Tag Archives: Washington Post

Trump Wants To Reinvade Afghanistan. Here’s Why We’ll Lose (Again)

The Washington Post reports that President Trump wants to go after — really, really go after — the Taliban in Afghanistan:

President Trump’s most senior military and foreign policy advisers have proposed a major shift in strategy in Afghanistan that would effectively put the United States back on a war footing with the Taliban.

The new plan, which still needs the approval of the president, calls for expanding the U.S. military role as part of a broader effort to push an increasingly confident and resurgent Taliban back to the negotiating table, U.S. officials said.

The plan comes at the end of a sweeping policy review built around the president’s desire to reverse worsening security in Afghanistan and “start winning” again, said one U.S. official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

This will not, cannot work.

Give Trump’s military advisers points for clarity. Their war aim is clear:

“The review is an opportunity to send a message that, yes, the U.S. is going to send more troops, but it’s not to achieve a forever military victory,” said Andrew Wilder, an Afghanistan expert at the U.S. Institute of Peace. “Rather, it’s to try to bring about a negotiated end to this conflict.”

Still can’t work. Americans, American allies and Afghans are going to die for nothing. Here’s why.

I’ll spare you the Afghanistan As Graveyard of Empires argument that I’ve written about before. Yes, the Afghans beat the Brits thrice, the Russians once, and us every day since 9/11. Though the time (1842) they killed everyone in the British army except one guy is well worth reading about. A “signal catastrophe,” they called it. History repeats, especially in Afghanistan, but it isn’t predestination. Theoretically, the United States could defeat the Taliban. The reason they won’t is that they don’t have the political will to do so.

Militarily? Of course the U.S. can defeat the Taliban. The Taliban don’t have planes, long- or medium-range missiles. The U.S. can bomb the Taliban (and lots of non Talibs) to smithereens with a carpet-bombing campaign the likes of which the world has never seen before. They can drone them. They can send hundreds of thousands of highly trained and well-armed troops to invade and occupy the cities and villages and roads in between. If the U.S. declared Total War against the Taliban, if the U.S. were willing to dedicate its stunning economic and military power toward the goal of defending its puppet regime in Kabul, the Taliban would be killed and captured and driven over the mountains to Pakistan.

But that would be expensive. It wouldn’t take for very long before voters, and some journalists, began asking why the U.S. was willing to take tens of thousands of deaths in Afghanistan and willing to spend billions of dollars a week to occupy the country.

Supply lines to Afghanistan are long and difficult. There is no obvious geopolitical payoff, not one worth such a high price. At this point, the U.S.’ involvement in Afghanistan boils down to (a) let’s fuck with Iran and (b) it’s a launching pad for bombing attacks on the Tribal Areas of Pakistan along the Afghan border. Not much payoff there.

Yes, there are mineral resources. But this isn’t Iraq or Libya — natural resources aren’t coming out of the ground in significant numbers for years to come. Not that the U.S. is particularly good at looting natural resources, as we’ve seen in Iraq.

What about forcing the Taliban to negotiate? First, no one figure speaks for the whole movement. It’s a diverse alliance of tribes, ethnicities and political impulses. Second, we’ve been here before. Nixon bombed Vietnam to soften up the communists before negotiating. Bush used back channels to try to talk to the Taliban. Such efforts are fruitless against an adversary with the tactical advantages that come from fighting a guerrilla war as an indigenous. They’re local. They live there. Time is on their side. They’ll wait us out.

In the end, it’s simple cost-benefit analysis: low gain, high expense. Afghanistan just isn’t worth it.

Unfortunately, Trump and his henchmen won’t figure that out before more people have died over nothing.

Sad.

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Unqualified

First Hillary Clinton told a newspaper that Bernie Sanders wasn’t qualified to be president. When he shot back that her judgement made her unqualified, she pretended he’d attacked her out of nowhere. Such are the dynamics of a media narrative: it’s impossible to tell the true truth, only their truth.

