Change We Can Believe In

Some readers of this blog have a near-pathological hatred of Obama.  Others have fallen out of love.  Myself, I realize he’s a consummate politician, with all the failings that entails.  But I still think of him as a net positive.  And here’s a few reasons why:

He can walk into the lion’s den and savage the lions so badly they start regretting the cameras.

Under his command, we’re finally seeing some terrorist ass kicked – depite all this “palling around with terrorists” bullshit the Cons so love to spew.Post Options

And here’s actual change we can believe in:

It’s easy to lose sight of these developments, especially when we’re caught up in the day-to-day fights over various political disputes, but the federal government has changed in some pretty dramatic ways over the last year. When we talk about the differences between Obama/Biden and Bush/Cheney, we tend to think about economic, national security, legal, and social policy.
But John Judis reminds us of regulatory policy, which on a day-to-day level, is just as important as the other policy areas.

[T]here is one extremely consequential area where Obama has done just about everything a liberal could ask for — but done it so quietly that almost no one, including most liberals, has noticed. Obama’s three Republican predecessors were all committed to weakening or even destroying the country’s regulatory apparatus: the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and the other agencies that are supposed to protect workers and consumers by regulating business practices.

Now Obama is seeking to rebuild these battered institutions. In doing so, he isn’t simply improving the effectiveness of various government offices or making scattered progress on a few issues; he is resuscitating an entire philosophy of government with roots in the Progressive era of the early twentieth century. Taken as a whole, Obama’s revival of these agencies is arguably the most significant accomplishment of his first year in office. […]

Republican presidents didn’t just undermine scientific administration by making poor appointments; they also slashed or held down the regulatory agencies’ budgets, forcing them to cut personnel. This was a particular problem in the all-important area of enforcement: If regulatory agencies can’t conduct inspections and enforce rules, it doesn’t matter how tough those rules are…. Now Obama is reversing these trends.

Judis added that Obama’s regulatory appointments “could not be more different” from those we’ve seen in recent years, and “the flow of expertise into the federal bureaucracy over the past year has been reminiscent of what took place at the start of the New Deal.”

There’s far more than just those few items, such as the few I meant to highlight awhile back and was too knee-deep in stupidity to get to: granting Temporary Protected Status to Haitians, providing the kind of leadership that inspires the DOJ to go after discrimination rather than engaging wholesale in it, giving a shout-out to the atheists… along with plenty else, large and small. 

Is he perfect?  Absolutely not.  Is he often wrong?  Of course.  Does he play really fucking annoying political games?  Definitely.  And is he the great progressive president everybody was hoping for?  No, and he never was. 

But for all that, I consider him a net positive.  Especially when I consider what the alternative would’ve been.

Further Thoughts on the President’s Peace Prize

I’ve been seeing a lot of invective against the President and the Nobel Committee from both the left and right, perhaps one of the only times this year they’ll find themselves in agreement on anything.  There is a substantive difference in the invective: Cons are screaming incoherently, while the lefties are a little more analytical about their criticism.  Obama doesn’t deserve it, they say.  He hasn’t done anything, they say.

Bullshit.

Even the fine folks at Firedoglake, who never miss an opportunity to bash Obama, have to admit it’s bullshit:

FDL’s writers have been among the sharpest of the reality-based critics of the Obama administration, as posts like this one will show.  But, contrary to what’s been claimed, we’re not so steeped in reactive Obama hatred that we won’t give the man credit when it’s due.   Case in point:  His being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Yes, he’s only been in office a little over eight months.   Yet he’s already made more progress with both Russia and Iran than George W. Bush and the neocon cabal made in eight years, which makes experts on the Middle East like Juan Cole quite happy:
President Obama is slowly putting Iran in a box. His cancellation of the useless and expensive so-called missile shield program in Eastern Europe, which had needlessly antagonized Russia, has been rewarded with greater Russian cooperativeness on Iran. The U.S. right wing accused Obama of a failure of nerve. But in fact his move was shrewd and gutsy, since he predisposed Russia to increased cooperation with the U.S. in regard to Iran’s nuclear research program.
Obama’s full-court press for a United Nations Security Council resolution on nuclear disarmament also pulled the rug out from under Iran’s previous grandstanding tactics, whereby it accused the U.S. and its allies of only wanting nuclear dominance, not the abolition of nukes.
Cole goes on to note that President Obama chaired the U.N. Security Council at the summit level on Thursday, and pushed through an important resolution on nuclear disarmament.

