Tag Archives: Presidency

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Presidential Politics: All Personality, No Platform

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Hillary Clinton has everything she needs to run for president: money, name recognition, staff, organization. Everything except ideas.

The 2016 presidential campaign will begin in earnest in late summer. This hasn’t snuck up on her; she has known this was coming since at least 2008. Yet here she is, six months before the unofficial start of her run, starting to figure out what she’ll do if she wins.

“People close to Mrs. Clinton say she has not yet settled on a specific platform” on the economy, the New York Times notes in a report about a recent series of meetings she held with 200 economists in order to collect their assessments of the economy.

There’s nothing wrong with asking experts for suggestions about how to fix the problems you want to solve. But you should already have a vision for what America and its economy ought to look like. You should be born with your platform – and, if you decide to run, collect advice from your brain trust on a granular level, concerning how to realize your goals.

If you haven’t always known what you would do if you woke up tomorrow morning as president, and whom you would appoint to help you govern, you have no business running.

Unfortunately, the former senator’s lack of ideas isn’t unique. She reflects a disturbing shift in American politics that most people haven’t noticed because it snuck up on us over time: in the past, politicians ran on a slate of ideas. Now they campaign as personalities.

Look at political buttons from a century ago. FDR ran on “prosperity” and “jobs.” They’re vague — but they’re ideas. And when he won, FDR demanded that his ideas become laws within his first 100 days. Reagan declared that it was “morning in America.” What does that mean? It’s been 35 years, he served two terms, I still don’t know. “Yes we can,” Obama promised in 2008. Can what? It worked because your mind fills in the rest, but it says nothing. “Hope.” “Change.” For/to what?

Reading the diaries of Chief of Staff HR Haldeman, I was surprised to learn that the newly-elected Nixon administration – led by this reputedly hardheaded ideological warrior – spent much of its first year, 1969, recuperating from the campaign it had just won, learning how to use the White House phone system and how to liaise with Capitol Hill before finally sitting down to determine what it actually wanted to do domestically and vis-à-vis foreign policy. I realized that, at least dating back to the 1960 race between Nixon and JFK, presidential candidates haven’t gone into it with much of a vision of how they want to change America. Their primary goal is to get the job, to add the gig to their resume, satisfied that their face may someday end up on a stamp or maybe a coin, and that schoolchildren will forever have to memorize their names.

Think back to the first year of every presidency in recent memory. None, even those like Reagan and George W. Bush who eventually oversaw radical policy changes, pushed major legislation right out of the gate – which is surprising given that a president will never have as much political capital as when he first takes the office. Stepping in during the middle of a global economic crisis, Obama never proposed anything on the economic front and handed off his Affordable Care Act to congressional Democrats throughout his first year. Since 2009 Obama has come off like a guy who achieved everything he wanted simply by having been elected. Bush’s first year was derided as aimless and policy-free until 9/11 gave him a sense of purpose. No major policy prescriptions came out of the Clinton White House for much of his first term.

2016 is once again shaping up as a clash of personalities over ideas, a high school student council-style personal popularity contest – “who would you most rather have a beer with?” (or, in Clinton’s case, are you “likeable enough“?) – as opposed to a debate over the direction of the country. Writing in the Washington Examiner, Michael Barron asks: “Can Jeb Bush — or anyone — come up with a platform for primaries, general, and presidency?”

Implicit in this question is the curious fact that none of the likely contenders for the Republican presidential nomination have yet articulated a platform. Even the most ideologically grounded GOP candidate, Rand Paul, finds himself showcased in a New York Times profile as drifting to the so-called “center” of his party – i.e., away from libertarianism. Isn’t it a little late in the game to be drifting?

Instead of dealing with ideas Paul, who made headlines for filibustering against Obama’s drone strikes and aggressively criticizing NSA spying, is said to be facing “questions about his style and temperament.” Never mind what he wants to do. This is about style: “Does someone who can be so impetuous and unapologetic have the finesse and discipline to win over people who are more naturally inclined to vote for someone else?” asks the Times.

They say we get the candidates and the presidents we deserve, but that’s not true. The system is broken, and has been for a long time. What else can you say about politics that isn’t about politics, but primarily if not exclusively about personality?

We may or may not deserve it, but we need better.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist for The Los Angeles Times, is the author of the new critically-acclaimed book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan.” Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2015 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

 

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Obama’s Governus Interruptus

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Obama is a Uniquely Lazy, Ignorant, Weird President Who Has Done More to Undermine Faith in American Democracy Than We Could Have Imagined In Our Worst Nightmare

Obama will go down in history as a unique president. Because he’s black*, obviously.

Also because he’s a uniquely weird guy: a politician who knows nothing about politics — and doesn’t seem interested in figuring it out. Even while his presidency is in crisis, he’s so obliviously impassively oblivious you have to wonder if he’s living in the same dimension as the rest of us.

