Democrats


My first reaction when I read that Senator Specter was to become a Democrat was shock.  I hadn’t thought he’d take such a radical step.  Make no mistake, in America changing one’s party is a radical action.  I had thought that perhaps he’d become an Independent – a far easier step along the continuum of politics.  No, he had decided to make the full leap.

As I’ve had a day to think about it and to read the numerous stories and commentary in the Washington Post and the New York Times, it’s made more sense to me.  For readers who aren’t regular readers of this blog, I, like Senator Specter, sit in a place on the political spectrum that is hard to categorize–liberal on this issue, conservative on that, and, often, very centrist.  Yet I would have a lot of trouble becoming a Democrat.  I would have trouble for the same reasons I have trouble any longer calling myself a Republican.  Each party has wings and viewpoints with which I am in vehement disagreement.  For me, it is merely trading one set of issues with which I agree/disagree for another.  For Senator Specter, however, it would appear that in his calculation it was what will be necessary for political survival.

While I’d have preferred he become an Independent and run as an Independent in Pennsylvania in 2010, he obviously calculated that such a move would unlike result in his re-election.  Instead of one one party opposing him, he’d have two.  And since it seems our system is such that unless you’re either a Republican or a Democrat you don’t have much chance of being elected in America, one must chose one party or the other if one hopes to be elected to public office.

For the time being I don’t have that dilemma.  I can be an Independent.  Still, I would very much like to create a middle-of-the-spectrum party that would have a chance of seriously playing in the political game with the big two.  It would reform the big two like nothing else I can think of.

In a Washington Post editorial this morning entitled Aisle Crosser, there is a quote of Senator Lieberman, a rare elected Independent.  Here’s what he’s quoted as saying:  “You know, it’s good for the Democratic Party, bad for the Republican Party that Arlen Specter left them and joined the Democratic caucus.  But you know what? Overall, it’s not great for American politics, because both parties should have moderate or centrist wings in them that . . . [create] more opportunity for common ground and less partisanship.” 

I couldn’t agree more.  In an ideal world Arlen Specter could have remained a Republican and still been renominated by his party.  This isn’t an ideal world.  He would have been beaten by a conservative ideologue in the Republican primary.  Personally, I would like to remain a Republican and fight for a more moderate party.  However, I don’t see that happening in the next decade.  So Specter is going to seek his home as a Democrat and I will seek mine as an Independent.

My hope is, as unideal as this situation is, that Senator Specter can and will remain a voice of moderation and principal in his new party.  My hope is that he can try to pull Democrats to the right more successfully than he was able to pull Republicans left.  I actually think he’ll have better luck.  Smart Democrats realize that the secret of winning elections is drawing in the center.  Republicans are, as I indicated above, a decade of losing elections (hopefully) away from learning this lesson.  In the meantime we have to hope the Democrats don’t head full-tilt left and contribute to a Republican win before they’ve learned their lessons.  Then we’re all in real trouble.

In closing let me recommend another two pieces on this topic, this first from the New York Times.  It is by Senator Olympia Snowe and it’s entitled We Didn’t Have to Lose Arlen Specter.  Also well worth reading is this New York Times blog by David Brooks and Gail Collins entitled Specter, At Least for Now.

    

As readers will know, I believe that the biggest threat to a successful Obama presidency lies in Nancy Pelosi and her House of Representatives.  Their full-left tilt, if left unchecked, will mean measures more extreme than are both wise for the country and sound politics for Democrats and especially Obama.  Politically, too far left means the Democrats give Republicans the amunition to potentially scuttle Obama initiatives and perhaps even alter the composition of the House and Senate over 4 years.  The good news is that there are mechanisms to neutralize Ms. Pelosi and her band of liberal brothers.  One of these is called the United States Senate.  For the good of the country, the Senate is almost always the more deliberative and cautious body.  Even better is when you have moderates of either party in the Senate working for reasonable compromise.  We saw it in the last administration when a number of Republicans joined with Democrats to defuse “the nuclear option” threatened by harder core Republicans in response to Democratic foot dragging on the confirmation of federal court nominations.  We are also fortunately seeing it in this administration and this piece in yesterday’s Washington Post by Senators Evan Bayh, Tom Carper and Blanche Lincoln called Building Bridges on the Hill informs us as to why they believe that moderates working together is a good thing.  Here’s an excerpt:  

