Nancy Cohen on HuPo is appealing on Obama to release his legions of campaign-era volunteers so they can help him press the agenda of political change. They offer a tremendous opportunity, yet “President Obama, in contrast to candidate Obama, seems as uncertain as a bailed-out banker about the net value of this once-prized asset.”
God knows this week has shown he could use the help.
The challenge: mobilize their mass engagement; yet leave them to do their own thing (the time for “the inordinate degree of control the Obama campaign maintained over its message, its lists, its staff, and its volunteers,” Cohen submits, is over).
Sounds like good advice – and it even comes with a somewhat tortured yet clever aphorism: “give a man a link and he’ll click for a day, give him the lists and the code to the site, and he’ll have your back for a lifetime”. But her piece is noticeably lacking in description of how it could be done.
The challenges involved are remarkably major, Politico recounted yesterday. Surprisingly major — and there’s a telling link here with Obama’s failure to keep control over the political narrative in what, to be honest, has been a F-up of a week. (Don’t get me started – that would, or still will, be a blog post of its own.)
As Jeanne Cummings writes, “The anxiety over lost momentum seemed almost palpable this week as the president in television interviews voiced frustration with his White House’s progress and the way his recovery program was being demonized as a Democratic spending frenzy.” She explains what’s going on backstage:
The Jetsons versus the Flintstones
Obama’s campaign was lauded for its visionary use of modern tools for old-fashioned politics. Through the Internet, it recruited supporters, collected dollars, rallied supporters and organized get-out-the vote operations.
But when these modern heroes arrived at the White House, it was like the lights all went out.
Their contact with their millions-fold supporters was cut off, literally, as e-mail systems broke down and ‘The List’ of political supporters was blocked at the iron gate.
To meet government ethics rules, the campaign operation and its grass-roots army were forced to de-camp to the Democratic National Committee, robbing the president of one of his most potent political weapons just as the stimulus bill was under consideration in the House.
But while the White House team struggled to adapt, [the Republicans] could practically sleep-walk through their attack plan [..]. It required two simple steps: Scream pork, call Rush Limbaugh. They even could have used a rotary phone.
The result: Every House Republican saw a free pass and voted against the first version of the bill.
The outcome is not surprising. Obama had roughly 90 people working at his headquarters on Internet outreach and new technology projects [..]. Even with closet-size spaces, the White House can accommodate only about 200 or so people for jobs ranging from national security to health care reform to Internet guru.
The Obama team “built this incredible campaign and now they have these ridiculously primitive tools. The communication tools they mastered don’t exist in the White House. It’s like they are in a cave,” said Trippi.
How weird that the office of the US President is so underequipped for the present, digital and networked political world. Partly, however, it’s also just a question of growing pains – hopefully, at least: read Pulitzer-winning journalist David Cay Johnston’s disappointing story about the ignorance and arrogance he’s encountered so far with the White House press office.
Partly it’s a matter of money. About $65,000 has been spent on pro-stimulus ads by unions and advocacy groups in a handful of states, Cummings notes, and compares: “in the last week of the presidential campaign, Obama was spending an average of $250,000 a day on commercials in the Philadelphia market, alone.”
Nonetheless, she also chronicles the multiple times the White House stepped on its own message and seemed to work against itself. It’s been a mess.
This is definitely a wake-up call. It may not be fair that Obama is not granted the traditional “honeymoon period”, but close to a trillion dollars is at stake already right now. (When’s the last time an incoming president faced such enormous actions so soon?). With other major initiatives coming up next which the Republicans will demagogue any way they can, the White House simply needs to shape up fast.
Neil Sinhababu at Donkeylicious echoes the sentiment that the real reason Daschle should be seen as bowing out should be “the revelations that he advised insurance companies and made hundreds of thousands giving speeches to industry groups”, not that he didn’t pay taxes on the free limo.
