Tag Archives: Reagan

SYNDICATED COLUMN: The 4 Things Hillary Could Do To Close the Deal Against Trump

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She’s ahead in the polls by roughly three to four points. Given her opposition, however, Hillary Clinton ought be doing a lot better than that.

Consider Clinton’s structural advantages over Donald Trump.

Whereas top Democratic Party officials are so supportive of her that they even cheated to defeat her primary opponent, hundreds of leading Republicans – including the speaker of the house and the last two presidential nominees – have declared war against him. She’s been wildly outspending him in televised political advertising. She has campaign field offices in most counties; he doesn’t have any in most states. The news media despises him.

Then consider her personal advantages.

Trump is a novice, never having run for political office. She has served in the cabinet, presented herself for the Senate twice, run for president, weathered countless scandals and political storms. Whereas he rants and raves incoherently, her experience has taught her how to debate, crisis manage, issue sound bites, and carefully calibrate her every phrase for maximum impact and minimum risk. His main advantage is the perception of authenticity – and it’s a big one, having gotten him where he is now – but it has come at a huge price as all his years of running off at the mouth on and off camera are coming home to roost weeks before election day.

Donald Trump has infuriated more than half the voters: women. He has insulted one out of 10 male and female Americans: Latinos, some of whom are registering to vote just to cast a ballot against him. And let’s not forget Muslims.

Given all that, why is he doing so well? Why is she doing so badly – or more accurately, so not well?

Part of Hillary’s problem is personality. Truth be told, she really isn’tlikeable enough.”

“The vote for president is a ‘feel’ vote,” Chris Cillizza wrote in The Washington Post. “Do you think this person is someone who understands you and the problems (and hopes and dreams) you have for yourself and your children?” Polls have consistently shown that most Americans think she doesn’t.

It’s not all sexism: Clinton yells into microphones and overly enunciates. Her voice is objectively irritating. Then there’s her incredibly ugly, unbelievably hideous wardrobe: it’s hard to like someone who makes your eyes burn.

But let’s face it. Hillary Clinton, probably like you and definitely like me, can’t do anything about her personality. At 68, that stuff is baked in. Still, there’s a lot she could do to close the deal against Donald Trump — to widen her within-the-margin-of-statistical-error lead to a chasm, the insurmountable landslide that her institutional and other advantages would have guaranteed a better candidate.

It’s about policy, stupid.

            Recommendation #1: Guarantee Bernie Sanders a high-profile position in the cabinet. (She should have made him vice president, but it’s too late for that.)

Even after the Democratic convention in which Sanders endorsed her, more than a third of Bernie voters – roughly 1/6 of the electorate – still weren’t behind her. Annoyed that Clinton didn’t grant any significant concessions to the party’s progressive base, many of them will vote for Jill Stein or stay home. I’ve been prognosticating about American politics for decades, and I’ve never been more certain of a prediction: a firm guarantee that Bernie Sanders will have a seat at the table for the next four years would singlehandedly put an end to Trump’s chances.

            Recommendation #2: Promise to be a one-term president.

One thing that drives voters crazy is politicians who spend most of their time in office weighing every decision against their future reelection campaign. Nothing would do more to allay voters’ worries that she is a slave of her Wall Street masters than to turn herself into a lame duck on day one — and free herself of the burden of worrying about 2020. Anyway, Hillary Clinton is old and not in the greatest of health. Can anyone really imagine her finishing out the presidency at age 77, the same age as Ronald “Alzheimer” Reagan?

            Recommendation #3: Turn her weaknesses into strengths by promising to finish her own unfinished business.

One of Hillary Clinton’s biggest weaknesses is her support of NAFTA and other job-killing “free trade” deals. Since she can’t run away from her record, why not embrace it by calling for a major national jobs retraining and financial assistance program for people who lose their jobs to globalization, as well as a $25/hour minimum wage? Similarly, her awkward reluctance to concede that Obamacare is too expensive should be replaced by an acknowledgement of what everyone already knows – the Affordable Care Act should have at least included a “public option” – and a promise that she will add one in January. She could also claimed that she learned a valuable lesson from her email scandal; she could promise to be the most transparent president in history by putting a live camera in the oval office and the cabinet, and promising not to conduct government business (other than national security matters) in private.

