Obama Speech Roundup (September 9, 2009)

Our president has been all over the place in recent days, trying to rustle up support for the critical health care overhaul, as fear and madness have begun to take over, and Obama’s poll numbers have sagged. I was starting to wonder myself where our leader was in all this. It began to seem as though he was taking punches and retreating to the corner to lick his wounds. I, like so many other left leaning, progressive people, have not given up on reform. It is vital, it is humane, it is economically necessary – no matter what scare tactics the naysayers try to use. So it is with great pride that I have watched my elected leader come out swinging again in the last week.

1. Obama’s Labor Day Address at the AFL-CIO Picnic

Alright, in fairness, this was a friendly crowd. No one seems to love Obama more than organized labor, and that comfort level was reflected in his casual-Friday like speech. But like a football coach boosting his losing team with a halftime, locker room pep talk, I think this message was needed. Don’t give up yet. The time is now. I for one felt “fired up” and “ready to go” after watching this energetic address! We’re still in the game.

2. The President’s Message to School Children

This speech was a detour from a full court press of the President’s ideology, in an attempt to bolster the nation’s youngest citizens. American students are woefully behind many other countries in critical, 21st century areas like math and science. Obama sought to inspire the children with the story of his own unlikely rise, and teach them the necessity of owning their path. How wonderful.

Naturally, the response from the right was a measured dose of…condemnation. WTF? Seriously? Obama was disingenously accused of indoctrination by certain conservative crazies. As Tom Friedman said on last Sunday’s edition of Meet the Press: sometimes it’s on us to stand up and point out when something is “stupid,” to scream when partisan bickering has crossed the line of sanity. What could be more ridiculous than finding a first day of school address to our youngest Americans controversial? Is it just me or are some of Obama’s critics really grasping at straws?

3. Tonight’s Address to Congress

Are you ready to rumble??!!! The interesting thing about tonight’s speech is that Obama has to try and verbally slap members of both parties on the Hill. No fault of his own of course, but Obama pledged a decrease in partisan politics when he ran for office. This health care debate has instead brought out the absolute extremes in party posturing. Dems like Nancy Pelosi have been every bit as dogmatic, power hungry and unreasonable as some of their Republican counterparts. Tonight is the night when Obama has to smack some bitches up on both sides of the aisle and make it clear we need to get things done. Enough talk.

Senator John McCain Still Can’t Accept the Country’s Rejection of Him (March 18, 2014)

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My colleague and Senior Editor, Justin Baragona, did a marvelous job identifying and assessing Arizona Senator John McCain’s hypocritical, warmongering bologna on MSNBC earlier this weekin the aftermath of the laughably suspect Crimean referendum. However, I’d like to take a step slightly farther back in time if we could. I’d like to travel back to last weekend when the ersatz maverick sullied my favorite morning read, the Opinion page of the New York Times.

Though the piece was actually published on Friday, March 14th, it wasn’t until Saturday that I scrolled the headline, Obama Has Made America Look Weak, across the screen of my smartphone. Similar to what I imagine were the conscious streams of many an unprepared liberal, my first thought was: “I hope this is just an ironic hook, but something tells me I am about to read the words of Lindsay Graham or John McCain.”

There are times I hate being right and this was certainly one of those. But it was about to get much worse, with McCain opening his assault with a tried and true journalist trick of the right wing trade: the rhetorical question that actually affirms that which it proposes to query. McCain asks, “Should Russia’s invasion and looming annexation of Crimea be blamed on President Barack Obama?”

The fact that he immediately responds with “No” means absolutely nothing. As Billy Crystal’s titular character wonders aloud in 1980s romantic comedy classic, When Harry Met Sally,“Oh geeze…what are we supposed to do? Call the cops? It’s already out there.”

I don’t know about you, but I’d love to make a citizens’ arrest of Senator McCain, for a veritable truckload of irresponsible, reactionary 20th century battle rhetoric he’s vomited up on the voting public since President Obama was inaugurated. I said itlast week and I’ll say it again. The lack of public support that McCain and the bulk of his partymates have shown the POTUS in one delicate, dangerous international imbroglio after another, is nothing short of treasonous. Short of the divided loyalties of the Civil War, American history has seen nothing to rival it.