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Home Alone: The Criminalization of Free-Range Childhood

Originally published by ANewDomain.net:

“When did Americans decide that allowing our kids to be out of sight was a crime?” asks a mom in the northern suburbs of Washington DC whose husband was threatened with arrest by child welfare agents who said they would take away their kids – for the “crime” of allowing their 10-year-old son to walk home free of adult supervision from a nearby public park.

Danielle Meitiv cites other examples of what appears to be a growing trend: the criminalization of free-range childhood. In the Washington Post, Meitev writes:

Last summer, Debra Harrell of North Augusta, S.C., spent 17 days in jail because she let her 9-year-old daughter play at a park while she was working. In Port St. Lucie, Fla., Nicole Gainey was arrested and charged with neglect because her 7-year-old was playing unsupervised at a nearby playground, and Ashley Richardson of Winter Haven, FL, was jailed when she left her four kids, ages 6 to 8, to play at a park while she shopped at the local food bank.”

Lenore Skenazy sparked controversy with a 2008 New York Times essay bearing the self-explanatory title “Why I Let My 9-Year-Old Ride the Subway Alone.”

home alone ted rall“Was I worried? Yes, a tinge,” Skenazy admitted. “But it didn’t strike me as that daring, either. Isn’t New York as safe now as it was in 1963? It’s not like we’re living in downtown Baghdad.”

Actually, in downtown Baghdad, kids are everywhere.

How old must a child be to be left alone at home? Only five states set a legal limit. (I wonder how many Illinois parents know they are risking child endangerment charges by trusting their 13-year-old not to burn down the house?) As a guideline, experts currently say that, while it depends on the psychological maturity of the child, 7 to 10-year-olds can handle short periods on their own and that kids over age 12 can go a whole day but nevertheless shouldn’t be left home overnight without an adult at home.

To answer Meitiv’s question, there appears to have been a major transformation during the 1990s and 2000s in attitudes about balancing the competing concerns of keeping kids safe and fostering the independence necessary to mature into adulthood.

Growing up in a suburb of Dayton, Ohio to the 1970s, I remember adults were downright cavalier about children. Starting in third grade, I walked to and from school in all kinds of weather. It was two miles each way, a significant distance on those short little legs, especially during an ice storm. (School superintendents were stingier with snow days back then.)

I rode my bike all over town, especially during the summer to the swimming pool, which was about a seven-mile round-trip. My mother wasn’t especially neglectful; every kid I knew carried, as I did, a pocket full of dimes for a pay phone in case they got in trouble.

The irony is that back then, when parents were running off to “key parties” and letting their kids be babysat by “Gilligan’s Island” reruns, it was a far more dangerous time to be a child in America than it is now, when local law enforcement is cracking down on people who refuse to be helicopter parents.

Street crime has plummeted since when I was a kid in the 1970s. It’s not like predators were snatching children off the streets all the time, but it wasn’t unheard of. Twice before turning 16, sketchy men tried to lure me into their cars. A mile up Route 48, the same street where I walked to high school every morning, a serial killer kidnapped, raped and murdered a 14-year-old girl going to her own school. Most kids from the 1970s generation have a story like that, one or two degrees of separation removed.

That’s not the case now.

Of course, if you are a would-be child killer, it’s going to be pretty difficult to satisfy your bloodlust in a society where you never see kids walking the streets.

Keeping kids safe is a parent’s primary responsibility. People my age – I’m 51 – ruefully recall feeling like no one cared about our safety when we were children. We shouldn’t return to that era. But parents have another, equally important duty: turning their kids into grown-ups.

How the hell are today’s kids going to become the adults of tomorrow?

When I was nine years old, my mom let me take the city bus downtown to Dayton’s edgy urban core. I have to think that familiarizing myself with mass transit slowly, during my teenage years in a smaller city, made it easier for me to transition to the New York City subway, which I had to figure out at the age of 18 as a student at Columbia University.

Similarly, although sometimes I worried that my mother had gotten into a car accident when she ran late at work, it was a good experience to learn, again over time, that 99% of the time there’s nothing to fear even when you are afraid. Besides, being left home alone today would have been a less fraught experience thanks to text messaging and cellular phones.