Recommendation #4: No more optional wars.

You know you’re on the wrong side of an issue when Donald Trump is the calm reasonable one. On foreign policy, Hillary Clinton has quite the reputation as a warmonger. She voted for wars against Afghanistan and Iraq, even though neither had anything to do with 9/11. As Secretary of State she encouraged President Obama to finance the Islamist fundamentalists who turned Libya and Syria into hell. Now she’s saber-rattling with Russia. Americans hate these endless wars. And militarism does us a lot more harm than good. Hillary Clinton should issue an October Surprise: if elected, she should say, she will never deploy American military power anywhere on earth other than to directly defend the American homeland.

I know she probably won’t take my advice. But here’s the thing: she’ll win if she does.

(Ted Rall is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. Please support Ted by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

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$1,000,000

Ricky Jackson, a 58-year-old man who spent all of his adult life in an Ohio prison cell for a murder he didn’t commit, was awarded a “whopping” million dollars to compensate him for the prosecutorial misconduct that led to his conviction.

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Presidential Politics: All Personality, No Platform

Distributed by Creators Syndicate (click the link to purchase for publication):

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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: Praise for bin Laden’s Killer Exposes Americans as Barbarians

 

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France is grappling with the damage to its reputation as the global capital of intellectualism after the nation’s minister of culture sheepishly confessed that she doesn’t read books. “Barbarism is here,” declared the writer Claude Askolovitch. “If one can be culture minister without reading, then we are mere technocrats and budgeters.”

Oui.

Evidament.

At least there are still some among the French who care about their nation’s image.

Here in the United States, the face of barbarism appeared in the banal form of Robert O’Neill, a former Navy SEAL who claimed on Fox News to have been the SEAL Team Six member who shot the fatal shots that killed Osama bin Laden.

O’Neil is very proud of himself. “Standing on two feet in front of me, with his hands on his wife’s shoulders behind her was the face that I’d seen thousands of times, UBL,” O’Neill told Fox. “Very quickly I recognized him and then it was just pop, pop pop.”

Military men, including some of O’Neill’s former comrades, criticized him for speaking publicly about a classified operation, going against SEAL tradition. Others questioned whether he really fired the fatal shots.

But no one went after him for being, you know — a first-degree murderer. (Since four other people were killed in the raid, it’s probably closer to the truth to say mass murderer.)

What happened to America? We used to have morals. We celebrated Rosa Parks. Assassins were scum.

As recently as the 1980s, a right-wing president, Reagan, signed an executive order banning political assassinations. Which is exactly what the bin Laden rubout was.

There was never any intention to try to capture bin Laden alive. To the contrary — an eyewitness, bin Laden’s daughter, says the Al Qaeda leader was captured alive, then blown away, mafia-style. The man — in this crime, which is what it was, we have to call him the victim — was certainly unarmed. We’ll never know for sure, since no medical examiner got a peek at the victim’s body before it was dumped into the ocean.

The assassination of Osama bin Laden diminished what little was left of America’s moral authority. Calling it “justice” was a mockery of law and due process. It also denied his victims their right to see the facts about his alleged — since he was never tried, we have to say alleged — crimes revealed in open court.

As Geoffrey Robertson wrote at the time: “The U.S. is celebrating summary execution, rationalized on the basis that this is one terrorist for whom trial would be unnecessary, difficult, and dangerous. It overlooks the downsides: that killing bin Laden has made him a martyr, more dangerous in that posthumous role than in hiding, and that both his legend and the conspiracy theories about 9/11 will live on undisputed by the evidence that would have been called to convict him at his trial.”

The operation was, without question, illegal. If the U.S. were a nation of equal justice under the law, everyone involved, from O’Neill to the president, would face murder charges.

I don’t care how you feel about bin Laden. Assassinating him was disgusting, might-makes-right bullshit.

If anyone in the media agrees with me, however, I can’t find them.

“If [O’Neill] killed bin Laden, then he deserves the recognition that comes with it. … I say, ‘Well done, O’Neill, tell it like it is and let them howl. They’ll criticize you no matter what. Hooyah,'” wrote an editorial writer in the otherwise charming town of Saint George, Utah. Time magazine called the shooting of an unarmed suspect (while invading a foreign country, by the way) an “action that warrants…acclaim.”