Of many instances in the Op-Ed where McCain claims not to impugn President Obama’s foreign policy as the root cause of the Crimean standoff (before doing exactly that), I think this was my favorite. McCain writes, “More broadly, we must rearm ourselves morally and intellectually to prevent the darkness of Mr. Putin’s world from befalling more of humanity.” Yes, pick up the weapons of “American exceptionalism,” which worked so well for us in the aughts. And it is just me or does the Republican party’s 21st century version of national superiority sound and feel an awful lot like the international bludgeon that many on the right would like us to wield in perpetuity? Violent wish fulfillment disguised as patriotism is a special kind of hypocrisy.

Earlier in the piece, McCain not so slyly makes the following observation about the general Obama military strategy: “In Afghanistan and Iraq, military decisions have appeared driven more by a desire to withdraw than to succeed.”

Um, yes, yes they have Senator McCain. And you want to know why? I know this is a trifling consideration for your party, but disengagements from money and life wasting Middle East quagmires have been more commonly referred to in the last decade as “the will of the people.” And I won’t even try to ask you to explain where it is that President Obama is supposed to “succeed” in Afghanistan and Iraq where his predecessor couldn’t. Should he continue looking for Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction then?

I applaud the New York Times for its long-running and dedicated efforts to bring all voices to the proletariat. But as for Senator McCain, the people outside of Arizona have spoken again, and again and again. They don’t want war. They don’t want shoot first and ask questions later diplomacy. And sir, they don’t want you in charge. Please find a way to support your Commander-in-Chief. Barring that, silence is golden.

On Issue After Issue Republicans Are Determined to Be Wrong (March 10, 2014)

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There are so many elements to unpack with regard to the very recent, quick changing and still unfolding events in the Ukraine. I think many of us are in agreement that we expected something to go down during the expense-laden bombast fest that was the Sochi Olympics. Could Vladmir Putin risk parading his own controlled version of Russian exceptionalism on the world stage, without asking for some sort of karmic exposure? The terrorist attacks and bombings that preceded the Games seemed to bode ill for security issues in a region that was volatile before Olympic planning ever commenced. Along with most of the rest of the civilized world, I crossed my fingers, turned on the TV and hoped for the best.

As we know now, the Games, for the most part, played out without any large-scale incidents (What’s a little baton beating of protestors? In Russia, Putin calls that “Tuesday”). And though the media and well-informed observers knew a situation was brewing between Russia and Ukraine, its neighbor to the Southwest, I don’t anyone could have anticipated the escalation and series of events that followed.

As of early this week, Russian troops have tightened their grip on the Crimean peninsula, and the region is imminently prepared to vote upon a secession referendum. This even as Ukraine’s interim Prime Minister, Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk, is reportedly seeking elevated diplomatic assistance from the United States and the United Nations to help restore order and beat back this act of Russian aggression.

The world is watching, cautiously, and with much trepidation as President Obama and his team decide America’s next move. Any illusions of Putin as a rational custodian and partner in enforcing international norms have been shattered, probably for good. It’s not just the situation in the Ukraine that we must ponder. For months and years, President Obama has tried to establish Putin’s cooperation with regard to other unstable nations and threats, including but not limited to: Syria, Iran North Korea, China.

President Obama’s cautiousness in deploying U.S. troops is in keeping with the nation’s evolving attitude toward long, expensive, overseas conflicts without directly achievable objectives. In late January of this year, results from a USA TODAY/Pew Research Center poll indicated that more than 50 percent of respondents (across party lines) believed that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan waged across most of the 21stCentury to date, failed to achieve anything of consequence. At least not anything to warrant the costs, both economic and in human terms.

Moreover, Christopher Gelpi, an Ohio State University political scientist, is quoted in the piece as saying,  ”What is especially interesting about these responses is that the public has continued to update its views on Iraq and Afghanistan despite the fact that these wars have received virtually no attention at all from our politicians over the past couple of years…This shows that the public is more attentive to costly wars than we might expect, even when politicians try to ignore the conflicts.”

