posted by | Bush-Cheney Administration, Dick Cheney | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Trouble With Optics”: Talking About Image When We Should Be Talking About Substance

I’ve been writing about politics for a long time, and it’s a tribute to the dynamism of our glorious democracy that every time I think that things couldn’t get any stupider, I’m proven wrong yet again. While we face a genuine humanitarian and policy crisis on our southern border, with thousands of children making their way across hundreds of miles to wind up in the arms of the Border Patrol, the news media allowed Republicans to turn the focus to the deeply important question of whether or not President Obama would travel there to mount a photo op. Seriously.

Then because it wasn’t removed enough from reality already, people in the media are now talking about whether Barack Obama does photo ops and how often, because if he rejected a photo op on this particular issue but has photo-opped before, then I guess he’s a hypocrite and therefore…um…therefore something.

I’m not saying that “optics” are, per se, a bad thing to discuss. I certainly agree with Kevin Drum that as a general matter, “how something will look to other people” is often worth contemplating; After all, that’s a good portion of what politicians and those who work for them spend time thinking about. And I write about it plenty myself. The problem comes when we’re dealing with times when choices are being made and events with consequences are occurring (unlike an election campaign, which is purely an exercise in persuasion), and some people—in this case, both politicians and reporters—act as though the optics of a situation are the only thing that matters. It’s particularly crazy when there’s a genuine crisis happening and we’re trying to arrive at a solution.

Another problem is that when we talk about “optics,” we do it so poorly, in particular by ascribing all kinds of power to rhetoric and images that they don’t actually possess. People are still convinced that the president can give a single speech and utterly transform the dynamic of a political situation (he can’t), and that a particular image isn’t just a useful encapsulation of events that occurred, but the thing that caused events to occur the way they did.

So for instance, in trying to argue that Obama should go stage a photo op at the border, many people have pointed to that picture of George W. Bush looking out the window of Air Force One at the devastation of New Orleans, to argue that a photo can have significant negative consequences on a presidency. But not only do they have the Katrina comparison exactly backwards (as I argued over at the Post yesterday, the problem there was that Bush wasn’t doing anything, while the problem now is that Barack Obama wants to do some things but Republicans in Congress don’t want to do anything), they don’t seem to understand why people found the picture of Bush resonant and memorable. It was because for many people it accurately captured his government’s failure (Bush was soaring above the ground, too removed to understand the human suffering going on below). But people weren’t persuaded to believe that by the picture, they were persuaded to believe that by the actual events that occurred; the picture just became a symbol of it. Let’s not forget that thousands of people died in Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath (estimates vary from 1,400 to 3,500). Bush would have suffered in the public esteem whether he had pictures taken of him or not. Reality was the problem, not the optics.

And that’s what will matter in this case too. Either the administration will succeed in dealing with this problem (with or without Congress’ help), or it will just get worse. And no picture is going to change that.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, July 10, 2014

July 12, 2014 Posted by | Border Crisis, Media, Republicans | , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Obama Political Obituaries Are Way Premature”: Nothing That Happened In 2013 Is Nearly As Humiliating As What Bush Endured

If President Obama saw the columns and news stories I keep reading lately, he’d probably have half a mind to resign and scurry back to Chicago in time to see the Bears lose a playoff game. “Tanking” approval numbers, no accomplishments, rudderlessness, and of course the website fiasco; they all add up, the conventional wisdom seems to say, to a presidency that is already all but finished, unless John Podesta can somehow save it. The Washington Post reported this week that among second-term presidents in the polling era, only Richard Nixon had a lower approval rating at this point than Obama does now.

Nixon? Is it really that bad? (By the way, there’s still a considerable distance between the two—Obama sits at 43 percent in the Post poll, while Nixon was down at 29.) I can read numbers, and I know what’s happened over the past year. Obama has lost support among core Democratic groups such as women and Latinos, and one suspects that the failure—not his failure; the failure, a distinction not enough people are evidently making—to pass immigration reform was disillusioning for these cohorts. And obviously the fiasco is the governing reality here. It’s been a messy year.

At the same time, everything that’s happened can be rebounded from. Let’s look, by way of comparison, at where President Bush was at the end of 2005. He’d started out the year, you might recall, saying, “I have political capital, and I intend to use it.” Actually, he said that right after he beat John Kerry. Bush didn’t yet reveal how he meant to use that capital, but soon enough it became clear that he meant Social Security privatization, or partial privatization.

Bush staked a lot on that project. If you were around then, you remember those endless town halls, filled with plants and ringers offering their most plangent testimonials about how they couldn’t wait to get Uncle Sam’s heavy hand out of their purses and invest their own retirement money as they saw fit, as any real Murican would insist. This was how Bush and Karl Rove were going to create the permanent Republican majority, through the new ownership society.

