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Is our President learning?

3 Nov

Dear Mr. President:

Your party just got clobbered in the election, and yet you don’t seem to have learned anything. Today you said that you are willing to work with the Republicans and look for common ground. For the last 22 months of your administration, these Republicans have shown you repeatedly that they are not willing to work with you. They don’t have any interest in anything except making you a one-term president.

Please, Mr. President, please stop this insane behavior. Your message today should have been forceful and direct:

Two years ago, the American people elected me to bring change to Washington and to how we do things in this nation. Since then, we have not done as much as we needed to do, and the American people have taken their frustrations out on their elected representatives. This has caused a change in the leadership of the House of Representatives.

Let there be no mistake, however. This administration was elected with a mandate. I am willing to work with the Republican leadership so long as their agenda advances the mandate I was given. If the Republicans are truly willing to work in a bipartisan manner, we can accomplish many things.

But if the Republicans plan to simply undo the progress of the last two years, then they will be the ones who have to explain to the American people in two years why things have not gotten better. We will not go backward to the policies that caused our economy to collapse. We will not enact irresponsible and unaffordable tax cuts. I will veto any legislation that runs contrary to the interests of the American people and the mandate they handed me in 2008.

For the sake of this country, please stop treating these Republicans like they will act responsibly. The American people do not want bipartisanship and cooperation over jobs and a better economy. They want things to get better. If the Republicans aren’t willing to make things better for the nation, it’s up to you to call them on the carpet about it.

Candidate Obama would do it. Will President Obama?

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Some reasons why Democrats lost yesterday

3 Nov

1. The Citizens United decision last year from the Supreme Court let corporations funnel millions of dollars into advertising for and against candidates. A handful of organizations, such as 60 Plus, were able to take those dollars and run ads under their own label. We have no idea who was actually funding the ads.

2. The Democrats ran against themselves. When they were under attack–especially false attacks–they did not rebut the claims. For example, Democrats were accused of voting for a “government takeover of health care.” They didn’t respond, and people interpret that inaction as an admission. They should have simply said, “One, it’s not a government take over of health care. Your doctors, your hospitals, are not going to become government employees. Two, it’s simply a requirement that everyone be insured. Three, whatever imperfections, the health care reform was better than the alternative: doing nothing.”

3. The Democrats did not run on their record. No mention of financial reform. No mention of the jobs created by the stimulus bill (at least a million jobs–how hard is it to say “unemployment would have been worse”?).

4. The Democrats did not have a theme. A soundbite like, “My opponent and her party drove this economy into the ground before 2008. We can’t afford to give them the keys to the car again,” would have done wonders.

5. The White House (I’m talking to you, Mr. President) sat this race out until the very end. Mr. Obama should have been campaigning for Democratic congressional candidates since May, using good messages (such as my idea in No. 4, above).

6. The DNC abandoned the 50-state strategy that Howard Dean implemented despite criticism from other party leaders. The strategy paid off in the 2008 election.

So, where do we go from here?

The White House must realize that it cannot compromise with the extreme Republicans in the House leadership. Reaching across the aisle will accomplish nothing. Senate Minority Leader McConnell is on the record saying that the Republicans’ number one goal is to make sure President Obama does not win re-election. That doesn’t sound like someone who is willing to work with you, Mr. President.

Democrats have to start thinking about the 2012 election–and the 2014, 2016, and 2018 elections as well. The opposition is doing that already. Democrats must look at the example of the Republicans after the Goldwater drubbing. The right wing that backed Goldwater put their heads together and developed a long range plan. They didn’t plan to win just two years later–they planned to build a movement that would provide a long series of Republican wins: Reagan in 1980 and 1984, Congressional takeover in 1994 that lasted until 2006, and 2010. They put together a set of principles that became a mantra: government is the problem and taxes must be cut. They repeat that every election cycle.

The Democrats have no principles that they can make into a mantra. There are some excellent ideas out there (I highly recommend the Bill Scher book linked to there), but nothing coming from the party leaders.

The one thing the Democrats cannot do is assume that they lost because they were not moderate enough. The conservadem Blue Dogs lost about half of their members last night. While not conclusive, those losses strongly suggest that being a Blue Dog is not the answer. After all, as Harry Truman once said, “If you give the people a choice between a watered-down Republican and a Republican, they will choose the real thing every time.”

As discouraging as last night’s losses are, it’s no time to whine about how badly Democrats were beaten. It’s time to get up, brush the dust off, and start fighting back.

It’s the ineptitude, stupid

24 Sep

Every day there’s another news report in the NYTimes, on NPR, or some other news channel reminding us that Democratic voters are not very motivated this year. With the way the Congressional Democrats are behaving this week, it’s no wonder why.

At the end of this year, the 2001 Bush tax cuts are set to expire. (They will expire because the Republican-led Congress that passed the tax cuts used a parliamentary tool to prevent having to involve Democrats in the negotiations over the bill: put a time limit on the tax cuts, and the Dems could be ignored.) President Obama made it a campaign pledge that he would keep the tax cuts on the middle class. Implicitly, he would also let the tax cuts on the wealthiest of the wealthy–the top 1 or 2 percent–expire.