As moderate leaders, it is not our intent to water down the president’s agenda. We intend to strengthen and sustain it. Moderation is not a mathematical process of finding the center for its own sake. Practical solutions are practical because they offer our best chance to make a difference in people’s lives today without forcing our children to pick up the tab tomorrow.

As a centrist, or “moderate”, I could not agree with the words above more.  Moderation is absolutely not a mathematical process of finding the center for its own sake.  What it is about is finding rational solutions that work irrespective of party and party politics.  That is the core message of this blog–its raison d’etre.  Thank you Senators for attempting to give it life in the United States Senate.

There are two columns in today’s Washington Post that continue the debate about the wisdom of Congress’s plan to retroactively tax bonuses paid to companies receiving financial assistance from the U.S. government under its Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP).  Anyone who’s been reading my postings of the last several days will know my views on the subject.  The two Post columns go further than the AIG bonus debate, however, and lodge more broadly substantial criticism of Congress and the Administration.  The perspectives come from the right, George F. Will, and the center-left, Richard Cohen.  There is much truth in both columns, which is to say, again, that I am in substantial agreement with both.  While one expects a strong critique from Will, one does not expect it from Cohen, making it all the more salient.  He is critical, although subtly, of Nancy Pelosi, acknowledging clear strengths but pointing out clear dangers to the President of abdicating too much control to her. 

I continue to believe that unless reined in, Nancy Pelosi and her left-leaning cohorts have the potential to sink Mr. Obama.  Cohen, citing Charlie Cook, concludes that Obama is beginning to slip in the polls, with a notable loss of independents.  The loss of political independents is a bad sign.  (The Cook column, Are Independents Hedging Their Bet?, from which Cohen apparently got his information is a most valuable-read.)  It is a sign of a backlash against liberals.  It is a sign of the country beginning to see merit in divided government.  For Obama, it signals that he needs to control the Pelosi House of Representatives in order to stave off a Republican resurgence in the next election.  That’s what many of us thought that was one of the reasons that Obama selected Rahm Emanuel as his chief of staff — to keep Pelosi and the House under control.  Well, he clearly hasn’t been doing it.

The George Will column is entitled The Toxic Assets We Elected and the Richard Cohen piece, With Friends Like Pelosi…     

In my post on this blog yesterday I noted the growing chorus of political commentators who believe that this country and its leadership is not taking our country’s present economic crisis seriously enough.  Add one more commentator to the list.  Today in the Washington Post, David Ignatius joins the chorus with his piece A ‘Phony War’ On the Crisis

In his column, Ignatius likens our response to the present “crisis” to the time in history when Neville Chamberlain was still Prime Minister of Great Britain and acting as if the problem with Germany could be dealt with short of war.  It couldn’t then and it probably can’t now.  

This is no ordinary recession.  I have lived through a few and am startled when I read that current unemployment is about the same as it was during the early 1980s.  I was just out of graduate school in the early 1980s and the times had a completely different feel to the times today.  Today, it is as if much of our economy has ground to a standstill.  I talk to friends looking for employment and they are reporting that jobs have almost completely dried up.  And it is going to get worse, a lot worse, before it gets better. 

Ignatius’ perspective on our lack of real action in dealing with this crisis is most valuable.  He faults the President for, in a time of economic crisis, putting together a cabinet with almost no real-world business experience.  Here’s what he has to say about our Republican and Democratic Congressional leadership:

Republicans and Democrats are sticking to party-line votes on many key issues. The Democrats were egregious in packing the stimulus bill with pet projects that won’t stimulate much except campaign contributions and in sticking with earmarks — a symbolic outrage that Obama promised during the campaign he would eliminate. But the Republicans have been even worse in their strategy of opposing recovery plans, which has given a legislative face to Rush Limbaugh’s “I hope he fails.”     