What happened? Congress, even Republicans in Congress, wanted nothing to do with it. It was basically dead by Memorial Day. So that was going to be the signature issue of Bush’s second term—with a House and a Senate, remember, that were also in Republican hands at the time. And it went up in flames.

Nothing that has happened to Obama in 2013 is nearly as humiliating as what Bush endured—and that was before Katrina hit in August 2005. You could make an immigration comparison, but they’re hardly the same, because Bush’s party controlled both houses of Congress. If the Democrats were running the House right now, there’s little question the immigration bill would have passed. I don’t expect the general public to make such distinctions, but that doesn’t mean I can’t make them. Being smacked down by the opposite party, which has shown its contempt for you a hundred times already, isn’t remotely the same thing as being smacked down by your own party. The Bush privatization failure was devastating not only to his standing as president but as head of his own party.

Obama hasn’t suffered anything like that. He’s been the victim of a couple of ginned-up “scandals,” the IRS most especially, that had no truth to them but nevertheless took a bite out of his ratings. The Republicans are a constant irritant, willing to sacrifice their own standing as long as they can drag him down with them. But he has not launched a huge, historic initiative on which history has slammed the sarcophagus lid screaming “Failure!”

Health care? Come on. You’re joking. That was a bad first inning. Granted, a really, really bad first inning, but a first inning all the same. There is a lot of ball yet to be played. Even now, we’re only in the top of the second in terms of implementation of this law. And every week brings new reports that the troubles are of the past. The information that’s supposed to be getting to insurance companies is getting to them now, and providers are about to start advertising heavily to potential enrollees. Jeff Zients, the man who fixed the site, is leaving, but he’s being replaced by a Microsoft exec, Kurt DelBene, who presumably knows a thing or two about state-of-the-art operating systems. I’ve said it before and I will say it again. Obamacare is going to have, for most Americans who come face to face with it, a happy ending, and I think sooner rather than later.

That is the big error the Republicans are making. They truly seem to think it’s game-set-match on Obamacare. It isn’t even close. And the media, espying bad Obama poll numbers, go along, because then, instead of the bad poll numbers being just bad poll numbers, they can be woven into a Meta-Narrative Think Piece about how second terms in the modern presidency are graveyards.

Obama isn’t close to any graveyard yet. The Obamacare story is going to keep getting better. And the economy, if you hadn’t noticed, has grown at 3 percent for the last two quarters. That’s not just good considering the circumstances of the meltdown and an opposition party that’s been trying actively to harm the economy. That’s just plain old good.

Predicting a politician’s standing a year out is a mug’s game, so I won’t do that. But I’ll comfortably make the claim that nothing that has happened to Obama in 2013 rules out a rebound. Far be it from me to question The Washington Post’s poll numbers, but Bush was in far worse shape at this point. Obama’s second term will not likely match the list of accomplishments of his first. But even if the second term is nothing more than the successful implementation of Obamacare for 30 million or 40 million Americans, that’s plenty. Public opinion will catch up.


By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, December 19, 2013

December 22, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Send Disaster Response To The States”: Mitt Romney’s Disastrous Emergency Management Plan

As 50 million East Coast residents brace for Hurricane Sandy’s impact, President Obama has already signed disaster declarations for at least a dozen states, making available the resources and unique coordinating capabilities of the federal government — specifically, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA – to assist in the response and recovery.

It’s worth noting that Mitt Romney has said he’d get rid of FEMA and leave states to fend for themselves.

At a CNN-sponsored GOP debate last June, moderator John King asked Romney what he would do to keep FEMA solvent. Romney replied that we need to cut government spending and should “send it back to the states … And if you can go even further and send it back to the private sector, that’s even better.” King looked a bit surprised and followed up to make sure Romney was saying what he appeared to be saying. “Including disaster relief, though?” King asked. Romney answered affirmatively: “We cannot — we cannot afford to do those things without jeopardizing the future for our kids. It is simply immoral, in my view, for us to continue to rack up larger and larger debts and pass them on to our kids, knowing full well that we’ll all be dead and gone before it’s paid off. It makes no sense at all.”

A Romney spokesperson, in a vague statement to the Huffington Post last night, suggested that eliminating FEMA is still Romney’s position.

“Send it back to the states” is a typical conservative talking point, of course. But the states don’t inspire much confidence when it comes to emergency management. FEMA also has a budget of about $6 billion that would disappear from the total pool of money available for disaster relief if the agency were eliminated tomorrow, unless states raised their taxes to make up for the loss, something Romney and his party seem unlikely to support.

Romney, as a former governor, ought to know better.

