My close friend Todd and I have a running political debate about the legacy-in-the-making of Pres. Obama. This debate dates back to a wee hours of the morning dinner in Vegas after a full day of watching the Mosley – Mayweather fight and playing countless hours of poker, but please overlook its dubious origins, as I do.

Todd is fond of ticking off the legislative accomplishments of the past two years. Stimulus, healthcare reform, financial regulation reform, and here of late, the tax cut extensions, START treaty and repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Personally, I have strong disagreements with some of these accomplishments. I think the healthcare reform that finally passed is a bizarre amalgamation of ideas that somehow collectively fails to address either imperative facing us: the imperative of universal coverage and the imperative of cost containment. Todd would say that presidents have tried and failed (or not even tried) for decades to address this issue, and Obama should be lauded for getting this done. True, but ultimately there is something not at all satisfying about the result. I also rather dislike the recent tax cut extension legislation, for its devastating impact on current deficits.

But I do give Todd his due. Obama’s legislative accomplishments have been astonishing. Where Todd and I begin to part company is the long view. It is Obama’s failure to capture the zeitgeist of America these days, or, perhaps better said, having briefly captured it, his failure to keep hold of it and shape it. There was a window, roughly from the time that he vanquished Hillary Clinton in the primaries until the Republicans seized control of the healthcare debate narrative, during which Obama was perfectly aligned with America’s mood. His particular brand of political freshness and intellectual candor felt just right.

Since the end of that period, America’s mood has shifted rapidly while Obama’s pitch has not. This puts Obama’s legacy in peril. Already, a Republican-majority House of Representatives prepares to thunder into town with the very specific intent of clipping the wings of Obama’s healthcare program, his energy program, his budget vision, his financial reforms. Count me among those who believe Obama will win reelection, probably even handily. This is based on two core ideas: that the economy will continue to improve over the next two years, and that Obama remains by far the most popular policial brand in the country.

Even assuming his relection, though, I think the question is completely valid: What will remain of Obama’s legislative legacy after six more years? After 20? This is what I have been trying to express to Todd. Is it good enough if a president leads Washington through an amazing legislative agenda, only to find that the country hasn’t deeply embraced the political values needed to sustain that work? For example, Pres. Bush led us through a dizzying recalibration of the national security/personal liberty tradeoff in the wake of 9-11, telling us — correctly, in my opinion — that this required a multigenerational commitment to defeating the forces of radical Islam. Yet less than a decade later, our personal liberty values are once again overtaking our national security concerns, as support is dissipating for everything from military action in Afghanistan to aggressive TSA screening procedures. It seems to me that Bush was more successul at getting the policy implemented than he was at forging an enduring national consensus around those policies.

That sounds like Obama. I contrast both Bush and Obama with two presidents who I think transcended these political boundaries. The first was Franklin Roosevelt. Of course he sheparded a staggering remaking of the legislative map in the 1930s, but he went far beyond that. He ushered in five decades during which his progressive vision dominated the political landscape. Through presidencies Democrat and Republican, the nation consistently reflected that progressive mentality, with a willingness to employ the powers of government to shape our economic and cultural lives. The result was the creation of the broadest, strongest middle class in history of the planet.

Similarly, Ronald Reagan came along, and his message of the danger of overextended government has remained the single most dominant theme in American politics for three decades now. Even with mostly Democratic control of Congress during those years, and the presidency of Bill Clinton, Americans have remained solidly committed to this defining principle. Voters proved this in 2006 and 2008, brusquely shoving aside even Republicans, usually reliable partners of the limited government ethic, for their failure to adhere to the creed.

This brings us to the Obama question. Is he merely the next in a succession of elected leaders consigned to operate within the Reagan framework, or is he the first in line to set the nation on a new political course for the decades? Obama’s curse may be that his unmatched rhetorical skills during the campaign gave us a tantalizing whiff of being the next FDR or Reagan. He felt transcendent. But so far, despite his towering legislative achievements, he has not transcended. That’s not a horrible indictment. Lyndon Johnson and Bill Clinton would be listed among such competent presidents who rode their respective existing waves to considerable policy advancement.

Five years from now, or ten, or twenty, the nation will face challenges that demand courageous, thoughtful, far-sighted action by our government. Today’s political reality is that, shaped by the Reagan legacy, we are not disposed to trusting our government to do so. If Obama is able to transform the landscape, give back to us a willingness to invest our government with confidence and optimism, then he will have transcended the political conventions of his time and ushered in a new era. Otherwise, we will face these challenges with the underpowered armature of a Reagan-era viewpoint.

I hope he succeeds. I haven’t seen it yet. Lots of important legislation, Todd, but not that.


Good reading from David Frum here.

I am getting sick and tired of watching the staggering lack of leadership coming from President Obama and the White House. This is the man and the team who campaigned so brilliantly. This is the man and the team who have, I would argue, governed with exceptional capability in exceptionally difficult times. But week by week, month by month, they find themselves outflanked rhetorically, politically and publicly by their right-wing opponents.

