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Obama’s Fight Against the Politics of Evasion

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Posted on Mar 22, 2009

By E.J. Dionne, Jr.

    President Obama’s biggest task at his Tuesday news conference will not be to defend Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner or to push aside the administration’s bungling of the AIG bonus imbroglio. It will be to challenge Washington’s habit of evading substantive issues by transforming them into procedural questions.

    A deep narrative is taking root in the political class and it goes something like this: Obama is biting off way more than he can chew, “overloading” the system and dealing with all sorts of “side issues,” when he should be focusing solely on the broken economy. He is said to be asking Congress to do too much.

    Note that anyone who makes an argument of this sort is freed from responsibility to mention any of the specific problems Obama is proposing to take on. Insisting the economy trumps everything means you don’t have to say a thing about health care reform, energy, education and taxes.

    And that’s the beauty of the critique of excessive ambition. It’s far easier to talk about an overloaded system than to tell those without health insurance that they will have to wait a few more years, or to be honest in saying that balancing the budget long-term will require raising taxes. It’s much easier to use the economic crisis as an excuse for inaction than to defend the status quo.

    And the more time passes from last November’s election, the weaker Obama’s mandate to pursue his promises will become. By next year, the focus will be on the midterm elections.

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    The AIG flap and Friday’s dismal report from the Congressional Budget Office predicting that the deficit will surpass $1.8 trillion this year will only strengthen the forces of evasion.

    Obama’s biggest problem on the AIG bonuses is that his administration spoke with multiple voices. Initially, top officials wanted to defend the decision to pay them as a necessary evil. Then Obama realized that the episode threatened his entire banking rescue plan, so he took on the role as denouncer in chief.

    Administration officials I talked with were profoundly frustrated at how AIG had driven everything else off the news and dominated the agenda in Congress. Well, sure, the news and Congress are fickle. But an administration that has devoted so much public rhetoric to the need to fix an unjust “bubble” economy should have realized that it would suffer mightily if it were seen as complicit in Wall Street-style business as usual. It was as if the administration’s right hand (Treasury) did not know what its left hand (almost everyone else) was doing.

    And then came the bad news on rising deficits. The CBO report was not unexpected: Everyone knew that a sinking economy would batter government revenues. The scary new numbers provided the evaders with more reasons to build roadblocks to Obama’s program.

    Short-term, the report will increase pressure to cut Obama’s 2010 budget. But such cuts would be modest and symbolic. They would almost certainly come from domestic discretionary spending, budget talk for the relatively small part of the budget that does not go to defense, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Such cuts now would just weaken efforts to stimulate the economy—which, if you’ll excuse the directness, would be stupid.

    Obama’s top budget officials seem confident they can deal with this immediate difficulty. His larger challenge is to take on the politics of evasion promoted by those who would indefinitely delay health care reform, energy conservation and the expansion of educational opportunities. Already, his lieutenants are signaling how he will cast the choice: between “taking on the country’s long-term challenges” or just “lowering our sights and muddling through,” as one senior aide put it.

    Whatever rhetorical strategy the president pursues, the burden in the argument should be on those who insist that the government is incapable of, say, repairing the banking system and fixing health care at the same time.

    As a practical matter, Congress is already well into the task of writing a health care bill, and there is no reason it cannot be passed by the late summer or fall. There is certainly no way government can walk away from its responsibilities on education. And at least some first steps can be taken on energy and the environment.

    As we all know, Obama promised change we can believe in. The operative verb in that slogan was believe. His task is to restore faith that what he had in mind is still possible.
   
    E.J. Dionne’s e-mail address is postchat(at)aol.com.

    © 2009, Washington Post Writers Group


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By Dave Jenkins, March 25, 2009 at 4:20 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Jason,

Should we hire more deckchair re-arrangers?

Amen.

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By KDelphi, March 25, 2009 at 11:02 am Link to this comment

Ed Goldman—The GOP doesnt think that the govt should be involved in ANYTHING except the business of preserving their ill-gotten financial wealth.

tropicigirl—I wish more people would look at the Mass. plan. The only reason I can think of that Sen Kennedy is backin g it, it because he is sick! But, my father died of brain cancer, ...maybe if he had had Kennedy’s heatlh insuracne and drs, he would still be here.