I’d say both reasons work. I think one of the most damning bits was actually about Daschle apparently having lobbied Obama for his financial patron, the very “old politics” Leo Hindery, to get a plum job in the administration. But TNR’s Eve Fairbanks eloquently made the case for even the limo thing to really count as well.
Meanwhile, though, Neil wonders that it can’t just have been the tax thing in any case, because – hey:
Geithner had tax issues too, and wasn’t a former colleague of lots and lots of Senators, and hadn’t helped Obama out very early on. So you’re going to need another variable to explain why Daschle had to pull out.
Hm – that one seems easy – dumb luck of the draw. Geithner was the first one in.
A new administration can wrestle one controversial appointment through on the argument that, yes, there are practical problems, but the guy’s just too uniquely qualified to pass on. But try to do that two or even three times in a row – when you’ve actively campaigned on clean government and breaking with business as usual – and you’ve got the potential of a backlash on your hands. And Obama’s got more reason than most incoming Presidents to want to hold off on any budding backlash among his own voters.
The luck of the draw part is that they could get away with Geithner; there’s always going to be some embarassing hurdle with some appointee. But then the problems with Daschle right on the heels of that? And even as that story was gaining traction, news breaking on Nancy Killefer’s nanny tax problem? That’s impressions potentially spinning out of control, and needing to be clamped down on.
I don’t think it would have been the same if economic times were good, when people, themselves enjoying the boom, would have been more tolerant to rich people’s foibles. Not now. It would also not have been the same if Obama had campaigned as an experienced old hand who knew the inside workings of administration. Then stuff like this would have been taken more as par for the course. But this was getting far too off-message, at the wrong time.
I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how even passionate fellow Obama supporters have come out against Daschle’s appointment once the scale of his foibles broke, actually. TPM’s Matt Cooper still made the point the other day that “the blogs are not on fire,” no real opinion-makers were coming out harshly against Daschle (yeah – Glenn Greenwald), and so he’d probably still be OK. But that was besides the point, or at least suggests he didn’t read the comments sections. It’s hard to tell from over here, but just going on what appeared online it seems the reaction among regular people, Democratic voters, liberals who aren’t professional pundits, was beginning to congeal into a groundswell of disapproval of sorts. I imagine many phones must have been ringing with constituent calls.
The issue with that is that Obama has made clear that one of his main strategies to push change through, even as he opts for bipartisan civility in DC, will be to mobilise civil society. To mobilise the energy of the campaign and use ‘pressure from below’ as a tool to persuade members of Congress and decision-makers to support the changes he champions. So he needs to avoid, at least for a while still, any impression taking root that he is just business as usual after all, new boss same as the old boss etc. I think he was wise to pull the plug.
During the presidential campaign, I kept having the same conversation with fellow Obama campaign volunteers — that win or lose, we were going to keep doing stuff once the election was over. These volunteers all seemed to feel like they wanted to make the world a better place, and while that was part of why they liked Obama, they planned on doing that no matter what — and they were happy to meet others who felt the same way and to forge alliances and make contacts.
I’ve already seen a few large-scale manifestations of this, starting with the Obama-run “Day of Service” on January 19th, and going through various MoveOn and TrueMajority appeals I’ve seen that use the email lists they amassed when they were working on behalf of the Obama campaign.
But I’m now seeing the first truly grass-roots manifestation. There have been a spate of robberies in our area and one of the people I worked with on the campaign decided to do something about it. She’s forming a standard Neighborhood Watch program, but then also is organizing a series of informational events by the police department, covering ways that you can increase your security. (A neighbor had been robbed and then was given pointers on how he could help prevent it in the future, and she thought those pointers were worth sharing with the community.)
She fired up the old Obama volunteer email list (local version) and we’re all pitching in same as before. Someone’s designing fliers to advertise the meeting, someone else is covering printing costs. We’ll each be taking a street or two to do literature drops, and we know the drill (can’t put them in mailboxes, etc.)
It’s fun to be talking to people I know through volunteering but not in everyday life again, and the project is working out fantastically well so far.