Officially (Dow Jones Industrial Average, rich people’s incomes, the fake unemployment and inflation figures issued by the Bureau of Labor Statistics), the economy is recovering. Officially, the wars are ending. (“On the ground” in Iraq and Afghanistan, not so much.) Yet Obama’s approval ratings are plunging, even lower than other recent two-term presidents at the same point in time — including the vile, insipid, illegitimate usurper Bush.

No wonder: Obama’s messaging is lousy. John McCain, a zillion years older than the president he lost to and operating with a brain damaged under torture, can see it — so why can’t Obama?

That’s what McCain was wondering aloud after a panel convened to advise Obama about the NSA issued its report: “Most presidents would have now given a speech and said, ‘OK, here’s what the recommendations are; here’s what I think we ought to do.’ Instead, it just came out.” Like a wet turd. “There’s not a translation of facts and events to remedies that the president supports.” How hard is it to tell the panel to submit their ideas to him first so he can repackage the ones he agrees with as his own? That’s Management 101.

Obama is ignorant. Doesn’t have a clue what his minions are up to. Which is bad. Obama’s ignorance is devastating because he lets us know that he doesn’t know. Reagan only read single-page memos, and though Americans suspected he was daft, they didn’t know. It makes a difference.

Chiming in from the even-a-right-winger-who-loved-Bush-can-be-right-twice-a-year corner of The Washington Post op-ed page, Charles Krauthammer marvels: “With alarming regularity, [Obama] professes obliviousness to the workings of his own government. He claims, for example, to have known nothing about the IRS targeting scandal, the AP phone records scandal, the NSA tapping of Angela Merkel. And had not a clue that the centerpiece of his signature legislative achievement — the online Obamacare exchange, three years in the making — would fail catastrophically upon launch. Or that Obamacare would cause millions of Americans to lose their private health plans.”

Dude went to Columbia and Harvard. He seems smart. What’s wrong with him? Is he — as his former colleagues at the University of Chicago, who noticed that he never published — lazy? He’s certainly a far cry from the LBJ who, according to his biographer Robert Caro, routinely burned the midnight oil committing every sentence of every bill, ever, to memory.

Obviously, a president who finds time to watch sports, play golf and kick off for vacations for weeks at a time — while the global economy is melting down — hell, while his signature legislative accomplishment, Obamacare has all but completely imploded — is lazy as all get up. Still, there’s nothing new about presidential sloth. Reagan, Clinton and Bush all worked less than the average minimum-wage worker whose misery they were steadfastly ignoring.

Obama is unique, though. It goes beyond laziness. He doesn’t follow tried and true practices of presidential governance that have served his predecessors for more than two centuries. Intentional? Who knows? It seems more than likely that (and this is so outlandish that I’ve literally waited years to write these words) he is so ignorant of history that he doesn’t know why and how previous presidents have failed and succeeded. Because, let’s face it, if this is three-dimensional chess, he’s down three queens.

The most blinding example of Obama’s ignorance of/unwillingness to/disdain for the act of governing/politicking is what I call Governus Interruptus — delivering a major speech on a problem, then failing to follow up with a policy initiative (a bill, say).

“President Obama’s speeches…are often thoughtful, nuanced, highly evocative, and exceptionally well-delivered — and worse than inconsequential,” Amitai Etzioni writes in The Atlantic. “They raise expectations — a world without nukes! Ending global warming! Finally curbing gun violence! — but are not followed by much of anything. These barren speeches are one reason the public, and especially the young, are becoming disaffected from politics, bad news for any democracy.”

Speaking of LBJ: When he announced “a national war on poverty” with one objective — “total victory” — to lift up the people “who have not shared in the abundance which has been granted to most of us, and on whom the gates of opportunity have been closed” — he didn’t leave it at that. Food stamps, Head Start and other anti-poverty programs followed…laws that began as bills. Bills drafted by the White House and proposed to Congress, which the president strong-armed into passing.

Where is Obama’s nuclear disarmament bill? Why hasn’t he convened a global summit to address the environmental emergency, with the U.S. leading the way with dramatic initiatives to reduce greenhouse gases? Where is his gun control proposal?

Obama jawboned his way into the White House. Evidently Obama hasn’t read enough to know that talking isn’t governing.

Either that, or he doesn’t care.

(Support independent journalism and political commentary. Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL

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Los Angeles Times Cartoon: Me 4 Prez

I draw cartoons for The Los Angeles Times about issues related to California and the Southland (metro Los Angeles).

This week: Obama and Romney keep returning to California, where they have raised a whopping $60 million in campaign contributions.

