News and views on current affairs, politics, sports and whatever else I feel like.

Obama

Something for everybody: Obama lays out Afghanistan case

Proving once again that he is a very compelling speaker, President Obama had something for everybody last night in laying out his case for sending 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan. In a speech at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Obama gave conservatives what they wanted by sending in more troops, eased the worries of independents and moderates by explaining what he was doing and why he took the length of time he did to make the decision, and threw liberals a bone (or at least tried to, anyway) by setting a goal of starting a withdrawl by July 2011.

President Obama is correct in putting in some kind of exit strategy, even a general one, so we have an idea of how to finish this thing. But I, like a lot of people, am wary of Hamid Karzai and his ability to hold Afghanistan’s notorious factions together solidly enough to have a stable central government. The controversy over his re-election earlier this year didn’t assuage those concerns any. Yes, Karzai is much better than the alternatives (The Taliban or total anarchy), but will only one year with all of the additional troops there be enough? Is Karzai capable of keeping Afghanistan together at all long-term?

Obama would be well-advised to be flexible with that withdrawl date. If Karzai’s government is not capable of defending itself at that point, we need to stay until they are. The last thing the United States (and Obama) need, after all of the billions of dollars spent on this war and the questions about Obama’s leadership, is a repeat of the end of the Vietnam War. The last thing we need is the Taliban and Al Qaeda simply waiting us out under the guise of a “truce,” much like the Viet Cong did (knowing we didn’t have the stomach to fight a guerilla war indefinitely), then overrunning Karzai’s government as soon as the last troop planes take off.

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Finally, Obama makes decision on Afghanistan

It took him longer than I (and many others) believe it should have. But President Obama has reportedly ordered 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan to hopefully finish off Al Qaeda, neutralize the Taliban and finish the war that the 9/11 attacks wrought – the war that Candidate Obama rightly said was the justifiable war, the one that we had to win.

Obama will address his Afghanistan decision in a nationally televised speech from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point tomorrow night.

The number of troops is slightly less than what General Stanley McChrystal requested, but it is close enough. The bigger issue, in my opinion, is why it took so long for him to make this decision. I’m all for thinking through decisions carefully to make sure you get them right. I certainly don’t believe in the “shoot now and ask questions later” philosophy that the previous administration took to many of its foreign policy endeavors. But you can’t take over a month to decide whether or not to send more troops to a conflict that you criticized the previous administration for neglecting. This delay certainly won’t help the perception that Obama can’t lead.

Now we better hope the delay won’t hurt this country’s chances of victory.


The Obama Store

I just got back from spending the last two days with family in the Washington, D.C. area. After a nice Thanksgiving dinner and some cake in honor of my mother’s birthday on Thursday, I spent most of the day today in downtown Washington.

And what did I find on the bottom level of Union Station? A store dedicated to President Obama. Yes, an Obama Store. I kid you not. Earlier this year, I saw a cart near City Hall in Philadelphia selling some Obama paraphenalia. But an entire store?

I certainly recognize the historical and social significance of Obama being elected President last year (I even canvassed and made Get Out The Vote calls for him). But this is WAY too much. I don’t recall there being Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton stores in Washington, or anywhere else for that matter. And while I wasn’t alive at the time, my parents don’t recall there being John F. Kennedy stores either.


The Final Four in the way of public option

The political news website Talking Points Memo had a good piece last night analyzing the four Senate Democrats who are balking at supporting the public option, or even voting to bring a bill with a public option to a vote (ie, invoking cloture): Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), Ben Nelson (D-NE), and Mary Landrieu (D-LA).

“These are the four Democrats threatening to filibuster a public option bill down the line. They’re also in discussions with leadership and Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) regarding a compromise modeled on Snowe’s trigger. How they change the bill so significantly remains unclear (can Reid round up 60 votes to swap the provisions? Does he pull the bill off the floor and reintroduce it with a different public option?) For the time being, though, liberals are turning up the heat on these four. And to succeed, they’ll need to be well aware of what buttons to push.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is in a VERY tough spot here. the Dems can rip Lieberman, Jim DeMint, et al in the press or even on the Senate floor all they want. It won’t matter. If no Health Care Reform passes, the Dems are going to get their rears handed to them next year and likely in 2012 as well. The public isn’t going to care that the Republicans or Joe Lieberman wouldn’t vote for cloture. All that will matter to them is that the Democrats had the White House and large majorities in both chambers of Congress and once again proved incapable of governing and actually accomplishing things.

If Reid tries to go Tony Soprano (figuratively speaking, of course!) on those four, he risks at least three of them switching parties and no longer voting with the Dems even some of the time. Lincoln, Nelson and Landrieu would likely benefit politically from this (all three represent states that President Obama lost by at least 15 points last year).  Who knows with Lieberman?  He represents a very blue state and votes with the Democrats on social issues and even a lot of fiscal ones, but was primaried out in 2006 (he later won re-election anyway as an independent) and may still hold a grudge against the party because of that. He campaigned for John McCain last year, yet still got to keep his committee chairmanship and place in the caucus because Reid knew he’d likely need his vote to get stuff passed. Maybe Lieberman would change parties, serve out the rest of his current term and retire in 2012. Or maybe he’s just grandstanding to get attention for himself and will back down when Reid puts the gun in his face and starts to squeeze the trigger.

