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Posts Tagged ‘Barack Obama’



3 Ways Obama Is Blowing It on Health Care Reform

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009

ObamaHealthCareThere’s one simple reason why the White House has rushed so aggressively to try to knock down the story that Barack Obama is backing away from his support of a public option for health care: if he does retreat on the issue, he risks trashing the political viability of his entire presidency.

Over the weekend, both Obama and Kathleen Sebelius, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, made weasly comments about the administration’s commitment to a public option policy that led even some of the president’s staunchest supporters to denounce his waffling.

Having raised the specter of ignominious political surrender himself, Obama sent press secretary Roberts Gibbs into the White House briefing room to – wait for it – blame the media – for manufacturing a story. He insisted that the president’s position has not changed on the most crucial issue in the reform debate, namely to provide a system of medical care for the uninsured and underinsured as an affordable alternative to the private insurance industry.

The public option flap is just the latest evidence of how  Obama and his posse, after running one of the most consistent and effective campaigns in history, have badly botched the communications strategy and framing tactics in the battle over a defining issue of his presidency, undercutting in the process fundamental elements of the message of change that got him elected.

Beyond a shameful retreat on a substantive policy matter, hoisting the white flag on a public option would put Obama at odds with the congressional leaders and liberals who have been his most enthusiastic supporters and, more broadly, signal weakness and failure in fulfilling three of the basic premises of his message of change:

healthcarefistSpecial interests – As a candidate, Obama vowed to fight powerful and entrenched interest groups whose influence and money routinely cripple reform and determine the fate of legislation in Washington. Just eight months into his term, Obama is causing concern among allies who back the public option (as a less attractive alternative to their true preference for a single payer health care system) that he is preparing to cave in to insurance companies, after earlier cutting a deal with the pharmaceutical industry, another Beltway blue chip special interest.

New politics – While often ill-defined, Obama’s “yes we can” campaign message had two fundamental carrot and stick elements: a goody-two-shoes call for the bipartisan putting aside of status-quo politics and ideological polarization, coupled with a strong, clear and consistent attack on failed Republican economic policies that worshiped markets and business interests. In the political fight of his life, Obama has been putting his energy and emphasis almost exclusively on the can’t-we-all-just-get along aspect of his message, in a desperate bid to pass a bill – any bill – that he can spin as an alleged victory, even if represents right-center policies and politics.

With Democrats in the rare position of controlling the White House and both houses of Congress, however, he needs to stop singing kumbaya and start busting some heads by fighting fiercely for the populist – and, yes, partisan – principles that led millions to support the progressive promises of his campaign. And that means taking on, not just the other party, but some of the obstructionist Senators in his own party like Kent Conrad and Max Baucus, a couple of self-important narcissists who each represent a  no-account state with about 12 people that Obama’s never going to win anyway.

Authenticity – Candidate Obama decried sound bite politics, repeatedly vowing he would tell Americans the truth, even if it was unpleasant, contrasting the integrity of his outsider stance with the Beltway insider images of rivals Hillary Clinton and John McCain. Now, instead of giving hell to the special interests and right-wingers in Congress, President Obama too often passively abides their lies and demagoguery while resorting to Clintonian hair-splitting and legalisms in trying to finesse his position on the public option.

If he succumbs on this issue, the disillusionment and dismay among his own supporters that would accompany a retreat could not only fatally weaken him on Capitol Hill, but also put the issue of his re-election very much in play.

And if there’s any question that Obama himself – and not the media – set off the firestorm on public option, check out Jon Stewart’s take, characteristically complete with the most telling video clips.

Health reform resuscitations: Nate Silver has a smart post on a post-public option political landscape while Victoria Colliver of the Chronicle has a good Q&A primer on health care reform here and the Times offers a useful glossary for following the debate here.

Swap Meet: Milk Carton Alert for Obama

Saturday, August 15th, 2009

barack-obama-is-on-fire“The Battle for America 2008,” the new memoir of last year’s presidential campaign by Washposters Dan Balz and Haynes Johnson, is a terrific read that, among other things, serves as a reminder of how consistent, clear and disciplined Team Obama was in delivering his message throughout the race.