Don’t forget the hit film “Zero Dark Thirty,” which portrayed the bin Laden murder — as well as the torture that preceded it — as heroic.

What happened to us?

Top Nazis, responsible for a lot more deaths than 9/11, were put on trial at Nuremberg. Just two decades ago, it would have been impossible to imagine that a state-sponsored assassin would garner praise for his role in a “wet op” (as long as he really did it).

Or that a president would brag about ordering it. (“Bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive,” Vice President Biden crowed.)

Or that said president would enjoy a bump in his polls as a result (as opposed to a knock on the door from the FBI).

ISIS? Mere pikers.

Barbarism, c’est nous.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist, 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 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

 

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: The Mayors of Brokesville

To Be Young, Technodouchey and Shilly at SXSW

It’s not like I didn’t know what I was getting into.

This was my second year at South by Southwest, the Austin music festival that has morphed into a trilateral Comic Con of the tattered remnants of the music industry, the on-the-ropes independent film sector, and a New Third Thing, the tantalizingly monetizable-for-a-few culturo-fiscal tsunami that left the first two that way, which SXSW hath dubbed Interactive.

Which is, of course, the Internet. Or more exactly, the hapless wretches who want to make money from it because, this being 2013, what else are they going to do – build real stuff and sell it? They seek to profit directly, by coming up with an awesome app like Foursquare which, as every article about this topic is required by law to mention, launched at SXSW in 2009 (and which said articles are never allowed to say, is pretty boring and useless and lame and, anyway, isn’t it kind of sad to have to point back four years to find a Big SXSW Launch?). Either that, or indirectly – by sucking dry a gullible VC (venture capitalist).

In case you’re wondering what goes on SXSW and why you should care, here’s what (why comes later; feel free to skip ahead, I would if I didn’t have to write this):

It’s a bunch of incredibly douchey – you think you know douche? you think you’ve met douches? oh, no, not like these douches you don’t – 25-to-37-year-old wannabentrepreneurs trying to market Webby things, 99% of which are apps for smartphones. And 99% of those 99% of those apps are redundant.

Redundant as in: “You can find restaurants in your area and review them. You can talk to other patrons about them in our online community.”

“Like Yelp?”

“Yeah, well, yes, but…”

“Like Yelp?”

Sad confused face.

I told you they were douches.

Speaking of which:

So during SXSW 2012 I wandered down to the lobby of my hotel to get coffee. Some douches were ambling zombie-aimlessly around, heads cocked in the familiar 20°-forward-head-tilt-toward-iPhone position. Other douches were clustered on the floor, deeply engaged in a random hackathon that accomplished little more than stressing the Hilton’s already technorati-overburned wi-fi network. But that still left other douches to notice that I wasn’t wearing shoes.

“Dude,” a tall male douche, about 32 years old, smiled at me. And pointed at my feet.

“What?” I asked, grouchily. Which was appropriate, considering that he was standing between me and the coffee line. Which was long. Shilling redundant apps requires caffeine as well as gall.

“No shoes,” he replied. “What are you promoting?” He actually seemed interested in my answer to his question.

Another douche, apparently the first douche’s comrade, joined us. “Hey, that’s great!” the second douche chimed in. “Are you repping a foot app? A shoe app? What is it? I gotta know! Hey guys” – he motioned toward a small douche-flock – “check it out!”

They were visibly, crushed-like-kids-who-got-lame-presents-on-Christmas-morn disappointed by my explanation, which was boring and simple: I didn’t feel like putting on shoes since I was just going back upstairs to my room. They thought I was lying.

“No one just doesn’t wear shoes,” the first douche accused. “You are promoting something.” Because, you know, the way you promote a product is by refusing to admit it.

To paraphrase Bruce Springsteen and Dave Edmunds, from big dumb things small dumb things one day come. So what came out of tens of thousands of douches dropping millions of dollars into Austin’s tourism industry?

“The breakout star of [the 2012] SXSW was Highlight, a location-aware app that alerts you when people you know are nearby, and attempts to introduce you to people you might want to know,” the Austin Business Journal reported. “Highlight dominated the buzz at the conference and was crowned the winner early on. However, it struggled to expand afterward because it was a battery hog, and it didn’t work as well outside of SXSW’s target-rich environment, where everyone was using it.” Which is why you’ve never heard of it.