Reconcilliation, which doesn’t require invoking cloture (and hence only needs 50 votes plus Vice President Joe Biden), likely won’t work either. Only certain parts can be passed that way, and which ones are at the sole discretion of the Senate parliamentarian. If you think the Republicans are fighting this viciously now, just imagine how many bogus amendments they would propose to bog things down if this goes the reconcilliation route. And even if the Dems could keep 50 votes together through that entire process and get it passed, it would have to be re-approved in 2015. If the Republicans have control of the Senate by that point, Health Care Reform is dead before it’s even had a chance to take effect.


FOX News Poll: Bow-gate much ado about nothing

According to a poll conducted by FOX News (not exactly the most liberal media outlet there is), 67 percent of Americans believe it is appropriate for the President to bow to a foreign leader if that is the country’s custom. Only 26% said it is never appropriate. Even among Republicans, 53% said it was appropriate, to 40% never appropriate.

This was in response to President Obama bowing to the Emperor of Japan last week and the resulting furor. Conservatives have complained about this and Obama’s other greetings when meeting foreign leaders, complaining that he conveys American weakness.

Me? I think that whole issue – not just this case – is much ado about nothing. There are plenty of things worth criticizing President Obama about, but this is not one of them. This is nothing more than the neoconservative meme that Obama is “Anti-American” and the belief in their interpretation of American Exceptionalism (not the original one laid out by Alexis de Tocqueville) – that America and Americans can and must be able to do whatever they want and get whatever they want, and that all other countries are subservient.

I for one think American Exceptionalism is a very short-sighted belief. The United States should not expect, let alone demand, the rest of the world to acquiesce to its whims and desires. There is only one world, and it has to work for all 6 billion-plus humans out there, not just the 300 million in the United States. The same goes for every other country in the world.

And just in case anyone has forgotten, we have far bigger problems to deal with than how President Obama should be greeting foreign leaders. Unemployment is over 10%, a figure that, since late October, includes yours truly. We’re in the middle of two outrageously expensive wars, one of which we shouldn’t have been in to begin with and the other of which President Obama can’t decide how to finish. Health care needs reforming, and President Obama won’t take the lead on one of the cornerstones of his campaign.

How the President greets foreign leaders is not high on my list of things to bitch about.


Health care reform: Don’t pop the champagne corks yet

President Obama, Democrats and health care reform supporters are giddy today over the House passing its version of reform late last night. It is certainly a big step in the right direction – a bigger one than any administration and Congress has taken since Lyndon Johnson created Medicare in the 1960s.

But I would caution those supporters to not get too giddy. Because there are still several mountains left to climb before this is a done deal.

The next one is in the Senate, which has yet to pass its own version. On paper, this shouldn’t be a problem – the Dems and those caucusing with them control 60 seats and have the Vice President – more than enough to get a simple majority. In practice, however, it’s not nearly that simple.

Senate debate rules require 60 votes to “invoke cloture,” or stop debate and bring a bill to an up-or-down vote. So Majority Leader Harry Reid actually needs 60 votes to get this done. And there are a number of Democratic caucus members who represent conservative constituencies (or are just in the pockets of the insurance companies) who will be a tough sell to get on board with a public option – one of the most critical parts of any real healthcare reform, in my opinion. This group includes Ben Nelson (Nebraska), Blanche Lincoln (Arkansas), Mary Landrieu (Louisiana), Evan Bayh (Indiana) and Joe Lieberman (Connecticut). Lincoln and Bayh are both up for re-election next year. But Lieberman could be an even bigger fly in the ointment – he represents a rather liberal state (which went for Obama by 20 points last year) and votes with the Dems on most social issues. But he voted for the Iraq War and campaigned for Republican John McCain against Obama last year, even speaking at the Republican National Convention.

Reid could get around cloture rules by trying to pass the Senate’s version through budget reconcilliation, where he would need only 50 votes plus Vice President Biden. But this move would require the spending authorization to be renewed after 5 years. If the Republicans were to regain control of the Senate by that point, you know what would happen then.

The bill has already been delayed in the Senate and now may not even get passed this year, breaking President Obama’s second deadline. And if the debate goes into next year, moderate and conservative Democrats who are up for re-election in otherwise Republican districts or states are going to be even more reluctant to get on board.

Even if the Senate passes its version, it will have to be merged with the House version in conference committee. Both chambers will then have to pass the final combined version before President Obama can sign it. Same rules and obstacles will still apply.

So be happy with this step forward. But don’t pop the champagne corks just yet.