Unlike the country’s reaction to the September 11 terrorist-inspired crisis, there is no sense that the country’s leadership perceives the degree of the risk that the country faces, or that we are indeed even in “crisis”.  And, while as a country we perhaps overreacted to the crisis of September 11, it is clear we are not treating our present economic crisis with the respect it deserves.  What it deserves is the putting aside partisan politics and ideological agendas in favor of unified action in the national interest.

One thing the country may need to do is spend additional money, both in supplementing the funds already committed to the banking industry and perhaps in additional stimulus funding.  If it comes to the latter, this time around we need to do it right with clear criteria, developed with leadership from both parties, aimed at maximizing short-term economic impact.

Having said this, however, I fear our political leadership will not act until things get a lot worse.  Let’s just hope that by then it is not too late.     

There’s another great piece by David Brooks in the New York Times today.  It’s entitled Taking a Depression Seriously.  He makes a number of dynamite points.  I will note two.  The first is that the Republican approach to the economy has been completely wrong and as a result has amounted to a mere “no” when so much more is needed.  The other is that Democrats, facing the biggest economic crisis in decades, appear to be doing too much else.  Here’s how Brooks puts this latter point:

Democrats apparently think that dealing with the crisis is a part-time job, which leaves the afternoons free to work on long-range plans to reform education, health care, energy and a dozen smaller things.

I agree as I most often do with Brooks.  It is further evidence to me of a broken political system.  On one hand we have Republicans that are so tied into an ideology where’s there is but one solution to everything economic–lowering taxes–that they can’t mount an effective and rational opposition to the Democratic plan.  On the other hand, we have a Democratic Party that has bungled the stimulus by reducing its effectiveness with an liberal Democratic wish list and doesn’t seem to understand that our country has one very major problem–the economy–that needs solving before anything else is tackled.   

We need something in this country to move us off of our present deadlocked course.  I believe what we need is a viable third party or at least a third force, of independents, who could advocate for the rational without concern for party identification or special interests.  I have concluded that it’s the only path forward.  For now, we will muddle along.  Muddling along, however, might just fail us this time.

It appears most clear from everything I’ve read that efforts by countries to restrict foreign imports during times of economic upheaval is an unwise thing to do.  Restricting trade and protecting domestic industries is an understandable instinct when times get bad, but it is apparently precisely the wrong course of action when combating a global recession.  It makes things worse, far worse.  Yet, we all know that labor organizations the world over, responsive to their domestic clientele, like nothing more than a good trade barrier to protect their particular industry from foreign competition.  The most popular trade restriction these days comes in the guise of conditions which must be negotiated into trade agreements to improve labor and environmental conditions in foreign countries.  While for labor it serves a very distinct purpose–a means of restraining free trade–for most everyone else, from the comfort of our American homes, it sounds like a very nice thing to insist upon (a close relative of ‘political correctness’).   While negotiation of some provisions of this sort would seem to be prudent, it is apparent that the “prudent” end of the spectrum rarely satisfy organized labor, as “prudent” would rarely really significantly alter trade.

So, today comes word that the Obama administration, showing due fealty to a key constituency of the Democratic Party, announces that it is “aggressively reworking U.S. trade policy to more strongly emphasize domestic and social issues, from the displacement of American workers to climate change.”  This is according to a story in this morning’s Washington Post (U.S. to Toughen Its Stance on Trade: New Policy Reflects Growing Dissatisfaction With Global Markets).  The story is a good one and confirms that countries the world over are “embracing new trade barriers aimed at  imported goods and other measures meant to restrict the flow of capital outisde their borders.”  Concerning the push in the U.S. for new labor and environmental standards in foreign trade deals, here is an excerpt from the story:

During the campaign, Obama said he generally supports free-trade policies but also signaled a tougher approach that is only now beginning to be outlined. Both in Kirk’s testimony yesterday and in a policy statement issued by new Obama appointees at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, the administration vowed to make tougher labor and environmental standards prerequisites for trade deals. Rather than stressing the signing of new agreements, the administration indicated that it will instead prioritize stricter enforcement of existing ones before the World Trade Organization — the Geneva-based body that arbitrates global trade. 

