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Tag: "Obama administration"

False Dichotomy

[ 73 ] August 1, 2011 |

I’m not a generally a big fan of trying to determine what public officials “really want,” not least because there’s no way of extricating policy goals from political goals and perceptions of political viability. But I certainly agree in broad terms that Obama is a moderate Democrat of the Clinton school who cares inordinately about the deficit and would accept spending cuts to advance deficit cutting.

But it doesn’t follow from this that Obama didn’t blunder. After all, (as Glenn quietly concedes) he didn’t get much of a deficit-reduction bill; he got some spending cuts but not the revenue increases he wanted. The deal that he accepted addressed Republican priorities, not moderate Democratic priorities. It’s entirely possible to understand that Obama isn’t a left-winger and still think that he made negotiating mistakes that produced an even worse deal than was necessary.

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Where the Mistakes Were Made

[ 88 ] August 1, 2011 |

As the Pauls note below, the horrible debt deal is not a pleasant thing to come back to, and I’m sure it’s not hard to convince most of our audience that it’s bad on the merits.

On the politics, I think Chait gets it right. The best defense you can make of Obama is that, given how the leverage was distributed, this deal is about as good as Obama could have gotten. It’s almost impossible to know what the optimal possible outcome of a political negotiation of this kind is, but I essentially agree; unlike Paul, I don’t think I would want the House to vote it down, because I think by far the most likely result would be a deal that’s as bad or worse plus default.

But, as Chait also correctly notes, this isn’t much of a defense of Obama because he played a major role in creating this extremely favorable context for the Republicans. I suppose we don’t know to a certainty if he could have gotten a ceiling increase when he had the leverage of the expiring Bush tax cuts and a still-Democratic House to work with, but we don’t know because he made no serious effort to do so, a massive blunder. And this central mistake was then compounded through preemptive capitulation on the Republican decision to engage in hostage-taking. Throughout the process, the unwarranted faith in Republican reasonableness that Obama has always been accused of was glaringly evident.

So, yes, the deal won’t be that bad if Obama and the congressional Dems are willing to use the expiration of the Bush tax cuts as leverage (or, better yet, just let them expire, which unlike defaulting on the debt would likely be a better policy option than any deal likely to emerge.) What basis there is for believing that Obama and the Dems would be willing to do this, however, I can’t tell you.

…John Judis makes the kill-the-bill case. I’m still not convinced — ultimately, I think it’s as over-optimistic from the left as Obama was from the center. I’d be happy to kill the bill if I thought that the kind of deal that Judis describes could be passed, but I don’t think it can.

No, no, no, no, no

[ 109 ] July 24, 2011 |

Bill James once noted that the reason for doing research is to avoid paying the price for believing things that aren’t true. The apparently sincere belief of Obama and his political advisers that sending “messages” to the kind of voters Mark Penn makes up cute names to describe is more politically important that the actual state of the economy is a case in point. It’s simply not true, and this belief is not only bad for the country but bad for Obama’s re-election prospects. And this would be the case even if concrete spending cuts were actually popular, which they aren’t.

Adventures in the World’s Worst Deliberative Body

[ 35 ] July 18, 2011 |

Apparently, Richard Cordray would be a pretty good choice to replace Elizabeth Warren as the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. And hence has no chance of being confirmed, as the powerful-enough minority party is opposed to consumer protection in general. (And, yes, I’d rather have Warren as a Senate candidate than in a one-year interim appointment.)

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[ 35 ] July 12, 2011 |

It’s good that the GOP can’t take “yes” for an answer. Still, given what Obama is willing to give up it’s pretty clearly evidence in favor of those who were opposed to the 2010 tax deal; if we’re going to get austerity anyway we should have done it with the Bush tax cuts repealed.

More on Obama and the WPA

[ 54 ] June 21, 2011 |

As Ackerman says, the ongoing attacks against Libya cannot seriously be squared with the requirements of the War Powers Act, and the procedure used to justify violating the law is a dangerous one.

A Brief Note on the Politics

[ 40 ] May 1, 2011 |

Many folks on the Twitter seems convinced that the good news about Bin Laden effectively ends the 2012 campaign. This certainly doesn’t hurt. But I would point to George H.W. Bush’s approval ratings in 1991. If unemployment remains high and the recovery remains weak, Obama could absolutely lose in 2012.

Chait: “The political ramifications: Minimal to nonexistent. The economy will tell the tale in 2012, and Obama — who had been getting relatively little foreign policy flak from the GOP — was not having a problem establishing his credibility as a foreign policy president on the right. Obama can add this to his list of accomplishments, but it’s hard to see it moving voters.” Exactly right.

The Speech: “Justice Has Been Done.”

[ 52 ] May 1, 2011 |

…allegedly starting in 2 minutes. Can be watched here.

To be fair and balanced, not every political figure in the United States thinks this is a big deal.

…Targeted op by Americans.

…”OBL was not a Muslim leader. He was a mass murder of Muslims.”

…the speech on its own terms was extremely effective. What this actually means going forward we’ll see — and obviously wasn’t going to be determined hours after Bin Laden’s death — but it was a powerful moment.

Irin Cameron had a good question: didn’t the statement that they tried to avoid civilian casualties imply that there were civilian casualties? Initial reports seem to suggest that there were three.

…full video of speech here. Transcript here.

…the obituary.