House passes healthcare reform bill

After a day of wrangling and debate and voting on amendments, the House of Representatives passed its healthcare reform bill late tonight. Most of the Blue Dogs (a group of 45 or so moderate or conservative Democrats) voted nay, and others needed an amendment proposed by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) that banned plans that paid for abortions from the proposed new exchange to be satisfied. But the bill passed by a 220-215 vote shortly after 11 p.m. ET. Joseph Cao (R-LA), who was elected from an overwhelmingly pro-Democratic district in New Orleans last year after “Dollar Bill” Jefferson was indicted for corruption (most famously having $90K in cash in his freezer), was the only Republican to vote for it.

President Obama gave House democrats a pep talk before today’s debate and voting. He reminded them to “answer the call of history.”

Now the ball is in the Senate’s court. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), who I’ve been very critical of, is showing some fire in trying to get his caucus on board and avert a Republican filibuster (he needs 60 votes to invoke cloture). He’s running into a lot of resistance from Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman, who was primaried out by Ned Lamont in 2006, won re-election as an independent, caucused with the Democrats, but then campaigned for Republican John McCain in last year’s Presidential election. I’m not sure what Lieberman is trying to do – CT is a very Democratic state. But he could be a bigger fly in the ointment than Olympia Snowe or even Ben Nelson.

Anywho, if the Senate passes its version – and who knows if or when that will be – the two versions will go to a conference committee to form one final bill, which both chambers will vote on one last time.


The lesson from Election 2009

Despite what the Republicans will no doubt be crowing, tonight’s results are not a referendum on President Obama. But they do provide an important lesson that Obama and his advisers would be well advised to heed.

It’s time for Obama to shut up, lead and actually get things done.

The story of tonight was simple – conservatives were galvanized, out of disgust with Obama’s policies and sensing vulnerability. Liberals were disenchanted by Obama’s failure to back up his campaign talk and stayed home. And independents see an economy that is still broken and broke heavily for challengers over incumbents. If Obama and the Dems want to do well in next year’s Congressional midterms (when 37 other governorships will also be up for grabs), they better lay off the glitzy speeches and actually get things done.

Create jobs. Pass real healthcare reform. Just get things done that are actually going to improve things for people outside of Washington. Things that you pledged to do as a candidate. Actually do those things, and your base will be energized again, independents will appreciate you accomplishing something and the rest will take care of itself.

That’s it. Enough talking. Time to show some guts, lead and git r done. The incumbents (or their parties) weren’t perceived to have gotten it done and paid the price. Obama better get things done or he’ll be joining them in the unemployment line.


McDonnell elected VA Governor

 

As expected, Republican Bob McDonnell has easily been elected Governor of Virginia, defeating Democrat Creigh Deeds. The win, part of a Republican sweep of VA’s three highest offices (Governor, Lt. Governor and Attorney General), continues Virginia’s trend of voting for a governor from the opposite party of the sitting President that goes back to 1977.

The networks called the race for McDonnell shortly before 8 p.m. ET – an hour after the polls closed.

In my opinion, Deeds ran a lame, horrible campaign that didn’t galvanize the state’s more pro-Democratic areas – namely the Washington DC suburbs in Northern Virginia and the urban areas in the Norfolk area – the way Obama did last year and Jim Webb did against George Allen in the 2006 U.S. Senate race. It wasn’t clear for much of the campaign what Deeds stood for, but he certainly didn’t energize the people who voted for Obama last year. And using McDonnell’s thesis from 20 years ago to scare voters on social issues only goes so far given the struggling economy.


Happy Election Day!

Happy Election Day! May the elections going on across the country today not be marred by voting machine malfunctions, hanging chads, vote fraud or any other shenanigans. May whoever wins today win fair and square.

The five “big” elections in this off year are for the governorships of New Jersey and Virginia, the special House election in NY District 23, the Mayor of New York City and Prop 1, to overturn the Maine government’s approval of gay marriage. With Michael Bloomberg expected to be re-elected easily in NYC and Bob McDonnell leading all the polls by double digits for the last week-plus, the eyes of the nation will be on The Garden State and Northwest New York state.

Anything could happen in those two races. Both will come down to who gets their base to the polls in larger numbers. Since turnout in off-year elections is usually low, the usual theory about needing to play for the independents and undecideds doesn’t necessarily apply. As a Republican (and a fairly conservative one at that) in deep blue New Jersey, turnout will be extremely important for Chris Christie if he hopes to oust incumbent Jon Corzine.

Whatever happens tonight, pundits are going to spin it as a referendum on President Obama, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi. And they’ll be wrong. These are all local elections on local issues. If Christie somehow wins tonight, it will be because enough NJ voters were disenchanted with the state of affairs under Corzine and considered Christie to be better, not because they want to send a message to Obama. The result in the NY-23 special election could be a statement of whether or not moderates are welcome in the Republican Party, but it also won’t be a referendum on Obama.

Polls close at 7 p.m. ET in Virginia, 8 p.m. in NJ and ME and 9 p.m. in New York. And there are municipal elections across the country as well. So make sure you vote.