So anyway, this year was more of the same. It was depressing and maddening. Except, without anything as thrilling as Highlight. It was also enlightening. Because SXSW is a metaphor for what’s going on in the American economy.

Like most U.S. businesses, SXSW attendees wanted to sell stuff. The problem was, no one wanted to buy, or hire, or invest.

So no one was selling or getting hired or invested in.

If the balance in Austin at SXSW and in the U.S. (and for that matter internationally) were less extreme – if, in Marxist terms, the oversupply of production merely exceeded rather than dwarfed consumer demand – you’d merely have downward pressure on wages and prices. Which, in fact, we’ve seen since the end of the Vietnam War. And isn’t good.

As things stand, the demand side – companies that want to hire people, which increases the number of goods and services consumers want to buy – is virtually nonexistent. And that’s catastrophic. The U.S. economy added 177,000 jobs in January, 237,000 in February, and 158,000 in March. Moody’s Analytics chief economist Mark Zandi estimates that overall growth is running at about 175,000 a month. Since the U.S. needs to add 180,000 jobs per month just to keep up with population growth, the U.S. in “recovery” is losing 5,000 jobs a month. “If that’s the case, underlying job growth is not changed appreciably,” Zandi says dryly.

Sassy ex-Reagan budget chief David Stockman – say what you will about his blame-the-Fed politics, he’s the most thrilling economist-writer ever – says America is doomed because of failed government intervention. “The United States is broke — fiscally, morally, intellectually — and the Fed has incited a global currency war (Japan just signed up, the Brazilians and Chinese are angry, and the German-dominated euro zone is crumbling) that will soon overwhelm it. When the latest [Wall Street] bubble pops, there will be nothing to stop the collapse.”

Stockman is probably wrong about the why – more old-fashioned socialist state control would have avoided or at least mitigated this mess by redistributing wealth, thus stimulating consumer demand – but right about the what. When you’ve got a marketplace full of would-be sellers but no one who wants to buy, you’ve got no market at all.

All that’s left is a bunch of douchebags looking at your feet.

(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. His book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan” will be released in November by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Pacifist America

Antiwarriors Are Citizens Without a Party

      Americans overwhelmingly oppose the wars against Afghanistan and Iraq. Even many veterans say the post-9/11 war on terror was a mistake.

Antiwar sentiment is the majority opinion when it comes to the prospect of future conflicts. Of the two countries the U.S. is currently most likely to attack militarily, nearly seven out of ten people are against invading Syria; even polls that ask leading questions (“do you favor a military strike to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons?”) find public opinion running opposed to attacking Iran, by 52% to 41%.

Not only are most Americans against wars present and future, we want to slash defense spending in general.  According to a National Journal poll, 60% want to cut the Pentagon budget.  Thirty-five percent don’t.

Eleven years after America lost the Twin Towers and then its collective mind, something remarkable has happened. We’ve come to our senses.

We’re a nation of pacifists.

So how is a pacifist—in other words, an average American—supposed to vote this fall? Obviously not Republican: Romney says he’ll cut every department except Defense. He wants to spend more on weapons, is open to fighting against Afghanistan and Iraq indefinitely, and is so ignorant that he doesn’t know that the people of Afghanistan are called Afghans.

But with all the veteran and war messaging that went on at last week’s national convention, Democrats look like a mirror image of the GOP: jingoistic, militaristic, and gung-ho for war. Between pogo-dancing on Osama bin Laden’s corpse, the airing of a mawkish “Honoring the Sacred Trust with Our Veterans” video that spread the debunked right-wing myth that returning Vietnam vets got disrespected, the First Lady donning a Dubya-inspired “support our troops” T-shirt, and Democrats’ petty attack on Mitt Romney for omitting to name-check vets in his nomination acceptance address, it felt like the 2002-03 build-up to the invasion of Iraq—except, this time, the president speaks fluent English.

It’s official: the Dems are a war party.

Why the new bellicose tone? In part it’s an attempt to counter the old canard that Democrats are weak on defense, a charge that Republicans used to their electoral advantage throughout the Cold War. As the probably doped Lance Armstrong advised, turn your biggest weakness into your strongest strength. (The Machiavellian Karl Rove, who attacked John Kerry’s war record of all things, put it the other way around: turn their biggest strength into their biggest weakness.) It’s also a reflection of the triumph of Democratic Leadership Council-inspired conservatives, who have cowed, purged and marginalized liberals and pacifists from the party.