By the time I was 15 years old, I had a pretty good sense of direction. We didn’t have Google Maps, but we had the printed kind, and the experience of driving around and sometimes getting lost, so we soon had a strong sense of where things were and how to get there. You need that as an adult. As I watch my friends shuttle their kids around by car, I always wonder, how can these children – who have absolutely no reason to know or care where they are being taken or how it fits into context – make the jump into fully realized independent adulthood?

“The pendulum has swung too far,” Meitiv wrote, and I agree. “We need to take back the streets and parks for our children. We need to refuse to allow ourselves to be ruled by fear or allow our government to overrule decisions that parents make about what is best for their children.”

This being America, it’s probably going to take a bunch of legal battles in the form of parents fighting back against out-of-control child welfare authorities — who in 45 states are “enforcing” non-existent laws — to restore some sense of sanity. In the meantime, we are engaged in a social struggle that will determine whether the first totally online/totally protected generation of American children somehow manage to develop into viable adults.

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: In Defense of Extremism

From The Washington Post: “The cost of turning against the Islamic State was made brutally apparent in the streets of a dusty backwater town in eastern Syria in early August. Over a three-day period, vengeful fighters shelled, beheaded, crucified and shot hundreds of members of the Shaitat tribe after they dared to rise up against the extremists.”

From USA Today: “Contrary to the popular opinion that radical Islam is the primary threat to homeland security, Christianity provides the other four groups with their extremist rationale.”

“Extremism” is the new “terrorism” – a word that so automatically conjures revulsion that its user is under no pressure to justify its use with logic or reason. The U.S. government and those charged with disseminating its propaganda – wait, we’re supposed to call them “talking points” now – in the media like to define themselves as the 50-yard line of politics. Like an ideological Goldilocks, neither too left nor too right but just perfect for this time and place and species, these self-described “centrists” and “moderates” vilify their enemies, opponents, and rivals with the E-word.

Upon examination, however, it becomes clear that few words are less meaningless in political discourse than “extremism.” (At least “terrorism” means something. Terrorism is the use of violence against civilians in order to promote or achieve political ends.)

An extremist is only an extremist in comparison to what is mainstream/centrist/moderate. Whatever system of political, religious or economic belief happens to dominate at a particular moment in time smears its opponents as extreme and therefore beyond normal and acceptable discourse. But that can change. Today’s extremism becomes tomorrow’s moderation under a different system.

(This is even true when the system doesn’t change. In the U.S., 1964 Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater was defeated because he was considered a right-wing extremist. Today, 50 years later, he would be too far to the left to be a viable candidate in the Democratic party.)

In the quote from the Washington Post above, the deeds allegedly committed by the Islamic State are violent, brutal and arguably barbaric. But even within the bounds of ideological discourse of mainstream U.S. corporate media, there is nothing “extreme” about what ISIS did. American fighter jets routinely kill civilians in the Middle East with the same impunity – ironically, sometimes while attacking ISIS – the only difference is the weapons and tactics used to achieve the same result: death.

We should demand that journalists use more specific, useful words than “extremist” to describe ideological opponents of the current system, which can credibly be called extremist in a number of important respects.

It’s pretty extreme, for example, to tell sick, poor and unemployed people that they are on their own, responsible for their own trials and tribulations, and should expect no help from their government. Indeed, very few other societies in the West believe such things. Executing the mentally ill makes the U.S. basically unique in the world. And if the “exceptionalist” American legal doctrine that U.S. law applies in every other country, allowing Americans to violate foreign territory and capture suspects of interest to the U.S. isn’t extreme, I don’t know what is.

The media conflates extremism with purism. Islamic State fighters want to restore the medieval Muslim caliphate and governance by Sharia law; those goals indicate fundamentalism or purism, not necessarily extremism.

One measure of an adjective in politics is, does anyone use it to describe themselves? No one calls themselves a terrorist; no group calls itself extreme. When you see those words in print or spoken by a broadcaster, therefore, you know you are looking at a smear, an insult, lazy shorthand masquerading as argument.