President Obama may now fully understand that placing his faith in Putin to be a good steward for democracy and the world’s collective interests was a mulligan. But I for one am grateful that the cerebral POTUS hasn’t proposed a reactionary return to the failed Cowboy Diplomacy of George W. Bush (“Bring ’em on!”). There are similarities of course between this situation and international land grabs of the past, but this is 2014, not 1941, and the solutions aren’t as black and white as the attitudes of certain Obama critics might suggest. Case in point: Contributor Michael Peck of Forbes (no one’s idea of a liberal rag) wrote last week, “America is the mightiest military power in the world. And that fact means absolutely nothing for the Ukraine crisis. Regardless of whether Russia continues to occupy the Crimea region of Ukraine, or decides to occupy all of Ukraine, the U.S. is not going to get into a shooting war with Russia. This has nothing to do with whether Obama is strong or weak. Jimmy Carter or Ronald Reagan would face the same constraints.”

So now we get to the real crux of my column. I am 35 years old. Over the course of a relatively short life, I have watched as the nation came together in times of conflict: Operation Desert Storm of the 1990s, the 9/11 terrorist attacks, various skirmishes on the continent of Africa, the Balkans, etc. I did not mention the names of Presidents in charge of operations during these battles. You know why? Because it didn’t matter. A sitting President could expect all sorts of partisan bickering and legislative headaches in times of relative calm, but he could also count upon united support when lives and U.S. international interests were at stake.

Republicans have slowly and systematically set about destroying paradigms of the normal order since President Obama first took the oath in January 2009. But once again, they have failed to understand that their short-term goals (undermining every single thing that the President endeavors to achieve) stand in relief against what is best for the country. Their strategies aren’t even healthy for the struggling party’s long-term branding.

Lindsay Graham, John McCain, and others, I am looking at you. Your rhetoric (“feckless,” “dangerous,” “weak”) is actually what makes the country appear limp and disorganized, rather than Obama’s thoughtful cautiousness. Publicly impugning your President in 145 characters and trying to create a pathetic political link between the Ukraine and Benghazi, really Graham?

If there’s something that’s not in the national interest, it is this bizarre Putin hero-worship on the part of much of the Republican establishment, and the method by which these right wing lemmings have succumbed to the Russian President’s divide and conquer strategy.

Did President Obama Really ‘Miss an Opportunity’ by Avoiding Sochi? (February 18, 2014)

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During a cab ride home this evening, I spent the first part of the trip sort of balefully and resentfully staring at the continued downpour of yet another Winter 2014 blizzard upon Chicago. However my bitter reverie was interrupted by a different irritant of the rhetorical variety. Several local public radio panelists were tearing into President Obama for relatively undefined “missed opportunities” with regard to his absenteeism from the Olympic Games in Sochi. Notably, these commentators were of a liberal bent, which put me in the interesting position of disdaining the meat of the discussion not for its ignorance, but because these individuals ought to know better.

It’s been a feature of the last five and half years of the Obama Presidency that even those media types who ostensibly sit on the left side of the political spectrum have chosen a “fair and balanced” approach that can easily be interpreted as an irresponsible dereliction of duty. In attempting to placate everyone, they ultimately please nobody, and furthermore contribute a distortion of facts every bit as damaging as the reckless demagoguery of Fox News.

So it is with the POTUS’ abstention from Sochi. In mid-December 2013, the website LGBTQNation displayed a comprehensive understanding of the President’s compelling social motivations for snubbing Putin and his arrogant, expensive and delusional display of Russian exceptionalism. Reprinting an Associated Press piece by writer Eddie Pells:

“President Barack Obama sent Russia a clear message about its treatment of gays and lesbians with who he is – and isn’t – sending to represent the United States at the Sochi Olympics.

Billie Jean King will be one of two openly gay athletes in the U.S. delegation for the opening and closing ceremonies, Obama announced Tuesday. For the first time since 2000, however, the U.S. will not send a president, former president, first lady or vice president to the Games.”

We live in a nation where the majority of registered voters support equality, where 17 states and counting have legalized gay marriage. We are a society in which even members of the Republican Party, once dependably able to use the issue as a wedge to avoid serious policy discussion, no longer wants to touch the topic. Homophobia just doesn’t play in Poughkeepsie like it once did.