Which leads Calbuzz to the obvious question: What ever happened to that guy?

The president-elect met with Balz and Johnson at his transition headquarters in Chicago six weeks after the election and offered this post-game assessment of his own campaign:

“What was remarkable in my mind about our campaign was we never really changed our theory,” the president-elect told them. “You could read the speech we gave the day I announced and then read my speech on election night and it was pretty consistent.”

True enough, but then how in the world can a guy who runs one of the most masterful message campaigns in history manage to do such a dog-ass job of explaining the two most important and defining initiatives  shaping his presidency: 1) How the economic stimulus is supposed to work and 2) What he’s trying to accomplish with health care reform.

Sure, the Republican attack machine is doing its best to create confusion and misapprehension. But it’s the White House Office of Communications’ job to explain things in simple language, lay out the general and specific issues at hand and rally support for these ideas. And this time, Team Obama is getting outflanked at every turn by naysayers, wingnuts and imbeciles, not to put too fine a point on it.

The message really ought to be fairly straightforward: The people versus a) rich investment bankers and b) the insurance companies.

Anything else makes the issues clear as mud. We’re just sayin’.

chuck devore

Welcome to the NFL, Carly: If Carly Fiorina is watching gal pal Meg Whitman’s head-stuck-up, uh, in-the-clouds campaign for governor and thinking –- Hey, this whole politics thing looks easy! — Chuck DeVore just delivered a smack upside her skull that might bring her back down to earth.

Devore, the red meat Republican Assemblyman from Irvine, is a long shot contender for Barbara Boxer’s Senate seat who’s been limbering up for the race by taking some not-half-bad cheap shots at Babs, but set aside a couple minutes this week to take a few whacks at Fiorina, who’s been sending signals from her Peninsula manse about seeking the GOP nomination.

Chowing down in D.C. with some true believers from the staff of The American Spectator, DeVore dissed his future party rival as a squish and a “self-funded dilettante” who got canned as CEO of Hewlett-Packard and booted off the McCain-for-President campaign for being a bonehead. As the conservative rag’s Brian O’Connell reported:

“‘Never in California’s history has a self-funded dilettante ever won any top office, Governor or Senate,’ the candidate said this morning at a breakfast sponsored by TAS and Americans for Tax Reform, when asked about a potential primary challenge from Fiorina. DeVore pointedly told attendees that Fiorina was fired from Hewlett Packard and from the McCain campaign for making several gaffes. He criticized her for supporting the financial bailout and said her views on most  policy issues were unknown. Moreover, he questioned whether Fiorina’s wealth, which he estimated at around $40 million, would even allow her to self-fund in a state such as California, with a population of 37 million and many expensive media markets. He also took issue with Sen. John Cornyn, chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee for ‘already making up his mind’ to support Fiorina, even though she hasn’t declared her candidacy.”

There were no injuries.

samiam

Holy Pocket, Sam! We LOVE this item from Anna Handzlik at Politico, who got a tip that a Good Samaritan found Congressman Sam Farr’s wallet in a Santa Cruz men’s room and returned it to him. But only after noticing that the Democrat from Carmel had in his wallet “a card marked ‘confidential’ that describes rendezvous points for congressmen in case of national emergencies.”

The finder, who described himself as a “supporter of single-payer health care,” reported that when he asked Farr’s aide if he’d noticed his wallet was missing, the aide nodded and said, “It’s been a real crazy morning.”

dr-hackenflackYe Old Mailbag: Dr. P.J. Hackenflack, who 40 years ago this weekend found his bliss while writhing in the Woodstock mud, tore himself away from his synthetic mescaline flashbacks long enough to pick the Top 5 comments of the past seven days from Calbuzz readers, the crème de la crème of California’s cognoscenti class.

1-sqrjn-sqrin said, of Tuesday’s rant assailing Obama’s reported pact-with-the-devil deal with the pharmaceutical industry:

“The Obama letdown continues. At least their secret deals aren’t with Oil execs right? Big Pharma’s better than Big Oil, right?