I was hoping that being sick would make Kennedy want to promote single payer. I wish him the best, but, he and Baucus and others need to get with the program! The Mass plan will further enrich the insurance industry, and, will bankrupt us. Then, the neo-cons can say “see, govt run care dosent work” and they can re-rake one of the Houses..

TAO is spot on , on ‘Merkin “exceptionalism” (I am starting to think, means, exceptionally naive and closed minded). Pres. Obama brings it up every chance he gets. Why do so many WANT to be “the exception”? What happened to the “citizen of the world” stuff?

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By Hulk2008, March 25, 2009 at 9:59 am Link to this comment

Jason. 
“...proving to be an epic failure” ??  Really?  I have seen a lot of movies over the years.  Many have been labeled “epics”.  While it is true that most movies never exceed about 3 hours in length, declaring ANYthing Obama has done as “epic” after only 60+ days in office is definitely a stretch. You have to see at least 2 or 3 years of results .... or worse yet, the 4 then 8 years of utter disaster that W and Friends foisted on US.  We don’t need to look “for a finger of blame” - W and Cheney and Rummy and Friends provided more than enough to point at.  Have some patience, young’un.  Maybe you will be old enough next time to vote against Obama ... or maybe not.

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By Ed Goldman, March 25, 2009 at 8:17 am Link to this comment

I don’t notice complaints from Democrats and progressives that Obama is taking on too much, rather than not enough. This “too much” or “lack of focus” nonsense is simply a way to delay the many issues ignored by Republicans for the last eight years under Bush.

I wonder which issues the Republicans think we should put off. Two wars? Exploding health care costs? Burning up the atmosphere? Continued importing of oil with no plan to get off the teat? Crumbling schools and poor student performance? The economy? Which issues, ignored for the past eight years, should be delayed again? Of course, most Republicans want the issue of the banks and economy at the front of the line, since that’s where poor judgment and greediness in the market place and socializing debt most benefits them.

And who put off dealing with any of this for the last eight years except the two wars: The same Republican complainers who think humans can only think of one thing at a time.

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By TAO Walker, March 24, 2009 at 3:02 pm Link to this comment

If both ‘distant’ and recent past performances are any indication, Barack Obama (in his recently-assumed quasi-official capacity as CONer-in-chief) will in all probability come on TV tonight to blow a bunch more red-white-and-blue smoke up the ass of theamericanpeople, who are always eager for another ‘hit’ of allamerican “exceptionalism.”  He will hold-up to them a pre-selected series of rhetorical “mirrors” reflecting only the flattering “....fairest of them all” self-image they insist-on, and all in vain hopes of keeping the collapsing “global” pyramid-scam propped-up “....just a little bit longer-r-r-r-r.”

It would, of course, be a genuinely hopeful sign if he instead clued-in his subject/citizen CONstituents to the actually monstrous dimensions and truly deadly CONtents of the “predicament” he said awhile back they’re all stuck-in.  He could give them to understand in no uncertain terms that there is absolutely no possible response the expert “managers” of the hybrid private/public institutional apparatus can make to “The-Situation” which isn’t dead-certain to render their own already grossly inferior collective ‘position’ in it even worse than it is right now….and the plutoligarchs’, as usual, marginally (and quite briefly) “better.”

Meanwhile,none of us here in Indian Country will be holding our breath in-expectation of any such seldom-seen candor from an establishmentarian front-man.  It might plausibly be argued that even a half-hearted attempt at it would prove (given the ‘historical’ record to-date) suicidal for any reckless Oval Office occupant who dared.

So don’t look for the U.S. president to tell us in plain words that america has gotten exactly where it is by doing precisely what it’s done, and NOT inspite-of all that….or that all he and his “team” really have to offer “at this crucial juncture” is just more-of-the-same-ol’.  He won’t admit right-out, either, how the world is “enjoying” the inevitable poison fruit of the on-going anglo-american criminal enterprise.

Barack Obama’s captive audience is not likely to learn from HIM their idolized “western civilization” is, along with all its wholly-owned subsidiaries, in every CONceivable way totally bankrupt.  They’ll mostly move-on from his careful remarks to “Dancing With the Stars:  The Results Show” or the Women’s NCAA tournament, maybe vaguely (and falsely) reassured that the most devastating part of the shit-storm they’ve all helped to un-leash will break over not their own but their grandkids’ heads, after-all.