Militarism may be unpopular, but it still rules the ruling class. The military-industrial complex enjoys more direct political and economic influence among government officials than ever. The post-9/11 Cult of the Noble Soldier, coupled with the myth of a beleaguered U.S. defending the world from barbarians in an epic clash of civilizations, merely recasts old-fashioned fascist militarism—and it’s just as effective at confusing leftie opponents and putting them off-balance.

Truth be told, the Democrats’ new hawkish tone is catching up with their party’s hawkish history. Ronald Reagan gets credit for the defense build-up of the 1980s that supposedly bankrupted the Soviet Union, but it was Jimmy Carter who started it in 1978. No one remembers now, but “wimpy” Carter also gave us draft registration (in response to the Russian invasion of Afghanistan). Mr. Habitat for Humanity sent arms to the Afghan mujahedeen (some of whom formed Al Qaeda) and provoked the Iran hostage crisis by admitting the recently deposed Shah to the U.S. Bill Clinton launched an optional war of choice against Serbia based on sketchy justifications, and waged an incessant aerial bombing campaign against Iraq that went on so long that the media got bored and stopped covering it, and U.S. pilots ran out of targets.

President Obama may not have been popular with the SEAL team he sent to assassinate bin Laden, but thousands of Pakistanis, Afghans, Yemenis and Somalis victimized by the reign of terror unleashed by his unprecedented, expanded program of drone plane bombings can attest to his credentials as a happy warrior. “Barack Obama,” Aaron David Miller, Middle East policy adviser to Republican and Democratic administrations, wrote recently, “has become George W. Bush on steroids.”

Democrats have always been pro-war. They’d might as well shout it from the rooftops.

Most Americans are against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the cult of militarism and the untouchable status of Pentagon spending on weapons. Yet there is no political home for people who oppose our current wars, or war in general.

Where is a pacifist to go?

(Ted Rall‘s new book is “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt.” His website is tedrall.com. This column originally appeared at NBCNews.com’s Lean Forward blog.)

COPYRIGHT 2012 TED RALL

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Four Bore Years

The Second-Term Curse Belies Obama’s Optimistic Vision

Breaking news: Obama willing to compromise!

Everybody (<—translation: media types) is talking about an interview in which the President makes his case for reelection. A second term, he argues, would end the current gridlock between the Democratic White House and Republican Congress, leading to some sort of grand bargain–or at least a deal–that would improve the crappy economy.

Here’s the money quote:

“What I’m offering the American people is a balanced approach that the majority agrees with, including a lot of Republicans. And for me to be able to say to the Republicans, the election is over; you no longer need to be focused on trying to beat me; what you need to be focused on and what you should have been focused on from the start is how do we advance the American economy. I’m prepared to make a whole range of compromises, some of which I get criticized from the Democratic Party on, in order to make progress.”

Liberal commentators scoffed (though more in sorrow than in anger), pointing out that Republicans who blocked Obama’s slightly-left-of-Milton-Friedman agenda throughout his first term aren’t going more likely to compromise during his lame-duck second term. Furthermore, Obama is wrong about GOP tactics changing once he hits his constitutional term limit. Nasty–and effective–attack ads aside, it really isn’t personal for them. Republican strategists will work to defeat whoever wins the Democratic nomination for president in 2016 just as hard as they schemed to stymie Obama. Which is, of course, exactly what an opposition party should be expected to do.

Unless they’re Democrats. But I digress.

I couldn’t help noticing two remarkable aspects to Obama’s statement:

First, it tacitly admits that he didn’t get much done on jobs, unemployment and the economy–the issue that has consistently ranked as the voters’ top concern the entire time he’s been president. This is a dangerous gambit. Blaming the other party for leaving a mess and for obstructionism has a poor record of electoral success, particularly on the economy; fair or not, voters tend to hold sitting presidents responsible for the state of their wallets.