So here we are in 2010, with the Democrats facing a tough election season. Polls show overwhelming support for the President’s proposal: keep the tax cuts on couples making less than $250,000 a year (and individuals earning less than $200,000 a year), and let the other tax cuts expire. People around the country would benefit, yet the Britney Spearses, the Citibank executives, and others who have more money than sense would go back to the tax rates and levels they enjoyed under the Clinton tax cuts. It’s a sure way to tell voters that the Democrats are with them, not with the people on Wall Street.

Seems like a no brainer.

Unless you’re a Congressional Democrat. The leadership in both houses has decided that the vote on the Bush tax cuts will be delayed until after the election. Some Blue Dog Democrats (including my own Congressman, Joe Donnelly) don’t want to vote against the wealthy people before an election. So they managed to scuttle the whole deal.

This is going to backfire, of course. As one person over at Talking Points Memo put it, the Democrats have apparently decided they’d rather let the Republicans run ads saying “Democrats are going to raise everyone’s taxes” rather than ads saying “Democrats have raised taxes on the rich.”

Some bumbling idiots in the White House are pointing the finger at the GOP, accusing the often-obstructionist Republicans of obstructionism. The problem is, it won’t work this time: as a Republican pointed out yesterday, the Republicans can’t obstruct a piece of legislation that hasn’t even been brought forward yet.

At this point, I’ve had it with the Blue Dog Democrats. Some claim that the BDDs have to be BDDs in order to hang onto their seats in certain parts of the country. That’s a load of goat glop. Instead of making the case for good, sound, progressive government, they want to be able to claim they are “independent.” The fact that their “independence” means pushing policies that created this holy hellhole of an economic mess in the first place doesn’t seem to matter. “We back the Republicans’ economic plan, even though the numbers don’t add up.”

It’s all very discouraging. Barack Obama campaigned about real change, giving hope to millions of Americans. He helped get a huge Democratic majority in Congress, a bigger majority than George W. Bush ever had (and yet he still managed to get everything he wanted), and we can’t get squat done. Health care reform ends up being half baked. Sensible economic policies? A mediocre stimulus package that could have done so much more. The Democrats had the opportunity to show what they could do if given the chance, and they are blowing it. Big time.

I used to say that Republicans are very good at winning elections, but they are lousy at governing. The idea was that Democrats aren’t good at winning elections, but they can govern when in control. Today I feel like that whole concept has been shot to hell: the Democrats aren’t good at winning elections, and they are not good at governing, either. The Democratic National Committee might as well liquidate, close up shop, and let the staffers write their memoirs. At the rate we are going (and there’s virtually no time left to change things), Democrats will put themselves in the position of giving Republicans control of Congress and the White House for a long time to come.

Anyone need an American lawyer in Canada? Maybe Costa Rica?

A moral issue

23 Sep

I’ve been reading T.R. Reid’s The Healing of America lately. He opens the book by telling the story of a 32-year-old woman who was diagnosed with lupus. Her health insurance company canceled the policy, so she couldn’t get the treatments she needed. As a result, she died much sooner than she would have if she received medical treatments. Reid notes that other “first world” nations (Germany, the U.K., France, Japan, Switzerland, etc.) have different health care systems where the lupus victim would have received treatments she needed.

Reid creates an interesting frame for discussion: Other nations have made the decision that it is immoral to let people go without medical treatments they need, and that this immorality is worse than whatever problems might be caused by making sure everyone has real access to health care–whether it’s mandatory insurance, higher taxes, etc. Here in the U.S., however, we seem to have made the opposite moral choice: better to let some people die than deal with the negatives of a universal health care system.

I’m still working my way through the book, so I am not reaching any conclusions yet. The frame Reid has created, however, is disturbing. We’d better give this question some very serious thought.

Because facts don’t matter anymore…

22 Sep

There’s a group of “senior citizens” running ads against members of Congress who voted for the health care reform bill. Joe Donnelly is one of the targets of this ad campaign. I’m not Joe Donnelly’s biggest fan, but this kind of “voter education” makes my blood boil.

One of the statements made in the ad is that the bill cuts $500 million from Medicare.

True? Yes.

Misleading? Yes.

PolitiFact has the details. Is it a long article? Yes. But you can’t explain complicated legislation in a 30-second commercial. Shame on the “seniors” group for misleading voters.

Why I want the Democrats to win

21 Sep

I wish I could say that this essay will persuade everyone that they should vote for more Democrats in Congress this year. I’m afraid it won’t do that, because frankly the Democrats aren’t giving us many good reasons to vote for them.

Perhaps the best we can do is look at some reasons why we should vote against Republicans for Congress this year.

Some will be surprised to hear me say it, but there are some Republicans I really miss. Gentlemen like Howard Baker of Tennessee, even Bob Dole. They had a world view that I didn’t always agree with, but it was reasonably sane. They understood that their “base” of business interests would do well even if the most pro-profit policies were not in place. Yes, they called for lower taxes on businesses, but they seemed to remember that businesses succeed when people have money to spend.

