He still does not get it

November 1st 2010, the eve of what can be the most historic mid-term drubbing delivered to any sitting president. Why did this happen? Could this been avoided? What went wrong? These questions are being debated and will be discussed ad nauseum after tomorrow.

Let me tell you what I think. This happened because the opposition decided that they would rather embark on a tried and true policy of non-cooperation and passive resistance. They wanted this President to fail and they exploited the alarming naïvete of this President. Could this been avoided? Yes, by a strong President willing to fight for the middle class this could have been avoided. What went wrong? Surrounded by beltway mavens this President stuck his head in the sand, and sadly even now he has his head in the sand.

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It seems the President has given up on the mid-terms

So the story going around among the Obama faithful are that the Progressives base needs to get enthusiastic and vote and clap harder and all that. But then you read a story like this in the New York Magazine and you come away with the following impression:

  1. The President is resigned to the fact that the Republicans will gain control of Congress.
  2. He does not find any mistakes with his legislative method.
  3. The problems the Democrats face this season are according to him due to miscommunication (whose?).
  4. He actually thought he would be able to heal the ideological divide.
  5. He still thinks he can get bipartisan support once the Republicans gain congress.
  6. The President is strangely detached and frankly seems uncomfortable and even reluctant to govern.

So those were my impressions. None of them gives me any "hope" or confidence regarding the outcome this midterm elections. But frankly for the President to even talk about the Republican takeover of Congress just reinforces the fact that like most of his legislative "battles", he has waved the white flag even before the fight began.

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The Democracy Corps memo

Stan Greenberg and James Carville have recently made a memo public, in which they state that the President's message has been weak and not resonating enough with the public to affect voter turn-out for an embattled Democratic Party. They outlined three messages:

We have to change Washington. That means eliminating the special deals and tax breaks won by corporate lobbyists for the oil companies and Wall Street. (REPUBLICAN HOUSE CANDIDATE) has pledged to protect the tax cuts for the top two per- cent and the big tax breaks for companies who export American jobs. I'll take a different approach with new middle class tax cuts to help small businesses and new American industries create jobs. Let's make our country work for the middle class.

 

My passion is "made in America," working to support small businesses, American companies and new American industries. (REPUBLICAN HOUSE CANDIDATE) has pledged to support the free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea and protect the loophole for companies outsourcing American jobs. I have a different approach to give tax breaks for small businesses that hire workers and give tax subsidies for companies that create jobs right here in America.

 

(REPUBLICAN HOUSE CANDIDATE) has pledged to make sweeping cuts, including cuts to off-limit programs for the middle class, like Social Security and Medicare. The Republicans plan to privatize Social Security by shifting those savings to the stock market, and ending guaranteed benefit levels. Medicare as we know it will end, as seniors will have to purchase private insurance using a voucher that will cover some of the costs.

 

However there are significant problems for implementing these messages.

 

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[updated] "F-ing retards"

I had an interesting exchange on my previous post regarding who should take the blame for the abysmal outlook for Democrats. One of the basic problems I have with the party right now is the extremely bad messaging and the poor leadership which basically allows individual conservative Dems to thumb their nose at the Democratic party with impunity.

However, much of that blame I would also lay at the feet of the administration that neutered the third party progressive groups during the key healthcare and financial regulation debates by stifling their money. This was well exemplified by the incident from which I get the heading:

Sources at the meeting tell me that Emanuel really teed off on the Dem-versus-Dem attacks, calling them “f–king stupid.” This was a direct attack on some of the attendees in the room, who are running ads against Dems right now.

Tellingly, Rahm raised the specter of a loss on health care, sources at the meeting say — which suggests that the White House may be less certain about victory than officials allow publicly.

But now we hear a very different kind of whining from the bubble Democrats. They are basically seeing Republican outside groups outspending Democratic group by a 5 to 1 margin. Their latest whine:

“Where are those guys?” a top House Democratic aide demanded. “There is very real and growing resentment over these groups being AWOL.”

And this Democratic aide fired a warning shot at liberal groups, suggesting that their absence from the campaign could have “long-term ramifications.”

“When these interest groups come to Democrats and say, ‘We need you to do this,’ a lot of Democrats who survived 2010 will say, ‘You weren’t there for us then.’”

Liberal-leaning organizations answer that it’s not a matter of desire but something more simple: They don’t have the money.

One wonders how come the third party progressive groups do not have any money?

Mike Lux at Open Left, who has worked for many years in organizing progressive third party advocacy has a great piece, the gist of it is like this:

I have been fighting this battle inside Democratic strategy circles for 15 years now, but the problem is worse with the current team at the White House. The folks running the Obama political operation have always believed they could control the message and the resources of the party better than anyone else, and that they didn't need or want to empower outside progressive groups. Now embattled House and Senate candidates are paying the price, and it is a bitter price to have to pay. The groups that do have resources that are pro-Democratic- labor, MoveOn, Emily's List, the trial lawyers- are doing their best to stem the tide. But corporate money in the post-Citizens United era is swamping us, and unlike in some cycles in the past (2004, 2006), wealthy progressive donors were sent signals not to engage, or just not cultivated at all, and the result is that we are being badly outspent.

One final note on all this: the irony of outside progressive groups being blamed for not doing enough to help the Democrats when the White House has been complaining about the "left of the left" and the "professional left" for many months- and de-motivating donors the whole time- should not be lost on anyone. You can't attack progressives for being too strident and then wonder why they aren't doing more and still have much credibility.

As I have written in recent days, I still have hopes that Democrats can do better this cycle than the conventional wisdom suggests, especially if the Democrats use a pro-reform populist message that is actually effective. But the curse of the control freaks is not helping anything.

So there you have it. Poor leadership, poor messaging and now poor management by control freaks.