I don’t know which is worse. A.) the white house is making closed door deals with industry people and then lying about it B.) they didn’t make a deal, but this is a symptom that they are totally frazzled and disorganized, progressing quickly to screwing the pooch on a major reform.”

2-Divebomber responded to Berkeley professor Geoffrey Nunberg’s “Fresh Air” essay on political linguistics thusly:

“I disagree with Prof. Nunberg that the GOP successes to this point in the debate about state-run health care are the result of an implied negative view of the term ‘government’…

“In reality, boiling the issue down to simple semantics speaks to the real issue with the democrats and their proxy’s such as Prof. Nunberg – arrogance. They refuse to believe (and in many cases, simply are unable to conceive) that those with logical opposing positions to theirs have any real intelligence or critical analysis ability, and thus are easily swayed by simple word games.”

3-Prospero offered this take on Monday’s analysis of the new Field Poll report on changing patterns of partisanship in California:

“Don’t misunderestimate the effect of the meltdown of the state GOP in nailing down the color chart. In large part, we elect Dems to statewide offices because the GOP has become content with their second-string in the legislature, and aren’t even interested in fielding moderates who might some day grow up to be contenders. That’s why so many of their recent gubernatorial candidates have to come from outside the legislature – or even elected office.

“Independents swing blue here because the the GOP likes being isolated with the right wing who will continually whisper sweet red nothings in their ear. On fiscal issues in particular, California’s voters might very well take a serious GOP candidate seriously. It’s no accident that they repeatedly reject blue-ish proposals from the Gov that didn’t seem very fiscally prudent.

The collapse of our state GOP leaves the field blue by default. But the Dems shouldn’t be flattered by that into thinking the DTSs are equally blue.”

4-cavala provided an historic coda to Calbuzz’s Big Think piece on Jerry Brown’s eyebrows:

“And i can remember when Jerry was accused of dying his sideburns gray to add gravitas to his run for Sec. of State.”

5-And, finally, pdperry questioned the accuracy and authenticity of Calbuzz reportage about ’60s fashion sense:

“head band”?! I’m sure you meant head bang…

Which drew a rare response from Dr. H. himself:

“Actually, in the olden days, long before there were head bangers, some young men actually wore head bands.

To which pd riposted: “oh, dude… i get it now.”

Oh dude, only 298 days until the primary.  Enjoy your weekend.

Dog Days: Manson, Nixon, Woodstock & Big Pharma

Tuesday, August 11th, 2009

mansonBack before the Earth cooled, it was an unquestioned article of faith among those laboring in the fields of the Fossil Fuel Media that August was “a slow news month,” especially for politics.

With schools, Congress and the Legislature all out of session, the highly-paid, glass-office suits headed for Tahoe or Bora Bora, leaving the peons behind to mind the city desk and confront long weeks of desperate striving to devise something – anything! – to fill the vast, barren stretches of newsprint strung between the Macy’s underwear ads.

Veteran members of the Calbuzz Content Production Team fondly recall their papers running massive, front-page color photos of rug rats sucking water from a garden hose – festooned with “How Hot WAS It?” headlines – or ersatz stories about alligators mysteriously spotted in urban lakes , or “Dear Reader” editor’s columns about the dearth of news in August (sort of like this one).

But now, it appears, the traditional slow news month has gone the way of other civilized newsroom traditions, like the pica pole, the early slide and the liquid lunch.

In California, partisans and pols have barely paused for breath in the 100-year war over the state budget , while wannabes disdain the quaint notion of taking a summer siesta off the campaign trail or halting tit for tat attacks.

And on the Right Coast, the Biggest Foot columnist for the New York Times
has declared that this month – August! – to be a make or break month for President Obama, a theme embraced, echoed and embellished by other powerful pundits:

obama“July proved the most difficult month of (Obama’s) young administration,” Dan Balz, the Boswell of Big O’s Administration wrote in a widely noticed WashPost piece:

“His approval ratings dropped. Disapproval of his major initiatives rose sharply. Neither the House nor the Senate met his deadline to pass a version of health care. Finally, the White House and its allies at the Democratic National Committee ended up in a high-pitched argument over whether citizens protesting health care were expressing real or manufactured anger.