I am, of course, suspicous, given the relationship of organized labor and the Democratic Party, that anything approaching reasonable or the “right thing to do” will be the end result of this new policy.  This is more politics than sound policy.

Also in today’s Washington Post is an Op-ed arguing the importance of global trade to world economic recovery and offering a “three-pronged agenda [that] can promote growth, and support foreign policy and global stability.”  The author is Charlene Barshefsky who was the U.S. trade representative from 1997-2001 (making her a Clinton appointee).  The Op-ed is entitled Trading Up to Global Recovery.  While the author advocates free trade she also advocates for “disciplines on labor and the environment.”  

It appears clear to me that as concerns these “disciplines” to be imposed on other governments, the devil will be in the details:  Too lax and organized labor won’t be happy and too strict and the agreements will be have no chance of being agreed to by foreign nations.  Good luck on finding reasonable middle ground and a trade policy that helps more than hurts.  Good luck indeed.   

There are two opinion columns that I put in the must-read category today.  One is Eugene Robinson’s Bending the Trajectory Left in the Washington Post.  The other is David Brooks’ A Moderate Manifesto in the New York Times. 

I am recommending the Eugene Robinson piece as evidence that Barack Obama is not a centrist but a true liberal.  I don’t agree with Mr. Robinson on much of what he says and I certainly don’t share in his all-too-apparent joy in Obama’s liberal trajectory, but I find it a useful articulation of the left of center path this president has chosen to follow.  In light of my previous posting today, which I began before I read either the Robinson or Brooks pieces, it is interesting to read of Obama’s comparison of himself to Ronald Reagan.

I am recommending the Brooks piece because, how do I put this …. because Brooks is absolutely, completely and totally correct.  We do indeed need moderates to step into this fray.  It is moderates that can “tamp down” the extremism that could make Obama’s presidency fail.  And, it could be moderates, if they’re successful, that ultimately make Obama, ala Ronald Reagan, wildly successful.  Moderates, we have reason for being after all.  We can help save Barack Obama from himself.  More importantly, we can help save the country.     

There are a number of ways to judge the success of a presidency.  There is the historical perspective that takes a great many decades to determine with any accuracy.  There is whether the president was able to win re-election, always an important indicator of success.  And, there is whether, when the president is term-limited, the country swings wildly in the opposite political direction when picking the president’s successor.  It is possible, as we’ve just seen, for a president to win re-election yet leave office with abysmally low ratings and a successor that stands for just about everything that he didn’t.  In President Bush’s case, I would argue that his winning re-election was not so much an indicator of his popularity or “success”, but a complete lack of enthusiasm for his opponent.  The Democrats in John Kerry simply didn’t give the country a choice it found acceptable–better the devil you know.  That Bush left office deeply unpopular and with a successor who is his polar opposite in almost every way–personality, intellect, political philosophy–says something about how deeply unpopular, and I would argue “successful” George W. Bush was.

Having last week finally seen the complete unveiling of Barack Obama–no, not a centrist but a true blue Democratic liberal–it is interesting to speculate on how the American public is ultimately going to judge its new leader.  The 2010 mid-term elections will give us a first indication.  Then will come the 2012 general election.  Finally, should Obama be re-elected in 2012, there will be the election of his successor in 2016.

I’m not going to speculate on outcome.  I have no clue at this point.  I am going to suggest scenarios, however, that may give us some indicators.  Let me start by observing that it is entirely possible that by 2012 the bloom will be off the Obama rose but that the Republicans will still be in such philosophical disarray (which includes, in my book, clinging to the southern conservative model of Republicanism) that anyone the Republicans select will be doomed, ala John Kerry in 2004.  Of course, if Obama is despised at that point, which I doubt, it could be that almost any Republican could be elected.  Let’s hope this is not the case for the sake of our country.