Frankly, anyone who has trouble finding legitimate reasons to oppose ISIS – beyond their supposed “extremism” – doesn’t deserve our attention. For starters: ISIS members believe in God; God doesn’t exist. They massacre innocent civilians to carry out ethnic cleansing; a pluralistic world is more interesting than a homogeneous one. Like the Taliban in Afghanistan, they are ignorant, stupid hicks; who else would behead journalists who were willing to let them tell their story? Stupid hicks shouldn’t be in charge of anything.

Most dangerously, if we accept the framing of the current state of affairs as normal and that of groups and people who want to change it as extreme, few people will ever consider alternatives to the way that we do things now. Many Americans still view communism or socialism as beyond the pale, not because of what those ideologies espouse – many of them don’t know – but because they have absorbed decades of government and media propaganda describing them as fringe, weird, extreme. The result is a remarkably incurious, passive citizenry that accepts the status quo merely because it’s the status quo.

Which is pretty extreme.

(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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Settled Science

Does the Earth go around the sun, or does the sun go around the Earth? When asked that question in a poll, 1 in 4 Americans surveyed answered that the sun revolves around the earth. But hey, we have to respect their feelings too.

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The New Journalism

Not long ago, journalists were expected to work stories by getting out of the office and tracking them down. The new breed of online journalists who have replaced them sit on their butts, monitoring tweets in the hope that some celebrity or politician will say something stupid so they can trash them. This is what, in an age of minute budgets, passes for journalism.

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Escalation of Force

Writing in the Washington Post, a veteran who served in the occupation of Afghanistan reminisced about killing innocent civilians, including children, and wondered aloud whether such killing was wrong. He justified his actions based on the military’s escalation of force guidelines. Of course, every military has had such guidelines in order to justify doing whatever it is that they felt like.

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Republican Socialists, Democratic Capitalists

GOP Pols Exploit Anti-Wall Street Rage

Newt Gingrich made a name for himself as the right-wing ideologue who led the 1994 “Republican Revolution.”

What a difference the wholesale collapse of international capitalism makes.

Forget 9/11—everything changed on 9/14/08, when Lehman Brothers hit the skids. Millions lost their jobs. Millions more lost their jobs. And the government refused to help them.

The government’s masters, the bankers, wouldn’t let them. They wanted all that taxpayer money for themselves.

The system was finally exposed as the corrupt, inefficient, cruel pseudodemocracy that we on the Left had always known it was. More than three years have passed yet neither the political class nor its corporate bosses have found the wherewithal to sate the anger of America’s roiling masses with the traditional bundle of social programs. To the contrary, the powers that be are calling for austerity, for gutting what’s left of the safety net.

They’re stealing the rope with which we will hang them.

Political disintegration is disruptive and painful. But it sure is entertaining.

The rise of the Republican primary season’s Anti-Capitalist Brigades is the center ring of this circus of death. At the head of the anti-Romney cadres is one of Newt’s well-heeled supporters, who is dropping a cool $3 million on an ad blitz that denounces Mitt Romney for engaging in slash-and-burn capitalism. (Is there another kind?)

“There’s a company in The Wall Street Journal today that Bain [Capital, Romney’s company] put $30 million into, took $180 million out of and the company went bankrupt,” Newt Gingrich said on January 10th. “And you have to ask yourself: Was a six-to-one return really necessary? What if they only take $120 million out? Will the company still be there? Will 1,700 families still have a job?”

Good questions all. But the heartless beasts who populate Wall Street venture capital firms don’t worry about the blood and tears they leave in their wake. Like all vampires they feast and flee. Their pet Republicans don’t care either. Not usually.

“I think there’s a real difference between people who believe in the free market and people who go around, take financial advantage, loot companies, leave behind broken families, broken towns, people on unemployment,” the former speaker continued.

Not much difference. Not when you think about it. Still, this is a serious slap-the-forehead moment.

Bear in mind, Gingrich is still a man of the Right. A few weeks ago his proposal for forced child labor of impoverished waifs marked the Dickensianest moment of the 2011 Christmas shopping season.