I can easily see this becoming a regular thing. The infrastructure already there can be put to quick and painless use for any number of purposes. I may even think up a cause to take up next time. (Hmmm….)
It seemed like such a genius move: tempt a Republican Senator who was facing less than pleasant electoral prospects into accepting a Cabinet job, and in one blow gain a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. No wonder Republicans freaked when the name of New Hampshire Senator Judd Gregg was first floated for the Commerce Secretary job.
Amid liberal dissatisfaction about recent moves by Obama on the stimulus bill and Geithner’s and Daschle’s appointments, this was suddenly a move Democrats could applaud in incredulous glee. What a coup!
But now what? The Republican Senate leadership has reversed from “mounting a full-court press to keep [Gregg] in the Senate” to openly embracing his appointment. Mitch McConnell says there’s a deal, and that New Hampshire’s Democratic governor, John Lynch, will appoint a Republican in Gregg’s place. (Actually, he phrases it somewhat more cautiously as someone who “would caucus with Senate Republicans”.)
So what will the upshot be? Gregg is no Jim Jeffords, or even an Olympia Snowe. He’s a Republican for real. Check Congressional Quarterly’s comprehensive analysis of roll call voting patterns. According to its Presidential Support ranking, Gregg voted according to Bush’s preference 82% of the time in 2008 (only eight Republicans voted with Bush more often). Its Party Unity ranking shows that when a majority of Democrats faced off against a majority of Republicans, Gregg voted with the Republican majority 95% of the time. Sam Brownback was more of a dissident than Gregg. As a sour Democrat told the HuPo, Gregg is “a fiscal conservative, would likely oppose the president’s stimulus package, and has cast a “fair amount of gotcha votes” while in office.”
So at the end of this manoeuvre, will Obama have appointed a true conservative in exchange for – well, pretty much no strategical gains? Yes, I suppose a freshman Republican Senator who will have been appointed in Gregg’s place will be easier to beat in ’10 than Gregg would have been. But Gregg was himself already strongly at risk of defeat, so that’s a marginal advantage. Maybe you could argue that at least Lynch might appoint a somewhat more explicitly moderate Republican in Gregg’s place – but that seems an odd rationale for appointing the conservative guy to a Cabinet position.
Maybe, as Jason Zengerle suggests, Lynch wants to run for Senate himself in ’10, and is therefore happy to appoint a Republican ‘placeholder’, so he won’t face an incumbent in ’10. But there again the strategic plus for the Dems is marginal – US Rep. Hodes would stand a good chance too, in either case, and is more of a committed Democrat than Lynch at that. So what’s the deal?
I just watched Barack Obama’s chat with Matt Lauer before the Super Bowl. It appeared to be live — there were technical difficulties for example that presumably wouldn’t have happened in a taped segment, and some awkward camera cuts. Obama was funny, warm, and serious as called for and didn’t miss a beat when Lauer asked some gotcha-ish questions.
Nothing too deep of course — for example, Lauer asked Obama to face the camera and justify his preference for a national college football playoff to Floridians (whose Gators won the BCS Championship game). “Twenty-seven electoral votes,” Lauer kept saying. Obama smilingly found the camera and delivered his defense; “Congrats Gators, on an outstanding season. … Wouldn’t you feel better if you had beaten every team through a playoff system?”
There was more substance too, especially in terms of talking about the economy and the stimulus package. Obama made it clear that things are going to continue to get worse for several months, and then it would take a while after that before things got back “on track.” But he was full of reassurance, full of confidence that things WILL get back on track.
Throughout he was comfortable and smooth. It’s not solving the health care crisis or creating peace in the middle east, but it was still nice to see. (Right! A brain! Excellent.)
I already noted that the significant dilution of the stimulus bill, when it was only going to be rejected unanimously by the House GOP anyway, drove some people up the wall. “Now that [Obama has] offered concrete concessions to the GOP only to have them publicly throw them back in his face, there simply isn’t any super-secret strategy that can [..] make it all make sense,” wrote Stephen Suh angrily at Cogitamus. Why bother even striving for compromise?