But let’s move beyond the fact that Putin’s Russia is a human rights trainwreck that leaves the White House’s subtle refusal to legitimize this month’s grandstanding with a personal appearance entirely commendable. Syria anyone? A Reuters report from early this week quotes U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry as saying, “The regime stonewalled. They did nothing except continue to drop barrel bombs on their own people and continue to destroy their own country. And I regret to say they are doing so with increased support from Iran, from Hezbollah and from Russia.” It seems those among us who feared that Russia might have us chasing our tails with a 2013 offer to broker a diplomatic end to the long-running conflict in the troubled Middle Eastern country, may have been onto something.

If this isn’t enough to make Obama’s removal from Sochi comprehensible, let’s talk about a consideration that has enjoyed bipartisan appeal lo these last 13 years – national security. NBC News’s chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel appeared on last Sunday’s edition of Meet the Press, where he observed:

“The most threatened Olympics in modern history has so far been safe, and that’s not just because of the ring of steel around Sochi. We traveled 500 miles from Sochi to the North Caucasus, the heart of Russia’s Islamic insurgency, and saw how Vladimir Putin is using a combination of crackdowns and payoffs to secure the games.”

Safety via temporary efforts of corruption and intimidation don’t really set my mind at ease. I don’t know about you, but for me as a viewer, this is a rare instance where I’ve been unable to divorce what I know about the host country from the objective magic of the Olympic Games. To offer a comparison, I had a lot more luck with the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing and we’re talking about China. Would I really stand behind a leader who decided to put on a happy face and pretend that all is as it should be, in a nation that appears to be nostalgic for the Cold War?

My point is there are a lot of issues about which we as liberals can quibble with President Obama. Many of us feel health care reform can never be truly realized without a single payer revolution. Others feel that the emboldened and reckless Tea Party might not have become the force it is without Obama’s misguided attempts to negotiate with hostage takers. And just why is it that former President Bill Clinton has been so much more successful at articulating the Obama vision then the elected man himself?

But the White House’s decision to let the athletes do their thing while avoiding overt support of a regime that has been a veritable thorn in America’s side on so many fronts? Perfectly advisable.

Nate Silver Says Marco Rubio is as Unelectable as Mitt Romney Was (February 19, 2013)

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The name of rock star statistician Nate Silver will be forever linked with the results of the 2012 Presidential election. You may recall that against the tide of Republican strategic hubris, and despite rampant voter suppression efforts taking place in communities representing large populations of poor and ethnic constituents, Silver warned the GOP talking heads that Obama was on his way to a sweeping victory. And he was right. In President Obama’s historic conquest over Mitt Romney, Silver correctly predicted the winner of all 50 states plus the District of Columbia. Let’s take a moment to savor once more the epic meltdown of Karl Rove on Fox News as it finally sank in that there was zero chance of a Romney presidency.

It never gets old does it?

In 2010, Silver’s blog, FiveThirtyEight: Nate Silver’s Political Calculus, was presciently licensed for publication by the New York Times. The blog is making news this week with an intriguing post entitled, “Marco Rubio: The Electable Conservative?”

As we know, Rubio is being championed by the beleaguered, delusional and hopelessly out of step Republican Party as the key to returning to mainstream acceptability. Rubio, a Cuban American native of Miami, Florida who rose to prominence after the humblest of beginnings, is seen as the key to making inroads with the nation’s Latino voters. Once a dependable GOP demographic, Latinos have fled the party in droves given its hard-line stance against immigration reform.

Looking to shake the Etch-a-Sketch Romney-style, the GOP has recently attempted to reverse course, proposing to get behind the Dream Act, a plan that would provide a pathway to citizenship for the children of illegal immigrants. Though many of the partys’  recommended measures are tied to border security improvements, the changes mark a critical pivot for Republicans – and Rubio is offered by the right as the face of that change.

Tasked with delivering the rebuttal to the President’s well-received State of the Union address last week, we know that Rubio stumbled: awkward, sweaty and apparently very thirsty. Rubio’s performance stirred reminisces of the 1960 televised debate between Kennedy and Nixon that many have theorized cost Nixon the election. But really, it was one of Rubio’s first appearances on the national stage. Is it any surprise his rehashed talking points would fail to excite, set in relief against the President’s smooth and energized delivery? The question remains: given more time to develop, could Rubio pose an electable challenge to Democrats in 2016?