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Leading From the Back

Obama Accepts 21st Century View of Gay Marriage

In the BDSM world the phrase “topping from the bottom” means conditional submission: when the sub questions or disobeys the instructions of his or her dom. Subverting the submissive role defeats the whole purpose of a BDSM relationship; it is thus frowned upon.

President Obama frequently engages in the political equivalent: leading from the back.

True leaders lead. They declare what society needs and tells it what it should want. Leaders anticipate what is possible. They open the space where long-held dreams intersect with current reality, allowing progress. “Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail,” Emerson advised.

The role of a leader has been clearly defined since the first time a member of a clan convinced his tribe they should follow him if they wanted to find more food. So why has it been so long since we Americans had real one?

In recent decades we have had two kinds of political leaders, bullies and followers. Beginning with Nixon but more so with Reagan and George W. Bush, Republican presidents have been bullies. Unwilling or unable to achieve the consensus of the majority for their radical agendas, they got what they wanted by any means necessary—corrupting the electoral process, lying, smearing opponents, and fear-mongering.

The Democrats—Carter, Clinton, and Obama—have been followers, and thus far less effectual. Leaders from the back.

Carter was the proto-triangulator, tacking right as a hawk on the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the Iran hostage crisis, while ignoring his liberal supporters. Clinton famously relied on toe-sucking Machiavellian pollster Dick Morris to develop stances and market memes that synced up exactly with public opinion on micro mini wedge issues. Both men left office without any major accomplishments—unless you count their sellouts to the Right (beginning “Reagan”‘s defense build-up, NAFTA, welfare reform).

Obama’s decision to come out in favor of gay marriage is classic Morris-style “leading from the back.”

“Public support for same-sex marriage is growing at a pace that surprises even professional pollsters as older generations of voters who tend to be strongly opposed are supplanted by younger ones who are just as strongly in favor,” notes The New York Times. “Same-sex couples are featured in some of the most popular shows on television, without controversy.”

No wonder: the latest Pew Research poll shows that 47 percent of voters support gay marriage, versus 43 percent against. (Among swing voters—of more interest to the Obama campaign—support is 47-to-39 percent in favor.)

“I believe marriage is between a man and a woman. I am not in favor of gay marriage,” Obama said days before the 2008 election. At that time, Americans were running 40-to-56 percent against allowing same-sex couples to wed.

I can’t read his mind, but I bet Obama was OK with gay marriage in 2008. Like most other educated people. Cynically and wrongly, he sided with anti-gay bigots because he thought it would help him win.

The president’s change of ideological heart was painfully awkward. “I have hesitated on gay marriage in part because I thought that civil unions would be sufficient,” he told ABC. “I was sensitive to the fact that for a lot of people the word ‘marriage’ was something that invokes very powerful traditions, religious beliefs and so forth.”

But now that’s changed, he said. “It is important for me personally to go ahead and affirm that same-sex couples should be able to get married.”

If Obama was a real leader, he wouldn’t care about offending “a lot of people”—i.e., right-wing homophobes. He would have gotten out front of the issue four years ago, when it mattered. The truth is, Vice President Joe Biden’s unscripted remarks a few days ago forced the issue.

Maybe Biden has the makings of a leader.

Six states and the District of Columbia have legalized gay weddings. True, the president’s statement may hasten the demise of the vile Defense of Marriage Act, which blocks federal recognition of gay marriage (and which Obama’s Justice Department defended in June 2009). But it comes too late to be meaningful.

Gay marriage was a historical inevitability before Obama spoke.

That hasn’t changed.

“For thousands of supporters who donated, canvassed and phone-banked to help elect Barack Obama, this is a powerful reminder of why we felt so passionately about this president in the first place,” said Michael Keegan, president of People for the American Way, a pro-Democratic Party interest group.

Maybe so. I don’t see it that way. I see a nation that led itself on this issue. The public debated and thought and finally, at long last, concluded that gays and lesbians deserve equal treatment before the law.

Obama didn’t lead us. We led him.

So tell me—what good is he, exactly?

(Ted Rall’s next book is “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt,” out May 22. His website is tedrall.com.)

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Don’t Think About Reelection

Why Obama Should Consider Himself a One-Term President

Barring some unforeseen cataclysmic event, Barack Obama will be elected president Tuesday. Please allow me to be the first to congratulate you, President-Elect Obama, on an historic victory following an extraordinarily disciplined campaign. Are you sure you’re really a Democrat?

Enough BSing.

As a student of history and the American presidency and a guy who plans to vote for you despite serious doubts, here’s the best advice I can give you: Starting on Inauguration Day, consider yourself a one-term president.

This isn’t exactly an original idea. When John McCain launched his own run for the Republican nomination, he originally planned to center his entire campaign around a promise not to seek a second term. “Less than a day before he was set to speak in New Hampshire on April 25,” The Atlantic magazine reported, “McCain ordered his aides to excise…the pledge.” But McCain was on to something. Voters want a president who isn’t constantly triangulating, studying polls, and sucking up to contributors.