This question will get more acute by the day, as a recent post by Kevin Drum illustrates. He reports on the Obama administration’s push to extend the February 17 deadline for TV stations to switch from analog to digital transmissions. Not exactly a hotly partisan issue, right? The Senate promptly arrived at a bipartisan bill – which it passed unanimously. Every Republican agreed. But then the bill went to the House.
Only 22 House Republicans voted in favour. 155 voted against it. Drum: “100% of Senate Republicans voted in favor but 90% of House Republicans voted against. Shazam! Apparently the House GOP caucus really has decided to blindly stonewall everything Obama wants, no matter what.” He posits: “This is even more of a wakeup call than the vote on the stimulus bill.”
Right. The House GOP leadership is startlingly open about its intentions too, observes Dan at Bleakonomy. It will block and obstruct whatever comes its way, so Republicans can freely blame the Democrats for everything when the economy hasn’t recovered yet in six months. Yes, six months – if things haven’t improved in six months, the Republicans intend to say that it’s all the Dems’ fault and that the stimulus “didn’t work” because they “didn’t have the input in this”.
Of course, the current crisis is turning out to be the worst in almost three decades and is guaranteed to have an impact lasting (much) longer than six months, so … GOP profit!
Yet still there are valid reasons not to come down on Stephen’s side of the argument … yet. (I mean, apart from the stimulus bill not actually being all that bad.) The obvious one is the enormous contrast between House and Senate Republicans on the TV bill. If the Senate GOP shows any remotely similar divergence from the House Republicans’ obstruction course on the stimulus as well, Obama’s strategy may still come to “make sense”.
Then there’s the question of strategy. I already linked to Josh Marshall’s argument that offering the Republicans significant compromises, only for them to reject everything anyway, will help to brand them as the party of ‘no’. Which will marginalise them even further in 2010 so the Dems can go the long haul. Kevin Drum links to more evidence on that count too: a poll conducted by Democracy Corps on January 14-19.
Continue Reading »
Foremost (h/t The Plank): The question to guide your day-to-day life in this new era.
Also via The Plank: Who is Rush Limbaugh? According to Republican Congressman Phil Gingrey, yesterday, “it’s easy if you’re Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh or even sometimes Newt Gingrich to stand back and throw bricks. You don’t have to try to do what’s best for your people and your party. You know you’re just on these talk shows and you’re living well and plus you stir up a bit of controversy and gin the base and that sort of that thing.”
But he had that all wrong, he realised today, after some constituents helpfully called in to remind him. In reality, he corrected himself in a statement titled “Gingrey comments on Rush misunderstanding,” Rush Limbaugh is not just a “voice [..] of the conservative movement’s conscience”, but … a “conservative giant”.
In love with your prof? If so, he/she is likely to lecture languages. There is “Real Social Scientific Data” (mind your footnotes) on the relative hotness of the different disciplines, which comes via Prof. Henry Farrell (Political Science, ranked fifth) at the Monkey Cage.
Law and criminal justice take a prominent second and fourth place (out of 36) in the ranking, which might please fellow blogger Joefromchicago. Unsurprisingly, engineering, computer science and chemistry rank at the bottom, so pity the poor professors in those duller disciplines — after all, tenure without temptation is like aspersions without alliteration.
Economists, however (ranked 30th) have reason to harbour hope, judging on Shivaji’s observation that they’re up next to be fetishized by pop culture:
After the phenomenal success of books such as Freakonomics, Undercover Economist, Armchair Economist [..], every economist is under pressure to come up with some innovative approach to explain mundane things in life. Forget earlier topics like “Why aid doesn’t work in Africa” or “Implications of direct cash grants on Philips curve” that used to keep economists intrigued; the best talent in business are now looking for more relevant topics. And even though some of the most pressing issues facing mankind such as “Overpricing of the hotel mini-bar” (Tim Harford) and “socioeconomic patterns of naming children” (Steven Levitt) have already been worked upon, there still remain some fundamental questions that remain unanswered. For example, “How many love songs are written for every break-up song and why” or “why do men wash underwear less frequently than women”, or “Why does Ronald McDonald not get fat”?