Newt isn’t the only Republican presidential candidate attacking capitalism’s sacred right to loot and pillage. Texas governor Rick Perry, whose brain freezes and loutish yucks over his role as the nation’s top executioner of lower-class misérables (and at least one innocent man) make his predecessor George W. Bush look like Adlai Stevenson, calls buyout specialists like Romney “vultures” who “swoop in…eat the carcass, and…leave the skeleton” of companies they target. Romney, he said, is a “buyout tycoon who executed takeovers, bankrupted businesses, and sent jobs overseas while killing American jobs.”

“Governor Romney enjoys firing people—I enjoy creating jobs,” added Jon Huntsman.

These are Republicans?

What’s up?

“For all the talk about this being a center-right nation, there’s a realization that Americans are uncomfortable with excessive greed and the kind of ruthless, screw-the-workers style of capitalism Romney used to get rich,” Steve Benen writes in Washington Monthly.

Greg Sargent of The Washington Post chimes in: “The leading GOP candidates are on record arguing that Romney’s practice of [capitalism]—which he regularly cites as proof of his ability to create jobs, as a generally constructive force and even as synonymous with the American way—is not really capitalism at all, but a destructive, profit-driven perversion of it. Thanks to them, this is no longer a left-wing argument.”

(Actually, destruction and profit-taking are the essential cores of capitalism. But why quibble? Everyone agrees that capitalism sucks. Yay!)

Times are changin’. According to polls, communism is more popular than Congress. So why isn’t the party of the left jumping on the Wall Street-bashing bandwagon?

Throughout the 2008 campaign and his presidency Barack Obama has taken pains to reassure the 1 percent that if he’s not exactly one of them he’ll look out for their bank accounts. Certainly he has enacted policies that have increased the gap between rich and poor while sucking the life out of the dry husk of the middle class.

Meanwhile, revolution looms.

Why don’t the Democrats see it? Don’t they understand that capitalism is discredited? Newt Gingrich does. So do most Republicans.

It comes down to a simple explanation: Everything has changed, but not the Democrats. They’ve always been slower than the GOP to recognize the shifting winds of American politics, slower to respond, inept when they try.

We used to be a center-right country. Now we’re left-right. Soon we’ll be left-left. Both the Dems and the Reps will be left behind. In the meantime, watch the dying Republicans make the most of an agenda that ought to belong to the dying Democrats: bashing the rich and greedy.

If nothing else, it’ll be entertaining.

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2012 TED RALL

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: What’s the Matter with Obama?

It’s the Not Caring About the Economy, Stupid

As a pundit it’s my job to explain why politicians do the things they do. Every now and then, however, a pol behaves so irrationally that I have to throw up my arms and ask:

What the hell is this guy thinking?

That’s what Obama has me doing. For over two years. Why isn’t he worried about unemployment?

Thomas Frank wondered in “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” why Americans don’t vote their (liberal) self-interest. What I can’t figure out is why President Obama isn’t following his self-interest.

Obama says he wants a second term. I believe him. Every president wants one.

Americans vote their pocketbooks. Not exclusively—they care about a candidate’s values—but no president has ever been reelected with an unemployment rate over 7.2 percent. Right now it’s 9.1 percent. Unless there’s an unexpected reversal, it will still be way high by Election Day 2012.

Economists surveyed by USA Today predict that the jobless rate will be pretty much the same, 8.8 percent, at this time next year. Goldman Sachs is even more pessimistic. They think it will be 9.25 percent by the end of 2012—with a “meaningful downside risk” that it will be even worse.

Polls indicate that economic insecurity, specifically high unemployment, has been the biggest issue on voters’ minds since Obama took over in 2009.

77 percent of Americans tell Gallup the economy is getting worse. That’s up from 62 percent a month ago.

If Obama wants to get reelected he has to do something about jobs. Something BIG. Failing that—and that’s an epic fail—he has to at least be perceived as trying to do something about jobs. But he hasn’t done squat so far. And his job approval rating, now at an all-time low of 39 percent, reflects that.