If everything goes according-to-plan, they’ll be groggily grateful he hasn’t forced them to face finally the frightening fact that the only real “job” of The-Media is to keep the pot boiling that double-Xing politicians cook “the people’s” books in year-after-year.  They will welcome his urgings to crank-up the bad-credit-driven allamerican CONsumption CONtraption.  They’ll lapse more-or-less CONtentedly back into that self-medicated stupor they’re trained to call “theamericandream.”  If they’re as “lucky” as they like to think they are, they’ll get to “....die in their sleep.”

What’re the odds of that, though….realistically?  Isn’t The Tiyoshpaye Way lookin’ like a lot better bet every Day?

HokaHey!

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By tropicgirl, March 24, 2009 at 10:14 am Link to this comment

Obama’s health care plan is based on Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts plan which does not work.

(from Wikipedia, on the success of the program) “The Globe reported that a number of alternatives were under consideration for raising additional funding (for “Commonwealth Care”, the health plan), including a $1 per pack increase in the state’s cigarette tax. Health care costs in the state were rising at an annual rate of 10 percent, and the state budget deficit was $1.3 billion.

The entire world has it right with variations of single payer, but Obama is obsessed with re-inventing the HMO wheel. The costs will always go up because the profiteers are in there.

I sincerely hope he is not successful with the new forced- HMO plan because it is wrong.

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By KDelphi, March 23, 2009 at 11:34 am Link to this comment

How DARE the Dems tell over 50 million people that THEY must “wait a few years for health care ” (20-80,000 of them wont—-they wil DIE!) after giving Wall St trillions and trillions!

“Short-term, the report will increase pressure to cut Obama’s 2010 budget. But such cuts would be modest and symbolic. They would almost certainly come from domestic discretionary spending, budget talk for the relatively small part of the budget that does not go to defense, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Such cuts now would just weaken efforts to stimulate the economy—which, if you’ll excuse the directness, would be stupid.”

No problem! I have been waiting for directness from Pres. Obama’s supporters for years! It would be dumbass, stupid, idiocy!

So the Administration is “frustrated” that the bone-us talk drowned out all rational rage? Why? The President himself took the stage and “choked with rage” (or was that a cold?)

“Whatever rhetorical strategy the president pursues, the burden in the argument should be on those who insist that the government is incapable of, say, repairing the banking system and fixing health care at the same time”

Ok! Nationalize the banks, ala Sweden. Nationalize heatlh care and kick the insurance corp., to the curb. Done. The Dems would be re-elected and people would love them for it, even if they got lesse camnpaign money. I heard one neo-con say, “well, why dont we just bring in a french insurance advisor”. well, wtf not?? they are our allies, right? The working and middle classes of the EU are able to ride out this worldwide depression for precisley the reason that most neo-cons and neo-libs criticize them for—democratic socialism.

Here is what the Obama/Kennedy/Baucus “solution” (along with the health insurance CEOS, front and center, handing out campaign contributions) will lead to. It will fail, and, people will say AGAIN. “we cant afford a natl insurance plan”. And we cant. But, we COULD afford HR 676—but, Pres. Obama refuses to listen to Reps Conyers and Kucinich, So it will fail, again. More will die.

http://socialistworker.org/2009/03/16/obama-health-care-summit

“As Obama’s White House health care summit approached on March 5, advocates of a so-called “single-payer” system—under which the government would cover everyone, eliminating the role of private insurers—were stunned to learn they weren’t invited. It was an insult to organizations that have been warning for years about the health care crisis-in-the-making and putting forward the single-payer alterative—Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP), the California Nurses Association (CNA) and Healthcare-NOW!

Rep. John Conyers, the sponsor of a bill, known by its official designation HR 676, that would establish single-payer, personally asked Obama for an invitation when the two met at a Congressional Black Caucus meeting. The answer was no” (Pres. Obama recanted after the WH Line was flooded with call of protest from PNHP and Calif. Nurses Union…Conyers was invited, but, barely allowed to speak.)

The insurance companies want “reform” that delivers the entire nation to their doorstep and forces us to buy private insurance from them at prices they set…

“In a distortion of the single-payer slogan “Everybody in, nobody out,” the insurers want everybody in and nobody out…of their private, for-profit system.”