[ 182 ] April 12, 2011 |

Several of our commenters called it:

Now it’s getting a little clearer: Obama will throw his support behind the bipartisan effort in the Senate to turn the Simpson-Bowles plan into legislation (sidenote: called it). This will raise as many questions as it answers — if Obama is such a fan of this approach, for instance, why didn’t he say more about it during his budget? — but it is, at base, a more realistic plan both in terms of policy and politics.

Great. So now an insanely reactionary destroy-the-welfare-state-to-fund-upper-class-tax-cuts plan is the Republican view, and a highly reactionary slash-spending-to-preserve-upper-class-tax-cuts plan is the Democratic view. Even if the Catfood Commission can’t pass, the politics are nearly as bad as the policy merits. The Catfood Commission report contains tons of unpopular stuff, and nobody actually cares about the deficit. If Obama endorses it, it’s absolutely indefensible.

The Crowley Firing

[ 40 ] March 14, 2011 |

I can’t add much to Greenwald, but it’s appalling that the only person losing their job over the arbitrary torture of Bradley Manning is someone who opposed it.

On Entrenching Gitmo

[ 36 ] March 9, 2011 |


It doesn’t of course — Republicans arguing that Gitmo is open because Obama has recognized the wisdom of using the facility is like a bully stealing a kid’s lunch money and then telling everyone he merely decided to make a shrewd investment. Gitmo is open only partially because of administration fecklessness; most of the fault lies with the cowardice of congressional Democrats and the cynicism — and political strength — of Republicans.

Like Glenn, I think this is somewhat too charitable to the administration — it’s true that the actions of Congress made it nearly impossible to close Gitmo per se, but a lot of the underlying problems that Gitmo symbolizes were policy choices made under Obama’s discretion.   And while procedural constraints may have improved a little, these improvements are not nearly adequate.

On the Alleged Tyranny of Obama’s Refusal to Defend the Constitutionality of DOMA

[ 49 ] February 24, 2011 |

The funniest reaction to the Obama administration’s salutary decision to not defend the constitutionality of Section 3 of DOMA comes, needless to say, from Jeff Goldtsein:

Of course, he doesn’t get to determine that – it was passed by the legislature and signed into law by President Clinton, and so it the duty of the government to defend it — but then, Obama is above the law.

As are all dictators.

We live in a country where the President and his cronies decide what laws to follow and what laws to enforce; what companies are supported and what companies are not; who has to follow comprehensive health care reform and who does not.

Which means we live in a fascist country, ruled by an elected dictator who has positioned himself above and outside the laws he demands we follow — and who has granted himself the right to determine who has to follow what laws, how, when, and why.

That is not freedom. It’s tyranny. Simple as that.

The punchline being that Obama’s predecessor really did believe that he could violate valid acts of Congress and constitutional requirements, and Goldstein was strongly in favor of this. OK, but it’s not exactly news that Goldstein is a buffoon whose views of executive power switch from Carl Schmitt to anti-Federalist depending on the partisan identity of the current occupant of the White House. That still doesn’t make Obama’s actions right if they’re procedurally similar to the Yoovian idea that the laws apply only at the pleasure of the president. As you can see from the comments, many liberals seem to share Col. Mustard’s view that this represents some kind of executive “power grab.” The fact that they’re on the same side as the Duke of Dijon should suggest that their probability of being wrong approaches 100%, and in fact these arguments represent a fundamental misunderstanding of what’s going on here:

  • It’s important, first of all, to emphasize what Obama is not doing — namely, claming to be above the law.   He is not claiming that DOMA doesn’t apply, or that the federal courts cannot adjudicate the constitutionality of the act.  He is not, in the manner of Jefferson or Jackson, saying that he would ignore a court ruling upholding DOMA.  (The Reagan and Bush administrations — as was their right — repeatedly argued that Roe v. Wade should be overruled.   The Supreme Court, as you may remember, declined.)   He’s merely unwilling to argue on behalf of the law’s constitutionality.   There’s nothing about this that is in any way inconsistent with our constitutional framework or the rule of law. The judiciary is not the exclusive interpreter of the Constitution.
  • But, the argument seems to go, what if because of this precedent allows President Palin to refuse to defend the constitutionality of the mandate?   Well, first of all, there’s no precedent being established here.  Saint Reagan himself established “tyranny” in the United States at least twice, and if you think that won’t be enough precedent for a future Republican president you must be too distracted by the attempts to put Reagan’s name on every federal institution and face on every unit of federal currency.
  • But even leaving this aside, if you believe that a Republican president would be bound by past norms you really shouldn’t be permitted to leave the house unaccompanied.    To state the obvious, if he wants to President Barbour will refuse to defend the constitutionality of the ACA, and he would still do it if Obama himself defended DOMA before the Supreme Court.
  • This shouldn’t need to be said either, but the idea that presidents merely mechanically execute laws passed by Congress has never been and never will be how our system works.   How the White House interprets and chooses to implement federal law changes substantially depending on who occupies the White House.   The occasional refusal to assert that a federal law is constitutional is just one variant of this.

In short, this is a procedurally unexceptionable and substantively commendable act. It doesn’t reflect a belief that the president isn’t bound by the law. It reflects a judgment about the constitutionality of one particular law, a judgment that the other branches remain free to reject. Obama is doing the right thing here, and his actions are different in kind, not degree, from Yoovian theories of arbitrary executive power.

UPDATE:  Goldstein continues to assert that Reagan was a fascist. What constitutional or statutory provision requires the DOJ to defend the constitutionality of each and every statute remains unspecified.   What constitutional authority gave gave the Bush administration the power to unilaterally replace FISA is also unspecified.

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