Talking about comparative hotness – which states of the US are hemorrhaging homes, and which ones are rapidly reeling in the residents? Earlier this month, Patrick Ottenhoff dug into the demographics on domestic migration between 2000 and 2008, and put up a map on The Electoral Map. It’s not as simple as cities versus flyover country, he emphasises: loser states cover a contiguous chunk of territory from Massachusetts to Nebraska, while most of the states strongly gaining ground are clustered together in the West and on the Atlantic seaboard from Virginia to Florida.
Of course, or so the cheekier of conventional wisdoms go: term-limited out of the Presidential office, Putin needed someone to keep his seat warm while he played Prime Minister for a few years, so he could return to the Presidency soon enough. But why Medvedev?
Why, his luxurious head of hair of course. It’s the only way the steely-eyed leader could deal with the longstanding law of succession when it comes to ruling Russia. Lenin – bald; Stalin – hairy; Khrushchev – bald; Brezhnev – hairy; well, you get the idea. Gorbachev was bald, Yeltsin hairy, and well – let’s be honest, Putin isn’t particularly blessed in this regard.
By choosing Dmitry last year, Putin bent the Bald-Hairy Theory of Russian Leaders to his will to power – and the two can rule till death do them part.
The Senate yesterday voted to confirm Tim Geithner as Obama’s new Treasury Secretary – but the vote was narrower than expected, at 60-34. Apparently, it was the slimmest margin of confirmation for a Treasury Secretary since WWII.
Among those who voted nay were the Democrats Russ Feingold, Tom Harkin and Robert Byrd, as well as Bernie Sanders, the self-described socialist from Vermont who was elected as independent but caucuses with the Democrats. I’m generally a fan of Feingold and especially Sanders, and lukewarm about Geithner (not so much about the tax issue as rather because he’s too cautious and too involved in the current failings of the financial system). So I’m curious why they went all out and voted against him.
I tried searching for any statements from them on the matter, but there’s nothing on any of their Senate homepages. For Byrd, all I found (in three zillion copies of a news agency report) is that he commented after the vote, “Had he not been nominated for treasury secretary, it’s doubtful that he would have ever paid these taxes.” But Firedoglake has the statement from Feingold. For him, too, it was the tax issue that did it:
“I voted against the nomination of Timothy Geithner to be the next Secretary of the Treasury with some reluctance. President Obama, like any other President, is entitled to have the Cabinet he wants, barring serious disqualifying issue, and Mr. Geithner is a very able nominee in many ways. And while I am troubled by Mr. Geithner’s track record on some of the issues that have contributed to the credit market crisis, I do not base my vote on what is, to a certain extent, a matter of policy disagreement.
“Mr. Geithner’s tax liability is a different matter, however. I am deeply troubled by his failure to pay the payroll taxes he owed, despite repeated alerts from his employer at the time, the International Monetary Fund, that he was responsible for paying those taxes. Moreover, his earlier interactions with the Internal Revenue service over his failure to pay sufficient payroll taxes for his household employees make Mr. Geithner’s explanations of his failure to pay his own payroll taxes even less satisfactory. The failure to comply with our nation’s tax laws would be problematic for any Cabinet nominee, but it is especially disturbing when it involves the individual who will be charged with overseeing the enforcement of our tax laws.
“With the condition the economy is in, and the state of our country’s financial institutions, the stakes could not be greater for the next Treasury Secretary. While I could not support his nomination, I respect Mr. Geithner’s abilities and I look forward to working with him to address the serious problems facing our country.”
