Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Bush Released Alleged Architects of Failed NW Airlines Bombing to "Art Therapy" Program

Many conservatives are in high gear accusing President Obama of being soft on terrorism, presumably because he has not started a nuclear war against al Qaeda. But missing from some of the ranting is the following information. Two of the al Qaeda leaders who allegedly planned the recent failed bombing of a Northwest Airlines plane were released from US custody by the Bush administration. Bush sent them to an "art therapy" rehabilitation" program in Saudi Arabia. Apparently, the program did not work.

Here is a clip from an ABC News story on this issue:

Two of the four leaders allegedly behind the al Qaeda plot to blow up a Northwest Airlines passenger jet over Detroit were released by the U.S. from the Guantanamo prison in November, 2007, according to American officials and Department of Defense documents. Al Qaeda claimed responsibility for the Northwest bombing in a Monday statement that vowed more attacks on Americans.

American officials agreed to send the two terrorists from Guantanamo to Saudi Arabia where they entered into an "art therapy rehabilitation program" and were set free, according to U.S. and Saudi officials.
See the full article here: Northwest Flight 253: al Qaeda Leaders Behind Terror Plot Were Released by U.S.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Just a Little Note: People Closer to Obama -- Not the Clintons -- Are Calling Liberals "Insane" and "Irrational"

Although President Obama chose a lot of people from the Clinton administration to fill his Cabinet and staff positions, these individuals have not paraded around calling liberals "insane" and "irrational." Before his election, many liberals incorrectly believed that Obama, not Clinton, was a liberal dream-come-true. But during the first epic battle of his presidency, some of his closest allies, including David Axelrod, Robert Gibbs, and Rahm Emanuel, have ridiculed liberals who oppose the pseudo-reform bill that passed in the Senate. Uncritical belief in a politician never pays off.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

While White House Condemns Liberals, Congressional Moderates Remain Inflexible

Now that the House and Senate have passed heathcare bills, the process of merging the disparate proposals must take place. The White House has branded liberals who oppose the more conservative Senate bill as inflexible and impractical. But moderates, whom Obama has eagerly sought to appease during the legislative process, have repeatedly drawn firm and rigid lines in the sand.

Joe Lieberman, for example, issued multiple filibuster threats until Obama instructed Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to drop the public plan option from the Senate bill. Ben Nelson won concessions on abortion funding after he threatened to derail the bill. And Mary Landrieu secured millions of dollars in federal funding for Louisiana after she vowed to vote against the measure.

According to The Hill, Senate moderates have promised to maintain their inflexible stance during the upcoming negotiations:

Democratic centrists have informed Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) they will accept few changes in the final healthcare bill negotiated between the House and Senate.

Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) and Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) have made clear there is little room to deviate from the bill the Senate passed on Christmas Eve.

They are the most vocal of nearly two-dozen senators who have indicated they see little wiggle room in the conference talks. . . .

Lawmakers in the House will have to accept the Senate legislation with little change if a final bill is to muster 60 votes to overcome procedural hurdles and make it to President Barack Obama’s desk, the centrists say.

“There’s very little room for this bill to change,” said Landrieu. “The framework really has to stay basically in place.

Although centrists have continually dug their heels in the sand and threatened to kill the reform process unless their demands were met, the White House has not described their muscularity as "insane" or "irrational." Instead, these labels seemingly apply only to liberals who demand a tough posture during negotiations.

Question for readers: What do you think explains the disparate treatment of liberals and moderates by the White House?

See also:

NYT's Adam Nagourney Peddles New White House Attacks on Progressives

Criticizing President Obama Is Pragmatic

Rahm Emanuel Tells Liberals To Kiss His Arse

Liberals Battle White House Over Healthcare Reform

White House Shows Its True Colors on Healthcare Reform

Irrational Robert Gibbs Says Howard Dean Is Irrational

Salon's Glenn Greenwald Says: Blame Obama, Rather Than Lieberman

Why Is Obama Still Protecting Lieberman?

House Democrat Louise M. Slaughter: Scrap Senate Healthcare Bill

Obama Falsely Claims that the Senate Healthcare Bill Matches His Campaign Promises

Ezra Klein's "Pink=Blue=Colors" Logic Regarding Healthcare Reform

Friday, December 25, 2009

NYT's Adam Nagourney Peddles New White House Attacks on Progressives

Adam Nagourney has written an article that purports to analyze ideological divisions in the Democratic Party. But the "article," which reads more like an op-ed, narrowly and incorrectly frames Democratic Party divisions in the same flawed terms as the White House has done: Obama, the pragmatist, is dueling with unrealistic and impractical leftist ideologues.

Nagourney repeatedly portrays Obama's progressive critics as political "outsiders," which supposedly makes them naive about politics and intolerant of compromise:
It is not just that the left wing of the party thinks that its centrists hold too much sway and are too quick to cave when faced with pressure from the right. It is also that this White House, stocked as it is with insiders, people whose view of politics is shaped by the compromises inherent in legislating, is confronting a liberal base made up largely of outsiders to the lawmaking process who are asking why they should accept politics as usual (boldface added).
Nagourney's portrayal of Obama's critics, however, is highly simplistic and deceptive. The growing list of progressives who have criticized Obama includes veteran lawmakers such as John Conyers, Maxine Waters, Russ Feingold, and Louise M. Slaughter. And while some of the more passionate critiques have come from independent journalists and writers, who are not professional politicians, that does not make these individuals ignorant of the political process or unreceptive to compromise. Instead, it simply demonstrates that they are either more liberal or freer to speak honestly, without worrying about maintaining access to the White House -- something Nagourney must consider when he writes his own articles.

Nagourney, however, chooses to rest his entire article on a simplistic dichotomy. To Nagourney, Obama is a results-oriented pragmatist, while his critics, especially Howard Dean, are ideologues:
As much as Mr. Obama presented himself as an outsider during his campaign, a lesson of this battle is that this is a president who would rather work within the system than seek to upend it. He is not the ideologue ready to stage a symbolic fight that could end in defeat; he is a former senator comfortable in dealing with the arcane rules of the Senate and prepared to accept compromise in search of a larger goal. For the most part, Democrats on Capitol Hill have stuck with him.

By contrast, Mr. Dean, the former Democratic Party chairman who has long had strained relations with this administration, said the White House was slow to fight and quick to make concessions — particularly on creating a public insurance plan — and demanded that Democrats kill the Senate version of the health care bill.
To build upon this theme, Nagourney uncritically quotes Senior White House adviser David Axelrod:
"The president wasn’t after a Pyrrhic victory — he wasn’t into symbolism. . . .The president is after solving a problem that has bedeviled a country and countless families for generations."
Earlier this month, Axelrod called liberal opponents of the Senate bill "insane."

Last week, I wrote an essay that criticizes the Obama-as-pragmatist rhetoric, which has flourished in response to liberal critiques of the Senate healthcare bill. Nagourney cannot resist employing this flawed script. The pragmatism rhetoric rests on a false understanding of political change. Historically, liberal change has been incremental. It has involved compromise. And it has involved dealing with setbacks from successful countermovements. But liberal change has never occurred in the absence of open and vocal criticism of politicians from progressives. Participants in abolition, suffrage, the Civil Rights Movement, feminism and GLBT rights have all employed criticism (as well as compromise) to effectuate change.