Another scenario is to posit Barack Obama as the Democratic Ronald Reagan.  By this I mean a someone who, while clearly a darling of the ideological extremes of his party, is also able to capture a significant amount of independents and centrist members of the opposing party.  To accomplish this it is important that one be charismatic (check), a great communicator (check), and I would argue one more thing.  It will take someone who while talking enough of line to appease his ideological base, delivers policies that are mainstream enough that they don’t alienate the center, where the majority of American electorate resides (unknown).

Now this is where it gets tricky with Barack Obama.  He has announced to the delight of his party’s liberal base a very “liberal” agenda.  How will centrist America take to this?  I would argue that one thing that Ronald Reagan had going for him, that Obama does not, was a Congress that was never entirely in his camp.  In other words, Ronald Reagan never experienced having a Republican majority in both the House and the Senate.  While he had the Senate eventually, he never had a Republican House majority.  I would argue that this required him to moderate his course and deliver a product that was less ideologically conservative than it might otherwise have been and than what he might otherwise have preferred.  Given that most of the electorate is in the center of the political spectrum, this need to moderate arguably inured to Reagan’s political advantage.  Ronald Reagan both won a resounding re-election campaign in 1984 and left office in 1988 highly popular, replaced by his vice-president.

Using the Ronald Reagan model, Barach Obama doesn’t have the barrier (I would also say “advantage”) that Ronald Reagan had.  Unlike Reagan, Obama has healthy majorities in both the House and the Senate.  The only thing he does have that is arguably somewhat similar is a non-filibuster proof Senate.  That could well yet serve him well by holding him back from delivering a more liberal ideological product than he might prefer, but it could also save his political neck.  Since it is less of an obstacle than was Ronald Reagan’s obstacle, it may, however, prove less beneficial.

Of course, a third alternative exists.  America is indeed ready to make a major political shift from center-right to left/center-left.  This could be aided by an economy that is among the worst in the country’s history.  This will depend upon when the economy recovers and which party gets the credit.

I am disinclined to believe the American electorate is radically re-aligning itself to the left.  It will tolerate health care reform and education reform, but only so long as it delivers, on budget.  It will not tolerate huge deficits and massive new unfunded entitlement programs.  It will not tolerate massive new taxes, including taxes masquerading as greatly higher bills for electricity caused by an ill-conceived cap and trade system.  It will also tire of energy program that fails to accomplish its stated objectives (likely, as I pointed out in my posting yesterday).

The bottom line is that this story has yet to unfold.  It could go in many ways.  It will interestingto watch.  It will also be scary, as the country has so much at stake.  Had this been normal times, with an economy that was anywhere withing the range of normal, this liberal experiment that Obama’s proposing might have been an interesting and valuable exercise for the country.  In times of economic crisis, it seems rash and dangerous.  Let’s hope for the best case scenario, for failure could be unthinkably bad.  Let’s hope that Barack Obama does, indeed, turn out to be a liberal Ronald Reagan.

To say I was disappointed in President Obama last week is an understatement.  I had hoped that his promise of change meant a more sincere effort to develop public policy rationally and less ideologically.  I’d had enough of ideological driven policy under President Bush.  I hoped for more under President Obama.  I was wrong, because although our President and government changed, our system dominated by two parties, which engage in mortal combat for power, did not change.  That means that party ideology matters more than rational solutions to America’s problems.  Also not changing was the system’s toleration for policy driven by interest groups within the parties.  The two are highly related, unfortunately.  With appeasement of interest groups comes acceptance of their prescription for changes in public policy, notwithstanding what might be rational or best for the country. 

