Barack Obama


On March 3, 2009, I penned a weblog piece entitled A Liberal Ronald Reagan? In the piece I made the following observation:

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.

Well, we’ve received our first indication of the American public’s judgement on our new leader and it is not good.  Anyone who says this isn’t reflection of the country’s views on President Obama’s first two years in office is smoking something.

Yet all is not lost.  This election may have been a blessing in disguise as it now puts President Obama in a position much more similar to that faced by the very popular Ronald Reagan.  As I point out in my piece, this will improve Obama’s chances of long-term success considerably.  Reagan was aided by not being able to be as conservative as he might otherwise have been and Obama will likewise be aided by his inability to follow a course more liberal that the country desires.

Make no mistake that I want President Obama to succeed.  The country needs him to succeed.  But he must slow the implementation of “the agenda”.  He took a massive gamble (see Obama the Gambler) and lost.  He must go back and focus on the economy and get that right and put utopian liberal dreams on hold, maybe forever.

Having re-read A Liberal Ronald Reagan? this morning I also became aware that I was mistaken about Obama’s skills as a communicator.  I had thought based on his performance in the election campaign that, as a communicator, he was almost an ideologically liberal clone of Ronald Reagan.  Yet it is now apparent Obama does not possess all of the communication skills of the “the great communicator”.  The one thing I’ve most noticed of late is that Obama doesn’t have that spark of personality that so endeared Reagan to America.  Obama projects dreadful seriousness all of the time.  He is tough not to respect but he is hard to really like.  I think he can work on that.  We need to see the likable side of the President more.

Let me close with the same words that closed my original piece two years ago.  They are, if anything, even more relevant.

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.

Maybe this is why I’m a Republican.  I have a healthy distrust of government when it comes to finding new ways of taxing its citizenry so that the government can allocate (spend) those resources instead.  While I think Republicans have gone significantly overboard in their opposition to tax increases and support for most tax decreases, Republican distrust of government distrust of public spending at the expense of private spending is fundamentally healthy.

While I reserve judgment on President Obama’s newest plan to raise taxes–his plan to raise $210 billion from “curbing offshore tax havens and corporate tax breaks”–I have suspicions that it but the move of dedicated big spender seeking new sources of revenue to fund his expansive federal social agenda.  The story can be found in the New York Times’ Obama Asks Curb on Use of Havens to Reduce Taxes.  It is the source of the quotation above. 

I’m not going to say much more.  I don’t know enough about the details, but I am suspicious.  This proposal needs thorough vetting on Capital Hill and elsewhere.  There is much we all need to learn about the pros and the cons of the proposal before we make it law.    

There is a must-read opinion column in the Washington Post this morning by Robert J. Samuelson.  It’s entitled The Bias Against Oil and Gas.  It is spot-on.

Energy is critical to the healthy functioning of the U.S. economy.  It is, therefore, a crucially important issue for President Obama to get right–to address in a rational manner.  The point here is that Obama’s “bias” against oil and natural gas will have consequences.  These consequences include failure of his “energy policy” and quite possibly failure of his economic policy upon which so much, even rhetorically, rides on the over-estimated potential of renewable energy.  Worse yet, it means that Republicans may be handed an issue, when oil prices once again soar (and oil prices will again soar, trust me), that gets them re-elected before they deserve to be.  The loser will be the country.

The point here, and I am certain the prime motivation behind Mr. Samuelson penning the piece he did, is that there is time to correct course.  There is still time to get it right.

There are a couple of reasons in particular why someone as brilliant as Mr. Obama has gotten this issue so terribly wrong.   One, and at the top of my list, is that our president doesn’t really understand energy policy.  This is understandable.  Although Illinois is an oil and natural gas producing state, it is not Texas.  While once a significant producer, Illinois’ production has declined and oil’s economic significance to the state is limited.  Additionally, spending a career in Chicago and so little time as a Senator representing the entire state, President Obama has had little opportunity to be educated.  Thus he, like most Americans, has learned about energy not by first hand experience but by what he’s been informed about energy, and particularly about oil and natural gas, by popular culture.  Popular culture tells us that oil is dirty and is bad for people and the planet and the way to move ahead is to not drill any more dirty oil wells.  It tells us that solar and wind are clean and abundant and we must only try harder and that will be our future.  As nice as this sounds, however, it is myth.