The White House and Nagourney, however, continue to approach politics from an ahistorical perspective. Broad social change has only resulted from and can only occur with political pressure. Indeed, even the passage of the watered-down Senate bill occurred as a result of decades of activism on the issue of healthcare reform and from the political activism that secured Obama's election victory and Democratic majorities in Congress. The White House and Nagourney, however, portray the healthcare victory exclusively as the product of pragmatic politicians making deals.

Nagourney also accepts the White House's belief that liberal opposition will be irrelevant in November 2010. According to Nagourney, if progressives could not persuade one Senate Democrat to vote against the healthcare bill, then they cannot impact midterm elections. This is a simplistic understanding of politics from someone who believes he is educating his audience about the complexity of politics. Politics involves short-term defeats and victories. The passage of the Senate bill does not guarantee that the Democrats will not be vulnerable in 2010 (or 2012) to forces on the left or right. Senators undoubtedly supported the legislation for numerous reasons (party unity, etc). Their interests, however, do not determine the outcome of elections. Voters do.

Final Take: Nagourney's article falls far short from useful political analysis. Instead, it sounds like White House talking points designed to marginalize progressive critics.

Update: NYT's writer Ross Douthat continues the Obama-as-pragmatist rhetoric. His opinion essay, however, is far more intelligent and complicated than Nagourney's piece. Douthat considers the downsides of pragmatism and cutting deals, including the reality that: "sometimes what gets done isn’t worth doing. The assumption that a compromised victory is better than no victory at all can produce phony achievements — like last week’s 'global agreement' on climate change — and bloated, ugly legislation" (boldface added). I concur.

See also:

Criticizing President Obama Is Pragmatic

Rahm Emanuel Tells Liberals To Kiss His Arse

Liberals Battle White House Over Healthcare Reform

White House Shows Its True Colors on Healthcare Reform

Irrational Robert Gibbs Says Howard Dean Is Irrational

Salon's Glenn Greenwald Says: Blame Obama, Rather Than Lieberman

Why Is Obama Still Protecting Lieberman?

House Democrat Louise M. Slaughter: Scrap Senate Healthcare Bill

Obama Falsely Claims that the Senate Healthcare Bill Matches His Campaign Promises

Ezra Klein's "Pink=Blue=Colors" Logic Regarding Healthcare Reform

Northwest Airlines Passenger Attempts to Ignite Powdery Explosive on Plane

Abdul Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Northwest Airlines passenger traveling from Amsterdam to Detroit, attempted to ignite a powdery substance on a plane today. Although Abdulmutallab claims he acted upon orders from Al Qaeda, the FBI is suspicious and does not have any evidence that corroborates the story.

Information is still unfolding, but the Washington Post has made the following report regarding the event:
Although the device was originally described as firecrackers, investigators believe the material was actually part of an incendiary device, the counterterrorism official said. That distinction from an explosive would limit the potential impact to the aircraft's structure and the lethality to passengers, and also provide a possible clue as to whether it should have been detected by existing explosives detection equipment.
Although the White House describes the event as an attempted act of terrorism, the government has not raised the terror alert.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

When Will Obama Close the Guantanamo Bay Prison, Part II

A Dissenting Justice essay published on May 16, 2009 asked the question: "When Will Obama Close the Guantanamo Bay Prison?" The essay asserted that Obama's timeline for closing the facility by January 2010 might not come to fruition because lawmakers and the public opposed moving detainees to the United States. Also, the administration was preparing to retain the military tribunal system created during the Bush administration, which would obviate the need to move detainees to the United States. Furthermore, a review of the facility commissioned by President Obama had concluded that it did not violate human rights law. Accordingly, I suspected that Obama might not meet his deadline for closing the disparaged facility.

Recent developments are causing commentators to wonder again when Obama will close the detention center. In particular, opposition to moving detainees persists, and an Illinois site chosen as a relocation center will probably not be in shape to house detainees for several more months. Some lawmakers believe that the administration will not shutter the prison until late 2010 or early 2011.

For a fuller discussion of the issue, see: Guantanamo prison may have to stay open until 2011.

House Democrat Louise M. Slaughter: Scrap Senate Healthcare Bill

Representative Louise M. Slaughter of New York has written an op-ed for CNN.com that urges Senators to scrap a controversial healthcare bill. Echoing complaints among many liberals, Slaughter criticizes Senate Democrats for scrapping the public plan option, which Democrats -- including President Obama -- have long argued would provide competition for insurance companies and reduce the cost of coverage. Slaughter also criticizes a compromise that would restrain the provision of abortion services to persons in federally subsidized health plans.

Slaughter's essay is located here: A Democrat's view from the House: Senate bill isn't health reform.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Obama Falsely Claims that the Senate Healthcare Bill Matches His Campaign Promises

Washington Post writer Ezra Klein was apparently priming an argument for President Obama when he claimed yesterday that the Senate healthcare bill matches Obama's campaign promises (on the other hand, see Update IV beloew). Several bloggers have repudiated Klein's argument.

During an interview conducted today with the Washington Post, however, Obama made the same assertion as Klein:
Nowhere has there been a bigger gap between the perceptions of compromise and the realities of compromise than in the health-care bill. . . . Every single criteria for reform I put forward is in this bill.
Most shockingly, Obama denies that the public option was ever a part of his presidential campaign -- despite the fact that his campaign literature proudly supports a public plan option:
Obama said the public option "has become a source of ideological contention between the left and right." But, he added, "I didn't campaign on the public option."
Obama, however, definitely supported the public option during his campaign, but the Senate bill does not create it. Obama also dropped drug reimportation as a goal to win pharmaceutical company support. And Obama campaigned against an insurance mandate, but he now supports it as part of the Senate and House bills.

Several other bloggers have analyzed the differences between Obama's promises and the Senate bill in great detail. See here and here. Even Matthew Yglesias, one of Obama's most ardent supporters, cannot accept the proposition that the Senate bill is identical to Obama's campaign promises (see Promises Broken).

Final Thought
I do not have a problem with the idea of compromise. Political compromises happen all the time -- and for good reason. I do have a problem, however, with dishonesty. Claiming that a compromise has not happened when it actually has is dishonest. If the White House expects liberals to accept its political compromises, it cannot pretend that the compromises have not actually occurred.

Update: National Nurses United, the nation's largest union of nurses, opposes the Senate bill. Perhaps its members are impractical ideologues as well.

Update II: I have edited this article to include Obama's language denying that he ever campaigned for a public plan. That is a very remarkable claim.

Update III: Think Progress obliterates the notion that Obama never campaigned for the public plan. See FLASHBACK: Obama Repeatedly Touted Public Option Before Refusing To Push For It In The Final Hours.

Update IV: Even Ezra Klein breaks rank with Obama, saying that it is impossible to defend his claim that he did not campaign on the public option.

Ezra Klein's "Pink=Blue=Colors" Logic Regarding Healthcare Reform

Ezra Klein has joined the list of "liberals," like Nate Silver, who insist upon defending President Obama and the watered-down Senate healthcare bill. Unfortunately, Klein does so by stretching the truth.