Vice-President Cheney got no end of criticism for formulating over a number of months a national energy strategy without consulting with environmental groups.  Now, last week we have President Obama announcing a national energy strategy within 5 weeks of his taking office.  There was no pretense of process for forming a new national energy strategy, he and his team just did it.  I can also assure you that as many industry advocates had a share in development of Obama’s plan as there were environmentalists developing Cheney’s.  There have been no screams of outcry this time though.  I guess it’s because environmentalists wear white hats and “big oil” black hats and the former is inherently about protecting the public interest and the other is all about exploiting it for profit.

This is the “change” that Obama has brought to Washington–not change in the way policy is developed but a change in the insiders who are consulted and the corresponding results.  The country is now unconcerned with domestic oil and natural gas development, as was a focus of Bush-Cheney policy, it is now concerned with promoting renewable fuels.  It’s not the change we needed.

I feel very confident in saying that the energy plan announced last week by President Obama won’t work.  Of course, alteration may yet take place that would alleviate some of my concerns, but for now the energy course the President appears to have set is one that’s deeply flawed.  It’s pushing string.  It’s picking winners and losers.  It’s developing a course of action based on an incomplete understanding of the problem.  The result is a plan of action that fulfills special interest fantasies but is almost totally disconnected with reality.  

My prediction is that if Obama pursues the energy policy he announced by virtue of his budget and address to the nation last week domestic oil and natural gas development will wither.  Yes, we will develop more renewable sources of energy, perhaps even matching the President’s goal of doubling the amount of supply from such sources.  Yes, too, we might put more efficient automobiles on the highway and use less gasoline.  But, these steps will not significantly reverse the country’s dependence upon foreign oil which causes so many American dollars, and thus American jobs, to flow overseas.  His policy, in fact, exacerbates the problem by withdrawing all tax incentives for domestic production and, indeed, raising the tax burden.  Actions by Secretary of the Interior Salazar to reduce access to public lands for oil and natural gas development also make things worse.  This means we’ll be producing even less than the inadequate amount produced domestically during the Bush administration.  This can only mean increased importation of oil since the other steps we’re taking are completely inadequate to themselves stem that tide.  The fact is that for the Bush policy of increasing to domestic production to have worked to its potential, the country needed to have opened the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and restricted offshore lands to development.   The Democrats (and a few Northeast Republicans) saw to it that that didn’t happen. 

What the country needs is a “doing it all” approach to energy policy.  It needs to raise gasoline taxes in a revenue neutral way to send a powerful message that oil is not cheap.  Then it needs to encourage domestic production and the incentivization of renewable energy.  It’s yes to it all.  A significant problem is the course of action I’m advocating is that it would be unpopular with environmental groups and President Obama has accepted their worldview by default.  Without ever having been presented the complete picture, our President has apparently made his decisions. 

I had hoped that General Jones would have been at the table in this debate, given his familiarity with the national security consequences of imported oil.  It seems, however, that he wasn’t.  He’s apparently still settling into the job and visiting foreign lands.  He may be as shocked as anyone by the abrupt early announcement of so significant a policy.  My hope for the country is that this debate is not yet over and that maybe General Jones may yet be able to have some influence. 

As I indicated last week, if President Obama’s proposals for health care and education reform are as well thought out as his energy policy, the country is in trouble.  Maybe Obama knows more about the other two, but he clearly knows little about energy.  And the failure here will be not just America’s ability to become a little less dependent upon foreign oil, it could be a political time bomb giving the Republicans a volatile issue just in time for the next elections (2010 and 2012).  If natural gas and oil prices rise as they most certainly will as the world economy revives, the rise in price will be as stunning and as economically shattering as were the price rises of last year.  A public that is just, hopefully, getting its feet back on the ground economically will not be pleased with high energy prices taking money out their wallet.  It will also not be pleased by Obama’s insufficient efforts to increase domestic supply.  It is entirely plausible that a Republican Party that has not yet learned its lessons will be back in power in the House or the Senate or even the White House before the Party is ready.