I realize that telling anyone you’re a one-termer would be dumb. Why tie your own hands by declaring yourself a lame duck on Day One? So don’t.

I’m suggesting that you privately adopt a state of mind. Back in 2007, you laid out three guiding principles to your campaign: “Run the campaign with respect; build it from the bottom up; and finally, no drama.” It worked. Now it’s time to transmit a new guiding principle to your cabinet officers: “We don’t care about 2012.”

With one exception, I’ve never understood why presidents worry about getting reelected. The “second-term curse”–the tendency of lame-duck presidencies to flounder in scandal, blowback and impotence–has prevented every modern president from accomplishing anything worth bragging about during years five through eight.

Harry Truman squandered his credibility by playing footsie with McCarthyism and doubling down on a disastrous stalemate on the Korean peninsula. Johnson screwed up in Vietnam and on the burning streets of American cities. Nixon had Watergate; Eisenhower and Reagan succumbed to virtual senility and scandal (the U-2 spy plane affair and Iran-Contra, respectively). Of course, Clinton had Monica.

The exception, of course, was George W. Bush. His quest for a second term was understandable. “Bush knows that he did not carry the popular vote in 2000,” Gus Tyler wrote in The Forward in 2003. “He ran a half-million votes behind Democrat Al Gore. He knows that he really did not carry Florida to give him his thin edge in the Electoral College.” Dubya wanted to win in 2004 because he lost in 2000.

Technically, 2005-to-2008 was Bush’s first term. Nevertheless, the second-term curse struck again. Bush had an ambitious agenda, but it was thwarted by both circumstance and the consequences of policies he pursued during his first four years. Privatizing Social Security, tort reform, stricter test standards for high school graduation–all abandoned and forgotten in the fires of Iraq and the maelstrom of Hurricane Katrina. Bush’s approval rating is now 23 percent, the lowest in the history of the Gallup Poll. He wasn’t even invited to the Republican National Convention. He seems destined to be added to the short list of our worst leaders.

So forget that second term. They never do anyone any good.

George Clinton said, “Free your mind and your ass will follow.” Give up the hope you can’t believe in and embrace the reality you have already achieved.

So, President-Elect Obama: It’s true. You face challenges: Iraq and Afghanistan (which you are wrong wrong wrong about) and torture and our international standing and–obviously!–the economy. But think of what you’ve got going for you. You are young and sharp-minded and vigorous. The electorate is desperately worried, and thus more willing to embrace big changes. Your party will enjoy a commanding majority in Congress–I’m guessing 58 seats in the Senate and 268 (to 167) in the House, the biggest since Watergate. I’m pretty sure you’re going to pick a team of top officials that will make Americans wonder how they ever tolerated intellectual midgets like Donald Rumsfeld and Condi Rice–the Best and the Brightest for the new millennium. The rest of the world already loves you, and you haven’t even begun.

But be careful. The second you move into 1600 Penn, you will be surrounded by people, many of them your close friends, who will want nothing more than to keep the cool jobs you give them for as long as possible, i.e. eight years. Beware the “permanent campaign”–the drive to make every decision based on how they will affect you and your party’s chances for reelection. “[Pollster] Dick Morris even asked voters where Bill Clinton should go on vacation,” remembered Joe Klein in Time.

“[The permanent campaign] has been a terrible thing,” Klein continued. “Presidents need to be thinking past the horizon, as Jimmy Carter belatedly proved. Some of his best decisions–a strict monetary policy to combat inflation, a vigorous arms buildup against the Soviet threat–bore fruit years after he left office and were credited to his successor, Ronald Reagan.”

Radical problems require radical solutions. Guess what? We have radical problems. Your kids-only healthcare mandate concept would be a Band-Aid where major surgery is required. Iraq and Afghanistan don’t need another division of Marines here, another detachment of Special Forces there. Nothing short of immediate pullout will satisfy the world, our ruined national budget or, for that matter, the Iraqis and Afghans. Your 90-day proposed moratorium on foreclosure evictions is nice as far as it goes–well, 90 days–but it’s going to take years of direct government assistance to millions of Americans to save the country from economic disintegration.

Even with a bully pulpit and a Democratic Congress, it’s going to take some serious nads to ignore the special interests. Big insurance companies like the current healthcare “system” just the way it is. Defense contractors are psyched about our serial preemptive wars against anyone and everyone (except those who actually attack us). And the banks aren’t going to stop taking people’s homes unless you take over the banks. It isn’t going to be easy.

But running the country as if you had nothing to lose–running your first term as if it you knew it will be your last–will make it a little easier. For all you know, it might make a second term more likely.

COPYRIGHT 2008 TED RALL

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