That raises the stakes for August. As Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg put it: “Everybody understands they [Obama and his Democratic allies] have to be in a new chapter when they come back at the end of August.”

While Balz’s piece provided a characteristically clear and conscientious survey of the current political terrain, Calbuzz looked in vain for discussion of a crucial point about the perils facing the president: his closed door deal with Big Pharma.

Beyond the howls and shouts about the town hall meetings over health care, it is the ongoing White House double talk and conflicting reports about what Obama did or did not promise the pharmaceutical industry in secret confabs at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue which pose the greatest risk of self-inflicted political damage to the president.

Throughout the campaign, Obama famously promised that when he came to tackle the intractable problem of health care, he would broadcast on C-Span his meetings with Big Pharma, which he vowed would bend to the full power of the federal government in negotiating prescription drug prices for Medicare, perhaps the single most important and practical consumer reform at stake in the health care debate.

If reports are true, however, that Obama promised to cap the concessions on promised savings by the industry at $80 billion -– in exchange for a $150 million advertising campaign backing whatever plan the president supports — Obama will swiftly lose the mantle of political and personal integrity that was the crucial factor in his election as a tribune of new politics. Without that, his Yes-We-Can rhetoric about fundamental change will grow ever more empty and hypocritical.

Slow news month, indeed.woodstock2

P.S. Amid all the real news, it’s good to see that leading media organizations have not forsworn that hardy summer perennial, the August anniversary story. Here are three of our favorites:

1. Jon Pareles of the New York Times churned out a delightful essay on the coming 40th anniversary of Woodstock, accompanied by a cornucopia of multi-media delights that reminded Calbuzz of our head band and love bead days.

2. Speaking of head bands, the Post also made good use of what you like to call your multi-platform storytelling in a 40-year look back at the Manson Family and the Helter Skelter murders.

3. And lest we forget, the By God L.A. Times reminds us that the Big Dick, who almost screwed the pooch on Manson’s conviction by declaring him guilty before the verdict, resigned as president 35 years ago this month.

Arnold’s Offshore Oil Drill Project Not Dead Yet

Thursday, July 30th, 2009

offshoreA new statewide poll reports that a sizeable majority of likely voters now favors  expanded offshore oil drilling in California, a finding likely to fuel renewed efforts to approve the just-defeated Tranquillon Ridge project .

A PPIC survey released late Wednesday  shows that 55 percent of likely voters support more oil drilling off the coast, compared to 41 percent who oppose it. Among all adults, the gap is narrower — 51-to-43 percent in favor — although this is the second year in a row that PPIC found majority backing for more drilling, which previously was a long-settled issue in the state.

The new data comes as executives of the Houston-based oil company PXP vow to continue pressing for approval of a state lease for the controversial project off the coast of Santa Barbara, which was defeated in the Assembly last week after passing the senate by one vote.

An Administration spokesman also said the governor remains enthusiastic about the proposal – and hopes to get another chance to sign it into law.

“The fact that the Legislature did not approve it does not in any way lessen the Administration’s support for the project,” Department of Finance spokesman H.D. Palmer told Calbuzz. “Nor does it in any way lessen the fiscal and environmental benefits to the state, which we hope the Legislature will re-examine.”

In the context of the budget battle, the basic media narrative that emerged from last week’s dust-up framed the Tranquillon Ridge vote, with its potential revenues for the state, as a simple yea-or-nay referendum on offshore drilling. In fact, the policy issues at stake are more nuanced and complex, given that the rejected legislation has its roots in a negotiated 2008 agreement between PXP and a large group of Santa Barbara environmentalists ; they enthusiastically backed a new state lease –- for slant drilling off an existing oil platform in federal waters — as a pathway to ending some drilling off their coast permanently.

The Politics

As a political matter, the unsettled conflict over the project is significant for several key reasons:

– In California, the fight over Tranquillon Ridge reflects a shifting political landscape, as recession-mired residents appear to be recalibrating the balance between long-held, pro-environmental values and economic growth and energy  costs. The PPIC poll found that public support for policies to improve the environment “has dropped a notch,” in the words of poll-taker Mark Baldassare, on a host of issues, including climate change and air quality, with wide partisan differences in each case.