Let me close with one final observation on the “change” that Obama has apparently brought to Washington.  I hoped for change where the President could sit down and work out differences with opposing interests and, in dialectic fashion, advance a rational agenda.  Instead, you have the American President taunting industry lobbyists in the last few days to bring on the “fight”.  Mr. President, this shouldn’t be about fighting and competition for supremacy, it should be about crafting a policy that works for America.  Our first indication that we’re on the right road will be when both industry AND the environmental groups are equally unhappy.  Clearly that’s not the case and what you’re saying to me is that you’ve made your decision, that you know all that you need to know, and that you’re not willing to listen, all a mere five weeks out of the gate.  Disappointing indeed.

First the speech, now the budget.  We’re beginning to see that Obama is no centrist after all.  His agenda is distinctly to the left of left of center and he’s not an incrementalist.  He’s setting about to change America radically and fast.

America needs change.  The problem is that our choice for political leadership in this country is between a hyperactive Democratic Party with a leftist agenda and tired and worn out Republican Party with a right wing, moralistic, and arguable overly-free market agenda.  The fact remains that there exists a huge amount of real estate between the two extremes, real estate upon which I would argue America would be better building its future home the than real estate being proposed by the two American parties.  And today, one party is in control and it is on their real estate that the we’re proposing to build.

What concerns me the most about Obama’s proposals is the relative lack of thought and preparation that is behind them.  He has produced all of this in just one month!  Echoing what David Brooks observes in his column in the New York Times today (The Uncertain Trumpet) Obama is merely laying out a conceptual framework for the future but he is leaving it to others to work out the details.  That’s dangerous when the others are Congressional leadership dominated by Nancy Pelosi Democrats.  I am concerned that facts (rationality) will play too small a role and leftist ideology to large a role as laws are passed and programs are initiated to build on the Obama conceptual framework.  Likening policy to a road map, it needs to be based upon reality in order to deliver us to the desired destination.  If based on fantasy, it is unlikely to lead us to where we want to go.  Reality and rationality must trump shallow and overly-idealistic ideology.  

I will keep returning to energy as an example as, substantively, I know it best.  On energy, the budget is very “command and control” and sets about picking winners and losers.  One loser appears to be all things “oil and gas”.  A first glimpse at Obama’s energy budget reveals that he proposes elimination of almost every incentive for domestic oil and natural gas production on the books.  It also appears to eliminate all oil and natural gas research and development.  This is not wise when the American economy is dependent upon foreign oil to fuel an economy that will not even under the most optimistic scenarios be able to wean itself from oil for transportation for decades.  Complex issues require complex solutions.  It doesn’t appear we’re going to get them from Obama.  He’s too busy painting colorful conceptual murals of the America he envisions and leaving it to others to try to turn that fantasy into reality.

In Obama’s defense, I suspect most of the “oil and gas” policy outlined in the budget proposal yesterday was the less the process of an Obama policy process than it was the creation of green eye shade types at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) who’ve fought oil and natural gas for years.  Apparently President Reagan’s first budget did almost the same thing.  

For today, at least, that is going to be the extent of my criticism of President Obama.  As I’ve indicated, I believe the country needs change.  Of that I have no doubt.  But this much change so fast concerns me enormously.  It risks losing rationality in the process and without that in the mix, we will have nothing to show except enormously expanded American debt.  Let me now recommend some of the better and/or most informative pieces that I encountered this morning in my journey through today’s Washington Post and New York Times. 

I think the best sources of basic information this morning on the President’s budget proposal are the “analysis” pieces that can be found in both the Post and the Times.  The Post’s piece by Dan Balz is entitled Ambitious Blueprint a Big Risk The President is Willing to Take.  The Times’ “news analysis” piece is by John Harwood and is entitled Political Skills Put to the Test.  On the opinion front, representing left, right and center, I recommend three: Climate of Change by Paul Krugman; The Obamaist Manifesto by Charles Krauthammer; and the David Brooks column referenced and linked above.

As I indicated above, I am going to withhold criticism and give Obama a chance.  There will be plenty of time to oppose, if that is what is ultimately called for, as the conceptual frameworks become blueprints become law.  

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