The health care summit (should be) a reality check for anyone who may have had illusions that Obama would advocate for a single-payer system once he got into office. Despite saying that he would favor such a system if he was “starting from scratch,” Obama is clearly opposed to single-payer ... On the contrary, he has invited the parasitical insurance industry to continue to play a central role in health care.

Capitalism only works when you put profit first. If you put profit first in life or death situatiions, you are immoral. It is really that simple.

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By reason, March 23, 2009 at 9:40 am Link to this comment

Normally, I try to be reasonable and open minded while reading the opinions and comments on Truthdig but much of what I have been reading the past 3 months (on Truthdig and other sites) has been offensive, irrational and disingenuous. I am generally aligned with the more liberal side of the political spectrum but I am not a raving lunatic who has chosen to throw away my ability to think for myself and empathize with others.
In some ways, Obama has come into the presidency at a time that is advantageous to making a fairer and more just system of government of the people however; he faces the worst problems of our 200 year history. How does anyone repair the harm done by the greed of those who have willingly exploited every law and loophole for the last 50+ years with only their personal benefit in mind? The greed and corruption of corporate business, banking and government is deep seated and those who benefit will not willingly allow anyone to take away their power to continue with what they see as their rightful due as the privileged few.
Just like bigotry; greed and corruption is not peculiar to any race, religion or political party. Only Obama’s willingness to address the problems with honesty will bring us to the position of real wealth and respect that we once enjoyed in the eyes of ourselves and the rest of world. Obama and Congress have an obligation to American citizens and the rest of the world to cleanup this ugly mess by making regulations and laws that make unchecked entrepreneurial greed (extreme capitalism)  the traitorous the crime that it is. It is obvious that the true criminal/terrorists are the greedy, white collar types who sit in offices and let others take the fall for their lack of conscience.  Obama cannot make a difference in our system without the support of the white and black, democrat and republican, Christian, Jew and Muslim people. Justice can only be just, if it is “for ALL” and supported by an altruistic majority.

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By Jason!!, March 23, 2009 at 7:26 am Link to this comment

“Who bothers to listen to people who can’t work their way through anything longer than 2 1/2 pages?”

how many read the stimulus bill?

1 - Dodd who wanted to make sure his wall street pals made bank.

If you try to seperate the democrats and obama from the decades of corruption, your living in fantasy land.

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By Purple Girl, March 23, 2009 at 6:54 am Link to this comment

Who bothers to listen to people who can’t work their way through anything longer than 2 1/2 pages?Who listens to people who Represent a Rust Belt state who cna not figure out how a Rail System would help his constituents (Steel, Iron,Plastics, fabrics, tool & Die, assembley). Who listnes to a Gov who can’t reconstruct on area of a city even though moeny is still available? Who listens to a woman who can’t comprehend the fact that if your water breaks an dyour 40+ and You are carrying an already compromised baby- immeidate medical attention is required.Who listnes to a man whos lack of impulse control has been proven with and arrest for illegal use of Oxycotin and who’s weight proves he has no ability or inclination to bring these impulses under control.Who Listnes to a man who Claims to know how to Catch the Most Wanted Criminal of the US, and has never bothered to share that info with Key law enforcement agencies?
Who listens to anyone who has voted Republican? who was so naive,or complicit to not admit ‘trickle Down’ (feudalistic cast system) is the most Treasonous economic Stratedgy in a Free Market Democratic society. Who listens to anyone who does not realize the blatant Socialistic ideology behind ‘We the People’, “For and By the People’. Who listens to those who dare call US a ‘Christian nation’- It does not say ‘In Jesus We Trust’. Who listnes to people who want to impose their ideas of morality on others through legislation- Sounds like the Damn Holy Roman Catholic Empire to me- The Church of England!
These are the assholes who’ve seized power over US for at least 3 decades- who the hell is listening to these Red Coated Theocrats? Not only one with a Brain, or a Patriotic Bone in their body!

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By Jason!!, March 23, 2009 at 5:17 am Link to this comment

Obama is proving to be an epic failure.

A talking head with no leadership capabilities.

Always looking for a finger of blame.

Mounting lies and broken promises.

tax cheats and corruption rampant.

He is not able to handle the job. suprised? nope.

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