Meanwhile, the Radio Iowa blog has the statement from Tom Harkin. For him, the tax issue and Geithner’s co-responsibility for the current crisis as chief regulator of the financial institutions weighed equally in his decision:
“I strongly believe that, save in extraordinary circumstances, the President should have the right to select his own team. President Obama believes that Mr. Geithner is the best person for this job, and it pains me to go against the President’s wishes on this matter.
“I believe that Mr. Geithner is a person of obvious talent and experience, and I bear no ill will toward him whatsoever. However, after careful deliberation, I simply could not overcome my very serious reservations about this nominee for two reasons. Mr. Geithner made serious errors of judgment in failing to pay his taxes, and he made serious errors in his job as chief regulator of the financial institutions at the heart of the current financial crisis.
“Nothing would make me happier than for Mr. Geithner to prove me wrong by serving with distinction. I wish him every success as Treasury Secretary – we will all be rooting for his success.”
If anyone sees the statement by Bernie Sanders, do leave a link in the comments. UPDATE: Sanders’ statement is in the next blog post.
So I was listening to some 70’s era rock this weekend and came across a STYX song written for the Bicentennial. STYX was known to include a political song here and there on their albums, but this one struck me because of how it resonates with President Obama’s inauguration speech. Maybe the President listened to it when he was a teenager. OK, it’s not deep, but here are the lyrics for your enjoyment.
Suite Madame Blue
Written by Dennis DeYoung
Time after time I sit and I wait for your call
I know I’m a fool but why can I say
Whatever the price I’ll pay for you, Madame Blue
Once long ago, a word from your lips and the world turned around
But somehow you’ve changed, you’re so far away
I long for the past and dream of the days with you, Madame Blue
Suite Madame Blue, gaze in your looking glass
You’re not a child anymore
Suite Madame Blue, the future is all but past
Dressed in your jewels, you made your own rules
You conquered the world and more …………..heaven’s door
Red white and blue, gaze in your looking glass
You’re not a child anymore
Red, white, and blue, the future is all but past
So lift up your heart, make a new start
And lead us away from here
Re Spain’s orphaned children of the revolution: I found the photo of the Women’s prison Les Corts in Barcelona on Flickr, but the original source must be this site: Memòria de les Corts, prisión de mujeres, a site of the Catalan government. There’s many more.
Re: the raid by armed Russian police on “Memorial”: only after writing that post did I find two openDemocracy articles about it. Russia: raid on Memorial HQ has the official statement from “Memorial” from 4 December, outlining that “the confiscated discs contain databases with biographical details of tens of thousands of victims of the Stalinist repressions [which] has taken “Memorial” 20 years to collect”. In Eleven hard disks, “Tatyana Kosinova itemises the material, which includes Memorial’s massive project for a Virtual Gulag Museum” and the whole of its electronic archive of oral history.
Re: Speech wars and past inaugural addresses: for a comparison of the words used by GWB and Obama in their speeches, check out this mysterious webpage. It lists the “words which appear in one speech, but not the other, in decreasing order of number of times mentioned”, with words of less than 4 letters and themost frequently used words excluded for clarity.
Nobody in TV news stir-fries his ideas and serves them to the audience faster than MSNBC’s Chris Matthews. Drawing from a larder filled with old anecdotes, unreliable metaphors, wacky intuition, and superficial observations, the always-animated Matthews steers whatever’s handy into the hot wok that is his brain. The sizzling free-associations skitter through his limbic system, leap out his mouth, and look for a resting spot in the national conversation, where they steam like fresh lava in untouchable heaps.
When I ranted about Matthews, I mentioned his mindblowingly shallow stupidity, but mostly I focused on the way he “turns with the wind with the self-evidence of someone who is so obliviously vain and unreflective, he wouldn’t even be able to recognize that he’s doing it.” But what strikes me in Shafer’s account is the man’s enduring love for authority, or maybe it’s celebrity. His knees go weak in the presence of celebrity – not the best trait in one of the country’s premier pundits.
Inauguration flashback. Cutenessabounds – “two pints of cuteness and a packet of cool, please”!