Archive for the ‘Barack Obama’ Tag

Don’t Bother Chasing the Media’s Ever Shifting Focus

So I have no idea what the White House is trying to accomplish by attacking Fox News, but nonetheless much of the criticism aimed at suggesting it’s a terrible decision is baseless.

Maybe it won’t accomplish anything to call Fox News biased, but there is no casual mechanism by which it will backfire. Despite the million references to losing focus or attention there is precious little reason to believe that any strategy would cause the media to focus on the substance of Obama’s reforms. Sure the balloon boy might fade into obscurity, but what if Sacha and Malia’s school changes their lunch menu again? What if Rev. Wright decides make jokes about some new ethnic group? More likely you’ll see more dishonest studies and push polls on health care by the enemies of reform, but the effect will be the same the public getting anything but the Obama message.

And it’s not like Obama is canceling security counsel meetings to think of a snarky comment to make about Fox News. The people thinking about how to respond to Fox News spend all day thinking about media, because they’re communications professionals.



Change You Can Follow Like A Sheep

Barack Obama wants activist groups to chill out and stop calling out sellout Democrats:

President Obama, strategizing yesterday with congressional leaders about health-care reform, complained that liberal advocacy groups ought to drop their attacks on Democratic lawmakers and devote their energy to promoting passage of comprehensive legislation.

In a pre-holiday call with half a dozen top House and Senate Democrats, Obama expressed his concern over advertisements and online campaigns targeting moderate Democrats, whom they criticize for not being fully devoted to “true” health-care reform.

“We shouldn’t be focusing resources on each other,” Obama opined in the call, according to three sources who participated in or listened to the conversation. “We ought to be focused on winning this debate.”

Specifically, Obama said he is hoping left-leaning organizations that worked on his behalf in the presidential campaign will now rally support for “advancing legislation” that fulfills his goal of expanding coverage, controlling rising costs and modernizing the health system.

In what I hope will be the answer Obama hears from every activist group let me say:

Firstly, activists have every right to influence this bill and criticize politicians that are helping the health insurance industry preserve their ability to victimize their customers. Secondly the much the vaunted Spock like logic of Obama is clearly missing from these comments.

Sure, holding fire on the Conservative Dems would get the bill passed quicker, but that it’s wholly beside the point. If passing the bill quickly was the goal then we shouldn’t just give up on the public option, but every part of the bill the health insurance industry deems controversial. Why not just let the lobbyists write the whole reform package to save us time? The Republicans got lots of Bush’s bills through Congress using that method.

And just for clarification this is not about ideology, it’s about helping people stay healthy and not go broke in the process. It’s my skin in the game as they would say in health care circles. These groups are fighting for my own and millions of Americans well being and I don’t appreciate Obama telling them to stop because Mary Landrieu doesn’t like being called a sell out.

We have the power

Today is the six-month anniversary of Barack Obama’s inauguration, and it’s a good time to reflect on the President and our relationship to him.

For the past six months–or, actually, longer–I have watched a divide growing in the left-wing community, a division as predictable as it is disheartening.  Even before Barack Obama was inaugurated, there were those who were quick to call him a traitor to progressive principles when he appointed conservatives and Democratic party establishment types rather than progressives to his Cabinet and associated positions.  As the list of disappointing decisions grows–upholding DADT, refusing to prosecute Bush and his cronies for violations of the Constitution and for committing war crimes, continuing to subject detainees at Guantanamo Bay to military tribunals rather than giving them legal trials, supporting DOMA, reinstating mountaintop mining–I have heard numerous people say that Obama lied to us, that he is no different than Bush, and even that he was a Manchurian candidate.

On the other side, there are the Obama apologists.  Much like defenders of George Lucas’ last three movies, these people look for, and often invent, reasons why every bad decision the President makes is actually a good decision.  Every decision that looks bad to us must actually be a clever chess move Obama is making towards our common progressive goals.  Since he has access to so much more information than we do, we should fold our hands and take him on faith.  They tend to react with hostility to any real criticism of the President.

It’s time for us to look in the mirror, and see what this fight is actually about.  It’s about our passionate hope for the possibility of just government, and our terror that that is impossible.  Every time we send a man (usually it’s a man) into this fight with the establishment, we look to him to prove that real change is possible and that we do have power to make things better.  And–this is the key–he’s supposed to prove all that by doing it for us.  He is supposed to be able to inhabit the corrupt and imbalanced system that has created so many of the injustices we fight, at its center, and remain just as true to his beliefs, and honest and open in their expression, as we are.  Moreover, he is supposed to redress these imbalances and stop the injustices.  Isn’t that what we hired him for?

Well, yes.  And it is essential that we hold this man, and all the others we elect, accountable.  It is also essential for each of us to have the right to criticize the President.  After eight years of George Bush, we have all had enough of bowing and scraping and loyalty oaths, enough of an America in which, as Ari Fleischer once famously said, “Americans should be careful what they say.”