In a recent article, Klein defends Obama against liberals who argue that the Senate bill substantially betrays his campaign promises. Klein's analysis employs what I call "pink=blue=colors" logic, for reasons that will soon become apparent. Commenting on liberal anger, Klein says that the Senate bill is basically the same thing that Obama promised to deliver during his presidential campaign:
And there are, to be sure, some differences. The public option did not survive the Senate. The individual mandate, which Obama campaigned against, was added after key members of Congress and the administration realized that the plan wouldn't function in its absence. Drug reimportation was defeated, and a vague effort to have government pick up some catastrophic costs was never really mentioned.

But the basic structure of the proposal is remarkably similar.
The campaign promises=the Senate bill=two proposals to reform healthcare. In substance, however, the Senate bill differs drastically from Obama's campaign promises. Klein's conclusion makes sense only if the heralded public option, drug reimportation, and the individual mandate are irrelevant to the structure of the Senate bill. The controversy surrounding these measures alone indicates their importance on a political level, and an abundance of research demonstrates their importance in concrete economic terms.

Liberal bloggers have not reacted kindly to Klein. TalkLeft says that Klein's analysis is the "type of silly stuff [that] does no one any good - not Obama, not Ezra, and not anyone else." Emptywheel methodically dissects Klein's sloppy analysis. And Firedoglake has compiled a side-by-side analysis of Obama's promises and the Senate bill, concluding that Klein's argument is "absurd."

See also: Obama Falsely Claims that the Senate Healthcare Bill Matches His Campaign Promises

Monday, December 21, 2009

Russ Feingold Blames White House for Loss of Public Plan

In a statement offering "support" for the Senate healthare bill, Russ Feingold criticizes the White House for failing to support the public plan option:
Sunday, December 20, 2009

I’ve been fighting all year for a strong public option to compete with the insurance industry and bring health care spending down. I continued that fight during recent negotiations, and I refused to sign onto a deal to drop the public option from the Senate bill. Unfortunately, the lack of support from the administration made keeping the public option in the bill an uphill struggle. Removing the public option from the Senate bill is the wrong move, and eliminates $25 billion in savings. I will be urging members of the House and Senate who draft the final bill to make sure this essential provision is included.

But while the loss of the public option is a bitter pill to swallow, on balance, the bill still delivers meaningful reform, and the cost of inaction is simply too high. This bill significantly expands coverage and helps protect Wisconsinites from high costs and insurance company abuses, such as denying or restricting coverage based on pre-existing conditions. The bill also improves a flawed Medicare formula that denies Wisconsin fair reimbursement rates, encourages the kind of low-cost, high-value care practiced in our state, increases access to home and community-based long-term care, and reduces federal budget deficits by $132 billion over the next decade.
See also:

Criticizing President Obama Is Pragmatic

Rahm Emanuel Tells Liberals To Kiss His Arse

Liberals Battle White House Over Healthcare Reform

White House Shows Its True Colors on Healthcare Reform

Irrational Robert Gibbs Says Howard Dean Is Irrational

Salon's Glenn Greenwald Says: Blame Obama, Rather Than Lieberman

Why Is Obama Still Protecting Lieberman?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Criticizing President Obama Is Pragmatic

President Obama's defenders in the media often describe him as a "pragmatist." Although these journalists usually do not define the term, it seems that they wish to imply that Obama can set aside his ideological commitments in order to deliver concrete results to his constituents. By contrast, many commentators portray Obama's progressive critics as people who place ideology above tangible results and who refuse to compromise and accept the incremental advancement of their overall political agenda.

Mainstream media outlets barely do a decent job reporting the news. Their attempt at political science is absolutely atrocious.

The Assumption That Obama Is a Progressive
When commentators describe Obama as a pragmatist, they assume that he is a progressive who compromises to achieve practical benefits. It is unclear, however, that Obama is actually a progressive.

Although Obama became the darling of the political Left during the Democratic primaries, he never really embraced policies that were more progressive than other mainstream Democratic presidential contenders. Nevertheless, the Left was so desperate to replace President Bush and to avoid the "triangulation" of the Clinton era that it easily accepted Obama's progressive narrative. Obama also benefited from an adoring media, which failed to raise tough questions about his progressive credentials and which often rushed to denounce his critics.

After he secured the Democratic nomination, President Obama started moving more overtly to the center. Many progressives accepted this "transformation" as a necessary element of a national political campaign. But long before he won the election or even the Democratic nomination, progressives had enough reasons to question Obama's liberal credentials. Obama, for example, criticized a Supreme Court ruling that reaffirmed prior caselaw forbidding the death penalty in rape cases. He also praised a conservative Court ruling that found an individual right to bear arms and which invalidated a Washington, DC gun law. Obama also voted to renew the Patriot Act and, betraying a campaign promise, to extend immunity to telecoms that conducted unlawful surveillance on behalf of the Bush Administration. Citing his own religious views, Obama stated that he did not agree with same-sex marriage. And while the antiwar Left certainly preferred Obama to Hillary Clinton, Obama, like Clinton, said that he viewed the war in Afghanistan as a "just" war.

Although journalists often portray Obama as a pragmatic progressive who can prioritize concrete outcomes over his own ideological commitments, another narrative is also highly plausible. Obama is a political centrist who is in fact pursuing his own ideological commitments -- even if this means discarding the interests of liberals who were instrumental to his political success. This narrative, however, does not sound nearly as laudatory and self-sacrificing as the pragmatism rhetoric. It is, however, a perfectly logical take on Obama's political orientation.

Even if Obama is a progressive, he could compromise his ideological values in order to maximize his opportunity for reelection. If this is the reason for Obama's "pragmatism," then it is unclear that voters -- and certainly liberal voters -- should laud his careful effort to tread the center and to compromise with conservatives.

The Assumption That Obama's Progressive Critics Are Not Pragmatic
Commentators who laud Obama as a pragmatist almost uniformly condemn his progressive critics as ideological and impractical. Unlike Obama, who is a good, pragmatic progressive, liberals who criticize the President are politically inflexible ideologues whose rigidity, if widely followed, would preclude the implementation of helpful policies.

This juxtaposition of Obama (good, pragmatic) and his progressive critics (impractical, ideologues) has occurred most recently in debates surrounding healthcare reform. After the White House instructed Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to delete the public plan and Medicare buy-in from the healthcare bill, liberals criticized Obama for betraying his campaign promises and for watering-down the measure. The White House responded by calling Obama's liberal critics "irrational" and "insane." Ronald Brownstein of The Atlantic argued that they are privileged white college graduates who need not worry about the practical implications of their positions. These arguments are deeply flawed.

Brownstein's racial analysis is simply another bizarre manifestation of the notion that criticizing Obama -- even from a progressive perspective -- inevitably comes from a racial place. This argument is old, tired, and should be retired.

With respect to the point about pragmatism, depending upon the goals of progressives, criticizing Obama could operate as a highly pragmatic political tactic. President Obama has several items on his agenda -- including reelection. These goals, however, might cause him to act in a way that is inconsistent with progressive political agendas. Progressives can only influence Obama and other elected Democrats if they express their discontent. If they can also reveal that Obama is betraying his liberal base, then they can possibly make him more vulnerable from a political perspective. In order to cure or avoid this vulnerability, Obama may have to act in a way that addresses the concerns of progressives. If progressives never complain or engage in advocacy or mobilization, then politicians will have very few incentives to address their concerns.