Spencer Ackerman, no gentle soul he, makes much the same point in a hard-hitting post, and concludes:

Progressives have a unique responsibility to hold Obama to his own stated vision, and the vision that the Nobel committee honored today. But there is a difference between an incomplete agenda and a counterproductive one. And in truth, the agenda is never complete. The work goes on. But we are on a path. Fired up, ready to go.

And PalMD quotes the Nobel Committee, then makes the point:

What the committee may or may not have meant is that Obama seems to be more interested in at least understanding the beliefs and desires of our friends and enemies, and using this understanding as a basis for diplomacy.
So while the award may seem quixotic, it’s not unprecedented. The Nobel committee is in essence saying, “we know the US is enormously powerful and influential, and we’re happy to see that you may be using your powers responsibly.” To paraphrase Sally Field, they really like us!

How should we, as Americans, respond to this honor? It is and honor. We are a true representative democracy, and our elected head of state was just given the world’s most prestigious award. It is an endorsement by others of many of our basic values. This is an opportunity for us to say to the world, “yes, we are uniquely important” Many of our values are universal. The world still looks to us as a model democracy. After years in the wilderness of world opinion, we are being recognized for our accomplishments and ideals. I like that.

So do I.

And the Obama administration is taking this very, very seriously:

The State Department reflects on the significance of President Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize.

“Certainly from our standpoint, this gives us a sense of momentum — when the United States has accolades tossed its way, rather than shoes.”
That’s the take of Hillary Clinton’s State Department on President Obama being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, according to her spokesman, Assistant Secretary PJ Crowley.

Crowley added, “There is an opportunity here. The tone has changed — but obviously we recognize that, while the tone in the world has changed, the challenges remain. They are very significant.”

So forgive me if I see you pissing and moaning that Obama didn’t deserve this and the Nobel Committee’s a bunch of idiots, and call bullshit.  It is bullshit.

Besides, it’s not Obama’s fault he won this thing.  The right, as in so much else, is to blame.  And, furthermore:

Larisa Alexandrovna has hit it right on the mark when she says, ‘When that recipient happens to be the leader of a nation – representing his country all over the world – then that honor is also bestowed on the citizens of that nation.’ 
Yup, Obama didn’t win this Nobel Peace Prize. America did.

Before you start shrieking we don’t deserve it, keep in mind that we finally voted the Cons out.  And the Nobel Committee recognizes that peace is a work in progress.  This is a call to action, not a reward for a job well done.  If you can’t take it in that sense, I’m very sorry for you.

The rest of us are going to go do some celebrating.  And one of the things we’ll be celebrating is how very far we’ve come.

The Case for Diplomacy: Iran Edition

So, Bush spends eight years puffing out his chest and threatening death, mayhem and an ass-whuppin’ if Iran doesn’t do exactly what he tells them to do.  Accomplishment: Iran hid its nuclear facilities, informed the administration that they could go fuck themselves, and went on about their uranium enrichment.

Obama spends eight months in office, has a nice chat with Iran after letting them know that he’s got both carrots and sticks on offer, their choice.  Accomplishment: Iran’s letting the inspectors in, shipping its uranium off to other countries where it can be enriched precisely the way we want it, and agreed to reduce its stockpile by 75%.

I rest my case.

Obama’s Reform Speech: The Good, the Bad, and the Absolutely Fucking Ridiculous

President Obama gave his big health care reform speech, which I missed because I was thinking in Pacific rather than Eastern time. But I don’t feel like I’ve missed a thing. After all, the transcript’s online, a bunch of folks live-blogged it, and there was plenty of follow-up.

We’ll begin our review of the highlights with the lowlights, as it were.

Saxby Chambliss had the utter gall to demand humility from Obama before the Big Speech. Hey, Sax – how about humility from the losers just this once, K? Thank you, Steve Benen, for breaking the Smack-o-Matic over his arse.