– Across the nation, the fight over the PXP project is being watched as a possible precedent-setter, at a time when the Obama Administration is conducting a review of the government’s five-year drilling plan for the outer continental shelf. The issue is particularly germane in Florida where U.S. Senators from Alaska and Louisiana are trying to remove prohibitions against drilling in a wide swath of coastal waters.

– In Sacramento, the issue is filled with palace intrigue, because environmentalists who negotiated the agreement with PXP hope eventually to bring it back to the State Lands Commission for reconsideration. The commission defeated it on a 2-to-1 vote last January, with Lt. Governor John Garamendi leading the opposition; with Garamendi now running for a House seat in the 10th Congressional District, insiders are spinning scenarios in which Schwarzenegger might appoint Garamendi’s replacement, swinging the balance of power on the commission in support of the project.

What’s Next

PXP oil company executives have spent millions on some of the top lobbying talent in Sacramento, including Darius Anderson, good pal of  Schwarzenegger chief of staff Susan Kennedy, according to a nice weekend piece by the Bee’s Kevin Yamamura that examined how the Third House influenced the budget deal.

PXP executives made it clear immediately after the project was voted down in the Assembly that they plan to keep pushing: “PXP is committed to continue working with California’s elected and appointed leaders on a potential agreement for the T-Ridge project to build on the momentum generated by the (Schwarzenegger) Administration’s and Senate’s bipartisan support,” PXP vice president Steve Rusch said in a statement released Sunday.

The project could return in several venues. Speaker Karen Bass said in a statement after the budget vote that the project “could be reconsidered in August.” Although Bass’s press office failed to return calls seeking clarification about exactly what this meant, it is possible the project could return in a standalone bill. With state revenues continuing to plunge, the project might also be resurrected yet again if the governor and Legislature have to craft another deficit cutting package in the fall or winter.

And as leaders of Santa Barbara’s Environmental Defense Center work to address the problems with the project cited by the State Lands Commission in January – specifically the enforceability of PXP promises to permanently end offshore drilling on four federal platforms in exchange for the state lease – the possibility that Schwarzenegger could name a replacement for Garamendi would be crucial.

“This ain’t over,” Attorney General hopeful and Assemblyman Pedro Nava, D-Santa Barbara, who led the charge against the project, told us.  “Round two is coming up.”

Weed Whacking with PPIC

Foes of offshore drilling no doubt will try to minimize the importance of the new poll’s basic finding –- that all adults surveyed favor expanded drilling by 51-to-43 percent –- which is essentially unchanged from last year, when a slim majority of Californians –- 51-to-45 percent –- favored more drilling, albeit for the first time in PPIC polling history.

But if you, uh, drill down into the data, there are some troubling trends for coastal oil foes.

For starters, among likely voters, which is to say the most politically engaged Californians, the majority of those who favor more drilling is significantly larger – 55-to-41 percent – than among all adults. In this group, the pro-drilling view has grown substantially stronger in one year; in 2008, likely voters told PPIC they favored more drilling by 51-to-45. This represents a net pick up of eight percentage points for the drill baby drill team in just one year.

Breaking the likely voter numbers down along partisan lines shows that the polarized views of Democrats and Republicans on the subject are essentially unchanged: 34 percent of Democrats now favor more drilling (compared to 32 percent last year) while 81 percent of Republicans are now in favor (compared to 80 percent in 2008).

But there has been a dramatic switch in attitudes among independent voters:

– In 2008, independents opposed more drilling by a ratio of 53-to-43 percent, with four percent having no opinion.

– In 2009, independent likely voters now say they favor more offshore drilling, by 55-to-42 percent, a net swing of 23 points in favor of the oil companies’ position.

–Jerry Roberts and Phil Trounstine

Author: Why Obama Should End ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

Nathaniel Frank mugBy Evan Wagstaff
Special to Calbuzz

President Obama would do well politically to simply repeal the controversial “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy for gays in the military, rather than continuing his efforts to finesse the issue, the author of a new history of the policy tells Calbuzz.