Second, it asks us to assume that a president’s second term is an opportunity. In fact, history suggests anything but. The vast majority of the signature legislative and policy achievements by U.S. presidents occurred at the beginning of their first terms: FDR’s first 100 days, LBJ’s civil rights act and his war on poverty, Reagan’s partial dismantling of the aforementioned social safety net. Though slow out of the gate, George W. Bush got a reset in the form of 9/11, which he used to push through all sorts of mayhem: the Patriot Act, legalized torture, and a pair of ridiculous optional wars.

The record of non-achievement of second terms is so grim that you have to wonder why presidents ever run for reelection. Whether you look at Richard Nixon, who won a record 1972 landslide only to resign two years later, or Bill Clinton’s second term, when he was caught in the mire of the Travelgate and Monica Lewinsky scandals, or Ronald Reagan’s second term, which was dominated by Iran-Contra and hobbled by the early onset of Alzheimer’s, it is hard to think a president who got much done during his second term. Look at George W. Bush’s number two: he wanted to privatize Social Security and expand the GOP into a permanent majority party; instead, his popularity sank like a stone.

Why do these guys want a do-over so badly? Must be the free food and rent.

Whether Obama is aware of presidential history or just blowing smoke, you shouldn’t expect much from a second term. If you’re voting for Obama simply to keep Romney out–to deny him a chance to get anything done–that’s fine. But don’t expect Obama to get a liberal agenda–assuming he ever wanted one–through Congress. That ship sailed after the 2010 midterm elections.

Or a grand bargain. That boat was never built.

There are a couple of things Obama could do to mitigate the second-term curse.  He could take his case directly to the American people, asking the citizens to pressure the Republican-dominated Congress to push through popular agenda items like forcing banks to write down principal on homes that have lost value since the burst of the housing bubble, tax subsidies for college tuition, and extending benefits to the majority of unemployed Americans, who no longer receive any. Democrats have forgotten this approach: Obama has failed to rally his supporters, Bill Clinton, another man who put too much faith inside the Beltway, had the same failing.

Another way Obama and the Democrats could make the most of a second term would be to replicate what the Republicans did with Newt Gingrich’s 1994 Contract with America, in other words, to state a list of policies and new laws that voters would effectively be endorsing if Obama wins. After November, Democrats would then be able to argue that they have a direct mandate for their agenda.

(Ted Rall’s new book is “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt.” His website is tedrall.com. This column originally appeared at NBCNews.com’s Lean Forward blog.)

COPYRIGHT 2012 TED RALL

 

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AL JAZEERA COLUMN: The De-politicization of Political Media

US political ideologies are converging on the right, but the power of ideas doesn’t matter in this popularity contest.

“President Obama’s support is eroding among elements of his base,” began a front-page story in the September 16th New York Times. Experienced readers understood what was meant. The U.S. Democratic Party “base” is comprised of liberals, progressives (to the left of liberals), and self-identified leftists (composed of socialists, communists and left libertarians).

These and other groups that compose the Democratic coalition—feminists, gays and lesbians, labor unions, etc.—pursue separate agendas. For decades American media consumers received granular, detailed analyses of each segment, their goals, accomplishments and failures to influence the party and the nation. No longer. These factions are increasingly being excluded and omitted from coverage in favor of something new: a formless, mushy whatever.

Call it “the base.”

Conventional wisdom—in other words, talking points repeated by columnists for big-city newspapers and cable-television news commentators—holds that the American electorate is roughly divided as follows: 40 percent who consistently vote Democratic, and another 40 percent who always vote Republican. These 80 percent of party loyalists are their base: if they vote at all, they always vote for the same party.

The outcome of elections depends on the whims of the remaining 20 percent, “swing voters” who may vote Democratic one election, Republican the next.

With a few exceptions, strategists and candidates for the two major parties direct most of their appeals to this “vital center” of the ideological spectrum. “Where else are they going to go?” is the constant, cynical refrain of political operatives when asked about the bases of the parties. If you’re a liberal voter, in other words, you probably won’t vote Republican. If you’re a conservative voter, you won’t jump to the Democrats no matter how disappointed you are with “your” party. (Historically, however, the Republican Party tends to coddle its right-wing base—with rhetoric as well as policy shifts—more than the Democrats pay attention to the left.)

The quest for swing voters relies on simple math. Convince a “swing voter” to switch from their party to yours and you’re up two votes. Lose a “base” voter and you’re down one. Swing voters count double.

Read the full article at Al Jazeera English.

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