By criticizing Obama, progressives are modeling the behavior of social movement participants as diverse as the abolitionists, suffragists, civil rights advocates, feminists, and proponents of GLBT rights. Progressive movements have never achieved their goals by peacefully acquiescing to the will of politicians. While successful progressive movements have undoubtedly made and accepted compromises, they have also condemned politicians -- even sympathetic politicians -- when doing so was appropriate. The election of Obama does not provide a reasonable basis for abandoning this tried and tested historical approach to social change.

How Much Is Ben Nelson's Opposition to Abortion Worth?

Moderate Democrat Ben Nelson of Nebraska recently threatened to withhold support for the Senate healthcare bill. Nelson believes that the Senate bill does not do enough to keep participants in the insurance exchanges from using federal subsidies to pay for abortion services. After a day of negotiations, however, Nelson now supports the bill.

According to Politico, Nelson caved after winning federal subsidies to cover new participants in Medicaid. The Medicaid program is a federally based health plan for indigent people. The Senate bill would expand coverage in Medicaid. Typically both states and the federal government cover the costs of the program. But under the Nelson-abortion deal, the federal government will pay all of Nebraska's costs of new Medicaid recipients forever. Although "forever" is a tricky concept in the law (a subsequent Congress could probably negate the deal), this amounts to $45 million over the next ten years:

Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, who claims that she opposes publicly run healthcare programs, received a similar deal earlier this year in exchange for her support. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid describe these deals as normal compromises to push legislation. I agree with this argument.

The White House, however, has described liberals who want certain things in the legislation as a condition of their support as "irrational" and "insane." By contrast, it has helped to secure hundreds of millions of dollars for conservative states that did not even go for Obama (or any other Democrat in recent history) in the presidential election. While the media is preparing to celebrate the passage of the legislation that it and the White House always preferred -- legislation devoid of a public plan -- the entire process will look corrupt to many people -- including some of the staunchest Democrats and progressives.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Rahm Emanuel Tells Liberals To Kiss His Arse

According to the Wall Street Journal, Rahm Emanuel has "shrugged off" liberal opposition to the Senate healthcare bill. Although one liberal senator (Bernie Sanders of Vermont) says he will not vote for the measure, Emanuel says "[t]here are no liberals left to get."

Emanuel's comment indicates that the White House will not lobby for the reinsertion of favored liberal provisions like the public plan and Medicare buy-in. According to many published reports, Emanuel himself instructed Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to remove the provisions from the bill under the guise of appeasing conservative Democrat Joe Lieberman. But as several commentators have argued, this position undoubtedly reflects the will of the White House, which could certainly explain why President Obama has remained stealth during most of the debates over healthcare reform.

Rahm's statement also declares "victory" against the political Left. He feels that he does not need to negotiate with liberals in Congress because they will not make the critical "mistake" of failing to support the healthcare bill. But Emanuel is forgetting one important thing about recent political events. Liberal members of Congress did not elect President Obama. Instead, liberal voters, along with a coalition of Independents, secured Obama's victory.

By reducing the struggle over healthcare reform to an internal Congressional battle, Emanuel ignores the very activists whose work was instrumental in Obama's election victory. If this behavior continues, Emanuel will probably have to dust off his resume in 2012. Arrogance is very ugly. Good luck!

For the record: I never trusted Emanel or Obama. I still do not.

Update: People have emailed me asking "what do you mean you did not trust Obama?" Here is what I mean.

I did not believe that hype that portrayed Obama as transcending politics. Instead, I viewed him as a politician. Rather than doing things calculated to achieve a liberal transformation of society, Obama would and has done things calculated to achieve his own reelection -- which means doing some things for his base, striving for the middle, and giving monetary prizes to corporate interests.

In the absence of sustained social movement and voter pressure, even liberal-leaning presidents will aim for the center or right. Obama is not different. So, I did not join the liberal mania that portrayed him as a folk hero of leftwing politics. I have written on this many times. See, e.g., here and here. That is what I meant about not trusting Obama.

Liberals Battle White House Over Healthcare Reform

The New York Times has now covered an issue that many liberal bloggers have discussed for several days -- the White House's anger directed toward progressives who oppose the Senate healthcare bill. Several liberals have criticized the bill because it does not include a public plan option or a Medicare buy-in.

Many Democrats -- including President Obama -- previously argued that such measures, particularly the public plan, could provide competition for insurers and reduce the cost of insurance premiums. Indeed, one of the strongest arguments in support of a universal mandate -- which the bill contains -- is that the public plan would reduce costs and make insurance affordable for the uninsured.

Under orders from the White House, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid deleted the public plan and Medicare buy-in from the healthcare bill. This move has angered liberals, who rightfully point out that Obama is betraying promises from his own very recent presidential campaign. Howard Dean, a medical doctor and former head of the DNC, has advocated that Senators "kill" the bill and craft a new measure that offers "real reform." Furthermore, Senator Bernie Sanders, who actually prefers a single-payer system, announced yesterday that he was not committed to voting for the legislation in its present format.

As Dissenting Justice has already reported, White House officials have moved to attack and discredit liberals who oppose the Senate bill. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, for example, said that Dean was acting irrationally. Also, White House Senior Advisor David Axelrod said that liberal opponents of the Senate bill are "insane." The White House response has only enhanced anger among liberals.

Axelrod conducted a conference call with liberal bloggers on Wednesday, and he faced numerous questions regarding the White House response to progressive opponents of the Senate bill. One blogger asked Axelrod whether the White House would respond with similar anger to Ben Nelson, the moderate Democrat who also announced his opposition to the Senate bill because he wants tougher provisions related the delivery of abortion services. According to The Nation, during the conference call, Axelrod tried to back away from the harshness of his previous comments regarding liberals:
"I'm not professionally qualified to judge insanity and maybe I should have used a different word," Axelrod said, and he noted that "everybody's a little on edge at this point" in the long legislative battle. He also stressed his respect for allies in the "progressive community," but reiterated his view that it would be "wrongheaded" to squash all of health care reform at this point, which is "infinitely better" than the status quo.
My Take: I suspect that liberals will remain disappointed. The White House did not describe Lieberman, Mary Landrieu or Bill Nelson as "insane" or "irrational" when they threatened to vote against or filibuster the proposed legislation. Instead, the White House moved to appease them.

Liberal activists, many of whom worked to elect Obama, feel betrayed by the White House's angry response to their legitimate complaints. Furthermore, this is not the first time liberals have felt let down by the White House. On issues as diverse as gay rights and the Afghanistan War, liberals believe that President Obama has not taken their interests into account or that he has moved away from his campaign promises. These types of feelings do not vanish easily.

See also: Rahm Emanuel Tells Liberals To Kiss His Arse

Thursday, December 17, 2009

I Wrote This In October 2008. . . .

On October 21, 2008, when Dissenting Justice was still getting started as a blog, I wrote the following essay reprinted below. I am republishing it because it seems highly relevant today. FYI: The article received many hits at the time and remains very popular among readers.
________________________________________________________________
2008 Is Not 1964: Why Liberal Mania and Conservative Panic Are Nothing But Melodrama


Keeping with the theme of this blog, I have decided to critique the dramatic commentary coming from liberal and conservative circles about the implications of a likely expanded Democratic majority in Congress and probable victory for Barack Obama. Democrats are getting ready to dance in the streets, while Republicans have assumed a "Red Scare" posture. On the sidelines, I watch with alternating amusement and astonishment. Both sides exaggerate the significance of a Democratic victory - particularly when they analogize it to the period of massive legal and social change in the 1960s.