This is how a federal disaster area gets declared: The governor of a state submits a letter to the local FEMA branch requesting help. “In this request the Governor certifies that the combined local, county and state resources are insufficient and that the situation is beyond their recovery capabilities,” according to FEMA. So every time a governor submits a request for assistance — and there were a record 99 disaster declarations in 2011 — they have to declare they are incapable of handling the situation on their own.

And Romney does know, firsthand. For example, there was a November 2006 chemical plant explosion in Danvers, Mass. “You know, we’ll be looking at what the requirements are from a, from a national standpoint. We do have FEMA here now … The needs of the state or it should be the needs here, if they can be met by the state, they will be. If it’s beyond the needs or the capability of the state, then we’ll go to the federal government,” he said at a press conference.

Several months before that, in May, Romney requested additional money from FEMA to deal with flooding in Lowell, Mass. Before that, in October 2005, Romney requested FEMA help for several counties affected by flooding. Etc. etc.

But perhaps it isn’t fair to criticize Romney over these instances, since he was merely operating under the existing system and naturally wanted to do everything he could do to help his state.

But the idea of sending things back to the state makes little sense if you think about it for even a second. Natural disasters frequently transcend political borders, affecting multiple states simultaneously. Absent a unified chain of command coordinating the response in affected areas, you’d get a patchwork of different responses and approaches, which may be very difficult to coordinate. Poorer states with a weaker tax base may be less able to respond adequately. A national agency can pool and transfer resources across the entire county in a way that states can’t — individual state may go years without a major disaster, whereas FEMA is always busy. There are plenty of legitimate criticisms of FEMA, especially after Hurricane Katrina, but they all relate to how it needs to be more effective, not less so.

In a nutshell, disaster preparedness hits at the whole point of having a federal government and federalism. It’s a pretty good illustration of how far to the right the GOP has shifted that Romney wants to send disaster relief to states despite that being an obviously terrible idea. And privatizing disaster relief is even scarier. Who will pay for that? How will contractors be held accountable? Other cases of largely privatized disaster relief have raised serious red flags.


By: Alex Seitz-Wald, Salon, October 29, 2012

October 30, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Joplin And Natural Disasters: They’re Called “Emergencies” For A Reason

I’ve been writing a lot this week about congressional Republicans’ new approach to disaster relief funds in large part because I find it rather amazing, even for a contemporary GOP that no longer seems capable of surprising.

For all of our differences over party, ideology, and creed, we know that when disaster strikes and our neighbors face a genuine emergency, America responds. We don’t ask what’s in it for us; we don’t weigh the political considerations; we don’t pause to ponder the larger ideological implications.

We act. It’s who we are; it’s what we do.

The problem isn’t that conservative Republicans necessarily disagree with this principle. Rather, the problem is, they place other principles above this one when prioritizing how and whether to act.

While much of Joplin, Mo., is still under rubble from a devastating tornado, conservatives in Congress are starting to argue for a tougher approach to disaster aid, demanding that any funding be offset by cutting federal money elsewhere.

Disasters will no longer be considered “emergencies” if conservatives win this battle to redefine the way Congress funds aid packages for states and cities stricken by natural and man-made catastrophes. […]

Traditionally, the government has responded to disasters — hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and acts of terrorism — by using its power of the purse to aid the affected areas with “emergency” dollars that add to the debt because they don’t count against annual spending caps.

When hurricanes Katrina and Rita slammed into Louisiana and Mississippi in 2005, a vocal minority in the House called for offsetting tens of billions of dollars of spending with cuts to other programs. At the time, House Republican leaders shut them down. But now, as much of the Southern and Midwestern parts of the country have been hit by a series of catastrophic acts of nature, that vocal minority has become a controlling majority — at least in the House.

It was House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) who presented the new way of looking at disaster relief. He was willing to approve a $1 billion emergency package for Southwest Missouri, but on a condition — he wanted to cut money from a clean-energy program to pay for it. His party agreed.

The callousness becomes even clearer in the larger context. If the oil industry wants taxpayer subsidies, conservative Republicans don’t blink, and certainly don’t wonder how we’ll pay for the incentives. When Wall Street needed a bailout, the entire Republican leadership was on board with writing a very large check, without much thought to fiscal responsibility.

But when working-class communities get slammed by a natural disaster, through no fault of their own, suddenly the GOP grows miserly. Republicans’ first thought isn’t, “How can we help these struggling Americans get back on their feet?” Instead, it’s, “How will we block disaster relief aid unless we get corresponding spending cuts?”


By: Steve Benen, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly-Political Animal, May 27, 2011

May 27, 2011 Posted by | Congress, Conservatives, Corporations, Democracy, Disasters, GOP, Government, Ideologues, Ideology, Lawmakers, Politics, Public Health, Republicans, Right Wing, States | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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