Another reason Obama has this wrong is alluded to in Mr. Samuelson’s column.  It is the power of the environmental groups and the fact, quoting Mr. Samuelson that “[t]o many environmentalists, expanding fossil fuel production is a cardinal sin.”  Given that environmental groups are an important contituency of the Democratic Party, Democrats are loathe to challenge its orthodoxy.  Yet a rational energy and economic policy demands a overt challenge.  Unless challenged it will lead the country down a path that does not lead to energy self-sufficiency.  It will lead to even more oil imports in the years ahead.

Expanding domestic oil production is not inconsistent with our country’s, and the world’s need, to limit the burning of fossil fuels in the years ahead.  That need is properly addressed through legislation that will begin to put a cost on the burning of fossil fuels so as to discourage its use.  In the meantime, the goal of this country needs to be moving as much production as it feasibly can back to this country.  We must never lose sight that every barrel not produced at home will otherwise have to be imported.  And every barrel of oil imported amounts to hundreds of billions of dollars and thousands of jobs going overseas.

Energy and economic policy will only work if built on a rational foundation.  It is time to re-lay the footings and begin to construct an energy policy that has architectural grounding.   

 

In a follow-on to yesterday’s posting, there are two additional pieces today, both in the New York Times, that address the Republican Party’s identity crisis.  The first is a front page article, above the fold, by Adam Nagourney and David M. Herszenhorn entitled G.O.P. Debate: A Broader Party or a Purer One? The other is on Op-ed by former Governor (and EPA Administrator) Christine Todd Whitman entitled It’s Still My Party.

I am convinced the Republican Party’s only path forward is to become a party that can not only tolerate a variety of perspectives, but can accommodate those perspectives in its platform and in the way it governs.  Frankly, I don’t see this happening for a while.

My history as a Republican goes back 37 years.  Although I’d always identified as a child as a Democrat, I was a Scoop Jackson or moderate Democrat, at least on defense issues.  When the party rejected Scoop Jackson for the presidential nomination in 1972 and nominated George McGovern, my path forward was clear.  I was able to comfortably remain a Republican up through the George W. Bush’s first term, although the Reagan ascendancy was a mighty challenge.  When the conservatives began to exert control of the party in 1976 when Reagan challenged President Ford for the Republican nomination, I first witnessed the ‘purist’ wing of the party in action.  At my local ward meeting in Albuquerque, New Mexico, I saw the purists in action for the first time as they showed up in droves and defeated the Ford slate.  At the state party convention the purists would later deny slots on the state’s delegation to the national convention to New Mexico’s sitting Republican Congressmen and Senator, who had all supported Gerald Ford.  Four years later I held my nose and voted for Reagan and, to my surprise, I did come to regret that decision.  I even served as an Reagan alternate delegate from New Mexico to the 1984 GOP convention.  What was notable was that although I was viewed then within the delegation as a “moderate”, that was still apparently OK.  It isn’t today in most places.

In her Op-ed Christine Todd Whitman argues that it’s important that “moderates to stay [in the party] and work from within. One thing we can be sure of is that we will have no impact on the party’s direction if we leave.”  She goes on to observe that “[t]o the extent we lose more members of the Republican Party, we lose what ability we have left to affect policy, and that is going to be devastating to our nation. Our democracy desperately needs two vibrant parties.”

Although I may not change my party registration, I am functionally an Independent these days, for the party has left me and the things it once stood for.  It has become something else with which I rarely identify.  At this juncture I am also tired of doing battle with the purists.  I am of the mind that the only way the purists are going to learn their lesson is the hard way in a succession of devastating losses.  Either that, or, the purist Republican Party needs to be isolated with the formation of a new political party in the center.  I agree with Christine Todd Whitman that it will be devastating for the country to have one-party rule.  But that doesn’t mean that second party needs to be the Republican Party.  Let’s get a third party in the mix that can draw moderate Democrats and Republicans and challenge both the left and the right of the political spectrum.  Let the Republican Party stay pure and let’s give the Democratic Party to Nancy Pelosi and her friends on the left.  Let the rest of us join and belong to a brand new party.