And if you thought the rest of the GOP would act like grownups, well, you don’t know Cons. They treated the solemn occasion as if they’d been bused in on the Glenn Beck Express:

Tonight during his joint address to Congress, President Obama attempted to set the record straight on some of the “key controversies” surrounding the health care debate. While it’s normal for members of the opposition party to occasionally not clap at statements with which they disagree, congressional Republicans went further tonight, being outright rude at times.

At one point, President Obama addressed the myth that his health care proposals would insure undocumented immigrants: “This, too, is false – the reforms I’m proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally.”

In response, Republicans not only began booing him, but Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) shouted out, “LIE!” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) shot an angry look in his direction, and Vice President Biden shook his head. The rudeness shocked even veteran political observers such as NBC’s Chuck Todd, who wrote on Twitter, “Wow. What’s next a duel?” MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough also wrote, “Whoever shouted out that the president was lying is a dumbass who should show the President respect.” On MSNBC after the speech, Newsweek reporter Howard Fineman said, “The Republicans were mostly stage props in this speech tonight and they behaved like it.”

Indeed they did. If you didn’t catch the speech on teevee, Greg Sargent and Steve Benen liveblogged it, and caught the Cons in all their unglorious action.

Note how quickly Wilson apologized after his Democratic opponent made thousands off his idiocy? Ah, pissed-off small donors, how I love thee.

Olympia Snowe, who apparently has delusions of grandeur now that she’s confirmed as the only Con sane enough to work across the aisle with, “personally asked President Obama to remove any mentions of the public option from his speech to Congress. I’m afraid she vastly overestimated her importance, but it was a nice try.

In fact, all those folks who were fearing Obama wouldn’t so much as mention the public option were in for a bit of a shock. He made his case for it. Granted, he didn’t say “Public option or bust!”, and that’s a shame, but let’s consider the reaction of listening Dems for a moment, shall we?

There’s Rep. John Dingell:

“I think a). he was clear enough and b). he was strong enough because he made it plain that the public option was the way to create an absolutely necessary thing for the bill to succeed–and that is competition.”

Does that mean the public option is more viable now than it was this morning?

“The answer to the question is yes,” Dingell told me.

And Sen. Sherrod Brown:

“He wants to always be open to ideas…but he sets his standard. And the standard is it’s gotta offer better choice… it’s got to discipline insurance companies… and it’s got to bring prices down,” Brown said in response to a question from TPMDC. “The other options don’t even come close to doing it.”

Brown’s statement amounts to a belief that Obama has implied a demand for a public option. Obama has insisted that the plan he signs must increase competition and bring prices down. But though he’s said he’s open to triggers and co-ops, Brown says those options fall short enough that they likely won’t meet the President mark. “I think he laid it out in a way that only a public option will get us where we want to go.”

And even House Progressive leader Raul Grijalva wasn’t too disappointed:

“It was very encouraging,” Grijalva said. “Obviously our policy point is the public plan and I thought the President dealt with it. He didn’t get into a lot of specificity of what he does support and doesn’t support.”

In an official statement, which I’ve pasted below, Grijalva said “the President needs to be more direct on what the public option means and what it will do for the American people.”

So it sounds like Dems will take that implicit endorsement of the public option and run with it. All to the good, sez I.

There were a lot of interesting people with gripping stories present to witness said speech. Digby’s got their bios. Here’s hoping the media pays attention to them instead of screaming Teabaggers for once.

And the tearjerker moment: Ted Kennedy’s letter from the dead:

At the end of President Obama’s speech tonight, he read from a letter Ted Kennedy wrote to him in May, but which was only delivered upon his death.

“For me, this cause stretched across decades,” Kennedy wrote. “[I]t has been disappointed, but never finally defeated. It was the cause of my life. And in the past year, the prospect of victory sustained me-and the work of achieving it summoned my energy and determination.”

There will be struggles – there always have been – and they are already underway again. But as we moved forward in these months, I learned that you will not yield to calls to retreat – that you will stay with the cause until it is won. I saw your conviction that the time is now and witnessed your unwavering commitment and understanding that health care is a decisive issue for our future prosperity. But you have also reminded all of us that it concerns more than material things; that what we face is above all a moral issue; that at stake are not just the details of policy, but fundamental principles of social justice and the character of our country.