Though Nate Silver presents a wealth of data in his piece (naturally) that points to Rubio’s strengths in a Republican primary, he hedges when discussing the senator’s general appeal against more moderate candidates. Silver writes, “This is not to say that Mr. Rubio is extraordinarily popular. Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey has favorability ratings that are much stronger than Mr. Rubio’s, for example.”

Silver goes on to say, “What makes matters tricky for Mr. Rubio is that, at the same time he is hoping to persuade Republican party insiders that he deserves their support, he will also need to maintain a reasonably good image with the broader electorate lest his electability argument be undermined. This may lead to some strange positions, such as when Mr. Rubio recently critiqued President Obama’s immigration proposal despite its many similarities to his own.”

In other words, a Republican candidate of any color may still have to adopt the 2012 losing strategy of Mitt Romney. Go hard right fringe during primary season to secure the nomination, then try to fox trot your way back to the center so you can appeal to the mainstream.

A full three and a half years before the next Presidential election, Rubio is already being setup to fail as John McCain and Mitt Romney did before him. To return to President Obama’s “lipstick on a pig analogy,” the ethnic makeup of a candidate cannot possibly surmount a losing game plan. Americans wised up to Mitt Romney’s say-anything-to-win strategy and the result was a fantastic drubbing.

The silver lining of the continuing pain of the Great Recession is a more engaged voting public with a distaste for overt manipulation. Until the GOP initiates a grassroots revamp of the outdated platform upon which it stands, it is unlikely to place a candidate in the White House. As Silver concludes, “If Mr. Rubio holds a fairly ordinary (and conservative) set of Republican positions, chances are his popularity ratings will wind up being ordinary as well.”

The Media Gives the Republican Party a Free Pass to Obstruct (January 8, 2013)

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For all the complaints on the right side of the political spectrum, decrying a “liberal media bias” in favor of President Obama, I sometimes wonder if I am alone in drawing the opposite conclusion. That is to say when it comes to reporting on the increasingly partisan deadlock that has virtually consumed Washington, as well as the nation’s inability to accomplish anything beyond an endless train of disappointing stopgap measures, I wonder if the bulk of the country’s media outlets, concerned with mass appeal and the appearance of a balanced approach, have grown too afraid of identifying the Emperor without his clothes.

Case in point, this headline today on Yahoo! News via Reuters:Analysis: Obama shows combativeness entering second term but risks await. The writer, Matt Spetalnick is correct in his observation that before the official commencement of his second elected term, we have seen a President more self-assured and emboldened by poll numbers that consistently reflect an electorate exhausted by Congress’ failure to come together on long-term solutions to real problems, including but not limited to: our national debt, the effect of current entitlement spending on future generations, the systematic annihilation of the middle and working classes, the growing income disparities and education costs that are denying millions of Americans a fair shot at pursuing the American Dream.

However comments like this leave this reader curious as to whether the meaning of “analysis” has been lost on some of those who write about the political machine for a living: “Some critics say Obama now runs the risk of overreaching when he should instead be building Republican bridges to resolve the next looming budget confrontation.”

I do not have to ask Mr. Spetalnick for a list of his sources to hazard a guess as to who some of those “critics” might be: John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, an assortment of Tea Party crackpots or anyone working for these folks, immediately come to mind. As a long-time journalist, I completely understand the need to represent both sides of the story, but I was also under the impression that one of the driving tenets of journalism is to educate the public, to bring issues to light that might otherwise go unresearched by a general population preoccupied with the business of daily life.

I do not mean to single Spetalnick out for special scorn. There are far more egregious examples of bland, wall-sitting journalistic hatchet jobs disguised as legitimate reporting, and we could have a whole separate discussion about the ways in which the consolidation of corporate media and the lower profit margins of traditional journalism have affected the way we receive our “news.” But with that said, analysts and reporters are under no obligation to surrender their insights for a pair of rose colored glasses, and at some point we have to stop letting them get away with it.