That would be my choice, although it’s been pretty clear to me since I started this ‘centrist’ blog, that there been no groundswell of people who agree with me.  Certainly moderate Democrats are not disaffected at present with a capable President who’s steering a relatively moderate course.  And Independents seem to like the middle ground and the ability to move back and forth as they see fit.

So for now I must just watch the show from the sidelines, the show being the Republican Party’s process of trying to make itself relevant again.  What I know is that I have no intention of being part of the process.  I’m tired of tilting at windmills.

I have very few complaints about our President and the job he’s been doing.  To date, Mr. Obama, while perhaps overreaching at times, has managed to hit the political sweet spot more often than not.  He is, by and large, managing to do the right thing.  His high polling numbers reflect this.  Where he has completely missed the boat, however, is energy policy.  What he is proposing for the country will simply not work.  What the Obama administration has proposed is fantasy, dangerous fantasy.  My critique here is not to declare opposition but to advocate in favor of a course correction.  What’s been proposed is good, indeed, admirable, but it is not sufficient to accomplish the administration’s stated goals.

A couple of recent Op-eds are useful in helping to explain why what Obama is proposing will not work as represented.  The first appeared last week in the Washington Post.  Authored by James Schlesinger and Robert L. Hirsch, it is entitled Getting Real on Wind and Solar.  The second was in this morning’s Washington Post.  It is Robert J. Samuelson’s Selling The Green Economy

As I’ve said many times before on this blog, what the country needs to do, in addition to that which has been advocated by Mr. Obama in incentivizing and encouraging the development of new and clean energy technologies, is to recognize the inevitability of fossil fuels in our economy for the next two decades.  This is cold, hard reality.  Given this reality, the focus needs to be producing more oil and particularly cleaner burning natural gas, here on the North American continent.  For U.S. energy policy to finally succeed the country must face down the twin enemies of overseas imports of oil (this because our transportation sector is so heavily dependent on oil – 96%) and carbon emissions.  Increasing domestic production of both oil and natural gas, while not meeting the second goal–decreasing carbon emissions–, is our only viable alternative if we are to succeed with goal number one — decreasing foreign imports.  It will be through our climate change policy that we reduce emissions either through implementation of a cap and trade system or a carbon tax.  This will be what reduces our use of fossil fuels.  In the meantime, moving more energy production onshore in North America not only increases domestic energy security, it gives our economy a gigantic boost in the form of dollars circulating in America instead of being shipped abroad.  We can no longer afford the money drain.

Environmental groups and their followers need to lose the certainty that supporting domestic production, offshore and onshore, is yielding to the enemy.  It isn’t.  It is facing the fact that the country can no longer afford foreign imports, which is and has been for years the default when domestic production is stymied.  Instead, we need to bring the production home and focus on reducing carbon emissions through enactment of workable climate change legislation.  It can work.  We simply need to make it national policy. 

Have Barack Obama’s initial forays onto the world stage communicated to the world weakness or merely restrained strength?  Personally, I am concerned.  Reports last week indicated that French President Sarkozy in casual conversations following the G20 summit expressed the opinion that President Obama was weak.  Obama’s recent visit to Latin America did nothing to dispel that image.  When treated rudely by foreign leaders such as Hugo Chavez and Daniel Ortega, he did nothing.  Perceived weakness on the international stage is always dangerous, but it is especially dangerous when that perception may encourage foreign states to explicitly test a new President’s mettle. 

There are three pieces, all appearing recently in the Washington Post that address this issue in one way or another.  They are Jackson Diehl’s A World of Trouble for Obama, Eugene Robinson’s When Slapped, Slap Back, and Dan Balz’s Obama’s Gripping Style Overseas.

The Jackson Diehl piece raises especially troubling concerns given that there are no shortage of nations which have reasons to exploit perceived presidential weakness.  The Dan Balz piece as well questions whether Obama’s style projects strength or weakness.  While changes from the arrogant approach of President Bush have been welcomed by most, including this writer, the question is being asked whether Obama is going too far in the opposite direction.  The Eugene Robinson piece is also noteworthy.  Eugene Robinson, it was announced yesterday, is the recipient of the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for commentary.  His selection was apparently due to his commentary about Barack Obama on the 2008 campaign trail.  He knows Barack Obama and is certainly no critic.  Yet he is concerned.  Here is an excerpt from the cited column:

Chávez, Ortega and a few others, however, made a show of being rude. A flash of presidential anger from Obama would have been in order.