Republicans Channel Paul Revere: "The Liberals Are Coming, the Liberals Are Coming!"
The editors of the Wall Street Journal set off a rallying cry last week, in an opinion piece predicting gloom and doom from a "liberal supermajority." The WSJ predicts that a Democratic Executive and Congress, including a filibuster-proof Senate, "would mark the restoration of the activist government that fell out of public favor in the 1970s." I guess it would also replace the activist government that fell out of public favor in 2008. I wrote about this opinion piece in a previous blog entry.

On the campaign trail, McCain and Palin have already insinuated that Obama's economic policy resembles European socialism. Now, as the San Francisco Chronicle reports, McCain's campaign has decided to raise the specter of full Democratic control of the national government as dangerous. Despite the fact that the Republicans have controlled Congress, the White House, and the Supreme Court for many years, they will shamelessly market the virtues of divided control. So, expect to hear more soundbites about the perils of the Obama-Pelosi-Reed triumvirate.

Democrats: We Believe We Can Fly!
The Democrats, on the other hand, are salivating from the implications of a clean sweep. For some time now, liberal commentators have gleefully predicted the demise of the Republicans and the establishment of a liberal utopia. Earlier this year, New York Times columnist Frank Rich wrote a eulogy, masquerading as political commentary, remarking on the death of the Republican Party. Rich opined that "the G.O.P. looks more like a nostalgic relic than a national political party in contemporary America. A cultural sea change has passed it by." Rich predicts that a "national rout in 2008 just may be that Republican Party’s last stand." Obama supporter Jonathan Alter of Newsweek has written a similar, but more guarded, column called "We're Heading Left Once Again," in which he asserts that Obama "would have a fighting chance to move the country to a new place, or at least one we haven't seen for a while. Leftward ho!" Finally, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen has a "hot from the press" article entitled "Party Like It's 1964." Cohen argues that Bush and McCain have "constructed a mean, grumpy, exclusive, narrow-minded and altogether retrograde Republican Party." Accordingly, the GOP has earned its fate: life in the "political wilderness."

My Take: Both Sides Are Just Wrong
Republicans lament the advent of U.S. socialism, while Democrats prepare to build a new "Great Society." From both of these notions, I respectfully dissent. Despite all of the passionate predictions of an impending liberal takeover of the country, both sides overstate the significance of a Democratic presidential victory, even one connected to an expanded liberal majority in Congress. Here's why.

The Country Remains Right of Center
Despite the apparent resurrection of the Democratic Party as a contender for the White House, the Country remains right of center. And if you compare aspects of American social policy with other liberal democracies, the country's political core looks solidly conservative. If the Democrats want to get re-elected -- which is likely their paramount goal as politicians -- then they will have to operate within the constraints of that political reality. Any sweeping liberal change will receive stiff resistance. Certainly, any costly liberal policy proposal will receive even louder opposition. Bush and the Republicans engaged in excess, and they are paying for it. Smart Democrats like Obama will avoid this at all costs -- not by building a coalition for radical change -- but by aiming for the middle.

When Clinton was elected in 1992, my liberal colleagues were similarly exuberant about the possibilities of a liberal shakeup of the country, although with Obama, liberals have become absolutely ecstatic (translation: unbounded from political reality). But the nasty reaction to Hillary Clinton's vanguard effort to create a national health care system and the backlash -- led primarily by Colin Powell -- against Bill Clinton for attempting to lift the ban on gays and lesbians in the military -- gave people an early wakeup call. Merely electing a Democrat does not mean that the electorate has fundamentally changed with respect to political ideology.

Many commentators have also neglected to consider that Obama actually trailed or tied McCain in most polls until Lehman Bros. collapsed. When several other financial institutions imploded, Obama reclaimed the lead, which has only sharpened. This change in his fortune surely does not mean that the country has become suddenly left or center-left. Instead, non- or less-partisan voters are simply doing what they have done throughout American political history: They are blaming the incumbent and the incumbent party for poor economic conditions. On top of this historical skepticism towards incumbents during bad times, Obama has successfully blamed Bush for the financial crisis -- even though this is a major distortion (as FactCheck.Org documents). The economy -- not a new liberal electorate-- has placed Obama on top of the polls.

An Election Alone Is not a Social Movement
Obama's rallies are filled with thousands of supporters. Scores of new voters have registered as Democrats, many due to the appeal of both Democratic candidates during the primaries. Obama has formed a coalition of liberal/leftist elite whites, blacks (who were already the most faithful Democrats), women, young people, and some moderates. Several commentators have argued that these changes will lead to the implementation of much more liberal social policy -- just like in the 1960s. This is not necessarily true.

Many of the changes that occurred during the 1960s happened because of very sustained, sometimes even violent, political activism and unrest. Although Clinton was right in saying it took a president to sign the Civil Rights Act of 1964, she should have also cited her earlier work, because a very large "village" helped create the political conditions that ensured passage of the law.

The implementation of the 1960s legislation that prohibited discrimination in areas of employment, voting, the usage of federal money (the denial of which would have crippled segregated schools), and access to places of public accommodation, resulted from decades of social movement activity. It also resulted from a remarkable alignment of domestic leftist interests with the national government's need to project a good image into the international community. The U.S. justified its Cold War policing of foreign countries on the need to fight totalitarianism and fascism. News of racial terrorism and discrimination against U.S. blacks, which the Soviet Union rapidly distributed to other countries, disrupted the attainment of this latter goal.

Comparing the 1960s with the current situation does not reveal many parallels. Granted, young people are passionate and fed up with the current government (just like most other people). But many participants in the current Democratic resurgence have united in order to secure the defeat of Bush (Cheney-Rumsfeld-McCain-Rice-Powell*), rather than to accomplish a broad set of liberal social policies. During the primaries, the media joyfully reported Obama's victories in a string of red states, where he often secured the vast majority of white votes. But it remains unclear what beyond electing Obama and ending the war unifies white Democrats in Wyoming or Utah with blacks in Brooklyn, and gays and lesbians in San Francisco. These groups view the Democrats as a healthy alternative to the Republicans. But outside of ejecting the Republicans from leadership, wanting change is merely a political slogan, not a political movement. Desiring something new does not transform what already exists.

Obama Is Not Wildly Liberal Compared with Other Democrats
During the Democratic primaries, Obama supporters, especially blogs such as HuffingtonPost, Daily Kos, and Mother Jones, vehemently worked to distinguish Obama and Clinton ideologically. Clinton was just "more of the same." She was, gasp, almost a Republican. Her war vote, Obama said, showed a lack of judgment. To his supporters, it proved that she was a shameless hawk. Even when commentators like Paul Krugman said her health plan was more progressive than Obama's, his supporters said that she was lying anyway and would not work to achieve it. Some of them (and the Obama team as well) said that it would "force" people to participate, which sounded a lot like the Republican rejection of "Hillarycare."

Once the primaries ended and polls showed that many of Clinton's disgruntled supporters intended to vote for McCain or neither candidate, their rhetoric turned around completely. Instead of being a Republican in Democratic clothing, Clinton held the exact same position as Obama on all social issues. Accordingly, PUMAs would betray their party and preferred candidate's life work if they voted for McCain. So is Clinton now wildly liberal like Obama or is Obama less progressive than his supporters claimed? Probably a little of both.