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The Charlie Brown presidency

Two pieces of news caught my eye prompting me to write this diary:

  1. The Republicans filibustered the Defence Appropriation Bill of 2010, essentially killing the Dream Act and also blocking the repeal of DADT.
  2. On the eve of a key element on the Health Care legislation being implemented, the insurance companies across multiple states have dropped their child only policy, rather than comply with the new law.

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[updated x3 ] White House caves to Breitbart

I think many people have seen this video from Big Government being promoted by Fox, MSNBC which makes it look as if the USDA official Shirley Sherrod had in her offical capacity as a Federal employee refuse to help a white Georgain farmer.

Since then Tom Vilsack has asked Ms. Sherrod to resign from the USDA, and this was after "she had four calls telling her the White House wanted her to resign". Here's the full back story.

 

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Pakistani Intelligence Aids and Arms Afghan Taliban

File this under "duh"! This is hardly surprising and maybe the most widely known secret outside the Beltway intelligentsia that likes to throw money at the Pakistani army that uses it to wage a proxy war against us.

 

 

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What is the current US policy for Pakistan?

Two separate events converged this week. First, there is now evidence that the Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad trained in Waziristan with Al Qaeda linked groups. Second, just today Pakistan fired two nuclear capable missiles and expressed it's desire to join the nuclear club. Both events are troubling, but what is more troubling is that the US has no coherent policy regarding Pakistan.

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Obama in a bubble?

The healthcare reform is practically dead, so is the Arab-Israeli peace initiative, banking regulation is being diluted as we speak, a Republican senator has put a blanket hold on all appointees and while obstructionism is at an all-time, the country is still bitterly divided with registered Republicans questioning the legitimacy of this administration and 2010 looms ugly and large. What went wrong? How did this administration get everything so wrong?

 

 

Edward Luce of the Financial Times has an excellent article regarding things that went wrong with this White House. He quotes a bunch of unnamed sources because as he puts it "most of them given unattributably in order to protect their access to the Oval Office". The conclusion is summed up in one sentence:

The Obama White House is geared for campaigning rather than governing

The blame of course lies with the inner group of advisers who have no experience in government, but adept at campaigning. Even now, in the face of Republican extremism, we have a President who says one thing about the health care bill in public

And it may be that ... if Congress decides we're not going to do it, even after all the facts are laid out, all the options are clear, then the American people can make a judgment as to whether this Congress has done the right thing for them or not," the president said. "And that's how democracy works. There will be elections coming up, and they'll be able to make a determination and register their concerns."

In private he has taken a hands-off approach at least since the MA debacle:

President Obama, hammered for taking a hands-off approach on health care to begin with, has all but disappeared from the discussions as Congressional leaders attempt to figure out a way to finalize a health care plan now that they have just 59 Senate seats.

Yet I received this very oddly worded email from the OFA saying this:"President Obama and many allies in Congress are working hard to finish the job -- but we can't rest until it's done. Your note will help break through the Washington spin and show members of Congress and the media what local voters really believe."

I would opine that Obama was hands-off since the inception of this bill leaving it to the Baucus caucus to carve a bill with back-room deals with PhRMA and concessions at first to Republican Senators Grassley, Enzi and Snowe, and later Lieberman. What did that get us? A severely diluted bill that is more of a giveaway to the insurance industry, which even according to the President, more in line with Republican ideas:

Today's Senate bill – supported by Obama – resembles a plan drafted by a moderate Republican senator in the Clinton years.

The total lack of leadership has not only worried the Progressive caucus in the House on stalling on this bill due to an inherent distrust of a corrupt Senate:

Leading Democrats in the House still insist that "all options are on the table" to move ahead on health care. But for the first time since last Tuesday's special election in Massachusetts, it's clear that they're coalescing around the most widely discussed option: moving ahead with the Senate bill once it's clear that it will be changed through the filibuster-proof reconciliation process. Before they can move ahead, they need the Senate to make some real headway on their end of the bargain--and they're not getting the signs they need.

In the Senate itself, progressive members have grown increasingly irate at the lack of leadership from the White House with Sen. Franken having some tough talk with bubble-insider David Axelrod:

In his public session with the senators Wednesday, Obama urged them to “finish the job” on health care but did not lay out a path for doing so. That uncertainty appeared to trigger Franken’s anger, and the sources in the room said he laid out his concerns much more directly than any senator did in the earlier public session.

The private session was set up in a panel format, with Axelrod joined at the front of the room by Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine and Democratic strategist Paul Begala.

A Democratic source said that Franken directed his criticism solely at Axelrod.

“It was all about leadership and health care and what the plan was going to be,” the source said.

So back to our major headlines from yesterday, President Obama wants to have a bipartisan summit with Republicans about health care and listen to their ideas. The question is why? We had all the Republican input we needed and they killed the reform aspects of the bill. This bill was stalled endlessly for one Republican vote, first of his good friend Chuck Grassley who went on to say that reform will "kill grandma", then of President Olympia Snowe and then Joe Lieberman. When is enough, enough? When does this President stop his campaign gimmicks of bipatisanship and healing divides and actually start governing? These are the questions addressed in Edward Luce's story. On the topic of whether this President wants to change his advisors and come out of the campaign bubble, Luce ends his story with a telling quote from David Gergen:

“There is an old joke,” says Mr Gergen. “How many psychiatrists does it take to change a lightbulb? Only one. But the lightbulb must want to change. I don’t think President Obama wants to make any changes.”

 

Is it policy or is it theater?

A front page entry talks about Obama's new proposal regarding the banking system. While Josh Orton points out a regrettable phrase, actually there are bigger problems. For one I seriously question the sincerity of this administration to take on "too big to fail" banks.

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Diaries

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