… Obama was right to show respect for the leaders of neighboring countries big and small at the Summit of the Americas. Those who were not gracious enough to show respect for him deserved to be given — metaphorically, of course, and in the spirit of hemispheric cooperation — the back of the presidential hand.

I would rather Obama exert a little more toughness now rather than when diplomatically or militarily tested by our enemies.  I fear that the President’s initial international forays and the weak image that he’s projected to date now make the test only a matter of time.   Unless the President can change that image and quickly, he’s going to have to be very tough when tested.  Far better to have projected more toughness in the beginning that having to do so in a crisis.  

I don’t always agree with the New York Times’ Paul Krugman, as regular readers of this blog will know, but I must say there was little in his column yesterday about the Republican Party with which I could find much to disagree.  The piece is entitled Tea Parties Forever.  What is this thing about tea parties anyway?  It seems completely nuts to me.

Here are some of Krugman’s observations (in quotes) with which I’m in complete agreement interspersed with my own observations: 

“Today’s GOP is, after all, very much a minority party.”  Indeed it is, and getting smaller all of the time.  As crazy as they are, Republicans “could still return to power if the Democrats stumble.”  All too true.  A reason for Obama to moderate and not give them the fuel that will need to power an electoral victory.  “[E]verything that critics mock about these [tea] parties has long been standard practice within the Republican Party.”  True enough.  As indicated above, I don’t get the Republican preoccupation with taxes.  I haven’t for a decade or two.  “Then there are the claims made at some recent tea-party events that Mr. Obama wasn’t born in America… Crazy stuff.”  Yes, indeed.  “For now, the Obama administration gains a substantial advantage from the fact that it has no credible opposition, especially on economic policy, where the Republicans seem particularly clueless.”  It is a huge advantage to have no credible opposition to call you on your misstatements and misrepresentations.  Instead, we have a party that is beyond clueless, which makes even greater misstatements and misrepresentations.  Instead of offering genuinely believable, cogent and economically supportable policy alternatives, they advocate complete nonsense. 

No, this is not a Republican Party with which I can identify.  For the time being I’ve given up even trying to steer it back on course.   It’s hopeless.  The only thing that’s going to work is for the party to lose a few election cycles, maybe the next five.  Let’s just hope circumstances don’t allow them a premature win.  The country can’t afford this present Republican Party in charge again.     

I began Easter Recess a little earlier than Congress this year, heading out of a cloudy and rainy Washington, DC on Wednesday to find refuge in sunny and warm Palm Springs, California.  I was luckily able to see the cherry blossoms before I left. 

I’ve decided that I’m not going to read the papers this week, which is providing me with a welcome break.  I’m hopeful that the break will provide me with perspective.  To say I’m tired of the Washington, DC grind is an understatement.  If I saw Washington, DC as a place that functioned better, I might feel better about living there.  As it is, it’s a dysfunctional mess and I must conclude that the Obama team isn’t really changing the game much.  While I believe Obama means well, he’s not willing to take on his party which is what would be necessary to shake the dysfunction out of the system.  So, I must conclude that it’s just a new group of ideologues in charge, hell bent on doing their ideological thing and otherwise maneuvering to win the next election.  Sad.

Enough of this.  It’s time to get back out to poolside for more reflection, very little of it, thankfully, about politics.

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 was a great piece on Russia by Anne Applebaum in yesterday morning’s Washington Post.  She explains that the issues with Russia are far more complex than can be solved by the U.S. and Russia “pressing the reset button.”   Unless Russia climbs down off of its high horse (my words here, not hers), no amount of resetting the tone is going to change the Russian government’s fundamental arrogance and desire to play bully on the world stage.  The danger here is that the Obama adminstration play too nice with the bully.  Her conclusion is that the administration’s first Russia move has been a bad one and that it’s time to live in the real world, not a virtual one.  The piece is entitled For Russia, More Than A ‘Reset’.   Apologies for not getting this posted yesterday as promised.     

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