Exactly what kind of “bridges” should Obama be building with the GOP? What happened to the one he tried to build in the summer of 2011, the efforts to strike a Grand Bargain with House leaders over the raising of the debt ceiling limit, which included what many liberals considered an unwarranted gift of borderline austere spending cuts? The same one that Republicans ultimately rejected in favor of last month’s manufactured fiscal cliff crisis? The real truth is my friends, nothing short of absolute capitulation on tax policy, spending and limited government would satisfy the current Republican party, and to take that one step further, the party’s platform is BAD for America by almost any standard of growth or savings.

In a true, functioning democracy, when a special interest group has lost perspective and reasoning and turns to policy development that serves a small minority, the end result is marginalization and ultimately, disintegration. With every Presidential election, the GOP moves itself farther away from laying claim to representing the will of the people. Voter turnout and statistics back this conclusion. But now, at the inception of President Obama’s second term, with looming fights in front of us over a host of issues that demand attention and reform, it is time for members of the media to surrender their own manufactured centrism in the interest of moving the country forward.

Dick Cheney Reminds Us That Romney Still Has Stateside Messes to Clean (July 31, 2012)

Last week was a big week for Mittens and the damage control is in full swing. Remember back in 2008 when one of the biggest criticisms leveled against then-candidate Obama was that the junior Senator was light on foreign policy experience? The last three and a half years have generated many criticisms from the right but the POTUS’ deft handling of a variety of thorny issues such as last year’s Arab Spring Awakening and his wise choice of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State (not to mention the killing of public enemy #1 Osama bin Laden) has gone a long way toward establishing the President as a reasoned and thoughtful statesmen.

Mitt Romney has been a part of the American political canvas for nearly 30 years and yet to witness him committing unforced errors last week, like his offensive comments directed at London’s level of Olympic preparedness, was to experience a sense of Palinesque deja vu. Is there any weigh station between Mittens brain and his mouth? Wouldn’t you think he and his handlers might develop one after three decades? Even Pavlov’s dog was capable of learning. But after that mess, Romney wasn’t satisfied with just one pile of international dog doo. He also managed to wade into the long-running Israel/Iran conflict in a a manner that made him appear like a trigger-happy ignoramus while paying Palestine’s socialized health care system a backhanded compliment, oblivious to its implications again his “war” on Obamacare.

If it weren’t such an embarrassing week for America, I suspect those of us rooting for an Obama re-election would be engaging in a much-deserved happy dance. And yet today, the Crypt Keeper himself, former Vice-President Dick Cheney, popped out of his cryogenic chamber to remind the voting public that there are still plenty of Stateside imbroglios to which candidate Romney must attend. Truly it’s getting difficult to account for all of the issues to which the former Governor refuses or simply cannot respond with a satisfying answer.

In an interview with writer Jonathan Karl for Yahoo News, the topic of Romney’s cloak and dagger intrigue regarding the release of his tax returns was broached. When Bush and Cheney occupied the Republican ticket in 2000, both candidates saw the wisdom is releasing 10 years worth of returns. Romney as we know, will not budge on releasing above two years worth of information. The Cheneybot’s predictable response?

“If he had two years out, they’d want four. If he had four years out, they’d want six. If he had six years out, they’d want ten,” said Cheney. “It’s a distraction,” he added. “I’d say do what he feels like doing. If this is his decision, fine. Let’s get on with it.”

Dick Cheney was always a great believer in the Jedi Mind Trick. Just tell Americans that the Patriot Act, a revocation of their basic liberties, is necessary for national security and they’ll go along with it, the sheep. 9/11 is a great excuse to foment a war of choice in Iraq! And since the wealthy can be painted a job creators, let’s pass some unaffordable tax cuts while we’re at it. The American people won’t know the half of it. They’re too busy watching American Idol! It’s genius. Bwa ha ha!

Nope, not this time Cheney. The post-2008 electorate, better informed and inspired by a candidate who is not overrun by internal cynicism, won’t have it. For the last time, wanting to understand a man’s personal finances as a litmus test for predicting his handling of the country’s budget is not a distraction.

But thanks for reminding us that Romney can be every bit as disingenuous here as he can overseas.