I don’t like admitting this, but I’m mystified. Why isn’t Obama even trying to look like he cares about the one issue that could make or break his reelection chances?

What’s up? Are he and his advisors morons, or just out of touch? Do they have some secret jobs-related October Surprise that will magically reemploy the 22 percent of Americans who are out of work during the last few weeks of the election? Are they the Chicago Black Sox of politics, determined to throw the race to the Republicans? Psychologist Drew Westen can’t figure it out either, wondering aloud if Obama is sick in the head.

Some ask: Is Obama a Republican?

“Government doesn’t create jobs,” tweeted GOP candidate Herman Cain recently. “Businesses create jobs. Government needs to get out of the way.” Obama and his fellow fake Democrats never challenge this right-wing framing.

Maybe they believe it. “The White House doesn’t create jobs,” Obama press secretary Jay Carney said August 5th.

But the meme is wrong. In the real world where flesh-and-blood American workers have been living since 2000, businesses haven’t created any jobs. Instead, they’ve eliminated millions of them. And shipped millions more overseas.

Those job-killing trends—eliminating workers, increased automation and globalization—won’t change soon. “Workers are getting more expensive while equipment is getting cheaper, and the combination is encouraging companies to spend on machines rather than people,” Catherine Rampell recently reported for The New York Times.

There’s also a death-spiral effect. Elena Semuels of The Los Angeles Times sums it up: “Economists say the nation is stuck in a Catch-22 scenario: The economy won’t improve until businesses hire, but many won’t hire without consumer demand, which is weak because of the current state of the job market and concerns about the future.”

“Everyone says, ‘How can we have a recovery without jobs?’ [But] until I start seeing my competitors add jobs, I’m not going to do it,” Loren Carlson of the CEO Roundtable tells MSNBC.

Recovery won’t come from business. The scope of the post-2008 meltdown is too vast.

On the other hand, government can and does create jobs. Indirectly, it creates the veneer of law and order that permits commerce. Government can also employ people directly.

FDR orchestrated the direct hiring of 9 million Americans as government employees for the WPA and other programs. The federal government even hired writers and artists. Adjusted for population growth, that’s the same as 22 million people today. Obama could have done something like that in early 2009.

Too late now, of course. Obama’s inaction on the economy prompted a Republican sweep in the 2010 midterms. They won’t go along.

Keynes 101: the time for austerity is during a boom, when you can afford to save up for a rainy day. Governments are supposed to spend their way out of a recession or depression. The GOP-conceived debt ceiling deal is 200-proof insanity.

“An anti-Keynesian, budget-balancing immediacy imparts a constrictive noose around whatever demand remains alive and kicking,” wrote Bill Gross of the bond-trading firm Pimco in The Washington Post. “Washington hassles over debt ceilings instead of job creation in the mistaken belief that a balanced budget will produce a balanced economy. It will not.”

Rather than criticize this austerity lunacy, Obama is still going along. “Mr. Obama’s senior adviser, David Plouffe, and his chief of staff, William M. Daley, want him to maintain a pragmatic strategy of appealing to independent voters by advocating ideas that can pass Congress, even if they may not have much economic impact,” reports the New York Times.

“We’re at a loss to figure out a way to articulate the argument in a way that doesn’t get us pegged as tax-and-spenders,” admits a Democratic Congressional advisor. For God’s sake, grow a pair! Make your case to the public.

Anything that doesn’t have “much economic impact” isn’t going to have much electoral impact either. And neither are token gestures like a three-day bus tour, revamping the patent process, or another overhyped speech. (Scheduled for September. Because, why rush?)

As you read this Obama is off to Martha’s Vineyard, hanging out with millionaires.

Really—what’s going on? Can Obama really be that stupid? Can anyone?

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Down and Out at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

What I Would Do If I Were Obama

Jobs, jobs, jobs. Throughout the presidency of Barack Obama, Americans have been preoccupied with jobs. Unemployed people need work. The underemployed need more work. The employed want salaries that go up instead of down.

The rich are worried too. The Depression of 2008-? is killing their stock portfolios.