Obama is a great politician and lawyer, which has led to much of his success. He knows how to embrace policies specifically enough to show commitment, but always leave room for nuancing his stance later. A lot of Democrats in the past, like Gore and Kerry, could not do this effectively. Bill Clinton, on the other hand, could. Part of it comes from being a lawyer and knowing that "is" can have multiple meanings.

Outside of abortion, where Obama has a very consistent record of progressive voting, it is unclear what other liberal area he is as far to the left as his supporters portrayed him during the primaries. For example, he is against the war, but so are most Americans. He believes in multilateral foreign relations, but this is hardly a novel idea for the U.S. He campaigned on universal health care, but so did all of the other Democrats, and it is unclear whether the electorate will support this policy under a time of economic hardship. He took the position that the Supreme Court should have authorized the death penalty in rape cases -- even though the history of applying capital punishment for sexual assault follows a horribly racist pattern. And he supported the Supreme Court's recent Second Amendment ruling, which found an individual right to bear arms sufficient enough to defeat Washington, DC's ban on handguns. Obama, like Bush and McCain, does not support same-sex marriage, but endorses local efforts to make it a reality. It appears that Obama can chase the center, middle, and right -- just like Bill Clinton, the original triangulator.

Furthermore, despite Obama's opposition to the war and his view that supporting it shows a lack of judgment, Obama selected Biden -- who voted for the war -- as a running mate. Despite his slamming of Clinton for supporting NAFTA, Biden actually voted for the legislation, which Obama himself says he will not seek to repeal. Biden also voted for the bankruptcy reform legislation, which Obama derided as showing a lack of compassion to consumers. Also, while Democrats blame (wrongfully) the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act for the current financial crisis, Obama has called upon Clinton's former Secretary of Treasury Ron Rubin for economic advice. Rubin supported Gramm-Leach-Bliley, and he is currently a Director of Citicorp, one of the largest beneficiaries of the legislation.

Finally, Obama recently accepted Colin Powell's endorsement, despite Powell having delivered one of the most compelling arguments to the United Nations for the war. Powell's dissertation on the war utilized forged materials, which purported to document Iraq's effort to obtain uranium from Niger. Powell also orchestrated political opposition to Clinton's effort to lift the ban on gays and lesbians in the armed forces, which gave us the terrible "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" compromise. Nevertheless, Powell's endorsement has received almost universal praise from Democrats. Obama's negotiation and acceptance of the endorsement is brilliant from a political perspective. But it does not fit with the narrative of a leftist politician who will fundamentally change the U.S and who hates all things related to Bush and his war.

Only White Old Heterosexual Males Are Predicting the Demise of White Old Heterosexual Male Power
Finally, I think it is worth mentioning that only white old heterosexual males have predicted the demise of white old heterosexual male power. Joining Rich, Alter, Cohen and McCain, Alec Baldwin recently asserted that Obama's election would neutralize racism and kill the civil rights movement. Most of the commentators and politicians I have seen who believe that November will usher in a leftist regime that will grip America and slay old white power are part of that demographic themselves, regardless of political affiliation. Why is that? Perhaps because women, people of color, the poor, and gays and lesbians know from personal experience that meaningful progressive change does not happen overnight. Perhaps it is because we know that creating equal opportunity still requires a lot of work. Maybe it is because having just witnessed a plenty of crude sexism, racism, and mocking of poor uneducated voters from so-called liberals during this election cycle, we cannot imagine a Democratic victory causing substantial progressive change. I hope our cynicism goes too far, but for now, I am sticking with history and my own instincts. Accordingly -- Republicans should: "Chill out!" You are down, but not done. And Democrats should: "Put down the pom poms and start doing the hard work of building effective social movement activity, which actually involves some very honest and open political debate and self-criticism.

White House Shows Its True Colors on Healthcare Reform

After appearing asleep at the wheel during much of the healthcare debates, the White House is now passionately advocating passage of a Senate bill that betrays many of President Obama's campaign promises. The bill, if passed, would force people to purchase health insurance. The bill, however, does not contain measures like the public plan option or a Medicare buy-in that Democrats -- including Obama -- have long advocated as ways of increasing competition and making health insurance affordable.

According to several media reports, Rahm Emanuel instructed Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to remove the public option and Medicare buy-in to appease Senator Joe Lieberman, who threatened to filibuster the bill. Lieberman, however, is probably a scapegoat.

Left Critiques of the Senate Bill
Several liberals commentators have condemned the Senate bill. Howard Dean, a medical doctor and a veteran advocate of healthcare reform, wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post which contends that the watered-down bill does not represent "real reform." Dean criticizes the removal of the public plan and Medicare buy-in provisions because he believes that the measures could reduce insurance premiums. Although Dean says he would not vote for the bill in its current format, he believes that Senators can improve it.

Furthermore, while many political commentators have focused on Lieberman's filibuster threats, Bernie Sanders, a Senator from Vermont, has threatened to withhold support for the Senate bill as well. Sanders, who, like Lieberman, is an Independent, says that the removal of the public plan option caused him to oppose the measure.

White House Bashes Liberals
With liberals voicing strong opposition to the measure, the White House, which has often appeared indifferent on the specifics of healthcare reform, has heated up its rhetoric. Yesterday, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said that Dean was not acting rationally by opposing the bill. Today, White House Senior Advisor David Axelrod (who also ran Obama's presidential campaign) said that liberal opponents of the Senate bill are "insane."

Axelrod's argument, like Gibbs' claim, rests on an erroneous conclusion. Both men apparently believe that the public must either accept the watered-down Senate bill or abandon healthcare reform altogether. But liberals seek a viable alternative option -- pursuing more substantive and rational reform than the current bill offers.

My take: Liberals were actually "irrational" and "insane" for believing that the Obama Administration would deliver dramatic liberal reforms. I have made this argument repeatedly on this blog (see here, here, here and here, for example). To date, the administration of "change" has given hundreds billions of dollars to banks and corporate America and is about to offer a boon to insurance companies by mandating individual coverage without increasing competition and reducing costs. The more things change, the more they look the same.

See also: Rahm Emanuel Tells Liberals To Kiss His Arse

Irrational Robert Gibbs Says Howard Dean Is Irrational

For liberals who wondered why President Obama did not pick Howard Dean to serve as the Secretary of Health and Human Services, I think it is safe to conclude (as many of us did at the time) that ideology influenced the decision. Dean, who is a medical doctor, passionately supports the creation of a public plan as a dimension of healthcare reform. President Obama also strongly supported the idea during his presidential campaign.

The White House, however, has only tepidly advocated the public plan since the election. And recently, several media outlets have reported that White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel instructed Harry Reid to drop the public plan and a Medicare buy-in from pending legislation in order to appease Senator Joe Lieberman. Lieberman, who represents the state of Connecticut, has received over a million dollars from the insurance industry in campaign donations. His wife is also an insurance industry lobbyist.

Dean has apparently angered the White House by arguing that Democrats should "kill" the gutted/watered-down bill pending in the Senate and start over again. Dean most recently expressed this position in a very cogent op-ed in the Washington Post.

The White House, however, believes that Dean is behaving irrationally. Responding to questions about Dean's position, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs had very harsh words for the former presidential candidate and DNC Chair:
I don't know what piece of legislation he is reading," said Gibbs.