The Democratic Party needs its OWN voice that can push the message through to the American people, especially the moderate sphere that makes the difference in every presidential election. “Markets are up $4 trillion (well, maybe $3 trillion by now); economy is growing; jobs are being created; housing markets kinda sorta stabilized; financial seizure has been unfrozen; etc.”

Americans think we are heading in the wrong direction? They think that NOW? Are you kidding me? No! The Democrats need a voice who can deliver the message that “headed in the wrong direction” was the severe job losses in 2007-08. NOW we are headed in the RIGHT direction — creating jobs — just not nearly enough yet. Are they f***ing afraid of being criticized for claiming credit for progress while unemployment is still around 10%? Gimme a break. Democrats are incurable wimps.

And why oh why oh why isn’t Obama that voice??????????? Awaken from thy stuport, Oh Great Orator of 2008. You cannot merely govern, however well you do so. You must lead, dammit.

President Obama’s approval rating has been dropping steadily for a year now. Why is that, exactly? I offer here a list of plausible explanations:

  1. The President, thwarted by division among Democrats in Congress and the interference of lobbyists, has been unable to enact enough of his vision for America to sustain public support.
  2. The President, his vision amplified by a huge Democratic majority in Congress, has pushed through more “change” than the American people can stomach.
  3. The President has governed well, but has communicateed poorly with the American people, such that his accomplishments are undervalued.
  4. The American people have failed to invest the necessary mental energy to appreciate the accomplishments of his presidency, and in place of that, are too willing to accept partisan criticisms.
  5. Americans have come to see President Obama as lacking the temperment expected of a president, and are distancing themselves from him regardless of his job performance.
  6. It can’t be helped: In this day and age, with media obsessed over politics and disinterested in governance, it is impossible for a president to sustain public support.
  7. The American people have changed their minds; we have decided as a nation that we do not want the kind of ‘more sensible progressive’ government promised by candidate Obama.
  8. He simply is doing a bad job. His policies are taking us in the wrong direction in terms of what we expect our president to be responsible for — economic policy, foreign policy, health care, national security, federal fiscal matters, energy policy, environmental policy/BP, oversight of financial markets, etc.

What do you think?

I carried this over from a comment I made on another blog post, which presented a piece from Forbes. What struck me is the title of the Forbes editorial: The Fiction of Climate Science.

The problem I have here is that the science has been utterly obscured by the fog of politics. I think the global-climate-change crowd deserves our critical and skeptical eye. But I think the no-global-climate-change crowd deserves the very same scrutiny. I get why Forbes thinks it is a mistake to declare the global climate change theory right. But on what basis does Forbes declare it wrong?

All the media and political conversation about this many tenths of a degree up, and that many tenths of a degree down, are, I believe, missing the point. The better question is, have we entered a period of intense regional climate shifts, that will cause widespread human and economic disruption? There seems to be a lot of circumstantial evidence that that is the case — most of the warmest years on record being in the past couple of decades, significant glacial and polar ice melting, intensification of hurricane and tsunami activity, significant changes in regional precipitation patterns, etc.

But the deafening cry from those in the media and politics is so loud that it is nearly impossible to hear the objective science. That’s from both sides. The voice of objective science has been so drowned out, it is impossible to gauge the real risk of both action and inaction. It has become impossible to either support or refute the theory of global clmate change.

I wish we had the means to quiet the non-science voices, and go forth with a full, transparent, objective and truly scientific debate — better research, study, analysis, and conclusions coming from the scientific community. And the commitment of we lay people to listen more and shout less.

· Cut the amount that America spends on healthcare in half.

· Provided universal health insurance coverage. Yep, 100%.

· If you have a serious illness, such as cancer, paid 100% of the costs of treatment.

· Used the private market to deliver all healthcare, including an option for doctors and others to opt out of participating in the government-funded plan. Retained the fee-for-service arrangement that dominates US healthcare system now, to minimize disruption. Provided doctors with greater independence in diagnosis and treatment than the European model.

·  Reduced infant mortality by 40%; raised life expectancy; lowered mortality rates from preventable diseases.

Would you support a plan like that? Welcome to France. If you would not support that, why not?

Can you defend the premise of your resignation that spurious allegations against you are accelerating, or even continuing? I haven’t heard of any major allegations or investigations other than the so-called Troopergate matter. That was a year ago, and has long been settled.

The article in the Wall Street Journal on July 7 [], which was based on an interview with your close confidant Kristan Cole, referred to “volume of investigations” and “relentless complaints,” yet did not identify a single instance other than “Troopergate.”

You described as “insane” the amount of resources that are going into responding to these bogus allegations. Well, how insane are we talking about? In December 2008, you announced an annual operating budget of $4.9 billion for the state. In your resignation announcement, you stated, “the State has … shelled out some two million of your dollars to respond to ‘opposition research.” Are you saying that an expense of 0.04% of the state’s budget is enough to oust the people’s elected choice for governor?