As a candidate, Obama vowed he would end the Clinton-era policy, which prevents openly gay people from serving in the armed forces. As president, however, Obama has upset gay rights groups by not moving forcibly to fulfill his promise, suggesting that it is the responsibility of Congress to act first.

Nathaniel Frank, author of the recently published “Unfriendly Fire,” said the administration’s effort to “buy itself some wiggle room” merely prolongs the debate without a realistic possibility of convincing anyone who opposes Obama on the issue to change their mind. Frank is a senior research fellow at  UC Santa Barbara’s Palm Center, which has produced the most authoritative studies of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.

“I think that addressing this issue will prompt opposition from a predictable cast of characters, members from socially conservative groups who have been hollering about this issue for decades and didn’t support Obama in the first place,” Frank said.

“We now have anywhere between 60 and 80 percent of the public in favor of repeal, and these polls included majorities of Republicans, conservatives, and church goers,” he added. “For a popular president like Obama, who was elected on a mandate for change and campaigned on a promise to end this policy, that would serve him better than the delay and defeat Clinton faced.”

Since its establishment in 1998, UCSB’s Palm Center has been regarded as a key source of information and research about the DADT policy and its effects, delivering briefings for several military organizations cited on the center’s website. Most recently, the center released a study in May which said the president could end the policy with an executive order.

Since then, however, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said that the Pentagon would attempt through administrative action to make DADT “more flexible until the law is changed,” throwing the onus of overturning the policy on the Congress. Obama echoed that view in a recent interview on CNN.

The history of DADT extends back to 1981 when a full ban on homosexual service personnel was instituted by the Department of Defense.  In 1993, President Clinton commissioned a six-month study to investigate the effects of a potential repeal of the 1981 directive, but met with criticism from his Joint Chiefs of Staff and members of Congress, among other groups. What emerged was the compromise: “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Pursue” aimed at allowing closeted homosexuals to serve, but requiring dismissal if  evidence of homosexual conduct surfaced. This 1993 White House briefing shows that even top administration officials had difficulty describing the policy they were implementing.

Since then, nearly 13,000 gay service members have been dismissed under DADT, including a handful of invaluable Arabic translators.  These factors have prompted a reexamination of the issue.  Frank said that he believes the wording Secretary Gates chose in his statement could only indicate an eventual repeal of the 16 year old policy.

“It is interesting wording,” Frank said.  “Most people know that the White House changed its website from ‘repeal the policy’ to ‘change to policy.’  It’s trying to buy itself some wiggle room, but I don’t know what change would mean in any long term way other than repeal.  Gates and Obama are looking for a way to change the way the law is applied.  In the case of the gay ban, any cracks in Humpty Dumpty are the beginning of the end.”

How other nation’s militaries handle it: The Associated Press recently published an article detailing the policies for openly gay personnel in comparable militaries around the world. It shows that some of our most prominent Western allies have maintained a policy of open service for at least a decade and have suffered no detriment either politically or logistically.

Britain, the only major partner in George W. Bush’s “Coalition of the Willing,” lifted their gay service ban in 1999, a decision embraced by then-Prime Minister Tony Blair.  Australia’s servicemen and women marched beside peers and even a general in Sydney’s Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade, after nearly 17 years of being allowed to serve in their country’s military.  Even Israel, protected by one of the most embattled militaries in the world, has allowed openly gay service since 1993.

Calbuzz asked Frank what was behind the difference between these and U.S. policies:

“The Christian right was the single most important variable in ensuring in 1993 that we didn’t have reform,” Frank said. “I don’t think there’s a comparable political constituency in any other westernized country.  Israel has a conservative right but it hasn’t made homosexuality its cause célèbre.

“The Christian right advised their political advisors to say [openly gay service] would underminevane the military because the national security frame would sell better.  In addition to the moral and religious concerns which are unique to us, there is a large population here which is uncomfortable with homosexuality.”

Calbuzz intern Evan Wagstaff is Opinion Editor of The Daily Nexus newspaper at UCSB.