"I would ask Dr. Dean, how better do you address those who don't have insurance: passing a bill that will cover 30 million who don't currently have it or killing the bill?" he added. "I don't think any rational person would say killing the bill makes a whole lot of sense at this point."

Asked if Dean was acting irrationally, Gibbs replied: "I can't tell what his motives are, to be honest with you."
Gibbs Is Irrational -- Not Dean
Gibbs' argument is irrational because it reduces the public's options to either expanding coverage under the terms of the pending bill or killing this bill. Another option, which Dean advocates, would involve expanding coverage with more sensible legislation.

One of the most irrational aspects of the pending measure involves the individual mandate -- which I have defended repeatedly as within the powers given to Congress by the Constitution. Imposing a mandate without providing a lower-cost alternative to private insurance or without increasing market competition which could reduce the price of private insurance is unsound.

The Democrats have long advocated an individual mandate alongside some type of public plan. Discarding this at the last minute (whether pre-planned or otherwise) is irrational -- not Dean's argument rejecting this unwise decision:
In Washington, when major bills near final passage, an inside-the-Beltway mentality takes hold. Any bill becomes a victory. Clear thinking is thrown out the window for political calculus. In the heat of battle, decisions are being made that set an irreversible course for how future health reform is done. The result is legislation that has been crafted to get votes, not to reform health care.
Dean's argument is abundantly rational.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Michael Moore to Connecticut Voters: Recall Lieberman or Face Boycott (LOL)

Michael Moore has issued an ultimatum for Connecticut voters: Recall Senator Joe Lieberman or face a boycott of the Nutmeg State. Interesting.

Moore is upset with Lieberman because he is, in part, responsible for the watered-down version of healthcare reform currently pending in the Senate. Moore blames Connecticut voters for empowering Lieberman, and he wants them to rectify the situation:
People of Connecticut: What have u done 2 this country? We hold u responsible. Start recall of Lieberman 2day or we'll boycott your state.
Two things strike me as problematic with Moore's position. FIRST, the Constitution does not provide for the "recall" of members of Congress. Accordingly, the substance of his demand is illegal. SECOND, boycotting Connecticut does not seem like an awesome economic threat. Aside from October leaf-touring season, Connecticut is not a major tourist destination. And in December, most of the trees in Connecticut are completely naked. Moore needs to go back to the drawing board!

Really? Gibbs Says Obama Demanded Lieberman Make Compromises Too

Joe Lieberman's opposition to the public plan and Medicare buy-in options led to the removal of these provisions from pending healthcare reform measures. Several news sources have reported that the White House instructed Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to delete the measures in order to appease Lieberman. Facing criticism and questions from liberals regarding President Obama's stance toward Lieberman, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said that the president has demanded that Lieberman make compromises as well:
Asked if Obama is as demanding of Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn), whose opposition to a public option and Medicare buy-in provision led to their removal, as he has been of progressives like Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), both staunch supporters of a public plan, Gibbs affirmatively replied: "Yes."

"The president was clear with members of the democratic caucus, including independents who caucus with the Democrats," he said.
Several commentators, myself included, view this statement with skepticism. Sam Stein of the Huffington Post, for example, argues that:
[Gibbs'] depiction of the legislative process would likely come as a surprise to liberals both in and outside of office, many of whom point to the various, watered-down versions of reform to which they agreed in hopes of winning Lieberman's vote. One of those liberals, former DNC Chair Howard Dean, said on Tuesday that the leadership had acquiesced too much to win moderate votes and called on the party to "kill the bill."
MY TAKE: Unless Lieberman wanted to privatize Medicare and Medicaid and begin a new war in the Middle East, it is unclear what legislative compromises he has recently made.

Salon's Glenn Greenwald Says: Blame Obama, Rather Than Lieberman

Glenn Greenwald and I agree on political issues more often than not. His latest article does not change this.

Greenwald's most recent column seeks to debunk a narrative that portrays President Obama as the liberal "victim" of "centrist" Democrats in Congress who refuse to endorse more progressive healthcare reform measures, like the public plan. Greenwald argues that the proposed "compromise" legislation actually reflects the position the White House has always held on the subject of reform:
As was painfully predictable all along, the final bill will not have any form of public option, nor will it include the wildly popular expansion of Medicare coverage. Obama supporters are eager to depict the White House as nothing more than a helpless victim in all of this -- the President so deeply wanted a more progressive bill but was sadly thwarted in his noble efforts by those inhumane, corrupt Congressional "centrists." Right. The evidence was overwhelming from the start that the White House was not only indifferent, but opposed, to the provisions most important to progressives. The administration is getting the bill which they, more or less, wanted from the start -- the one that is a huge boon to the health insurance and pharmaceutical industry.
Apparently, Russ Feingold agrees with Greenwald's assessment of the White House position. And as I argued yesterday, I agree that liberals must hold the White House accountable on this issue:
Perhaps the chickens are indeed roosting -- at least according to several stories that appeared yesterday on many leading political blogs, including TPM, Huffington Post and Politico. According to these reports, Emanuel personally visited Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and demanded that he give Senator Joe Lieberman exactly what he wants regarding healthcare reform. Lieberman opposes a public plan and a buy-in option for Medicare. Lieberman has repeatedly vowed to filibuster any proposed healthcare reform legislation that contains either of these proposals. The recent reports which claim that Emanuel has told Reid to cater to Lieberman -- a claim the White House denies -- confirms the July statements of Maxine Waters.

Some careful readers will also remember that the White House intervened and allowed Lieberman to maintain his leadership positions on Senate committees, despite the fact that he ran as an Independent in 2006 and endorsed John McCain for president in 2008 during a speech he delivered at the Republican National Convention. Lieberman has threatened to kill the most important legislation that Congress has proposed in decades, and the White House continues to protect him politically and to cater to his interests.
What do you think?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Nate Silver Calls Progressives "Batshit Crazy"; Readers Turn the Table

Nate Silver, host of the popular political blog FiveThirtyEight, has written an essay that describes progressives who oppose the watered-down healthcare legislation pending in the Senate as "batshit crazy." Silver argues that the proposed legislation would substantially reduce healthcare costs for most American families.

Fortunately, Silver's readers have turned the table on him. Most of the reader comments that accompany the article offer scathing criticism of Silver's analysis. One striking defect in Silver's analysis lies in the fact that he fails to take into consideration the removal of the public plan (and now the Medicare buy-in) from the proposed legislation. Despite the fact that President Obama touted the public plan as a cost-cutting measure, Silver argues that the failure to implement the plan "shouldn't change [his] numbers much." Many of the readers, however, view Silver merely as a "cheerleader" for the White House position that "something" (however flawed) must get passed.

Meanwhile, Howard Dean, a medical doctor and respected progressive voice on healthcare reform (whom President Obama skipped over as a pick for Secretary of Health and Human Services) has blasted the Senate measure and encourages Democrats to "kill" the bill and start the reconciliation process in the House of Representatives. I suspect that some Democrats will agree with Dean -- even if the bill passes in its current form.


See also:

Obama Falsely Claims that the Senate Healthcare Bill Matches His Campaign Promises

Criticizing President Obama Is Pragmatic

Ezra Klein's "Pink=Blue=Colors" Logic Regarding Healthcare Reform

Rahm Emanuel Tells Liberals To Kiss His Arse

Liberals Battle White House Over Healthcare Reform

White House Shows Its True Colors on Healthcare Reform

Irrational Robert Gibbs Says Howard Dean Is Irrational

Salon's Glenn Greenwald Says: Blame Obama, Rather Than Lieberman

Why Is Obama Still Protecting Lieberman?