And so because of your vision and resolve, I came to believe that soon, very soon, affordable health coverage will be available to all, in an America where the state of a family’s health will never again depend on the amount of a family’s wealth. And while I will not see the victory, I was able to look forward and know that we will – yes, we will – fulfill the promise of health care in America as a right and not a privilege.

We will, Teddy. Somehow, we will.

Mr. President, Might We Direct Your Attention to FDR?

Stop acting like a battered spouse and grow a pair, sir. You could learn a lot from a man with useless legs and an adamantium spine:

These days it seems that bipartisanship is all the rage.

Not in practice, mind you, but as a codeword sop to the masses as justification for defending the status quo.

The end result of bipartisanship is paring down a bill until it changes next to nothing of import. And then selling it as if it were the greatest thing since the last bucket of lukewarm spit to pass this way.

This is nothing new in politics. The money has always been on the side of the status quo, since change can be costly to one’s bottom line.

[snip]

Jean Edward Smith has a fantastic op-ed in the NYTimes today talking about FDR, the false sop of bipartisanship and the real value of a little more backbone:

. . .this fixation on securing bipartisan support for health care reform suggests that the Democratic Party has forgotten how to govern and the White House has forgotten how to lead.

Roosevelt understood that governing involved choice and that choice engendered dissent. He accepted opposition as part of the process. It is time for the Obama administration to step up to the plate and make some hard choices.

He cites numorous examples of Roosevelt New Deal reforms which were enacted in spite of entrenched interests, and not because they’d been pared down to mere windowdressing to win their support.

Was Glass-Steagall passed in a bi-partisan fashion with entrenched interests on Wall Street given a seat at the negotiating table? Hell no. Social security? Are you kidding me?!?

Were there membes of Congress consorting with moneyed interests trying to block the bill, much like Max Baucus’ lobbyist-filed anteroom? Undoubtedly. Although, as Krugman points out, there’s a lot more of that lobbyist payola floating around these days.

But the real difference between then and now?

FDR sold the need for change at the grassroots by making that change actually happen. And without selling the public’s interest down the river in the process. Which made his grassroots support all the stronger, and enabled him to fend off opposition by painting them as being against the public, fueling more public support in the process.

And something else to keep in mind, Mr. President:

Health care reform enacted by a Democratic majority is still meaningful reform. Even if it is passed without Republican support, it would still be the law of the land.

[snip]

There’s far worse fates for history to judge than to be hated by right-wing extremists.

Indeed.

Want to Know Why Health Care Reform’s in Critical Condition?

Look no further than the man in the Oval Office.

Wendell Potter unloads:

Former CIGNA PR chief Wendell Potter is very, very angry over Obama’s movement away from true healthcare reform:

Not only is Obama clearly ready to throw the public option overboard, he is embracing the requirement that we all be forced to buy insurance from private insurers. That means your tax dollars and mine will be used to pay subsidies to the big insurers to provide coverage to people who can’t afford to buy their policies, because the big insurers charge far more than they should because Wall Street investors demand that they do.

One of the people who undoubtedly talked Obama away from the public option and into supporting this mandate is his new BFF, Aetna CEO Ron Williams. Williams, who made $65 million off of Aetna’s policyholders’ premiums over the past two years and who was the mastermind behind Aetna’s shedding of eight million members a few years ago to meet Wall Street’s demands, is the insurance industry’s leading champion of requiring us all to buy insurance. And, of course, without a public option, we’ll all be forced to buy coverage from Aetna or one of the other private insurers.

According to a recent article in Forbes, Williams has been to the White House a half a dozen times recently to advise the president and his staff on health care reform. That same article quoted a Wall Street analyst as saying that Aetna likely will dump about 600,000 policyholders during the coming months to satisfy its investors’ unrelenting profit demands.

There’s more where that came from. Much, much more.

Jane Hamsher has the essential run-down of supposed allies of health care reform who are actually selling it up the river. And she reminds us who’s responsible for seeing meaningful reform passed:

If a public plan gets into a final health care bill, it’s going to be because of public pressure, because people who put Obama in office demand one.

My darlings, if you haven’t already, it’s time to get noisy.

Goal Thermometer

Let’s remind our political majority of who put them there, and why.