Today’s Republicans…well, they just don’t. They talk about creating jobs, but they really don’t want to create good jobs. A good job, after all, means someone is paid enough to have some discretionary income. They can work just one job, make ends meet, save for a rainy day, and still do some fun spending to help the economy. Today’s Republicans don’t seem to want to do this. You have to work three jobs to keep up with your bills? They will praise you for working hard (not bothering to mention that you’re not getting ahead).

Somewhere along the line, the Republican party was seized by a bunch of crazy people. Newt Gingrich is one of them, Sarah Palin is another. They yell about freedom, but they don’t seem to realize many Americans are slaves to their employers, unable to get ahead, create a better life than their parents had. That’s not freedom.

My biggest worry is that the Democrats are going to let the Republicans win big this year. There’s a lot more the Dems could be doing (and some of their accomplishments are not exactly monumental), but the Dems’ biggest problem is they are afraid to stand up and promote their ideals. Bill Clinton (who knows something about being demonized) once remarked that the Republicans cast Democrats in such negative light because the Republicans know they can’t beat the Democrats’ ideas. Therefore, they have to call progressives names like traitor, call them soft on terrorism, all these ridiculous things–simply because if we match up ideas vs. ideas, the Dems will win.

For some reason, we Democrats seem to be more worried about appearing to play fair rather than actually playing to win. We may not like it, but our loyal opposition has turned politics into a sport where the win-loss record matters. Our ideas may be superior, but we won’t get the chance to put them into place if we don’t wake up, grow a backbone, and start fighting back. We don’t have to demonize the Republicans, but we can point out how hypocritical they are–like saying they want to reduce the deficit one day, then the next day saying they want to extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 1% (regardless of what that would do to the deficit). We can point out that they will accuse us of not supporting the troops when we question the war in Iraq or Afghanistan, but that they are willing to filibuster the defense appropriations bill–to not let it even come up for debate on the Senate floor!–because they have to oppose don’t ask/don’t tell repeal. How is filibustering the defense budget money supporting the troops?

My biggest fear today is that Barack Obama is going to be a one-term president. He’s not doing much these days to fight for voters’ minds and hearts. He’s not doing anything to motivate people to vote for Democrats. And if the Republicans take over Congress, or even just one house, then the Obama agenda is dead in the water. And, he will end up being a one-termer.

I’m not a huge fan of the President these days. He has carried on way, way too many policies of the Bush administration. He sold out the public option and let health care reform become a requirement that we all buy insurance and line the pockets of the insurance companies. (Yes, we should all have insurance, but that public option–being able to buy into a non-profit program–would have kept the prices low in the insurance market.) As a columnist once remarked, Candidate Obama probably wouldn’t vote for President Obama.

But if President Obama loses to a Republican candidate in the 2012 election, we’re in deep trouble. They all want to go back to the way things were under George W. Bush. The candidates are all moving further and further to the right, almost going off the map, playing to the Glenn Becks of the world. As I see it, a mediocre Democratic president is better than anyone like Mike Pence, Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee, or even Mitt Romney.

We need to keep the Republicans out of control, but it’s awfully hard to do that when we don’t give our own troops many reasons to get to the ballot box. We are dooming ourselves to economic disaster, endless war, and worse.

When will we wake up and do something about it?

Burn the Quran? No, thank you

9 Sep

An open letter to Muslims of the world, from one embarrassed American

Dear Friends:

By now, you have heard about the plans of an American minister to burn the Quran on Saturday, September 11. I know it upsets you. It upsets me, too, and I’m not a Muslim. But rather than spend time trying to convince this individual that he shouldn’t burn a holy book, I’d like to try to explain what’s going on in our country. Maybe a little more “light” and less “heat” will help your communities understand us.

The simple answer is, we Americans are insane. There are over 300 million of us, and we disagree on a lot of things. We argue over the dumbest stuff–which lousy television show is better, which crummy movie deserved to win an award, which football team is going to win next weekend. Those things really do not matter, but we argue about them anyway.

Besides being prone to argue with one another, there are other reasons we are insane. We do stupid things in this country–and this preacher in Florida who wants to burn the Quran is a perfect example. We have a lot of freedoms here, and sometimes that means the freedom to be dumb. But the rantings and actions of this one guy do not represent all of us.

Yes, I know, a lot of our leaders are doing stupid things, too. For example, one of your faith’s leaders in New York City wants to open a cultural center near the site of the Twin Towers that fell on September 11, 2001–what too many people refer to as “ground zero.” Despite all the good that could arise from this center, our political leaders (who are also insane) are saying stupid things like “it shouldn’t go there.”

So how are you all supposed to deal with our insanity? Hopefully with signs of compassion. We should know better than to behave this way, but we sometimes forget ourselves. It must be tempting for you to give in to the urge to fight back. After all, we Americans are not doing a very good job of being good neighbors. But I’m hopeful that you can remind us what a great people–or a great faith–can do when their neighbors are acting foolishly.

Go on about your normal business, and forgive us for being foolish. Hopefully we will wake up and realize what we’re doing. In the meantime, your kindness and compassion will drive that lunatic in Florida who wants to burn your holy book even crazier.