I Wrote This In October 2008. . . .



Why Is Obama Still Protecting Lieberman?

I am beginning to see the inevitable healthcare "compromise" as the product of a political song and dance conducted by Democrats and Republicans solely to appease various constituencies within their parties -- and nothing else. Remarkably, The Onion accurately assessed the situation several months ago with the satirical essay "Congress Deadlocked Over How To Not Provide Health Care." The Onion "quotes" Nancy Pelosi in a very smart passage:

"Both parties understand that the current system is broken," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters Monday. "But what we can't seem to agree upon is how to best keep it broken, while still ensuring that no elected official takes any political risk whatsoever. It’s a very complicated issue."
Substantial Reform Was Possible
Although I am proudly more cynical than most commentators, many early signs pointed to the possibility of substantial healthcare reform. Even though I predicted in October 2008 that the public would not likely tolerate the introduction of major spending programs during a weakened economy, opinion poll data told another story.

During the 2008 campaigns, voters clearly supported healthcare reform. Every credible candidate in both major parties advocated healthcare reform. Also, the Democrat candidates won convincingly, and they generally proposed broad reforms, including the formation of some type of "public plan" option that would extend government-sponsored healthcare to most uninsured individuals. Insured individuals could also opt for the public plan under certain circumstances. When healthcare debates began in Congress, most opinion polls showed strong support among voters for a public plan option.

Theatrics Over Debate
Although voters held and continue to hold favorable opinions regarding healthcare reform, the mainstream news media has generally portrayed the public plan in very ominous terms. Also, conservatives have shamelessly distorted the terms of healthcare reform in order to scare voters -- particularly seniors.

Earlier this year, tense debates and even violence broke out at "town hall" meetings held to discuss healthcare reform. Moderate Democrats vowed to derail measures that included a public option. Liberals vowed to kill measures that did not include a public plan option. And it has become increasingly clear that Republicans will not vote for anything that the Democrats propose -- other than bills to augment war spending. More often than not, mainstream media outlets have examined the political "drama" surrounding healthcare reform instead of providing facts that would allow voters to assess the merits of the various proposals.

In the middle of this theatrical performance, the Obama Administration went into hibernation. During the month of August, the president -- who campaigned with an almost unprecedented level of high energy -- virtually disappeared from the radar screen while the media and conservatives distorted Democratic healthcare reform proposals. Obama, however, returned from his vacation to Martha's Vineyard and delivered a speech, during which he lauded and embraced a public plan option. Since that speech, however, Obama has not forcefully advocated the creation of a public plan.

Early Warning Signs Missed?
Perhaps liberals missed the warning signs, which indicated that the moderate and conservative positions on healthcare would certainly prevail. In July 2008, for example, Maxine Waters told MSNBC that the White House was not going to punish moderate and conservative Democrats who did not suppport a robust public plan option. Waters said that Rahm Emanuel gave Blue Dog Democrats political cover because he recruited many of them to run for Congress:

[Pushing Blue Dogs] may be difficult for Rahm Emanuel, because don’t forget — he recruited most of them. As when he was over in the Congress, in the leadership, Rahm Emanuel recruited more conservative members and based on some of the information I’m getting, they told them that they could vote the way they wanted to vote, that they would not interfere with what was considered their philosophy about some of these things. So, now the chickens have come home to roost.
Perhaps the chickens are indeed roosting -- at least according to several stories that appeared yesterday on many leading political blogs, including TPM, Huffington Post and Politico. According to these reports, Emanuel personally visited Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and demanded that he give Senator Joe Lieberman exactly what he wants regarding healthcare reform. Lieberman opposes a public plan and a buy-in option for Medicare. Lieberman has repeatedly vowed to filibuster any proposed healthcare reform legislation that contains either of these proposals. The recent reports which claim that Emanuel has told Reid to cater to Lieberman -- a claim the White House denies -- confirms the July statements of Maxine Waters.

Some careful readers will also remember that the White House intervened and allowed Lieberman to maintain his leadership positions on Senate committees, despite the fact that he ran as an Independent in 2006 and endorsed John McCain for president in 2008 during a speech he delivered at the Republican National Convention. Lieberman has threatened to kill the most important legislation that Congress has proposed in decades, and the White House continues to protect him politically and to cater to his interests.

To liberals who still believe that criticizing the Obama Administration is treasonous, I ask the following question: What must the White House do to receive legitimate criticism from the Left?

See also: Rahm Emanuel Tells Liberals To Kiss His Arse

Update: An organization called "The Progressive Change Campaign Committee" has launched an advertisement that criticizes Rahm Emanuel's willingness to discard the public plan option. The ad is posted below:

Monday, December 14, 2009

Hey, Democrats: Joe Lieberman Came With a Warning Label!

Only a few months ago, President Obama helped Joe Lieberman keep his Democratic Caucus leadership positions -- despite the fact that Lieberman spoke at the Republican National Convention and endorsed John McCain for president. Some Democrats were upset by the decision, but the majority accepted it.

Now, Lieberman has upset Democrats again, by vowing to vote against healthcare reform -- even in the watered-down compromise format that is currently pending in the Senate. Lieberman, however, came with a warning label.

Lieberman has embraced conservative positions in the past. Even though he advocated universal healthcare during the 2004 presidential campaign, employees of insurance companies have lined his pockets with campaign donations. Lieberman is not a faithful Democrat, and his decision to derail the most important legislation the Democrats have supported in decades proves this point. But at least he warned people ahead of time not to trust him.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

New York State Senate Votes Down Gay Marriage Bill

Today, the New York State Senate voted against human dignity and equality when it rejected a bill that would have extended marital rights to same-sex couples. The vote was highly -- but not strictly -- partisan. Although every Republican opposed the measure, some Democrats voted against it as well.

A New York Times article contains a touching story regarding Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson's decision to support the bill. Hassell-Thompson, a black Democrat, represents parts of the Bronx and Westchester County. During the floor debate, she passionately discussed the strife that homophobia, bigotry, and heterosexism cause:
[Hassell-Thompson] spoke publicly for the first time about her gay brother, who was shunned by her family and moved to France.

“He had disappeared from our lives. And my father worried, but he could not ask him to come home,” she said, fighting back tears. Ms. Hassell-Thompson said she searched for her brother and eventually found him and asked him to come home. But he told her he was hesitant because he felt his family did not want to see him. "I said, 'But your sister does.'"
Hassell-Thompson's intimate plea could not melt the icy bigotry that New York senators displayed. This decision is a vote against equality and human dignity. It is also a vote against the will of the public; a recent Marist poll shows that a majority of New York voters support same-sex marriage. Shame on the New York Senate.

Better Late Than Never? TV's Meredith Baxter Finally Discovers She's a Lesbian

I have heard of "coming out" being a late process for some people, but tv's Meredith Baxter pushes that concept to the extreme. 62-year-old Baxter revealed her sexual orientation today, after several media outlets published photos of her and her partner Nancy Locke.

Baxter starred in the 1980s hit series Family Ties. In recent years, she has frequently starred in various television films.
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