Most presidents struggle to find the pulse of the people. Trapped in the D.C. bubble, they try to find out what voters want. Obama was lucky. He didn’t have to do that. The U.S. was in the midst of an epic economic collapse in January 2009, and has been ever since. It’s the only issue that everyone, rich to middle to poor, cared about. It still is.

In this single-issue environment, any idiot could have been a successful president. All Obama had to do was express sympathy and understanding while announcing a bunch of jobs initiatives.

Not hard.

Weirdly, though, Obama has focused on everything else except jobs: healthcare, gays in the military, gays getting married, more war against Afghanistan, new war against Libya, secret wars against Somalia and Yemen, the dreary showdown over taxes, budget cuts and the federal debt ceiling.

According to the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll, Obama’s approval rating is down to 39 percent. The crappy economy—and Obama’s inaction—is the simple cause.

“What Happened to Obama?” Drew Westen asked in a much-passed-around New York Times op-ed. It used to be just me. Now everyone sane agrees that Obama’s presidency has failed.

This is my favorite part of Westen’s postmortem: “Those of us who were bewitched by his eloquence on the campaign trail chose to ignore some disquieting aspects of his biography: that he had accomplished very little before he ran for president, having never run a business or a state; that he had a singularly unremarkable career as a law professor, publishing nothing in 12 years at the University of Chicago other than an autobiography; and that, before joining the United States Senate, he had voted “present” (instead of “yea” or “nay”) 130 times, sometimes dodging difficult issues.”

Westen is nicer than I am. He left out the fact that Obama had an undistinguished career as a U.S. Senator.

Is Obama a secret pawn of evil plutocrats? Does he suffer a character flaw alluded to in Westen’s piece, that he doesn’t know who he is?

Maybe. But I don’t think so. I think eight years of George W. Bush caused Americans to make a mistake. Obama was calm, so they assumed he was wise.

Obama is calm. He’s calm that it’s hard to tell if he’s sentient. But that doesn’t make him smart. Based on his record before and after becoming president, there’s a better-than-even chance that he’s not very smart.

Let’s be logical. Let’s assume that appearances don’t lie—that Obama doesn’t lose a wink of sleep over the fact that he’s presiding over a disaster that makes 9/11 look like a joke.

Let us further stipulate, for the sake of argument, that Obama isn’t stupid. That he’s merely another cynical and/or corrupt politician. If nothing else, Mr. Cynical (But Intelligent) Dirtbag ought to care about getting reelected.

Right?

If I were in Obama’s shoes, and I had any brains, if I wanted to turn those lousy poll numbers around, I’d hold press conferences to talk about jobs every day. I’d talk about jobs until the media was sick of it. Then I’d do it some more.

I’d spend two or three nights every week couchsurfing with families who were suffering, cameras rolling as I pretended to care about their silly problems with mean bosses and evil health insurers.

Most importantly, I’d set up next year’s television attack ads. I wouldn’t let a single week go by without proposing some piece of legislation related to creating jobs, alleviating the problems of the jobless, and increasing wages.

I’d send Congress huge publics-works bills. I’d ask them to hire millions of unemployed people to work for federal agencies. I’d push for higher unemployment benefits, payments that don’t expire until you find a job. Tax breaks for companies that hire. Tax deductions for those that give raises. Penalties for outsourcing jobs. Keep the Bush tax cuts, but only for the poor and middle class.

Let the Republicans kill my ideas. All the better for my 2012 ad buy! “Republicans voted against new jobs for Americans 22 times. Against helping homeowners keep their houses 15 times. Republicans: They just don’t care about you.” You get the idea.

Of course, a president can accomplish a lot by executive order. Remember that story about how Apple had more ready cash than the U.S. Treasury? Since America obviously needs the money more than Steve Jobs, Obama could have nationalized it and given it to the states in order to bolster their unemployment compensation funds.

American voters are so defeated and disgusted that they no longer demand a president like FDR or LBJ who actually fights for them. They’ll settle for one who goes through the motions.

The question for Obama and his advisors is: Are they smart enough to pretend to care about the only issue that matters to voters?

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL

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