But it is also essential that we acknowledge that we hired this man to fulfill an impossible role.  We have the myth that one lone hero will be able to beat a corrupt power structure, that his dedication to his ideals, his moral purity, in fact, will protect him as he enters  Hell, and, if he is good enough, he will resist temptation, defeat the powers of darkness, and deliver us all from bondage.  If he compromises, or weakens, or fails to right the wrongs we see, then clearly, he must not be morally good enough.  He must not be the right one.  Disappointed and angry, we go back to searching for someone else to send through this intricate and savage bureaucratic gauntlet.  Or maybe we give up on change altogether and snipe from the sidelines at those who are still foolish enough to keep trying.

When I went to the house party that engendered Carrots and Sticks, I chose it, not because it was close to my house–there were several closer–but because Jeremy’s ad for his party spoke to me:

Talking Carrots and Sticks–Our Role in Enacting a Change Agenda

“As Obama supporters, we now face the tough dual challenge of getting his back when necessary and holding his feet to the fire when necessary.  How do we do this?  Where does the MyBO community fit into the picture?”

This ad showed me that somebody had had the simple, practical, and perhaps revolutionary idea of criticizing Barack Obama without abandoning him. Without demonizing him.  In Jeremy’s mind, criticizing Obama and supporting him were not mutually exclusive.  After six months of watching Obama’s first administration play out, I’d like to add my own idea to Jeremy’s:  when Obama fails us is when he most needs us.  Should we criticize the President when he weakens on a principle or fails to deliver on a promise?  Hell yes.  We shouldn’t accept wavering and inaction.  But neither should we give up on him, spreading messages of despair.  After we criticize him, we should pour even more energy and effort into organizing ourselves into a more effective, more widespread, and more powerful movement.  That is supporting the President.  It is honest, loyal, and most importantly, practical support of an idealistic mission.

Howard Dean recently said of Barack Obama, “When somebody comes in from the outside–and even though he spent a few years in the Senate, Barack Obama is really an outsider–when somebody comes in from the outside, there’s always a struggle:  Will Washington change the President, or will the President change Washington?  Oftentimes, Washington wins.  We can’t let that happen.  That is our job.  It doesn’t have to be that way…People are saying [of my time as DNC chair] ‘Imagine taking on the Washington establishment.’  I didn’t take on the Washington establishment.  I had my own power base.  It was you….You did that.”

We need to do it again.  We need to do it now.


What’s at Stake In Congress In 2009

President Obama’s election has created huge possibilities for change. However, for the biggest changes to occur you need Congress to act first. By far the two biggest issues before Congress are Climate Change and Health Care.

In both cases the present trajectory of policy is nothing short of disaster. Health care costs if left unchecked will cripple our economy and government for the coming century. The outcomes of Climate Change will be even worse, causing natural disasters, massive health impacts, and crippling developing nation economic growth. Both scenarios have been subject to a multitude of analysis from scientists, economists, climatologists, and many others. Less time has been spent analyzing what’s at stake for those industries and individuals currently advocating against change.

What’s driving record breaking lobbying efforts on these issues? In short they are afraid of nothing less then the death of their entire industries. Before I unpack that claim, that me review what a industry is in this political context and what death could mean. An industry is an idea about how to make money. It presumes certain behaviors and expected outcomes. For example it’s understood there will be good and bad years or that some years you might run a deficit, but it’s also expected that your profits and revenue will generally increase over the long term. That’s what a healthy industry is all about, the promise of future profits and growth.

An industry is a lot of people. It’s management, stock holders, employees, debt holders, business partners and contractors, and consumers. For a company like General Motors that’s millions of people. Some companies like Bear Stearns just stop existing, but it’s more common to see them re-organize, change their name, or otherwise continue existing in some new form. Enron changed it’s name to Enron Recovery Corporation, and actually sued Enron’s business associates for cooperating with the former management’s fraudulent practices. Think about that, 2004 Enron was legally adverse to corporations based on their cooperation with 2000-2002 Enron. GM will continue to exist, but the premise of their existence has been altered and many stakeholders were wiped out.

In both the health care and climate change debates there are a wide range possible outcomes, almost of them all of bad for these industries. In health care the least harmful scenario is having to deal with a bunch of costly rules and regulations, the worst includes watching a public option come in and undermine their market share. The cap and trade bill is less likely to pass then health care reform, but there is a broad understanding that the eventually the Obama administration is going to enact laws that hurt dirty energy providers. It’s just a matter of how much and when. A cap and trade bill would dictate the range of market share and total output dirty energy producers could expect to control in future years. The further you go in the future the smaller their contribution to powering America becomes. In the case of coal you’d probably see a complete lack of new profits fairly quickly, as building new coal plants would become a nonstarter. In both cases it’s the difference between industries growing and declining in size and the difference is trillions of dollars.

In both cases you have the possible creation of alternative political coalitions and feedback loops leading to even greater change. If the public option ends up serving 12 million people and 10 million of them like it and don’t want it go away suddenly there is a new political force pressuring politicians to preserve and expand it. Similarly if solar and wind double or triple in size then so does their potential political muscle. If they stop making new coal plants, then the political power of coal mines would drop. As fuel efficiency increases our dependence on oil would drop. No country has ever dropped government run health care despite it’s alleged evils, because of these same type of policy feedbacks.

But none of these outcomes is guaranteed. Which is why industry money spent lobbying this year will shatter all records.